Gonzo Cosmic 1 & 2 are available to download here for free. Please go vote in the SICBA awards for GC, which is nominated in four categories here: https://sicba.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/vote-now-for-the-2015-sicbas/
Gonzo Cosmic #2 was released at the end of 2014 in digital format. I explained my reasoning for releasing it free here: https://garrymacmakes.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/gonzo-cosmic-manifesto/
There’s also a great review of the book here: http://bigcomicpage.com/2015/02/04/ceej-says-gonzo-cosmic-2-review/
And amazingly, the book has been shortlisted in four categories for the Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards: http://www.sicba.org.uk/ for Best Comic Book, Writer, Artist and Cover.
Those of you who’ve kept up to date with the book so far know it’s a labour of love, a massive long-term project that I work on in between my paid comic work. In dialling back on the costs, I decided to finish the colouring myself, even though Jim Devlin had done an amazing job on the first 10 pages and I was gutted to not have him do the rest. I coloured the remaining ones myself, but by that point I was desperate to get the book out, and I was never happy with the finish.
I’ve decided to do a redux’d version of the book, recolouring those pages so they work better for me. I’ll never match Jim’s amazing colours, but I felt it was a good idea to go back and take some time to colour it how I wanted to see it, and have it seen. Below there are some before (on the left) and afters (on the right). There’s some male nudity below, so approach at your own risk.
The new colouring, while maybe not quite as gonzo as the originals, just feels more grown up, less gaudy and in better service to the storytelling.
And, so. To celebrate the SICBA nominations, I want to do a small print run of the book for Glasgow Comic Con 2015. It will be a limited, one time only run, with each copy individually numbered, with the new colouring and some touch ups to the lettering. It’ll be the book far closer to how I’d like to see it.
I’ll also release the redux’d version for FREE, digitally, once it’s complete. But I’m asking if folk would like to donate something towards the print run. I can’t offer anything in return, except for a PDF of the book which you can get for free anyway, and my gratitude, and with the run being limited, only those who attend the Con will be able to buy the book.
But it would be a massive help if I could raise a bit of cash to see this book in print. If you can spare a quid (or dollar, or whatever) or two, I’d be really thankful. And if you can spend more, or would like to set up a small recurring donation to put towards the creation of issue 3, I’d be bowled over.
If you’d like to contribute, there’s a ‘Buy Now’ button on the sidebar and on the home page of this site. It should say ‘Donate’, but HTML… When you click it, you’ll see that it does in fact take you to a donation page, and you can donate there whether or not you’re a Paypal member.
So, if you can spare a dime to help me out, please do – it’ll mean a print copy of Gonzo 2 available for punters to see before they cast their final votes for the SICBA awards. I’ll also get a link up as soon as possible for public voting once it’s announced.
I’m currently working on a new graphic novel for release by BHP Comics and written by Jack Lothian (known for his screenwriting on Skins, No Offence and many others). I’m not going to give anything away about the plot, except to say that it’s a very different book from my recent offerings, and it’s a surprisingly emotional one. The main character is described in the script as An Old Lady, and the first half of the book is a slow, meditative piece that builds up to an unusual halfway point. I know, I know, very cagey, but I don’t want to give too much away at this point!
Anyway, as I often do, I decided to share some process stuff, so below you’ll find a breakdown of the creation of the first panel of the fourth page.
This is the bluelined thumbnail sketch for the panel – really rough, but enough to let me know generally what angle I’m going to be working on and the rough dimensions of the panel.
Here’s the ‘layout’. This is drawn at actual size, and while I was doing this, the bluelined construction stuff didn’t exist yet, so ignore that for now! This is where I ‘bulk out’ the thumbnail and get a sense of the weight and perspective.
And here’s the newer bit for this book. Since there’s a lot of surburban environmental stuff in here, and given that there’s little dialogue, it was important for me that the backgrounds (something that causes me a lot of grief, generally) were solid and could fully encapsulate the main character rather than being just ‘backdrops’. I decided to build most of the major ‘sets’ in SketchUp, something I’ve used before very rarely. I have a SketchUp document, which I’ll post at the end, that contains all of the sets I’ll need. I can just move around the full document as needed and choose sets and angles to match the layouts. I can then export that to Photoshop and use it to construct the panel, drawing new perspective guides off it as needed so that I can add in more detail.
Here’s where the layout and SketchUp panel meet – the bulking now fits in with the solid 3D environment I’ve built, and this lets me really start getting to grips with posing the figure. She’s at her dinner, on her own, so she’s quiet, but not necessarily sullen. Just on her own.
I don’t always do this additional panel, but I wanted to get that pose right, so here’s a ‘pre-final’where I’ve tightened up the pose and the lines for the figure to make sure I’m happy with it before moving on.
