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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Big Big Inspiration Part Two

As I'm writing this I'm listening to Along the Ridgeway, the third song on the new Big Big Train album Folklore (which isn't in shops until May 27th, so I highly recommend that you pre-order it now). If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll remember the name of the band, as they were the subject of a long and praise laden post last August.  

Since that blog post, my daughter and I have had two more unforgettable days that revolve around the critically acclaimed band . In March we spent the day on St.Catherine's Hill in Winchester being extras in the video for the album's title track  (which you can watch below) and yesterday we were with the band again, this time in Box, Wiltshire. We were lucky enough to spend the day alongside many more of the band's fans, known collectively as Passengers, at the Folklore listening party at Real World Studios, musical home to legendary singer Peter Gabriel and the place where the album was recorded. 

We were also treated to a two song acoustic set by the band, minus drummer Nick D'Virgilio who was back in the States but did join us by video later. Hearing Wassail and Uncle Jack played up close and personal was an unexpected treat.

This is all very good and well and just like the concert last year at Kings Place in London both these days will live long in the memory, but what exactly does it have to do with my writing? Well in my August 2015 post I said the following and it has proven to be very true. 

Music has always shaped me as a person and as a creative and Big Big Train will continue to be a big part of that. 

I'm working on a new comic project currently, I can't say much about it yet as it's very early days with no artist attached and nothing pitched to publishers. What I can say is that I've loosely plotted it as a five issue series and Issue 1 is completely broken down with seventeen first draft pages written. Tonally it's not a million miles away from my 2011 book 'The Interactives' and it's already it's shaping up to be a book only I could write. I've taken inspiration from lots of sources, including Big Big Train's back catalogue and some of the iconography surrounding their latest release. I've also been listening to two albums by another modern prog band Phideaux, The Great Leap and in particular Doomsday Afternoon along with anything I can find on Spotify's The Sound of Neo-Progressive playlist, while working through the plot. I find that the best bands in the genre have music that really helps expand your mind and frees up the imagination. I do almost all of my plotting in the gym these days, on the treadmill doing something I've christened "Running through a story", which should probably be the subject of a process post all of its own.  

If you read the previous blog, it outlined some things that becoming a fan of BBT had made me think about when approaching a new project.

  1.  Collaborate with lots of talented people.
  2.  Don't be afraid to be British.
  3. Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other
  4. Don't be afraid to be emotional.
  5. Smile.

Does this new series meet those criteria? Not intentionally, as this wasn't set out as a plan or manifesto. However, by being true to myself and evoking the mood and spirit of Big Big Train's music has definitely taken me in the right direction. 

  1.  Collaborate with lots of talented people. I'm on the look out for an artist. 
  2.  Don't be afraid to be British. The story is all set in England. 
  3. Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other. There are some interesting things in Issue 1 already. 
  4. Don't be afraid to be emotional. I can see the book going more that way over time. 
  5. Smile. I've been doing that every day while working on this story, it's been great fun. 

I'm sure that as I become more accustomed to BBT's latest long player (I'm only on listen number four) it will have an even more profound impact on my approach to my work. I should have a first draft of Issue 1 of the new book completed this month and I'm hoping that once I have an artist I can start sharing a few more details. In the meantime....Wassail! 

 

 

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.