|My version of Hondo Cit from Lowlife: The Deal Part Two.
Lowlife/Hondo Cit © 2011 Rebellion/2000AD
Hondo City Created by Robbie Morrisson and Frank Quitely
Lowlife created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint
No pay mortgage
Sleep on streetee
-The Freelancer’s Lament
So, the problem with making comics - one of the many problems with making comics - is time.
I spent most of 2010 living in Greece, which is a lovely place, friendly people, terrific climate, but a bastion of the Protestant Work Ethic it is not. Where the Spanish are famous for saying “Mañana,” (wait till tomorrow), the Greeks say “Theftera,” (wait till Monday). And while I find it hard to decry a philosophy that always gives you the weekend off, it did make it hard to concentrate on the distant Anglo-Saxon notion of deadlines, especially when there were so many nice cafés to try within a one-mile radius of our apartment. At the time I was working on Lowlife: Hostile Takeover, which I’d been told needed to be done by October 2010, with no intervening deadlines set. A blissful state of affairs, I thought at the time, except it turns out I need the Fortnightly Fear to keep me motivated.
Coming back to the UK in August last year to find myself tight on time and low on funds, I settled down and started dragging myself back onto the fortnightly schedule usually allowed for 2000AD episodes. All went pretty well until the start of December, when I was meant to start work on SVK. A whole set of unfortunate circumstances - schedule clashes, Warren being unwell, me being unwell - plagued production, and a deadline that had been pencilled in for mid-February ended up being pushed back till early April.* Aside from the loss of income that involved, I also received my biggest-ever tax demand, based on the year I’d received a big wodge of royalties for the Absolute Sandman: Kindly Ones.
*Thus causing series 4 of Stickleback to be delayed, if you were wondering where that had gone.
So, when I started Lowlife: The Deal, I was climbing back once again onto the episode-a-fortnight wagon, and financially running on empty, so I pretty much just had to get down to it. The result is that the first few episodes of Lowlife: The Deal were done in, not exactly a rush, but at the limit of my recovering stamina. And under those circumstances, something has to give.
What usually goes first is not drawing quality, but thinking time; that extra half-day to mull on an idea, find the best angle on it, the spare hour in the schedule to re-draw a panel or add some neat extra detail you’ve just thought of. When I look at Part Two of Lowlife: The Deal, that’s what I see; the missed opportunities.
|Mick McMahon's double-page splash panel of Texas City from Judge Dredd: The Judge Child
Judge Dredd © 2011 Rebellion/2000AD
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra
Take that big splash panel of Hondo-Cit on page two; in a lot of ways I’m pretty pleased with it. I wanted to come up with a singular vision of Hondo; my solution was to swipe an idea from Mick McMahon’s* classic double-page spread of Texas City from the Judge Child saga; incorporate symbols of the culture into the architecture. So my Hondo-Cit has buildings in the shape of Samurai warriors, Geisha girls and Samurai swords; a buddhist temple and pagoda-shaped towers. I also recycled my unused Christmas-tree style VTOL airport design from Lowlife: Hostile Takeover. I think the drawing does a fairly good job of getting across the scale of the city, and the fact that it’s not Mega-City One. Where it falls down a bit is on what I call significant detail.
*To be fair, McMahon drew it, but I don't know if he or writer John Wagner came up with the idea.
|A densely-detailed cityscape from Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira
© 1988 Katsuhiro Otomo/Akira Committee
|From Geof Darrow's Comics and Stories
© 1986 Aedena & Geof Darrow
I did manage a bit of significant detail on that Hondo-Cit splash; there’s a little tribute to Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atomu (Astroboy) in the advertising figure atop the building bottom left, and down at the bottom panel you can see a Godzilla-style monster chained to a truck on the highway. But I didn’t have time to go through my Manga collection and collect cool buildings from the worlds of Katsuhiro Otomo and Masamune Shirow to drop into the backgrounds. I’m still kicking myself for not having the Phoenix from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets or Battleship Yamamoto landing at the airport. And most of all, I lacked the time to contact any of my Japanese-speaking friends to supply joke text for the Hondo-Cit signage. As it is, all the Japanese text in the first five episodes is taken from Basho’s famous Haiku The Frog:
An ancient pond
A frog jumps in
The sound of water
But I didn’t come up with that particular wheeze till after I’d finished the page.
And that’s the nature of the beast, as a comic artist; do the page then let it go, there’ll be another one along in a minute. Not that I wouldn’t backtrack to fix a major error (like the time I forgot my main character had lost an arm), but overall? Let it go. Living with a certain level of disappointment comes with the job; I think of the great comic artists who’ve influenced me, and it’s true for them, just as much. I once read an interview where Mike McMahon dismissed his classic Judge Dredd stories as cluttered and difficult to read; in another, Euro-Comics titan Jean “Mœbius” Giraud could find nothing better to say about his strip-that-literally-changed-my-life Les Yeux du Chat than “there was some good architecture in it, I suppose.” I have heard stories of the great John M Burns sorting through piles of his gold-standard comics pages, despairing of finding anything good enough to put in his portfolio.
|Baggage retrieval at Hondo-Cit
Airport: I was quite pleased
with this panel.
If this is all starting to sound a bit grim, I’d like to end on a positive note; when I was looking back over episode two for this blog there were a few pleasant surprises; the facial expressions on page one, the scribbly flashback effect on pages three and four (which worked better in print than on screen) and the robotic luggage carousel (and porter robots) on page three. It’s just very difficult to judge your own work per se, more so when you’re still so close to it.
Ask me in a couple of years, I’ll probably give you a different opinion.
See you in the funny pages.