Sunday, 21 December 2014

Simon Fraser - Dante Chores!

Hooray! Rebellion are reprinting the hard to get second and third editions of the Nikolai Dante series of Graphic Novels with some dazzling new covers from series co-creator Simon Fraser! I asked Simon of he'd be kind enough to send me the lowdown and, as usual. he didn't disappoint! Over to Si:

"Rebellion are finally succumbing to pressure and doing new editions of the second and third Dante collections. In the case of The Great Game it wasn't so pressing as there are still a lot of copies of the first edition knocking about the distribution and retail chain. It was part of the abortive DC comics publishing partnership from years back. So the new edition is more about maintaining consistency. In the case of The Courtship of Jena Makarov, it came out after the DC deal collapsed and as a result had a MUCH smaller print run. Copies of this book have been reselling on ebay for silly amounts of money for some years now. I have lost count of the number of times that people have asked me where they can get a copy of this book. They want to buy it , but can't, therefore they can't/won't buy the 8 volumes that follow it. Arrgh! After years of asking Rebellion nicely about this, then not so nicely, I eventually just told people to Bittorrent the thing. Yup, that makes me a bad person. Off to Hell I go!" I believe it's called Mek-Quake...

Simon continues "Aaaanyway, so now, at last, we're having a new edition of each book. New covers are required. This is fun for me , because A) I had thought that I would never do another Dante cover and B) I wasn't much keen on my earlier efforts. So in order of publication..."

"Nikolai Dante - The Great Game"

"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy"

"The original cover has dated badly. I hate it! It's been annoying me for years now. While I actually quite like the ship (I wanted to do an airbrushy Ferrari car portrait like used to be on my brothers bedroom wall in the 80s and I think that worked), everything else is static. The exploding planet is awful. Some of the wreath of character portraits are just bad. This may have been done while I was learning Photoshop in 1997 or 98. All my previous colour work had been done on my Acorn RiscPC, which I was fairly fluent with. This cover might have been the first thing I did on my new-ish 233Mhz Pentium PC. So this was done while I was living in Vienna. I was still in my 20s ( just ). What I'm saying here is that it's bloody old!"

"So what do I want the new cover to be? Well in the first instance I want it to be all about the ACTION. In the second I kind of want to make more of the EXPLODING DAMNED PLANET! I always liked the character of Elena DiJanisaire, it spoke well of Dante's character that the girl he actually married was so badass. I kinda-sorta-mighta have used her as a springboard for my own character Lilly Mackenzie. Quite subconsciously you understand. I wouldn't want to give Morrison too much credit ( he'd want royalties or something )."

Just a normal day for Lilly and Cosmo...

"The fact that Elena dies early in the story isn't a problem, in fact it's a plus. If she's so prominently featured on the cover, one might ( mistakenly ) assume that she would last for the whole story. So the shock value of her murder is enhanced. This story also has an awesome baddie in Dante's insane half brother Valentine Romanov. I wanted to incorporate him in there somehow. I wasn't immediately sure how I could do that. Would he be cackling in the background as the Darkstar explodes? Naaah, it takes away from the explosion to do that. Also I don't want to spoil the reveal of his true face near the end of the story. In the pencil rough you can see that the exploding skull is already there, but also some refugees from the first cover 'wreath'."

Then, Valentine did the most powerful burp ever...

"They made it into the first colour rough, but then those bozos were erased. There was going to be a lot of exploding detritus and I didn't want the composition to get bogged down with too much stuff."

Surly Valentine

Why was Valentine crap at musical statues?
'Cos he kept Roman-off...

"I did a lot of screwing around with wet media brushes in Photoshop to get the explosion nice and detailed. I wanted the feeling of gas plasma being released by the heat. I fiddled about with the Hue slider on the background too. Sometimes that will suggest a colour combination that you would never have attempted, but totally works."

Valentine reads too many progs in one go...

Romanov family reunions were always a little explosive...

To finish off I made the skull a little darker, to contrast better with the blast. Some people have told me that they don't recognise it as a skull immediately, it comes later and is a bit surprising. I'm happy to have made an almost full cover image of an exploding skull, subliminal.

Eloise remembers just why she divorced Nikolai...

Nikolai Dante- Love & War ( formerly The Courtship of Jena Makarov )

The coolest swinger in town...

