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June 02nd, 2010

 

Paul Duffield Interview

by Denis-Jose François

This week we interviewed British artist Paul Duffield, about his inspirations, technique and his ongoing work on the weekly on-line comic book: Freakangels. Liberation Frequency's roving reporter, Denis-Jose François, talks to him about these things and more.

For people who have never read Freakangels, how would you describe it?

Genre wise: post apocalypse, with a small sprinkle of steampunk and a healthy amount of influence from John Wyndham (specifically the Midwich Cuckoos). Tone: very much character-centric, with slowish pacing punctuated by moments of action. Plot: 12 children are born with uncanny powers at exactly the same moment (a la Midwich Cuckoos), 23 years and the end of the world later; they're scratching out a survival among a small community in Whitechapel, just above the waterline of a drowned London.

How did you get to be involved with the project?

Mostly serendipity! I happened to post an introduction to me and my work on Warren's old forum, The Engine, at exactly the same time that he was looking for an artist for Freakangels with a euro-manga look. I was noticed by Jacen Burrows (an artist working for Avatar Press), who introduced me to William, the editor on the project. After sending some samples, it turned out that my work fit the bill, and it went from there.

Given that It's published weekly, on-line, six pages at a time, how much of the story do you get to see in advance? Are you working on a need to know basis, or are you privy to the ending?


It's varied over the project: at the beginning, I was working considerably in advance of publication, but the reality of a weekly deadline caught up with us, and I now see each new script (consisting of 6 pages making up one episode) a week or so in advance of online publication of the finished episode. Occasionally I'll get a few scripts at once and be 24 pages or so ahead, occasionally we'll take a week's break in publication to catch up. I don't know any plot details beyond the scripts I'm sent.

Can you tell us if the story comes to a conclusive end (a la watchmen) or is this an ongoing saga which will carry on for the indefinite future (like a more typical marvel or DC title)?

I honestly can't say, that's up to Warren! As far as I know though, there's no ending fixed yet (although that doesn't mean there won't be one).

What's it like working with Warren Ellis? Does he provide you with very detailed panel descriptions and art direction? Or are you given free reign?

My communication with Warren is pretty minimal... the little there goes through William, the editor. In terms of the scripts, panels vary between being reasonably detailed if it's a key moment, to being little more than dialogue and a sentence's direction. I think that Warren works differently for each project, but on Freakangels he leaves me to do my own thing with the framing and look of quite a bit of the comic.

So how long does it take to do a typical page of artwork?

From roughs right through to pencils and colouring, a day (8 hours or so). That's an average though; some pages take longer or shorter depending on the detail and scope of the images.

Do you do everything yourself - including the colouring & lettering?

I used to handle everything (minus lettering), but that quickly became a punishing workload, so I hired Alana Yuen to work as a flatter, which basically entails placing flat colours down onto the linework so that I can use them as a base for the colouring. A while later I wanted to be able to take on other projects whilst working on Freakangels, so I split the remaining workload with Kate Brown (who I live with). I now do all the linework, and she does most of the colouring. I tend to tweak pages a little before they're finalised though. Ariana Osborne does the lettering. She also works for Avatar doing web administration and design. I'm not sure of the specific process.

How computerised is your production process? Can you talk a bit about the work flow you use?

This can depend on the page, but if I detail the most complex possible work-flow that should give an idea of what it can be like: Firstly, I do my rough on computer. If the scene is in a recurring location, or contains a recurring vehicle I might mock up the location on 3D Max, and render out a template with some roughly posed figures to act as a base for the rough. I'll then use a wacom tablet and photoshop to finish the rough off. I then print the rough out as very faint magenta lines, and use a pencil to carefully go over them and produce my neat linework. The finished lines are then scanned in, composited and sent to Alana, who'll add the flat colours in a particular layer of the photoshop file. Kate then recieves those files, and using photoshop adds cel-shading to the flats. She then uses a process which we both developed whilst working alongside each other in which photographic textures are skewed, warped and blended into place over surfaces in the image, as if they were textures in a 3D scene. Finally, effects such as the glow of the FreakAngel's powers, blood splatters, or rain are added. I'll then get the file and sometimes send it straight on, or if I had a mental image of the page that hasn't been fully realised, I'll tweak the colours or add further details to finish the page.

Why do you choose to start with digital image, print it and then scan it back in? I assume that's deliberate... most people (I think) would be tempted to keep it digital the whole way.

I prefer the look of my hand-drawn lines, they have more of an organic quality, and I'm much more proficient with a pen (or actually a pencil, which is what I do my neat pages in) than I am with a tablet. The only reason I don't do my roughs traditionally as well is that I include things like CG models, and undoing mistakes/tweaking poses is much (much) easier.

Freakangels adheres very strongly to a 2x2 grid. What was the basis of that style choice?

Ease of readability on a computer screen. We're aware that many people have different sized screens and the simpler the layouts, the easier they are to read when not all of the page may be visible at the same time.

Does drawing a comic that is intended to appear on-line first, but also in print, provide any particular challenges? Is it different from creating artwork for a regular print title?


The major respect in which it's different is the 2x2 grid. This can be restrictive, and often makes me feel like I'm working on a storyboard or a series of individual illustrations instead of a comic, but ultimately this actually simplifies things since it takes thinking about layout out of the equation. Other than that, the comic is handled exactly the same as any other print comic, since ultimately it will be in print.

