The ‘77 Issue Five ‘The Cell Artist Edition’
Where do I start !!!
In the beginning!!!
… well, to give you a very short version of the story as some of you may well already know. I essentially gave up on, and did no illustrative work for 25 years !!!
Then in late 2019 I jumped on just for fun, out of an absolute love of The Judge Dredd, the Everything Comes back to 2000ad boys ‘Drokktober’ event – and put out a volume of work for that with such proliferation, it led to an album cover for Vertical Noise and some early commission work !!!
Ultimately The ‘77 chased me up for some stuff for issue one, but the deadlines were just too tight – I was crestfallen and thought I’d missed an opportunity of a lifetime. As luck would have it, they came back with another script for issue two – The Cell with none other than Bambos Georgiou, the rest as they say is history !!!
So, to book end what is a ‘chapter’ break in the first arc of The Cell, Steve Bull commissioned me for a cover to commemorate that very occasion for issue five.
I’ll always remember the extensive conversations we had discussing virtually over the phone of what that would look like.
I’ve enjoyed a very productive and constructive relationship with Steve, and as such whilst we had very diverging ideas of what we wanted to do, this usually leads to something completely different and ultimately far more satisfying !!!
I originally wanted to pay homage to Uncanny X-Men 141 and Excalibur 23 with 5T3V3N and 8AR8RA against a spotlighted wall surrounded by guards, and as it was to be an ‘Artist Edition’ wraparound variant have that very wall extended onto the cover rear and have and undisclosed ‘tertiary’ character on an old poster bill !!!
The concern being this would be far too much of a plot reveal for the strips future plans and shared universe !!!
We essentially settled on, thematically something more in the vein of old British comics that essentially conveyed, in part the thematically episode of that issue – which by the time you read this you’ll shortly have in your hands !!!
So, I proposed a new idea which initially saw our ‘villainess’ the vicious vixen herself VALKYR13 having bested Lt. 73V3N in mortal combat and 8AR8RA and 5T3V3N on the rear of the cover !!!
I mapped out a very crude thumbnail, Steve warmly gave that the thumbs up and I literally set about penciling it out in rough form working out the composition and locking in the characters position and posture !!!
The VALKYR13 portion, as this was to be drawn on two separate art boards and later linked together with a unifying background came together very quickly and was more than happy with the look and feel of it all !!!
But, I quickly realized a supporting cast member was really deserving of selling the magazine or despite her popularity enough to sell the ‘story’ !!!
As late as it was, I grabbed the other art board and literally off the cuff started drawing 5T3V3N going head on with one of the Troops of Doom – we had the front, and loosely matching up the art boards I realized I had pretty much what I wanted and it was nearer to what I’d envisioned for my debut cover !!!
This design change was essentially that this would be the portion of the cover the reader would potentially see on the shelf of a comic store or even the venerable newsagent !!!
As such had to be strong enough to standalone as a singular image and be visually striking enough to arrest a potential readers attention !!!
It was around 05:00 Hrs at this point so I slunk off to bed.
I think if memory serves I was back up around 09:00 Hrs and after coffee pretty spent the morning tightening up the pencils and after lunch, turned my attention to locking in the rear cover. I think the rear of the cover is a great piece in its own right, was too much fun and whilst it has it own charm, is part of a far bigger sum – I pleased I decided to make the rear of the cover .
I’d love confidently state that I know what I’m doing, I don’t and often in the instance of this cover – my usual frenetic work place slowed continuously checking and working out every design decision, knowing that one fatal mistake could lose me valuable hours, even days worth of work !!!
So, to mitigate that risk, that’s why the cover was split in two separate pieces to be inked separately.
The inking process is fairly straightforward.
I first drop in the black line, whilst not absolutely definitive these essentially mark out what’s to be kept and everything else gets pencil wise gets erased, more or less …
These then get further work using Rotring Artist Pens (traditionally used for Calligraphy) Pilot Parallel Pens, Pentel Fude and Pocket Brush Pens and a variety of markets, white out pens and even spritzing on ink and white paint for certain effects and texture, later to be utilized with color.
