Tag Archives: John Matthews

120 pages of King Arthur

It’s been a challenging year. I’ve never been at the art-end of a graphic novel before – I did some shading for The Raven’s Child – making big areas dark, but that was occasional and mechanical, and did not call for much skill, just patience. This year I’ve been the colourist on the John Matthews graphic novel adaptation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. My husband Tom Brown is drawing it, and today I will colour page 120, completing the first of four graphic novels.

I know how to knuckle down, but this kind of art intensity, most days of the week, for months, has been a challenge in many ways. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned what I can get away with, and what the oil pastels I’m working with can be persuaded to do. I’ve learned what will happen when the lines are dropped back on top in photoshop, and I’ve learned to adapt. I’ve learned that the wealthy of the 1400s (the book is set in Mallory’s period because that’s how he imagined it) had details, twiddly bits and colour on everything. To make the images make sense, the details had to be simplified. I’ve learned that I enjoy doing landscapes, and hate doing the interiors of great halls.

I’ve also been the model for Nimue the character, only blonde. Many friends have loaned their faces to help with the enormous cast. It’s been weird when they’ve died. Turning Druid Camp’s Mark Graham (Uther) into Matlock the Hare’s Phil Lovesey (Gorlois) was an especially surreal experience!

There were many reasons for asking to get involved. One is time – my two hours on a page save Tom perhaps more than 2 hours, for various reasons. It means we’ve both worked more like ten hour days, rather than him working 12 hour days, which is a lot better on the relationship/life front. During The Raven’s Child (a huge graphic novel project a couple of years ago) I felt very much on the outside when he was struggling (lots of seven day weeks there) and I wanted to be on the inside, able to help.

I wanted to be involved for selfish reasons, too. It’s tough when your husband and creative partner is working 12 hours a day on someone else’s book and talking about it when not working on it. If I’m involved in the project, this is a lot easier to take. I wanted to prove I could do it – I did art to A Level a long time ago, I’ve always played with colour (usually fabrics and craft) I’ve also been told I have no idea how to put colours together. I think I can lay that one to rest! I like a challenge, I like the opportunity to pit myself against things I’ve never done before.

The next book will be easier, because I won’t spend the first 30 or so pages in a state of anxiety. It will be easier because of the tricks I’ve learned, and because after 120 pages I am better than I was when I started, inevitably. This means I want to go back and re-colour the first half of the book, but I know how that goes, and you never get to finish a book if you keep trying to get it all up to the most recent standard. It’s the downside of improving. The logo I did at the beginning (top left). I hate the sky. I do much better hills these days, and water for that matter…

This afternoon, I colour the last page, on which Lancelot rides into Camelot. Then I am going to the pub.


Colouring for Camelot

New Year, new slightly crazy project. My other half – illustrator Tom Brown has signed up to do a four volume graphic novel interpretation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, adapted by Arthurian buff John Matthews. This will be happening over the next four years.

Tom and I got together around jointly working on www.hopelessmaine.com – our creative lives and our marriage are deeply intertwined. I have to admit that last year, when he was involved with The Raven’s Child, I found that tough. I did some odd bits of shading, but we spent much of our spare time talking about a project that I had no other involvement in, and I felt rather peripheral a lot of the time. So, a cunning plan was clearly in order.

Those of you who have followed Hopeless Maine will know that Tom favours muted pallets. Medieval art is really gaudy by contrast and it would be fair to say that those bright colours do not come easily for him. I, on the other hand have fairly medieval sensibilities anyway – you should see our living room! I like working with colour. I have no real skill at line drawing or getting things to look like things, but a deep fascination with how colour works. Normally this is manifest in textiles and upcycling projects, but we’ve done a few things where Tom has drawn for me to put in tapestry, and we’ve known for a while this works well.

Last year, I asked if I could colour on the Arthur project. This is normal for comics and graphic novels. Typically, one artist does the initial drawing, then separate people deal with the colour, the ink work and the lettering. Comics art is either collaborative, or factory production line, depending on the setup. We’ve been testing this, and it seems to be working. The logo for the project represents a team effort.

Thus far, the method is as follows. Tom puts down all the lines, and any contour shading that he wants, and then scans this. I colour on the paper, using oil pastels. We scan it again, and in photoshop he drops his line work back in over the top – so there’s no separate inking. We’re going to look at him reasserting the lines on originals as well. He also does lighting effects, and there we are. We’re learning how to do this together in ways that avoid duplicating work and that play to our different strengths. So far so good, I think.

The oil pastels I’m using, I inherited from my grandmother. She spent her retirement years creating land, sea and sky scapes, tall ships, flowers, and such like. I’m not just using her pastels, but trying to remember all the many tricks she taught me in my teens. If nothing else, I have learned from her that a bit of kit that looks like a child’s wax crayon (but isn’t) can be deployed for significant detail, and subtlety. Like Tom, she used to go in afterwards with pencils to firm up the details.

As an aside to this project I’ve had a crash course in the 1400s, I’m looking at chivalry and the troubadours, and there’s all kinds of interesting bits and pieces around the making of this, so I will no doubt be back to this as a subject on and off over the next four years! Hopeless Maine will be happening alongside Arthur, I’m still writing, and in theory it will all fit together.