Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Dreaming spires

Here's another fake Marvel-style cover to ease the long, long wait until we can finally unveil this 190-page epic we've created. This cover is dedicated to Tom Burton, who I just heard has been accepted at Brasenose to read Economics and Management - thus following, incidentally, in the footsteps of another very dear friend of mine, Tim Harford. Well done, Tom; a paradise of punting, Pimms and parties awaits you!


So far, the only person who's read the Winter story from start to finish and given us feedback is Leo's son (and my godson) Inigo. Overall he seems to have enjoyed it, which warms the cockles, I can tell you - though it is possible that he's biased in our favour. What has been really interesting and helpful has been hearing his impressions of the characters - which ones he warmed to, which he found less engaging. Characters take on a life of their own once you've created them, and it's not always easy to tell right away which of them are going to click with your readers.

Inigo particularly liked the Iron Turk, who ended up playing a big part in Winter and, if there is ever a Spring book, he'll no doubt appear in that too. I dug out these early drawings by Martin to show how the character evolved. The ears were added at my insistence, though Martin didn't feel they fitted with the rest of the design. I can't remember now why I thought they were so important. Maybe to humanize him a bit?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Writing with pictures

When early filmgoers saw the first close-ups on there on the big screen, many were baffled. “What is this giant face?” they wondered. And, “Why did you show a man looking horrified and then cut to a new image of a baby's pram bouncing down some steps? Is there supposed to be a connection?”

Cinematic storytelling. The grammar of moving images. It didn’t take long for audiences to learn the rules. Or to discover how they work, I should say, because visual grammar is like linguistic grammar: it’s wired into us as the way we process the world.

One hundred and ten years on from the birth of cinema, everyone on the planet understands how to read a montage of images. Take this example from a recent Virgin Atlantic commercial. The camera starts by showing us a man in a crowd on a mobile phone. He looks up, gradually loses interest in the call. He’s staring. The phone slips from his fingers. Cut to a low-angle reverse shot, past his legs, as the phone breaks on the floor and we get a glimpse of a bunch of air stewardesses walking into shot. And we cut to a shot of the air stewardesses walking towards us, and we see that the man is gawking because they’re really hot.

The sequence there uses both suspense (what is the man reacting to?) and empathy/identification (look – this is how you are meant to react). It’s good storytelling because starting on the girls themselves would give us something to react to but no character to ground our empathy. Crucially, what makes it good cinematic storytelling is that the meaning comes from the whole sequence of images. There is no “telling”. Each image is a single brick; it’s only the whole that has to look like a house.

Nobody at the ad agency seems to have thought that a classic Eisenstein montage like that risked confusing the viewers. “Maybe it needs a voiceover saying that if you fly Virgin Atlantic you might get to chat up a sexy stewardess?” Nah. The images already tell the story. Irving the Explainer isn’t going to add anything.

So it surprises me that many people are unable to extract meaning from a comic story unless there are plenty of captions and word balloons (lots of text, in other words) to carry them along. Yet you can perfectly well “read” a classic sequence like the opening five pages of Spider-man #33 without looking at the words. Or look at this page of the Tintin story Black Island (analysed in depth here on Peter Richardson’s excellent Cloud 109 blog). You don’t need to speak one word of French to understand what’s going on.

Comics are not movies. But their great strength is that they can use cinematic grammar as well as literary grammar. The reason many people find it difficult to read a comic visually is, I think, because of the way they see comics. Rather than taking the comic as a montage of images and words combined to tell a story, they think of the comic as a kind of illustrated novel. In books at primary school, you might have an image of a big guy in chains rising up from behind a gravestone to terrify a little kid, and the caption would read, “Magwitch surprises Pip in the churchyard”. If you come to a comic with that preconception, you won’t expect the pictures to tell the story, you’ll just expect them to illustrate what the words have already told you.

