Pen and Ink 2

Personal practice, Reflection


LADY_INK001I talked about sketching using a fountain pen in a post a while ago. Today I’d like to talk about a more traditional ink pen, the dip pen.


A dip pen, like the name indicates, needs to be dipped into a pot of ink to work. The dip pen nib is fitted to a handle base, usually made of wood, for ease of use. Dip pens were developed in the 19th century to replace older quill or reed pens. They require a lot of practice and control to use properly, as the ink doesn’t always flow at the same rate and of course you need to keep dipping the pen in the ink source to replenish it.

I like the challenge of dip pens, and the way they make me really think about the type of line I’m making. The technical constraints make me more aware of the medium and more aware of what I’m doing in the moment. I have to tune everything out, even the worry about where a drawing is going. If I worry too much, I know I’ll make a blot…

For this image of my Character “Lady T”, I used dip pens for the line work and a brush for the solid ink blocking. I love the sound of a dip pen scratching the surface of the page.



Comic Book Artists and Writers and Philosophers

Art Theory, Books, Reflection

I recently read an article in the International Journal of Comic Art about the philosophy of comic books by Jeff McLaughlin. McLaughlin, who teaches philosophy and ethics, seems to be on a mission to prove that comics are just as interesting a source of ethical insight and questioning as any academic tome! While rarely seen as a serious source for philosophers, he posits that comic book culture and popular culture in general has moral value and can make a positive impact: “Philosophy can be delivered in many different forms and all that is required is a method of communication to get that across.” (McLaughlin, 2009)

In the course of the article, McLaughlin interviews several comic book writers and artists about the philosophical underpinnings of the stories they tell, giving examples of the types of messages and worldview presented in their work. These messages can be either direct or allegorical, as he puts it: “disguising heavier thoughts as throw away entertainment” (McLaughlin, 2009). Sometimes they teach by example, as in the case of the Green Lantern, whose creator reports that the mere existence of a black comic book hero was quite revolutionary and encouraging to his African American readers. Comic book writing is naturally affected by what is happening in the wider world, and very often it is popular culture that best captures the changing mood in a society, for example with regards to gender and race issues.

While I enjoy McLaughlin’s desire to have comics recognised as a legitimate source for the study of philosophy and ethics, I wonder if in elevating these forms to something worthy of academic note he isn’t missing the point a little. Comic books and popular culture have always been a creative crucible in which people express their ideas quite freely (unless working under a repressive political regime). Doesn’t giving them that much cultural weight risk turning them into something too self-referential and self-important?


McLaughlin, Jeff for the International Journal of Comic Art (2009). Comic Book Artists and Writers and Philosophers. Available at: [Accessed 11th December 2017]

Concept art

Personal practice, Reflection


In most of the entries in this blog about my personal practice, I’ve been focusing on physical painting, inking or drawing techniques, or on quick digital sketches done in Photoshop. This time I’d like to talk briefly about another whole aspect of my professional life – digital concept art and design.

After about a decade working in graphic novels and illustration, I switched gears in 2003 and began working in the art department at Weta Workshop, in New Zealand. Suddenly, instead of working on my own comics on a shoestring budget, I was working on big Hollywood blockbusters, as part of a team. I was able to speak to famous directors I’d only dreamed of meeting before: Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro, among others. I had to produce work that was very different to everything I’d done up to then, work on a tight schedule and learn to take criticism on the chin! It wasn’t easy but it was incredibly rewarding.

Since returning to London, I have continued working as a freelance concept artist on films and TV productions from time to time. I find the discipline of working to a brief and in a team brings a huge amount to my personal practice. I can observe artists I admire in action and learn from them. Most of all, there’s a cross fertilization of ideas that takes place on a design team which I really appreciate. Working in concept art has helped me let go of ideas of ‘me’ and ‘mine’. I throw the ideas out, wait for feedback from the director and work on the next iteration. Only the design matters in the end.

