Category Archives: background

Comics, coffee, pint and laptop

Yesterday I went to Sub-City Comics in Galway to meet Rob at 4pm, and my first sight was his brother, and the manager of the Galway branch, Brian Curley. I had to pick up my comic book order – which included issues of Batman and Robin, Joe the Barbarian and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can’t buy as many single comics as I would like, but I always make an exception for Grant Morrison (I’ve been a long admirer of his work), and the Buffy series has been remarkably good.

After Rob arrived we ventured into the city and hunched against a freezing Atlantic breeze. By a miracle we managed to secure a snug in Tí Neachtain’s for our meeting. Alas, we had to abandon it because of the speaker pumping out music above our heads. As we were heading out the door we met local artist/cartoonist Allan Cavanagh, who through the miracle of twitter was aware of our meeting. It’s a small world.

We repaired to the back of The Quays pub – which was quiet at the time – only to have the waitress refuse to get us drinks because we weren’t eating. Our ancestral hospitality is much diminished.

After Rob kindly fetched beverages we got down to discussing Roisin Dubh. It turns out the 10-page preview will not be back from the printers before I leave for Brighton for World Horror Convention, which is a disappointment. I’m hoping Rob will be able to post out copies to me, so I’ll have something to show during the convention.

Then, I snapped open my laptop and we discussed a new project, which is still in its early stages. It’s a great concept originating with artist Terry Kenny. It involves complicated subjects such as identity, shapeshifting, redemption and immortality, so some of the elements require a lot of teasing out. I’d been up until 3am the previous night writing solutions and suggestions, but we still had a lot of work to do to sift through the various story options.

We believe we have a starting point now, and I may even meet with Terry in London while I’m over there.

I’d love to be involved in this project, so fingers crossed it works out well.

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Glorious German Art Nouveau

Today, searching for more Art Nouveau for inspiration, I had the good fortune to stumble upon the excellent blog of artist John Coulthart, which is called {feuilleton}.

John posted a link to an archive of scanned copies of the German Jugend Magazine, which dates from the late 19th and early twentieth century. It is the source of the German expression for Art Nouveau: Jugendstil, or “youth style”.

Here’s a rather romantic cover for the magazine, dating from 1899 when Róisín Dubh is set.
Jugend Magazine, Sept 30 1899
Many of the other covers are full of beautiful stylised images of contemporary life in Germany in the 1890s, including a lot of pictures of women with big hats and smiles, and several of them show women riding bicycles.

This is really pleasing to me because the heroine of our comic, Róisín Sheridan, is an ardent cyclist. People today don’t realise how important the invention and popularity of the bicycle was to women’s ability to move about more freely. It also impacted upon clothing, and aided the movement toward less restrictive outfits for women. Over time this all contributed to changing the perception of women and their place in the public world.

In 1896, American suffragist Susan B Anthony said:

“I think (bicycling) has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

Róisín is very much a New Woman, a product of a liberal upbringing and indulgent parents, and of course this all brings with it a certain friction when Róisín attempts to assert her independence.

It’s one thing to agree over the dinner table in polite company that suffrage for women is a noble concept, it’s an entirely different thing when women like Róisín, who were brought up to expect a better place in the world, start to seek free expression and self determination.

Script writing

CeltxPeople are often interested in the practical information about putting a comic together, so I’m going to mention today the software I use.

All the Róisín Dubh scripts have been written using the free, open source software known as Celtx. Writing a comic book requires a lot of formatting, but unlike writing for film there is no standardised system.

I was familiar with the format for screenplays before I tackled RD, and for them I used the Final Draft program. Initially, I found the change in formatting for comic books strange and difficult. Some people might write the script as a story first, and then add the formatting to avoid the hassle. I like to build the layout of the pages as I write, and for me that means establishing a strong sense of the page, panel, balloon and character cues from the beginning.

Celtx might not suit everyone because its format is heavily influenced by the system used in film scripts. This works well for me because I’m used to that set-up, but equally I think it’s a clear way to indicate the layout of the comic book to the artist.

Most importantly, if I change around the pages and panels they are renumbered and reordered automatically, and that function alone makes Celtx indispensable to me.

In general, this means the formatting doesn’t get in the way when I’m writing, and allows me to concentrate on the storytelling. I have some minor gripes with the program, but I’ve figured out ways around them.

You can also use the software to write for a range of other media such as film, plays, radio plays, and even to storyboard. Plus, it’s free and updated regularly.

It’s a very useful tool.

Inspiration

Stephen and I have been having a great discussion on email about ideas for the cover of the graphic novel. Since the story kicks off at 1899 I thought it would be great if we could have a nod towards the marvellous fin de siècle movement, and in particular Art Nouveau.

I sent him images from artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha, and he replied with work by Arthur Rackham and Irish artist Harry Clarke.

Ligeia by Harry Clarke

I was delighted to be reminded of Harry Clarke’s fantastic artwork, in particular his illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe‘s stories in the collection Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

The pieces were familiar, and stirred a faded childhood memory of me reading a copy of the book and loving the artwork. I’m pretty sure it was at the guest house my family used to stay in during our annual holiday. Being Ireland, the weather was often inclement, and there was a small library of musty books for when a storm kept us from the beach or the playground. I would curl up by a window seat, the rain hammering against the big window with the Atlantic roaring in the distance, and read Grimm’s fairy tales and Poe’s horror stories.

My abiding interest in weird and scary fiction was firmly established by these experiences, and even then I valued the way the artist could illuminate a passage from a story and give it an extra dimension within my imagination.

Clarke is a artist whose work still seems utterly modern, despite a century of changes. I’ve been fortunate to see some of his stained glass work, and they are outstanding. He is one of Ireland’s great artists.

The weather can change your life

There is an oddball movie called L.A. Story which I’ve always liked. It’s when Steve Martin was still making, and writing, films with real heart (although his recent Shopgirl is worth watching). In it there’s a pivotal line: “The weather will change your life, twice.”

In my case the weather is one of the reasons I’m working on the Róisín Dubh project.

I was in Dublin for a couple of days last summer for a conference. In typical Irish fashion after one day of balmy sunshine it turned unseasonably cold with drenching rain. I was unprepared, and didn’t even have a coat with me.

While trying to negotiate a passage down the soaked grey Dublin streets, moving from awnings and doorways in short sprints, I decided to use the opportunity to drop into Sub-City, the comic book shop in Dublin run by Rob Curley.

While I dried out and hoped the monsoon would pass Rob and I talked comics. After a while he mentioned an idea he had for a comic called Róisín Dubh, and he asked me if I’d be interested in working on it with him.

“Think of it as an Irish Buffy the Vampire Slayer“.

“I’m in,” I said, without any other information.

As it turned out the project offered me an opportunity to build upon existing Irish legends, which was a pleasure. Mythology has been a passion of mine since I read my first book of fairy stories as a kid. The time period of the story was attractive also. Many years previously I’d written a Masters thesis focused on Irish supernatural fiction from the nineteenth century, and it was time period I knew offered rich storytelling material.

Finally, I’d always wanted to write comics. It was a fantastic match of interests and talents, and I guessed working with Rob would be a good experience.

I was proven correct.

Now, a sudden downpour doesn’t bother me so much.  It might result in an opportunity other than just a change in clothing!