In our third installment of our indie spotlight I was not only lucky enough to have a chat with James Harrup the creator of The Lion and the Unicorn and find out more about his creator owned project but also more how he creates his comic the digital way. The story itself is set in alternate London called Thamesis, the story is very futuristic and one scene reminded me of the Animatrix. James gave me the digital copies and the paperback comic but with the digital setup I could see without having read a single page that James lives and breathes this project. Included in this file was histories of the characters, Thamesis, location photos, several different newspaper clipping from the world of Thamesis, character back stories, I could go on. I decided to dive head first into story before checking the impressive library of material. To be this is a very cool comic and project and one I could say that I would continue reading and although I’m not a bigger lover of reading digitally over print, they way this has been put together and the style of the digital pack would make me carry on in this format. Once I’d read everything that I had (including the impressive postcards that James had given me) I and enjoyed the world of Thamesis and I had a chat James.
Geeks Unleashed: Hi James, thanks for catching up with us. You recently launched The Lion and The Unicorn Comic both digitally and in print. Can you tell us more about the story and the world these characters are set in?
James Harrup: The story is set in an alternate London – Thamesis, principal city of The Kingdom of Albion. One of The United Kingdoms of the Isles (Including Alba, Kernow, Cymru and Errin among others).
In this reality telepathy and telekinesis are undisputed fact. It’s real! If you are an upwardly mobile, law-abiding citizen you might subscribe to the britomart (Imagine if Google and Apple ran the country) and gain access to their psychic technology. Mental operating systems, sold as patches, that when applied to the skin give you access to the full reaches of your own and the group mind, as well as boosting your mental and physical performance to its peak. If you wanted to go beyond the peak, you’d leave the manicured ecopolis of the britomart’s ‘white cities’ and head down to the dark crumbling, neon lit, Red City. Where, if you know someone who knows someone, you’d be able to get a pirate patch. Cracked and boosted psychic technology that, for a fiver would give you the power to bend a spoon. Pay a bit more and you could smash a window, levitate, invade someones mind… But on the down side it might put you in a coma, give you severe brain damage or just kill you.
James: It’s The Lion and The Unicorn’s job to catch these pirate patch powered criminals and terrorists who make this reality such a dangerous place to live. Instated by the new, mixed race King, Jonathan of The Rose, as Defenders of The Realm, The Lion is an old war hero, an embittered misogynist, a relic from a bygone age. He represents the old Albion (read England); the stiff upper lip of the emotionally retarded, combined with the self destructiveness of the terminally unhappy. He is the classic action hero archetype, the gun wielding, black suit wearing, alpha male and while it may be The Lion who gets the sharpest lines and best dialogue at first, it’s ultimately The Unicorn whose arc will prove to be the driving force of the narrative.
She is a gifted female telepath, who with the help of advanced psychic technology, in the form of a patch laced body suit – which boosts her powers to lethal force, she is training to be a member of a special ops division dedicated to patch crime. She is a new arrival to Thamesis, coming from Alba (Scotland) and studying in Cymru (Wales), so it’s from her point of view that we will explore the city. And where she is somewhat naive to the dangers of urban life, The Lion is totally out of touch with the modern world and its technology. Together they will have to form an uneasy alliance to save their city, their Kingdoms, their entire world.
Geeks Unleashed: The first issue of volume 0 has been released, how long has this been planned out? How many volumes do you foresee?
James: Volume 0 is really there to set the scene, introduce the world and the characters and also the chance for me to master my form, to get the style down as well as build an audience and get feedback from the community, effecting any changes before launching into the main body of the narrative.
There will be 3 main volumes of twenty-four issues each after the four issues of Volume 0: The King is Dead. Volume 1: Thamesis, Volume 2: Albion Rising and Volume 3: Kingdom of Fire. With an epilogue volume X: Long Live The King.
Geeks Unleashed: How did The Lion and The Unicorn evolve and how long have you been working on the title?
