Tag Archives: Tom Brown

Everything changes

If you watch my youtube videos, you’ve already seen a fair amount of my flat – it’s a small space and I either film in a bedroom or the living room. I am however a rubbish photographer and I don’t have the kind of phone a person can take pictures with, so I don’t tend to post images that much. This, evidently, is going to change thanks to the skills of Dr Abbey, who does excellent things with cameras.

We have recently expanded as a household and as a creative team. It’s been fairly easy on both fronts – which when living in a small space is remarkable. Projects that Tom and I have worked on intensely together are now opening up to be three person projects and I’m excited about how all of this will play out. And here we are on the blog, which is usually my little corner of reality, with odd guest posts in it, and today I am sharing photos that Dr Abbey took of Tom while he was working.

I’m excited to see what happens for me creatively as we saunter on. It seems likely there will be more images on the blog as well. I have no idea what will happen. Adventure calls!

Professor Elemental and Hopeless Maine

Here’s an exciting development! Right now on Professor Elemental’s bandcamp page there is an EP called Nervous, which you can buy. Every penny of revenue from this release will be donated to the YPC Counselling service. This is a youth service based in Brighton and their counselling offers vital, low cost help for young people, giving them a chance to talk about their lives and their problems. So, an excellent cause, which you can support by buying music. https://professorelemental.bandcamp.com/album/nervous-ep

On that EP is a track called Hopeless Maine. This is a song that the Prof has written in response to www.hopelessmaine.com – the graphic novel series (and soon to be many other things) that I’m involved with. It’s a great song, and my son James has been performing it as part of the Hopeless Maine song set for a while now. It’s wonderful to see it released into the world.

I’ve known Professor Elemental for a long time. He was reading Hopeless when not many people at all had even heard of it. He’s always been very supportive of us. We’ve contributed to his comic, and a few years ago there was a co-written novella, illustrated by Tom, called ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. It’s always been a very fertile sort of relationship.

One of the things that I’m really excited about with the whole Hopeless Maine project is the way it catches the imaginations of other people and causes them to want to jump in and do something. There’s all kinds of amazing things in the pipeline as a consequence of this. It’s awe inspiring, frequently humbling and I feel very fortunate indeed to be part of it.


Here’s the art Tom Brown did for the song – for those of you not familiar with anyone involved, that’s Hopeless Maine’s main character, Salamandra, rescuing Professor Elemental from a sea monster. He really does look like that, only usually without the monstery leg adornment…

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.

Little Glass Men

One of the things I love about the internet is the scope for bringing people together to work on projects. This is a story that, for Tom and I, began over at www.copperage.deviantart.com with an approach from a young writer looking for book cover art. As Tom is usually busy, he tends to say yes to projects that he finds inherently interesting and worthwhile, and having looked at some of the text from the book, he took on Little Glass Men.

Author Connor Walsh had clearly done his research, (this is going to be a recurring theme!) because he wanted a gloomy, mournful sort of cover. This is something Tom Brown is especially good at.

The book itself is about veterans from the First World War, in a hospital in Louisiana, circa 1921. The setting immediately got my attention – having researched and written my own WW1 novel some years ago (not currently available) one of the things I noticed is that we only really talk about the war years, and not what happened afterwards to the many injured survivors. The aftermath of war is something we need to talk about, and Connor wades into the physical and psychological horrors faced by the survivors. He does this adeptly, not bogging the reader down in unbearable suffering, but certainly getting across the long term costs of this conflict.

You get quite a long way through this book before it starts to become apparent that it is not just a tale about the characters’ pasts. As we delve into the histories of the inmates, a shadowy plot has been forming, and this gradually develops as the narrative unfolds.

I found this to be both a strange and a captivating read. Some of the characters are quite unhinged, and when we look at reality over their shoulders, it’s never entirely certain how things really are. Perhaps the idea of how things ‘really are’ isn’t even relevant when dealing with the kind of breakdown of civilization and humanity this war represented.

