A retrospective look at events from last year.
As I look back at all the many events that were the sum of 2011 it now seems pretty much all of a blur and yet I can see at the same time all the minutiae detail as if it was happening at this very moment. The start of the year saw me promise myself working solely on Worlds End. By February I had accepted a commercial commission, much against my better judgement, but they came very highly recommended to me.
Unfortunately the job, albeit a very enjoyable if somewhat tight on deadline one proved to be anything but once the matter of payment reared its ugly head. This kind of practise will be looked at in an upcoming Blog over the next few weeks, or so.
My terms and conditions have since changed with outside commercial commissions for the studio as a result of this – so some good as come out of the bad.
Anyhow, from that moment on it was all hands to the deck, as I pressed forward and by the start of March the lettering was being handed over to Richard Starkings’ Comicraft Company and the more than capable hands of letterer Albert Deschesne.
A student from Blackpool College spent late spring/early summer here at the studio on a work placement. One of my ex-college lecturers, John Gibson had previously set this up with me. Tom wants to work in comics so it was great to have the chance to help in some small way, as he got to see the day-to-day running of the business four days a week for a number of weeks.
During that same period I spent time writing the remaining text for the front and end sections of the graphic novel. These hadn’t been looked at other than notes and hand written pieces, which needed stitching together and editing into a cohesive whole. Once that was done I had to then create all the pencil art, logos and other art needed to complete the book. By the time it was all painted I had something like two months to finish the main strip portion of the book.
It was going to be tight and I knew I needed help. I had already arranged with James Hill to edit the book with me and he was already in possession of the script for the main story. Now I let him have the book end pages. He was amazed at how much extra stuff was in it. He had thought initially that it would mainly comprise of sketchbook pages of art with maybe a little additional accompanying text, but that wasn’t the case.
I asked if he knew any designers that could come onboard to help me get the book ready for print as things were going to be tight. Rob Sharp was, as luck would have it, available, He was between freelance jobs and had a window, which I then offered to close for him, so to speak.
My team was complete, all I needed to do now was finish the painted artwork.
By the end of June the “other” pages were all ready with just the cover to paint as well as the main sequential story pages. By the end of July the cover was done and so too were many of the pages of the strip, but there was still a way to go.
Those two months are a complete blur to me now and the days just blended into one another, as I worked my way through all the painted pages, trying desperately to finish them so we could go to print in time for the books to shipped here ready for the launches. James had finished editing the scripts and we arranged for a day to get he Rob and I together to finish everything off together.
About three weeks before the deadline Rob would spend two or three days each week here at the Keep, in the studio, working closely with me to keep my vision of the final look of the book intact. He preferred to work in the studio here rather than work from his own studio like he would normally whilst freelancing. It meant some travelling every day, but it would save time on the book in the long run and I agreed.
By the time of the third week he was here every day and long days they were too. It was proving to be a bigger undertaking than any of the three of us had realised. This was a huge project and there was still a lot to do. With Rob working on the most powerful of the workstations (something I too was having to do with the nature of the digital painting process) it meant that between nine, or ten in the morning until about five, or six in the evening Rob and I were using it to put all the artwork down as a design in InDesign and I worked as many hours as I could manage between six and eight in the morning, painting the remaining unfinished pages. So, yes, you are correct in the assumption that it was hard work. For the entirety of 2011 up until the morning after the UK launch of the books working twenty and twenty-two hour days, for me, were the order of the day.
I had several pages that had small parts to finish off the day before deadline and by midmorning they were all finished. That left me two pages that had quite a bit to do on them. I looked at my computer screen and felt drained. There was nothing left inside of me at that moment and I felt like I couldn’t go on. I knew there wasn’t much to do, but I had not slept properly for months and the last three weeks had been killers with a few all-nighters thrown in for good measure to compensate for the work I was doing during the hours of daylight with Rob on the design aspects of the book.
