Saturday 10 March 2012

Mark Harrison - Tricera-TOPS!

Holy cowosaurus, this cover is absolutely awesome (in the curmudgeonly, proper sense of the word as opposed to the new-fangled overly quoted version all too often bandied about today!) Mark Harrison is back with a blast in the past wraparound cover for the return of Flesh. Mark is a long time fan of the strip which certainly shows, there's so much going on in this and some of the textures are jaw-dropping. Mark always puts masses of thought into his work giving the readers a real treat!

Over to the man himself to tell us roar... I mean 'more...'

"'ROARHIDE!!!' was my Puntastic title too! :)" begins Mark in reference to his earlier fantastic Dredd cover where he gave us the awful 'RESYK-Hell' pun. He continues "And another Clint Eastwood reference- I get them in!" Again this refers to the RESYK cover as well as his recent starscan which riffed brilliantly on the poster from Magnum Force.

Mark says "I was pretty chuffed to get this wrap around since I've never done one. Clint Langley has set the bar pretty high with them so there was an incentive to do it well. I like the idea of front cover being entirely serviceable but having a surprise additional content on the back, that when opened up completes the picture.

This once I had pretty much set in my head from the off. FLESH was my favourite strip growing up, more than Dredd or Dare (and before Nemesis). I even did a front elevation of a Flesh Dozer in my Technical drawing class at school!

Tharg gave me a couple of rough pencil page layouts by James McKay of the scene in question and in addition I cheekily begged a collected edition of the FLESH saga, more to relive the strip than for reference (although it did help in that). It still holds up today as a great Ripping Yarn by Pat Mills and would make a terrific film or video game as I mentioned to Rebellion." Can't say I blame you - Pete.

"Heres' the outline I gave to Tharg:

"Landscape image; far left a close up of the woman in an aerial craft looking down on the triceratops herd that on this (the back page) snakes round a bluff and down into a hollow. Pterasaurs overhead, swooping down with atmosphere craft (they look a bit like range rovers and jet engines with stubby wings!) On the front cover this herd is coming out of the hollow so the perspective has changed so they are more coming at you, craft overhead, maybe leaning out with a gun. Hero triceratops (broken horn) in the centre all salivating, kicking up dust. Colour palette: Sc-fi white vehicles arizona desert sand, bleached hot and dust washed out look but an interesting markings and palette for the triceratops to stand out."

I supplied a sketch based on a collage of images I took from photos of toys. These along with lizard skin reference and a simple 3-D model I built in Bryce helped with the foundation of the digital painting. I treated elements; triceratops, girl and atmoscraft separately and then assembled them. Towards the end of the job I got more into a "concept art" frame of mind, imagining the backstory to the image."

"Part of the fun of treating the cover art like concept art for a film or game is it takes you down more immersive thought processes as you "live the scene". Which in turn feeds the illustration. Here is what the annotations to "flesh out" the art would have been had this been concept art :

"Futuristic Cowboys vs Dinosaurs! Regulation uniforms with a DISTRICT 9 feel to the corporation vehicles and air support. All battered and ageing equipment, machinery looks like it's been in the tropics for years. Rusting, patched up, rattling and coughing out smoke and steam. A sort of Retro futuristic look. Seat covers torn, doors scratched as the beasts tried to get at the "tinned meat". (Cool! - Pete)

All the people, men, women, hunters and accountants are sweat stained, dirty and covered in plasters and bandages from small scratches and bites from rat-sized dinosaurs, fearless and always hungry for flesh. Everyone wears protective glasses like soldiers in Afghanistan. Some look like they've "gone off the reservation", Veterans customise their gear during their long tours. Throwbacks to earlier days of big game hunters and the Wild West of old.

The Dinosaurs too, aren't your typical picture book variety- but more like primordial monsters, monochromatic, terribly scarred and weathered, covered in mud and shit and diseased with growths etc. Real characters in their own right. Truly hideous wounds that sell this Savage Land. They are bullet sponges. In a classic moment from the strip a T Rex gets it's head blown off, but it still runs around killing like a headless chicken for a few minutes. You have to blow these Terrible Lizards apart!

Everything is putrefying in the swamps or being torn to shreds on the dusty Valley floor. This isn't "Walking with Dinosaurs", this is dirty, ugly "Running Shit-Pants from Terrible Lizards!" It's a romanticised version of Prehistory. Not scientifically accurate but COOL!"

Below are Mark's brilliant 3D models of the vehicles. I love the Range Rover fronts and the wrangling claw.

Mark is full of praise for James McKay, the strips' artist. "The comic strip has been ably supported in that scratchy unclean look first seen with Ramon Sola and now James McKay. I wish we'd get that sort of grit in a dinosaur film. As a schoolboy, dinosaurs were something to be feared. Terrifying. Now they're coming up with these awful feathered multi-coloured efforts that look they should be on a carnival float. I look to the Coelacanth "living fossil" for my dinosaur looks which is why I prefer Peter Jacksons take on them in KING KONG."

Finally, Mark ends with a bit of a dino-rant! He says "And Tyrannosaurus is NOT a scavenger and could whip Spinosaurus's arse- the damn pretender is only a fish eater which makes it almost vegetarian! There is only one Rex and that's Tyrannosaurus. Sorry but I've had it with these scientists destroying my past education. Next they'll be telling us Pluto isn't a planet.... what?.... You're kidding me... But StarLord said with his Space Calculator.... (only those nearing 50 will get that!)"

Below is a visual aid for us young 'uns to help with that last part, the Space Calculator has a hi-tech cardboard device given away with issue 2 of Star Lord which told us all about the solar system - give me biotronic stickers anyday!

Thanks to Mark for his hugely entertaining words. I always love it when he does a cover as I know I'm going to get a real in-depth, very interesting breakdown of his spectacular work. Please visit Mark's online gallery, there's some breathtaking work in there. Here's hoping we see Mark back on, and IN, the prog soon!


  1. Why oh why, can't Flesh be as cool as the covers are?!

  2. He's right about Spinosaurus. JURASSIC PARK 3 pissed me off.

  3. Anyone who thinks that real-life dinosaurs aren't cool enough.. you aren't reading the right books.

  4. I'm with Darren and I think his own books will prove that point very admirably.

  5. Glad to see that Mark is still creating covers for Tharg. This one is fantastic.

    My beady eye spotted a link to this blog on the 2kAD forum... a blog for original cover art?!? Pete, you'll be happy to know I have a couple of pieces by Mark for you to post. Drop me a line.