Tuesday, 21 October 2008


So I'm going to a do a major re-write of the story and introduce a second protagonist, whose own story affects and is affected by that of Ulam. This new character will be one of the team that helps communicate with the aliens and of course gets some important stuff wrong, like some fundamentals about weights and measures. This character - possibly called Reeman will provide some light relief and also provide a substantial hook on which to hang a lot of the dialogue about maths.

Here are the first three pages that Alex has been working to:



Frame: A broken laptop screen being typed into by a man, Ulam, the text on the screen, reads ‘Einstein was wrong.’

Final frame of the sequence, which should be a full frame picture of the Monkey Nazca line. Could you alter the dimensions of the Monkey so that it adheres to the golden ratio please. You could also make the spiral more regular and place the Astronaut Nazca line. Could you also put in those incomplete triangles just to the left of the astronaut in as well please.

Text that comes before the title page:

“God does play dice

these are part of the same sentence but need to be separated in some way to make the gag work.
and I suspect that he cheats.”


I think this page should somehow be related to the golden ratio as well. Also you need to put the number 24,024 somewhere in it – explicitly – I’ll come up with some more ancient numerical symbols for you.

Panel 1: Close up of Ulams face, a bit battered and bruised.
Laptop text in a narrative box at the bottom of the panel “That’s the only coherent conclusion I can arrive at.’

Panel 2: Low angle of Ulam amid the wreckage of the hot air balloon with the Andes in the background – a stunning shot showing the grandeur of the location. David Lean territory.
Laptop text in a narrative box at top of panel: “ ‘Coherent’, of course being a relative term as I am losing blood at a rate of knots, am quite possibly concussed… ‘

Narrative box of laptop text at bottom of panel: ‘…suspect that both of my ankles are broken, and may well be suffering from altitude sickness.”

Panel 3: Wide of the Nazca lines, including the Astronaut, the triangles and that strange thing that looks like a stanley knife blade above the monkey. Ulam and the wreckage need to be visible somewhere.

Laptop text in a narrative box at top of frame: “Not that I know anything about altitude sickness, (I’m a well respected consumer electronics journalist), I just saw a documentary about climbing the Tetons in America once and the presenter got altitude sickness and a bit tearful.’ Laptop text in narrative box at bottom of frame ‘They kept the camera running though.’

Panel 4: Wide of the monkey birds eye view ‘Now it’s the end of the world and I am a man amid the wreckage of a hot air balloon. Among the Nazca lines. In Peru. In excruciating pain. With no water. No food. And a laptop with no long term memory. Plus. I’m. Dehydrated.’


Panel 1: Classic image of Saturn in space

Narrative box top of frame:“I feel like having a bit of cry myself…

Narrative box bottom of frame: ‘…but don’t want to waste water.’

Panel 2: Wide of Saturn in the distance with a spaceship in the foreground.

Narrative box top of frame: ‘ Seem to remember being at work when everything started to go…’

Panel 3 – space ship bearing down on Earth – with Jupiter in the extreme foreground, Mars in the mid and Earth in the background. There are some images of Jupiter with the sun flaring behind them so the sun could be just behind Earth – some flares off into space.
NARRATIVE BOX bottom right hand of frame “…odd.’

Panel 4: Close up of a front or a radio – all the bits on the front adhering to the golden section - I’ve put a marker in the Golden Section book as a reference – the square with the divided circle in the middle at the bottom of page 30 should have echoes in the speaker grill design of the radio. – Radio announcement - in an electronic looking speech bubble – marker in Create Your Own Graphic Novel – ‘I’m terribly sorry but I’m afraid we’re going to have to interrupt todays…’

Panel 5: Mid of consumer magazine office with the radio maybe in the middle at the back. Ulam is there and a couple of others. Windows down one wall, desks and computer screens, wastepaper baskets. Radio announcement in spiky speech bubble ‘…coverage of the Ashes for a sort of a news flash.’

Panel 6: Close up Ulam - speech bubble - ‘***#$@**>, the Queen’s kicked the bucket.’