"Like the Great Game cover, the original one is quite cheerful and swashbucklery. The new title however, suggests a bigger scale and more tragedy. So I rethought this cover more completely. I don't hate the original this time. I actually quite like it. If it has a problem , it's that the composition is quite flat. I thought I might try and amp up the drama this time."

"My first thought was that I could do a shot of Dante inside the burning Airship, all battered and bleeding. That idea was nixed by Tharg. It wasn't really epic enough. Also needs more sex, fair enough."

Dante's Inferno...

"So in the next version I went all out for EPIC. Also , because the book no longer has her name in the title, I dropped Jena Makarov from the central position with Dante and substituted Katarina Dante. I love the idea of our handsome, virile, action hero going into battle, with his Mum!"

"Muuum, they're all picking on me..."

"I've kept the sunset from the first cover, thrown in some grand architecture and massed armies to give it scale."

Notice how all those leading lines draw you you Dante's crotch? Very clever Simon...

"In retrospect I'm not mad keen on that dull red colour. Oh well. Maybe there will be a 3rd edition of it one day and I can fix that!"

 Just... move your arm a little Katarina...

HUGE thanks to Simon for this, it made me realise just how much I miss Dante. Perhaps a Christmas re-read is in order?

Speaking of Christmas, there will be a festive update to this blog each day until Christmas Day! Enjoy!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

D'Israeli - Stickle-whacked!

Sniff! Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and prog 1911 sees the end of the modern classic, Stickleback. The mysterious pope of crime first appeared in 2000AD in February 2007, and over the last seven and a half years has kept us guessing as to who, or what, he really is. Killing him at Christmas too, thanks a lot Tharg, you green git! 

Baring a bloody scrap with Santa, visionary artist D'Israeli has been the sole artist on the strip. Bringing a grimy, texture-filled Victorian London to life, brimming with all manner of fantastic locations and colourful, monocromatic characters! The strip will be a big miss, but I have a feeling we are simply entering a new phase of the character's life...

Over to D'Israeli to tell us how Stickleback's swan song came to life, or should that be death? 

Tharg's brief was “I was thinking of another Stickleback cover for the last episode -  maybe an image of SB's harness lying discarded on the floor?” So I fired up Manga Studio EX5 and got to work!" 

"I usually try to provide two variants of a cover brief plus a “wild card,” but in this case, the image was so strong, and fit the story so well, I just did two small variations on the  brief, one exactly a stated, one with the addition of the empty Stickleback mask. Matt picked my variation with the mask." 

Spine tingling!

The Ugly Bug's fall...

"Then in on a new layer I drew a refined “pencil” drawing to just tighten up the details..."

Margaret Thatcher's true form.

"Next the Pencils & Blocking. Under the pencils I added blocks of colour to act as masks for the later painting and texturing. The grid of tiles was a late decision, constructed using Manga Studio’s excellent  perspective rulers. It’s a bit wonky at the top, but I wanted that part to fade to black anyway, so I didn’t waste time fixing it."


"Blocking and Shadow - I don’t usually add any sort of shading at the blocking stage, but in the case of the tiling, adding a transparent layer of colour over the existing tile pattern simplified later texturing and painting stages. Because I separate out the colour blocking  out into layers, I could just add the shading on a new layer between the foreground elements and the background tile pattern. One great advantage of working digitally is the ability to make major decisions like this “on the fly” without risk."

"At this stage I exported the image as a layered Photoshop file."

Red Devil?

"In Adobe Photoshop CC I added textures using a combination of the selection tools (to select different areas of the colour blocking) and the paint bucket tool, filling with textures of my own making."

D'Israeli's textures include coffee, stuff from down the back of the couch and egg from Mr Twit's beard.

Then it's back to Manga Studio EX5 for painting. Manga Studio can work with Photoshop files, so I just re-opened the file without further conversion. I use Manga Studio’s Transparent Watercolour brushes to paint in detail and shading. I’ve modified the brush settings so give harder edged, distinctive brush strokes (avoiding the slightly airbrushed look of the default settings). The point is for the end result to look as organic as possible." 

"While Manga Studio’s watercolour brushes aren’t quite as good as the ones in Corel Painter (which I used to use for finishing), the overall speed and performance of Manga Studio is so ridiculously superior that I’m confirmed in my decision to abandon Corel Painter."

