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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