Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Tag: process


Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

Issue #4 is on shelves right now and it’s our final issue. We started a tale, and now it’s done. Read the Murder Book rap sheet below.

Below are my annotations. An inside look into my brain as I reflect on our making of this issue, and a chance for me to unpack what I’m seeing in the work now, and how I feel it connects on a broader spectrum. I hope you dig, and find something that’ll help your mind think/make comics in the future.


You’d almost be fooled into thinking this cover was simple. There’s so much black, and white, and only 3 real elements, but it’s all about the composition of this one for me. Lon’s body language is, as always, perfect. The flame trail just represents so much, and we went through a few colour scheme to get this just right, and this is definitely just right. Then the skyline caps it off, the city she’s saving now something behind her. It’s saved, but she’s walking away.

And that skyline is gorgeous, got shades of Frank Miller in my heart, and I love it so.

This cover might just be my favourite; it’s up there with #2.


This opening panel was so easy for me to write, and I’m a bastard, but hot damn it’s worth it to see Sami draw his own version of a helicarrier. That design, Tree’s amazing colours on the vehicle as well as the sky, and then that one caption, and this panel stands alone as something I think we nailed 100%. It sets a tone I’m really happy with for the events of this issue.

We then cut to Milla in a moment where she seems like she’s breaking the fourth wall. She’s not, but I love that it seems that way. Because she’s right, we are indeed entering the final act of the main narrative.

The reveal of Milla in her ship with Asia and Alex was a time jump I know is a gamble. We left things with Lon shooting Alex and now we’re moving forward in time. We explain what happened, in rough terms, but this is my big fear that it’ll throw people off. But I like playing with time. Issues #2-3 actually went back a few seconds between the end of one, and the start of the next, the flashback notwithstanding. But this jumps hours ahead. I hope people don’t mind missing the “action” in between, because it was actually just boring stuff and as such i didn’t want to write it. Showing your pieces move across the board isn’t always as exciting as revealing the pieces in a dangerous situation.

These fluid filled tanks from Sami/Tree are gorgeous. Milla would absolutely have this weird stuff on standby.


I had to get across the idea that Asia is there keeping Alex alive by subduing his mind while the fire has just about consumed his body. I do this by having her monologue at a comatose Asia. I should have had someone else in the room with Milla. Another wolf soldier. Someone to ask pointed questions as to what they could do, so I didn’t need to have Milla stating things outright, which I really tried to not do here so I know it’ll be oblique to those not reading deeply.

I love Ferrier’s balloon tail in that second panel. Subtle, but amazing.

Panel three has Milla continue her monologue ,which I do enjoy, and she lays out her plan. This is everything she’s going to do. Simply because she’s nuts. Like some kind of Willy Wonka Bond Villain. Hence the “We will be the makers of music.” line.


I scripted new dialogue over this page a million times. Literally. I hit 999,999 times, and then did one more pass.

This was more fear that readers wouldn’t get what had happened with the time jump. This was in response to reviews saying the book was great, but wasn’t laying out answers with clarity. So I squeaked some info in here as to what’s happened since the last issue, and I wonder how it’ll land.

This page is Lon and Eric in the midst of it. Everything is jumping off and they need to launch into the final fray. Eric knows how to do this, which becomes really clear in the coming pages.


Eric triggering some new marks is the big play on this page, but the underscore is Lon’s look at him, and the look on his own face. She doesn’t trust him right here, and he’s beyond caring. He’s enjoying the road as he feels like it’s maybe leading towards an end.


I know there’s a lot of violence in this book, and maybe we’re desensitised to it, but Eric killing these two is a complete dick move. Lon’s reaction is my reaction, she’s the only person left in this story who’s still a normal functioning human, which is funny because she was a hitwoman not long before this.

Time changes you and your outlook on life. Sometimes you don’t even see the change sneaking up on you.

And Eric drops an open sentence for the page change two in a row…


The dropship coming down is an opportunity for narrative movement. Eric’s way of handling entrance to it is a character moment. The wolf soldiers coming out of the dropship is a gonzo moment.

I like that they loom at the bottom of the page, bringing such weird threat with them, and then we deal with them in one big moment next page.


Eric using his power here to throw the car isn’t an insight to us, but it is to Lon. We have to remember that. This is a moment where not having captions left me out in the cold a bit, haha.

This whole moment is Eric’s Raiders of the Lost Ark moment where Indy shoots the guy with the sword. Why drag shit out when you can be efficient and effective. The look on Eric’s face at the end sells it all. Good ol’ Sami and his facial expressions, always the best in show.


