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Ash Pure

The City of The Beast // Book 1 // 1915 // Degenerate

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An Occult Noir thriller set against the backdrop of rising mistrust and threatened freedom
Mood: Chaos battles Order for the soul of a nation

Theme: Modern vs. Tradition // Resistance vs. Oppression // Change // Water

On the streets of the city of light fear is spreading. People are disappearing and no one can be trusted. The Order is rising it has agents everywhere, even in your home, your family. But there is hope if you can find the Haus. Here new ideas and new ways of thinking are being developed that stand in direct opposition to the fearful oppression and terror tactics of the Order.

The word is out. Beware the Cuckoo! Believe in the New.

Referencing and reinterpreting the rise of National Socialism. Framing the modernist, Dadaist and surrealist movements as resistance cells promoting new ways of thinking realised as psychic energy. Art as Power.

Visual elements: Bauhaus masks. Clean modernist vs. Classical lines First appearance of the Swastika

The Story So Far – Part 2

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“Whatever happened to Thamesis?” is a question I am sometimes asked by a rare, few individuals – Connoisseurs of digital graphic fiction from the latter half of the naughties. Thamesis, for the rest of you, was the name of the 6 part ‘digi-comics’ series released in 2007. It was the prototype for The Lion & The Unicorn you know today and this is the story of it’s rise and fall.

But before Thamesis, back in 2004 Albion Rising was the umbrella title I was labouring under (as told in The Story So Far – Part 1). The story of The Lion & The Unicorn, The K.i.D. and their world was progressing, slowly but surely with the help of Javvy M Royle (Of House of Hackney fame) who I was working with in his studio in Hackney Wick, East London. To say we were running a business would be a bit strong – Let’s just say we were creating lots of really cool $#!+ It’s here that the idea of the patches as the agents of power was developed (with more than a passing nod to Jeff Noon‘s ‘Feathers’ – Vurt was doing the rounds at the time). Meanwhile, back in West London, another good friend, Matt Tucker from Partizan Productions, was kind enough to lend me desk space and his keen eye to help create these 4 trailers.

And it was here at Partizan that the first quantum leap in the development of The Lion & The Unicorn would take place. it was here I met Jonny Wardle. I had happened to just leave my home made press pack lying around, casual, you know, no big deal. Jonny saw it, and suffice it to say it was so far up his strasse (as we say in Berlin) that he proceeded to leave Partizan to pursue developing the comic with me full time. It was great, not only to have another mind totally dedicated to the project, but even better to have an organised, disciplined, producer’s mind, with formal training in how to write a script, how to put something together as a coherent whole. Which over the next year is exactly what we did, then through Jonny’s friend (See, it’s not what you know… Alright it’s what you know and who you know) Zack Slatter  we took it to the newly formed Flemming Media. Yes that Flemming. Ian Flemming’s Family had found that they had the rights to the James Bond books along side a rather sizeable amount of money and they decided to take on and develop other ‘intellectual properties’ (a phrase that entered my lexicon at this time and that I have never felt entirely comfortable with, I much prefer… Stories) and fortunately for us The Lion and The Unicorn seemed a good fit for them. It was on! Back in East London, We set up Ash Pure Studios in Dalston – yes, before it was cool and you could still get a Salt Fish patty for a pound and … I digress. We had a  a small but highly talented team of creative collaborators including pros like Javvy on character and costume, Lucas Krull on animation and new comers like Roland Hammed and ChRis Leonard, creating amazing artwork and design to flesh out the world. It was a real learning experience, not just in setting up and running a studio but also in letting go of your ideas to give other people enough space to make amazing things with them and present you with something you would never have thought of and that fits so right. Initially Jonny and I had total free reign as writers and we proved in no uncertain terms that we were not Alan Moore. Producing two rambling incoherent episodes of The Lion & The Unicorn and The K.i.D. One thing was a fact though, they looked really cool. We had developed a rotoscope technique, as I deemed my drawing ability to not be up to scratch to creating the world I had in mind, and no other illustrator, however talented, quite fit the bill. Check out these initial sketches of The K.i.D. and Kendrick by the very talented Rufus Dayglo. They’re great, but not quite what I had in mind.