This may be a particular problem in the UK, where we have no mainstream tradition of comics storytelling and our movies are mostly televisual rather than cinematic. So British audiences are accustomed to having the words carry the story, and any images are just there as eye candy. Well, Britain is just one island (actually it’s around a thousand, including the Outer Hebrides, but only one and a half big ones) so it wouldn't matter that much if the British never get hip to comics. Europe, India, the USA, Japan and Korea add up to a pretty big market to be going on with. Yet I do find it a shame that most of my British friends, unless they were reared on American comic books as I was, are not able to appreciate le neuvième art. So I can’t share my love of Sandman or Watchmen or B.P.R.D. with them, much less get their feedback on Mirabilis. Somehow I don’t see any UK government putting comics on the national curriculum, so homegrown comics may face the same kind of future as the UK film industry. Which would be a great pity.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Ding dong merrily on high

And here's the stocking filler I promised: a never-before-seen fragment from the Winter book. It's almost a year since we were working on the page above and, although I'm not keen to show off too much of the story piecemeal like this, nonetheless it is Christmas. Tune in again at the start of January to find out when you can read the whole caboodle.


Happy holidays. We're signing off till the New Year but, if you aren't too stuffed with turkey, pop by tomorrow as I may put up a little seasonal treat.

This Christmas Eve comic cover is dedicated to our mums - mine and Leo's and Martin's, all absolute treasures. And, as it happens, my mum has a connection to Mirabilis because the nickname she had as a young girl is also Lord Deerdand's nickname for Estelle. I can put it no better than to paraphrase Dr Johnson, who wrote to his own mum: "You are the best mother and, I believe, the best woman in the world." And to paraphrase Stan the Man: 'nuff said!

We're going to need a bigger howdah

Here's our penultimate "Silver Age" comic cover. This one isn't very seasonal but tomorrow's will make up for that.

It's another of Martin's fabulous pictures that was intended to go in the gazetteer. He drew it after I'd had a grumble (well, let's face it, a rant) about people who characterize unicorns as sweet and gentle creatures. How soppy and boring compared to the medieval concept of a creature representing the very essence of priapic ferocity! So here's your proper unicorn - dangerous game indeed.

The symbol on the triceratops's frill is ga, the Āryabhaṭa numeral 3, which is typical of the meticulous research that Martin will do for a painting. So today's cover is dedicated to him.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Let's get ready to rumble

Another piece of graphical wishful thinking from the alternate timeline wherein Mirabilis was brought to you every month by Lee and Ditko - or possibly by "Rascally" Roy Thomas and "Genial" George Tuska. In my dreams, sure - but that's what the Year of Wonders is all about.

Cobbling these cover images together, I've found that the panels that have space for a title are the ones with word balloons - but those are not usually the most arresting images for a cover. Whereas the action pics, which of course make the best covers, are mostly composed to fill the entire frame. Meaning that I either have to run the title over part of the picture (as in the case of yesterday's "Once Bitten") or add some blank space as best I can. All of which is pretty obvious to you artists out there, I'm sure, but it came as an eye-opener to me.

Today's imaginary comic book cover comes from Chapter 5 of the Winter book and is dedicated to the stupendously talented Frazer Payne - artist, author, game designer, musician and overall creative genius - who, among his many other accomplishments, composed the theme for the Mirabilis trailer.

Stick your neck out

Here's another crazy comic book cover from the 1960s that never were. This image comes from the story Leo and I were working on (and which forms chapter 4 of the Winter book: "Fire & Sleet & Candlelight") back at the start of the year when the snow lay thick as discarded wrapping paper.

I've mentioned before how Leo's style sometimes reminds me of the great George Tuska. It's not just the inking, though that's a big part of it. But look at Jack's outstretched hand; the way Leo has drawn that is pure Tuska. It's not a big similarity and most of the time you wouldn't notice, but just occasionally I'll be looking at a single panel blown up like this and it'll jump out.

To get us in the mood for all that Transylvanian action, we threw an extra log on the fire and settled down to watch The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires) on Leo's Kremlin-sized home movie screen. So today's cover is dedicated to Roman Polanski.

Monday, 21 December 2009

All in color for a dime!