Most of my work in films and television is protected by N.D.A (Non Disclosure Agreements) and so I am unable to show any images from as yet unreleased projects. So instead, I decided to do an environment painting based on a fantasy series set in a giant tree. You can find out more at: Chronicles of the Tree

Here’s a link to a bigger image on my Art Blog: Frank Victoria’s Art Blog

Link to the Youtube tutorial:

Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Artists, Books, Reflection

This painting is just magnificent: great sense of drama, great pose great lighting, eroticism and humour!

Jeffrey Catherine Jones is an artist I’ve admired for a very long time, who unfortunately passed away recently at the age of only sixty-seven, in 2011. Jones had a huge influence on fantasy illustration and pop art from the late 1960’s onward, starting an artist’s studio in Manhattan in the 1970’s along with such leading lights as Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta. After contributing a whimsical and increasingly bizarre strip (I’m Age) to Heavy Metal magazine in the 1980’s, Jones largely left the world of illustration behind to pursue more personal projects.

Jones was always a maverick, ill at ease with the commercial constraints placed on artists, on the lookout for something more personally meaningful. According to Steven Ringgenberg’s tribute in The Comics Journal, Jones once claimed: “It is my firm opinion that illustration is immoral.” (Ringgenberg, 2011) In the late nineties, Jones underwent gender reassignment surgery to become a woman, taking the name Catherine. But in classic Jeff Jones style, she remained ambivalent about even this step, restless and experimental to the end.

I thought I’d share a few of Jones’ iconic works to celebrate an amazing life and talent. There are several published collections out there for those interested in taking a closer look, but personally I’ve always loved going back to Jones where I first came across his/her work: in my old copies of Heavy Metal magazine! (Metal Hurlant to us Frenchies.)


This painting inspired a famous shot on the television series “Game of Thrones”.


Jones was able to convey a lot of emotion in his artwork, even in a pen and ink sketch like this one.


Ringgenberg, Steven for The Comics Journal (2011). Jeffrey Catherine Jones: Life Lived Deeply. Available at: [Accessed 10th December 2017]

Jones, Jeffrey (2011) Jeffrey Jones: A Life in Art. San Diego, CA: IDW Publishing

Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ biography. Available at: [Accessed 10th December 2017]

Heavy Metal magazine (Metal Hurlant) 1974 – 1987

Realism in American war comics

Art Theory, Books, Reflection

Frank Frazetta was commissioned to do a couple of covers. This is the most famous one.

As a fan of Commando comics, I was interested to read Bloody Hell: Realism in American War Comics by Aaron Clayton. I wasn’t familiar with the comic book series he analyses in the article (Black Hawk, Blazing Combat, In-country NAM, Men of War, Two-Fisted Tales…) but I do recognise some of the issues he identifies. While fun, Commando certainly isn’t immune to a few of these problems…

One of the first issues identified by Clayton is the prevalence of racial prejudice in American war comics. So even Chinese allies like ‘Chop-Chop’ in Black Hawk, a World War Two comic series, are depicted as unintelligent, racially-stereotyped clowns, while Japanese and German soldiers provide perfect cookie cutter villains. In fact, Clayton remarks that World War Two provides a fertile ground for these comic book series in general because the characters are easily divided into opposing camps of good and evil, feeding the war effort propaganda. He calls it “the most appealing setting” for war comics.

By the time American comics artists began depicting the Vietnam war, however, this easy categorisation changed and a more cynical note crept into the stories. One of the characters in In-country NAM, for example, is a black man who is mistreated while on duty and goes to Washington to protest. These Vietnam-era comics treat war as the unpleasant experience it is for soldiers, and don’t sugar-coat or glorify it.

Personally, I found it really hard to go back and read the Black Hawk-style comics with their racist and sexist stereotypes, and prefer examples of the genre that focus on more realistic characters. I agree with Clayton when he emphasizes the importance of stories like those in Blazing Combat, which are based on actual battle situations and real life scenarios. Reading this article confirmed some of my own thinking regarding the more problematic aspects of war comics. By the same token, I still appreciate stories about old-fashioned virtues like valour and daring, and think they can be told without falling into these traps.


Irv Novick’s original panel from All-American Men of War #89 (Jan.-Feb. 1962). The famous image that inspired Roy Lichtenstein the pop artist.