Freakangels is set mainly in Whitechapel, London. How close to the real place is your work? Are you including recognizable landmarks & accurate street layouts?

I'm living in Oxford, which means I can't just pop to London to check out details. However, I've been around Whitechapel photographing streets and major landmarks, and now that google streetview is available, I don't need them anymore! It's actually uncanny how well I know the area now, to the extent that it almost feels like a place I've lived. That being said, the accuracy of locations in the comic varies, depending on what I need for a scene (and whether it was pre or post street-view) Sometimes a real location suffices, but sometimes I'll need to invent streets or configurations of buildings to accommodate the action.

There are very few, if any, 'fat' people in Freakangels so far. Is that deliberate? Is it the package or an effect of the times?

Haha! Well, the end of the world has come; I figured being fat isn't something that the average survivor would be able to focus on. The Freakangels themselves were all described in the script as tall or slim or average, only Connor used to be chubby when he was younger (you see that in a recent flashback, although it's hidden partially with baggy clothing). That being said, variance in body types is a weakness of my art that I'm trying to address. I think an artist tends to fall back on their own bodytype when imagination fails, and I've always been pretty skinny.

Are you a full time comic book artist?

Yes, Freakangels now takes up about 3 days a week, with the remaining 3 days spent on other projects, some personal and some commissioned.

Do you enjoy writing as much as you do creating artwork. If you had to choose between the two, which would win?

I do, but I haven't had nearly enough practice working on my own stories! Being honest though, I think writing and drawing comics isn't something that is as easily separated as all that (despite the appearance given by the strict separation of artist and writer found in much of the industry). My favourite creators tend to both write and draw their own work, and when you're doing that you don't necessarily "write" a script and then "illustrate" it, you might draft your comic in thumbnail form, or storyboard it, or move straight from written notes to rough pages. That way, the images and page layouts can develop along with the story, and the form of the comic is fused with the narrative in a much more fundamental way. That's how I like to create comics, and I wouldn't want to give that up to call myself either an artist or a writer exclusively. Sorry if that's a bit of a contrary answer!

Freakangels is often cited as your first major comic book project. What were you doing prior to that?

The only major piece I did before hand was an adaptation of The Tempest for SelfMadeHero's Manga Shakespeare range. It's a ~200 page graphic novel in a typical manga paperback size. I've also produced a short comic called Sojourn, about a man indulging a childish impulse to run away from his house and life. That was written as well as drawn by me, and published in Best New Manga 2. Earlier than that, my first published piece was the 18 page short, Falling Star (again, written and drawn by me) with which I won Tokyopop's first Rising Stars of Manga UK competition. I've also dabbled in animation, having studied it at Uni.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I'm working on a few covers for a children's book publisher, along with a number of cover series for Avatar's other comic books, including Crossed, Lady Death, The Heat and Anna Mercury. I'm also working on a personal piece, which is a short comic of 16 or so pages called Signal. It's a sort of visual poem without a clear story in which I'm experimenting with layout and trying to push my artwork to its limits.

Do you see yourself ever working on titles for the big two - Marvel & DC? If so, which titles would appeal to you?


I honestly can't say I do. Partially because I'm not sure they'd be interested (they've not approached me at least), and partially because it's not the sort of thing I usually read. Even if I were offered a job, I'd feel a bit phoney involving myself in their universes with no proper knowledge of them.

What other comics or books are you reading at the moment?

Currently reading loads! I listen to audiobooks whilst I'm doing my work, so I plough through books incredibly fast. For a while, I've been indulging a love of epic fantasy that I had as a teenager, re-listening to series that I haven't read in years (The Wheel of Time, The Belgariad, The Sword of Truth, Lord of the Rings, Memory Sorrow and Thorn, His Dark Materials), along with some I've not read before (Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicles). I've been on a massive Ursula Le Guin binge for practically my whole life, since she's possibly my favourite author (currently re-reading The Birthday of the World, and reading Cheek by Jowl and Unlocking the Air for the first time). Have also listened to Phillip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ along with the New Testimant itself recently. Other misc titles include some of HP Lovecraft's stuff, The Timetraveller's wife, Siddhartha, The Red Mars Trilogy, The Owl Service and Bad Science. I could probably go on....

Comics wise, it's been a little quieter. I recently read Inio Asano's What a Wonderful World!, Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life, Daisuke Igarashi's Children of the Sea, Jiro Taniguchi's A Distant Neighbourhood among a few others.

Who are your favourite artists & authors?

Hmm... artists: Jiro Taniguchi, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Taiyo Matsumoto, Joshua Middleton, Kay Neilsen, Edmund DuLac, Miou Takaya. Authors: Ursula Le Guin, Haruki Murakami, Erica Sakurazawa, Alan Garner, Craig Thompson. That's a very edited list though.

Where do you call home?

Oxford :) (lovely city, been living here for a few years since I left Uni in Kingston)

If you could travel back in time to the beginning of this decade, what single piece of advice would you give yourself?


"Don't be such a jerk", "Do what you want to do with your career" and "Read 'drawn to life' whilst you're at uni rather than afterwards" Although that's three pieces of advice XD

Paul Duffield illustrates 6 pages of Freakangels every week, available for free on-line, at freakangels.com To read and learn more about the him, visit his website at spoonbard.com

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