Thursday, 19 November 2015

Thought Bubble 2015

Across the 14th and 15th of November the Improper Books gang and I were at Thought Bubble, Leeds, and despite the flooding and the hurricane winds it was probably the best Thought Bubble yet!

No-one was letting the deluge outside dampen their spirits. Friday evening there was such a buzz of excitement among all the creators, and it was only magnified once the doors were opened to the public Saturday morning.

Of course over on the Improper Books table we were buzzing with the launch of two new books! Bone China, the long awaited second part of Porcelain: A Gothic Fairy Tale by Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose. But also MULP: Sceptre of the Sun issue #2 was making it's convention debut!

The amount of anticipation, praise and recognition we received for these two new books was overwhelming! I know for a fact that Ben gushed a bit over on twitter, so I shall do my gushing here. This only being my second year of exhibiting at conventions, and the debut of only my second book, I was completely bowled over by the sheer volume in which people came by our table, and that was just for MULP!

Thank you to all the people who had bought the first issue previously and waited patiently for the second, for exclaiming how much you enjoyed reading it and wanted to follow the story. To the people who picked up issue #1 on Saturday and came by to get issue #2 on Sunday, having read it in one sitting and needed more! To everyone who squealed and grinned at the thought of Mice in an Indiana Jones Pulp adventure, and asked when and where they could get issue #3!
You are ALL amazing!

As always it was an absolute pleasure to catch up with friends, old and new! Here are a few of my highlights with people I met at the con.

There was one incredibly lovely lady who stumbled upon Matt and I at The Lakes Comic Art Festival this October, she had with her proof copies of her books that featured a charming mouse who longed to be a dragon. Of course Matt and I dissolved into a puddle of squee when we saw this.
During Saturday this same lovely lady bounded up to our table and presented us with the final copies of her books plus a knitted Dragon Mouse!!
Eleanor, I really don't think I exclaimed louder that weekend than when I saw that green little mouse on your shoulder! I just had to own one of my own! Massive kudos to your mum also, who I am told was knitting furiously to keep up with their popular demand!

The Adventures of Dragon Mouse and The Little Star Dragon by Eleanor Hollindrake
Twitter: @idrawdragons

Another gentleman stopped by our table and actually almost made us weep!
Robin Scott previously met us at the Lakes last year, he and his wife were taken with the art style of MULP and bought one of my prints for their bathroom. They then both stopped by our table this year and exclaimed how they loved the print so much they wanted the comic. And again at Thought Bubble Robin came by to not only purchase issue #2, but to share his lovely thoughts on issue #1 AND give Matt and I a copy of his Inktober comic project. He mentioned that MULP was a great source of inspiration to him and wanted to share his limited run with select people! 

Thank you so much for sharing this with us Robin. Every Life I Ever Lived is personal, touching and beautifully illustrated, gorgeous work!
Twitter: @robinwscott

And lastly, I got to catch up with possibly one of my favourite people in comics. 
The last time I saw him was at Bristol Comic Expo a good few years ago, at this point MULP #1 was still in the process of being drawn. I was chatting excitedly to him and showing him scans of my work from MULP on my phone. His words of encouragement were a source of motivation for me, so when I heard he was at Thought Bubble I knew I had to share the completed issue #1 and #2 with him.
Ian Churchill, creator of Marineman and illustrator for DC Comic's Ravagers, ended up making me giddy like a school girl, not only had he been aware of my work through recommendations from a charity he works with, but had been following the progress of MULP and Improper Books!
Always the loveliest of blokes, catching up with Ian was one of my favourite moments at the convention, I hope it's not so long before we see each other again!

So that about sums up my weekend, barring a re-telling of my first absinthe with Jennie Gyllblad and Stacey Whittle offering me her fluff! Haha!
Needless to say I had a fantastically wonderful time, here's to next year's line up of con's!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How I Make Comics Part 2: MULP #1 Cover

In light of the release of MULP: Sceptre of the Sun issue #2 I had started to share the process in which I use to draw and colour comics, using the cover for issue #1 as an example.

I'd previously covered the process from Pencils and Inks to the first stage of adding colour in Photoshop. If you missed it, Part 1 can be found here.

Next I'll show you how I digitally paint in the details!

Colour Palette

First things first, I have a pre-selected palette of swatches for everything from locations to individual characters.

