Adrian's Writing Blog

news, articles and reviews

Jonathan Cape Graphic Short story 2017

This year's winner of the Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story competition is in the Guardian today (or the Observer on Sunday, to be exact) and it's a heartwarming tale about compatibility and romance. Congratulations to this year's winner! I'll chat about the recent winners and then I'll show my graphic short story entry…

First line from this year's winner (Tor Freeman):

j-cape-2017-example

It's interesting to see what the competition organisers are looking for nowadays. Last year's winner was a milkman's desire to win his local Tall Milkman competition. This seems, I think, to show that Cape are currently after low-key, heartwarming stories about everyday life. Both stories are also illustrated in a style that's akin to a children's book illustration, making them accessible to a larger age group.

Sample line from last year's winner (Matthew Dooley):

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 09.58.23 Read More...

The Great Secret graphic novel is now available to buy

great-secret-ibooks-link
The Great Secret graphic novel (190 pages of visual story adventure) is now available as a digital download for Kindle and for the iPad. I’ve asked a few friends to check out the digital version and it all looks good so far, but I’m keen to get as much (helpful) feedback as possible. If you do buy a digital copy (currently £4.99) and you like it, I’d be most grateful if you put in a review on the vendor’s site. If you have any problems with your copy of the graphic novel, do please let me know via the contact form or in the comments field on ‘the great secret’ page (currently under construction) which also contains more info on the book. Read More...

Giza Pyramids & Baalbek documentary

icon-mk-blazing-star
While I'm finalising the digital editions of 'The Great Secret' graphic novel, I thought readers might enjoy this excellent U.S. documentary on the whole topic of the Giza Pyramids. The documentary explains, with lots of examples, why it's clear from an engineering point of view that the Giza Pyramids couldn't have been built with copper tools. The programme mentions Christopher Dunn's excellent research and his book 'The Giza Power Plant', which I heartily recommend to anyone keen to find out how the Giza Pyramids were actually constructed. Dunn's conclusions in the book are astonishing, but they are grounded in science and extensive evidence.



I also really enjoyed the style and pace of the documentary. I do enjoy watching 'Ancient Aliens' now and then, but this earlier documentary's measured pace and calm reflection is a breath of fresh air compared to the 'whizz-bang-flash!' of many modern documentaries. It was aired in 1999 but it seems like it's from the early 80's! Love the beard…

'Lovelace and Babbage' - graphic novel-ish review

lovelace-and-babbage-cover
A graphic novel-ish has come out recently that is fun, well-researched and beautifully drawn. It's called:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage


It's by Sydney Padua and it's based on her web comic that ran for several years. Padua worked in Hollywood as animator for years before writing the webcomic and it shows; her illustrations are effortless, consistent, accurate and full of expression and life, which (take it from me) takes absolutely donkeys years and a bazillion hours to master. I must note that the book isn't a graphic novel; instead, it is a series of short stories about Ada Lovelace (seen by many as the first computer programmer) and Charles Babbage (seen by many as the inventor of the first computer) in an alternative universe created by Padua in which Lovelace doesn't die young and they both get to make the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Along with each page of these stories are a big pile of footnotes, showing how much research Padua has done on the subject.

Read More...

The Great Pyramid and 2787 BC

For the last few years, I've been working on an ancient mystery story. Its first incarnation was a non-fiction book called 'The Golden Web' but after some feedback, I realised that early version was too dense and convoluted to appeal to many readers. Instead, I've been creating a graphic novel about the same subject using the same researched material, evidence and ideas. This graphic novel is currently entitled 'The Great Secret'. It isn't yet complete. When I do complete it, I'll be looking for a publisher. I'll post any news of that progress when it occurs.

As part of spreading awareness of the graphic novel and the ideas contained within it, I've posted an article on this website about a key piece of evidence that I unearthed while researching the story. As the title of this blog entry indicates, the key piece of evidence concerns the Great Pyramid and the year 2787 BC, when a crucial celestial event occurred. For a full explanation, do please read the article.


thuban-passage-500px

Lovecraft and Tintin

While hunting for inspirational 1920s/Lovecraft/graphic novel images, I came upon these very funny covers by the artist and illustrator Muzski:

Tintin At The Mountains Of Madness by MuzskiTintin And The Reanimator by MuzskiTintin From Beyond by MuzskiTintin In R'lyeh by MuzskiTintin The Dunwich Horror by MuzskiTintin The Shadow Out Of Time by Muzski

Muzski is the pseudonym of the Scottish artist Murray Groat. Do please check out his website as there's some lovely work on show.

Recommended graphic novels

I think I've recommended graphic novels before but it's been a long time, so I thought I'd do it again.

