Tuesday, 4 September 2018

NICE 2018 Postscript

After a year's hiatus, NICE was back and just as great as always. If you're looking for a comic con that is an actual comic con, then go to NICE. It's one of only a very few cons in the UK that is actually based around the artists and writers who work in the industry. It's also a con where creators and fans are treated with kindness, where the fans are treated as people and not things to fleece, and the helpers and staff are, well, helpful. It's a relaxed atmosphere and the signatures are free.

Something else that's different to other UK cons is sketch roulette. Basically, as an incentive to buy tickets early, the first 100 people to purchase a ticket to the con get a free sketch by one of the attending artists. The draw is at the con and is random. I thought the one's I drew were ok, I spent a bit of time on them and they were posted online earlier in the year. Subsequently, other artists started inking theirs...then some started colouring them,. People seemed intent on topping the ones that'd gone previously. Things got a little out of control. Basically the sketches are pretty darned great for free, or if they were done as paid commissions for that matter. I'm just glad I did a watercolour for the art auction (another new addition this year to help with the costs of the con). All the artists were happy to contribute, an indication of their enjoyment and continued support for the show. I went with a Venom piece for the auction as Jeff hates the character so I knew he wouldn't keep it for himself.




Sketch roulette pieces 



As readers of this infrequently published blog are aware, Russ Payne has often driven me down in the past (occasionally I've used the trains...for pity's sake, what an utter disaster) but was a guest at Hull recently where he did a talk about Kirby's New Gods so was unable to attend NICE. My longtime friend Scott was happy to drive me down however. He had no intention of attending the con, knows nothing about comics, and is quite unable to deal with anything outside of his usual realm of existence (he sits in a custom built shell testing software in his back garden all day), but offered to take me, unasked. Jeff was puzzled at his willingness. The answer is simple, it's not becasue I'm great, it's because he has 3 young kids and a wife. He was getting a free weekend! The idea was that we'd drive down, have a curry and he'd head down to Swindon on the Saturday to see his friend. Who it turns out wasn't even going to be there. He was in London. Scott's unpopularity at home was cemented when our wives decided to camp in his back garden with 8 kids. My wife sent me some photos and a video, it wasn't pretty. At least I had the excuse of working whilst away.

The journey down was as expected and it didn't even begin well. The Subway sandwich was looking good until the guy behind the counter making it decided, against all reason, to add sweetcorn to it. Unh. Scott had devised a route that veered off the M6 somewhere around Stoke as there was a thick red line of futility after that point on Britain's main motorway. It'd involve A roads, but doing 50 on an A road was better than crawling down the M6 past 50 miles of empty work vehicles and cones. To be fair, I did see a digger driving slowly at one point, and 3 people. One was chatting on his phone, the other two were talking to each other. Way to go guys. To be fair, maybe someone had stolen all their spades, drills and safety goggles. 2022 is the hoped for date of the completion of the smart motorway. That's going to happen, isn't it...

The M1 was less of a car park so we made a little time and arrived at around 5. Scott's nervous around swearing so it was good to be greeted at the hotel by Jeff. He was pretty restrained and only dropped 7 or 8 grade A expletives in the minute or so we spoke to him. He showed me Alan Davis' sketches for the roulette. Awesome. Scott headed off to the room for a shower as he'd been whining about being moist in the car.

I stuck around the bar for a little while, talking with Mark Farmer, mainly about two spiders that were looking for a fight on a window overlooking the river. Of course radioactivity came up (it's a comic con) and we decided that if bitten, the reality was we'd die, or pass out and fall through the glass into the river below to become Swan Man. His ability would be to break arms and bite faces. Or Trout man. According to Mark, he'd have two legs, that's as far as we got. After a brief, but animated chat with Alan Davis about the greatness of Gil Kane, I headed off to the new Close Encounters store with Jeff's brother Bub and Don McGregor where I perused some of the wonderful oversized artist editions (Byrne X-Men, Kane and Romita Spidey, Barry Winsor Smith Conan). People started messaging me as they were hungry so I headed back over to the hotel.

Some topics of discussion for the evening were the recent Lake Como con and the prices for sketches and original art there, a great account of someone finding a tattered copy of Batman #1 in a charity shop in the Lakes and, as would be expected, comics and art. Returning quietly to the room I was sharing with Scott at about 0230(he'd opted out of the bar, needing sleep. To be fair, he'd driven for 5 hours and was planning to be up at 6) I found him awake. The reason? He had an odd sensation in one of his toes. I spent the next few hours listening to him sigh and what I presumed to be people running baths. Were people up at 4am running baths? If so, why? Or maybe there's a giant water tank on the roof of the hotel? Either way, not helpful.

