Guest Blog

Guest Blog: Alan Nolan (Sancho, The Big Break Detective’s Casebook, Murder Can Be Fatal)

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I have been a comic creator for a while now. I started off by self-publishing my own comic ‘Sancho’ – self publishing means that you are in charge of writing the story, which I did with my friend Ian Whelan, drawing the story, scanning and lettering the artwork, printing (and paying for the print of) the comic and distributing the comic all by yourself!

 After 5 issues of Sancho, which all sold well, I decided that it was time to approach a publisher with my ideas, so I went to the O’Brien Press, Ireland’s biggest publisher of children’s and YA books. It turned out that they weren’t too interested in Sancho, but liked it enough that they asked me if I had any other ideas. I came back to them after a week or so with about ten book ideas, and to my surprise, they immediately said yes to six of them! I had to pack up all the Sancho stuff I had planned and get stuck in to what has become ‘The Big Break Detectives Casebook’ and my ‘Murder Can Be Fatal Mysteries” series. It was a crazy time!

 And in the midst of all this madness I was asked, completely out of the blue, by the Irish Times to do a series of cartoon strips for their monthly BANG science supplement, each strip to describe the steps of a simple-to-do-at-home yet exciting experiment. How could I refuse? I went from having a self-produced comic that got into about five bookstores in Ireland, to having a series of professionally published books in the offing and a cartoon strip in a national newspaper in the space of six weeks!

 After I got a t-shirt printed that says “Lucky Al”, I had a think about what I would do for the strip for the Irish Times, and started the process of creation that I use for all my cartoon strip projects, including all the books I have done for the O’Brien Press.

 I decided that the best way to approach the strip was to come up with a couple of characters to act out the experiments and interact with each other, so I came up with Professor Flugel and his robot monkey lab assistant Kronk.

 First I did a number of character sketches for Flugel and Kronk…

…then I did a rough (as hell) layout of the 4-5 panel strip. At that stage I had an idea of the dialogue explaining the experiment and how the two characters would interact…

…then, as I had an accurate size that the strip will fit into, I layed it out in Adobe Illustrator, designing the main logo/masthead, and setting all the text (writing the dialogue as I went). I also changed the Prof’s name from Flugel to Butterknut as that afternoon I had a bowl of butternut squash soup, and because it fit the space I had left for the strip title better. I sketched the panels out in pencil a bit more accurately while I was at it…

…I then scanned this and, using Photoshop, changed all the lines, including the pencil lines, to light blue. I printed this out and inked the “drawing” parts. I then scanned this again at high resolution, cleaned it up on screen in Photoshop and married it with the layout/lettering I had set in Illustrator.

The cartoon was then coloured in Photoshop and textures were added. The strip was than kicked around and finessed until I started to slightly lose consciousness, and then I saved it, flattened the layers and resaved it as a high res jpeg which I sent to the editor. And barring one small change to the text that he wanted to make (“veek” became “month”), Bob’s yer Monkhouse.

This is the basic process that I use for all my books, the longer the book the more planning goes into it. It’s a lot of work, but great, great fun!



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