My latest graphic short story, Night Watch, is out and while the work has already started on my next thing, I thought it would be a good idea to write this now while Night Watch is still fresh in my mind. Think of this as a director’s commentary in that hardly anybody will be interested in it. This contains mild spoilers for Night Watch but if you're reading this first I don't know what to tell you.
Like everything else I’ve done since 2016, I drew Night Watch in full, from the bottom to the top, in Procreate on a 9.7” iPad Pro, pictured above (the text was added in Photoshop as that’s the one thing Procreate doesn’t do). Again, can’t say enough for this brave new world we live in where you can draw on your lap on a slab of glass that weighs nothing for hours at a time. I’ve had virtually every kind of art setup you can imagine up to now – tiny Wacom in front of a MacBook (Magnificent Adventures 1 & 2), massive Monoprice tablet (shout out to Ray Frenden) in front of a Mac Mini (Harveyzine), a Microsoft Surface Pro (nothing, because the pen technology absolutely blew and the aspect ratio was so horrendous it was like drawing on the edge of a cereal box), and finally this. I never had a Cintiq or one of its Huion counterparts, but honestly, if I’m drawing on anything but an iPad Pro in five years time I would be very surprised. Thanks to Apple for the promotional consideration, use offer code PUBES to get 5% off an iPad Pro of your own.
Picking Colour Palette & Art Style
I wanted Night Watch to have a softer colour palette than a lot of my previous work. I also thought it would better conceal the direction of the story if it had a gentler feel and began in soft daylight. I used the same gouache brush (stock brush available in Procreate) for colouring and shading that I used in The Taxi, as I still feel it’s the most realistic wash texture in the app. I drew all the lines with my standard ink bleed brush, and drew all the objects in “my style” because I don’t know how to do it any other way.
When it came to putting the dialogue in, I decided to put it beneath the text on a white background, and to use a proper font instead of my own childish writing. Partly because this wasn’t a conversation between two parties, it was just one person’s recollection (presumably recounted after the events had transpired, so it wouldn’t look right to have this person narrating the story aloud as he walked around), and also because it doubled down on the idea that this person is entirely alone. No speech bubbles around him, just him against these reasonably sparse backgrounds. I also decided to use printed text for his account, rather than handwriting the script, for the same reason I picked the soft colours – I wanted it to be reminiscent of young children’s books, where the script is off to the side in an easy-to-read format, and to act as another subtle misdirection from what was to come later (I had worried that the ending of this would be too easily guessed; I have been informed since that this fear was unfounded and others do not assume every story is going to end in multiple grossly unjustified murders).
I chose a set of complimentary seaside tones (for instance seafoam green and an ocean blue, both colours that Fender uses for its guitars – a company that trades heavily on its retro surf credentials of the 1950s and 60s) and everything you see on the pages was taken from either mixing the colours (the grass, for instance, was made to look blotchy by mixing light touches of the green and yellow) or multiplying these colours. Multiplying colours is an easy way of adding light and shade to images, and this is how all the lighting effects in Night Watch were achieved.
For instance, this panel from early on – I added “flat” colours (as in the true colours of each object in the room, presented as they would be under uniform white light), but I’m sure you can see that “flat” is the operative word here. This panel as it stands offers very little in terms of visual interest, and doesn’t progress the timeline (which we will come to next). Boring. Boring. What do we do?
I added a block of peachy red over it, set the layer to “multiply” and the opacity to approximately 80% to let some of the original flat colour values come through (so that the light has consumed the room, but isn’t overpowering it). I then went and added some highlights and shadows to this multiplication layer. The effect can be seen below.
Much better, right? It also works for the night-time scenes, which essentially used an illustrative equivalent of the poorly-used movie trick “day-for-night” (where they shoot in the day and darken the scene in post-production).
Also, the gradually darkening light pushed the story forward.
Light & The Passage of Time
As opposed to The Taxi, which was essentially written in “real time”, this story encompasses an evening, a night, and the beginnings of the morning after, with flashbacks to previous days and nights. This had to be conveyed visually somehow, and the easiest way to do this was to use the light to show where we were on the timeline.
As the day goes on, the light from the window and the ambient light goes from yellow to red to dark purple/blue to show the night; the flashback shot of the lighthouse keeper pulling the first pube off the truck used completely different light and sky colour (and also a different costume for the lighthouse keeper, in case my masterwork in light-as-timekeeper was not as obvious as I’d hoped).
It also came in handy for one pivotal mechanical feature; showing that the lighthouse light was turning even when the lighthouse wasn’t actually visible, by having the salon workers alternating between being lit up and being cast in darkness (I picked an on-off-on pattern so that the time moved uniformly, but also to show them as the lighthouse keeper would remember them, even when they’re not shown from his perspective). If you want to go full film-school with it, the light going off and on could be an allegory for the black-and-white view of the world held by the lighthouse keeper – that people who have wronged him, no matter how insignificantly, are irredeemable and must be eliminated by any means – but that would be your interpretation. I just wanted to draw a dead person with pubes on their brain and this was the only way I could think to do it and charge somebody money to see it at a comic convention.
Are Night Watch & The Taxi Set In The Same World?
Yes, and thank you for asking. They are both set in the fictional Welsh city of Heron, six months apart.
I have more stories planned for Heron, in the hopes of selling the extended universe to Disney in two years.
Night Watch was a fun departure from my normal style of comics, and as I say over and over again, you don't need anybody's permission or approval to make stuff and life is what you make it. Fucking get on with it.
All the best,