Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Enemy




Today sees the UK launch of Charlie Higson's horror adventure book 'The Enemy'. Set in a near future where a plague has turned all those over the age of 14 into flesh-eating zombies, it follows a gang of kids fighting to survive on the streets of London.

The cover of the advance copies had the tag line 'You thought they would always protect you... You were wrong'. I thought it would be interesting to try and come up with a way of illustrating this line. It led to the fairly grim visual joke above. Below are some sketches for the possible applications for such an image, an animated web banner perhaps or some form of fold out book cover or hologram cover.

The book holds passages of more grisly detail than the image above, but somehow when you visualise something like this it seems more shocking and tasteless. I did'nt really have enough enthusiasm for the image to create more than a rough colour sketch. I had a lot more enthusiasm for the book itself which is a pretty unrelenting page turner that pulls no punches despite its intended young readership.



Tuesday, 25 August 2009

V for Vendetta fan art


My tribute painting to Alan Moore and David Lloyd's brilliant V for Vendetta. The finished piece above and a detail from the same, below.


I reread the graphic novel last year and was surprised by how much the main character seemed to have in common with 30s Pulp heroes such as The Shadow or The Spider ( I had been looking fairly closely at 30s pulp adventures for a number of other projects at the time, so this should have been no surprise).

At the back of this particular edition there was an essay by Alan Moore detailing the origin of the project. I was genuinely surprised to find my intuition was right and that the genesis of V rested in a brief from Dez Skinn to David Lloyd to 'create a new thirties mystery strip'. Moore was brought on board as writer, seeing the project as 'a new way of approaching the thirties pulp adventure strip'.

With Lloyd unhappy at the thought of the hours of research needed to visualise a realistic 30s setting they eventually placed their story in the near future rather than the near past, where they reasoned they could "create the same sense of mingled exoticism and familiarity".

All this set me thinking of a V for Vendetta image that would bring its Pulp heritage to the fore. I was thinking of the moody Shadow covers by George Rozen, but in terms of composition I had a comic book cover in mind which showed a masked avenger type vaulting over a city scape. I couldn't find a copy of the image while I was working on my V painting but eventually I came across a copy online and turns out it was Green Giant comis no.1 (below). Must have seen this in a Super Heroes Encyclopedia I had when I was a kid.


I found plenty of other inspiration from the Pulps of the thirties. There were a few Shadow/Spider elements I wanted to work in to the design.

The Shadow's liking for leaping fitted pretty well with my original vaulting Green Giant idea -


The motif of a gigantic version of the main character looming over or dominating in some way a piece of architecture or cityscape (shades of the Green Giant again) -


The hero swinging into action with a girl on his arm. The Shadow didn't seem to get the girl too often (poor old Shadow), but The Spider did, as it seems did every other Pulp hero. I really wanted to get the character of Evey into this image as well so really I needed something like this -


Below is my initial very rough sketch after collecting my references. It may need some interpretation - thats a gigantic version of V with Evey on his arm swinging above an exploding Houses of Parliament and kicking over the tower of Big Ben.



I got some more reference material together from photos of Parliament and from some photographs of myself in embarrassing poses and mixed them together in Photoshop.


From the colour composition (above) I worked on a more detailed pencil sketch (below).


This was scanned into my Mac and taken into Photoshop and Painter, and beaten with various digital brushes until it looked like the image at the top of this post. Somewhere along the way Big Ben escaped the wrath of V's boot but still got blown to bits anyway.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Reinventing the eel


Pastiche of 30s Adventure pulp covers, featuring your typical 'boy's own' style hero in a battle beneath the waves.

Below, the original digital painting sans period style type and 'aged' layer.



The original pencil sketch before being scanned and daubed with pixels.


And here's how we got from one state of affairs to the other -


Below the many 'inspirations' for the image:

The Boys adventure covers -


Pulp hero Doc Savage's penchant for underwater adventure -


The ubiquitous merman of days gone by -

and the slightly later trend of men's adventure magazine covers depicting man vs nature - exemplified by the infamous and inexplicable "weasels ripped my flesh" cover.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

FXposed



The nice people at ImagineFX magazine have printed some of my work (and some of my words) in the FXpose section of their September issue #47. Its out from today in your newsagents. Look out for the Faerie adorned cover by Bente Schlick above.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

It's live... its live!


