Saturday 23 December 2006

From Hell

Alan Moore's London. part 3

Being a kind of "Director's commentary" on the book FROM HELL
In the photo with Alan Moore is fellow writer Steve Moore ('no relation' has become an obligatory phrase). They're at Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames.

Steve Stamatiadis was working with me on this chapter. That's why there's a sharper trim on the details in these panels than you would normally expect from Campbell. Steve was fast and accurate at getting photographic reference onto the page. But the Needle sequence illustrates a problem I had to resolve. These monuments have been well photgraphed over the years and with something like the Needle, it's impossible to get a variety of angles on it unless you've brought your own ladder. So the danger is that the pictures can end up looking like school textbook views of London.

One thing I did to create contrast was to render the passing views in a appropriately fleeting way. That is, a volume of detail halts the eye, so apply that when Gull is stationary (and the script does demand that we hold the reader at these geographical points to ponder). Then work more sketchily while the carriage is in motion. So, the page that ends with your eye riveted upon the sharply outlined sphinx begins with these:

The photo above is the source of panel 1

...and the photo below is the source for panel 2. These are laid down so roughly that you may not have thought they were based on photos at all.

That kind of variation in information density, it can also be said, is a useful strategy in the composition of a long range work. Photos, furthermore, should be used to give authority to the work. If you follow them too slavishly you risk giving the authority to someone else.
That's Alan again in the right middle ground of the lower photo. And with him I think is Jamie Delano. More about him tomorrow.


Friday 22 December 2006

Alan Moore's London. part 2

The Hawksmoor churches, as seen in FROM HELL.
I enjoyed composing a couple of pages around the St. George Bloomsbury , using Alan's ground-level shots plus the higher points of view from Downes' book on the architect. Alan gave me enough shots of each church that I was able to tape together big composite images.

St Luke's was actually the first one up, and I hadn't quite got my act together for that one, or felt uninspired by it or something. Also I didn't want the chapter to turn into just a series of architectural studies. Anyway, I've mostly hidden it behind the trees.

St John's Horsleydown was a problem on account of it doesn't exist any more, having been bombed during the war. A new building sits on its foundations. That's Alan at the site, in the red jacket. I used a very coarse old photo from the book for the big shot. It's a good job it was raining in this scene is all I can say.

Alan took enough shots of Christ Church to draw it from every conceivable angle (we were able even to logic some convincing aerial views from the combined information.) Alan has written on these polaroids. Note the one in the middle: "The Portico- See me and Amber on the left for scale." (Amber's his daughter.)

The problem with using photo reference for backgrounds is in making sure everything is in the same key, to make a musical analogy. With From Hell I wanted figures and backgrounds to be in a comparable shorthand. On another book, say Bacchus: Earth Water Air and Fire, I established at the outset that pasted on photographs for backgrounds were part of the style of that one. Within the terms that you establish at the beginning, events are more or less real. I did actually get exasperated from drawing Christ Church so many times that on one page I pasted on a photocopy of a photograph. Then I had to rough up and 'freehand' its outline to bring it into the same key as the rest of the book. I don't think anybody noticed.
(ps. Steve Stamatiadis worked with me as a background assistant on chapter 4, from which all of the above pictures come.)
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Having mentioned yetserday that the From hell Scripts book is another story, I thought if I do that I'll end up having to tell it. Sure enough, Ron Swintek asked in Comments. I really don't know what the state of play is on that one. The book comprised the scripts for the first four chapters and was published by Borderlands, with most of the running and organizing done by Steve Bissette. It came out in '94, same year as the movie deal was done. It was supposed to be an ongoing series but KItchen Sink Press got all protective and greedy and their lawyer put the heavy word on Borderlands, and told them to stop immediately. It was something to do with compromising a book deal made with Hyperion, who in the end didn't bring out a bookstore edition of From Hell, undoubtedly because the whole thing started spreading into months and years and the hope of it coming out right got lost in the mist between '94 and '99 when KSP went bust. Borderlands were pissed off big time and the implication was that if anybody else tried to do the same book at a later date they would be on it like a ton of bricks. Whether they still feel that way twelve years later I couldn't say. Looking back, what I should have done was lay down the law with KSP, tell them they had behaved badly and if they didn't put things right I'd walk. Either that or go over and tear their heads off. I realized some time back that there is no room for being wishy washy in this game. On the brighter side, I couldn't help reading a page or two while the scripts were in my hand, and it really is a great piece of writing. Sombody should look into it. Soon, though. Some of what I have is on temporary fax paper; we can't depend on Alan having kept it all, and those pages are already lost I'd say.


