Brutality… but not only brutality

George A. Romero was my storytelling hero. He defined a genre and provided wonderfully visceral imagery in his films. But, there was more. To cast a black man in the lead of a horror film, and then for him to survive only to be gunned down by a white vigilante group – a political statement which was hard to miss. His commentary on human nature, on subjects such as consumerism… I could debate them all day. In short, he embedded hugely important topics in his brutality. For me, he was a genius.

Obviously, I’m no Romero – who is? Below are some thoughts I was having about society when I wrote Herd. They aren’t the only inspiration behind the story, but they explain how I want to tell a story – hidden within the seductive brutality of the Vampyrus world. I hope it gives you some insight.

The modern western world had been built on the shaky foundations of sub-prime mortgages, cheap credit and the neoliberal dream of universal property ownership. Then, the banks failed. It felt like everyone was in debt, from entire countries to your next door neighbour. For many, the dream became a nightmare and ownership of property condemned people to a period of misery. 

The answer, for much of the western world, was austerity. Governments quickly adopted this new philosophy and slashed spending. Austerity. It became a household word. Working class people very quickly accepted the idea. They were used to having to balance their household accounts, so it seemed only sensible that governments would do the same. Money out could not exceed money in. This oversimplification was accepted and there was less resistance than you would have imagined. 

And so the economic climate was set for change. However, this was not the only climate change on peoples minds. The climate of the planet started to take hold of the imaginations of people all over the world. In short time, the topic moved from being of interest to a few kooks, to being at the centre of soiciatal discussions. We had to act and we had to act now.

Suddenly, Western Civilisation didn’t feel as permanent as it once did. For many, it felt like these problems could be the start of some magnificent collapse. Faced with existential questions, the political establishment demonstrated remarkable fluidity and the entire landscape changed. In many places, the centre ground was vacated, with people taking up positions on the left and right of the political spectrum. We had entered a new world of polarised opinions.

We soon discovered that this environment was seemingly perfect for charismatic leaders. Leaders who could inspire a following, with the sheer strength of their personality. Their solutions were radical. For some, they represented a brave new way of thinking. For others, they were dangerous and destructive ideas. The left were fearful of the right and the right fearful of the left. Each side needed a bigger personality to lead them to victory.

If you go through history, the rise of charismatic leaders often coincides with times of trouble. They are sometimes considered great, and sometimes they epitomise evil. They are never forgotten and they always leave a lasting mark on the world. It is often difficult to tell which you are going to get and in that respect, charismatic times are filled with fear.

I wrote HERD to mirror the position we find ourselves in. The story follows the great Vampyrus society, at its height during the Stone Age. Rather than an economical crisis, they are faced with starvation, as a result of overhunting Sapiens, their only food source. In place of the environmental crisis is a terrible disease called the Crumbling, tearing through their settlements. A charismatic leader has arisen. Purtian has radical ideas to solve these problems and save their great civilisation. Which type of leader will he be. The great… or the vilified.

Comics are expensive!

Crowdfunding has become a staple of the indie comic scene, with some books raising hundreds of thousands of pounds from their loyal fan base. For others, it’s a source of constant frustration as they fail to meet their targets. For us, it was O.K. In October we raised £1500 from around 140 backers, successfully meeting two stretch goals along the way. Hurrah and thank you to those that backed and shared our project.

However, in the spirit of full disclosure, £1500 gets nowhere near paying for the production of the comic. It pays the crowdfunding fees, printer fees, stretch goal fees, marketing fees… fees on top of fees on top of fees. The good news is, at the end of all that, we’re left with around 900 comics to sell. IF we sell them all, we will still be nowhere near paying for the comic. Making comics is expensive.

Think about it. You’ve written your story, planned your characters and got the script finished off. At this point, if you have the money, you may pay an editor. I didn’t, but I can totally see the value in it. The finished script goes off to an artist to produce concept art. What does your world look like? What do your characters look like? This costs money.

Concept Art by Peter Habjan

Next, an artist will produce layouts. How does your script translate onto a comic page? For me, this is my favourite part of the process. Seeing what I wrote come to life on the page. Working with Peter Habjan is a joy. He captures what I’m trying to get across and improves on it. There may be some back and forth, but he pretty much always strengthens what I have written. This process also costs money.

Layout by Peter Habjan

With the layouts decided upon, it’s time for the penciler to get to work. Now the comic is really starting to take shape. I always fall in love with the layouts and then the pencils arrive and… WOW! The roughs that I loved so dearly have been transformed into real life art. At this point I really feel like we have a comic. Remember, this process costs money.

Pencils by Peter Habjan

The pencils then go away to an inker, something which was a strange concept to me at the start. Somebody actually gets paid to place inks over the top of the beautiful pencils – what? Looking back, it was such a naïve way to think. Peter inked issue 1 of HERD and Matthew Seaborne is inking issue 2. Inking is a real skill, and so far away from simply tracing over the pencils that such an opinion is laughable. I’m embarrassed that I ever held it. That’s why inkers cost money.

Inks by Peter Habjan

The artwork is finished at this point but, if you’re going with a colour comic, now is the time for a colourist. This is the part that I feel I’m still getting wrong as a writer. I don’t really give much direction to the colourist. When John Charles joined the team for issue 1, he did a great job alongside Peter with the colours. However, there was much back and forth which I’m sure he found frustrating. That back and forth was a direct result of the lack of guidance I provided. Despite that, John’s and Peter’s colours really helped bring the issue to life. You may have guessed, colours cost money.

Colours by John Charles

Now is the time for the final member of the team to show what they can do, the letterer. Lettering is a pretty complex art form in its own right. There are rules to be followed, placement considerations, font and design choices. On top of that, the bubbles can take on a variety of shapes, textures and positions. It’s such a creative practice and when it’s done well, it’s simply brilliant. I had no hesitation in getting Rob Jones onboard for this. He has such an excellent eye for lettering that he improves everything he puts his hand to. That’s why you pay him.

Letters by Rob Jones

I made Rob’s job pretty tough as I learned another lesson about making comics. Update your script as you go along. I guarantee that your final comic will not look like your first script, so keep it updated. Poor Rob had to work from scribbled notes, confusing direct messages and a whole host of farcical practices. This, at least, is something I’ve put right for issue 2. Rob also put the final PDF together, an task not to be underestimated.

What I really want to get across is that making a comic as a writer is a costly thing to do. It hurts your bank balance and, unless you are very lucky, you won’t make your money back from crowdfunding. This is something you need to consider before you start. Are you able to stick around for the long game? Can you keep making comics as you build an audience? Is your comic good enough?

For me, I’m fortunate enough to say yes to the first two questions. The last one… I guess we’ll find out. If you think it is, I can’t stress enough how much sharing links and artwork helps the indie community. We know you can’t always find the money to buy what we sell, but sharing a link is brilliant and we love it when you do.

Thanks for reading folks. Leave comments, message me, sign up to the mailing list and I hope this gave you some insight.


Geoff talks about the inspiration behind HERD

HERD launch trailer, with music by Jan Hess