Dan Berry is a comics creator and artist we’ve long admired here on the blog, but he is also a lecturer, helping the next generation of creators to hone their skills and find their voice in the medium. Any artform needs not only established, experienced creators, it requires a constant infusion of new talent, fresh blood, to keep the medium invigorated, and one of the pleasures of working on this blog isn’t just looking forward to new work from the writers and artists we know and love already, it’s coming across interesting new talent. To that end Dan has been kind enough to collaborate with us on a very special themed set of Director’s Commentary guest posts; we put a set of questions to Dan’s students, and over the next few days they will be talking to us about their work, and hopefully this will be just the first time we hear from some of these creators, and we’ll see them back in the future with more work. I’ll hand you over to Dan to tell you a little about the course he teaches and to introduce his students:
It’s interesting to think about what people think you do. I assume that people think that I spend all day every day tweeting nonsense and drawing comics. Well for the most part, that’s fairly accurate. What I’m not certain about is whether or not people know what I do for a day job. My 9 to 5 is spent lecturing in comics at the North Wales School of Art & Design at Glyndwr University. My job title is Senior Lecturer in Visual Communication and I lecture on the BA (hons) Illustration, Graphic Novels and Children’s Books degree.
I want to talk a little about what that practically looks like, and then hand over to some of my very talented graduating students who have been doing interesting and exciting work in their final year.
We are based in Wrexham in North Wales. I’ll be honest with you. Wrexham isn’t the most exciting place. It’s a relatively small town with not a lot going on. The upside of that though is that there are few distractions to sitting quietly and making great comics.
The course has a strong focus on narrative and storytelling. Alongside the media workshops and access to technical facilities, we have creative writing seminars and lectures. We have had guest speakers such as David Lloyd, Paul Gravett, Ian Culbard, Martin Steenton and many more talking about the industry, their work and offering portfolio reviews and advice to our students.
Our students work in a huge variety of styles. We don’t have a ‘house style’ and aim to encourage each student to develop their own way of approaching a project and distinctive style.
With that hard sell out of the way, I think that the best advert for the course is the work that the students do, so I’ll hand over to them. And here’s the first in our special guest series, Tom Harley:
FPI: What drew you to wanting to make comics?
Tom: I have always been interested in comics. As with many my interest began in my childhood; my grandparents gave me some of my dad’s old Beano annuals and I remember being particular smitten with the 1968 release with Biffo the bear starring on the cover. Used to love looking through The Bash Street Kids’ escapades and always found myself drawing stories that were, not ‘rip-offs’ per se, I’ll call them ‘parodies’, of these mischievous characters.
This drew me and my friend to write and draw- well I mostly did both usually- our own comic named ‘The 50/50 comic’ which we sold to our neighbours on the street we lived for 50p. I was young but I always remember the thrill of people buying my comics, it was a short run but it definitely influenced my interest in making comics ‘when I growed up’.
FPI: What was your experience of the course?
Tom: The course has been a catalyst for my creative spirit. After having been disappointed by art courses in college/6th form I took a break from education to find out what I truly wanted to do. When I discovered the course I knew that it would be for my own enjoyment and revitalization for the love of drawing that would be the most important thing, as well as learning just what it took to get into the professional industry.
It was when a couple of classmates and I travelled to Angouleme to see the International Comics Festival that I saw how revered and truly beautiful comics could be. This helped me realize that there was a much bigger interest in non-superhero comics than I thought and this really helped me to try and develop a different ‘style’ of artwork as well as layouts.
FPI: What are you working on now?
Tom: At the moment I’m working on a couple of comics which I’ll be ‘self publishing’ for the graduate show, New Designers, in London. The first is a comic based around the lyrics of The Raconteurs’ song ‘Carolina Drama’ and the second is a story of a young Tibetan boy seeking out the infamous Yeti on a mountain above his village. With both of the projects I’ve tried to push myself. Learning that I work better with colour I’ve tested its use within my work and tried to define storytelling through the colours I use.
FPI: What are you ambitions?
Tom:I think for the short term I’d like to get my work seen and ‘out there’ using my blog, website and Twitter to post my work up for all to see and gain some interest from both readers and my peers. I’d also be using comics festivals like Thoughtbubble to approach publishers and professionals to look over my artwork and hopefully get some work professionally published.
I’m enthusiastic to extend my skills using colour both in my own and others’ work and hope to gain more experience working with other artists in a collaborative project. Eventually I’d like to be able to be in a position where I could be financially stable to continue my work as a full time career.
FPI: Explain your working process.
Tom: I’ve found that since working digitally my process has developed into a less linear path and that some of the ideas and concepts are still quite malleable and evolve whilst I’m finalising a page.
First, I make some notes alongside some rough sketches around the idea I have for the page in my head. Usually I add some notes for myself to look at when I come to the final artwork to keep myself in check and to also to remind me of what the page’s concept and aims are.
Second, I create a palette suitable for the project, also keeping in mind how I would use each colour in the comic either for storytelling or just to enforce the ‘feel’ of the whole thing.
I find I revolve around 3 base colours and decide which I can manipulate through trial and error. This will probably be altered whilst working on final artwork.
Now I’ll get the layout/pencils sorted by pencil and paper and scan them in so I can work over them digitally in Photoshop. Again, I tend not to over work them because if an idea doesn’t work in the finals from the prelim concepts I’ll change it on instinct. I’ll also add some colour and textures if need be to get the design foundations ready for future editing.
Slowly I’ll add more to the design of the page. Using the pencils as an overlay and producing the final artwork underneath, alternating the image with and without the pencils as I design more of the page to make sure I don’t stray from the initial concept for the page.
As soon as it comes to the details of the page, I always find that losing the template of pencil overlay helps me add a little more creative flair.
I’ll generally finish a part of the page up to its final design so I can use that as reference for the rest of the page as; 1) it can give more ideas such as whether to add more or less detail/colour, and 2) to consolidate the overall look of the page and ensures I don’t stray.
In the final stages I clean up and take a step back and ponder over the page. This will help me realize what is needed and what is not, making sure the pace is right, whether it reads well- this is most important when checking over the colours. I’ll add/edit textures after I check the design is ready to proceed to print.