Saturday 31 October 2009

Dungeon Master

As I mentioned in yesterday's posting, the first lengthy games sequence that befalls, Gina, Cary and Rabby as they weave their way through the twists and turns of Cloud 109 is loosely based on a now relatively steam driven computer game which appeared over twenty years ago under the title of "Dungeon Master".

As this game has at least a vague Halloween theme, insofar as it's a definitely creepy in parts and full of monsters, I thought it might be fun to have a look at the thing in a little more detail.

Dungeon Master is one of those games that does have the ability to suck you in, the premise is relatively straightforward. You have to assemble a team of four adventurers with a mix of skills, so that ideally your team has a mix of spell casting and healing powers as well as fighting and dexterity skills, which are gradually enhanced as you journey through the at times labyrinthine levels to journey's end where you release the nice old guy at the end of the final level (there are 14 of them) from imprisonment by the Forces of Chaos.

All the characters have ridiculously portentous titles as if they have stepped out of Lord of the Rings and they are destined to encounter a veritable bestiary of nasty killer creatures which as their journey progresses, get ever more difficult to overcome. Added to which there are puzzles to solve, food and drink to find (your party will starve if you fail in this respect and some of the levels are very short on food), light to be created - those dungeons get very dark very quickly as your torch burns itself out.

The game itself looks primeval in comparison to the kind of games you'll see on your PS3 or XBox, but what the hell - it's the atmosphere, the 3D sound of something nasty shifting restlessly as your team heads down a corridor with the light already failing and they're not quite sure which turning to take.

Highly addictive at least in the short run.

Christophe Fontanel has a website devoted to this game called "Dungeon Master Encyclopedia" and if you're as sad as I am, you can even download the game and it's sequels for free.

Something to try out over the weekend providing your Halloween hangover isn't wreaking more damage on you then the Forces of Chaos.

Friday 30 October 2009

Script to Artwork

One of the many fun aspects of creating the world of Cloud 109, is the ability to be able to take David Orme's wonderful script and just have a bit of extra fun with it.

Most writers when they're scripting for comics will take a much more hands on approach to controlling just how the artist breaks down the scene, there are varying degrees to which a writer will do this, but at it's most extreme, there will be detailed descriptions of the contents of each panel and even the "camera" angles the writer wants to see employed, much in the way that a film director would ask for.

David au contraire is remarkably liberal in this regard and hence we can achieve much more of a collaboration in terms of input into some of the gags involved.

Here's an example; the script for page 15 of Cloud 109, calls for the increasingly bemused teens to question a couple of less than helpful jailers. The old conundrum one jailer always lies, one always tells the truth, you are only allowed one question per jailer. how do you work out which of the two doors do you open?. This part of the game is set in a labyrinthine dungeon, very much in the vein of the old cult classic RPG "Dungeon Master".

As you can see David's script works brilliantly in advancing the characters personalities as they try to fathom a way out of what could be a very long sojourn in the dungeon, but having been sad enough to waste countless hours playing this spooky and very addictive game in the early nineties, I was able to throw in a little bit of extra stress into the scenes involved by adding in some of the endless succession of monsters that assail unwary adventurers in these dark and dank corridors.

You can also see from these images the way that the line work
is built up and elements added as the page progresses. One of the very useful aspects of working these pages in Adobe Illustrator is that one can easily add or subtract bits of artwork without any deviation in the overall cohesiveness of the artwork. Which in terms of continuity makes the whole process a lot more seamless than might ordinarily be the case.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Cloud 109 - The Fourth Instalment

The story so far ...

Gina, Cary and Rabby have been exploring a strange alien landscape, all is going well until they enter a cave where they are set upon by a horde of killer bugs.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Halloween - More Help for Last Minute Party Goers

Greetings Boils and Ghouls! Due to high demand and requests from some of the other movers and shakers in the Cloud 109 cyber lounge, we have had our art department work through the night to come up with yet more of those handy dandy Halloween face masks, so that if all else fails in your costume department - you will have one of these little fellas to hide your putrefying blushes.