I had such childish - or at any rate, childlike - fun mocking up a Silver Age-style Mirabilis comic book cover that I decided I'd do a few more and post them up over Christmas. They're all scenes either from the first graphic novel or from Martin's pictures for the gazetteer.

This one is dedicated to Mikael Louys, who helped us out with the French translation of "Stung!" (here if you still haven't seen it) and is head honcho of brilliant iPhone games company Megara Entertainment. If you hurry, there's still time to grab Megara's acclaimed Lovecraftian mystery adventure Arcana Agency in time for Cthulhumas.

More mighty Mirabilis cover madness tomorrow. Now - charge those guns.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Hanging by a thread

The Bookseller last month published a special issue reporting on comics and graphic novels in the UK. Available here it makes for interesting, if at times uncomfortable, reading.

Take Philip Stone’s analysis of GN sales figures. Mr Stone notes that sales this year are up “a mouth-watering 14.5%” and that the UK graphic novel market is worth some £11m. But the actual numbers on the opposite page paint a slightly less rosy picture. Leaving aside Watchmen, graphic novels in the UK are typically selling around 6000 copies a year – and that’s based on just the Top 20 adult titles. Sales figures in the children’s market aren’t even half that, with the Coraline graphic novel (a movie tie-in, after all) shifting about 2500 copies in the year.

Another telling statistic was that seven times as many people bought Watchmen in paperback as in hardback. And that despite there being not a huge difference in RRP: £17.99 and £24.99 respectively. So there seems to be no real premium market here.

The main lesson is one we all knew already. To work as a business, graphic novels need to be aimed at an international market. For whatever reason (and Paul Gravett discusses this in another of the articles) the British are not much interested in the medium of comics. In France, the graphic novel market is massively bigger, with the top adult titles shifting more than fifty times as many copies as UK sales of Persepolis, Killing Joke or Death Note. Stateside, the average graphic novel sells 15,000 copies annually – and that’s across five hundred titles, not just twenty, so figure on the top-sellers doing more than ten times that.

Another thing about the top-sellers – in most cases they didn’t start out as graphic novels, they built up a following in regular monthly comic books first. Not many people want to take a leap in the dark and shell out $17.99 (around $30) on a story they haven’t had a chance to sample first. Now, I grew up reading comic books and I’d love for Mirabilis to come out every month, but – like it or not – those days of the regular printed comic may be behind us.

Suppose you start up your own comic imprint next year. If you’re aiming to get to a wide readership you need to get into newsagents and comic stores, and by the time you’re breaking even you’ll be spending as much on printing and distribution as you are on actual content. You won’t get any advertising revenue because your imprint is tiny and unknown. And you won’t build much of a wide readership anyway because you won’t sell many copies in newsagents, and only the hardcore fans go into comic stores these days. Frankly, you’ve got a better chance of beating the laws of thermodynamics.

All of which leads us inevitably, inexorably, back to electronic publishing. And bear in mind I’m talking about e-comics as a stepping stone now. A way of ensuring that there can be a commercially viable version of the story in print form.

First, you need to reach an international market. App Store and the PlayStation Network will get your work out in front of potential customers in 70+ countries. (On DriveThruComics you’ve got the whole world, though personally I’m less keen on reading a PDF on my PC screen.) As Sandy Spangler pointed out here recently, being in App Store doesn’t mean you’re going to get noticed. But that’s even more true of bookstores, where failure to get a window or table display at the front means that your expensively-printed graphic novel about zombie tech support guys (“I.T.’s Alive” – ho ho) will lie scrunched up and unnoticed next to a Bash Street Kids annual.

One advantage of putting out the episodic version on phones and handhelds is that you can structure the payments much more flexibly than you can with a printed comic book. I’d give the first two or three issues – or “chapters”, if you prefer – of Mirabilis away free. Then maybe $1.50 for the other six, so you can get the whole of book one on iPhone for $9 – and, crucially, you only need to pay once you’ve decided you like it.

