Saturday, 3 December 2011

Issue #4 update

God, December?! It's been bloody ages since I posted on here. I started a graphic design business back in February (check us out at and life has been INSANE since then (which is great, obviously, but it's left precious little time to work on the comic).

That said, work does continue – I'm about 30 pages into #4 and it'll be about 45 pages in total so should be done early in the new year I reckon. Which'll make it over a year since #3. To those that give a crap I'm really sorry. Must do better.

Still, I'm pleased with how #4 is shaping up. It's a big issue with lots of 'answers' (and a few new questions, naturally...), lots of talking (I've just done a two page sequence that sees two people passing each other the time of day in a country lane), lots of flashbacks and lots of stuff which required some hefty military research. Military research? Wait and see.

Here's the cover.

I finished a first pass on this ages ago but wasn't 100% happy with it so I've been tinkering for a while. Done now though. \

Until, you know, I fiddle with it again.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Been pretty busy with life stuff recently hence the lack of updates, but have still managed to find time to do some work on The Absence #4. Nothing I really want to post up here yet – the pages I'm doing at the moment are quite spoilerific. In the meantime, I thought I might post this. Purely for my own indulgence really, so bear with me.

This, for those that might actually be interested, is my workspace:

1. This is a (now out of date) character list. It has descriptions of what each character looks like as well as their relationship to other people. I keep a similar (and more current) version as a Word file too.
2. These are the thumbnails for the five page sequence I'm drawing at the moment.
3. The current page I'm drawing. This one happens to be at the roughing out stage.
4. A page from issue one. The five page sequence is a flashback with Marwood talking to Father Jonathan (he who fell to his death in the prologue). I printed the page with the church interior so I could try and keep some kind of consistency.
5. This is the script for the sequence. It's covered in doodles. I write it like a film script, with little to no thought to how it'll flow as pages but then scribble all over it and make notes and rewrite as I do the thumbnails.
6. Hard to make out here, but this is a bulging A2 portfolio. It contains all the art so far done for The Absence. The zip broke a long time ago...
7. My tatty putty rubber. Not to self: must get a new one.
8. Pencils (2xHB, 2x2H for sketching), sharpeners, rulers. Without fail, I'll knock all this shit onto the floor with the arm of my chair everytime I get up or sit down.
9. The drawing board. Home-made by my dad who used to be a draughtsman. He built it himself so he could work from home and I've sort of inherited it. The strut on the back is made from plumbing. I love that! I ink differently - I loose the drawing board and just work on the table. I find that easier for some reason. I used to draw the same way but I started to get a bad back and dad kindly offered me use of his drawing board.

The lighting in my office is terrible so I have a lamp behind the drawing board for night time working. There's also a radio behind there too. And that's it. Check back soon when I might post something more interesting. But don't bet on it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Young Marwood

Been somewhat busy recently with the arrival of a new baby, but work on issue #4 of The Absence continues. Lots of flashbacks this issue (and with it lots of answers too...) Here's the young, unscarred Marwood from page 2. Well, page 2 and page 7. You'll see what I mean when the issue comes out...

Friday, 13 May 2011

The collection has arrived!

Very excited to receive this parcel today:

So, if you look over to the right of the screen there, or follow this link, you'll find the first collection of issues 1-3 The Absence for sale on 112 pages with a new cover, including the art for all three issue covers plus a pin up section by some great artists and all for £8. Not bad is it?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Aintitcool Review!

Well then. This is rather brilliant. The Absence has had a review on cult website Aintitcool!


Writer: Martin Stiff
Illustrator: Martin Stiff
Publisher: Self Published via LuLu
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty

THE ABSENCE is a six-part miniseries starting with issue number one, HERO, starring Marwood Clay as a soldier returning to a small village on the coastal edge of Southern England. The only problem is Clay was presumed dead, killed in World War II. Further complicating matters is the fact that the townsfolk were kinda glad he was offed and are less than enthused to see him return home. Unfortunately not all of him has made it, as ol’ Marwood lost the lower part of his mouth below the nose. He sort of resembles that anatomy mannequin in the high school nurses office but his disfigurement runs much, much deeper.