Panel 7: Mid - 2nd Journalist ‘Or The Duke of Edinburgh.’

Panel 8: Close up Ulam from side ‘No ***^%$^%$ way. They wouldn’t interrupt the cricket for him.’



Monday, 20 October 2008

Day 3: All targets missed...

Page 3 pencils, 5pm, Day 3.

So that's as far as we got.  We were on schedule to finish page three, I think, by late morning on Day 3.  But then it dawned on me that having drawn the many boulders on page 2, panel 3 (see previous post) individually, then I was going to have to do the many many many boulders from further away in panel 4.  It works well, I think, but it took a long time.

So I didn't get started on page 3 until after our quick lunch break.  Chris had lots of research all lined up for me (pictures of Saturn; Babylonian Numerology inspired spacecraft designs), so the pencils came together pretty quickly (despite it being fairly elipse heavy in the first few panels), and I even  got going on the inks, but not far enough.

We realised at some point in the three days that what we were actually doing was making a comic the way comics were made when we were kids - but without the staff.  Pencils and ink on Bristol board, with letters done separately, was the way comics were made when we first nurtured those dreams of making comics ourselves.  These days there are more computers involved.  Something for us to think about when we start work on Chapter 2 (or rather, start finishing off Chapter 1).  More research and practice required before then, I think.

They weren't particularly long days, but my brain is tired today.  The level of concentration was higher that I expected.  But as it came time to finish yesterday, I was disappointed to not have more drawing time.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Page 2, inked

Again, click on the image for more detail.  We'll post better scans of the pages when we can access a big enough scanner...

The story

Quite a few people have been asking me about the story. Which means I've had to repeat and develop it several times in day. Which means I've become increasingly aware of all of its 'faults'. Which means I've tried to think around all of the 'faults'. Which means I've had to come up with some 'solutions'.

These solutions have so far taken the form of coming up with new and increasingly complex plot and narrative points. Like the introduction of different dimensions to cope with all of the applied mathematics involved. Which actually doesn't solve anything to do with the holes in the story.

I've also yet to figure out any meaningful motivation for the protagonist, or indeed any meaningful characteristics and that  an audience could empathise with.

So far I've just thought that 'his' voice would mirror my own. But considering that he's a bit of an adventurer and lives in a mixed up world being played with by two different sets of aliens, this seems naive and lazy.

I need to tackle these problems and make Ulam a real person  and not just a convenient hook to hang my ideas and obsessions on.

That said Alex said something earlier today 'the story is actually about how much Chris loves numbers.'

A visitor also clarified the form which the story is taking by using the example of love stories that happen to the background of war. This was helpful as it stopped me worrying about the way the two main plot lines don't really relate to each other. Stopped me worrying quite so much.

But I do need to tackle my character, especially as he's the only one I've got and therefore the only one that the readers have got.



Sunday morning

I'm having quite a gentle time at the moment. I've just done a couple of sketches as to what the spaceship may look like - utilising babylonian symbols for numbers and roman symbols for powers of 10, 

We really should have had a discussion as to the overall look of the piece. However, we haven't and now I think we're experiencing some 'issues'.

I'm going to research some images of Saturn for Alex now.

And the Silver Surfer.



Day Two: Some Improvement, Could do Better.

It felt great to actually get started on the inking.  I had realised at the start of the day that the way of improving, of learning, is to actually finish some pages.  We talked a bit about Dave Sim's work on Cerebrus; in the first collected edition he points out that he's only reprinting the first strips for narrative completeness, because the drawing isn't very good (my paraphrasing).  And the improvement in the drawing by the end of the first volume is remarkable.

So getting page one done felt good.  I know, it's only one page.  It's no where near as competent as what I had in my head, but it seemed to get a fairly positive response from Chris and some of our visitors.  Page two started quicker, and we seem to be working well on developing and changing the structure and layout, now that Chris is giving me his loose layout ideas.  He's also revised the narrative well, so now it doesn't take three pages to establish that Ulam is sitting in the middle of the Nazca Lines.  Sometimes he changes the script and forgets to tell me, but so far that hasn't led to any major disasters.  