So here’s some pure guesswork. Don’t use these figures in actual recipes or your cake may not rise:

Option 1 is to publish your comic in monthly installments. So you get 10,000 readers who each pay $24 for all eight issues. And because you went through retailers, after paying printing and distribution costs you’re lucky if your revenue from all those sales is $40,000 - at least half of which will go on the advertising necessary to get 10,000 paying customers. So that leaves you with a page rate of $100. Hence the expression: don’t quit your day job.

Option 2 is to put it out electronically. This is all guesswork, remember, but say you still spend $20,000 on marketing and you get 150,000 people worldwide looking at the free episodes. Of those, maybe 15,000 are hooked by the story and buy it at $9. App Stores take 30%, some others take less, but call it $6.50 as your share per customer. That’s now a page rate of $400 after deducting the advertising. This could be your day job.

Remember that we’re talking here about starting an imprint with a view to generating a wide readership via retailers and selling real, physical, printed books in bookstores at the end of it all. I need to emphasize that because option 1 can work fine if you’re just looking for direct sales. You can print up at 50 cents, sell at $3, and in that case One Thousand True Fans will give you a (just about) sustainable business. But that’s a whole other discussion.

To make a “mass market” business out of this, you’d need a start-up fund of about $500,000 (£300,000) to pay for eight to ten titles averaging 150 pages - or a quarter of that to pay for advertising, plus ten creative teams willing to work entirely on the back end. Well, I’ve got a company with 175k to invest if anybody else is interested.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The future of comics

If you want to start the comic geek equivalent of a bar fight, just try popping up in the forums to say print is dead. That’ll do it every time.

I get why it bothers them. I’ve been collecting comic books most of my life. Shelves have collapsed in this house under the combined weight of Gaiman’s and Moore’s imaginations. Lee, Kirby and Ditko have to stay on the ground floor; no ceiling would hold them. These are my greatest treasures.

Yet, all that said, print’s on its way out.
Okay, maybe not at the prestige end of the market. The same people who buy the deluxe box set of Buffy DVDs (a snip at $166 – are they insane?) after getting hooked by the TV showings will buy the trade paperback of Hellboy having read the monthly comic books. So print will survive there - for a while at least. But that’s the five percent of comic readers for whom it’s a real passion, and their wallets can’t sustain an entire industry. It’s the 95% of casual readers we need to hang onto. As pamphlet comics die, electronic publishing offers the only answer.

There are two reasons why I’m so smitten with e-publishing of comics, especially on mobiles. The first is rooted in habit. I’m used to reading comics in monthly installments. That model still just about makes sense for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, but it’s a shrinking polar cap even for them. On smart phones and handhelds like the PSPgo, you’ve got the perfect platform for delivering regular comic episodes.
But that’s merely the reactionary argument. The real bonus is that electronic media provide a better way of reading comics. Some of the early comic reader apps have just treated the phone screen as a little window for peering through at a comic page. I say: let’s kiss goodbye to pages! My biggest headache in writing comics is getting the reveals to come at page breaks. The way forward is going to be a step beyond current features like Sony’s autoflow system, to the point that the old historical idea of the comic page might even be jettisoned entirely. Whether it is or not, the view can track across each frame rostrum-style to reveal new parts of the image. Each story will be some blend of animation, motion comics and static comics.
Here are some frames from Mirabilis to show a very simple way that an e-comic could enhance the reading experience. Each time you press Next, you get successive word balloons or sound effects. At the transitions between panels, there could be cuts, dissolves or fades depending on what works best for the story.

Welcome to the future. My ten-year-old self would’ve eaten this stuff up!

Friday, 11 December 2009

"A Wrong Turning"

A few people have said they'd rather read the Christmas ghost story on site, instead of as a PDF download. And, as it is the season of giving, here are the pages. If you want the PDF version you can find it at Tell your friends.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A ghost story for Christmas

We could have knitted you some socks. Or given you a box of handmade crackers that explode with a green flash. But in the end we decided to go with a traditional Christmas ghost story. Christmas Eve in particular is a time when the world holds its breath, the pulse of time fluttering to nothing for an instant before it begins again. Could there be a more appropriate time to settle down with a tale to send shivers up your spine?