James: How long eh… Recently I found an old sketch book from my A-Level / Foundation course days (dated by the terrible ‘graf’ on the cover) and that contained the first sketch of The Lion and The Unicorn, with an attempt at logo design. I’m 35 now so you do the math.
The core concept hasn’t changed much – Male and female protagonists, two heroes from different worlds who don’t get on. It’s the details and the world, their universe and mythos which have become infinitely more refined and defined. Sometimes I loose myself in the world building and forget that without that central narrative, no one’s going to care about this world.
It’s been through a fair few iterations and I have had some great help along the way. In 2006, with the help of Producer extraordinaire Jonny Wardle I secured funding from Fleming Media (yes that Fleming) and that was great. To get paid to make my comic, what a joy. But on the flip side, when people have a stake in it everyone has a say and the core idea can get a bit lost. We produced 6 ‘webisodes’ and were kind of ahead of our time on the motion comics front, which actually worked against us. Plus I wasn’t really happy with the form. The best bit about comics, what separates them from all other narrative art forms is that you have complete control over the pace of it. You can move backwards and forwards at will, concentrate on one panel or take in an entire spread. We lost that in the animation, plus it didn’t allow for the depth of story and richness of dialogue I wanted.
Now it’s fully back in my control and I’m taking it slow, making sure I get it right.
Geeks Unleashed: You draw the comic digitally. This is a totally different process to drawing a comic using traditional methods, can you tell us more about how this works? The software involved and the process?
James: A magician never reveals his secrets… Oh go on then, it’ll cost you. How to draw comics the Ash Pure way!
The process is an incredibly long, complex and expensive one, because that’s the way I like it.
I lay the panels out in Adobe InDesign as traditional print pages. I find that this is the best way to pace a story.
When I’ve got the story sketched out (literally, thumb nails and text in the blank panels), I go out and photograph the landscapes I need (or refer to my existing photo library – I’m always on the job) and reconstruct them to build the environments, then all the characters are rotoscoped (don’t call it tracing) from photos. Yes, under there that’s literally a bunch of my mates and a dressing up box against a roll of Chromakey green. I get the silhouette I want then comp in any clothing / costume details and shading via Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Finally I print the characters out and draw in the features with a good old-fashioned pen (I haven’t dabbled in tablets yet). It really needs the pen line to bring it alive, otherwise it just feels too static, too stayed.
I then bring the panels back into InDesign, where I lay out the text, which gets stepped through illustrator to give it it’s unique look. I deliberated long and hard over hand drawn vs. comic font vs. typography. In the end the comic fonts clashed with the artwork, but the standard fonts looked too cold. I‘m happy with the result I’ve achieved and look forward to developing this over the course of Volume 0 and beyond.
Once every thing’s in place I then reformat it all for screen – I told you it was long.
Geeks Unleashed: What inspired you to take this approach over traditional illustration?
James: In all honesty I simply wouldn’t, be able to have created the world I wanted to create via traditional means. And yes that’s because my draftsmanship isn’t good enough but also because you can’t beat reality on things like sky, trees and the brick or stone textures of buildings. For me it’s better to go to the source, then push it twist it, take it that step away from reality into the fantastic. As an artist I like processes, I like the randomness, the ‘happy accidents’ afforded by chance.
Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot to be said for needing nothing more than a piece of paper and a pen to tell stories. I see the guys at the Comica social, a great informal gathering of creators and fans who do it and I wish I could do that. It’s just at the moment to get the look I want it has to be this way. It’s not to everyone’s taste, I appreciate that, but it’s a true, pure process, it’s not ‘effects’ as some people see it.
Geeks Unleashed: You’ve expressed to me your desire to publish this through digital methods over traditional publishing. What has led to this decision?