Via Flemming the living legend that is Mike Lake (Who’s Mike Lake? Open your copy of Watchmen and see who it’s dedicated to, then we’ll talk) stepped in and put us in touch with US writer – John Taddeo. The two separate titles of The Lion & The Unicorn and The K.i.D.were condensed into one arc but unfortunately Taddeo’s version of the alternate reality was not my own and while I was still not skilled enough to write a good story I knew instinctively what was right and what was wrong for the world - this for me represents the other side of having creators take your  characters and creations and interpret them as they saw fit. It’s great when they get it right, not so much, if they don’t. To me his version felt a bit too ‘Disneyfied’ a bit too bubblegum, not rooted in the grime and grit of the island I called home. But it had pace, it had the necessary ‘beats’, set ups and ‘pinches’ that a good story needs. So we went to work pulling it back into shape. Pinning it down to something that was true to the original vision. And so Thamesis was born – It was a real struggle and there was a lot of  back and forth – The Post Master very nearly didn’t make it! But finally we were ready and in 2007 we released 6 episodes as Flash animatics, we called them Digi-Comics: Comic panelling with simple ‘slide, fade zoom’ animation and a masterful score and sound design from C O L O U R F I E L D (Sam Harris), which more than made up for any visual short comings. You can still see and hear the original episodes over on Newgrounds.

So what happened? You have to remember this is 2006/7, Before iPads, before Facebook (Some of the characters had a My Space page!), before ComiXology, before digital comics really existed, so it’s safe to say Thamesis was a little ahead of its time. And while the audience loved it no one involved had ever done this before and not one of us had anything in the way of a plan as to how we should proceed with it. How we could make it sustain itself, i.e. how we would get paid! But as it turns out didn’t matter. The credit crunch happened and quite suddenly my father died so  it was time to put away such childish things. I left Thamesis and London for a time. I left creating stories and worlds and went, truth be told, on something of a self destructive binge, which fortunately was also one part journey of discovery. I learnt more about myself than was perhaps comfortable, but that which didn’t kill me made me stronger and ultimately closer to the ideal I wanted to become. Ash Pure rising. Slowly stories became important again and the characters I had created continued to live on in my imagination, finding new depth and purpose. Plus the story I had wanted to tell way back in 1999 was still there, in fact it was seemingly becoming more relevant day by day. So it was that in 2011 with the ‘property’ fully back in my control, I returned to the world, I returned to Thamesis and set about re telling the story way I wanted to. I was keen to address the short comings of the Thamesis release, which felt to me like it rushed it’s story telling, cramming too much in, not giving the world a chance to breathe. Plus the combination of The Lion & The Unicorn and The Ki.D into one title had always felt a little forced. The need to get all the characters into the same room. a common story device, had put an unnecessary pressure on the narrative. And also with it’s play through format, the Thamesis digi-comics, had lost what I love most about comics, the ability to move back and forth through time at will, to see a page as a whole and control how you read the story. So I put the digital to one side and went back to my first love – print. Creating a print comic was not only within my skill set, but also seemed the best way of plotting and pacing a story. I returned to the original assets and gave them an ink line (You were right Mike!), muted the pallet and created something I felt had the right tone for the story I wanted to tell and was closer to the reduced pallet, oversized UK comics I had groen up reading - From The Beano to The Eagle & Tiger and of course 2000 AD This first printing was launched with an exhibition of the landscape art of the alternate reality London at Shoreditch Town Hall which gave unsuspecting visitors the chance to step into the story world via a one off, immersive experiential even featuring the Wetwipez dancers as rival Thamesis Clans.

Before iPads, before Facebook (Some of the characters had a My Space page. Nice!), before digital comics really existed, it’s safe to say Thamesis was a little ahead of its time. And while the audience loved it no one involved had ever done this before and no one had anything in the way of a plan as to how we should proceed with it. But it didn’t matter. The credit crunch happened my dad died and it was time to put away such childish things. I left Thamesis and left London for a time. I left creating stories and worlds and went, truth be told, on a self destructive binge, one part journey of discovery. I learnt more about myself than was perhaps comfortable, but made myself stronger and closer to the ideal I wanted to become. Slowly stories became important again and the characters I had created continued to live on in my imagination, finding new depth and purpose as I did. Plus the story I had wanted to tell way back in 1999 was still there, in fact it was seemingly becoming more relevant day by day. So it was that in 2011 with the ‘property’ fully back in my control, I returned to the world and set about re telling the story way I wanted to. Next time: the return of The Lion & The Unicorn

Of Fathers, Lions & Kings

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Where do you get your ideas from? Who are your characters based on? Are the most common questions I am asked about The Lion & The Unicorn. Or perhaps more accurately people like to offer their suggestions as to what they think my inspirations might have been. When it comes to The Lion, the most popular character for this guessing game, Marv from Sin City is the most common, but Herman Munster is by far the best I’ve heard to date.