Okay, this page is a masterpiece. This is the sort of thing that comes from knowing your collaborator, and collaborating with Sami Kivela. This page gets me excited to read comics, no less make them.

Realistically, there was a lot to unpack here, and showing lots of intricacies was going to clag up the whole works. So I asked Sami if we could do something fun here and he’s always down to be the best creator on the page, so he ran with it.

The overall layout is a thing of beauty, but it’s the little things, the details that prove Sami is the GOAT on this one. The panel with Eric using his hand wave to twist a wolf’s head around is genius, and the panel of the wolf being shot back and we see the cockpit behind it is insanely good. Sami is always thinking. His geography is flawless.

Our two leads then step into the cockpit and Tree changes the lighting, and thus the mood. Spectacular. And here, finally, Lon decided there’s a moment for them to talk and work out where they are standing. She’s been put onto uneven ground and she needs to get stability back to her world.


It’s interesting to note that Eric starts off by telling the truth. That stuff is all real. Then he starts to swerve, obfuscate, and straight up lie. But we do learn that the hit troupe from #1 was orchestrated by Eric, so that’s one Q A’ed. Then Eric gets back into the truth, that Alex represents a beginning, he’s the fuse, and it’s all about to get big.

The final line is really the summation of Milla’s plan. People looking deeper won’t find anything, this is just her expressing herself. As humans want to do, and are usually allowed to.


I love the geometrical design of this page. It’s kind of an inverted triangle, but the point at the bottom is an explosion of Milla’s full form. And the top is actually not a straight line, it’s wiggly, it’s erratic. It all reflects Milla getting things sorted, getting her place in line, and then it all points to her. It’s all for her.

This page IS Milla Albuquerque.

By this stage of the story, I’ve truly doubled down on Milla’s propensity to monologue to herself. She thinks theatrically, she lives that way, despite the lack of an audience, because she is her own audience. This is all for her, no one else. So you can’t silence a voice that doesn’t need to be heard, and you can’t hide her away or muffle what’s coming out because that’s not the point. Milla is all about doing it and enjoying it, the expression means much more than the reception.

Which is actually a good way to create art. Being dependent on the reactions of others is a dire way to put things into the world, but being able to be satisfied yourself in what you’ve done is wildly liberating. It’s insane, and also misses the point of art on so many levels, but it would also be so so much easier.

As Lon and Eric fight closer to her, she waits and honestly looks forward to it all. She has no idea what’s going to happen, but she’s down for whatever.


I packed so much into this page and Sami handled it all like a boss.

Milla is honest, she really does love what she’s created with these two.

Then she lets slip the big news moving forward – she can’t be allowed to die because it’ll awaken every pyrokinetic sleeper agent on her books. Which we know is a lot.

The escalation from entrance to the shot nearly hitting Lon’s head is too quick, I think, but it’s what we’ve got, and the rest of the pages all flow a lot better, so it gets us where we need to go and be.


And Eric finally reveals himself a little more. He’s not just here for the good times, he’s here to turn on Lon and kill Alex. Initially when he pinched off her suit he was going to crush her arm off and she’d be left with a bionic arm at the end of the story, but it didn’t work well for this scene to have her bleeding out insanely from the loss of a limb, so I scrapped it.

Then we end the page with the truth all tumbling out. Because Milla knows all about it…


Eric’s daughter is already dead. He’s lied about her. And if you paid attention to when Eric searched for his daughter, Eve Robinson, in the camera, you now know why he wanted to drop everything and watch that footage so much.

Was it worth discovering this now and then a reread will play that scene differently? Well, I hope so, ha.

Milla gets words and Panel Five is clearly too wordy, but I liked all the words, so bugger it – in they remained. So Milla explains it all to Lon in a page, and she also drops the fact that Eric’s daughter is also her daughter, and the way we do that means, yes, I want you paying attention. Read. Every. Word.

The final panel is all about Milla finally making a connection with Lon – she’s hinting that Lon’s daughter is a sleeper agent also. Again: I’m not gonna have her state it all in so many words. I just can’t bring myself to do that, but I hope people jump into this with me [my rally cry since issue #1 – I want people interrogating these pages].

Also, that negative space in the bottom is the best. Love how empty it is, and where Ferrier drops the caption.


Eric slings the bullet away and reveals his inner truth – he feels like they’re all damned. He feels this because Milla made him something else, and that caused the death of his daughter, and I was never ever gonna show you what happened, because the idea of it should be enough to give you chills. What a horrible turn of events, and I hope it sticks in your guts.

