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Squarebound in Dublin

The Atomic Diner Panel at Squarebound

Maura McHugh, Robert Curley & Barry Keegan (Photo courtesy of Malcolm Hutchinson)

Here’s a photo of Maura McHugh, Robert Curley and Barry Keegan (League of Volunteers) at the Atomic Diner Panel at the Squarebound one-day comic book creator’s convention in the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin last Saturday.

The three of us discussed our various projects from the writing and art point of views and how we work together. There was a interested crowd of people and The Comic Cast recorded most of the panel.

Our panel was preceeded by a fascinating audio visual presentation put together by Liam Geraghty and Craig O Connor of The Comic Cast in which three Irish comic book creators discussed the work of artists who inspired them. It was a great insight into how artists are informed and provoked by their colleagues, past and present.

After the Atomic Diner panel novelist and 2000AD writer Michael Carroll gave an informative discussion on how to apply to 2000AD as a writer, with tips and tricks aplenty, including a surfeit of puns.

After lunch Irish artist/writer Gerry Hunt was interviewed about his work and methods, followed by a discussion with Spanish artist/writer Alfonso Zapico.

The day was rounded off with a panel with Irish artist/writer Alan Nolan with Ivan O’Brien of O’Brien Press, discussing the fun series of children’s graphic novels that Alan has created.

There was a friendly crowd, good conversation and plenty of examples that the Irish comic book scene is growing apace every day. Thanks to everyone who turned up to our panel, and to all of you who bought copies of Róisín Dubh.

As always we appreciate the support of our community!

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.

Extra pages

Please sir, can I have more?The page count of a comic book is pivotal, and it’s important when writing to hit the target number.

When Róisín Dubh was first envisioned last year it was originally slated for a 3 x 20 page min-series that would be collected into a graphic novel later.

As the project took form Rob re-considered the idea in light of the time and cost involved, and the simple dynamics of the comic book industry. It was decided that we should skip the three one-off comics and go straight to producing a graphic novel. Since the story was already split into three it made sense to present them as three chapters within the graphic novel.

When I was writing the three scripts I had considerable difficulty squeezing all the story elements into twenty pages. When I was into my second drafts of the script this became more difficult, especially when I started to see the initial excellent artwork from Stephen in late December. I didn’t want to have too many pages with 7-9 panels on them, because once you add in the ballons it doesn’t leave a lot of space for the art. After all, this is a visual medium. I could have just about managed with the original page count, but I felt it would be a disservice to the story and the artwork.

Since we were already planning for a graphic novel I pitched the idea to Rob and Stephen that we go for 3 x 22 page chapters. Six extra pages does have a cost and time factor, so I was aware that it might not happen.

Thankfully, I got the green-light from Rob and Stephen. This necessitated me doing a very fast re-write of the first chapter as Stephen was already working on it. Luckily, the changes I made didn’t kick in until after the point where he was drawing.

We’re all a lot happier with the extra space for the characters to realise their adventures.

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.


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.