The Lion is undoubtedly influenced by characters from the cult-ure I’ve grown up consuming – I’d actually put him somewhere between James Bond and Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors (Maybe with just a touch of Herman?) – but in truth it goes a little deeper than that. For the Lion is actually based on… Wait for it – This is the big reveal, the one you’ve been waiting for. Drum roll please… My father!

Or to be more precise the good bits about my father – and if you see what an absolute, total arsehole The Lion is that probably tells you a little bit about my old dad.

The Lion, like my father, is an embodiment of 20th Century England. From the Great War to TV dinners to Maggie Thatch. A broken promise of a century, deeply scarred, selfish and bitter, racked with the pain and regret of a nation fallen from greatness but not willing to admit that it no longer rules the waves, or indeed anything at all. My father was a man not willing to admit he was broken armed with an impenetrable shield of cynicism and a sword of super sharp, acerbic wit. Abrasive and offensive but with a strict (a)moral code, suited to an age when you could still be outrightly rude. When you could still smoke everywhere and be prejudiced against pretty much everything.

My father was born in 1945 raised in the mythical kingdom of Essex by his parents, effectively Victorians, the kind of people who loved the dogs more than they loved their children. He grew up to be in his own words,‘a right little shit’, but by the time I knew him he had matured into a grumpy old bastard. He worked as a solicitor, a job he clearly hated so as to send my sister and I to private schools we didn’t want to go to. He was often absent, I naively thought, working late, until it became apparent, even to the most idealistic young eyes, that where he’d actually been was ‘down the pub’.

Like many of the men from his generation he grew up massively emotionally retarded, perhaps even more so than most, but the biggest regret, the greatest tragedy for him and so many like him was, he knew better. He had had the knowledge and the opportunity to change, to live a different life, to be different man from his father. He’d had the 60s revolution in the head but woke up on the cold Monday morning of the 1980s with two children and a mortgage and the overwhelming need to get paid! Which he did to the detriment of his happiness and the happiness of all those around him. He was inherently self destructive, looking after yourself was for girls, smoked 60 – 80 cigarettes a day and despised any food that wasn’t entirely synthetic –  “Yuck! This banana milkshake tastes like real bananas. Where are the e numbers?” – Hilarious until he dropped dead at the stupidly young age of 62.

It was never my intention to create a hero based on the old bugger – Lung Cancer Man! Coool… In fact I didn’t even realise I’d done it  until working on a ‘pin up’  image of an earlier iteration of The Lion & The Unicorn, he looked over my shoulder and, taking an an uncharacteristic interest in my funny pictures he said – “He looks like quite a good chap”.  High praise indeed.

I hadn’t created The Lion in my father’s image consciously, he evolved and became more and more like him – white hair, white face, sarcastic old bastard – but it was only when the penny dropped, when I realised what I’d done that the character really came alive.That’s when I knew exactly how he would speak, how he would react in certain situations. And it was only after my father died in 2007, just after the release of the original Thamesis digi-comic series, that The Lion could really live. That’s when he could become the embodiment of the bits that, despite myself, I loved about my dad – his sense of humor, his nihilistic belief system, his sense of right and wrong and somewhere deep down inside a mischievous, childlike joy. But as all art is catharsis I needed somewhere to put the bad parts, the parts that really pissed me off. Enter Old King Richard of The Rose the embodiment of unfulfilled potential – the coward who has absolutely not put his house in order despite the ample opportunity to do so. If you read Jonathan’s last  conversation with his father (as told in Flashback in The Lion & The Unicorn Volume 0 Book 3) you will see the conversation I wish I’d had with my dad on his deathbed.

