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.
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Catch up! Eds, Ads and Drawing for money

Right so, along with being completely and utterly inspired, by the publishing talents, I also did some things this past few months that, dare I say it, actually generated a bit of revenue.

Turns out drawing for money is actually a thing. Weird.

While the publishing and book work is ever ongoing and I’m DYING to share, unfortunately I’ve been sworn to secrecy that end. Luckily, lots of little, much faster jobs have been floating around which I CAN let you in on. KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR FURTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS!

For now though, I popped back into the field of editorial illustration for a bit recently, providing more work for Union Features Magazine. Yet another fab issue is now out in the world and I suggest you have a look.

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This time, I was lucky enough to attend the launch party and actually meet the geniuses behind the mag, of which all thee issues to date have been sublime. I’m chuffed to be their one and only illustrator and am happy to report they are as great in person as their work (I mean that too, it’s definitely not just the crates of Sailor Jerry present at the launch talking.)union3

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It’s nice working on Union, because it offers such a different kind of subject matter from my usual. Ordinarily sitting pretty in the picture book bracket, I love to see my simple, child friendly style tackling the harder matter of a men’s lifestyle magazine! It’s challenging trying to marry the two, but it’s also a lot of fun and I like to think it still works. union

Then, for something quite different, October to November also saw a little flirt with the world of Advertising. I was contacted by the Icehouse, a talented bunch of designer folk who had a campaign to work on for a new pre-prep department that was opening in Monkton School. They needed some illustrations to work with their campaign, which I was more than happy to supply. Quite apart from anything else, their office had a nice garden and they made me really good coffee.

I’ve worked on three images, which are now beginning to surface as the campaign goes live.I’ve found two of them sitting in the pages of magazines (a double page spread in one which was most pleasing!) and I was also shown the flyer design, which I think really makes the most of the drawings.

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I can’t wait to see them all three in situ. Walking around the city has become pretty exciting, just in case I see another ad! Having been so heavily occupied with publishing, I hadn’t considered pursuing advertising illustration but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. Working with the design team was a joy, and finding the finished campaign, all dolled up by the designers and nestled in glossies has been a real kick.

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In one day I found TWO local magazines whose recent issues contained the ad!

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Also, and this is mega sad, I LOVE seeing my work printed on different papers. Every magazine has a different stock and it all alters the look of the work.

I should stop now before I admit anything else really lame.

I have no shame.

Kidding Around: Work for Picturebooks

I want this post to do two things.

A) share some things I’ve made recently

B) Muse a little bit about things. I just feel like we never talk anymore. The blogosphere can be a lonely place.

So first up, here are some pieces I’ve been working on this past week. They’re not projects as such, simply drawings and characters I’ve had kicking about in my head for a while. Glorified doodles.

A Koala is Not a Bear

Bears aren't good petsWashing  Day

Night Shift

If anyone is familiar with the work I’ve been making over the past few years, you may have noticed a shift in the nature of some of the more recent bits. (If you have, seriously big old kudos heading your way! I owe you a cookie.)

Firstly, I think the art is beginning to be a little more consistent. That battle I’d been having before and right the way through university to develop a “style” is finally being won. And, while I thought that would feel stifling or limiting when I did eventually settle into it, it’s actually feeling pretty happy. I feel a bit safer almost. Comfortable. Yet I’m also confident with it, because I know that other styles and ways of working to me are possible should a given brief call for it.

Secondly I think my characterisation has been coming together into a different direction recently. The work I make is usually figurative in some manner, but I’ve definitely been inspired in recent months to approach this a little differently when it comes to transcribing the characters I’ve seen/ invented onto the page.

The reason for these changes, I think, it simply that life has changed. As it does.

Making pictures is, like any form of creativity or visual media. It’s a snapshot of your life; a representation of the way you see the world, the things you know and the lessons you’ve learned at any given point in your existence. Mine has changed dramatically over the past nine months and is, now, once again on the verge of changing again.

Firstly, university and the life and structure I had while I was there, ended. My friends moved away, the rigorous and consistent marking system ceased and regular access to tutors, mentors and facilities went with it. Since then, I moved back in with my partner and invested in one of those full time job deals, working as a designer in children’s publishing.

I can’t put into words how much I have learned. Nine months in the exact field I had wanted to be in (albeit a slightly left of field job) taught me more about myself, my work and (dare I say it)  the market that governs it all, than three years of formal university education even touched on. And now, as my contract with the publishers finally winds up to a conclusion and I prepare to push on into that expansive gulf of possibility, instability and fear that everyone else met with some time ago, I have never felt more confident.

Somehow, it turns out, working a full time job and having the time to devote to your work torn out form under your feet, made me even more determined to find the time to devote time to my work. I draw more now than I think I ever have and every image feels like it has a real purpose or audience. I’m no longer jumping through hoops and making work for marks, but making work for me and it feels easier than it every has.

That’s not to say I begrudge uni anything. I loved being at school, but it’s only now that I realise how much of it I wasted worrying about making the right work instead of just making the work that works!

The job I’ve had has been doing all the background research for me, and is one of the reasons I’ve loved it so much. I love the world of picture book publishing and, actually, I really loved being a designer. But as the contract nears its end and the job winds up, I feel like it’s time to get it together and start approaching the industry from a different direction. The right direction. I am an illustrator at heart, I always was. Now I’ve had the good fortune to be afforded an insight into how to be the best illustrator I can be. I’ve seen behind the scenes, I’ve got to grips with the structure of it all and I know for sure it’s publishing I want to work in.

So, nerve wracking as it is, let’s give it a go. Let’s make pictures. After all, the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out. To me, that is a thousand times better than wondering “what if.”