The top row of colours are specifically for Egypt, they are used to add detail to the landscapes and to add additional shadows and highlights to the characters in order to sit them into their environment. These have been selected using the eye dropper tool from the background textures used throughout the comic.

The next row separated by a partition are colours for Cornelius' Bentley Speed Six. These have again been lifted using the eye dropper tool from photographic reference of the car.

The row directly below the Bentley's colours are swatches that have been selected for the second half of issue #1 where our characters travel to England. These are used in the same way as the colours for Egypt, and are a good example of the different colour schemes for each location.

The block of swatches underneath those top three rows, again separated by a partition, are all character colours. Each row belongs to a different character; the first four colours are fur tones and then skin tones (which are lifted from photo reference of the specific species of mouse that each character is based on!) then you have colours for clothing. Again this acts as a good example of how each character has their own individual colour scheme. The top row of colours out of that block that you can see belong to Jack, Victoria is next, then Elisabeth and so on.

I feel it is important to create a pre-selected palette in order to maintain colour continuity throughout not only a single issue, but through the series as a whole. (And yes, I'm even so organised as to label every swatch!)

Digital Painting - Foreground

So with all colours ready I start by colouring the characters and foreground details. I use a medium Wacom Bamboo Fun tablet and pen and a variety of custom made brushes.

I use a Chalk Blender brush for the bulk of my colouring at this stage and I rarely colour at full opacity, instead I lay in the base colours at 60-80% which allows the hue of the background texture to subtly tint  the colours I paint in and help set the characters in that location. As an object with a red light shining on it will look red, so I wanted the golden hues of the Egyptian environment to effect the character swatches I'd pre-selected.

I then build up shadows on the same layer as the base colour by varying the opacity of the brush and blending the colours together, highlights are then added on a layer on top of the line work. 

You can see from the screenshots that I like to try and keep the number of layers used for each illustration/panel to a minimum. It's a pet hate of mine when photoshop files contain hundreds of unlabelled layers! And on a standard comic page where you can have up to 9 panels a page it can get a bit crazy. So I keep my layers organised into groups; In this case the background textures are in a folder on the bottom, then background base colours on top of that, then background details, and then the car and character colours. A folder containing the pencils and inks are on top of that, another containing the magic texture (which I'll talk about later), and lastly highlights on top of everything!

Digital Painting - Background

Next we need to add some definition into the background. So using the top row of swatches and the Chalk Blender brush on a low opacity I began by picking out the dirt road with a lighter tone and working in some shadows on the ground around the pyramids, the edges of the road and under the car. This acts as the background base layer.

Then on another layer I work up the details such as the Pyramids, palm trees and Cairo in the distance!
For the most part here I'm using the Chalk Blender again on varying opacities, however to create more variation and texture I occasionally work in colour using some of my custom brushes. These can help create dappled shadows, mottled stone, smoke, light haze, even fur!

Digital Painting - Final Touches

Now all that left of the painting is to add the finishing touches such as, highlights on the buildings of Cairo, colouring the rocks and stones on the ground, and to knock back the horizon with a heat haze and a more definite light source.

Do you remember earlier that I mentioned that magic texture layer? Well it's time to explain it's significance. What it is, is simply the grey-scaled natural paper texture pictured above! I place it on top of the entire illustration with a 100% opacity and the Colour Burn blending mode. I use it to give everything a very traditional feel, so what would look like smooth digital colours on a heavily textured background now look as though those colours were created traditionally on watercolour paper. This also adds to the vintage 1930's feel of the era in which the comic is set!

I tend to colour with this natural paper texture switched on from the start, so I instantly have an idea of the end result. However, here are examples of the cover with this layer switched off on the left and how it compares when it's switched on on the right. 

You can see how flat the colouring appears against the underlaying textures of the ground and sky when it's switched off. But also how the texture brings the whole illustration together and makes the colours richer and intensifies the shadows when it is applied.

So there you have it! One finished cover!

All that is left is for the logo and text to be added by our master of letters; Jim Campbell, who expertly designed both.

MULP: Sceptre of the Sun issue #2 will be available from supporting UK comic stores on Wednesday 11th November, and will be making it's convention debut at Thought Bubble on the 14th - 15th November.

Issue #1 is already available to purchase from the same stores previously mentioned, however you can check out a free 12 page preview here

If you would like to learn more about the MULP: Sceptre of the Sun series then check out our website where we post the latest news and reviews:

And we're always happy to hear from our readers, you can let us know what you thought of the comic as well as ask any questions via our twitter @MULPcomic

Monday, 9 November 2015

How I Make Comics Part 1: MULP #1 Cover

One of the questions I get asked the most about MULP: Sceptre of the Sun is; How do you colour it? Is it watercolour or acrylic paints? Pencil colours?