I realised I had got the lettering far too big on page one.  May have to get re-done.  

So, day three's work: finish inking page two, pencil and ink page three.  If we get there, after two and a half days work, we'll have done okay, I think.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


In what is becoming a bit of a pattern, I'm printing something out and sticking to the wall. 

Because I don't what to with the bottom of page 4.


Rough layout ideas

I've discovered that Alex and I can collaborate on a much clearer level if I do my own rough layout of what I think the panels should look like. It helps me too.

Here's what I gave him for what I think page two should look like.



Page 1, inked

Click on image to see full size.


The story is just a mess. There's this spurious mission that starts at the end and has nothing really to do with the rest of the stuff that just happens in the background. I can't think of a decent way of linking up the two.

Maybe I shouldn't worry about it, it works/worked for Vonnegut and worked for Douglas Adams but I am having a crisis of confidence that it can work for me. And then there's all the numbers that I would ideally like to saturate the whole work with. Maybe this isn't the piece to do that with.

I keep finding myself thinking with an editors sensibility and not with a writers sensibility. As an editor everything has to work and be reasoned and link together. The small writer bit of me is currently losing the battle to the overbearing and experienced editors side. I've stopped reading any reference material, even though I bought it Watchmen today as it seems like looking at the Taj Mahal when I don't even know how to lay a brick wall yet.



More Primes

I was reading my 'Music of The Primes' last night. I'm now all excited about the Riemann hypothesis and still thinking about Goldblach and his conjecture and about twin primes.

I didn't really know what to do with myself towards the end of yesterday. I could keep on revising the script until the cows come home but that wasn't very constructive. I'm trying to get more gags in but am finding opportunities for gags a bit limited - which of course hints at major revisions in the script - but that in turn will mean revisions to the pictures which I'm currently reluctant to suggest.

I also think that forging ahead and reformatting then whole of the original text may not be that helpful in the short run, which is the only run we're worried about at the moment!

Anyway we're starting a new day today and I'm quietly optimistic about the whole enterprise.



Friday, 17 October 2008

Day One: Hard Work

Another decision we had come to - slightly acrimoniously - was that we were attempting to do 5 pages in this 'three day challenge'.  I say acrimoniously, but that's probably unfair.  I think Chris was disappointed that we weren't trying to do a whole 21 page comic, but I was certain that was way too much.  5 pages seems more realistic and suggests an episode in 2000AD or Deadline or another multi-story comic.

So last night I re-read the first 5 pages of Watchmen.  That sets the bar pretty high; not sure if it was more inspirational or intimidating.

So today I was aware that we really needed to be a good way into inking the first page by the end of the day - assuming we would speed up over the next two days.  But we haven't even started inking that first page.  It was pretty much completely laid out and pencilled, until we changed our mind about it at the end of the day...

It started okay, and although it was a bit of a slow start working out the golden section layout, I was pretty pleased with the first rough draft.  Then when it came to doing the 'proper' page, I found the drawing was much less relaxed, the lines kind of uptight.  I liked it much less than the rough layout - a familiar feeling, the 'good' version having less life than the original sketch.

The gap between your ambition and your talent.  At one point I did think: I can't do this.  I was trying to draw Ulam's hands typing on the keyboard - and they were awful.  I just had to keep erasing them (so I found out why Bristol board is so important - it's lovely to draw on, and it erases beautifully, repeatedly).  I gave up and decided to come back to them after the rest of the page.  Then I realised that I had drawn the afternoon-sun shadows in completely the wrong place in panel two, because they would mean that the sun was directly on his laptop screen, so I re-did them, worked out panel three and then decided that I really didn't like the first panel at all.  And Chris agreed.  That first panel is actually a pretty big area to fill; I usually draw quite small - or rather, if I'm drawing in a bigger area, I'm usually using a thicker mark-making instrument like a marker pen or charcoal stick.  It's the ratio of the drawing area to line thickness that is important here (at least for me).  So, we're flipping the layout, starting with smaller frame, because we don't need to see the whole laptop - just the words 'Einstein was wrong'.  And I don't have to draw his hands.

