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Ash Pure

I admit it. I was scared.

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Okay. Are you happy now?.

Fine I wasn’t just scared, I was terrified, gripped by a constant fear that I’d walk into my friendly neighbourhood comic shop and see something that thematically or stylistically would be the equivalent or, more likely, the better of what I wanted The Lion & The Unicorn to be staring back at me.

So in 2011 I rushed issue one and in my haste, I botched it too.

I didn’t know this at the time. Or at least I didn’t admit it. It took some tough love from one Richard Bruton from The Forbidden Planet International blog to open my eyes. Indeed I now know the best reviews are ‘bad reviews’, from a creative improvement point of view at least

So once I’d got past the anger, the sadness and reached acceptance, I sat down (actually I work standing up but you know what I mean) and pulled the book apart.

The beauty of working digitally is that I could go back into Photoshop files and rework a layer, then add to and adjust the layout in InDesign, improving the text via Illustrator, as I went along.

This lead to the Digital extended edition of issue 1 which went on sale via ComiXology in 2013.

However there were still aspects of the line work that I was unhappy with, not to mention the spelling mistakes (That apostrophe!) that had been haunting me ever since.

So finally, 5 years on from the original print, The Lion & The Unicorn – The King is Dead Part One Extended Edition goes at least someway closer to being the comic I want to see on those shelves.

thelionandtheunicorn-01-extended-1

thelionandtheunicorn-01-extended-2 thelionandtheunicorn-01-extended-3 thelionandtheunicorn-01-extended-4

 

Influence & Inspiration: The Avengers (no, the proper Avengers)

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at the tender age of… I don’t even know! Perhaps then one of my earliest memories was The Avengers.
Daaaa… Daa Daa Da Daa Da.
Like so much of my early ingestion of pop culture this was my father’s doing. This stuff would be on TV and I’d sit there and ingest it all. not always (read ever) understanding the details or nuances but certainly feeling the style, the dynamic.

And that’s what stuck. A man in a 3 piece suit with an umbrella and a woman in a futuristic (or at least what they imagined the future might be like in the 60s) one piece who had the bad ass moves (or at least as bad ass as moves could be in the days of black and white. a Karate chop and a judo roll. Which is incidentally what I’m having for my lunch).

They were British agents of something cooler than just the government, they had adventures and maybe they were going to kiss (Euuuuhhh!) but they never do, but they might…

For The Lion & The Unicorn as is often the case, the characters came first. I wanted to create two agents, who were British and had adventures. He would wear a suit and she would initially look like Jim Lee’s Jean Grey of the X-Men, but with a big 90s gun. They would both evolve considerably from that point into what you see today, but the influence of the Avengers is undeniable and while I don’t think I had anything as simple (have you seen my work?) as updating them in mind I think I did want that dynamic. Although as the cahracters developed it quickly became apparent to me that there would be no ‘will they won’t they’. They most definitely will not. Spoiler? Come on he’s old enough to be her great grandfather. Not cool. Rather he would be solid and clear cut, while she would be the enigma, the one that keeps you hooked. The real hero.

Here’s to you Emma.

 

 

The Source: Rebranding British Pride

By | History, Inspiration | No Comments

britishpride

Way back in the mid to late 90s when the desire to tell a story was bubbling up inside me. I had the characters of The Lion and The Unicorn (we’ll get to them) but they needed a cause, a fight, a reason to be. Obviously good vs evil, obviously standing against bigotry, abuse and oppression, a voice against corrupt corporations, international crisis and environmental genocide . But for me as a lifelong Londoner, I wanted something a little more personal, a little closer to home.

And so I decided, what I really wanted to do was re-brand British pride. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, these were the years before the Olympics, before Will and Kate, before David Beckham (not that any of these things make me particularly proud. Just for the record). These were the years of Maggie Thatch and Miners strikes. Poll tax riots and police brutality. The hooligan had battered the gentleman into submission and the Union Jack, never mind the St. George’s Cross was out of bounds.