Yes, over the years on this blog we've seen D'Israeli's very public, somewhat undignified break up with Coral Painter. I for one hope that the end of Stickleback helps the artist draw a line under this obviously painful split and both can get on with their lives.

"At this point I’m finished; the only step left is to re-open the file in Photoshop for export as a flattened TIFF. That’s then sent to 2000AD by FTP."

Criminal chrysalis 

 At the end of the strip we find out our protagonist's true identity, something I called back in 2010, go me!

 To honour our fallen antihero, I think it's only right to have a Stickleback Cover Gallery special!

We'll begin with the crooked crooks' debut way back in February 2007...

Stop picking your nose Stickleback!

Prog 1575 featured Stickleback's motley crew - Black Bob, Gay John, Fiery Jack and Little Tonga!

Day of the Tentacle!

Next, possibly my favourite Stickleback cover of all, the awesome Prog 1669...

There's gotta be fish paste in that hamper...

There exists a coloured version of this cover, while's lovely, I'm pleased they kept with the thematic monochrome approach...

Fetch the engine, fetch the engine! 

A very important cover next, as Stickleback faces off against the Iron Maiden Irena Bernoulli at the climax of Stickleback Book 3...

Stickleback always had a way with the ladies...

Evil is reborn as the Pope of Crime is reanimated by the Brotherhood of the Book. Ironically, this cover published in the same week that Pope Francis was elected. Truly, Tharg knows all!

Sticklebacta tank

Stickleback and his pal Henry...

Always a pioneer, Stickleback attempts to light Henry's burps.

A sorrie state of affairs as Stickleback and Bob get to work...

Ugly scenes on the first ever Black Friday...

The sinister sisters prepare to make mischief on Prog 1903...

The worst ever episode of 'Blind Date.'

And, the end... or should that be 'The Beginning?'

He sure looks dead to me...

I would like to publicly thank Mr D'Israeli for giving so much of his time and putting so much effort into his Stickleback posts for this blog. Over the years he has provided pages and pages of detailed information, given us free brushes and even made instructional videos to share his artistic process. I'm so flattered and it speaks volumes for the man. 

So thank you Matt, from myself and everyone who reads this blog.

 Stickeback is dead! Long live Stickleback! 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague - Legal Eagle!

Well dear readers, did you know that kettle + bowl + stapler + screwdriver set = Mega City One? It does in the uber-creative brain of Mr Cliff Robinson! But more on that later...

The dream team of Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague are back with another of Cliff's Mega-City equipment studies, this time, we get up close and personal with the Justice Department regulation eagle shoulder pad. Cliff really brings the piece to life, giving form and function to something we all too often choose to ignore, with it being somewhat impractical and all...

Anyway, below you can see Cliff's original ideas and first prelim sketch. From what I can make out, it looks like we were going to get a study of Dredd's arse or his crotch, so well done Tharg for going with choice #2!
"Pretty Polly! Pretty Polly!"

Cliff's mock up of the cover layout, nice to see the editorial staff went with Cliff's strapline (though mine is better!)
What do you call a sick eagle?

With the composition sorted, Cliff begins to meticulously ink the piece...
So far, so good - but here's where it gets a bit weird! Over to Cliff...
"As I was searching for prelims for your wonderful blog, I realised I couldn’t find any sketches for the Mega City One background. Then I remembered I’d used household bits’n’bobs to make up the city..."

All of these items are made of the finest polypropilop!

"I photographed them, arranged them on the computer, then printed them out in blue line around my picture of Dredd - yes, I actually fed my inked drawing of Dredd back into the printer!!! A procedure not for the faint hearted!"

I'll never look at a stapler the same way again!

"I then pencilled in all the surrounding detail on each of the 'buildings' and ended up with a passable Mega City One!"

Screwdriver Heights was one of MC-1's less salubrious blocks...

And below is that 'passable' version of Mega City One. Passable!?! Passable!?! It's brilliant!
Everything but the kitchen sink...

This week Cliff is making a rare appearance at a comic convention, the Lille Comic Festival, in fact. He provided some gobsmacking artwork for the event, based on Frank Frazetta's poster for Clint Eastwood's 'The Gauntlet."
The screwdriver set and kettle make a guest appearance!