I have to give props to Martin Stiff for serving as both writer and illustrator, as just one of those duties is a daunting task on any book but to do both, and to do them well, is truly the mark of a great talent. I was a little disappointed the comic was in black and white, as I feel like I’m reading a newspaper, but that’s just me nitpicking because THE ABSENCE leaves very little to be critical of. The narrative is sharp, the pacing is just right and Stiff has a loose hand when it comes to the illustrations. I like the way he’s able to capture fear and anxiety right out of the gate which is a considerable feat considering that you really don’t know who any of the characters are and have no established reason for giving a shit about what happens to them. Stiff makes the most of his atmosphere and shadows to draw the reader into a brilliant opening sequence that involves the collapse of one man’s world. Good stuff.

Some of the dialog is hokey but that has more to do with the geography of Stiff’s setting than his execution. In fact, I think it lends credibility to the story because if it’s taking place in Southern England than dammit it should look, sound and feel like Southern England. One thing that drives me batty is when comics have aliens, monsters and mutants all duking it out on the streets of San Francisco yet they all talk like socialites from the upper west side of Manhattan. As far as THE ABSENCE is concerned, we don’t yet understand the significance of Marwood’s return or what scars he shares with the townspeople, but Stiff has done an excellent job of giving me a reason to stick around and find out. And if you’re just in it for the cheap thrills you’ll be happy to know there are abandoned churches, Germans with hypodermic needles and gratuitous beer shots. Dark, creepy and utterly satisfying, THE ABSENCE is a self-published comic that not only meets, but in many cases exceeds what you’d expect to find from any of the big name printers. Pasty likes.

Small Press Big Mouth review

A great review of issues #1-#3 over on the Small Press Big Mouth podcast. Although I've had a few written reviews it's kinda weird hearing people actually 'talking' about The Absence.

I'll post the review as an audio file in a month or so but in the meantime I heartily recommend you all head over to the Small Press Big Mouth blog and download the podcast right now! You can also find it on iTunes under the Geek Syndicate podcast umbrella.

The review of The Absence starts about 30 minutes in but do please listen to the rest – it's a brilliant podcast about the small press comics scene.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Collection cover - final version!

I banged on to a nauseating degree about the process involved in putting this cover together, here, here and good Christ, even here. For some reason this cover was a fight from start to finish. I think it's pretty complex (maybe too complex - it's been wanked to death I fear) and I've been so insanely busy with a bunch of other stuff I've just not had the time to dedicate to getting it right.

Anyway, I think, now, finally, at last, it's done. And if even if it isn't, I fucking well am.

I'm raring to get my teeth into issue #4. The last 5 pages of that issue is a sequence I've had in my head since the inception of The Absence so after 2 years and 140 odd pages I can't bloody wait to get it out!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Another detail

Yet another detail for the front cover of the collection. Think I'm might be beginning to over-work this bloody cover a bit now... Still, quite like the line work on this:

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

New Review for issue #3

Here's a pretty amazing review for issue #3 from Forbidden Planet International!

Highlights include: "As wonderful as the first two and absolutely making it onto the best of 2011 list" and "it’s absolutely magnificent work".

Wow, thanks guys!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

My working process

This is something I've been planning to do for ages, but the stars have only just aligned to make it possible (ie: I now have access to my own scanner). I've seen this done on a few artists blogs elsewhere and I always find it interesting, so who knows - someone reading this might. Maybe. No? Well whatever, I'm doing it anyway.

(NB: Rather than an actual page of narrative art, the piece below is actually a small part of the final cover for the collection of #1 - #3 I'm putting together but the process for anything I do is the same.)

For any thing I'm gonna draw, first up is a thumbnail sketch. Sometimes I might do several concepts, sometimes only one. However many I do, the actual time I spend just 'mulling it over' is almost as important. Although I've not been drawing either comics or The Absence for long, I have a background in art eduction and and I'm a graphic designer by trade so I'm used to thinking visually (usually while staring at the bedroom ceiling unable to sleep...) and I can usually sort out most composition problems in my head before committing them to paper. The thumbnails are usually just to clarify things.