Been away from the Blogosphere for a while as I've been concentrating on creating a new version of my website. Check out the site at www.leightonjohns.co.uk We'd welcome any feedback on the new look.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Spock


All things Star Trek reign this week - so here's my version of a much loved Vulcan, done while testing some brushes in Painter on Sunday.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Final Witches cover



The final version of this (promise) - with words and letters and everything. In the strange and frightening alternate universe in which this version of the book was published someone gave me the chance to illustrate it apparently.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

More Dahl Daubings


My grandmother was tremendously old and wrinkled, with a massive wide body which was smothered in grey lace [...] My grandmother was the only grandmother I ever met who smoked cigars.
Roald Dahl, The Witches

"Birgit Svenson [...] One day she started growing feathers all over her body. Within a month, she had turned into a large white chicken. Her parents kept her for years in a pen in the garden. She even laid eggs."
Roald Dahl, The Witches


"...down in the kitchen the cook once found a baby crocodile swimming in his saucepan of soup."
Roald Dahl, The Witches



More Witches based scribbling. I'd intended to do some illustrations for the back of the mock book cover. I wanted three portraits in circular windows, along the lines of what you used to get on EC comics covers, a sort of preview of what lay within... 'terrifying transformations'... 'revolting recipes'... 'Ghoul-hunting Grannies'. It turned out they looked quite cramped on the back of the cover, but here they are anyway sans their EC style portholes.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Witches



And here (barring the temptation to tweak some more) is the finished illustration. Below is how we got here. Had to abandon the weird Village of the Damned eye effect as I couldn't work out if it was obscuring too much of the face/mask - maybe I should have been braver and stuck to my original idea. Ended up painting in some more obvious lightning bolt type things anyway, which I think work ok and which luckily I enjoy painting.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Pulping of Roald Dahl



This is a little bit of an explanation of what I was doing during the six months last year when I didn't post anything . I'd been wanting to do a portfolio of children's book covers for a while, I'd already made a start with the first two books of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. I intended to start work on the third cover but felt I wanted to ring the changes a little by working on something by a different author. So in the name of research I got into reading children's books again, looking at what was out there in the 8 - 12 age range. I took in a few new titles and went back to some classics.

One of the authors I re-read was Roald Dahl. I didn't really think his books would be ideal to work with because visually they are so closely linked with the style of Quentin Blake. Going back to his books though I was suprised at just how weirdly twisted they seemed. It was as lurid and frequently grotesque as anything you'd find in the pulp fiction of the 1930s and 40s, as if Robert Bloch, Ray Bradburry or L. Ron Hubbard had been asked to write for kids.

Dahl gave us the hunted turned hunters in the form of family of rifle brandishing ducks in The Magic Finger, a man eating Rhinoceros and a gigantic floating peach looming above the big apple's skyline in James and the Giant Peach a child scientist experimenting on his granny with a Food of the Gods style potion in Georges's Marvellous Medicine, and in The Witches we had the unforgettable scene of a beautiful young woman tearing off her own face to reveal a hideous visage "all cankered and worm-eaten". Classic pulp artists like Rafael de Soto and George Rozen would have had a field day with this stuff. This was the lightbulb going on moment, when I realised which cover I wanted to work on next and how to approach it. I wanted to take Dahl's books and redesign their covers in a retro pulp style. The look itself would be so far from Blake's that I thought it might at least make an interesting alternative.

My first choice was perhaps the most obvious. The unmasking of the Grand High Witch from the Witches was just crying out to be illustrated with all its lurid details. The point about the face coming off as a complete mask and half covering the real face reminded me of a few different Pulp covers from the classic era ( a couple illustrated below) - it just seems a very pulp like device. So maybe this would help suggest the hideousness of the face but also help obscure the details.





I also needed to do something special with her eyes. Dahl's narrator mentions how he feels 'mesmerised' by the witch and that 'there was a look of serpents in those eyes of her'. A little later he describes how:

"...a stream of sparks that looked like tiny white-hot metal-filings came shooting out of The Grand High Witch's eyes and flew straight towards the one who had dared to speak. I saw the sparks striking against her and burrowing into her and she screamed a horrible howling scream and a puff of smoke rose up around her. A smell of burning meat filled the room."

I thought of the Poster for the 1960 version of Village of the Damned, where the mesmerizing stare of the alien children is represented with a border of erratically drawn lines radiating from the eyes. I thought this might work as the witch's sinister fiery stare.

I did some more research to get the look of the Grand High Witch right before drawing. I was working from reference of everything from Bettie Page to Ray Harryhausen's version of Medusa from Clash of the Titans (1981)



As I started working on some black and white compositions in photoshop and painter it became clear I needed another element to let people in on the joke, to let them know it was a kids book. So I decided if we could get the narrator in there after he's been turned into a mouse that would help. Maybe having him scampering out of a pile of childrens clothes just post transformation with a look of terror on his little furry face might let people in on the fact he's no ordinary rodent.



