Saturday, 6 September 2008

Doctor Who comic strips

Scene from the Immortal Emperor - Doctor Who Storybook 2009

I spent a large chunk of this year working on Doctor Who comic strips - I've been writing for the Doctor Who magazine strip since 2006. I wrote The Woman Who Sold the World illustrated by Mike Collins, Bus Stop Illustrated by John Ross and The Widow's Curse illustrated by Martin Geraghty. Between April and July though I switched hats from writer to artist and drew two Jonathan Morris stories, The Immortal Emperor (for the 2009 Storybook) and The Time of My Life (for Doctor Who Magazine 399). 

The Immortal Emperor was my first go at drawing a comic strip in a couple of years, I felt rusty as hell and, because I had no idea how it was likely to come out, it was a real hair-raiser. Luckily the story was packed with great ideas (packed being the operative word - Johnny seemed to have written a 4 part story and then condensed it into just 8 pages!) It's full of Fu Manchu and steampunk imagery, perfect backdrop for a Doctor Who comic strip!  

The Emperor's throne room

The scene above includes some Chinese mask designs that I used on the walls. I got the designs from an old book lent to me by the kind patrons of the Dorset Bookshop in Blandford Forum. The Emperor looks very Mike McMahon-ish, this is something that used to depress me about my comic stuff - the thought of always being in the shadow of the master. Doesn't worry me now, you can't hide your influences and Mike (now Mick) is one of the biggest influences on my career, stretching back to the late 70s early 80s when I copied his 2000ad work as a kid. He's one of my favourite Mikes and probably still my favourite artist.

The next strip turned out to be a real headache. Written as a epilogue to Journey's End, The Time of My Life features 9 separate Doctor Who stories in the space of 10 pages! Here's a few images from the strip:

Gentrified hunting dogs seeking world domination in an inverted flying house

Cossacks caught in laser fire

The Android Miss Havisham awakes from her sleep

Great ideas again from Mr Morris, but I probably worked too hard on the inks and ended up with a number of the pages looking like they didn't want colouring (see the Miss Havisham page above). This shows my rustiness and lack of confidence. Fortunately I was able to work hand in hand on the colouring with Geri (Geraint) Ford and rescue most of the pages.  

I drew each page as a 'super panel' concept to keep the feel of a different adventure/different world to each page. Most of my pencilling these days is done on the wacom (I will occasionally go back to an HB and layout pad if I feel the lines are all getting a bit too cosy), I then print out the 'pencils' and ink on a light box. My inks are done as quickly as I can with a scratchy Edding 1800 size 01. I try to draw quick shapes for all the shadows with the fine pen and don't do any black fills with ink. I scan in the skeleton inks as bitmap into photoshop and then tidy up and paint bucket fill the shadows. This means I still get shocks and surprises with how things turn out, something that I find essential for retaining my hunger for the job (I get easily bored). If things don't work (there are some shocks and surprises that aren't welcome) I just start working freehand onto the page with a black or white pencil tool.


Dan McDaid said...

Amazing insight into your process here, Rob. Your pages looks so natural and spontaneous, I would never have assumed there were so many complex stages to it (I hope this doesn't sound like I'm damning you with faint praise!). Time of My Life was a really beautiful thing - but Immortal Emperor *really* floated my boat. Best thing in this year's Storybook for sure.



Rob Davis said...

Thanks Dan

I thought your stuff in the Storybook was rather lovely actually :) It always looks as if you're drawing without a safety net - wonderful, brash, confident approach!

I'm planning on going to the DWM 400 party on the 20th, so if you're there we can discuss all things Doctor Who and comic strip then.

failing that it seems like there's decent chance we'll be working together some time in the next year.

Dan McDaid said...

Thanks for the kind words, Rob! I will most likely be at the DWM bash (getting down from Dundee is proving a bit expensive/boring/difficult), so I'll see you there!

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