I’ve drawn comics all my life. A childhood lover of The Beano and The Dandy, as well as bigger productions including Asterix and Tintin, and classics Garfield and Peanuts, all I ever wanted to do was emulate my favourites.
My very first “complete” comic came in 1993, age 12, and was based a favourite Amiga game of mine – Silly Putty (also known as Super Putty on SNES) and loosely followed the already loose plot of that game.
The first one I took halfway seriously was Nuisance, a character I created in a 1998 art class. A series of 4-panel webcomics followed around 2003, hastily copied and pasted in Corel Paint over a week. 134 panels in all, I got my first ever review from a random American who had stumbled on my site and read the lot. It was positive, and a pleasant find when randomly googling my name (I don’t do that very often!)
Later that year I moved out of my mum’s house with a couple of friends, and started work on a new idea – Deathridge. Not much came of it, and I ended up working on Our House instead. The story involved a set of contestants in the Big Brother house, who haven’t heard from “Big Sistah” in several days. Whilst they get on with it, assuming the lack of contact to be a form of contact and determined not to allow it to break them, they are blissfully unaware of the zombie apocalypse occurring outside the studio until it’s time for them to break out when they run out of wine. I spent a lot of time developing the characters and especially their backstory, drew three issues, then heard about Charlie Brooker’s new show Dead Set. Look it up. I stopped my work.
What should I do? Well, I went back to Deathridge of course. The comic went through several iterations, with complete changes to the story, characters, and designs. An 8 page comic followed, my first in full colour, which was largely based on my then job in an insurance office in London. With added blood. It was quite fun, and set the planned story up well. Issue two followed, another 8 pages, and the charm was gone. I wasn’t happy. So over the next few years I reiterated, adapted, completely changed the format.
Ultimately, in 2012, I started drawing a final version of Deathridge. It became 6 issues of 24 pages each, and finally combined into a 144 page volume that I launched at London Film and Comic Con in 2014. The comic sold reasonably well around my home town, and reviewed well in around 80% of publications I sent it to. The negatives tended to focus on the art and layout rather than the story, which most found at least “interesting”.
My local comic shop supported me too, they loved the comic and gladly stocked it, and through them I gained a few fans. It was a nice feeling, even if we’re talking of only a handful of people.
This small attention got me a job drawing a short story for a local writer, who intended to publish an anthology of horror stories he had written, with each story illustrated by a different local artist. I consulted with him throughout, and he was always very pleased with my work (so he said). Well. The anthology released, and the reviews came in. The book was well received by reviewers, except the one I’d drawn, which was universally panned. The writer of the anthology never approached me to discuss it. I was left out of promotional hang outs and therefore never met the other artists. I ended up disconnecting myself from the community and shelved my pens. Honestly, it hurt. I was embarrassed. Until I started a Daily Sketch project this year I have barely drawn in the last four years.
Having had a few years now to reflect and think about it, I have realised one important fact about my comic work – I always rush. I’m so excited to finish a piece that I cut corners and generally fail to put in the effort my work deserves. Deathridge is the most important thing I’ve done in this respect, and instead of taking my time and truly making it the best it could be, I set myself a ridiculous monthly deadline for each issue which meant (around a 37 ½ hour a week day job) that I rushed the writing and drawing of the later issues. I lost sight of my original vision and ultimately produced something that was less than it could have been.
I can’t go back and tell younger me this. But I can do something about it with my future work. My 2018 Daily Sketch project is, in part, designed to make me focus on drawing again, and helping me to understand both the abilities and limitations of my new iPad Pro as a drawing tool, so that I can use it to produce Deathridge 2. I already have ideas for the story, to patch up the issues in volume one without ignoring them, and I hope I can make it something to be proud of.
Additionally, my rebrand from RetroRam to Bitland a few months ago had one key purpose – Bitland is another comic idea I’ve been throwing around my brain for a couple of years now, the story based in a video game world. I haven’t yet decided whether to start on Deathridge 2 or Bitland first.
Watch this space.