Thursday 21 December 2006

Alan Moore's London. part 1

I just found a stash of the From Hell reference photos I promised to dig out back on Dec. 4th. These are mostly the pictures Alan took or had taken while on at least two separate tours around the major places of significance in Fom Hell, mainly for my use in Chapter 4, which is the one that called for all the architectural stuff.
Above is John Bunyan's tomb at Bunhill Fields. While working on the drawing I noticed that the date of death on the tomb is two hundred years to the day before the death of the first Ripper victim. Below is a general shot of the graveyard from the same page. I wanted to head into this without a hint of menace. It's a pleasant morning in London, the sun-dappled foliage is almost abstract in its cheerfulness, and the presence of the gravestones underplayed. The Bunyan picture was at the foot of the page, changing the sense of scale rather abruptly.

In addition, the page also had Defoe's obelisk and Blake's headstone, with photos for each, so you can see that there wasn't a lot of room for mucking about.

I appear to have changed the light-source on the obelisk for compositional reasons.

Alan had a few shots of himself taken on the steps of Christ Church, Spitalfields, our principal centre of interest. The one I based my drawing on was a separate photo. Alan was moving away from the camera in increments so I could judge scale and distances, as you can see by comparing the two images. I was also very interested in the way the light was bouncing around on that portico. I made the drawing as a frontispiece for the collected Alan Moore scripts volume 1, another of those sad muddles that punctuate the history of From Hell, but that's another story.

ps. I don't know if it was I or Alan who made the mistake of running Christ Church into one word like that (as in the town in New Zealand. I believe it was a review by writer Iain Sinclair that drew attention to our error.)
pps. If anybody ever gets back to doing the scripts collection they'll be screwed. I just dropped the bundle of approximately 1500 loose sheets of From hell script all over my studio floor.
part 2 tomorrow.


Wednesday 20 December 2006

Mary Kelly, Mary Kelly, etcetera

I once told Dave Sim that these lines you see behind Gull's head are called 'etcetera lines'. You carefully put the first one down and then whizz along repeating it at microscopic intervals going etc. etc etc. The faster you do it the more chance there is of it coming out right. It's not a technique that favours the cautious or faint of heart. Whoever else might be working with me on From Hell (mainly Pete Mullins from chapter 5 on) I'd finish the page with a mad web of etcetera lines to give the distinct feeling that it all came out of the 'same inkpot.'

(If you haven't read From Hell you might want to come back to this one later.)

There's a criticism of From Hell that occasionally rears its head. And it is the criticism that Campbell can't draw women because in From Hell they all look alike. The first retort is the facetious one. What, do you mean you can't tell between the tall skinny woman (Liz Stride) and the short plump one (Annie Chapman)? No, let's be serious. It's the Mary Kelly problem, isn't it?

Okay, let's have a look at it.

First there is Mary Kelly, the East end lass who first appears in chapter 1. I had two bits of information to work with: a) she's Irish and b) There needs to be a visual connection to the Sickert painting known variously as 'Blackmail' and 'Mrs Barrett.' So far, so clear. By this third panel here from chapter 3, I had worked out a comfortable shorthand for Mary Kelly.

Secondly, Inspector Abberline walks into the Ten Bells at the end of Chapter 6 and finds himself talking to a girl who calls herself Emma. Both Fred and Emma are constructing false lives for themselves in these scenes and the reader is supposed to be feeling all the time that this is really Mary Kelly but we're not categorically stating it. How am I to draw something that remains in the fuzzy area of speculation? In the script Alan asks for a lot of camera-over-shoulder and arm-coming-in-from-off-panel, which, given that we would be dwelling on this set-up for several scenes, struck me as frustrating because Abberline would be talking to a non-existent person since they have no true presence, in effect giving the feeling of a tv program where the interviewer is never visible. There would be no possibility of reactive body language, which is the essential spirit of of my figure art. I asked Alan to let me try putting her square in the picture, albeit with her back to us, and trust the reader's intelligence to figure it out. I was happy with the results and so was Alan.

Thirdly there is Julia. It was necessary for Mary and Julia to have some slight resemblance so that we could leave the book with the possibility that it was she, and not Mary, who was murdered on that bloody bed. If I didn't show the face of the woman being mutilated, the reader would think I was coyly shrinking form the task, and we didn't want that. The reader must be as UNcertain that the person being murdered is Mary and not Julia as they are elsewhere CERtain that Emma is Mary (such as when she kisses Abberline on chapter nine page 24). Thus another likeness.