At this stage, Asia has awakened – presumably the shooting at Alex jolted him which caused reverb back into Asia, so she’s here, and she leaps at Eric’s back like Voorhees coming outta the lake in Part I and she floods Eric’s mind with Eve. This is what pauses the whole situation, which also allowed the pause off Alex. Unfortunately.

Lon screams for Asia to return to Alex, because she knows this will kill him, and she’s torn on that front, but Asia is resolute, and she’s making the bigger decision that Lon hasn’t been able to.


All points converge through Lon’s POV as she sees the three things before her, and must choose what will live and what will not.

Excuse me, the FOUR things before her.

Then Lon makes her decision, in as few words as possible. Again, trying to keep things clean and not overexplain. Let her actions speak more than anything else. So into the uncontrolled fire goes Eric. And so too does Lon, hoping she’ll survive.

The thick white section is time passing and that’s the kind of thing you can script all you want, but the whole team has to work to pull it off. Thankfully, Sami changes up the angles on the shot for the next panel, and Tree dominates with her colours, and the result is a very clear transition of time.

That movie caption came very late in the game. I wasn’t listening to the song though, I promise.

This final panel is so well laid out, so much space around the characters, so much world still out there hogging the frame. And their words are going to be true forever and for everything moving forward.


I scripted this page as a conversation. I had to get it all out. Then I edited it. Then I broke it across panels. Then Sami wanted to kill me. But then he came around on this stupid over-panelled idea. And then, once drawn, I edited the script again. Thinking about the truth of the moment, the stuff that was Capital N Needed, and also thinking of Ferrier on letters, ha. These are the beautiful moments of collaboration.

I also dig how that final panel runs full down into the bleed, as Lon looks back into the zephyr. That’s art storytelling well beyond my pay grade.


This kind of summarises how to combat trolls, and how to fight against the world, and how to stay upright through the resistance. Tl;dr – fear is for fools, and fear is their tool.

Lon is completely resolute here in this sequence. My idea is that ever since she found out she’d be a mother, Lon has grappled with violence. She wanted to step away from it, she wanted to rise above it, be better than it. A parent protects.

But, the thing is, protection can be a violent game. Retribution can occur, and you can’t always remain passive. We hope and wish for such a thing, but it’s just not true. It sucks, but it’s not always an option. Lon finally understands that, she realises violence doesn’t mean you aren’t protecting, and parents aren’t a passive shield. So she steps up to make the world a better place, for her kid, but also just in general.

This page is the culmination of Lon’s growth.

The zig zag of the final tier of panels is glorious as it focuses on Lon, and the movement, and not the actual violence.


And so Milla becomes the one with the metal plumage now. That whole throne, her death, everything was built to this moment of flipping the intro.

The rest of the page is Lon dealing with the cathartic pain of what she’s become, and the world in which she has to become in. And Sami handles it all perfectly. The absolute carnage of Alex and Eric, and her one delicate hand says it all. She’s accepting, but that’s still a painful internal transformation to undergo.

Beside Lon, always with her, is Asia. Accepting, supporting, they are a team. As good parents should be. While the world twirls around them, they must hold fast. Their one true goal is the same, and becoming violent, seeing the world vastly change with these sleepers awakened all around, this changes nothing for a parent.

A parent protects their child, that’s the job. Protect, teach, lead, love.


The future is safe. It’s unsafe for man people, but the actual concept of the future, the time ahead, is safe now. Things can still be amazing.

That part is probably just wishful thinking from me. I’m happy to cop to that.

This final image is the close of the story, really. The zephyr floats above, the city burns below, and will only get worse, and our two ladies are allowed a moment. Because if you pull back enough, you’ll see the world is a melting pot of emotion and action, and yet we endure. We find a way to move forward and find a way. We have to, there is no other option.

You search it out, you carve your own space, and you make a little piece of the universe yours. This is what Lon learn and hopefully we do, too. Keep moving and defend yourself, your ideals, and your love forever. Because on the horizon, you’ll find your island.


Okay, Coda time.

I always love a good coda. And I came up with the brainchild that because it’s a coda, we could use a different storytelling method. So we were allowed to use captions. But not just any captions, we could go crazy, use big arcs of words like BWS did in WEAPON X. man, I loved writing these pages.

This coda is Lon applying her lesson, showing us she’s going to be alright, she hasn’t forgotten.

It also teases out what’s happened in the aftermath of this mess: people are hunting the names of the sleeper agents, because some have managed to go dormant, and that scares people. But should it?