Here’s the final with the previous stages overlaid so you can see the development.
And finally, here’s the finished lines. I re-drew over all of the SketchUp lines – it would be fairly easy if I just left the model lines as they were, but I need that hand-drawn line over the top for me to feel like it’s complete. The SketchUp lines are too clean, and this ties the environment to the figure well.
That’s it really. Working this way is teaching me something about the scale and weight of the figure that I’ve often missed in the past because of the disconnect between figure and backdrop. Having a 3-dimensional space to work in means that you really have to think about the scale of the figure, and how to construct a pose that fits with the environment. It means that I’m basically working with larger, more solid figures that I have done previously, and I’m really like the results.
Here’s the full SketchUp document I mentioned. Besides the two semi-detached houses, which I downloaded from the 3D warehouse, I built all of the sets. It’s a weird construct, impossible in real life, but it includes bedrooms, kitchen, living room, two different close or stairwell constructs, a street with a construction area, a back yard, a street with shops, and a supermarket.
I can just move around this as needed, choosing angles and exporting them to Photoshop CC. While there’s no way of getting a live-linked version in PS, I can use linked files, so if I go in and change them in SketchUp, I can update it really easily in Photoshop.
I’ll maybe pop up a process post about how I construct a digital page using this method, we’ll see!
In 2013, LGBT History Month launched their second Cultural Commission programme, supported by Creative Scotland. I’d gotten to know one of the previous recipients, Lucy Holmes-Elliott, through I AM ART, the visual arts programme I ran through my charity, Cosmic Designs, and she encouraged me to apply when it opened.
The I AM ART project was working with young LGBT people on exploring the theme of identity through art, and we worked with a group of participants who totally excelled through the project, many of them embarking on artistic careers after it was finished, their creative juices flowing after exhibiting their own brand new work during the Glasgay! Festival of that year.
I enjoyed the I AM ART project, although it was difficult to engage with young people who wanted to explore LGBT themes through art. There are many reasons for this – some folk just aren’t artistically minded, there hasn’t really been a history of participative visual community art projects within the LGBT community in Glasgow (although that’s quickly changing) and, I think importantly, there isn’t a huge amount of out LGBT artists who can inspire young folk to get into it.
While I spent the year managing the project, I was aware that my community arts work was also taking up time I could, and perhaps should, be spending on my own practice. So the Cultural Commission was a really inviting proposal. Receiving funding to spend a year working on a new piece of art that was intrinsically connected to the LGBT community felt like the ideal next step for my career.
As a comic book creator of around 6 years, it was tempting to put forward a proposal to do an anthology comic, or to create a comic of my own, but I felt that if was afforded the money, and with it the time, to spend a year exploring my practice, I would be better trying to push myself to try something new. I decided to propose an animation based on interviews with community members across Scotland. I’ve long had a love for animation, but only a very basic experience of making them. The community interaction was important as it felt like bridging a gap between my own community work and my personal practice.
I was overjoyed to be awarded the funding, and embarked on a journey where I met many people who shared their stories with me, learned frame by frame hand drawn animation techniques and software from scratch, and discovered a lot about myself and my relationship with not only the community, but also my own sense of identity.
I’ll post more specifically about that journey soon, as it’s deserving of a post of its own. But for now, I want to concentrate on what the Commission meant to me as a queer artist.
Freelancing in art is a difficult career. Most of your skills development and practice has to take place in your own time, which means that any paid work you do not only has to fund your living costs, but also your time. That time is used to literally practice, to draw, or paint, or write, or whatever, over and over again to get better. To learn things like perspective, anatomy, architecture, composition, colour theory etc.
Clients usually aren’t paying for any of that – they’re paying for a specific finished piece of work, and they genuinely aren’t interested in how you got your skills to the level they want, they just want the product.
On top of that, you’re also running your own business, buying new equipment, keeping accounts, regularly going to meetings to develop your business. Most of that comes out of a fairly meagre wage.
That’s why arts funding is so important.
It mitigates some of the time you need to spending getting better at art. You are, after all, judged only on the quality of work you produce, and you have to continually push yourself to be better, to excel.
Creative Scotland is an important resource for that, and we’re very lucky to have it, despite obvious grumbles with the arts community. Taxpayer money and lottery funding is specifically diverted to ensuring that Scotland’s arts sector can survive, and while there are many debates around how that money is, or should, be allocated, we should be glad that it’s seen as important enough to our cultural and social existence that we have a body specifically tasked with supporting the arts.