We have had a few complaints and queries from some of you ghoulunatics about assembling these fiendish facemasks, particularly with regard to ensuring that the eye holes occur in the right places on your mask. Don't on any account hold the friggin' thing in front of your eyes and jab away randomly with a knitting needle trying to make a hole as this is very hazardous. Instead hold a piece of paper in front of your face and get a fiend to mark where your eyeholes need to be - then use the paper as a guide - simple!

And then as before the rest of the procedure is as follows:

Open up the chosen mask image in your computer (it should open up as A4 which is probably the size your printer works to). Print your mask on card stock or heavy paper, cut out the mask shape and adjust for the eye holes. Punch a small hole at each side and then attach ribbon ties or elastic string and then fasten behind your head so you can see.

As an alternative you can simply dispense altogether with the strings and just attach one side of the mask to a short dowel or pencil, thereby facilitating the quaffing of liberal quantities of booze without reducing your mask to a porridge like consistency around the chin.

Today's quadruplets feature, Jack, Amy Eggs Benedict (late arrival but she made it - well done Eggs!) and Mr Greg Sick.

Greg is one of the planet's most dedicated music promotors and spends every waking minute seeking out some of the most scintillating and out there bands to host at Brighton's Stay Sick nights, of which this should be a good one to check out this Saturday at The Hobgoblin in Brighton.

We'll run page 4 of the ongoing Cloud 109 story in tomorrow's blog - see you there.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Financial Ruin - The Key to Creativity!

The life of a freelance illustrator is on the whole very satisfying, you are after all being paid for doing what you like best, which is drawing and being generally creative. While the commuters are stuck on hideously cramped trains, heading to a no longer safe job in the office, stressing about sales targets, there you are still in your carpet slippers, cup of tea on your desk gently getting into another day of creating mind boggling artworks for which someone is actually prepared to pay you.

Nice work - if you can get it!

And there lies the rub, for no matter how busy you might be there is the inescapable truth that at some point the phone stops ringing. It always does no matter how many corners you as an illustrator might feel you have covered style and subject matter wise, sooner or later the dazzling array of jobs you were panicking over have disappeared and for every week no work comes in, the awful knowledge that you are slipping inelegantly towards skid row assails you - usually from 2.30 am onwards.

This awful and calamitous state of affairs is confounded by the knowledge that as your capital is being gently eroded come January you will have a huge tax bill to pay on the impressive earnings you accumulated a couple of years previously. It always happens like this - your dire year always falls when you have a tax bill the size of the Matterhorn (well in relative terms at least) to deal with.

This is precisely the scenario that occurred in January 2006, which in a way was the catalyst for David Orme (the author and premier spellcaster of much of The Cloud 109 mayhem) and I coming together. My work had reduced to a trickle and I had an alarming tax bill to pay and no prospect of any new clients. Usual scenario, which as an old friend of mine in the animation industry best summed up as, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going".

So what I did was to finally resolve the website I'd been titting around with for a few months, I didn't have any web building tools, but I had managed to create a viable site courtesy of an off the peg system run by Moonfruit at a total cost of about £50.00.

That was stage one, next having decided there was no way I could afford to buy any client lists, I started to Google search all available design studio databases and any other likely commissioners of illustration, so that I could send them customized emails. I would also as a matter of courtesy check out their websites to see whether my work was of any relevance to them or not and also to be able to offer praise and enthusiasm for some of the work they were engaged in - this kind of stuff is important and shows that you're not a total egomaniac who feels the world owes them a living but are connected to their requirements.

This approach worked like a treat and within a matter of a few weeks I had a string of really nice and different jobs coming in all of which were more creatively stimulating than many of the jobs I'd been working on previously.

The final stage of the relaunch campaign was to develop a new style, I'd stumbled over a Manga tutorial which came with an issue of Computer Arts magazine. The CD tutorial was one of the best introductions to the processes of working in Illustrator that I could have had. Using the lessons I learned I pretty much dispensed with Photoshop and threw myself totally into Illustrator. The results were promising and so at every possible opportunity it was the Illustrator route that I would adopt and before long I was mega busy again with more work than I could handle including the first of two series of books with David Orme.