When I was happy with the composition I laid down another layer, did a basic tracing, to map out where all the separate elements were and then printed this out as a guide for the finished pencil drawing above.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Winning Watchmen Storyboards

A mammoth post this time, as expected by Andy Bent, the instigator of all this...

With the impending release of the film adaptation of Watchmen on March 6th, The Guardian website ran a Watchmen based storyboard competition. Participants were asked to storyboard the following page of the film's screenplay chosen by the film's director Zack Snyder.



The top prize was two tickets to the Watchmen movie world premiere on Feb 23rd, the chance to meet Snyder for a short Q&A session and accommodation for two in a top London hotel. As the top five entries would be looked at by the film's director and the overall winner chosen by him, it meant that even the runners up might get their work before the eyes of one of Hollywood's hottest talents.

Well I love Moore and Gibbons original Graphic Novel and I've had some success in previous storyboard competitions so why not try? The only problem was I just had a day to get this done. After a fourteen hour storyboarding marathon I finally had something to submit - something pretty rough I thought, but that might at least have a chance at one of the runner up prizes. Here they are - (click on each set of boards for a closer look).










I didn't hear anything on Thursday, the day the winner and runners up were to be contacted, so I thought 'that's that' and just got on with everything else I was supposed to be working on.

Then Sunday night I got a call from Paramount Pictures telling me that because of his hectic schedule Zack Snyder hadn't had a chance to look at the finalists until the weekend. When he did get a chance he had chosen me. According to The Guardian my 'professional looking storyboard caught the eye of [the] Watchmen director '. That sounds pretty good doesn't it? What I suppose 'professional looking' might mean is that it looked like the work of someone who's been given an impossibly short deadline and has produced something just about the right side of legible whilst still allowing himelf time to eat. Whatever the reason, I was going to the Premiere!


By Monday afternoon I and four other competition winners from around the world were meeting the man himself in a plush Soho hotel suite. Despite having a punishing schedule of media interviews and other promotional work Snyder seemed laid back and happy to give half an hour of his time over to chatting with us. He took another look at our storyboards whilst we quizzed him on his experience making the film.

He spoke amongst other things about his own work on storyboading the script, his reasons for doing this himself and not relying on a storyboard artist, his decision to give Ozymandias' costume nipples and why allowing Nite owl to wear lycra would have ruined the movie (maybe I should have taken issue with this last point, after all Sandy Collora's 2003 fan film Batman: Dead End, released over a decade after Tim Burton ushered in the era of body-armoured superheros, had Batman wearing an almost Adam West style lycra suit, and everyone thought that looked great - Kevin Smith described it as 'possibly the truest Batman movie ever made' and Alex Ross said it was 'Batman the way I've always wanted to see him'. My God... I can't believe I just typed that, must have forgotten to take my geek medication.)

By 6pm we were being chauffeured to Leicester square and were soon walking up the... errr, yellow carpet.

Lucky me , just about to pass through the security gates to the 'yellow'
carpet.






After some official group photos it was on to our seats to await the film that had been deemed 'unfilmable' by its writer, taken over twenty years to produce and had eluded the likes of Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass.

I'm not going to go into a full review of the film itself - there are plenty of those to be found online already - but I will say that it's certainly more faithful to the novel than anyone could have hoped or expected. That Snyder has managed to drag it kicking and screaming to the screen at all is a miracle but considering the source material relies so heavily on the attributes of it's particular medium, it seems doubtful that there could have been a better cinematic outing for it.




After the film we were lucky enough to get tickets to the exclusive cast and crew party on the 31st floor of London's Centre Point building where we rubbed shoulders with (or at least stumbled drunkenly into) stars of the film such as Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino and Jackie Earle Haley , as well as Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons. So, much star spotting was done and many free cocktails downed.

On leaving the party we didn't even have to worry about navigating our way home as the lovely people at Paramount had us booked into the luxurious St Martins Lane hotel with its crazy Philippe Starck designed lobby, all golden teeth stools and garden gnomes. A suitably surreal end to the evening

So that was our unlikely Watchmen adventure. Huge thanks must go to Zack Snyder for first of all making the film, then picking my work, and then giving us a chance to meet him. Thanks also to Yalin, Nina and everyone else at Paramount for looking after us and treating us so well, to Andy Bent for sending me the link to the competition and not entering and winning himself, and to Carrie for forcing me to take part and then being my beautiful date for the evening .

Now go watch the Watchmen.