It’s equally important that some of that money is funnelled to specific areas. Until LGBT History Month Scotland’s Cultural Commission, there was no specific funding in Scotland for LGBT artists. Of course, there are many organisations and projects that work within the community and receive funding, but this is certainly the first time I’ve been aware of a funding pot specifically for artists who are either LGBT themselves, or are making work specific to the community.
Contributing to the artistic life and career of LGBT artists encourages us to work within our community, to respond to it, and to our relationship with it. It takes visible artistic work to encourage new artists to come forward and use their practice to explore and raise awareness of those lives, issues and experiences that are unique to being LGBT.
The Cultural Commission not only afforded me the money, and therefore the time, to go and learn a new practice, animation, it also gave me the opportunity to travel the country and speak to people who had shared experiences, whose experiences differed due to age, location etc, and whose lives are rich with the kind of detail that “LGBT” doesn’t cover as a label.
That work is now part of the cultural landscape, and will be archived for history, keeping those stories alive for future generations. ‘Out There’, the anthology of LGBT writing edited by Zoe Strachan, which was the other Cultural Commission that year, does a similar job – letting the lives of people, in this case writers, speak for themselves.
So what am I saying with all of this?
LGBT History Month Scotland has announced this year’s Cultural Commission. There’s only one this year, and the funding pot is a bit smaller (that crucial arts funding I talked about earlier gets squeezed, every single year, unfortunately), but it’s there, that chance, that opportunity.
If you’re a queer or LGBT artist based in Scotland, or if you’re an artist who has in mind a piece of work that would talk particularly to our community and history, then there’s no reason not to apply. That funding could give you the time to explore not only a new piece of work, or a new medium, but potentially yourself, and so develop your own practice and career even further.
For more information, head over to the History Month website here, and feel free to get in touch with me directly if you want to ask any questions about my own experience with the commission.
The work itself, a short animation now titled ‘Own Words’, was shown as the SQIFF film event at Summerhall. While the commission is now complete, I’m taking some time to sharpen up some rough edges and improve the sound quality before sending it out to film festivals. That means I can’t put it up online just yet, but it’ll be up very soon!
I’ve had a busy old week, starting on two projects simultaneously. One of those is the third issue of Freak Out Squares by gentleman deviant Harry French. Coming back to comic work after a fairly long break (the last thing I did was a strip in December, then I was focussed on the animation) has been fantastic. I seem to have loosened up a bit – I feel like I’ve got a style that’s working for me, and I’ve gotten much faster at producing pages thanks to a refined, all-digital approach.
Harry and I are in discussion about some exciting prospects for Freak Out Squares which we’ll reveal when and if, but we’re keen to share some process and work-in-progress work with you.
Here’s the stage by stage work on page 1:
For those who’ve read the first two issues, you’ll notice that the Blanck Mass are returning for more digital erotic thrills and adventures, whilst the Uberminister watches intently…
This issue, I’ve dropped back the spotted blacks from the last – that was an experiment, but I don’t think it worked as well as just letting my lines breathe, so I’m concentrating on detail this time around.
Working in Photoshop digitally has become ideal thanks to some wonderful brushes, the Lazy Nezumi plugin (which smooths brush strokes, has ellipse guides and and and! perspective tools that make perspective in PS a total breeze now), and my increased use of things like the the Ruler tool (which I didn’t even know existed) and the grid.
All of these things have combined to make it really intuitive and simple to go from thumbnail to layout to finished digital pencils/inks, doing perspective on the fly for each panel, setting up grids and stuff and just making everything look clean. A lot of this stuff saves a lot of time, which means I can do a lot of preparatory work without taking ages, and leaves me more time to spend on the finals.
Here’s a look at page 2:
So that’s that then.
Working on page 3 just now, which is where the new sense of symmetry and asymmetry really starts coming into play – we’re pushing and pulling elements of the book against the grid, depending on the mood and narrative of the page, so being able to set up everything digitally is really helping.
I should say as well that this is the first book I’ve ever sat and thumbnailed sitting with the writer. Me and Harry had two sessions of sitting going over the script while I thumbnailed, and it was really worthwhile.
For Harry, it’s given him an idea of how I think visually, which is something writers can always benefit from – it can go into the scripts from the off. And for me, it was great sitting with Harry, bouncing ideas for panel placements off him, knowing we could alter the script structure without me having to try and explain it by email and waiting for the yay or nay.
I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity location-wise (or even through Skype) and the inclination to work this work to try it. While I wouldn’t expect much of my other work to follow this pattern, it’s good to do it at least once. Makes for more confident pages, I think.
Anyway, FoS 3 will be out soon, looking to have the art completed by early April, and then colours (by the brilliant Harry Saxon) and letters (by ‘Gentleman of Comics’ Colin Bell) so shortly thereafter.
It’s going to be brilliant, so keep your eyes peeled.