This is an author who knows his stuff, and who has given a great deal of thought to the period, and its many issues and how those issues might interconnect within a single story. At the same time it does not read like a history lesson. If you are happy to read darker tales then do check it out.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Little-Glass-Men-Conor-Walsh/dp/0692456279

Favourite things – of Sloths and Men

It may be a bit of a cheat plugging something I’m heavily involved with as a favourite thing for Steampunk Hands Around the World, but bear with me. There’s considerable justification for me claiming Tom Brown as a favourite thing. Favourite to the point of marrying him. He’s also a significant percentage of how I came to Steampunk in the first place (the other percentage being attributable to Professor Elemental).

When I first met Tom, through a publishing house many years ago, he was writing and illustrating Hopeless Maine by himself. I was entirely smitten – it was strange, gothic, moody and a bit Victorian in look. Tom wandered more deliberately into Steampunk, having always been attracted to things Victorian, but not until recently, aware there’s a whole movement. I trotted along behind, and here we are. Of all the projects I’ve worked on since then, Hopeless Maine stands out as a favourite thing for me. Tom eventually persuaded me to write for him – I was reluctant because I’d never written comics and had no idea how to do it. A long period of close collaboration, and all the wider conversations around it, and we ended up with an emotional attachment that took me across the Atlantic to visit him, and later, him across the Atlantic to live with me. I owe a lot to Hopeless Maine.

Which brings me round to the important matter of Sloths. Sloth Comics have now gone public on their slog, with the news that they are picking up Hopeless Maine. We’ve known this was happening for a while, but there’s nothing like a big public declaration of intent to get things moving. When our relationship with the first publisher – Archaia – fell apart because they’d been bought out by bigger and more commercially orientated Boom Studios, we looked around for someone cool. We liked Sloth as soon as we saw them – they publish comics that aren’t obvious, and formulaic looking. They also make very high quality books, and we’re looking forward to seeing Hopeless with that much better page print quality.

We’re not Sloth’s first Steampunk project, either. Happily, this move puts us alongside Francesca Dare and her glorious Penny Blackfeather, http://www.pennyblackfeather.co.uk/ (this comic I really like, its funny and full of unexpected things) the link will take you to the webcomic. Another canny female lead with a slightly dappy male sidekick, we suspect Salamandra and Penny would get along fairly well. Sloth also have Steam Hammer – an alternate history with a Scottish hero and a Victorian Britain that’s been overrun by steam powered Americans. I haven’t read it, but it looks good. Then there’s The Ring of the Seven Worlds – steampunk and studio Ghibli influenced. There are other non-Steampunk titles too, and I have some reading to do to catch up. It’s great moving to a house and feeling excited about everything they do.

I’ve popped the new cover in this blog – it’s for the omnibus edition that will bring volumes one and two out in the same book, with some other things that haven’t been seen before, and then we head for book three. This is the first Hopeless Maine piece where Tom and I have collaborated on the art – he does the lines, I do the colours, he does the magic and the photoshoppy bits. I can’t claim it as a favourite thing – it was an absolutely terrifying thing, but likely means I’ll be more involved in the art for future books.

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.

Assisting the artist

This week, The Raven’s Child comes out. It’s a graphic novel written by New York Times best selling author Thomas Sneigoski, and illustrated by my other half, the adorable and very talented Tom Brown.

It’s proof that myspace wasn’t a total waste of time – thanks to the more famous Tom spotting the art of the arty Tom back in the days of myspace, this has happened.

I’ve included some art here from the development stage.

It’s about 200 pages of graphic novel, and those 200 pages were planned, drawn and toned last year, which meant that my Tom was working most days, and for long hours. I did what I could to take care of him.

One of the things I contributed, was shading. Large areas of straightforward black can be slow, dull things to put on paper, and ‘make that bit really dark’ is an instruction I can follow. On my more ambitious days, I shaded raven feathers and did the lines on the rattan armour.