Here's the scrappy bastard I did for this piece:

Pretty rough, eh? That's the whole cover - the bit we're looking at here is the bottom half. I actually did another rough on my mac using a Wacom tablet (man, I HATE drawing on that damn thing) and I totally failed to save it. But it didn't matter - the act of simply sketching it out helped to concrete the image in my head.

Anyway, after that is the first pass on art paper. I use a very thick water colour stock because I love the rough surface. It catches ink really nicely and I adore the occasional splashes and scratches you get when your brush or pen nib catches in it. Here's the first pencil rough:

As you can see, it's pretty loose. This stage is basically to establish the composition so I keep it light and loose, usually with a 2H pencil (I've cranked up the levels on this scan so you can see it). If I happen to get too detailed that's all fine but my next stage is basically to rub the entire thing out with a putty rubber until it's all barely visible to the naked eye. Then the real work begins: I draw it all again, spending more time getting the details in. I use the light lines as a guide.

It's this stage which, one day, I hope to be able to skip. One of my favourite artists, Sean Philips, goes straight from the early roughs to inking and I totally admire his confidence (although, to be fair, he has several years experience on me). If I'm not careful tend to over-labour this stage. I like my art loose and casual (like my wome-- wait, what?) and by over-labouring my pencils I can sometimes find that tightness creeping into the final work.

Anyway, once I'm happy with the pencils, I grab my trusty dip pen and do some inking up of the lines:

I do this bit fast. Really fast. I'm not looking for tight, careful lines – I want the lines which jump and flick and wander across the page. During this stage I'll also be making lots of decisions about how the final art will look. Sometimes I'll even re-edit the composition (notice the big eyes in the background haven't been inked - that's because I decided to do those as a separate piece and composite altogether in Photoshop. It's also here that I usually have my first fuck up. Check out the policeman's left eye. WTF? It's totally screwed - it's wandering up way too high and it looks like he's deformed or something. Shit.

Now I grab my brush and basically fill in the blacks. Here's a 'work in progress' pic of that.

I use a normal (and somewhat knackered) brush with black W&N indian ink. This christmas just gone I got a Pental brush pen which I've totally fallen in love with so I've been using that lots too, but I find it holds too much ink and I struggle to get the nice dry brush marks I can achieve with a regular brush. Here's a detail of the above pic which hopefully illustrates this.

I just continue painting away till I'm happy I've done as much as I can. If I have large areas of black to cover I'll leave 'em empty and do them on the mac. No point in using up all my ink, eh? Once all the areas are filled, a bit of splatter to liven it up, a bit of some white ink to pick out highlights etc and then I rub out the pencil work as best I can and then I'm left with the 'final' art to scan in.

Once the pic is on the mac I go Photoshop happy. I fix stuff I'm not happy with (like the police man's wonky eye – I even moved his hat down a bit), fiddle with the levels to get rid of the pencil (but preserve the dry brush - bit tricky this bit. I often have to use several different layers of levels with different settings on each). I'll fill in any blacks I left empty at the painting stage and add any effects I need. If it this was an actual strip page I'd also clean up the edges and panel borders in Photoshop too.

As I mentioned previously this is part of the cover, so it's also going to need some colouring. I've already revealed part of the fully painted cover in an earlier post (although this too has since been Photoshopped to hell and back). I fiddled for ages with the colouring on this group shot – even going as far as to try a fairly 'traditional' comic book approach but it always looked crappy and half-hearted. I just don't have the patience to colour stuff properly I guess.

So, as usual, I used my tried and tested method of chucking various textures and colours around until I got something I could at least live with. Hence this:

The weird thing about working on a Mac - which is a pretty sterile working environment with all manner of 'undo's' – is that you can still be prone to my favourite part of the hand-crafting process: 'the happy accident' (nb: this entirely unrelated to 'the happy ending'). The fact they all look like they're kind of standing in front of a fire? Happy accident. But, sshh. No spoilers.

And that's yer lot. There's still a way to go on this image – since it's only part of the cover it'll need putting in with the rest of the images and logo and other odds and sods, but this, in essence, is my general working process. You might notice I've taken the policeman down in size a bit on the final version here. That's because I had trouble fitting it in with the other elements on the cover.

