Archive for Spoonbard

An Interview with Paul Duffield

Posted in Interview with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by comicmole

Note: this interview was done before FreakAngels volume one was released in print – a print version is now widely available to buy, and the webcomic remains free-to-read online as well.

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Comic Mole:  So, to start where it all began, were you always into comics (and drawing comics) from a young age, or did the comics interest start later?

Paul Duffield:  I’ve always been into comics, and drawn from a very early age (I can’t even remember not drawing), but comics was just one of the many things that I tried when I was little. I don’t think my real interest in them began until I was about 13, and I discovered first anime, then manga through a friend. From then I constantly tried to write and draw my own stories in various forms, but it all came together properly in College, where I met Kate Brown who introduced me to online comics and drew her own. (Mole Note: Kate Brown was the artist for SelfMadeHero’s Manga Shakespeare ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the creator of ‘The Spider Moon’ for the DFC)

CM:  Who, or what, are some of your biggest influences and inspirations nowadays?

PD:  My influences are a pretty scattered bunch that span animation, illustration and comics. As far as animation goes, I’m greatly influenced by a Japanese production studio called Studio4°C, specifically two directors, Tatsuyuki Tanaka and Koji Morimoto.

I also love the golden age of illustration, which encompasses artists like Rackham, Beardsley, Kay Nielsen, and others of a similar style.

In terms of comics, I love a type of manga often called ‘nouvelle manga’ (because of its French influence), which includes Taiyo Matsumoto and Jiro Taniguchi, two of my favourite manga artists. I also love artists such as Erica Sakurazawa, Moto Hagio, Osamu Tezuka, Miou Takaya, Maki Kusumoto, Joshua Middleton, Craig Thompson, Becky Cloonan… (I could really go on for a long time).

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CM:  At the moment you’re working with writer Warren Ellis on ‘FreakAngels’ – how did this collaboration come about?

PD:  A long while ago now, I posted on Warren Ellis’ old forum, The Engine, just saying hi and putting up a few pieces of my work like other people in the thread. After that I got an email from Jacen Burrows, who works as a penciller for Avatar Press (among many other things), saying he liked my work, and asking if I wanted an introduction at avatar. I leapt at the chance, and it turned out that my work suited the Freakangels project which was in search of an artist at the time. From there it was the normal process of submitting designs etc…

CM:  Why was it decided that ‘FreakAngels’ would be a free webcomic rather than a print comic?

PD:  I think this question would be better directed at Warren Ellis. Freakangels as far as I’m aware is a bit of an experiment in terms of publishing, to catch a different type of audience, and just to present a webcomic with professional production standards.

CM: What tools or media do you use to produce your webcomic pages?  What are your favourite media to use?

PD:  The lines are all done in pencil, then scanned and coloured in Photoshop, with photographic tones added to give a grittier feel. Pencils are definitely my chosen medium, and I rarely use inks (or even touch pens in fact).

CM: You have worked on several pieces for print including a winning Rising Stars of Manga entry and Self Made Hero’s manga version of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ – how does working on a webcomic compare to working for print?

PD:  It’s very different for a number of reasons. First off, there’s the nature of the deadlines. Instead of having an overall project deadline, there’s a feeling of being ‘chased’ by the release of the comic itself (I’m working ahead of the actual release schedule so there’s a buffer there if things should go wrong), which makes the pace of the project feel very different. In terms of the visuals, Warren has very deliberately chosen a straight forward layout format which suits the web. You’ll notice the comic is normally presented in two tiers (of one or two panels each), each of which can be seen on the screen independently of each other. More complex layouts don’t naturally suit the web, and it gives us a chance to really focus on the filmic nature of the story telling (it’s really an extended storyboard when you think about it), and the detail and observation in each panel as its own illustration.

Finally there’s the technical details. Since Freakangels is actually ultimately intended for both print and the web, you’d expect these to be similar, but actually it works on classic American comic format, whereas all my previous work has been in a classic Japanese format, and the differences couldn’t be greater (the size of the paper, the use of gutters, the different bleed margins, the technicalities of CYMK printing etc etc).

CM:  What’s the best thing about working on ‘FreakAngels’?

PD:  Probably the excitement of getting each new script in before I start working on it, since I’m also reading and experiencing the comic as it goes along! It’s also fantastic to see people’s reactions in real time on the forums, and very encouraging when that reaction is a good one.

CM:  And the worst thing?

PD:  Probably the way the creative process in handled. There’s a substantial feeling of ‘distance’ between me and the rest of the parts of the project that I don’t work on. This is partly because of the literal distance between the publisher in the states and me and Warren in the UK, meaning that the script has to go overseas to the editor, then come back overseas to me… but also because of a more ‘American’ way of doing things, where each step is kept very isolated from the last. It’s a less extreme form of the production line style script writer, penciller, inker, colourist and letterer who never see each other or speak about the project… the only difference being that I’m the penciller, inker and colourist combined.

CM:  Who is your favourite ‘FreakAngels’ character so far, either in personality or to draw?

PD:  Ooh… hard question. I quite enjoy drawing Arkady because I can really go wild with her mannerisms, but she’s also very tricky to get right because she’s so thin! (anatomy becomes tricky to get right once it’s not the sort of anatomy you’re used to). I like them all though, and it’s good to flick between different characters, almost like going to visit a friend for a while.

CM:  What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to start making their own webcomics?

PD:  Depends if you want to go in for a series of funnies, or an epic story, but for those who are planning that epic, stop there! Start SMALL. Do a short, self-contained comic (10-20 pages is ideal if you want to work In that format) that people can easily digest, and that you can test your skills on, and get used to the medium with. Once you’ve whetted their appetites, you can go back to your epic with more experience and more readers.

CM:  Any plans for the future? (or are they all top-secret?)

