Sorry, please don’t read the above statement as ego stroking reference to my own artwork. It is, in fact, my first thought after reading the brilliant comic known as Massacre for Boys (MFB). Back in the winter of 2010/ 11, Myself and Chris Denton (editor/writer for MFB) was working on a strip for Zarjaz called Zenith Invasion. It’s fair to say that we hit it off really well as both collaborators and as friends. I was fully aware of MFB but for some unknown reason I had never read it. Chris kindly sent me a couple of issues of his publication and I enjoyed every page from start to finish.
I loved Chris’s writing and the artist, Steven Denton (Chris’ brother), had gained a new fan and admirer (in the artistic sense). Massacre for Boys very much follows in the tradition of British “boy’s own” comics. Think The Victor, Commando and Battle and you’re on the right track. The Denton brothers deliver a comic full of action, adventure, impact, entertainment and, most importantly, charm. I have a lot of affection for the old school boy’s own comics. In fact, thinking about it, it’s where my passion for comics comes from. From a very early age, my great grandfather used to give me a copy of The Victor every time he came round for Sunday dinner. I was a bit too young to read all of the words, but I used to read the stories through the artwork. I was captivated by the images. I had never seen anything like it before. The drama, the mesmerising artwork, the excitement of turning the page to find out what happens next… what an experience!
Fantastic! (I didn’t say “bloody” back then).
I wrote back to Chris to say how much I enjoyed his MFB comic and he replied by saying “well, we’re putting together a colour special, would you like to be part of it?”. Would I?! Hell yea! I had ALWAYS wanted to draw a “war” comic since I was a kid and to have it featured in such an amazing comic as Massacre for Boys… “Chris, where do I sign?”.
Chris wrote me a cracking six page story titled “Pagan Blood” and it was everything I could have asked for. I’m afraid that I’m not going to go through the storyline here as it would spoil things for those of you who haven’t read it, but basically it’s set during the Second World War and it’s presented from the German’s perspective. It reminded me of a strip called “Death Squad” which featured in Battle comic which I used to really enjoy reading when I was younger. The subject matter could have been a tricky one but Chris handled the situation brilliantly. Not in any way does the story sympathise for the Nazi’s views and beliefs. It’s a simple tale of courage, bravery and survival.
Once I had worked out the page breakdowns it was research time. I love this stage of any project. I took a few trips to the Imperial Museum in London and made lots of sketches of the uniforms and weaponry. I wanted everything to be as authentic as possible. I tried to colour match the uniforms to as close as I possibly could. If this is a “period strip” then it has to be believable in order for it to work.
Pagan Blood was my first “full colour” strip. I coloured the whole strip in Photoshop, which was still relatively new to me. I had dabbled with colouring my work in Photoshop a few times before but I had never produced work for a publication in this way. The whole procedure was like learning to fly a plane and the computer was drop-kicked in frustration on many a occasion, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I was pleased with the results. The main aspect I was striving for was atmosphere; to capture the bitter coldness of the winter and the change in the day, from day through to night to insinuate the drama as it unfolds. It was also my first time in using Illustrator to letter my work… how my computer survived my “Hulk” outbursts, I’ll never know. Besides a few technical problems, everything was going very well. I was happy with my drawing and storytelling, I was constantly enthusiastic to be working on a War story and incredibly happy to be part the Massacre for Boys team. What could go wrong?
Famous last words…
Halfway through the project, I fell ill. Very ill. I was hit with a very nasty virus. It came totally out of the blue and hit me for six. I won’t go into details but within two months I lost just over three stone (for those of you who know me in person, there isn’t much of me to start with). My immune system had been completely zapped, I kept collapsing, I couldn’t walk up four steps of the stairs without feeling exhausted and having to rest for periods of time before carrying on. It was a tough gig which required several tests at the hospital. It was a worrying time. I couldn’t draw for any longer than ten minutes at a time. But, I wasn’t going to let it defeat me. In many ways, drawing Pagan Blood helped me through the ordeal. It gave me a focus, it took my mind off of my worries (for ten minutes anyway) and it gave me a goal. Pagan blood started to take on a whole new meaning. A story about survival and bravery was becoming a reality.
On a more cheerful note, with the support from family and friends, medication and my determination to complete Pagan Blood successfully, my health improved. Slowly; but it was improving none the less. I think that it’s fair to say that I took out my frustrations with my illness on the final page. There’s something very symbolic about the second panel. It was a very therapeutic picture to draw. Pagan Blood was a major test for me, both artistically and on a personal level. Chris’s response to seeing the final pages confirmed that I had passed. Despite the set backs and frustrations, I enjoyed every minute of drawing Pagan Blood.
A couple of months passed after sending the strip to Chris and I was overwhelmed to see that Pagan Blood was chosen as the “cover story”. Steven Denton produced an amazing cover based on my strip. Man, what a cover! Steven is an incredibly talented artist and he hit the nail on the head with his fully painted cover. He captured the story superbly and it has to be one of the strongest covers I have seen in a long time (I can honestly say that he didn’t pay me to write that). Hail Ming!
Back in Action was successfully launched at this years Bristol Comic Expo which was held in… Bristol. I travelled the length of the country to attend the event and it was great to meet up with the Massacre for Boys gang. I had met Chris before at DemonCon but I had never met Steven or Nikki Foxrobot before and it was delightful to do so. I felt part of a team who create a tremendous, exciting and entertaining comic. We had a great weekend. It was wonderful to see the final printed pages at the convention and I have to admit, I was a bit emotional looking at them, reflecting on what I was going through at the time of drawing it. I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel and it really couldn’t have been any better.
But, it’s not all about me. It’s also about the other contributors to Action Special who helped create this fantastic comic. Dave “Bolt-01″ Evans, Richmond Clements, Owen Watts, John Caliber, Dee Cunniffe and Tim Twelves. I’m very proud to be part of such an incredible line-up and I feel very privileged to be featured in such a cool comic. I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to both Chris and Steven. Many thanks, guys.
If you own a copy of Action Special, I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve no doubt that you did. If you haven’t read it (you know what’s coming next) why don’t you treat yourself? Head over to the Massacre for Boys website, order a copy (a steal at £3) and…