Still not happy with that fucking eye, though...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Review of #3

Here's an amazingly good review from Comics Bulletin for issue #3!

Particularly choice quotes include: "the most effective horror comic I've read in ages" and "exceptional visual design and storytelling". Crikey, I'm almost blushing!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Marwood and wife

This is a little pencil sketch which forms the 'Coming Soon' ad at the back of the collection I'm preparing and will also form part of the cover collage to #4. It's a bit out of the ordinary for me – thought I'd try something a little more controlled. The fact I spent fricking hours fiddling with it goes some way to explain why my usual style is so much more loose...

It's basically an expanded and more detailed version of the pic below which appears in #3. It's a family photo of Marwood and his wife...

Amy Blue - album cover

Not related at all to The Absence but I've just done a few paintings for a friend's band - Amy Blue. One is going to be the cover to their latest EP (below), and the others will appear in a limited edition booklet.

In other news, work continues on the trade collection of issues #1-3 and I've started to script #4. Hooray.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Issue #3 available now!

I've had proof copies back and it all looks good, so if you'd like to buy a copy HERE'S THE LINK TO ISSUE #3 OF THE ABSENCE! Huzzah. There's also a permanent link over there on the right hand side >>

Once you've read it, please drop me a line and let me know what you think! Thanks!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Collection cover

Below are the first couple of bits I've done for the cover of the collected edition of issues #1-3. As is usual it'll be a collage of elements. This first collection will feature Marwood and the various people in his story, and the next collected edition (which will collect #4-6) will be based around Temple and his acquaintances – most of whom won't be introduced until issue #5.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Issue #3

Well then. About two months later than I'd planned I'm finally putting the finishing touches to the mammoth 44 page issue #3! Hooray! It should be done and at the printers within the week. I'm also considering putting together a 112 page 'Volume One' trade paperback which would collect #1 - #3. We'll see about that...

In the meantime, here's the cover for #3!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Pin ups!

I recently left my full time job as a books art director to go freelance, and as a leaving pressie a couple of my friends at work drew some awesome Absence inspired pin-ups. I'll find a place to fit them in a future issue, but I wanted to get them up here as well.

By dino-artist and comic-editor extraordinaire Steve White.

By small-press comics guru Martin 'Spandex' Eden.

Thanks guys!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Eagle Awards

The 2010 Eagle Awards nominations have opened, and my comic The Absence is eligible for the Favourite British Black and White Comic award. So if you have a moment please pop along to and vote for it! At least one person has already voted (not me, I hasten to add!) and it now appears in the drop down menu which makes voting for it even easier!

While you’re passing, maybe you could also vote for ‘Jim Lee: ICON’ in the Favourite Comic-Related Book since I designed that in my secret identity as book designer at Titan Books!

The way it works, is that people nominate until the 7 March and the top five of each section which secure the most nominations will then be voted upon and the winner announced at the awards ceremony on the 27 May.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

New Scanner!

I have a whole host of changes coming up in my life. New job as a self-employed designer, new baby on the horizon, plus I've got to finish this comic, too. Holy crap.

One of the advantages of going freelance however is that I've bought a whole bunch of cool expensive Mac kit - including an A3 scanner. So now I can post stuff more regularly, rather than having to wait and scan stuff in batches at work. Huz-and indeed-zah.

I'm into the final few pages of #3. It's turned in at 44 pages (42 of comic strip, a 1 page featurette thing and an ad. I don't really like adverts as a rule, but the page count has gotta be a multiple of 4 to work so I had a page to fill.) This is one of the final pages. Marwood has drawn a crowd...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

End of 2010 Lists!

I'm immensely proud to say that The Absence has found itself on a couple of Best of 2010 lists!

Here and here!

Crikey. When you're working in a vacuum on something, it's so encouraging to discover that people are actually enjoying it!

Really must try and finish #3. Between work, a kid, setting up the new company, decorating the house and the simple fact that the issue is 42 pages long (the longest issue yet!) my deadline of xmas has long whistled past! Still, only about 7 pages away from the end now. Must admit though - since the first two have been so favorably reviewed over the last couple of months, it's a little disconcerting to find myself thinking 'Christ, I hope people like it...'