PD:  Mostly top secret I’m afraid, but I can say that me and Kate Brown have been trying to do several projects together including Deck http://spoonbard.deviantart.com/gallery/#Project-Deck and Rolighed http://spoonbard.deviantart.com/gallery/#Project-Rolighed ever since we left university, and we’ll be damned if they’re not published in the future. Unfortunately we don’t know when that will be because we’re both now engaged in other things.

CM:  What is your favourite dessert?

PD:  I like Ice Cream 🙂

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An Intro to FreakAngels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Posted in Column with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by comicmole

Disclamer: this is an old column I wrote for IndieReview last year and since then FreakAngels has grown and flourished – there are many more pages available in webcomic form and also a printed volume one available to buy in bookshops or online.  Before I write a more up-to-date column about the comic I want to get hold of said printed edition in order to review it properly.  However, funds dictate that I won’t be doing that any time soon, so as not to waste a column I’m going to post this one up as it appeared last year rather than tweaking it to update it (it wouldn’t be tweaking anyway, it would be a complete re-write).

Nevertheless I think this post will still be useful to anyone who has not discovered FreakAngels yet, which is why I’m calling it an introduction.  So without futher ado, here we go…

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“23 years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. 6 years ago, the world ended. This is the story of what happened next” – FreakAngels page one

FreakAngels is a gritty, adult, post-apocalyptic steampunk comic with at least its first few episodes set in London. It tells the tale of some of the survivors of an unknown disaster, and in the story so far it has been revealed that a few of these have gained new abilities.

Just in case the genre is new to anyone out there, ‘steampunk’ stories typically feature a world that is inspired by the technological developments of the Industrial Revolution era (roughly the 1800s). The difference with steampunk is that there are usually lots more fantastical inventions featured than there actually were back then, such as the steam-powered helecopter that KK uses in the first Episode of FreakAngels. An anime example of the genre is Katsuhiro Otomo’s film ‘Steamboy’ whereas a comic example would be Moore and O’Neill’s ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’.

When compared to most other offerings of the genre, FreakAngels is unique.  This is because it is set in a future where technology has regressed, rather than in a past with futuristic levels of technology. Unfortunately I will have to leave my explanation of the story there, as the comic has not been running for long enough for me to give any more detail. But wait! Don’t go away just yet, as there is method to my madness!

And that is this: FreakAngels might possibly be the biggest UK webcomic out there, even though it only began in February this year. Award-winning artist Paul Duffield (aka. Spoonbard) is handling the visuals – Paul won first place in Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga (2006) and also got the Overall Winner award for the International Manga and Anime Festival (IMAF) in the same year. Alongside him doing the writing is UK comics guru Warren Ellis, who has written for Marvel and DC (amongst others) as well as having several of his own works published, and winning several Eagle awards in 2007 (including ‘Favourite Comics Writer’).

So far the internet is the only way to sample the pair’s offerings and there don’t seem to be any plans for a print edition of FreakAngels, at least not at this early stage. Instead there are free weekly updates of six pages a pop, entitled ‘Episodes’. Each one seems to look at a particular situation or conversation, so readers get a manageable chunk of story but are still left wanting to know more. It’s quite an experimental format, but it seems to be working so far over the first five episodes.

What’s also exciting and new about this comic is that there is a great juxtaposition here between manga and western comic influences. Warren Ellis is a renowned western comics writer and Paul Duffield cut his teeth on the Rising Stars of Manga and Self Made Hero’s ‘Manga Shakespeare’ version of ‘The Tempest’. The new challenge for the artist here though is the use of full colour visuals on every page.  Appropriately, each page is drawn in Paul Duffield’s signature style, using fine expressive pen lines rather than the technically drawn look you get in a lot of manga. The quality of the linework and use of muted colours complement the London setting very well. The artist often brings out the beauty of his characters (especially the lead, KK), however what’s really special about his work here is that he doesn’t shy away from including character flaws and uglier moments to illustrate their personalities and the harsh situation they have found themselves in.

However, much as I love the character designs and beautifully stark London backgrounds, I did find some of the panel layouts on the pages to be a bit repetitive as there are a lot of pages that are simply split into four equal panels. This may have been an editorial decision to bring across a steady pace to events, but as someone who is used to reading manga where panel layouts are different on every page I found this to be a bit sluggish.

Inextricably linked to the panel pacing is the writing style of the comic. In general, I found the setting and characters to be very intriguing and the writing to flow well from panel to panel. Unfortunately though, I found some of the writing a bit lacking (I’ll duck and cover before going on…). These are real characters living in a harsh environment, therefore they swear quite a bit. I have no problem at all with swearing, especially if its in context as it is here, however I think perhaps they might banter with each other in more elaborate ways than just putting the f-word in at every second sentence.  Also, in Episode Two we meet Alice, a girl from Manchester. She swears with a northern accent, however nothing else she says is accented at all – this seems a bit inconsistent.  The rest of her words aren’t put across with dialect, so why that one?

Anyway, niggles aside, this is a compelling comic and there are also a few extras on the website too: before Episode One there are four standalone promotional poster-style images, there is an RSS feed available, and also a forum to discuss each episode as it comes out.

In conclusion, this is a very exciting comic that I feel has a lot of potential. It may not be 100% perfect but its still early days so I’m hopeful that the plot will become gripping and that the characters will each become more unique and individual. This comic will appeal to fans of Warren Ellis, those who are following Paul Duffield’s work, fans of the steampunk genre, those who like a good post-apocalyptic tale, those who appreciate manga and fans of western comics alike, so I’m eager to see it gain more readers and keep bridging that gap between manga and western comics fans – oh and remember, its all free!

I’m looking forward to re-visiting FreakAngels in the future, once the plot and characters have had a chance to develop.