Coming out of this era there wasn’t much to be proud of, rampant consumerism equalled unabated destruction, the high street had been sold off and everyone looked to America for the next, newest shiny toy. But in the 90s things started to change. Rave culture gave us the so called second ‘summer of love’ with British pioneers doing to House music what they’d done to rock and roll 30 years previously; they made it hard and dirty. A fitting soundtrack and escape route to the crumbling urban environment. Ecstasy then escaped from the dance floors sweeping the football terraces putting an end to the hooliganism of the 80s portrayed in films like The Firm and ID. Citation needed? I know this to be true because the old hooligans I know have told me. They are now just cuddly gangsters, Diamond geezers, that love there mum… And would probably still jook you under the right circumstances, but still, they love their mum. Then we had Tony Blair, seemingly a new hope, my first ever vote went to him. Cool Britannia ruled, for a time. Then we had war. I marched for the first time and saw it do no good at all. The Millennium was approaching somehow imbued with an impending sense of doom - Who remembers the Millennium bug. Classic. Keep the fear up chaps.

So I was gripped by the desire to do something, do anything. The nihilism of teenage years replaced with a desire to actually do some good. Being to lazy and selfish to actually go out and get my hands dirty actually helping people I decided comics was the way to for me to ‘do my bit’. I wanted to create a story that would last, and have inherent in it’s construction a new sense of British pride that could sustain and transcend. I wanted to push past politics and pop culture and create a myth, a legend that could inspire and entertain, guide and enlighten, like all good fairy tales should.

That was the point and that’s what I have lost sight of in recent years, ever more concerned with the success of my product and in turn seeing this as a gage of my own personal success. In short my sense of self purpose and self worth has become beholden to the likes on my Facebook page. And that was never the point.

It’s time to return to the heart of what The Lion & The Unicorn is. A cracking yarn that  just might save the world.

Influence & Inspiration: AKIRA

By | Inspiration | No Comments

Picture it. 1989, East Finchley, The Phoenix cinema, a 12 year old boy… nothing would ever be the same again

AKIRA.(Ootomo.Katsuhiro).full.471268

Amongst the monoliths of my formative cultural landscape, none stand taller than AKIRA

Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece resonated with my childhood love of cartoons, of which I could spot the Japanese ones, although I had no real knowledge of Manga and Anime as it exists in the cultural consciousness today. In fact I thought Manga was Anime due to the label the videos were released under in the UK, Love that trailer. But it also resonated with my life long love of science fiction, Blade Runner being an obvious touch point, except with the brooding noir replaced with visceral speed and motion, cool, colourful characters, irrepressible, explosive action, devastating telekinetic power and my first glimpse at what I later came to know as ‘body horror’  (Where human forms transform into fluid monstrous states, A particular staple of the medium. Think John Carpenter’s The Thing, but with more demon cock).

But overall it was the shear depth and scale of the storytelling that struck me, spiralling from the city streets to the inner mind / outer cosmos (all good science fiction should end with the deathbirth of the universe – double spoiler?) and back. With an expertly rendered apocalyptic event in between.

All of this and ‘that bike’.

For me AKIRA set the bar for all anime indeed all animation to come. The American adventure cartoons paled in comparison, with even the mighty Disney looking cheap and amateurish. The precision and continuity of line, is so detailed, so tight it creates an entirely convincing visual experience.

And talking of tight… I recently rediscovered the original manga which I had put to one side due to the Dark Horse versions feeling somewhat  cheapened by the sound effects and mirroring the pages for left to right reading. Hey Pure by name… You know I only ever watch the film in the original language don’t you. But seeing beyond the ‘Fips’, ‘taps; and ‘splorks’ isn’t hard as it’s a mighty work of dizzying visual complexity. One which, like the film, manages to hold a firm linear narrative. Not always common for ‘Eastern’ art, which can employ more non linear, mood building techniques, not being overly concerned about getting from a to b and. Regardless, the art is simply breathtaking.

It’s not hard to see the influences of AKIRA on The Lion & The Unicorn; the rival street gangs, a megalithic city beset by warring factions and revolutionaries. Drugs that grant the user psychic and telekinetic powers and it all heading towards a ataclysmic event that leaves the city and it’s inhabitants changed for ever… But I’ve said too much.

And now I must go because it’s no good watching, it, sitting around and talking about it. You actually have to do it to make the stories living in your head, a reality. Otomo had 6 volumes at over 2000 pages of the most detailled art I’ve ever seen. That and one of the greatest films (not just animated films please note) of all time.