“A Wrong Turning” is one of half a dozen self-contained seasonal stories originally written to promote Mirabilis. There’s nothing about the story that marks it as being set in the Mirabilis universe, though. A bereaved father and son take a detour that leads them into an eerie encounter with the next world. The tight, atmospheric pencils are by Martin, and you’ll see right away why he is so in demand for movie storyboarding. His artwork on this little tale reminds me of the great Creepy artists like Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall, Angelo Torres and Al Williamson.

You’ll find the PDF of “A Wrong Turning” here. Go ahead, it’s our Christmas present to you. All we ask is that, if you enjoy it, please send it to at least two friends who you think might like it, and ask them to do the same. If you have a blog or a website whose readers might appreciate a little scare, by all means feel free to put it up there too. 2010 is the year we’re planning to embrace viral marketing, and we mean to hit the ground running.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Up above the world so high

As expedition leader Sir Reginald Butley stepped across from the basket of his balloon onto the lunar surface, he uttered the immortal words: "That's one small step for a young man, but it's quite a jump for an old chap like me, I can tell you. I probably shouldn't have had that extra helping of shepherd's pie for lunch. And then there were the mince pies coming up. Tell you what, you young folk go on and I'll just sit here for a bit and enjoy the view. Whew."

In the absence of actual pages from the story, here's another breathtaking image by Martin. This was originally destined for the gazetteer, which was planned as a kind of Mirabilis yearbook along the lines of Dinotopia or The Spiderwick Field Guide. And the most amazing thing about this picture? It was never finished; this is Martin's idea of a rough sketch!

Moon-climbing is the kind of thing you'd see happening by April or May in the year of wonders. Our plan was to have twelve full color spreads throughout the gazetteer and make those also into a calendar. If that appeals, you should take a look at the Giclée prints available of some of Martin's most gorgeous full-color artwork.

Monday, 7 December 2009

That was the year that was

Amazing to think that it was last December that Leo and I put together the Mirabilis trailer, armed only with a bunch of stills and a great score by the multitalented Frazer Payne. I’d been steeling myself for a day or two swearing at Flash, so it was a happy discovery that we could do the whole thing in Windows Movie Maker in an afternoon and then go down the pub.

The pub in question was the Globe in Appley where we spent a very enjoyable evening with Fred Hasson of Red Bedlam and his family. Beer was had, and good pies, and Fred and his brother Leary, once stalwarts of ‘70s prog rock with their band Marsupilami, joined in a few songs with the Globe’s proprietor, affable Angelino LeBurn Maddox.

I mention all this only to show that it seems like it happened just a couple of days ago. The year has gone bounding by like an eager St Bernard on its way to a cable car disaster. Okay, we’ve done about 150 pages of Mirabilis since then, but it doesn’t seem enough – especially not while the work remains squirreled away like those National Gallery paintings they shoved in a Welsh cave during the war.

Leo and Nikos have been working flat out all year. Leo is drawing, drawing every minute the day gives him, and Nikos colors Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon along with a whole lot of other work. Compared to those guys, I feel like such a slacker. Only about half my energy this year has gone into writing Mirabilis. That’s the enjoyable half. The rest was frittered away trying to get projects like the iPhone version under way.

My resolutions for 2010 are therefore: to spend at least 90% of my efforts on the actual creative work, to make sure that I retain control of everything I create, and to achieve more.

Huh, did I just tell myself, “Must try harder”? My primary school teacher would surely approve!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Grr Argh

Maureen Ryan has an illuminating in-depth interview with Joss Whedon on the Chicago Tribune site. They're mainly talking about Dollhouse, his recently-cancelled show about operatives whose minds are blank until they’re imprinted with the personality and skills required for an assignment. (And if that suggests Joe 90 sitting in the Big Rat, put the image right out of your head; what Echo gets up to in Dollhouse would really steam Joe's bins.) After a couple of early episodes that make you suppose the show is going to settle into a comfortable weekly mission format, Joss takes it off in a whole strange, murky and kinky direction. And then at the end of season one it suddenly goes off the map into totally unexpected territory.