At the con I was sat next to Mark Farmer (Alan Davis was next to Mark, Alan pencils, Mark inks. £40 and £30 respectively...grade A artists for a ridiculously low price) which was great. Trevor Hairsine was on the other side of me, another great artist. Intimidation complete. Now, I've been asked to draw some way out sketches before, nothing disturbing, just out there...Kraven the Hunter for example. But nothing could've prepared me for the Saturday.


The beginning of my sketchlist on Saturday

It started with a request to draw Kurt Russell from my favourite Kurt Russell movie. Not something you'd expect to be faced with, but ok. Next...Karl Urban wearing Dredd's helmet, holding Eomer's (from LOTR) spear in his hand and wearing Bones' uniform from the recent Trek movies. I said 'sure'...I took my time over the Russell sketch, postponing the Urban one.
After an hour of trying to get to grips with the Urban one I gave up. It wasn't a sketch for a con. What had I been thinking? Thankfully the fan came back and decided he wanted it on a blank and it'd be a commission, something to do at home, with real ref! What a relief. By then it was almost dinner time and I'd only completed one sketch (and a part drawn failure) which is a record for slowness...and I moved onto Avalanche, an X-villain I'd never heard of. Things calmed down after lunchtime samosas thankfully.


I'm not going to attack, I was puzzled by what Mick was doing (taking a photo of me). I'm also still confused over the Urban sketch.




Some commissions I did for the show
A3 Watercolour, the Doom Patrol's Rita Farr as the 50ft woman


A3 watercolour of Deathbird. A complicated outfit!


Lee Merriwether


Julie Newmar Catwoman


Olivia Munn as Psylocke


A4 watercolour, Wolverine

It's always nice to put faces to names for people who I've only ever conversed with on messenger. One such encounter was with a couple of guys who were sat watching Mark Farmer ink their Davis sketch. They'd been toying with the idea of avoiding me as one of the pieces they'd asked for was the result of an inebriated evening and they were concerned I thought they were nutters. I really liked their idea, and so did their friend who it was for!


The result of an inebriated message! 

I went for a meal to a rather nice Indian restaurant that Jeff had told me about, with four fellow Legion of Superheroes fans. It was nice to chat about the Legion without having to explain any of the convolution that goes along with it, the multiple reboots, the retcons etc. Also, I discovered that we all enjoyed, for the most part, the 5YL Legion. And that Crisis on Infinite Earths ruined the Legion. I'll leave it there!

Spent the rest of the night chatting with old friends Mick and Rich and Farmer and Davis. We discussed Alan's short but brilliant run on Detective Comics, a run that went against the grain as it was at a time when DC were moving Batman to the grim and one dimensional character he is today. Neither of them could remember when Mark started inking Alan...it was probably Batman:Full Circle. The Inferior Five were mentioned, Bob Hope comics, Starlight, the Image series by Millar and Parlov (Mark and myself enjoyed it a lot). Alan and I discussed our inability to drive, a St John's market stall in Blackpool that sold comics and a Marvel creator conference when Alan repeatedly shot a well known writer in the testicles with a Spidey disc gun. The conference began with an editor walking in on his hands. Yes, the stories about the industry are more interesting than the comics. Alan always wanted to be a spaceman.

There was a wedding function upstairs and at one point, a woman came over and asked if we were attending the con. She called us heroes after we told her we were artists who worked (or had worked in my case) for Marvel and DC. It was a surreal moment. I caught a relatively early night as I'd been woken at 6 that morning by Scott's inane watch alarm that he left on for half an hour as he had a bath. He had, I think, 4 baths over the weekend.

I woke Scott up, he'd had a massive headache after returning from his day trip so had retired to bed at 930. His shins hurt from all the walking. He'd also had a Thai massage and wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. At about 3, I awoke and spent an hour or so trying to see if I could feel a breeze from the air con. It was boiling in the room. I figured it must have been on as Scott was lying on his back, the covers pulled right up, his beard laying neatly on the top of the duvet. He looked like an Egyptian sarcophagus. What a waste of time. Turns out he'd turned the air con off. Coupled with the ever present sound of running water it wasn't a classic sleep. I vaguely remember him heading off at about 7 to see some friends in Leicester.