Clayton, Aaron for The International Journal of Comic Art (2010). Bloody Hell: Realism in American War Comics. Available at: [Accessed 9th December 2017]

Design for comics

Personal practice, Reflection


A large part of the preparatory research I do before beginning on a graphic novel centres on sketching characters, creatures and locations. This preparatory work is essential and can take several weeks depending on the length of the project, before I begin the actual layout, pencil sketching and inking. For example, if this is the first time I’m drawing the protagonist, I have to make sure the costume is coherent, and any props or weapons are properly designed so that they look the same in each panel. Likewise, any settings need to be sketched so I have a fully realized picture of the location in my head. I sometimes even draw a map if the location is complex (i.e. a village or fortified castle battlements.)

As I begin to bring together the different elements in a graphic novel, problems inevitably arise. I might see something I thought would work in isolation, but when it’s in the panel it just looks “off”. Sometimes I have to go back and start from scratch, sketching and working up a new idea. Today’s problem centered around the fantastical animals yoked to Lady Thunder’s chariot. Were they fantasy yaks? Giant goats? I didn’t like the way they looked. I decided I needed to spend some more time on the design. I wanted to make the creatures look like prehistoric animals that belonged to another evolutionary branch that died out.


After looking at goats, boars and rams of all sort, I started sketching ideas in my small sketchbook.


I liked the idea of a creature that looked familiar, yet didn’t exist. A hairy cross between a ram and a boar, with some hints of woolly mammoth…


Why Comics Are So Rarely Faithfully Adapted…

Art Theory, Books, Reflection

I have talked before about the use of comic book archetypes in film (see Critical Analysis – Comic Book Archetypes). In some related reading, I came across an article in an academic journal which discusses the difficulty of adequately adapting comic book stories in film, and thought I’d talk about it here. The article, by Richard A. Becker, is entitled The Crisis of Confidence in Comics Adaptations: Why Comics Are So Rarely Faithfully Adapted to the Big Screen and appears in the International Journal of Comic Art.

Becker explains that it is nearly impossible to nail the recipe for the successful adaptation of comic book stories in film, though from time to time successful adaptations are made. Every time someone thinks they have understood the technique and try to replicate it, however, it always fails. The fans want the film to exactly resemble the comic book in every respect, while the general film-going public simply want a good action movie. With some exceptions, film adaptations generally fall somewhere in between. Sometimes, a comic book adaptation will succeed in pleasing both types of audiences, but it appears to be difficult to replicate such success.

Sometimes the difficulties hinge on seemingly unimportant points, like costumes. As Becker notes, accepted wisdom holds that in order to create a believable contemporary adaptation, film-makers must replace certain comic book elements, like brightly-coloured spandex costumes, with so-called real world alternatives. Becker doesn’t see why that should be necessary, as so much else in comic book adaptations – plots, effects, characterisation – stretches suspension of disbelief.

I would disagree with him on that one point of design, as I think re-design of costumes and sets is a good way to involve a contemporary audience and make the film relevant to their tastes. As real world fashion and tastes change, film designs should also change in order to appeal to audiences. Full disclosure: I may be biased as I’ve made a living re-designing props and costumes for at least one comic book adaptation… But I do think it’s necessary, and can actually revitalise a franchise.

All in all, I really enjoyed this article and thought it made many good points, with a bit of welcome humour thrown in.


Becker, Richard A. for the International Journal of Comic Art (2009) The Crisis of Confidence in Comics Adaptations: Why Comics Are So Rarely Faithfully Adapted to the Big Screen. From a paper presented at the Comic Arts Conference in San Diego, CA. Available at: [Accessed 30th November 2017]

Jean Giraud, aka Moebius

Artists, Books, Reflection

Today I’d like to share my love for the work of Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius! Moebius was and is one of my favourite comic book artists of all time, and big influence on me growing up.

Jean Giraud (under the pen name ‘Gir’) first made his mark in comics in the 1960’s with a long-standing series called Blueberry. Blueberry was a classic Western based around the adventures of a Southern defector in Civil War era America, initially published in Pilote magazine. It was hugely successful in Europe and Giraud could probably have rested on his laurels after that, producing the same type of work for the rest of his life.