The bit that really got my attention was when Joss starts discussing his plans for more internet projects along the lines of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which has parallels with how Leo and I would like to build up an audience for our comic projects:

Ryan: When I was soliciting questions for this interview, I kept getting, "Why isn't Joss Whedon going to cable or just going off and doing his own Joss Whedon online portal or whatever?"

Whedon: Well I can answer both those questions - because Fox forgot to cancel my show. They looked on their calendars and went, "God, we were supposed to cancel this months ago!"
Nice to see that television networks also operate under the “idiocy of the system” method. Although by some fluke the system hasn’t behaved quite as idiotically as it does in other media, because Fox are after all allowing the show to run until the end of season two. Which is a lot more sensible than just filibustering a project and generally pissing off the people who created it until they wander off to do something else so that the publisher/studio/network gets to keep the biggest slice of an infinitely small pie.

Whedon: The Internet is slightly more interesting [than TV] right now just because I feel like we have to get in there and start figuring out how to create entertainment without the networks and the studios, because they’re basically trying to figure out how to create and entertain without us.

Ryan: Yeah, I think you’re right there, but as you say, it’s not easy to kind of create a new model for how everyone gets paid and makes what they want to make.

Whedon: Yeah, but people aren’t going to make what they want to make anymore. That’s not going to happen. The rainbow, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow got smaller, significantly smaller. […] The artistic community is more and more left out of the equation, so the trick is going to be finding out how to make the Internet work in such a way that people [can get by] because it’s not going to pay TV money. It’s not. In fact, people are going to have to be entering the business less with the idea of making a fortune and more of the idea of just making product, getting it done, getting it out there and then hoping that there is a way in which it can support [a creative community].
If anything, book publishing is further along that curve than TV. People complain about novels “written by” celebrities, but the fact is that an author must first build a platform, as they say, or their opus will assuredly sink in the sea of books being published every month. A soap star is someone who has nailed that obscurity problem, and the fact that they can’t actually write is easily dealt with by bunging a relatively small sum at a ghostwriter. (That's the way producers and editors mostly prefer writers anyway - as hirelings.)

The problem is that ghostwritten novels with celebrity names on the cover will not produce the original content necessary to drive the whole industry onwards. So some genuine authors are still needed – not many, but some. However, those authors too have to build their platform to stand out from the crowd. Networks and publishers should therefore be delighted to see authors willing to strike out and take all the risks themselves on the Internet. Then they can offer sweet deals to the ones who bob up to the surface. It’s like being able to wait and see if a lottery ticket has won before you pay for it.

Anyway, back to Joss Whedon. All this has just reminded me that I still haven’t got around to watching Firefly. The hokey cowboy angle just keeps getting in the way. But I’ll try and get past that because Whedon’s TV shows are like Alan Moore’s comics: even the weaker stuff rewards your time. So if you’ve begun puzzling over Christmas presents, that could be your answer. Dr Horrible is a great laugh, Dollhouse is compelling and thought-provoking, and Buffy is just about the greatest body of work yet made for television. Go on, you won’t be disappointed – and, better yet, you’ll be helping Joss escape the clutches of the networks so he can go on to create even more original stories.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Let me take you by the hand...

Another nice bit of concept art from Martin, and a reminder that the world of 1901 wasn't all regimental balls, tea in Bloomsbury and a private compartment on the Orient Express. Without the squalor, poverty and injustice that infested the underside of la Belle Époque, the arrival of that green comet would betoken nothing more than an explosion of random magic. We chose two heroes from opposite ends of the social spectrum for a reason, intending to develop a serious theme alongside all the fantasy adventure. This is a world that needs changing.