Shared a table at breakfast with Mick, Rich and Dave Kendall. If Dave turns up at a con next year with a minder, wearing a top hat and charging £1000 for a quick sketch, then breakfast at NICE was the origin of his descent into egotism.

Sunday was quieter, even more chilled out, but never a ghost town like many cons become on the Sunday. Artists were sketching right until the end of the day. The sketches were more in the field of normality, Hawkman, Starfire, Emma Frost, that sort of thing. I signed a lot of comics over the weekend, which was nice, a full run of Hawkman at one point. I was called over to Doug Braithwaite's table in the afternoon just so he could admonish me for doing a watercolour for the sketch auction.


Note the samosas on Trevor Hairsine's table. I didn't have any on the Sunday.


I seem to be having a moment in this one.


Some pieces I had for sale at the con




A3 watercolour, based on Spider-Man 261


Teen Titans, A3 watercolour. I like to do mainstream, popular pieces that everyone can relate to...


Alfred


It was a great weekend, everyone enjoyed themselves, I've never been to such a chilled out con. Check out the sketches people got online. Also, the prices were very reasonable. Most artists had a sliding scale, from finished watercolours down to quick head sketches, so there was something for everyone. If you've been undecided about attending, then give it a go! Yes, it's smaller than most cons, but that's only because there aren't 2000 cosplayers there. So many fans I spoke with had been able to grab an experience with Don McGregor, Alan Davis, Ian Churchill or other A list artists
or writers. There's an accessibility to the guests at the con that's rare. There were even stalls selling comics, back issues too, not just the usual few issues of variant guff.

Remarkably, for the first time in an eon, the journey back was without event. It was a straight run! I arrived home at 2130.

Looking forward to next year!





Wednesday, 23 May 2018

UPDATE

FEDEX

It seems that complaining, both on social media, and via email (to several people), speeds up the process of having money, taken without authorisation, returned more speedily to me than FedEx originally planned.

Now if only I could convince them to close my account. It's been over 6 weeks now, and there's been no progress. I've called, emailed...and, to be fair, after 20 or so days, someone from FedEx did call about my account. I was out. That was ok though, as they were going to call back later that day or 'tomorrow'. Naturally, they didn't.

I really have no idea why it's so difficult to close an account with FedEx. But it really is. At least the company hasn't bled my account dry for no good reason in the time I've been trying to close the account.

Since the FedEx debacle, I've tried UPS, to send a painting to the US. The package was delayed, but I was sent notification and the reason why. Both myself and the recipient of the package were sent tracking details and, when it was out for delivery, I was able to watch the progress of the van on a map. All an improvement on the service FedEx provide. The biggest difference between FedEx and UPS? The price. It was half the price FedEx charge to send to the same client.

UPS 1
FedEx 0

POSTAGE

More post woes. I went to the post office yesterday to send out my latest batch of completed commissions. To send one comic, in a comic mailer, to the USA costs over £7...last time I went, a couple of weeks ago, it was just over £4. There's been no price increase since March, apparently. So, unfortunately, I'm going to have to charge postage on top of the commission fee from now on. It's one thing being reasonably priced, it's another ripping myself off. I need to make a living. So, it'll be £5 postage to anywhere outside the UK. I think that's a reasonable compromise. Any commissions already on my list, I'll skip the postage, as was originally agreed.

Also, another recent unpleasant development. Art has started going missing in the mail (Canada and the US) which is something that's never happened to me before. If it keeps happening then I'll have to rethink the entire postal commission thing as having to redo art isn't very lucrative.

COMMISSIONS

Man, this is a negative post! I've been shafted several times over the last 6 months or so on personalised commissions. One guy, let's call him Chris Boss, because that's his name, clinched this one. He wanted something in time for Xmas featuring his kids. Fine. I drew the prelim, it was approved. I work up the finished thing, took a while longer than I hoped, but fair enough. He liked it, it was great, all was good. It was done on time, I could get it in the post in time for Xmas. All this took place over 3 days. Told me he'd pay in pay in installments. Not ideal, but ok. Then he never answers another message. He's alive, just decided he didn't want the commission, I guess. Now, he could've told me at any point during the process, before I spent the time doing the finished art, that he'd changed his mind, circumstances had changed, whatever. Now I'm left with something I can't sell as it's a pic of someone's kids with Joker and Harley...It took me 2 days to draw. And there's nothing I can do with it. I wasted 2 work days for no return. Thanks, mate. Can't do it anymore.

