Seven Shades of inspiration....in the pub

Last night I met up with my Seven Shades co-creator Dave Clifford (Dexter’s Half Dozen) for a few drinks and some food in a city centre pub. This isn’t a particularly rare or surprising event, as a great deal of this comic series has been created in places that serve beer. Come to think of it Dave originally pitched the idea to me in a different city centre pub over some post Cardiff International Comic Expo drinks a few years ago. Spending a few hours discussing some of our plans for the series last night did serve to remind me how different working on Seven Shades is from the other comics projects I’ve been involved in.

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Dave came to me with an idea for a book, a supernatural Western series and after some back and fore over a year or two I agreed to come on board as the writer. I soon came to realise that the amount of ideas Dave had for the book was astonishing, and that was one of the reasons it took me so long to say yes to being involved. I was flattered that he wanted me to be part of the series, but I wasn’t sure what I could really offer. We started to meet semi regularly over a few pints to work out the best way to tackle the series nonetheless. Prior to this title many of the books I’ve worked on have been with artists from the other side of the world, so collaborating with a fellow South Wales creator meant getting together in person was something we were able to do. When we chatted last night and worked out some back matter for the next issue, we both came to realise these in person meet ups have played a huge part in how we’ve shaped the comic.

Not only did Dave have hundreds of ideas when we first discussed the book, he also had hundreds more that he’d dreamt up in the time that passed before I committed to working on it. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who comes up with so many ideas as Dave, he has thoughts on what we can put into the book on a daily basis and comes up with far more character, plot and visual concepts in a few weeks than most people do in a lifetime. He just needed a way to contain them into a story and at first that was my main role, listening to Dave and trying to find the narrative throughline, taking some of the more disparate conceits and working out cohesive ways to pull them together. Really, for the first few pub chats I was a story editor more than anything else.

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Over time the dynamic has changed and we’ve found ways to focus on the overarching story while also honing in on what is needed for each arc, each issue and each page. Now when either of us thinks of an image or scene that is seemingly unrelated to where the series is heading we spend time to explore how to use it and if we find a way to make it work, we then create springboards to future plot or character moments. The key to our process has become breaking story together and we’ve had a great deal of our best Eureka moments while sitting in a bar, which is in keeping with the fact the local saloon is a key location in the story.

The other thing I’m glad we’ve done is working Marvel style. We leave our meet up with the next issue plotted out, then I turn that into a loose script, no panel breakdowns just a paragraph or two about each page. As Dave came up with the concept and his art is fully painted, this gives him greater freedom and it’s also helped us find ways to put more humour into the book too. It’s been great fun to build visual gags from issue to issue this way. Dave sends over some thumbnails, then the fully realised painted pages and I set about writing the dialogue, captions and sound effects. I’ve only ever done one story this way before (Seniors) and Dave has never worked from anything other than a full script, so it was a challenge for us both at first. Now that we’ve found a rhythm it works well and I enjoy the challenge of scripting this way too. I actually think Issue 3 of the first arc is one of the best things I’ve ever written.

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Last year we managed to put out four issues of our supernatural Western series, with local publisher Deadstar Publishing and we took the book ICE in Birmingham and Thought Bubble in Leeds and via the publisher all around the UK. This year we’re focussing on a bumper sized one shot that bridges the gap from our first ‘season’ to our second, that’s painted and scripted and we’re hard at work on the back matter to take it to sixty pages. There will be more news on when and where that launches soon. Our ambitious Seven Shades in seven trades intention means if all goes according to plan we’ll have seven such arcs and six one shots before the series is complete. If you haven’t checked the book out yet, you can pick up the issues via Deadstar and if you happen to find yourself in Cardiff and notice two guys laughing and making notes in the corner of a pub, it may well be us.

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WIP - 7 Shades

A couple of years ago I was approached by my friend Dave Clifford, artist on Dexter's Half Dozen, about collaborating on something together. Not only did he want us to work together, he also already had a project in mind. He ran the high concept for his supernatural western idea past me and it was enough to get me interesting in giving it a go. He then sent me a pitch package with character overviews, hints at the overarching plot and some initial sketches and painted artwork. 

Character sketch from Dave's initial pitch. 

Character sketch from Dave's initial pitch. 

We finally found time to discuss things in more detail in April this year. Being two British creators, that met meeting up in the pub. Dave expanded on the initial conceit he had, taking me through enough story for 100+ issues. I was pretty overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas that he had and the more we talked, the more potential storylines and characters he came up with. It took us a few more meet ups before we have whipped 7 Shades into shape. I asked Dave lots of questions about the core characters and their motivations and focussed on trying to shape a story arc that would introduce us to the world and provide a satisfactory story if that was all we were able to tell. 

