Using Sketchup to aid drawing

Google sketchup is a free and easy-to-use (well, relatively) 3D model making programme. On a few occasions now i have used it to help me with perspective. Creating blocks and simple shapes is very easy, these can then be printed and the outlines traced with a lightbox.

 However, Sketchup also contains a “model library” which allows you to browse thousands of models of virtually everything made by people the world over. Handy for certian difficult-to-draw things you are stuck on! Of course i only use it for the most basic outlines, and even then add a bit of artistic licence to make things look “cooler”. I hope my comics never look like Striker (late of Nuts and even later of The Sun) or Real Heroes (coming up in part 3 of the “if you know where to look” series!).

To start with, i attempted a completely freehand, from-memory Spitfire and a Zero drawn whilst looking across at a small period photo:

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The wings of the Zero in the photo seemed to be defying the laws of physics, so i ‘corrected’ them, which looked ten times worse. We’re gonna need more than a reference photo here!

Having obtained some models on Sketchup i positioned them, screencaptured them and put the images into Openoffice. Then i printed the page:

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Stationary propellors, mind you. But that can be ignored…

I then used the lightbox to trace the basic outlines. I also applied the artistic licence, for instance adding different markings to both planes, and giving the Spitfire two cannons instead of four and a more exaggerated (well, existent) aerial. I don’t know if the large aerial was only a feature of early versions or if the model maker simply forgot it! I also removed the Zero’s drop tank, as it’s supposed to be at the end of a battle and would have dropped it for better aerodynamics. Though the story is also set in early 1945 when Japan was short of, well, everything. Especially petrol!

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I am not Jose Maria Jorge

And here we are, a couple of much-improved illustrations, ready to go!

Oh, you want to actually read Pacfic Patrol? Well it will hopefully be available at the London SP Expo, on March 12th 2011 – in a FREE comic!

Proper British adventure comics are still around, if you know where to look – Part 2.

Yes, Doctor Who is all well and good, you may say. But he’s still a licensed character, albiet a brilliant one that lends himself to pretty much any story in any medium. How about a proper British comics character? How about somebody who is the very embodiment of the stiff upper lip Boys’ Own adventurer… how about Dan Dare?

Now, i know what you are thinking. Here is a character who has been cynically “updated” by men in suits who are only thinking of the money more times than you’ve had hot dinners.  Each time getting more and more remote from the brilliance of the original version – a version started by a man in a dog collar and drawn by one of the greatest comic artists of his own or any era. Who was incidentally pouring his heart and soul into every panel (well, the ones he did!) as if each one was a miniature masterpiece destined for a gallery wall.

Well fear not, for THIS Dan Dare is exactly like the original! Created as a labour of love by a small group of determined fans with a vision. This is…

Spaceship Away issues 1-7

I had been aware of Spaceship Away for ages. I even had a look through a few issues at the Bristol convention in either 2005 or 6 (but couldn’t attract the attention of any of the overworked people behind the table to ask the price!). However it took me until 2010 to finally order the first 7 issues. They were well worth it!

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Aaand here they are. For some reason my memory remembered them as being “US Comic” sized.  Actually they are A4 sized. 

The first issue is actually a bit sparse. It is basically the first pages of the story that started the whole thing (called The Pheonix Mission)  and one long article about how the story was funded, drawn and gotten to press. This story is amazing in itself and deserving of some real recognition. And i don’t mean some afterthought “oh, yeah, and the best small press award goes to Spaceship Away, right, where’s the bar?” award either! The story took so long to get to press that it had actually been initially intended to be printed in New Eagle… a comic that ended in 1994! Issue 1 of Spaceship Away finally emerged in 2003. Sadly the artist who began the tale, Keith Watson, did not live to see it reach print.

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Article. Later on columns were added!

They rounded up assorted artists who had worked in Frank Hampson’s studio during the days of the Eagle, and got members of the Eagle Society to “commission” artwork from the artists on a page by page basis to get the story paid for. The result looks amazing… and because it’s printed using modern techniques direct from the boards (modern DD reprint books mostly have to make do with scans of the old Eagles) looks it’s absolute best!

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Oh yeah, they make the strip look as if it’s on the covers of the 1950’s Eagle too!

That was issue 1, one story (well also there’s the one-page strip Dan Bear on the back… which also has incredible artwork and it’s own interesting and cute story) and one article. However expansions and improvements were rapid. Lets jump up to the newest issue i have, number 7.

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Not quite “strip on the cover”, but it’ll do!

We now have six regular comic strips, as well as one-off funny strips. There is still articles but, with the story of Spaceship Away told, they are now either about Dans’ World, the history of the Eagle or the science behind the stories. Sadly i found several of these articles pretty dull or ‘fluffy’. But never mind them, we’re here for the comics!

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Rocket Pilot – Britain leads the way to the moon in 1970!

The Pheonix Mission has now given way to it’s much-longer (at the time of writing it’s still going!) sequel Green Nemesis. This tale features the villains of the saga, the Treens – and their leader The Mekon! It’s crammed with all the stuff that made the original Dan Dare so great – resourcefulness, never-say-die attitudes and a stern sense of duty. Qualities any former officers would no doubt have recognised in their son’s Eagle only five years after the war.