So, if you want something involving family members or really, really obscure stuff , then it'll be a 50% deposit upfront. I'm not happy about it but I can't keep getting ripped off.

NICE

The con is suddenly coming up in a few months. If anyone wants to get on my commission list (for pre-con commissions) then make sure you do sooner rather than later! I'm hoping to have pieces to sell also but if you're after something specific then get in touch. Really looking forward to the con this year! I'll be doing a piece for the con itself over the next month (and a few more sketches for the sketch roulette also)

To finish on a positive note, some recent watercolour commissions!


A4 Elektra


A4 Element Lad


A3 Flash





Monday, 26 March 2018

FEDEX...

It’s not often (if at all) that I post non- work-related stuff on here but I have to vent. Since October FedEx have been taking money from my account because of an ‘internal error’. The initial incident was an invoice (money already efficiently removed from my account through auto-pay) for £336 for import charges. A company in Birmingham that does things with concrete for some reason had my account billed for their import charges. After I chased FedEx up about it with repeated phone calls I was reimbursed after about 3 weeks, being assured it wouldn’t happen again.
It did, £64 this time, same company in Birmingham. One of the helpful, and equipped to do their job properly, staff on the customer support line got shirty with me and asked why I was questioning the invoice as I’d imported goods and had to therefore pay. His synapses eventually fired and he realised he was talking utter pap. We worked our way through it. Again, a few weeks later the money was returned and a note had been put on the concrete company’s account to stop me being billed.
On the 13th March I received another invoice, this time for £228. I went through the same process and was assured on the 21st that the problem had finally been resolved, I’d get the money back and all would be fine. This was the first time I’d spoken to someone who seemed to be able to do something. I was also able to forward an email to them (another invoice arrived that day) so they could add the new invoice (only £8 this time!) to the ongoing situation. I was pleasantly surprised by the interaction.
It was a relief to know it was all over, the £236 I was owed was on it’s way back to me, and I could now send some art to a client in the US using Fed-Ex.
I awoke two days later to an email to say that my account had been disassociated with the concrete firm’s and all was well. Excellent. And another invoice. The thing about the ‘you’ve successfully paid using FedEx autopay’ invoices is that they don’t tell you how much money they’ve fleeced from your account. Still, I figured it was all sorted, the email from FedEx had assured me that all would be well, no need to worry about the invoice. It’d be an error, surely.
I decided to call Fedex that afternoon as the invoice had weighed on my mind. Still, I figured it was probably, at worst, going to be £50 or something. I'd get it back, eventually.
The invoice was for £816…and the accounts dept were closed until Monday. The person I spoke to was embarrassed and dumbfounded at her company’s ineptitude. It was marked as a level 4 priority (they understood that my account had been drained and I now would struggle to exist until the money was returned) and I’d get a call on Monday morning. Again, I believed FedEx.
I called FedEx this morning and was assured I’d receive a call before midday. Obviously, I didn’t. In fact, FedEx have never once called me throughout the entire ridiculous and now financially crippling affair. I've wasted a fair amount of time waiting for them to answer the phone, being put through to different departments and left waiting again as people spoke with their supervisors. FedEx really put themselves out to help their customers.
So, I called them again this afternoon, eager to know how quickly I’d have my money back in my account, why no-one’s called me (I did receive an email reply this afternoon to an email I sent Friday telling me FedEx are at fault and I’ll be reimbursed, nice, but I knew that, folks). Apparently, I’ll have the money back within 5 to 7 working days. I explained to the man that I have no money left to do things like pay bills and exist. He was sorry but that’s just how long it takes. Well fantastic, stellar, in fact. FedEx, through no fault of mine, have taken over £1000 from my account and will do nothing to rectify their mistake with any semblance of alacrity. Fair play to them. After all, they spend a lot of time taking great care in assuring that people's packages arrive intact, on time and to the right address (I know, a generic dig, but I'm not in the best of moods). The £228 from March 13th has yet to be returned so I expect the other £824 to returned sometime in May, possibly.
I was assured that it takes 5-7 working days to perform a bank transfer. Except it doesn't, does it…FedEx use the same bank as I do, bank transfers are pretty quick. Surely someone with a functioning mind and a semblance of compassion or conscience could just put my money back in my account? After all, it takes them only moments to remove money from my account for no reason at all.
Occasionally I've been accused of being a tad trigger happy to boycott shops, companies, towns etc (Pound Bakery for not having a sign up to state that they don’t accept card payments. I queued, with kids, for ages only to be told the hard truth. Put some cardboard up in the window, it isn't difficult.), I also keep it to myself, not wanting to kick anything off online, but in this case, FedEx unquestioningly deserve it.
Over the years FedEx have almost bent an oil painting in half, leaving a permanent crease through the middle (JSA #58 cover), bent another in multiple places causing multiple fractures across the entire art (Hawkman #16 cover) and lost another completely (JSA Strange Adventures #3). I accepted that. Wasn't happy about it, but I accepted it. Now they've taken me down financially and just don't care. So I'll boycott them. And anyone associated with them, sponsored by them, or deep down thinks they're a fine company.
Will my boycott make a difference? Not really, but then it seems there’s absolutely nothing else I can do about it except rant ineffectually and take it.
Here are some sketchcovers to look at, a small apology for having to sit through the above!