The last thing most people expect it to be is digitally coloured, and I've explained my process to loads of intrigued people! So in light of the imminent release of issue #2 I thought I'd give you all an insight into how I created the cover for MULP issue #1!


I always begin my illustration traditionally with a good 'ol pencil. For those who are wondering, I use a Staedtler mechanical pencil with 0.5mm H leads.

The cover goes through a process of thumbnails and roughs before reaching this stage of finished pencils. Matt and I go through extensive discussion over the content and composition, as with the rest of our comic the cover is just as collaborative a process and it is important for it to be striking. All first impressions are borne by the cover and Matt and I wanted it to be a direct representation of the interior art.


Once we're happy with the pencils I ink up the line work, I use dip ink pens and indian ink.
I have three favourite nibs that I use to vary the weight of the line and create focus and depth.

I use the largest nib for the foreground details and central focus of the illustration, in this case Cornelius' car and the characters themselves. The middle nib is then used for the mid-ground and any small details on the foreground objects. And then the smallest nib for the detail in the background and again any tiny details elsewhere.

Ink Wash

Next I lay in a tonal wash with ink. Great thing about Indian ink is that it's permanent, so once fully dry it does not bleed or wash away when the ink wash is applied!

This wash will instantly add some tonal definition for when I take the illustration into Photoshop for colour, I find it helps speed the colouring process up a little in the sense that shadows and gradients are already laid out.

Background Texture

Now the illustration is taken into Photoshop (I'm using CS5 extended version) and background textures are layered underneath the line work.

I have worked out specific palettes for each location and so choose textures from a bank I have pre-selected and saved that best emulate the tone I wish to create. In this case we're in Egypt and so I chose textures with a golden brown and ochre tone, with a dash of blue for the sky.

Below are samples of the textures I used to create the cover. The mottled old paper is the underlaying base texture for the whole illustration, it is set to 80% opacity with a plain white background on another layer behind that. 
Next the sandy coloured handmade paper texture set to 38% opacity on a layer on top of the mottled paper with the 'Multiply' blending mode applied. This texture again spans the entire illustration. 
Lastly the sky is created by using a sample of this lovely blue ink/watercolour wash. It is trimmed and carefully erased to fit the space that the sky fills and set to an opacity of 60% with no blending mode applied.

The line work remains on a separate layer on top of everything, again with the 'Multiply' blending mode applied.

The cover is now ready for the details to be painted in digitally! I'll cover that process in Part 2 of this blog post.

MULP: Sceptre of the Sun issue #2 will be available from supporting UK comic stores on Wednesday 11th November, and will be making it's convention debut at Thought Bubble on the 14th - 15th November.
Issue #1 is already available to purchase from the same stores previously mentioned, however you can check out a free 12 page preview here

If you would like to learn more about the MULP: Sceptre of the Sun series then check out our website where we post the latest news and reviews:

And we're always happy to hear from our readers, you can let us know what you thought of the comic as well as ask any questions via our twitter @MULPcomic

Friday, 6 November 2015

MULP issue #2 launch at Thought bubble, 2015!

That's right!
After a patient wait you will very soon be able to finally get your hands on the second instalment of MULP: Sceptre of the Sun!

It will be available from supporting UK comic shops from Wednesday 11th November, and will also be making it's convention debut at Thought Bubble, in Leeds on 14th - 15th November. All this is of course thanks to Improper Books, who recently took MULP on as one of their titles.

Along with MULP #2 we'll have a couple other new books on our table at Thought Bubble! Briar, which previously launched at LICAF in October, and the long awaited Porcelain: Bone China will be making it's debut also, both by Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose.

Our table will also have Knight & Dragon by Matt Gibbs and Bevis Musson, and Night Post by Laura Trinder and Ben Read. All creators mentioned, including myself, will be at the table signing and sketching in books!

So if you're going to Thought Bubble, please stop by and say Hello! We'll be on tables 47 and 48 in the New Dock Hall! We'll see you there!