 We also have Rocket Pilot – originally a webcomic, this tells the story of Sir Hubert Guest, the commanding officer of Spacefleet in the first Eagle onwards.  In this story he has not yet attained this high position and travels on the first trips to the moon (in 1970) and mars (in 1988). It even briefly jumps back to his schooldays, when he looked up in awe at the RAF’s new rocket interceptors, based on German designs and developed by captured scientists.

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Crafty photo use, it’s like the 21st century (as Gerry Anderson imagined it) never ended!

At the far end of the scale we have Project Pluto. Set in the 2020’s, this has Dan himself as the commander of Spacefleet. However he is not content to sit around in an office and pops back and forth between the moon and space stations. Mind you with the advanced space drives of the time that’s probably easier and safer. However in the background shady politicians are trying to manipulate a war between Earth and Saturn(‘s moons – even when Dan ‘originally’ went there they knew the planet wasn’t solid).

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Airbrushes! It’s like Frank Bellamy… which is probably the idea

Ahh but did i not say yesterday that proper comics need some text stories too? Well here’s one! It’s set just before the Eagle story Project Nimbus which, i believe, was the first full story Frank Bellamy worked on, after Frank Hampson was unceremoniously given the boot. The story attempts to explain the various changes to costumes and spaceships seen when the artists changed. Apparently the government were angry at Spacefleet for wasting money, so they changed all their uniforms to look as if they were doing something! Looks like in the future (which is now the past) some things haven’t changed.

 In addition to the ongoing Dan Bear and humour strips, issue 7 introduces something new – a non Dan Dare comic strip! This is Journey Into Space, based on a famous radio serial. This strip was actually originally produced in Express Weekly, a “high-minded” adventure comic with expensive printing that was actually started to directly rival Eagle. To predict that the flagship strips of both would one day appear in the same comic would be like, i don’t know, predicting that Sonic the Hedgehog would one day appear in Nintendo games! Utter madness.

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Can Sonic run as fast as this, though?

 Later issues of Spaceship Away introduced even more non-DD stories including a CGI one called Space Girls, some more classic sci-fi characters in the shape of Hal Starr and Nick Hazzard, and also Garth, from the long-running Daily Mirror strip. However i don’t own these later issues – yet!

Proper British adventure comics are still around, if you know where to look – Part 1.

Well that title isn’t going to format well, is it?

Anyway, as the title implies, i have set myself up as the comic hanging judge, deciding what is worthy and what is not. So what do i consider a “proper” British adventure comic, then?

– Comes out weekly

– Printed on newsprint, or thin paper

– Black and white.

However those criteria are nonexistent today (though Commando comes closest!), so unfortunately must be ignored. Oh well, i don’t consider a car to be “proper” unless it’s rear wheel drive and has loads of chrome on it, but my own one has neither. Needs must in these dark, tasteless times. On with criteria we can fill…

– Original characters, or else characters that are not imported from some flavour-of-the-month American film, Japanese cartoon etc.

– Suitable for all ages

– Combined comic strips and illustrated text stories.

Now we’re getting somewhere! Titles that live up to these criteria can be had if, as the title says, you know where to look. Which brings us on to:

The Doctor Who Storybook 2007

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Remember “proper” annuals are dated a year ahead, so this came between the 2006 and 2007 series!

I had read a few times that these “storybooks” were better than the “official annuals”. Though not having seen any of the contemporary official annuals i can’t comment. I have however seen a scan of one of the 1970’s annuals (on a Doctor Who DVD! I wasn’t Warezing) and it was terrible. Mindlessley dull text stories, nonsensical psychadelic comic strips and about 75% of the book being general articles about space exploration. Mind you people were still going to the moon in the early 70’s.

Anyway, i came across this book in Mind for 20p, so i had to have it, and i’m glad i found out what I’ve been missing! There are several text stories, some “straight” but others presented in the form of diaries, ordinary people telling the story of what happened to them, and even an instant message conversation. They are also profusely illustrated.

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Most of the illustrations are fantastic…

For my money the first story (“Cuckoo-spit”, told as a diary written by a boy in the 70’s) and the last one (“Corner of your eye”, told as an IM conversation) are the best ones. Though one in the middle, narrated by the storyteller in an ancient European village, is pretty good too.

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And some aren’t.

 There’s also one long comic strip in the middle of the book which is also good. It’s set in “Venezia” but it’s not clear if this is Venice or an alien planet that looks like Venice! The inhabitants aren’t much of a clue, as everybody knows a good third of the intelligent life forms in the universe of Doctor Who look exactly like us!

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Also i’ve seen uglier bouncers on this planet.

About the only problem with this book is that it’s way too short! A single issue of the 1900’s Union Jack probably has the same word count and that came out every week. This comes out once a year… or should i say came out, as by the look of an Amazon search there isn’t one for 2011 (yet?). A lot of publishers are cutting back (ahem, Roy of the Rovers season 1), it will be a shame if this is a permanent casualty. Still that gives me another 3 to track down… and they are certainly worth more than just 20p!

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The room has two light switches. The room has two light switches. The room has two light switches…

In an attempt to update this blog a bit more often (i now have three ‘big’ articles i want to do but haven’t got around to!) i’ll post another part of this mini-series soon.