Monday, 5 March 2018

NICE 2018 1st/2nd Sept 2018

I'll be at the con all weekend sketching and signing. I'll probably be sketching on the Saturday night after the con too. 
As always, I'll be sketching for free at the convention. These won't be as finished as the commissions I do but they look pretty good.
I'll have a folder of pieces to sell, sketchcovers, watercolours, the usual stuff, and I'll be taking pre-convention commissions as usual. 

For those interested in a commission for the con, here are the details!


SKETCH COVERS

These are £50 for a b/w Copic sketch like the examples below. For a wrap that'd be £100. Colour (Copics and ink with watercolour wash) will be £60, £120 for a wrap. For anything like multiple figures, detailed background etc then it'll be on a per job basis.

Also, I must point out, that the quality of blank variant titles varies greatly depending on the publisher. For example, DC generally have the best surface to draw on, it's a decent surface. Except Adventures of Supergirl which has a surface like 1970's school toilet paper and has my vote as the worst blank variant ever made. 
Marvel tend to be hit and miss, some are fine, some are ink, Copic, paint and even pencil repellent. 
Dynamite...every tool I use skates across the almost plastic surface and coagulates in a pool of frustration. So, not all art options that I do will be available for every blank variant. We can always talk about it beforehand.

Cover recreations on blanks start at £70. They're pretty tricky to do although they do look nice!


I also do non-likeness sketchcovers like the examples below. These are the same price as the likeness ones.




Gal Gadot £50




Adam West, £50



Reeve £50


Chadwick Boseman £50


Julie Newmar £50


Cain and Hatcher £60


Eartha Kitt £50


West and Ward £65




Emma Stone £50




Stephen Amell £50 





Harrison Ford £50




Burt Ward £50




Harley £50



Obi-Wan Kenobi £50



William Shatner £50



Benedict Cumberbatch £50


Hulk Ragnarok £60



Carrie Fisher £60



Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, Adam west wrap, £125



Bounty Hunters wrap £135



Swamp Thing and Abby £65


Stan Lee and Marvel characters £150 




 Swamp Thing and Ivy wrap £120



 Cover recreation sketchcover £70



 WATERCOLOURS 



This is a new line for me. Last April I was asked to paint a series of covers using watercolour. I enjoyed it and the results surprised me (in that they looked quite good). So I now offer watercolour sketches as a commission option. These aren't to be confused with the Copic pieces with a colour wash, these are true watercolours, no ink or marker involved. 



Prices are £200 for something like the pieces below. They're A3 in size. 



Prices for A4 watercolours like the pieces below are £60.



For more detailed pieces, for example with a full background or more figures, prices will be on a per job basis.



Spidey v the Goblin A3


Spidey v Goblin A3


Hawkman #11 recreation A3



                                                      Daredevil #8 recreation A3


Spidey v Goblin A3




Poison Ivy A3


Poison Ivy A4



Wolverine A4



A4 Phoenix 

Also, I now do purely watercolour sketchcovers like the pieces shown below. No Copics etc, just paint!


Hawkman £60



Hemsworth Thor £60



Poison Ivy £60



Batman v Joker £60


Peter Parker/Spidey £60

CONVENTION STYLE SKETCHES

Prices are £50 for an A4 sized one and £100 for an A3 sized one (or about 17" by 11" if you're from the USA). 
 Colour (Copics with a watercolour wash) will be £60 for an A4 and £120 for an A3





Again, it's a similar situation regarding detailed backgrounds and multiple figures. They'll be priced on a per job basis. 






A3 Julie Newmar




A4 Chris Hemsworth





If you want something doing for the con that's not listed here, like a cover recreation for example, then see here for the info!