I did say to him on our last and only trip together – to Portmeirion, the Village where they filmed the cult 60s TV show The Prisoner, a favourite of ours – “How do you feel about the prospect of your impending death?” and he said to me “I have an advantage over many” – where Jonathan presses the issue I leave it. And that was the end of it literally, he died 3 months later. The Lion, for now, lives on and at least, on paper has the chance, the potential to change and be the best he can be. I’m not saying he will. It depends how much of my dad is in him. Good bye old man. The King is Dead, long live the Lion.

Welcome to The City of The Beast

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For the first time ever, this year The City of Berlin is giving a stipend – a grant – to make comics. So rather than just go with something I’d already made I thought I’d use the deadline to force myself to progress an idea I’d wanted to develop since moving to Berlin – the addition of the city to the alternate reality timeline of The Lion & The Unicorn Welcome – to the City of The Beast.

The City of The Beast (TCTB) would see Berlin added to the map and timeline of The Lion & The Unicorn story world. The city will be re created as it’s epic, fictional alter ego for the setting of its own urban mythic sci fantasy saga which will stand alone, albeit parallel to the story told in The Lion & The Unicorn comics.

Where as The Lion & The Unicorn is a serialised narrative – set in an alternate reality where telepathy and telekinesis are real, TCTB will be a stand alone volume in the same reality, with the same rules. A graphic anthology (more than a graphic novel) consisting of 5 self contained, albeit interconnecting stories, set in the same reality between 1915 and 2012.
The volume will also progress the ‘composographic’ style established in TLTU and for the first time will incorporate into the creative process the work of different artists.

In this volume I want to create the layouts and backgrounds while the character work is provided by a range of Berlin based artists, ensuring each story has a unique visual look, tailored for its time setting and theme.

Other than make great stories I want to give a platform for artists who might struggle to get work out on their own, to create a book that is more than the sum of its parts that will create a real impact.

His and Hers

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tltu-ad-fm

So I also decided to do an ad for everyone, featuring both The Lion and The Unicorn, because, well, it’s called The Lion & The Unicorn.
I think the ads will run towards the end of April, so if you’re playing a Gameloft game maybe I’ll see you here.

Now I need to actually get back to making the comic. The digital comics version of The King is Dead Part 4 needs to go live.

Unicorn rising

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tltu-ad-f

And here is the second ad (I’m running a his and hers), it features the classic Unicorn power pose from The lion & The Unicorn Act 1 of the digital comics release.

I want to appeal to the Hunger Games / Game of Thrones female audience (Vanessa, that’s The Unicorn to you, would kick Katniss and Khaleesi’s ass). I know that when women pick up the comic at cons and such, they are into the character, but I think the online audience is mainly skewed towards the male and I want to redress the balance by showing the comic has a strong female lead.

And as with the other image I’m having trouble with finding a good CTA to go with the illustration.

Advertisement Break

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The good people at Gameloft Games are going to be running an ad campaign for The Lion & The Unicorn ACTS digital comics’ release.

Here’s how it’s looking so far. Just need something for this character to say, a catchy call to action that’s going to get people clic, click, clicking. I’d rather it was something in the alternate reality of the comic, than a blatant click to win type of thing.

Anyone got any thoughts let me know.

The Great Comic Con Swindle

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 or Not much comic. A whole lotta Con.

Throughout the month of October I’ve taken The Lion & The Unicorn to a con a weekend. The comic festival Hamburg, The German  Comic Con in Berlin, FACTS in Gent and MCM in London. With the exception of Hamburg these were all Cons.

And by this I mean those towering colossi of corporate consumption based on the San Diego original. It’s this con model and the clue is in the name, this model of merch and madness, piled high sold cheap, that has less and less to do with the craft of comics, the art of comics and more and more to do with turning a quick buck.

con-facts

con-berlin

It’s this model that puts a lot of stain on the indie comics creator because increasingly the comic con isn’t really about comics at all. It’s this environment that forces the tricky issue of – dare I say it… – fan art.

You’ll find a lot of talk online about the issue of fan art at comic cons. As Matt Dyson of The Comic Village Alliance says “Simply thinking about fanart for a fraction of a second in a sealed room in the middle of a desert 12,000 miles from the nearest person or internet connection is sometimes enough to start off an all out Fanart holy war “discussion” that will last for days and make everyone involved hate everyone else involved.”