Fourth, right at the end we see a much older Mary Kelly hypothetically still living in Ireland many years later. In retrospect I think the loose way that I draw is perhaps what made me the ideal artist, if I may say so, for the depiction of so many people walking about only in the realm of hypothesis.

And we finish with
Five: chapter 11 page 12, After the murder of Mary Kelly, Abberline approaches a woman he thinks is 'Emma' from behind, but it turns out to be a stranger. Remember that we have never actually seen 'Emma' face to face anyway, so this is a strangely disorienting scene. She turns around and neither he nor we have ever seen this woman before. To make absolutely sure there was no confusion caused by the sort of 'family likeness' that you unavoidably find in all the characters drawn by a single artist, caused by such things as habitual pen technique, an artist's 'signature', I asked my art assistant through all those From Hell years, Pete Mullins (last seen in this blog yesterday as a 'cork man') to draw this woman.
And then I went in with all the etcetera lines.


Tuesday 19 December 2006

Let me Outta here!

These guys fell off the shelf while I was looking for something else and reminded me that Christmas is less than a week away. The fashioning of these little chaps owes something to the same impulse that guided Michelangelo. It is said that when he carved the Dying Slaves for the tomb of Julius II it was 'a process of highy symbolic direct carving which consists in freeing from the dead stone, the raw inert material, the beauty it imprisons'. As the great artist himself said in a sonnet "The marble not yet carved can hold the form/ Of every thought the greatest artist has..." Well, it was exactly like that when, at the end of one of our Christmas parties here at Castle Campbell, I was gazing at the champagne cork after the delicious liquids had all been consumed, and I was certain I saw my pal Evans in there, asking to be let out. "let me outta here!" I heard him yell. So I immediately took to the cork with my acrylics and my scalpel and in short order there was Evans on the table. Well, a miniature version of him I mean. And then this became a tradition here at our house. Neil Gaiman recently said that you can make anything into a tradition. Just do it and name it a tradition, but make sure you remember to do it again next year. And remember we did. Every year at the end of our Christmas bash, and after other mid-year parties, the cork would be retrieved from the floor and one of those present, or even not present but dear to our funny bone, would request to be let out of it. There were a dozen of them at one stage. I know this because our lad Callum used to get them off the shelf and put them in a 12-size egg carton, standing room only, and, pretending it was a bus, drive them all over the floor of the house. He even took them to school for show-and-tell once, introducing them as 'the cork people'. Looking at them now, the sheen has gone off them and their paint is chipped, and only four of them remain. It should also be mentioned that they once had necks, but champagne corks find their way back to a cylindrical shape if you don't tie string around them. In the foreground above is my pal Mullins, my right hand nib thorugh From Hell and Bacchus, and on the left my father himself, giving me a stern look. I don't think he knows about this tradition.

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Monday 18 December 2006

Hold that Thought balloon!

My pal Evans just sent me this link from the Australian: "Myth, legend and the academic discipline of history all serve the same end, to enrich our understanding of ourselves, argues Alex Miller."
This fits with my earlier statement (dec. 6) that I'm interested in the blurry areas between things. In this case, between fiction and non-fiction (history, reportage, biography). "Each generation rewrites history for itself and, in doing so, refutes the truth of much of the history written by its parents' generation." The next part strikes me as extraordinary: "...a retired German historian who is driven to write a factual story not as history but as fiction. He does this to preserve the story against the revisions of future generations." Think about that one. He dressed the facts as fiction for their own protection
* * * *
My pal mr j, last seen here on (dec. 4) sent me his latest cartoon, this one in response to the Hayley Campbell horrors I've been showing. click to enlarge

Speaking of which,
The Ripper Files, Part 5: this is the last of those I scanned while I had the 'Files' out. The second one is a guest spot by me. I never dreamed the wee lass, then aged 7, would adopt Morticia Addams as her fashion mentor.
* * * *
Make sure you've read the comments for yesterday's post as the subject of my piece, John Coulthart himself, threw in a couple of paragraphs of pure information.
* * * *
Andrew J. Bonia, who contributed that great little Simpsons piece here a couple of days back, which involved tinkering with a speech balloon, writes about the elimination of thought balloons from the conventional comic book style and their replacement with turgid running voice-overs. The 'thought' bubble (or balloon) is one of the few inventions truly indigenous to the twentieth century comic strip and it would be sad to reject it in order to make comics more like movies (see comments on this theme under 'Things' two days back), or because it is somehow pictorially unseemly for a tough heroic figure to have fluffy clouds around his head. When you tell an anecdote orally it's commonplace to say 'I thought' and 'she thought' etc., and perfectly logical to codify that on paper in a thought bubble. And if it makes your character less heroic, try taking the pole out of his ass. Always works for me.
Here is a History of speech balloons since the dawn of time. But observe Thierry Smolderen's admonishment in Comic Art #8 in his very excellent and lavishly illustrated essay, Of labels, Loops and Bubbles, that the exact function of these comparable devices needs to be interpreted in entirely different ways for different historical periods.
waitaminute. the phone.
Anne? yeah, what... yes of course they know I meant take the pole out my character's and not actually my own. yeah, sure... very funny... yeh...anyway, remember to pick up the cat food... and thanks for roning.