Here are eight great graphic novels, in no particular order:

watchmen-alan-moore
1. Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This was a big game-changer of a graphic novel from Alan Moore, the writer of V for Vendetta, when it first came out. It is a story about flawed, real super-heroes. They are dissected, in fact almost vivisected and in the process, they are made both complex and realistic; becoming flawed human vigilantes or cold, distant superheroes that turn out to be entirely alien to the people they try to help. Very much an adult book and a venerable classic of the genre.



pyongyang-delisle
2. Pyongyang - Guy Delisle

This is an example of 'graphic novel as travelogue'. The author, Guy Delisle, spent time in North Korea while working from a French-Canadian animation company. While he was there, he drew this graphic novel diary of his experiences. It paints an entertaining, startling and quite disturbing picture of the North Korean totalitarian state. Since then, Delisle has written/drawn about Shenzhen (in China), Jerusalem and Burma. All those stories are accessible, funny, perceptive, warm and revealing.

maus-spiegelman
3. Maus - Art Spiegelmann

Maus may be the most important graphic novel ever written, in terms of its legacy, its impact, its influence on other writers and its ability to make a horrific subject accessible and readable without every diminishing the tragedy of what happened. Maus, originally in two parts, is about the Jewish Holocaust, based on the author's father's memories of surviving those years. Spiegelmann made an inspired decision when drawing the story to make the characters anthropomorphic, to give them human bodies but animal heads. The germans are cats, the poles are pigs and the jews are mice (as far as I can remember). Its a must-read book (a term that's often over-used when reviewing works but is absolutely true in this case).

gorazde-sacco
4. Safe Area Gorazde - Joe Sacco.

Joe Sacco, like Guy Delisle, has used the graphic novel genre as a tool for investigative journalism, to tell readers about what happened to the author when he or she was in that place, a visual diary that gives immediacy and focus to a time and place in our recent history. Sacco talks about the Bosnian War and the siege of Sarajevo in this book, along with its horrors, tragedies, courage and, sometimes, high farce. It is a powerful story, eloquently told in Sacco's pared-down narration and clear, accessible artwork.

blacksad-cover
5. Blacksad - Juanjo Guarnido (artist)

Blacksad is in more traditional territory for a graphic novel. It's a series of hard-boiled. fifties. detective-style stories very much in the mould of Raymond Chandler. The twist in this case is that the characters are anthropomorphic, i.e. human bodies and animal heads, just like Maus or Rupert Bear.

What elevates Blacksad above many run-of-the-mill graphic-novel murder stories is the sheer brilliance of the artwork. Guarnido was trained in fine art and has worked as a key animator for Disney in Europe. All the stories' frames are painted in watercolour. For beauty, dynamism, skill and atmosphere, they are without peer. 

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 22.28.59
6. The Red Tree - Shaun Tan

Does Shaun Tan do graphic novels? It's hard to say. They're not 200 pages long but they are visual stories, or sequential art. For me, the Red Tree is my favourite. It's a simple story that would appeal to children and adults and it is utterly beguiling. Each page is a large, single picture that creates a single emotion through an image. As the story progresses, the reader becomes lost in the tale, with its minimal but crucial text, until the tale ends with a low-key, resonant, beautiful finish. I get emotional just thinking about it. Highly recommended.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 22.32.05
7. Amulet - Kazu Kibuishi

This is a graphic novel for youngsters (I would say 8 to 12 age group). High quality drawings, an engaging, dramatic story and there are five books to collect. The story tells of a family who move to a house in the country belonging to a deceased relative. The kids realise that there was much more to the relative than they expected. The daughter finds an amulet and is transported into a different land where dark forces are after the precious item now bound to her.

Amulet looks lovely, is lots of fun to read and is a great alternative for a parent wanting their child to enjoy graphic novels without, for example, having to deal with the somewhat dated style of Asterix (which I still have a soft spot for, but often deems wordy and tedious when I read it nowadays).

persepolis-satrapi
8. Persepolis - Marjan Satrapi

A visually striking, engaging, thoughtful and dramatic story about a young woman's life in Iran and her time in Europe. As in Sacco's work, the graphic novel format is again used to visually show a part of the world and a time in history that we don't hear much about in the west and about which we often have distorted and downright false views. Excellent.





Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story 2012

I’ve taken a short break from the novel to get an entry in for the Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Competition. The story is entitled ‘Enduring Love’. Here’s the first page (click on it to see the whole, four page story in higher resolution). Wish me luck!

page1-550px

Making a graphic novel the Logicomix way

Last Spring, I embarked on a graphic novel... and went about it completely the wrong way. At the beginning, I was keen to produce some completed pages as fast as possible, mostly so I would have something to show to people; it's pretty embarrassing to work on a graphic novel for three months and then someone asks to see your progress and all you've got is a pile of sketches and a dull-sounding script. Unfortunately, the 'produce some slick, colourful pages as fast as possible' was a disaster and I gave up after two months. Here's a list of some of the mistakes I made with that approach:
Read More...