I better get on it.

Why I love Gosh! Comics (and it’s not just because they pay up front)

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I have loved Gosh since I used to spend my pocket money there, when it was across the road from The British Museum. It always supported independently published comics and graphic novels and it was from this store that I got my first taste of the British and international Small Press.
You can imagine then the joy when Gosh moved to its current Berwick street location and a large part of the beautiful top floor was dedicated to the indies.
Gosh has undoubtedly lead the way in promoting independent comics, proving that if you present them in the same way as the more established titles and publishers, then they sell. Issue 1 of TL&TU sold out twice over and is now in stock again, with issues 2 and 3 also available as well as the ultra limited edition poster comics.

Keep it up Gosh (and thanks for paying up front).

The Story So Far

By | Archive, History | No Comments

One question I get asked a lot: “How long have you been doing this for?” Another more specific question: “What ever happened to Thamesis?”

Well today is the day I finally (start to) answer those questions. Yes, face front true believers…
Today you read the shocking true story of the origin of The lion and The Unicorn

The Lion & The Unicorn started life in 1996, filling pages in ever more numerous note and sketch pads. The concept, as it is today, was that there would be male and female, British agents in The Steed and Mrs. Peel, Avengers mould, but infinitely more bad ass…

Throughout my time at art school and a brief stint ‘Travelling’ (working in a bar in Portugal, that counts right?) the concept, characters and story continued to develop with a key element crystallising, in that that psychic and telekinetic powers would be the ‘thing’. The Unicorn lost her gun and ‘Jim Lee, Jean Grey’ look, in favour of a softer more ethereal approach (Judge Anderson x Galadriel). Also the character of The K.i.D first appears but very much as an out and out villain (something like Tetsuo from Akira crossed with Charles Manson…). The supporting cast also started to expand in the form of The 4 and Jack Frost (characters who we will meet in Volume 1).

Back in London and working ‘freelance’ (yes, that is a euphemism for being unemployed) as a graphic designer and illustrator gave me time to really take the project a step further. Both visually with the awesome power of my 32MB RAM Apple Mac, scanner and printer, and conceptually.

fearnot

In this period the influence of friends, colleagues and peers was all important, none more so than the now Doctor Charlie Miller who was, is and hopefully will continue to be a constant source of incredible, unbound, visceral information. Charlie and I worked together a lot on various ‘arty happenings’ in this time and the knowledge that he would feverishly gush always contained, less nuggets, more great big slabs of pure gold. Such fundamentals as TechGnosis – from the title of a book Erik Davis and Britomart – a character in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queen and at one point in the running for the title of the whole story all came via Charlie. As did privelleged contact with the Illuminated Books of William Blake, which gave the project it’s first unified title.

albion-logo

Underneath this banner the story and world continued to gain cohesion and develop apace, it becoming more and more apparent that the setting needed to be not just a fictionalised present or future but rather an entire alternate history. I took this to it’s logical conclusion with the help of another friend, collaborator and inspirator from the time director Paul Angunawela.

“Is it to wanky to change London to Thamesis?”
“No. Stop being a dick and get on with it!”

Thanks, I needed that.

The story was to start on the millennium and climax on the then futuristic date of 21/12/2012. Which after a chance Sunday roast with another charismatic intellect; self proclaimed esoteric scientist Dan Winter seemed pretty final (And I quote: “December 21st, 2012 as the Christian’s describe it; The Rapture. The end of the world”. Cheers Dan, way to scare the $#!+ out of a bunch of 20 somethings with overactive imaginations, terminal weed habits and a penchant for staying up late and reading scary things on the internet).

This period in the early 00s also saw the first print release, a hand crafted card, poster and fold out mini-comic pack titled ALBION r i s i n g. It was light on narrative and overly styled so didn’t sell well, but it had something, enough for someone to steal a copy from Magma art book shop in Holborn.

Unfortunately I have precious little artwork from this period (it’s probably all on a Zip disk somewhere… Great) and no hard copies remain. If you have one (or if you’re the person who stole it) get in touch

Next time…

Welcome to Thamesis!

The Lion & The Unicorn issue 2 launches at MCM

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Returning to London for the MCM Comic Con. My first major show in over two years and launching The Lion and The Unicorn issue 2.
No pressure!