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Sunday 17 December 2006

"I have seen the dark universe yawning..."

I stumbled upon John Coulthart's blog last night and was reminded that the Italian edition of Snakes and Ladders came out in August this year from Black Velvet of Bologna, using, as you can see, the smart cover designs Michael Evans made for my own edition. I remember he saw my daughter Erin wearing a t-shirt with a snake design on it, had her change out of it so he could scan it and play around with it in photoshop, changing the colours and everything. That's the book, you will recall, in which Alan Moore conjoined the Victorian painter Edward Burne-Jones, and the co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule Francis Crick, in what appeared to be a rather far-fetched alliance. And while moving design components around I found that the Victorian Artist's The Golden Stairs made a perfect superimposition on the double helix of the DNA, though once again it's thanks to Evans for making the idea work on the page. (English version is in A Disease of Language from Knockabout in the Uk, via Top Shelf in the USA who still have copies of the old 48 pager with the snake cover if that has taken your fancy (it's not in Disease))(click for larger) But all my smartarse superimposition was chaff when the the cd was released some time later with the beautiful fold-out art by John Coulthart:

The Italian Serpenti has a translation of the long interview I made with Alan and includes a handful of photos taken of the original performance of the work in 1999 (or one of Moore's other performances; it's not clear) which were not in my own edition and which I presume must be Coulthart's, since parts of them are sampled into the cd insert designs. I didn't have them in my edition because I was too much in awe of this guy's technical ability to introduce myself and ask. He's probably got nice crisp colour shots of these, but I'm still awestruck so I've just scanned them from the book.

Coulthart has a new book of his own out. The Haunter of the Dark: And Other Grotesque Visions (Paperback)Paperback: 136 pages Publisher: Creation Oneiros (November 2006). This is the two part cover shown at the artist's own site:

From the Publisher's description: "Two modern graphic arts vision arias interpret Lovecraft’s stories as graphic novels -- and a Kaballah! Includes: * illustrations for The Haunter of the Dark and The Call of Cthulhu * thirty pages of previously unseen drawings and paintings * selections from the controversial Lord Horror series Hard Core Horror and Reverbstorm, which have been evolving Lovecraftian imagery in bold new directions * Material specially created for this volume includes illustrations for The Great Old Ones, * Also new, a kabbalah of Lovecraft’s gods with accompanying evocations by Alan Moore."
From Moore's intro to the book: "John Coulthart is the man that Beardsley or Rossetti would have been had they grown up somewhere like Salford and had access to a VCR. Had his heart set on a career as poet maudit but then failed the medical. He’d got the look, he’d got the attitude, the only thing that let him down was the consumption. You can’t be a decadent unless you’re coughing poppies, handkerchief like Flanders with a monogram. It was unfair. He’d come so close. The cathode tan. The skin so sensitive it acted as a film emulsion. Out on midnight walks, standing in one spot for too long, ends up with constellations printed on his cheeks and forehead. Pallor, though, is not enough. He needed some externalized display of illness, some tuberculotic flourish. Finally, he siphons off the inner toxins using a Rapidograph as catheter, blots up the nightmare seepage onto Bristol board, septic chromatograms that are at first inchoate, without form. Lovecraft provides an alphabet, a hideous vocabulary within which the artist can contain these gorgeous, sinister transmissions. Later, other conduits are discovered, these including David Britton’s fascist operatic lead, Lord Horror; Sweeney Todd at high tea with the Mitfords. Coulthart re- imagines Auschwitz out of Lovecraft’s R’lyeh, as a horrible lost temple sunk beneath the murk of Europe’s dreamtime. Banished from political reality, the Old Ones lurk there at the threshold and anticipate their terrible return. Blast patterns from a Brick Lane nailbomb explicate the Yellow Sign. Azathoth manifests in Deansgate, a mosaic of fire and flying splinterglass. Coulthart soaks up the cultural heavy metals, will metabolise them, pass them on in a depleted form as hatched miasmas, masonries collapsed in stipple. Wet black viper lines, escaped and slithering, hissing from the nib..." (amazon page),

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