Graphic novel progress - first chapter done

Well, I've been living like a hermit for the last two months but it has produced something. Here's the first chapter of the graphic novel 'Cziltang Bone and the Reality Shifter' that I've been working on. I was going to make it available as a pdf but the file's 60Mb so, instead, I've put in this post as screen shots. Read More...

Graphic novel progress - Brush pens are good but...

Here's a page I've done using only the Tombo brush pens for colour. I'm fairly pleased with it although it does highlight one key problem with brush pens - they don't cover areas well. You might have spotted that the sky is messy, something I just can't fix with a brush pen. I've also found that I couldn't get the right colour for a frog's skin.


The answer, I think, is to use a mixed media approach. I'm going to use gouache or watercolour for large areas and the brush pens for small areas and shading. I bashed out a quick sketch this way and it was both quick and easy.


I'm making progress. Hopefully there'll be a first chapter to show soon!

Graphic novel progress - Vectorisation is getting to me...

After two days of wrestling with the whole vectorising approach (mentioned here) and going slightly bonkers, I sank back in my chair, took a deep breath, put the computer to sleep and bashed out an ink illustration in a few minutes. It's the picture shown. Read More...

Graphic novel progress - Decisions, decisions...

Oooh, it's difficult to decide. After talking at length here about the qualities of vector illustration, I've been drawn back to my pencil shaded black and white work. I was examining one of my black and white illustrations for my fantasy comedy novel and wondered what it would look like coloured. I got my water based ink brush pens out (Tombo ABT dual brush pens) and inked in most of the picture. I then finished it off with some gouache to the face, hands and the strange eggy lump on the door. Read More...

How Herge drew Tintin

I mentioned in the last blog entry about creating a graphic novel with a 'clear line' style. I used Tintin as an example of this method. For those who are interested, there's a very useful article about Herge's methods on the National Maritime Museum website of all places. Check it out here. It's fascinating to see how the page develops; where the 'life' of the story appears and at what point it looks polished and professional.

Read More...

Graphic novel progress - Colour vectorising a pencil sketch

After three weeks of working away (in between other bits and bobs), I've made some progress on the graphic novel. The first week or so was spent investigating whether I could do the work in gouache - a sort of paint similar to watercolour but less watery (I know that's not a very technical or accurate description but it'll do). I've done gouache illustrations before, I've popped one alongside this text.

I found though that it is a slow job doing the gouache. I think I'd need to spend six months or probably longer just practicing the gouache to get good enough to churn out an entire page of gouache illustration in one day (my target rate). Juanjo Guarnido - the Blacksad artist - has certainly found a way to produce his painted artwork at a viable rate but he's spent years doing fine art followed by more years working as a Disney animator. That's a lot of practice!

Read More...

Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story competition

When the Arvon graphic novel course finished, I was all ready and motivated to do some comic work. Unfortunately, a very sad event occurred on the way back which I won't go into in a blog. Suffice it to say, that strongly affected the whole of the next week. What I was able to do though was get together an entry for the Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story competition. The competition had been recommended to me on the course by Hannah Berry and I checked the details on my return home. I had a little over a week to produce a four page graphic short story. Yikes! I decided there wasn't time to think up a new story. I would have to use one I'd already written. In the end, I went for the frog poem I'd submitted to a climate change competition.

Here's what I produced: Read More...

The Arvon Graphic Novel course was great!

On the week beginning the 20th September, I went on an Arvon Foundation Graphic Novel course (http://www.arvonfoundation.org/) at their Shropshire centre. It was very good. The tutors - Bryan Talbot and Hannah Berry - were encouraging, knowledgeable and lots of fun to be with. The emphasis of the course was on the writing side (since Arvon is for writers) and so we explored story structure, editing, setting, dialogue and character. I think what impressed me most about the course was the atmosphere of the graphic novel and comic world. It seemed far more down-to-earth, relaxed and a collection of enthusiasts than other creative areas. Read More...

It's catch up time... (with fun pics!)

Many apologies, but I haven't added a blog entry for months. It's been a hectic two months, for both good and bad reasons, but I'm going to try and catch up today.

The first entry that springs to mind is from the 18th September. I had booked to go on an Arvon Writing week (http://www.arvonfoundation.org/). The subject of the week was Graphic Novels and the tutors were Bryan Talbot and Hannah Berry. Since the week would be about creating stories with both text and images, I thought it would be good to get down and do some drawing. I had done drawing and painting before, but I'd only produced a few illustrations. I decided to dedicate the whole week to producing some fun black and white illustrations for Copper Book. In the end, I only got about three days of work done, but I did produce work I was very pleased with. Here's what I came up with: Read More...