Catch up! Illustrating heroism for the London Museum

Continuing with my, long coming, round up of my illustrated shenanigans before the end of the year, I wanted to end with a little insight into what was arguably my favourite project of 2016.

Since joining forces with my wonderful agent towards the end of last year, I’ve been working on a number of projects within the field of publishing. Jodie (aka, SuperAgent) is a literary agent, so specialises in the field of kid book illustration, which is my unquestionable passion. So that works quite well. The only down side of the scenario, is that everything moves SO SLOWLY! I’m desperate to share all the odds and ends I’ve been up to, but have been totally sworn to secrecy by the lords of the Publishing World.

That was, until Summer this year, when Jodie was thrown a total curveball of a job. The London Museum had been donated a medal by the family of a wonderfully brave member of the bomb disposal unit in the early 1940s. The curators at the LM wanted to display it in a new part of their wartime exhibit in their Docklands site. Along with the medal, the family had letters, photos and journal entries from the man himself, Mr Richard Moore.

In an ongoing attempt to reach out to all ages, the Museum were after a comic illustrator to translate the transcript of the journal into a short, quickly absorbed, illustrated story. The journal was so rich with detail and powerfully human, they feared the full effect of Moore’s experience would be lost if it were to be displayed as text. We all know attention spans are short these days . Furthermore, they wanted it done and dusted within a couple of months! Finally a quickfire job!

Aware of my past flirtings with the comics scene, Jodie sent them my comic portfolio and BAM! Back into the comics fray I did go!

And WHAT a fab experience it was! It was unbelievably humbling to be trusted with a gig like this, not only because it was the first time my comic work has gone pro, but also for the richness of the subject matter!

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It’s always a challenge to take a long piece of writing and edit it down into manageable chunks, LET ALONE when you have to factor in imagery. But then to have the added pressure of capturing the bravery, fear and reality of a REAL man in such extreme situations is a whole other ball game. I’m always moved, grateful and, actually – a touch surprised, when anyone wants my illustrations to represent their work in some manner, but to be trusted with a part of a real person’s history is utterly humbling.

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In the research stages, I drew directly from photographs to get a loose idea of facial structure of the men. Then I could later work from these drawings, developing the faces in my drawing style.

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I started by tackling the words. I knew I wanted Moore himself to narrate and therefore the text in the comic should come directly from the journal. I took the bulk of the narrative and broke it into sections, removing any scenes that didn’t move the story along, while trying to keep in as much detail and life as I could from Moore’s entries. Small, human details were important to maintain the relationships of the disposal unit, but some experiences felt repetitive, especially regarding the number of bombs they units disarmed.

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This was a pretty nerve wracking task. I felt entirely impertinent, erasing anything at all, but the guys at the Museum were supportive and honest. They provided me with as much historical material as they could (they’re very clever, knowledgeable chaps you know)  and after a few meetings, we had the bulk of the narrative sorted.

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I’d wanted to book end the comic with one of Moore’s original letters to the wife of his friend and mentor. Not only does this frame the 6 page story nicely, adding come comfortable closure, but it really emphasises the relationship between the two men – a vital component of the journal.

Once this structure was developed, I started to work out how to split this narrative over the six page limit the Museum had stipulated. This is my favourite part of making comics, because I think the flow of a narrative is the most vital part of telling a story and holding an audience. I changed the structure for the final two pages to highlight the chaos of the events, where previously the artwork had fit within a fairly straightforward grid format.

This is also where I develop any motifs, graphical cues or repeated visual themes that might help in the telling of the story.

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The final artwork is beginning to develop based on my many, many drafts!
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Original sketches from the final spread. I like to draw all over everything then arrange the composition on screen in a digital collage.

 

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Draft of the first page.

Once I’d worked and reworked the storyboard into it’s finished – yet still loose and ugly -state, I could focus on characters, artwork and colours. I like to work with a limited palette, and allow the colours to communicate the mood, adjusting the dominant colour based on the events in the story.

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I drew pages and pages of faces to get the characters right. Taking breaks to draw rabbits. Obviously.

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Interestingly, while I’m an illustrator, the illustration component of a project like this is probably the fastest part. I think visual storytelling is so much more than the image itself.

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Draft prior to real characterisation…

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The final page.

The George Cross exhibition opened in September.

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The photo above my comic is the real Richard Moore receiving the medal. So there’s no leeway on my characterisation!
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The medal sits in a glass display unit in the wall.

There’s a lot of reasons why this project is close to my heart. It’s my first comic to have been written for use in a professional context, it was my first attempt at a biographical piece and it was written on a tight deadline.

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But more than all of these things, it marks a really interesting transition of the nature of learning material. We all have seen the rise in popularity in comics, with small press talent and events rising up to challenge the big guns of Marvel, DC and the like, but for a prolific, historical museum to turn to the graphic novel, really marks a widespread understanding of the communication potential of the format. And I’m proud to have been a teeny, tiny piece of this movement.

The Story of the George Cross is a permanent part of the Museum’s Docklands site. The press release for the opening is here.

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For more of an insight into my working process on the work, check out this wonderful review and interview about the work with the brilliant Broken Frontier comics community site.

And if you do HAPPEN to be in East London with a spare minute or two, do have a look. Richard Moore’s story is a magnificent example of true heroism in times of incomprehensible difficulty. Regardless of my involvement with the project, he deserves a slice of your time. His story puts an awful lot into perspective and I am humbled to have been privy to his words.