What rattan armour is this, I hear you cry? Well, it’s in the book, and if you look for the slightly less good bits, those will be mine. I did A Level art a long time ago, barely scraping a pass. I’ve dabbled since. I have neither the skill nor the discipline to be a serious artist. It can be fun to dabble. What it isn’t fun to do is spending hours and hours shading things in very dark. (Watch out for the eye sockets in the skulls, I did the insides of those.) On the whole, Tom did far more of the less than entirely exciting shading bits than I did.

It’s an odd thing to look at a book and know it’s pretty much a year of someone’s life. The energy that goes into making a graphic novel is huge. The hours, the physical skill, the knowledge. We lived with these characters, with their world. We talked about them in bed. We talked about them when we went out to do the shopping. The number of pages left to go was the measure of our days, shaping every choice we made in the long months Tom was working on this. If a page was easy to draw, it might mean a few hours off, a rare chance to go out, or just curl up and rest.

I also did some modeling, getting into assorted poses so Tom could figure out what went where. I was the test reader (the resident idiot) on a lot of trickier panels. I’m not very visually literate, and some of the pages have to be pretty intense in terms of what happens. Whether I could make sense of what was on the page was often the measure.

It was a journey. It was the year of The Raven’s Child. Nothing will ever be quite like that again. Early reviews have suggested it’s the new Buffy, and this cheers us greatly. There are ideas in this story we’d really like to see out there, getting people thinking.

More here: http://www.sniegoski.com/ravenschild.html

Celebrating Tom Brown

Tom at black booksRegular readers of this blog will have spotted the frequent references to my husband and partner in crime, Tom Brown. It’s his birthday today, so it seemed like a good opportunity to devote a blog to him. If you’re reading this on the website, then you will be able to see an array of art images to the right. Book covers based on photos (except Pagan Dreaming) are not his work, the rest of it is. Email subscribers might want to hop to the blog for a proper look.

I first met Tom through a publishing house about a decade ago. We connected through our work, and stayed in touch, which eventually turned into a long distance romance, then him moving to the UK to marry me.

Tom is an illustrator. Aside from my book covers, his work has adorned many other books, inside and out, posters, cards, and t-shirts at various times. He’s completed four graphic novels, and a board book (Ricky’s Spooky House). His creative work has been one of the dominant features of his life, from drawing comics in his teens, through art school, and then years of day jobs with creative projects and work on the side. Like many creative people, he wasn’t able to go directly into paying work in his career of choice. So alongside art he’s worked production lines, irrigation and golf course maintenance, he’s waited tables, made ceramic seabirds on a production line. Alongside this he’s a fine tin whistle player and an increasingly good harmony singer, and he used to act.

Biographies are an inevitable part of a creative person’s life, authors have to be ready to cough up versions of themselves at any length and little notice. To reduce a life into a paragraph tends to mean focusing on work and obvious, worldly achievements. So much of a who a person is just falls out of these versions. What we do so often is who we are to the wider world, and yet it pares away so much personhood.

Who is he to me? This man who has been my friend for a decade, my working partner for about 8 years, my husband for 4 ½ years. We’ve held, and continue to hold a number of places in each other’s lives. We’ve rescued each other from all manner of things, know something of each other at our worst and best. We have both changed a vast amount in the time of knowing each other, and much of that is as a consequence of what we’ve shared. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who I can be with all the time for days on end without craving solitude. He laughs at my jokes, accepts my foibles and fragilities, shares my concerns and hopes.

I love his quirky humour, his gothic art, and his ability to care. I know that he’s a much better person than I am – kinder, more considerate, wiser. Domesticated animals cheerfully throw themselves at him and wild birds will take food from his hands. And yet to say all of this is to barely scrape the surface, and to capture nothing at all of what it’s like to spend a day, or a year in his company.