But doing the same thing was never enough for Giraud. A restless experimenter, he reinvented himself artistically and philosophically in the 1970’s, publishing work in Heavy Metal magazine under the name Moebius that broke with everything he’d done before. He pared his style down to bare essentials and dropped the structured approach he had taken to storytelling in previous work. Instead, he let his imagination wander, as wide and as far as it would go, producing work that was fresh and shocking to many people.


Thereafter, there seemed to be two Jean Girauds. One was the classic illustrator who had produced the Blueberry series. The other was the mad innovator Moebius, who worked on everything from whimsical personal comics to posters and concept art for some of the most well-known films of the 1980’s and 1990’s: Tron (1982), Willow (1988) The Abyss (1989) and The Fifth Element (1997), to name a few. It was also as Moebius in the 1980’s that he collaborated with writer Jodorowsky on the famous Incal series, and created the character John Difool. He later also created the well known Edena series.


Sad to say, Moebius passed away at the age of only seventy-three, in 2012, after a long fight with cancer. I can’t help hoping some part of him is still out there, maybe flying over a desert landscape on the back of a white bird…


His line work reached a level of simplicity which was masterful. It’s a deceptive simplicity because actually this is very difficult to achieve.


He was never afraid of following through with the craziest of ideas. Also, he had a wicked sense of humour.


Moebius (2016) Moebius Library: The World of Edena. Dark Horse Books, Milwaukie, Or. USA. Originally published in several volumes in French: Sur l’Étoile (1983), Les Jardins d’Edena (1988), La Déesse (1990), Stel (1994) and Les Réparateurs (2001).

Dos Santos, Dan (2012) I ♥ Moebius. Available at: [Accessed 29th November 2017]

Moebius biography: [Accessed 29th November 2017]

Acrylic sketching 2

Personal practice, Reflection


A while ago I talked about acrylic sketching, focusing on the creation of some quick character sketches. Today I’d like to talk about landscape painting in acrylics. Because they are quick-drying, flexible and durable, acrylics are my favourite choice when doing landscape painting on location.

When I was an art student in Strasbourg, France, I remember learning about landscape paintings from a wonderful professor called Roger Dale. Roger taught us to never start directly on a blank white canvas – he always did a colour wash first, creating a background tone or set of tones before layering the paint on top. He would paint with huge energy, almost attacking the canvas to begin with with his brushes, to create a sense of power and movement. Then he would choose a certain area to focus on and worked that part of the picture up in detail. He explained that it was because we see reality that way – we don’t see everything in focus, but home in on a certain spot that interests us.

I’ve gone on using acrylics for landscape sketches ever since, though I tend to use sketch books rather than a canvas and easel these days. I’d like to go back to creating large paintings at some point.

This week, I tried to document my work process while doing the three quick sketches above.


My intent was to work on several images at once. So I first divided an A4 page into three frames and used some magic 2 removable tape. I then painted orangy-yellow background as a base on all them.



I painted some random shapes with a flat brush on the images, trying to think of a big medieval city.



The images went thru different iterations before the final design.


I only used two brushes and a limited colour palette. I tried to think of different colour schemes and atmospheres for each of them. I was trying to evoke and suggest, in order to achieve an image which was more than the sum of its parts.

Acrylic sketching 1

Personal practice, Reflection

Q: What did the first Ink Warrior say to the second Ink Warrior? A: Today is a good day to dye…Lady_full_01FV

Ahem. Well. On to the main point of this entry: Acrylic inking and painting!

Acrylic paints are great to use. They dry quickly and have intense hues. They also remain intact for years without deteriorating. Gouache, on the other hand, will eventually turn to powder and brush off under friction, for example against the facing page of a sketchbook. Acrylics are more reliable. I keep a set in my car and one in my desk at the University where I do sketches as part of my ongoing practical research.

Lately, I wanted to experiment with acrylic inks using a mixture of line work and painterly effects, such as projection. As usual, I try to experiment with unexpected colours: a blue and red lady, a green-skinned lady, a mixture of sepia and red etc… The idea is to surprise myself and try techniques I’ve never had a chance to experiment with before. I’ve attached a video of the process which I hope you enjoy.