A lot of work here if thickening up the black line work, adding in detail, equipment, patina and initial shadows and feathering to create form and direct light.
Next up is spotting the blacks and continuously working in detail and working on the inks and pushing them up to where I want them to be, not necessarily standard perspective but to create at this juncture something as close to the image in my head !!!
A lot of what appears on any page from me is almost like some weird video playback taking form in pen and ink !!!
Initial images where sent over of progress to Dave Heeley, Bambos and Steve and by all accounts where met warmly and with encouragement – aside from raw line work the front cover sat incomplete for several days as I toiled often late at night into the small hours working on the inks of the rear cover !!!
Once complete I had a day or two off, I think just to freshen my mind and get some perspective and summon the courage and energy to attack the cover front !!!
“I think I worked on it virtually continuously for 18 hours”
Possibly spurred on by what had been learnt and exercised on the rear of the cover the front image was inked really quickly – if memory serves, I think I worked on it virtually continuously for 18 hours, including the background which unify and bring the two pieces together !!!
As instructed I got an initial scan of it black and white, I’d like to say this in part was purely to produce an ‘artifact’ edition of this at a later date – but also served as a good safety net in case things went wrong at a later date !!!
Trying to find somewhere with an A2 scanner during Lockdown was problematic. So the solution was to make do with what I had and I scanned 2/3rds of it for either side, this was at over 600dpi HD and captured every smudge, pencil mark, dent and ink transferred from the side of my drawing hand – and makes for quite the historical document !!!
Anyhow, Editor Ben and Art Editor Brendon, whilst all of that stuff could of been cleaned up in post production encouragingly agreed to keep it in, preserving very much, what was very much now a living thing !!!
Testament to Brendon’s amazing editorial skills he was with the high resolution scans able to seamlessly stitch them together with no issues.
I cleared hot to get on with coloring what was now a singular A2 monster !!!
I initially had a visions for a two tone cover working across the spectrum of a very limited palette, in part to mimic the very stark contrast I use on the luminescent artificial lighting of The Cell itself !!!
Hot off the success of The VALKYR13 pin up I did for Issue Four I wanted to revisit that two tone effect, but in orange !!!
“The process is relatively simple – unlike paint, where traditionally you block in the darker colors first, with markers I start with the lightest colors and the reverse in the darker colors !!!”
I was mindful that this could either make or break the aesthetic of the cover and reduce its effectiveness to grab the readers attention !!!
So I chose to illuminate 5T3V3N and The Troops of Doom in greens to play off the bright gun flashes and set that against a colder blue background !!!
Conversely VALKYR13 and Lt. 73V3N where dropped back in warmer oranges created by initially coloring them in yellow and working over in pink to create this strange orange glow !!!
This pitched then perfectly against their half of the background without diminishing the attention from the cover front !!!
The process is relatively simple – unlike paint, where traditionally you block in the darker colors first, with markers I start with the lightest colors and the reverse in the darker colors !!!
Whilst it’s a slower process, I do this over several stages to let the colors cure and prevent bleed or muddying the colors.
After that it’s a small amount of post production using chalk paint markers, pencils and working in some of the black inks which often get dulled reacting with the markers and spraying some effects with all sorts of paints, ink odd colors, essentially almost giving a colorized texture to the piece !!!
After nearly two weeks, pretty much working on and off everyday it was complete, scanned and digitally sent off to Brendon to edit and scale to best fit the cover dimensions and add the custom battle damaged trade dress and barcode !!!
He’s done a fantastic job and couldn’t be prouder !!!
There’s a few things I’d perhaps in hindsight like to change, but as Herculean a task it was to get this done, for once without be overly self deprecating I think it works as a complete piece, and ultimately serves its purpose of capturing a potential readers attention – I surely hope you genuinely enjoy as much as I had fun creating it !!!”