Luckily for me Margaret, knowing I was shattered and in need of sustenance, brought me in the ten thousandth coffee of the morning. Now, I usually drink tea and it was still relatively early in the day, but I had become a “chain coffee drinker” over the last few days. Now as Margaret came in with my umpteenth fix of caffeine for the day listening to my explaining that I just needed to go to bed and finally get some sleep, she simply handed me the drink and said, “You can’t do that. Too many people are waiting for this book. They are relying on you delivering the goods. Besides tomorrow when the last page is finished you will look back on this and realise you are glad you have finished. In fact by tonight you will feel like that.”
She was right and had said just the right thing to me. It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things but it was just enough – just enough to keep me going – just enough to make me have a finished book at just gone lunchtime.
With moments to spare I finished the last page. Rob was coming in later that day to give me time to catch up and finish, so by the time I had he was there. We worked on design until about seven o’clock that evening. I pulled another all-nighter, tweaking the art and the design – until I was convinced there was nothing else I could do, certainly until the other guys were here too. I sat in one of the studio chairs and closed my eyes for a while and then had a shower to try and wake myself up a little more.
That morning on the day of the deadline, showered and wide awake all things considered; I went to pick up James, having had about half an hour’s sleep that night, from his home in nearby Rochdale. Not a long trip by any stretch of the imagination, but one which saw me with the windows down, coffee enough to sink a ship inside of me and music coming from the radio to keep me company until I arrived at his place. Never having been there before made me all the more awake under the circumstances too.
Luckily it was a lovely, sunny, early morning and travelling along the pixie path that lead to his home I arrived on time giving me about an hour before Rob was due to arrive here at the Keep. I was given a guided tour of Chateau Hill, James’ countryside retreat built on the sides of a fantasy mountain. I would describe his home more akin to a grotto, or shrine as it was decorated for Halloween at the time. He assured me it would be changed to Christmas the moment Halloween was over and it would take several weeks to complete.
I was shown into his comic rooms his figurine rooms and it was only the fact we had a book to get out inside a few hours that I managed to escape when I did.
We arrived back at the Keep just before Rob, who arrived about five, or ten minutes later. The next twenty, or so hours would prove to be totally manic here with James in a room quietly editing at the back of the keep, normally a storage room for spare on-site products, whilst Rob and I fed him print outs of the pages as we made his amendments. I fitted him out with a nice comfy leather reclining chair.
James has the eyes of an Eagle and that was what I wanted. When we had first talked about his role in this clearly driven vision of mine he was worried he would feel like he was treading on my toes. I told him I wanted him to pick up anything I had missed, keep the characters speaking “in character,” and look for anywhere that he thought the script could be improved. If I didn’t agree, after all, it wouldn’t get changed. I knew that would never happen, which is one reason I think he is the best editor I have ever worked with. He has an insatiable appetite for detail that equals his OCD approach to that same detail with his eyes as he pours over a project. In other words with those credentials he was the only person that would ever get on my list for editing this book.
Luckily the day before the deadline I knew we would find ourselves in need of constant sugar rushes and extra energy, so I asked Margaret to pick us up a few goodies. She came back with enough stuff to feed an army – Six, litre bottles of coke and various other soft drinks, 48 bags of crisps, a family size box of biscuits, three family-size trays of chocolate biscuits and all sorts of other none healthy things that a child could overdose on. But then we had a deadline to meet and Margaret had been here many times before with me.
Just as we had started to confer with each other on the plan of action for the day I received a phone call from Ivo Milicevic, my Bosnian printer, wishing me well with the completing of the book. We chatted for a short while about the deadline, shipping a few other related things and then after saying our goodbyes, James, Rob and I were off and running. The plan was to finish sometime around six to ten o’clock that evening.
The pages continued going to and fro all morning. Morning turned to lunchtime and Margaret made us all sandwiches and a side salad. Lunchtime was overtaken by afternoon, afternoon by early evening and then we needed more sustenance. I decided to order in. James wanted a Chinese, so I quickly ordered his meal and one for Margaret and Rob and I fancied Indian food so I ordered for us too. Now bear in mind all the other stuff we were eating all day too (as shown above) and you will see how much nervous energy there was emanating from within the Keep that day.