The samples here are really from the early days of the development of the new look. The flying fish and "noir" detective type was for a design studio by name of Darkwater and the girl in bed cover (note the Herge influences) was for Frank Skinner's debut novel "Thunderman".

Monday 26 October 2009

Halloween - Your Last Minute Party Gear

From time to time this Blog will offer the services of The Cloud 109 art department as a thank you to all you people who share the occasional cybernetic tea and cakes with us.

It can't have escaped your notice that Halloween is now bearing down on us with the unstoppable momentum of the devil's hearse. Come Saturday night and all you guys will doubtless be off to a never ending succession of ghoulish get togethers with a myriad of strangely garbed folk looking like extras from a George Romero, David Cronenberg schlock/ horror fest. Bars and discos will be pulsating to the haunting strains of "Jack the Ripper, "Night of the Vampires" and "The Monster Mash" as werewolves, zombies and vampires bop the night away with their ghoulfiends fangs stuck firmly in their necks or wherever else ghoulfiends sink their fangs.

Now things do occasionally go wrong with these dos, i.e. you leave your costume making to the last moment and somehow you manage to mislay the fangs, the dripping gelatinous goo that you've carefully managed to drip over your face just won't set properly, or your cat is so out of sorts with the whole ocassion that he's just thrown up over your Dracula cape.

... Or you're just so hung over from Friday night that you really can't be bothered to struggle with the finer points of zombie couteur .. in which case never fear!

We have managed to persuade four of the stars of the Cloud 109 cyber lounge to pose for our resident artist so that we can offer you these four handy dandy face masks. So with the aid of Tom, Sheryl, Oliva and Mr Jimmy Riddle we can help you guys and ghouls out.

Now all you need to do is open up the chosen mask image in your computer (it should open up as A4 which is probably the size your printer works to). Print your mask on card stock or heavy paper, cut out the mask shape and adjust for the eye holes. Punch a small hole at each side and then attach ribbon ties or elastic string and then fasten behind your head so you can see.

For a tres chic alternative you can simply dispense altogether with the strings and just attach one side of the mask to a short dowel or pencil, which means that you can quaff liberal quantities of booze without soaking your mask at the same time and even if your speech is getting pretty slurred at least it won't be muffled.

Lastly a quick mention of Oliva Spleen who when he's not posing for our dribbling draughtsman is one of the most out there performers on the planet and this Tuesday is fronting his band Pink Narcissus at The Hobgoblin pub (9.00pm onstage) in Brighton. This guy is a legend and if you're in Brighton on Tuesday night go and check him and his band out.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Eggs Benedict and Loadsa, Loadsa, Loadsa Spots!!!

I mentioned in yesterday's blog, how in the world of Cloud 109 the cyber lounge/ chat room is filled with a lot of real people, many of whom are members of our very own Cloud 109 Facebook page. Included in this distinguished and ever growing Cloud 109 alumni (if you're not already signed up to our Cloud 109 Facebook club, get your little rock n' roll ass over there - pronto! We need you!!!) is a delightful girl by the name of Eggs Benedict. Anyway I did invite Eggs to join our throng and she agreed, so I picked out what I thought was the perfect Eggs pic, i.e. one of her sitting down looking animated and convivial and opened up the Madge Crumb page in Illustrator (my chosen software for all Cloud 109 shenannigans) and dragged in Eggs' pic in the appropriate layer.

The only trouble was that Eggs was wearing a fantastic leopard print top with loadsa, loadsa, loadsa spots all over it. In fact this is obviously a rare breed of leopard with gazillions of spots rather than your usual leopard with less and bigger spots.

But never fear because in Illustrator you can do a quick work around to save yourself having to individually draw in all them friggin spots.

What you do is create an area of spots to work within a square and then create a repeat spot on the sides of the square. i.e. take the spot copy and paste it so that it it is bisected by both sides of the square at exactly the same space - check the pic and you'll see what I mean.