During all this we found out from one of our visitors that a page a day is usual for professional comics artists (which makes sense given that monthly comics are usually 21/22 pages long) - so I feel slightly less slow and ponderous.  But more concerned about how much we can achieve.

Anyhow, first thing tomorrow, we'll see how my inking is...


One page two of my working script I've hit a bit of a snag so I'm going to write a list of
 plot points as a guide. 

And to delay the decision making process.



Layout Page 1

Yes, it's mainly boxes, but they are very carefully proportioned boxes.

Alex's drawing

Alex has started drawing and it took him almost 3/4 of an hour just to draw a box.

I'm not entirely clear as to what his working process is and although I've known him since 1995, I'm somewhat reluctant to ask him.

He's on a 'layout page' and he keeps asking me stuff like ' what's he wearing?' and 'what time if day is it?'



Protagonists name

After a brief chat with Alex this morning, (which felt a bit like collaboration I have to say, so I'm quietly proud of myself), we have decided that the main characters name will be Ulam. We haven't decided whether its going to be his first name or his surname. Maybe I won't specify. I like Ulam because of its association with spirals and primes

You can even buy a t-shirt with the prime spiral on it. Its not on my Christmas list because, between you and me, sometimes I get a bit sick of primes.



Thursday, 16 October 2008

Decisions and Givens

A conversation with Chris today during which I realised that despite my moaning about collaborative decision making in my last post, I had actually made some decisions that I hadn't informed Chris about.  Or maybe not decisions, rather there are a few things that I had assumed were givens that maybe needed some discussion.  These are:
  • I am drawing everything, including speech balloons and lettering - we're not using a computer programme to do this.
  • The panels will all be hand drawn, too - straight lines, but hand drawn straight lines, not done with a ruler.
These are givens to me because it's just how I draw - it's what feels, and looks (to my eye), right.

A decision that we have arrived at jointly is that the page layout will be based on the Golden Section.  I had previously understood a bit about this, but last year I picked up Scott Olsen's book The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret, which is actually pretty mind-blowing.  It's too complex (for me) to fully explain here, but you can of  course read about it on Wikipedia, but Olsen's book (published by Wooden Books) is more aesthetically pleasing.

A conversation early tomorrow will have to be about whether we're going for portrait or landscape layout.  Pretty fundamental...

As I've thought about what I'm aiming at for the look of the strip.  It has been impossible not to pitch it, in my head at least, in relation to the work I know, to the comics I have read over the years.  As we approach the time to actually start drawing the work, my instinct seems to have settled on a look somewhere in between two key influences: the cleanness and poise of Dave Gibbons' work on Watchmen (and a strip he drew for Doctor Who comic, Stars Fell On Stocksbridge [?]), and the anarchy and energy of Jaime Hewlett's early black and white Tank Girl strips for Deadline magazine.  That ambition of course is then filtered through, or restricted by, my actual ability, and we'll see pretty soon how that turns out.


The original 'story' is also written in the third person, the first thing I need to do is change it to the first person in what I hope will not be a vain struggle to evoke an emotional connection the with the reader.

There will probably be a sentence somewhere in the book that goes something along the lines of 'It was there that I discovered that in Armenia, schnapps, a bit like time, is a relative concept. But after a few glasses of relative Armenian schnapps you just don't care anymore, which isn't the case with time is it?'

Ah, but then some of you are saying that rhetorical questions shouldn't be in scripts. And you'd be right, or would you?



Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Is every even number the sum of two primes?

What are the 16 Sutras of the Vedic mathematic system?



Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Preparatory Sketches List

I have re-read Chris' original synopsis/short story, that is the basis for our graphic novel collaboration, as research for who and what I need to do some development work and preparatory sketches of, before actually drawing the first episode.