You can see more of the art over at www.copperage.deviantart.com and he blogs intermittently at www.mothfestival.wordpress.com

Tea Dragons

Those of you who also follow my other half, Tom, on facebook, will have seen a few tea dragons. If not, potter over to http://www.copperage.deviantart.com and view some there. It’s a work in progress, inspired by Lewis Caroll, Steampunk, tea and me havng a mind that, according to people who know these things, is much like how people think when they’ve been heavily involved with acid, mushrooms or both. The things I do sober, other people need chemical prompts for. This probably ought to worry me…

A is for Assam, a champion brew
B is for bones, crushed and mixed up with glue
C is for cups which we make from the bone,
D is for drinking, our tea skills we hone.
E is for Earl Grey, full of bergamot,
F for the forest where tea dragons go.
G is for gurning and grasping and grit,
H for the houses where we like to sit.
I is for igloo, which we can’t make from tea,
J is for Jasmine and jolly jelly.
K is for knitting which we don’t do at all,
L is for Lapsang and also for loll.
M is for mice, which are nice in a cake,
N is for not having a very good rhyme.
O is for Oolong, which is more Oo than oh,
P is for perseverance, not much longer to go.
Q s for something, who really cares what?
R is for redbush, and rabies and rot.
S is for sugar, so sweet and so good.
T is for trees, which you need, in a wood.
U is umbrellas, which have no bearing on tea,
V is for villains and vipers, oh glee!
W is for water, the key to a brew
X is a silly letter, I leave it to you.
Y is for yacht, and for why did I start?
Z is for zebras, who are stripy, and fart.

Now that’s my tea alphabet, silly and wrong
I’m sure you’ll forget it in not very long.

Why death is good for you

It’s generally claimed that awareness of our mortality is what sets humans apart from other animals. I’m wholly convinced elephants have some pretty good ideas about death, and I’ve no reason to think any species of mammal entirely oblivious. I find it harder to make any kind of guess about what creatures other than mammals are thinking, there’s so much less to go on.

Thinking about people though, most of us, most of the time clearly do not live with a consciousness of our own mortality. As the saying goes, no one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office. Come the end of your innings, all the material wealth is of little account. I do not believe the culture I live in is particularly aware of death. We see it as something to delay and avoid (although we won’t drive slower to avoid it for ourselves or others). I think mostly we assume death is for later, or for someone else, and we act accordingly.

I gather (New Scientist article last year) people who are conscious of their mortality tend to move away from rampant materialism and towards a more spiritual way of life. Thinking about death, properly, will make you more willing to enjoy each precious moment you have, not squandering it on worthless things. Death makes you care for your loved ones more. The death consciousness can bring life into focus, making us work out what matters and what does not.

Looking at the consumerist culture I live in, where politicians preach long work hours and adverts sell materialism at every turn, I do not see an intrinsic awareness of our own mortality. Quite the opposite. I see a lot of distractions designed to help us forget that we were all born to die. We’d be so much better off if we gave a bit of thought to how we might feel in that death bed scenario. What might we regret? What will we look back on joyfully? That’s one of the best guides to living you could find. If anything, the animal kingdom is more death conscious than we are. They don’t go around repeating actions that are likely to kill them, whilst convincing themselves that it will be fine. (Binge drinking, drug taking, driving too fast, too tired, to drunk, never getting any exercise, courting heart attacks and diabetes etc).

If you feel the overwhelming need to raise your awareness of death, or someone else’s, I’d like to try and sell you a thing. (Yes, I know what I said before about materialism, and that there may be some irony here, but we all need to eat and I promise, this is a good thing!) It’s the tale of a girl who murders her family for money. This does not go well for her. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1412864360/clemency-slaughter-and-the-legacy-of-death

Clemency Slaughter and the Legacy of D’Eath: A Grim Gothic Tale without a Happy Ending, written by Steampunk author Jonathan Green and illustrated by gothic artist Tom Brown. (Tom being my other half). Having read it and seen the art in progress, I can vouch for this being both lovely, and full of dead people.