Monday, 4 October 2010

It's clobberin' time

Here’s a post that started out in one place and then veered off in a whole other direction. I was shooting the breeze the other week with Peter Richardson, one half of the awesomely talented Cloud 109 team, and we got onto the subject of early-stage concepting - that sweaty, lip-gnawing period when you’re taking cautious steps in a fog, feeling your way around a project that might be a Michaelangelo masterpiece but could as easily turn out to be an elephant.

I remembered a very early version of the scene from “The Door in the Water” (originally episode 3 in The DFC for 2 January 2009; now part of Mirabilis #1 on the forthcoming iPad app) where Jack is reminiscing about how he got into an argument with McNab at the New Year’s Eve ball. “I was going to clout him, then Gerard stepped in and explained it was a matter of honour.”

Well, at that stage we were ploughing through a bunch of pages, feeling our way as to dialogue and art style. Jack’s regiment was in World War One style uniforms. The Kind Gentleman had a powdered wig and boot buckles the size of dinner plates. Estelle’s hair was Princess Leia scary. We weren’t even sure as to the page size we should be working to, as the DFC’s original brief was for a hardly believable 12.4” x 18.5”. So we just figured to get a whole bunch of rough-cut pages done and then take stock.

That scene on the raft stuck in my mind because Martin and Leo got together – that must have been the summer of 2008, tempus fugit – and did some playing around with a camera, acting out the scenes and trying out different angles and focal lengths. And I was saying to Peter that I preferred the original picture of Jack because it seemed more in keeping with what he was supposed to be feeling. He was acting out the punch he would have liked to plant on McNab’s fat kisser. True, in the same panel he does go on to say, “Pistols at twenty paces. Is that it? Am I dead?” But it’s not really in Jack’s nature to be so melodramatic as to drop to his knees and do a “why me, O Lord?” pose. Also, he doesn’t quite look like Jack in that picture. (Though he does look a bit like Martin!)
So I set to work to dig out those pictures for comparison. And that’s where my preconceptions took a pounding and this post changed tack. Because look at the prototype pencils and then at the way the page ended up. Suddenly it’s clear that Leo and Martin weren’t just fooling around with a camera – they were bringing the strip to life. And the dynamism of the finished page crackles with incredible energy and drama – thanks not only to Martin and Leo, but of course to Nikos’s vibrant colouring work too.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen Mirabilis gathering such narrative momentum, and got so used to being wowed by panel after panel of cinematic brilliance, that I’d been taking it for granted. And then I look back at our first faltering steps as a team and I appreciate how much thought, care and effort Leo and the others have been putting into the art. We’re now poised to start work on the next 200-page season (Spring) and we’ve got undersea kingdoms, Russian witches, Norse gods, Babylonian sphinxes and Indian demons – and that’s just for starters. I can’t wait to see how Leo and the guys turn all those ideas into living, breathing images!


  1. On the Mirabilis site you have a page detailing the creative process. About halfway down there is an image with the title Process Script, which shows a spread with simple panels that contain speech, captions and SFX. What software is this? It looks like it would be quite handy to use something similar to help visualise the panels for my own project.

  2. Hi Alex, we use Serif PagePlus, which is inexpensive and does pretty much everything that an 800 lb gorilla like Illustrator can. More about how we use it here:
    and you can buy it here:

  3. Thanks Dave, I saw you were using serif but wasn't sure if that layout was from something more like a dedicated script program or something like celtx. Probably doing most layout in manga studio as it has such nice brushes, so not sure where serif would fit into that workflow, but I'll check it out.