I talked to Chris about doing these sketches and he said "What do you mean? I'll just tell you what they look like."  This made me think of hearing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons talk at a comics convention in Birmingham, years ago, just after the first issue of Watchmen was published.  They continually talked as if they were both the joint authors of both the narrative and the layout of the book.  They used the word "we" a lot.

Anyway, I noted everything I felt I ought to do a bit of work on, if the comic stays true to the original story.  
Characters & Creatures:
the journalist
the cabbie
the old italian
the suitable monk
the 'n' (alien race)
the 'x' (alien race)
a goat
the previously most deadly carnivorous birds on the face of the planet (who are now shivering and cowardly)
noah's son
monks (in general)
the liquorice novice
the peruvian monk (who has 'the face of an owl' and a haircut 'like captain kirk') 
the infinity monk
the rogue monks
the huskie team boss
estonian factory workers
polish eunuchs

Places, Objects, Things:
the broken laptop
the library
the books
the citadel of dunarkin
noah's ark
mount ararat
yerevan (in general)
the old italian's house/shack
the 'n''s space craft
the 'x''s space craft 
charon (moon of pluto, not guardian of the river styx)
a trabant taxi
the nazca lines
a supermarket in yerevan
an estonian factory
sexy but strange flying machines
the peruvian embassy, yerevan
the orkneys
a top top secret research station
the andes
So, there aren't many women in this story, apart from the nuns.  I think this is one of the areas I'd like to develop, if I am able to influence the direction the narrative takes as Chris is re-working and re-writing, and the process becomes more collaborative.  Although I find women harder to draw than men, so we don't want to introduce too many of them.

T - shirt

Alex and I have also come up with a t-shirt design. Which we both believe is important in the process of creating a graphic novel.

We haven't actually drawn it or anything like that but are planning to wear our limited edition t-shirts at some point during our time in the galleries.


More sentences

I've been thinking about what the second sentence should be. It could be 'God does play dice,' or perhaps 'God plays dice,' or maybe 'God definitely does play dice.'

Or perhaps it should be 'How did a well respected consumer electronics journalist like myself end up amid the wreckage of a hot air balloon on the Nazca Plains in Peru?'

Then of course the third could be something like 'The answer of course lies in the fact that God does play dice and they're loaded in his favour.'

This would then take me to the first plot point which would involve lots to do with circles and the gold ratio.

Writing this could well be a bit difficult!


Friday, 10 October 2008

Childhood Ambitions

I've been reading the first America's Best Comics collection, which has some beautiful work in it, particularly the Promethea strip homage to Little Nemo.  At the back of the book is a collection of sketchbook pages from the many artists involved.  Quite a few graphic novel collections have these pages and they could perhaps be seen as a bit self indulgent, but I really like them - seeing the ideas develop from initial sketches through to finished art.  But reading it now, a week before we start drawing our first chapter, it makes me realise that these guys are drawing all the time.  I know, obvious really.  They do many character sketches before they draw the actual comic.  They do sketch layouts of scenes and whole pages before getting to work on the finished article.  

They do this for a living.  They draw all the time.  How are we going to get anything worthwhile done in three days?  We have lives.  We have families.  Maybe achieving childhood ambitions is a younger man's game?

This got me thinking about the comics I did draw as a kid.  I started when I was about six, inspired by a pile of black and white Spiderman comics (weekly UK reprints of the smaller, colour American monthlies) that I had somehow acquired.  

[A standout memory from those Spiderman comics was a villain called The Prowler.  He didn't have any superpowers, just a costume that consisted of utilitarian clothes and boots (maybe his work clothes?), and a mask (a cloth bag pulled tight over his head, I think) and cloak.  There was a scene in which he quite rationally weighed up the pros and cons of being a hero or villain and concluded that whilst the potential risks were about the same (fighting, falling off buildings), the rewards for being a villain (cash, stolen swag) much outweighed those of being a hero (gratitude), so he would become a villain.]