Once you have done that create the square using the square tool on the layer above and then using Object - Path - Divide Objects Below and keeping your layer with the spots below unlocked, slice through the spots that extend beyond the edges of your square.

Now come the clever bit - simply drag the square of spots into the swatches palette and you can now use the selection tool (top left hand corner of the Illustrator tool box on the left of the screen) to highlight Egg's top, select a yellow from the swatches palette and then copy and paste in front (Crtl-C and then Crtl-F) and this time select your pattern from the swatches palette.

If the spots are too big no problem - just rescale using the selection tool and make another swatch until your happy with the size.

Et Voila! Eggs is now wearing pretty much the sort of print pattern that she would normally favour.

Saturday 24 October 2009

Gene, Eddie and Assorted Others in the Cloud 109 Chatroom.

The myriad peoples who gently waft their way through the Cloud 109 chat room are not as I originally intended. When I first read David's script my initial thoughts about the chat room was that it was going to be one of the most challenging aspects of creating a believable Cloud 109 universe. The whole concept of the chat room and it's environs (there's more to this place than meets the eye) drew much of it's inspiration from the burgeoning world of Second Life, where people create fantastic avatars of themselves and have more fulfilling lives online than they could achieve in reality (whatever that is).

My initial attempts at the background characters in the chat room really were largely based on the kind of characters that people are inventing for themselves in Second Life, and after struggling with what was a never ending series of cliches and spending copious amounts of time in the process, I decided that that approach was just going nowhere.

So I had another think and decided that really a more logical approach would be to have a sucession of genuinely cool young things as a never ending cycle of visitors to the Cloud 109 cyber lounge. It did involve cyber stalking several of my Facebook friends but they seemed genuinely flattered to be cobbled into the creative process and it does seem to really work well in terms of playing with perceptions of reality, which is the whole premise of Cloud 109 and a logical thing to do. Many of the characters you see in the pages of Cloud 109 are living and breathing people, who's lives continue with their own particular dynamic whilst certain moments in those lives are frozen and transported into the world of Cloud 109.

The creative process of getting these guys into the lounge couldn't be simpler, one of the characters appearing on page 9 of the book is our eldest son Jack who at the age of 21 lit off for New York a year ago, and since then has married his American girlfriend, escaped the clutches of the Mafia, been chased around caves in the buff along with a troupe of similarly naked waifs by photographer Ryan McGinley and is currently residing somewhere in Brooklyn while he holds down a job and gets his green card sorted.

So anyway start with photo of Jack, knock back to 50% opacity,trace of in Illustrator using Pen Tool 0.75 thickness, then using the selection tool do the colour infills and any extra modelling required and at the same time adopt exactly the same process for Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran who I just felt even though they're both sadly no longer with us, are just the kind of cool icons that we could do with in the lounge.

Finally and to round this piece off, the inclusion of Gene Vincent is partly inspired by younger son Tom who's also into the bequiffed black leather look and has been hobbling on crutches recently (too lengthy a tale to relate here). Anyway this beautifully angst ridden performance of Be-Bop-A-Lu-La was filmed in late 1963, with Gene his career on the wane and succombing to the diet of pills and booze he used as a self medication for the appalling pain of a twice smashed up leg, performing at a cinema in Brussels complete with French pick up band and the kind of rock n roll bravura that you're not going to see anytime soon on a TV channel near you.

Friday 23 October 2009

Who Is Madge Crumb?

This is a question uppermost in my mind as I continue work on an epic page from Cloud 109, where we get our first glance of the mysterious woman that runs the whole Cloud 109 enterprise. David's initial idea was a Margaret Thatcher character, but really I'm not sure if the deranged Thatch would be quite the look for a world where cool and style are so important. I've agonized over the look of Madge for weeks but I think I'm getting there, she definitely has to be glamorous as like all the other characters wandering through the endless cyber lounge of Cloud 109, she is her own self created avatar, the real Madge Crumb may well look like the Mad Thatch, but here she has to be ultra chic and beautiful with more than a hint of dominatrix to make her convincing.