Everything comes back to Eastwood...

Getting back to the 2000AD cover, with the inks done, it was over to legendary colourist Dylan Teague who had the unenviable task of bringing the image to life in glorious techno-colour! What an amazing job he did too...

This cover should win an Eagle Award

And here's how the prog looks on the shelf - in a word, spectacular!

Be careful or you'll be doing bird

Lucky sod Dylan is also going to Lille and has been hard at work colouring prints for his mate Patrick Goddard, not too shabby eh? Firstly we have a take on the classic Reservoir Dogs poster...

Reservoir Progs
And secondly, we go back to Eastwood again for Patrick and Dylan's take on the classic Magnum Force poster. Do you feel lucky...

Well Joe, I've got me health so I can't really grumble. Thanks for asking though.
Absolutely massive thanks to the boys for sending the images, an absolute classic cover and no mistake!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Boo Cook - Masterclass!

I can't think of a more enthusiastic artist than there lovely Boo Cook! I've had the pleasure of watching him sketch a few times and he always seems more excited than his lucky punters, a true credit to Thrill Power. I was over the moon when I saw he was doing a movie Dredd cover for 'Uprise' and even happier when I discovered this was to feature on the American reprint. The boy deservedly done good! Over to Boo to tell us more"

"When the email came in from Matt Smith Tharg about this cover gig I had Henry Flint's incredible San Diego print image of comic Dredd v Movie Dredd as my desktop. Plus I think I was probably wearing my Henry drawn Dredd 'Uprise' t-shirt too, so when Matt Tharg asked if I'd like to do a movie Dredd cover, it instantly fried my joy calibration motherboard! When he requested that Dredd should be on the Lawmaster, I blew the rest of my circuits!"

While Boo is rebooted, let's take a look at Henry Flint's Dredd vs Dredd image...

Dredd to Dredd

It seems Boo is back online, "I stuck the Dredd blu-ray on and paused it at some key moments during the bike chase scene at the start and boiled it down to 2 favourite shots. I didn't want to work exactly from the reference, it was more a case of using them as inspiration because amazing as the movie is I always felt the Lawmaster could've been a tad bulkier and generally more in yer face - the uniform too, and now I had a chance to realise that in a drawing..."

"Do you require back up?"


"I had no idea what was meant to be happening in the story so I asked Matt Tharg about the background - he simply said "There's a riot" or words to that effect and I didn't need much more direction than that."

Baby Dredd with the stabilisers off.

Check out those sneaky Ezquerra jaggies!

"I was so excited about doing this piece that I think you can see that excitement pouring out of the explosions, whizzing gunfire and general chaos. There's plenty of Easter eggs in there too - nods to Lena Headey, Wood Harris and Geoff Barrow whose superb "Drokk' album was originally slated to be the movie soundtrack. A scrawler has written 'Snub 23' on the wall - he's a prominent Brighton street artist that I'm sure would appeal to many 2000AD fans."

Stop! Hammerstein!

"Plus of course the obligatory pimping of the band i'm currently involved in 'VöL' (check out their Soundcloud page here) but it wasn't me who wrote that, it was a scrawler. most likely Chopper or The Phantom." Yes, I will not have this blog used as a shameless vessel of self promotion!

Sump and Ump!?! A deadly combination!

"Matt Tharg asked if i could provide an inked version of this cover for a variant edition in the states so i had to try and make sure it worked in black and white as well as colour, so the inks are very tonal. It took a long time. I always take a long time, but this took over 5 days in total - why rush it? I was having the most fun I'd ever had doing art since i drew my first picture and i really hope that comes across."

Pi in the Sky?

Here's Boo's first picture. I must admit, when I saw the thumbnail, I thought he'd sent me a picture of an erm... feminine hygiene product with that strange blue water they insist on pouring on them!

New Always Ultra - take in moisture like a flower

And here's the stunning coloured version, which totally captures the anarchic chaos of Mega City One! A final word from Boo "MEGATHANX to Matt for throwing it my way!"

Dredd knew he shouldn't have eaten that synth-vindaloo!

And MEGATHANX to Boo for throwing this our way! It's always a pleasure to see his work and share his enthusiasm! Check out his magnificent blog here!

Dredd Uprise no 2 is available on November 26th.