Another inspiration was a British weekly (The Dandy?) that had a strip in it called Billy The Cat and His Assistant Katy.  (Those British comedy/kids weeklies always seemed to have one adventure strip that was drawn more realistically in black and white, as pastiche-d by the Viz strip Black Bag - The Faithful Border Bin Liner).  I remember once playing a game inspired by this comic strip, and my Mom, in an early attempt to address the sexism common in the comics medium, suggesting I play Katy the Cat and her Assistant Billy.

Anyway.  I carried on drawing comics through until I was about 16 or 17.  I don't remember the earlier attempts too well, but the comics I drew in my teens I have probably got in a box somewhere.  What I know they all had in common though is that none of them were ever finished.  I wouldn't write a script or even a plot.  I'd just have an idea for a character or group of characters and a situation.  Then I'd start writing it by drawing the cover of the First Issue.  Some of them (one called The Blue Bullet comes to mind - though that was more and idea for a costume (er, blue) than for a character) didn't get much past this one page.

Others I'd get a few pages in before getting bored with drawing that particular character's costume, or giving up because I had no idea where it was actually going, narratively.  A few of these later attempts I remember well.  Triple Agents - a cartoony detective story in which the three incompetent Triple Agents (who were all hat and mac, no faces) were aided by an unacknowledged fourth Agent and his assistant - a small yellow creature of some sort.  Bruce The Spaceman, about a spaceman called Bruce (always wore a helmet so I didn't have to draw his face) and his talking cat, who also wore a space suit.  Puma, about a teenage superhero (wore a mask, of course) who's friends don't know he's a hero and doesn't get the girl (hmmmmn, Spiderman transfered to the Midlands).  Street People - an extremely violent gang warfare comic set in the Post Apocalyptic Future (this was the mid 1980s); that one got as far as the end of the first big fight- about 5 pages.

There were some attempts to do it properly.  My friend Aidan wrote a couple of scripts for me to draw.  One a modern day noir detective/assassination story, and one an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron (everyone wears masks, great).  These were better produced, but again only ever got a few pages in, partly because Aidan lived in Harrogate and I lived in Walsall.

So, we should be able to do something better than those unfinished masterpieces, I would hope.  But the spectres of the comics that we read now, that we aspire to, sees to hover over the project.  Perhaps I should do some preparatory sketches.  

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The First Sentence

will be 'Einstein was wrong.'

The first frame will be this sentence typed into the screen of a broken laptop.

Then there'll be an explanation as to what Einstein was wrong about. It'll involve dice and chance and numbers and whatnot.

I've been reading the Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, its a few years since I picked up any Calvin & Hobbes and I'd forgotten just how funny, poignant and well crafted they are.

The following quite may well be pinned to one of our walls somewhere,

'The best comics expose human nature and help us laugh at our own stupidity and hypocrisy. They indulge in exaggeration and absurdity, helping us to see the world with fresh eyes and reminding us how important it is to play and be silly.'
Bill Watterson

Which I think applies as much to stuff like The X-Men as it does to the adventures of a six year old boy and his tiger.

I will try and make my writing more silly and playful


Monday, 6 October 2008

Seth & Superman

I've read a couple of books by Seth over the past few weeks, which I found in the Central Library. They're great. But Clyde Fans Book 1 makes Waiting for Godot look like a Laurel & Hardy film and Bannock, Beans & Black Tea moved me to tears.

I've also read JLA: Superpower, given to me by a work colleague and this was depressing as well. And features Superman having some existential doubts about truth, justice and the American way!

On a positive note I have almost written the opening paragraph to the story. In my head though. I haven't actually written anything down. That would be a bit too much like commitment.

Whilst writing this last sentence I realised that we're actually doing 'it' next week. Crikey.

I may well read some Calvin & Hobbes tonight or maybe some early Tom Strong.

No, on second thoughts those are both exceptionally well made pieces and will serve to remind me about the mountain that Alex and I are aiming to start climbing.

Maybe some Zot! then. Not that it's bad, it's great but seems achievable.

I've also got to get a new front headlight for the car. Not that that has any direct relevance to the story... yet.


Friday, 3 October 2008

The Monster

Just a link to a little something about The Monster.

It may well be appearing in a graphic novel near you soon.