James: I love print. Everyone talks of the immediacy of the web, but there’s nothing more immediate than print. It’s there in your hands, no bandwidth no download or buffering, but it’s expensive. Especially if you do it the way I did it, getting the first issue printed as ecologically and environmentally as possible in England. It looks beautiful, and I’m happy with the result but It’s virtually impossible for me to make any money off it. Also it turns out most of the buying public aren’t as fetishistic over paper stock and printing methods as I am.
Digitally I can distribute it further, plus it can be an iterative process, I can refine and develop it, and I have. The digital copy of the comic has had a fairly extensive… Not re-write, as such, but an extension and deepening of the story, which came about following a particularly scathing review, which, once I’d stopped pouting over had to admit was right. Although the print comic isn’t supposed to be taken on it’s own. It’s supposed to lead you back into the online world.
That’s another reason I like digital it opens up a wealth of media that can add richness and depth to the reality, for those that want it.
That’s what I’m trying to achieve with the Facebook pages, they contain the ‘deep content’, the ‘in world’ ARG style goodness which I’m hoping in future the community will start to contribute to; The Lion and Unicorn, City of Thamesis, Britomart and Albion.
Geeks Unleashed: Would you look to publish this as a webcomic as well?
James: I see no reason why not, but it would have to be on the right platform. I don’t just want to reproduce the printed page, there needs to be some added value – Panel Nine looks like a good option as does Oxio, who I’ve been in touch with.
Geeks Unleashed: Do you have any other comics or projects in the works?
James: I’m working on a collaboration with a new writer Rosina Budhani called The Magpie. It’s going to be something a bit more…grown up? Hmmm… Less genre inflected anyway, more esoteric. There’s also a project called Fly-boy and The Invisible, which I’ve had in development for a while, it’s about a boy who can fly and a girl who can turn invisible, that’s just going to be good clean fun, and will be traditionally rendered too. Think Invincible meets Ghost World… or something like that.
Geeks Unleashed: Any comic creator also is a fan, when you’re not creating comics what comics do you kick back to?
James: From the big guns I’m self-rationed to only buying comics once having made some money, so it doesn’t happen very often, but I like a nice tpb, preferably a series I can get stuck into. Currently enjoying Grant Morison’s Batman & Robin, his irrepressible imagination does well to be locked down to the tighter constraints of the dynamic duo’s reality, It makes for a much more satisfying reading experience than when he’s allowed to fully sprawl. His exploration and expansion of the more colourful side of The Batman mythos is really refreshing too, I’m so bored with the dark and ‘realistic’ Batman (especially in light of recent events). How can it be realistic – he’s dressed as a bat! Also I’m finally getting into dear, grumpy old, uncle Alan’s Promethea. It’s a cracking adventure yarn and I love the idea of comic as magical technology (as with Mr. Morrison’s Invisibles).
I do much better from the thriving UK independent scene. Who are all a very friendly bunch allowing me to engage in swapsies at the end of the comic shows I’ve been to. A few of my favourites include; Taroch by Clint Green and Luke Orrin – a beautifully rendered British based alternate reality adventure starring a female protagonist in a white suit (uh oh…). Overload a classic b+w horror inflected compilation by Martin Conaghan is also great stuff. Afroella by Kromatron (writer Gemma Bedeau and artist Lee Fenton-Wilkinson) is super sharp sci-fi comedy. And away from monsters, aliens and explosions, anything by the Avery Hill boys is great – bloody nice blokes actually.
On the digital side of things Nawlz is simply excellent, truly a new form. I’ve never seen anything like it. And Daniel Merlin Goodbrey’s E-Merl.com offers genuine interactivity in his ‘hyper comics’.
Geeks Unleashed: Lastly tell us more about your own background and your relationship to Ash Pure?
James: Origin story is it? Afraid that’s going to have to remain shrouded in mystery. All I can tell you about James Harrup and Ash Pure… It’s a Rick Jones Captain Marvel kind of deal.
Thanks James. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with James and his ongoing projects at this website.