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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Thought Bubble - the return

Comic conventions are like buses, none for some time and then two come along at once. Our publisher on Seven Shades, Deadstar Publishing, was busy at Cardiff Film and Comic Con so Dave Clifford and I took to the road and headed North to Leeds for Thought Bubble. This was my fourth time at the show, but my first appearance since 2014 and it was Dave’s first chance to experience what has become the largest comic event in the UK. Despite the Friday traffic conspiring to make our drive six hours long, a mix of metal albums and jaffa cakes kept us in good spirits.

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As usual with Thought Bubble, the social side is just as important as the convention itself and it was great to spend a couple of evenings with some very good friends, fellow creators Chris Hurst, Chris Lewis, Glenn Moane (all CE alumni), Magnus Aspli and Dan Hill who I was meeting for the first time.

We were sharing a table with Huw “Lem” Davies and his Moon of Chance, who ably managed to put up with Dave and I for two whole days! Our table was in the Comixology Originals Marquee, which had a steady flow of people throughout both days. We launched Issue 3 and 4 of Seven Shades at the show, bringing the first arc of the story to a close. Over the course of the weekend, Dave and I chatted through plot points and made notes that have made us believe we will end up with Seven Shades in Seven Trades eventually! Books sold across both day, as did Dave’s original art.

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I wasn’t able to leave our table that often, but I did find time to head to another of the marquees to catch up briefly with Mike Collins and Marc Laming and to finally meet Paul Allor in the flesh, but there were lots of people I didn’t manage to find time to see in the end. We also recorded a quick interview with another old friend, Jimmy Aquino for his podcast Comic News Insider.

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Thought Bubble moved to a variety of city centre locations last year and when I heard that news I wasn’t sure at first about it leaving the Royal Armouries, but once we settled in I soon became accustomed to the new locations. Having the show right in the heart of the city made me realise quite how mainstream comic conventions have become, locals didn’t bat an eyelid at the cosplayers roaming the streets and there were a large number of families in attendance, especially on Sunday. My other major takeaway was that compared to conventions of yesteryear, that seemed to be predominantly men of a certain age, this was a truly diverse show on both sides of the table. That’s very good news for the future of the medium.

It was a tiring but inspiring weekend, which we didn’t want to come to an end. After another long drive home, this time helped by Queen’s back catalogue we were soon back down to earth.

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Spending the weekend on ICE

I headed to Birmingham last weekend for ICE, alongside my Seven Shades artist/co-creator David Clifford and our publisher Kev Davies, from Deadstar Publishing. Dave and I were at the Deadstar table, helping with sales and signing copies of the first two issues of our supernatural western series. Like many one day conventions, the event was family friendly, inclusive and well run, as you’d expect from an event run by Shane Chebsey.

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I also managed to meet up with Steve Aryan, my co-writer on a number of current projects, as we were both attending the Comics Uncovered keynote speech from Senior DC editor Jim Chadwick. It was an enlightening, realistic and inspirational talk and it was good to chat to Jim about our writing backgrounds during the Q&A session at the end of his session.

Although there wasn’t quite as much footfall as at some other recent similar sized conventions, the people who had attended were really engaged. We sold come copies of the book and had some interesting conversations about comics, art and creating. It was good to be back at a convention again, as ever half the fun is meeting up with other creators who you only get to see in this environment.

There’s no rest for the wicked, as Dave and I are representing Deadstar again this weekend, at Thought Bubble in Leeds. Our third convention of the year sees the launch of Issue 3 and 4 of Seven Shades, following a successful Issue 1 and 2 launch in Cardiff earlier in the year.

Seven Shades shaping up

It's March already and this is my first blog post of 2018, which shows just how busy I've been. As the first quarter of the year edges closer to its finish, I thought I'd share what I've been up to, starting with comic book series Seven Shades

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Seven Shades is a supernatural western series created by Dave Clifford (Dexter's Half Dozen), with a little help from yours truly. Dave came to me with enough ideas for a few hundred issues, and every time we meet he suggests more crazy characters and warped plot points.  So in many ways my role on this project is that of creative ranch-hand, herding his ideas like cattle.

This process usually takes place, rather fittingly, in a local hostelry.  Then, once we've broken the story together I get to writing, Marvel style, describing the page but not breaking down the panels. This means Dave can really go to town when he approaches each page, perfect for a fully painted book, before I do a dialogue and captions pass. 

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Working on Seven Shades has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone and it isn't the type of book I'd have ever come up with on my own. Issue 1 and 2 are both complete and Dave is about halfway through painting Issue 3. We plan to have released the first four issues and initial arc by the end of this year. Watch this space for more about that very soon. 

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