From Dave's initial pitch.

From Dave's initial pitch.

Back of napkin notes were typed up into a coherent story structure, the first four arcs were loosely planned before we really honed in on the launch arc. Initially drilling down what would happen in each issue, before breaking down Issue 1 even more into a page by page breakdown. From this I set about writing a plot first, Marvel style script for Issue 1. This felt like a much better approach rather than writing full script, as the story had originated from Dave and he was planning to create fully painted artwork.  It also fitted with the spirit of how we would plotting together, taking his huge array of ideas for characters, plots, sub-plots and visual set-ups and shaping them into a linear story. It gave us scope to come up with new things in the dialogue based on how Dave approached the visuals. 

A page from Issue 1.

A page from Issue 1.

It was after our third meet-up that I set about writing the first issue. Tonight we met up again, for our fourth in person chat about the project. Almost half of Issue 1 (which will be 30 pages in total) have been painted and it was amazing to get to look through the original art. We caught up, had a few drinks and discussed some new elements that we can weave into the story based on how the art looked and the tone it conveyed. I'll have the pages to show in their digital form at the Bristol Comic Expo next weekend. I'm really excited to get this project moving. 

Something old, something new...

I decided that I wanted 2016 to be a year where I procrastinated less and wrote more, and so far that's be going to plan, as the year has gotten off to a very productive start.

Title - TBC

(Comic short) 

In January I took an idea that had been in my head for about four years and finally put it on the page as a short story. It doesn't have a title yet, but I already had it accepted for an anthology title once a suitable artist is found. This story ended up taking on a life of its own and went in a slightly different direction than I had planned and the ending wasn't what I was expecting. I think the story is all the better for these changes though. 

Working Title - Viva Las Venus  

(Comic mini-series) 

Re-evaluating old work has been part of this year's plan too. Looking back on unfinished projects and deciding whether to ditch them and move on or give them another chance has been a wise move. 

This space opera project started life about ten years ago and I wrote the whole mini series for submission to Visionary Comics. I've gone back to the concept a few times over the years, but disliked so much of what I'd written that I could never quite get past it. This time I ditched a lot more, kept the world and the two main characters but dropped parts of the high concept. I also brought in characters from two other sci-fi story ideas that had stalled in the early stages. Creating an ensemble piece gave the series a new life and pushed me to take the story further and I'm really enjoying working on it. I think two pages from the original book have made it into this new version. 

I wrote Issue 1 in January and did two rounds of rewrites in February. The plan is to do some more rewrites this month and then to look for a suitable artist while working on the other issues.  

Title - The Package

(Short Film) 

    

 

 

This project started life a short comic script in about 2009, when I first came up with the idea. Two years later, having lost the original script I wrote it again, following the same plot and that version has been sitting on my hard drive ever since. Every now and then I'd consider pitching it to an anthology title, but it never quite felt like the right fit.  

I've been thinking for a while that the concept is much more suited to film, so took the plunge and wrote it a third time last month, this time as a short film. The cringeworthy dialogue from the 2011 version has all gone and despite the plot being essentially the same, the characterisation is stronger, the pacing more interesting and the overall finished script far more satisfying. It's coming in at eighteen pages currently, so would be pushing twenty minutes so my next job is to try and get it back to fifteen minutes.  Once I've done that I'll start thinking about ways to get it made. 

Title - Break

(Short Film) 

Another short film, which I've been mulling over for the past few weeks prompted by a specific call out for submissions. The submission has some specific criteria that the story has to meet and at one point I did consider reworking 'The Package" to make it eligible. In the end I decided that having two shorts written was a better plan than trying to make that story into something it wasn't intended to be. I got the plot for this one down on paper yesterday and I'll need to have it written, polished and submitted by the end of the month. 

As well as these projects I'm also working on 'Seven Shades', a supernatural western comic series with artist Dave Clifford (Dexter's Half Dozen). It's based on an idea he had, which we fleshed out together in January. I'll be doing this one Marvel style, to allow him to really flex his artist muscles and I should be starting work on Issue 1 very soon.

Sci-fi mini series 'Flux' which I'm co-writing with Steve Aryan (Battlemage) is gathering pace. Artist Maysam Barza is hard at work on Issue 2, Issue 3 is written and we're in the process of tightening up the breakdown for Issue 4 before we start scripting it.

Lots going on, hopefully I can maintain this pace throughout the year.