All images of The comic Dear Mrs Ryan belong to the Museum of London. All shots behind the scenes are property of Rebecca Bagley.
Photographs taken by Rebecca Bagley, Jodie Hodges and Andy Oliver. Cheers for everything guys.

New Old Comic for your viewing pleasure!

Me again!

Settle down for story time kids- I have a tale to share!

About a year ago I was gearing up for a convention. I was working full time in the Publishers and literally spending all the hours in between trying to get a zine up and running so I could turn up with some new work. I planned and wrote a bunch of short stories and one off images, all inspired by the Autumn – my absolute favorite time of year.

Anyway, cut a long story short, the convention was cancelled a few weeks before and, as a result, without the push of a heavy deadline, life took over and I never finished the zine.

Sadly, the zine remains unfinished, however a number of the tales in it are still milling about, either in my sketchbook, desktop, or noodle. Unfinished, uncoloured and sad. Aw.

So, I dug one back out this week. I dug it out, I designed it properly and I bloomin’ finished it! (extract below!)

Toffee Apple Pt 2

It’s only short and it’s barely a story, but it’s oddly personal for me: a memory that seems relevant for every autumn I can remember from my tiddly years. The desire to be spoiled with treats on day outs in the cold air with my parents. I was, clearly, a grumpy, greedy – and potentially not that smart – kid and I remember strangely vividly the frustration of being hoisted by my own petard; when saccharine stickiness from autumn delights  stained my fingers and prevented my ice cold fingers from sinking comfortably back into the warmth of my mittens. The excitement of catching sight of that toffee apple and absolute, incomprehensible adoration for my parents when they caved (as I knew they would) and presented it to me. The irritation at their manhandling me with those old, dry tissues; dug out from the bottom of every mum’s pockets, and ultimately, the relief when my freezing cold, begrudgingly cleaned hands returned into my gloves and my foul mood, outwardly projected onto my parents, would quickly subside as warming circulation returned and I settled into the sweet tang of satisfaction.

God, being a kid is really a roller coaster of emotion isn’t it?

That said, the lesson here is that I really bloody love toffee apples. And I recall so happily that sweet tingle on the sides of my lips that I do equate so solidly with times spent with my parents. Luckily, the tenancy for childish projection of my discomfort as frustration towards them, was (I think) shed with age; but that feeling of gratitude and adoration from their original generosity…that seems a little more resilient.

I sit here in the darkened grey of a British afternoon in late September, watching the drizzle set in, as it will fairly solidly, for the next few months and I know the summer is done. And the knowledge that those short, autumn afternoons that bite at your face are sitting pretty just around the corner…well, I may not see my parents much these days, but I can’t help but sink into memories of gratitude; of that sweet tingle on the side of my lips and, ultimately, that same adoration. I smile now, just thinking it.

So, in conclusion to the longest sales pitch in history, check out the brand-spakin’-new addition of a long-overdue-old-comic on the portfolio now and then book an appointment with your dentist. After this much sweet, we’re all going to need it.

Happy Autumn!

Spread the Love! A Competition of Popularity!

Hey Y’all

I’ve just entered the Creative Safari open competition for Ohh Deer.

Help me out by spreading my birthday entry, linked below!

http://creativesafari.com/competition-entry/no-hugs-for-you/

No Hugs for You!

Ta Friends!

Brand Spankin’ New Comic, Unterwegs!

That means ‘on the way’ to us, not German folks.

Which is funny, as that was the name of my last short comic.

Anyhoo, I’ve been doing lots and lots of illustration things recently and a lot less comic things. And it has not gone unnoticed by the lovely, interesting people of the indie comic scene.

So, at the behest of these great people, I am now returning to the realms of comics and thing making a short NEARLY WORDLESS (oh yus) six page comic for your visual consumption.

I don’t want to say too much (I mean, it’s only 6 pages. If I sneeze I’ll have pretty much have given it away) but I thought I’d upload a few odds and ends from the story in progress to whet those appetites.

Enjoy, not long to wait. Plan is to unveil around September time.

Sit tight.

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Another short comic…for another speedy dealine…

It’s that time of year again when the comic competitions start building as we all start getting excited for the convention season! And with my table for Comiket well and truly booked, I’m certainly no exception. In the name of getting in the graphic mood, I’ve just finished and submitted this years entry for the Jonathan Cape/Observer graphic short story prize. This year’s tale in four pages wanders a little further into romantic territory than I’d usually care to, but I was inevitably going to have to accept the existence my estrogen levels at some point so here we are.

Page1 Page2 Page3 Page4 And before anyone asks, yes. Of course I had to stay up all night to finish it. When have I ever, EVER not had to push a project right up to the wire?

I mean, this whole illustration business just wouldn’t be fun if it didn’t result in regular stints of self abusingly painful sleep deprivation now would it?

Two of the Best Stores in London: And I’m WELL IN THERE

Calling all you London Dwellers!

Be it because you live there, be it for funsies, be it for the Olympics or just because you couldn’t escape in time for the Olympics, if you’re kicking you heels anywhere near Leicester Square sometime soon, pop into Orbital on Great Newport St or Gosh!, found on the corner of Berwick St.

Seriously, do it. They’re two of the best examples of comic and zine stores in this country, crammed full of awesome and, as of this week, my work’s also apart of it.

HellzYeah! I’m stocked in London. Boom. Baby.

For a full analysis of this story, kindly refer your little internet hungry eyes here, where the News section of my Website will tell you all you need to know, with a few more bright and shiny photos for good measure.

Oh alright, you can have one more here too.

Orbital 8 Great Newport Street

So yellow.

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