A lot of cons declare it illegal, yet few seem to enforce this, while artists and indie creators implore this is the only way they can make money. This is because most of the people who come to these mega cons aren’t looking for comics at all. Especially not new comics they’ve never heard of. Rather it seems what they want is something they recognise, something they know. Ideally  crossed with something else they know.

Exhibit A

 

But here’s a question, instead of the artists and creators, isn’t it the market that causes the problem?

Because a Comic Con now isn’t about comics and to have comics in the title is entirely misleading. Or perhaps this is what ‘comics’, a mis-used and misleading word at the best of times, will become to mean. Pop culture – geek culture if you must (but I don’t like to use the g word) – stuff. Mugs, posters, cuddly toys, overpriced photo opportunities.

And hey, that’s fine, if that’s what people want, let that be that. Let it sail off into the plastic product smog filed sunset.

But let’s also create a place for comics, just for comics. Because the audience is there. I’ve seen them, met them, talked at length with them, they’re seeking out new stuff, they want indie comics.

Thought Bubble in Leeds, Comiket in London, The International Comic Salon in Erlangen and Comic Invasion in Berlin are all great examples of the comic focused festival pitched at various sizes, catering to varied tastes.

And respect must go to the MCM Comic Village for supporting the independent creators, for providing a place that nurtures creativity rather than squashes it amongst merchandise piled ever higher, sold ever cheaper.

We must work together to ensure that the craft of comics is preserved, that the independent creator is subsidised and nurtured…

 Save the comic. Stop the con.

 

The Final Part of The Lion & The Unicorn Volume 0 is here at last!

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tlatu-04-cover

So here it is the end of the beginning, ok, the end of the bit before the beginning of the beginning.

Yes The Lion & The Unicorn – Volume 0, the prequel if you will, is finally wrapped up in a nice neat, deluxe print, ultra limited edition package.

So why did it take so damn long? The first version of issue 1 being released in 2011 (with the extended re-version released earlier this year). I’ll tell you for why because making The lion & The Unicorn is a massively long, ball achingly slow, laborious process for just a man… With a man’s courage, he’s just a man with a man’s power – Freddy

Then why in god’s name do you do it !? – Eddy

Because I want the world, the characters to look how they look in my head, Bladrunner meets Excalibur directed by Katsuhiro Otomo – and the only way to come anywhere close to this, for me, is by using a combination of photography, graphic design and illustration in a process I like to call, composographicfotorotmancy – Catchy!

The trouble is even once the comic itself is completed, proofed, printed and ready, then you’ve actually got to go and get it out to people, which is. incidentally where we are now.

Hi there.

This is also why the comic debuted at The International Comic Salon in Erlangen, Germany at the end of May and you’re only just hearing about it now.

In this issue the Lion and The Unicorn of the title finally come face to face in a showdown that is nothing less than earth shaking. Yes, you’ve got it, first they fight then they become friends. Although not in this issue. Not for a while. This is the character dynamic will be the driving force of the next 3 volumes.

Talking of future volumes, for volume 1 I know I need to get a more regular release schedule, that means quicker output, that means changing how I work. I’ll keep the photographic backgrounds for sure, but the characters will be hand drawn- check out the centre spread of issue 4 to see how this is going to look.. I’ll keep the occasional photographed and rotoscoped character for ‘special effects’ sequences and the like, also because the shoots are fun and a great way to get people involved. You’d be surprised how much people love playing comic books. PeeOw. PeeOw!

But hand drawn it is. I owe a lot to Martin Eden, creator of The O Men and Darren Wilson of Avengers UK a Facebook fan fiction comic that did a crossover with The Lion & The Unicorn for their Xmas special. It was great to see my characters rendered in pen and ink by another artist. It showed me it work and you don’t have to be Jim Lee to do it.

So I’m spending this summer honing my craft in drawing and writing too – as the artwork aside I’m keen to be able to have some more naturalistic dialogue. While I’m aware this will never be Saga, I’m also conscious that the rigid structure of the massive character arcs and the epic scale of the narrative means that the human, relatable aspect can get lost. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how cool, or not, the visuals are if the characters don’t speak in a voice that you care about, well you just won’t care.

And by the gods I want you to care.