David's script originally placed Madge actually in the cyber lounge with the rest of the visitors to Cloud 109, but on thinking about this I really felt that she should have maximum dominance on the proceedings and so opted for the video screen, there's loads of them throughout Cloud 109. I think this just gives her more impact while adding to the sense of mystique.

I'll be posting the completed version up here shortly but here in the meantime is the initial visual.

I'd also like to say a big thank you to Garen Ewing and Tim Perkins for putting up links to our Cloud 109 Blog. In Garen's case (check out the link to Garen's fabulous and utterly compelling Rainbow Orchid strip on our links section) inviting us to join the DFC creators blog "The Super Comics Adventure Squad":

We were one of those nearly but not quite fast enough through the door strips for the late lamented DFC and to be invited aboard this Blog is a real honour for us. As is seeing ourselves reviewed on Tim Perkins "Wizard's Keep" Blog.

Tim's beautiful and epic "World's End" (again check out our links bar under Wizard's Keep) is something you must check out, and like Garen, he's another comics creator with a vision that he is determined to realize and the work that he is creating is a testimony to the kind of dedication that talented creatives bring to such projects. We wish both Tim and Garen every success with their respective creations .

Thursday 22 October 2009

The Dungeon of Death in Technicolor!!!

Well, I think I'm just about OK with this cover idea and so up it goes. We will be doing this from time to time as the story progresses, I'm very into the idea of exploiting the dynamics of Blogsville and it does allow us to try out ideas that won't necessarily be appearing in the final books, so really it's part of the inducement to you good people to keep on checking out what's going on here as we bounce various ideas of you.

So as I've said earlier we will be devising special covers for some of the key sequences of Cloud 109, what the cover for the final book will be has yet to be decided and it's not going to be easy either as we have various embodiments of Gina, Cary and Rabby including of course the real characters themselves to consider.

Ideas and opinions eagerly sought!

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Cloud 109 - The Third Instalment

It's our intention to endeavour to get up a new page a week of Cloud 109, we're not going to post the whole epic adventure up as we want to torment you with suspense from time to time, but you will get some sizeable chunks and in doing so get to know more about Gina, Cary and Rabby and the wacky and unpredictable world that they are exploring.

So here's page three with the two previous pages in case you'd forgotten what's just preceded.

Tomorrow and with Halloween looming,
we'll have a look at how the Dungeon
illustration is coming together.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Dungeons

Well apart from endeavouring to chase up a putative job or three in what I've got to reluctantly admit is the worst downturn in illustration commissions I have ever experienced, yesterday was spent refining the artwork for the Dungeon of Death promo cover.

This involved opening up the sketch (that I'd finessed in Manga Studio - as I'm sure you recall) in Adobe Illustrator. Pen tool set to 0.75 pt line weight colour setting CMYK with all colours set to 100% to create a true black, which won't occur if you use the default setting of 100% K as the CMY elements are still set to 0% and your linework will look washed out as a consequence.

So start banging in the line work plus some assorted bats - very important all good dungeons need swarms of bats and this one is no exception.

Then think about looking at the Cloud 109 logo which has been bugging me now for weeks as I think the one I've got at the moment isn't quite working - too 80's darling.

So we end up with something looking like this, at which point the artwork is then shunted off to our colouring department - that's me again ready for all the magic colours to be added again in Illustrator.

More soon...

Monday 19 October 2009


There is a huge revolution in publishing underway and where it's leading I'm not a hundred percent sure but here are some startling facts from the Society of Authors:

Children’s publishers cut acquisitions and advances
Children's publishers have cut their acquisitions by up to one third in response to the recession and a narrowing of range among the high street chains. Children's agent Elizabeth Roy said publishers were "delaying the books they are contracting; they are slower to commit to projects and slow to produce the contracts".
Macmillan Children's Books announced this summer that it would cut its list by more than a third, from 245 titles in 2009 to 155 titles in 2010. Hachette Children's Books has slimmed its list to focus on series and big brands, said MD Marlene Johnson.
Puffin MD Francesca Dow also confirmed that the company "will focus on making the big books bigger, and that will impact on other titles".
Publishers' cuts have come partly in response to the recession but also following changes in the high street. The collapse of distributor EUK has delayed business with supermarkets while the dominance of just one or two chains on the high street has led to a marked narrowing of range, said children's agent Caroline Walsh. "The concentration on bestsellers like Twilight or young fiction series like Horrid Henry means that other areas of publishing, including stand-alone young fiction titles, are neglected."
Backlist sales are falling too, with royalties down "across the board", said Walsh, as publishers resist reissuing backlist titles. Children's authors have also experienced a "significant" fall in their advances, she added. New projects that might once have attracted advances of £20,000 to £25,000 may now command only half that sum. Walsh has resisted attempts by some publishers to cut authors' advances by as much as 50%. She said: "Where authors have previously earned out their advances, there is no reason why they shouldn't earn what they have previously."
Agent Caroline Sheldon said it was becoming "tougher and tougher" for many children's authors to survive economically. "That's a worrying problem for the industry. In some cases [very well known] authors will be earning a secretarial income."

All gloom and doom - well not necessarily. I'm a great believer in the innate creativity of people and while the current trend in high street publishing is a rapid diminution of choice for those of us who loved to browse in bookstores, it does in a way create a vacuum for readers who are not just content with titles with TV tie ins or guaranteed best sellers. Self publishing is now no longer the preserve of the terminally deluded but is now via computers and the internet able to provide creators with the means of publishing to demand via resources such as Lulu.Com.

This is precisely the means by which David and myself put together our proposal booklet for Cloud 109. All page layouts were created via InDesign and then the pages were uploaded as Acrobat files to Lulu, where the book was then printed and bound. The books are printed to demand, with a relatively low unit price thereby obviating the need to splash out on a minimal print run for a book which is in essence a presentation as opposed to final product. We now have a bespoke brochure complete with glossy covers and colour lazer printing throughout which contains the entire script and synopsis for the first Cloud 109 book with 20 pages of artwork to show how the book will eventually look.

Whether or not there are any of the major publishers left with the kahonies to actually offer us a deal is a moot point but we are committed to the vision and determined to make this project a reality and self publishing is a reality for commited and creative spirits and we are firmly of the opinion that things are not as necessarily grim as last week's article in the bookseller would lead one to believe.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Manga Studio

I'm currently in the process of creating the first in an occasional series of cover promos for Cloud 109, they won't be appearing in the finished book but they'll definitely be appearing on this Blog and places like Facebook as part of the ongoing crusade to share the world that David Orme and I are busily creating, with as many readers as possible.

So the first of these cover ideas is the notorious Dungeon of Death sequence, which is quite an extended piece and allows for a lot of character development of the three characters; Gina, Cary and Rabby and on top of that it's really funny as well as being quite stressy for the guys - are they ever going to be able to get out of those endless, monster infested dungeons???

So, as is always the case when creating a cover image the idea is to compress the idea into one image which conveys an idea of the story and helps build the tension.

I first did a few small scribbles in my A4 drawing pad,

scanned them into the computer and then imported into Photoshop where I cropped the image I wanted. The one on the left really isn't working although I like the way the bats are flying out, but it's the one on the left that's got the visual dynamics and storytelling that I need.

Now comes the fun part, I import the scribble into a truly wonderful piece of software called Manga Studio, which is designed for (as you might have guessed) people creating Manga comics. But on top of all the wonderful facilities it has to offer manga artists it boasts the best ever drawing tools. The quality of the pens and brushes are second to none and knock spots of the Photoshop brushes. So for this drawing it's straight in with the Kabura brush on a medium setting with my original sketch at 50% opacity in the layer below.

Ten minutes (if that) later and I've got a cleaned up drawing I can now work from, which you can see here with the under drawing hidden so you can see clearly how good the line work is with Manga Studio.

Great fun - digital artwork for me is a lot more liberating than the analogue version ever was.