Within seconds of each other both sets of meals arrived and we ate as we worked with trays of food resting on the workstation tables and James with his on his knee on his comfy chair – I think he feared he may lose it to one of us if he left it for too long.
Once the food was consumed it was all hands on deck once more and we turned to the matter of the unfinished book. It continued much in the vein of the rest of the day, but by now, with the best will in the world, I was really starting to flag. The guys decided they were fine and I should try to get some sleep, if I could and they would give me a shout when they were finished enough to show me how far they had gotten with it.
I did just that – it was music to my ears, if I am honest, as I could barely keep my eyes open at all by this time and when I did they were sore, blurry and watering. I hadn’t expected to, or indeed wanted to, actually fall asleep. I just needed to close my eyes and lie down for a while. It was about eight thirty at night.
The next thing I remember was James waking me. It was now about one thirty in the morning.
They were now ready for me to go over the book with them for the last few times to check it was all completely right.
Some final edits and several visual sweeps later and we found ourselves with a finished graphic novel.
We began to save the files in .pdf format and then the guys and I went downstairs. Denise had come to pick up James, knowing I was in no fit condition to drive at that moment in time. There were a few weary man-hugs and then Rob set off for home, closely followed by James and Denise.
It was now 4:30 a.m.
We had overshot the anticipated 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. finish and the guys had gone far beyond the call of duty. I couldn’t have done it without them. The day had been saved.
I went back into the studio and loaded the .pdfs into my SendSpace upload software and promptly sent them off to the printers. The deadline had been met, or so I thought.
With all the files gone I retired to bed for some much needed sleep. When I arose a few hours later I found I had received an email from Ivo – only some of the files had arrived. I looked at the software and found it looked fine – the files had all left us at the Keep. I rebooted the routers, the server and the workstations and then I resent the files. I also sent him an email.
I received no reply. There was still nothing arriving at the other end.
I checked with my service provider BT Business and then found there was a major problem with the broadband line, but was assured it was in my area and almost fixed. I rang Ivo and brought him up to speed with the situation assuring him that they would be resent and in his possession soon. I contacted BT once more and was assured all the problems had been sorted.
I did just that, but again upon speaking with Ivo on the telephone found they had disappeared into the aether once more. I rebooted everything again and tried yet again – still nothing arrived at Ivo’s end and then I received a phone call off a colleague in another part of the UK having the same problem and asking me what I thought of the countrywide problem?
I spoke to BT once more and was again assured that things had returned to normal and so rang my colleague back who told me his line was working fine once more.
I tried email again still nothing. I went though the reboot scenario twice again, but there was still nothing happening with the line. It was like the trouble that had been caused with our line several times in the past following a problem with the line. I could not allow it to stop the files getting to Bosnia.
And so it continued all throughout Saturday and Sunday. This fiasco had cost me a couple of days. It was fast becoming a never-ending nightmare.
I asked another nearby colleague if his Internet was working. It was and so arranged to take the files over on a stick and send them from there the next day.
It was now Monday afternoon and I spoke to Ivo and told him of my plan to send the files the next day from another computer. Then, just before I was due to take the files, I chanced sending a test email again and this time it came through. So I sent one to Ivo and it arrived too.
I re-sent all the outstanding .pdf files and they got through – panic over.
Now all that remained was to get the books here at the Keep ready for the initial launches in Malta followed by the UK equivalent here.
Well as you guys know by now the books needed to be split into different consignments, as Ivo couldn’t get the books out of Bosnia on time. The books safely arrived in Malta first and then at the studio shortly after I had left for the airport.
All went well with the launches, but the next consignment of books hadn’t arrived by the due date.
With the books late and showing little sign of arriving in my mind before the New Year, although I continued to press for it, I decided to take a much needed break and spend some quality time with my family – It was the right thing to do and the best decision I could have made. It meant that for the first time in a few years there was an actual run up to Christmas, one which I could spend with those I love.
By the time 2012 came around I felt refreshed and ready to Rock n’ Roll again. I wanted to produce volume two in a much more timely fashion – giving myself around eighteen to twenty-four months to complete it. But that can wait until the next Blog.
Until next time, have fun!April 28th 2012