Also in the light of MULP issue #2's imminent release we've also revealed the Pin-Up art for this issue.
A very HUGE thanks goes to the awesome Dan Harris (illustrator and co-creator os Lou Scannon) for creating this gorgeous recreation of a pinnacle seen in our comic, featuring Jack, The Professor and the newest member to our cast, Mateo!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Nottingham Comic Con, 2015

On Saturday 24th October Matt and I we're delighted to attend Nottingham Comic Con for the first time as guests!

A huge thank you to Kev Brett who invited us along and to the organisers who put on an excellent spred, the hall was a delight to walk around!
Making the delightful atmosphere were the people of Nottingham, who it really seems like their rodents. I certainly geeked out a little bit with a few fellow rat owners, and a lady who had a pygmy hedgehog! Massive thanks to anyone who stopped by to chat and buy a book!

Whilst wondering around I caught up with a few old friends, including Clockwork Watch's Corey Brotherson and Yomi Ayeni who had brought along with them someone I did not expect to see!

Byron the bear! Based on a character from Corey's Magic of Myths series, Byron was needle felted by myself back in 2013, I blogged the making process here! Since then he's toured conventions as the boys' mascot and has even survived a few San Diego Comic Cons! I'm very pleased to see he's looking as good as new and that he's being well looked after.

Also during my wanderings through the convention I bumped into the boys from the Awesome Comics Podcast, where they got me to have a little natter about MULP with them!
They've put my bit of an interview up with their Halloween Special episode, so go take a listen! (interview starts at 00:11:30)

Similarly, following the convention the lovely Gary Watson wrote a fab review on MULP #1 for Comics Anonymous

"The glorious character designs from Sara keep each of them individually recognizable which is no mean feat for a cast of mice and the muted tones in the colouring seems to emphasize that pulp theme which I’ve always been a sucker for. "

Thank you so much for the kind words Gary!

The next convention we'll be attending will be Thought Bubble in Leeds, on the 14th - 15th November, and it'll be our last of the year. There'll have some news regarding that soon!

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival, 2015

Finally, I've managed to find the time to make a stat in catching up with the mountain of work I've found myself drowning in in the wake of two conventions, work at my part-time job, a halloween party and also the very sad passing of my oldest pet rat, Kaylee.

Needless to say, I've been, and will continue to be incredibly busy!

But anyway, lets take a trip back a couple of weeks to the 17th and 18th of October and The Lakes Comic Arts Festival in Kendal! (Wait, what? It's November now!? When did that happen..?)

This is the second year that Matt and I have visited this fantastic convention, however this time we were accompanied by Ben Read and Chris Wildgoose, as indeed, MULP is now officially part of the Improper Books collective!

Kendal saw the launch of Improper Books' latest title, Briar by Ben and Chris. You would have found those cheeky chappies on the top floor of the Clock Tower saturday for a signing session courtesy of Page 45

Once again we had a lovely time, the staff were on hand to answer questions and provide cups to tea and bananas to which we owe a huge thank you. and thanks also to everyone who stopped by to chat and buy our books!

If LICAF isn't on your circuit of yearly conventions I would highly recommend it, here to give you a proper feel for the convention as a whole are a links to a few round ups featuring some great photos of the exhibitors and the general atmosphere which is embraced by everyone in this small town… oh and we're all mentioned in these too!

Creators @ Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015, by Jeremy Briggs (

The Lakes International Comics Festival 2015… by Richard Bruton (

Friday, 23 October 2015

MULP at Nottingham Comic Con, 2015

Today Matt Gibbs and I will be travelling to Nottingham where we were pleased to be invited as guests to the Nottingham Comic Convention held tomorrow, Saturday 24th October.

Matt and I will be bringing copies of MULP: Sceptre of the Sun #1 with us, as well as Knight and Dragon, on which Matt collaborated with Bevis Musson for Improper Books.
As always I'll be armed with pens and copic markers to sign, sketch and take commissions. so come and find us on the Lower floor on table L31!

Tomorrow you'll also find fellow Improper Books creator, Christian Wildgoose. He'll have copies of Porcelain, Butterfly Gate and Briar, which previously launched at the Lakes Comic Art Festival last weekend.

While you are there you must check the festival film programme for Night Light, a stop motion animated short created by top friends of mine, Elizabeth Johnson and Katie Hood. Both these lovely ladies freelance as animators and puppet/model makers and have recently worked on The Stick House production for Raucous Caucous.

Also another fun bit of news! The lovely lads at Geek Syndicate have covered the reveal of MULP: Sceptre of the Sun #2 and our news about becoming part of the Improper Books family!