However, rest assured that if you have no taste for social politics you can safely ignore that aspect of the story and concentrate instead on the plant monsters, vampires, robots, talking apes, undersea kingdoms, mad scientists, flying machines, fighting saints, genies, baby giants, pteranodons, witches, elemental spirits, 2000-year-old wizards, potions, rope tricks, murder mysteries and very bad fairies.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


It was only on reading Peter Richardson’s fascinating posts about Jim Steranko that I remembered Jaunty Jim’s artwork for Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was what first made me aware of the potential of comics to tell a story cinematically. I don’t know why it took me so long, because I had been reading comic books avidly by then for several years and I was a total movie nut almost from infancy. (At the age of six I was telling my bewildered teacher how there was this scene of Lawrence striding along the top of a train and it was really brilliant because David Lean had only shot Peter O’Toole’s feet. I really was quite a scary little boy.)

Comparisons are not only invidious, they don’t really work. To say that comics are like cinema is to miss all the ways that they can do things differently. Alan Moore has something to say about that:
“The use of cinematic techniques can advance the standards of comic art and writing, but if those techniques are seen as the highest point to which comic art can aspire, then the medium is condemned forever to be a poor relative of the motion picture industry.”
And this from the man who wrote the opening page of Watchmen, remember. I get the point Mr Moore is making. However, many of the techniques we think of as cinematic actually predate the moving image by many years. There’s a sequence in Great Expectations where Magwitch is about to reappear on the scene. Dickens describes a storm rolling in over the rooftops of London and then he swoops down into Pip’s lodgings in Middle Temple. I can just see a director like Fincher or Burton having fun with that. But even much earlier, in Pickwick Papers, Dickens had scenes that were set up (as we would see it now) cinematically. I’m not just talking about his very evocative visual descriptions, but his use of spatial relationships in a scene, the sense that he always knows exactly where “the camera” is.

What I like is the way a camera can pick out a detail for emphasis – like running feet in a Lean or Kurosawa movie, the cage of shadows in film noir, the hiss of steam from a pipe in Roeg’s Bad Timing, or bamboo swaying in the moonlight in King Hu’s Touch of Zen. The “camera” in this context could equally well be our viewpoint in a comic, a videogame or even a novel.

But what I really love is when the camera/viewpoint explores the 3D-ness of a scene. Maybe it has something to do with our hunter-gatherer past that makes spatial relationships so fascinating and pleasurable? The three panels above are from fairly late on in the Mirabilis story and come right after a sequence of several pages that has taken us from the streets of Constantinople to the rooftops and right across the bay, and there from the mast of a ship to its deck. Breathtaking comics work from Leo there, and I hope we get the chance to show it all to you soon. (Update: it's here in Book Two.)

Games, of course, excel at this particular “cinematic” trick, and one of the best examples is in the classic game Outcast. Watch from 4 minutes in:

- though for the full effect you really need to play the whole game. Ten years old and still the best - trust me.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The last page

Here's a detail from the very final panel of Mirabilis. (That's the Sea of Marmara but, as you can see, the picture doesn't give anything away about how the story ends.) We've got nearly 200 pages and about two years of work behind us on this one, so I reckon we deserve an afternoon off. Read more on the Super Comics Adventure Squad site.

Unfortunately you can't get hold of the story anywhere yet - apart from the early online episodes, that is. Ideally I'd like to get the first five chapters (roughly equivalent to twenty-two of the old DFC episodes) out in electronic form. That's about half the book and, since our biggest problem is obscurity, it would be worth giving away to get the widest readership possible. (Just like music: ensure your tracks have the widest possible distribution and you'll make money on the concerts. In this analogy the printed book is the equivalent of the concert, of course.)

Anyway, we can't do it that way with Mirabilis but it is how we'll be releasing Sweet. The first 20 pages of that are all written so as soon as Leo's Wacom tablet has cooled down we'll be getting the art under way. This one will be released episodically so we can build an audience. It only took us two years to learn how to do it right!

Writing 101

We've had posts from time to time about the creative process, so I feel justified in this plug for my wife's book Nail Your Novel, which is available free in PDF format on her blog. (You don't actually have to have an iPhone, she just took those photos to show it's perfectly readable on a small screen.)

If you're planning on writing a book - or a comic, come to that - grab it while you can. Roz sold half a million copies of her own books last year, so her advice is worth getting.