Isn’t acceptance the key, much like Lon told Milla. Fear is the problem, so remove it’s teeth. So Lon wait, ready to act, if needed, but happy not to if she can avoid it.

Also, dig that bear design, obvs influenced by Weapon X as well.


We get the time frame now because we see Asia’s belly. We can see months have floated by, and the world is still there. Lon and Asia are still there.

Asia gets to describe the flipside to Milla’s beautiful canvas, which makes the title of the story take on a new meaning now, I hope. Every person’s beautiful canvas is the life they create, that they foster, and respect, and love, and craft for the future.

As these two bicker, as lovers are wont to do, we see Alex as a spectre, but a rather content one. This is the personification of Lon’s state of mind. She’s able to come to grips with her past, all of it, and understand it all in a broader lifelong, worldwide context.

Which builds us to the final page…


I love playing the end against the beginning, and I’m 100% happy with how we’ve done it here. This is a wheel turn, but the wheel has advanced, so it’s the same, but it’s different. This is life.

I also can’t overstate how much Tree’s colours bring this whole moment home. They are such a difference from the opening page of 31 – and that blue horizon behind them calms me and makes me smile every damn time.

The book on the table is another Argento jam. I’ll let you google it, but know it’s not chosen for specific reference to story moments here, but more as just a neat bookend, and important because Lon has put that book down. She’s moved onto something new, a little less violent and horrific. But the book is still there, ready to be picked up, if needed.

Ending with “This has been THE BEAUTIFUL CANVAS” was something I thought up and then couldn’t not do. It brought it all together for me.

And that’s the story. Many have asked if I will do a sequel, and you can see here that people survived, so I really could, but I don’t have anything to say as yet. Lon’s lesson is so important, and is so complete here that I’ve certainly closed the door on this. But I’d be interested in coming back to the characters a decade later, as the wheel has turned many times, and see how they are coping, how the world has transformed as it’s moved on, and what their daughter is like.

Hell, I’d give her a sibling, without this curse, and see what family drama that breeds.

Now that I think about it…hrmm…


Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Fun, as always. And always nice to gush about your amazing team when they so clearly deserve it.


Okay, this one was a beast. I don’t know what I expected when Dan Hill and I entered a room to talk about Matt Fraction. Maybe we should have limited ourselves to just 1-3 books. Maybe. But probably not.

Matt Fraction looms over most of my work, and not always in ways you might expect. I just dig his work ethic, his devotion, the fact he’s busy as hell and manages it, and his quality. I don’t specifically want to write books like him – I don’t think I could, nor should, nor would. I want to write RKL books, but I want to always strive for more, so he helps me think of what that ethereal more might look like.

There’s too much to cover, but this might be my favourite Jam Session we’ve done yet. Or maybe it’s the worst, I don’t know. But I enjoyed it, and I hope you dig it, and if it gets you to try out one Fraction book you hadn’t before, then it’ll have all been worth it.

Also: daaaamn, that Kivela illo. Love it, as always.


Fraction took all the space, so we scrapped this. But I have one written. Maybe we’ll put it in the tpb.

And that’s us done. How sad, how wonderful. If you came this far, especially with the annotations, you are wonderful. Thank you.

There will be a tpb collection of BEAUTIFUL CANVAS at some stage. I know when, but can’t confirm just yet – set phasers for 2018 and some present buying for your smart friends, though. I will tell you when I can, because you should buy 5 and give them out at birthdays and for Xmas and such because it’s probably a safe bet your friends didn’t get it already, and if they are your friends then they are probably smart enough to get it and good looking enough to love it. Just like you are.

But until then, thank you.


My Newsletter – A Study in Madness and Shame

I write a weekly newsletter about my life making comics that I send out every Monday. Perhaps you’d like it.

I love writing this newsletter. It’s a personal insight into who I am and what I do. It’s a journey. And it goes straight into your inbox, waiting for whenever you are ready, and you won’t miss it [unless you choose to].

It’s 2017 and nobody actively checks sites anymore, blogging feels dead. Social media is wonderful, but so heavily weighted down with dread lately. When cities burn, you feel like a fool fiddling as you talk about how many pages you wrote that day. Or maybe social media needs that, too, it probably does, but sometimes opening up the portal to connect means other stuff connects with you. It’s heavy on the heart and I openly admit I need my time away from it. I need to have enough heart for my own family, and children I teach, and worlds I create [and destroy], etc.

Plus, when The Natzis! start doxxing people, you start to reconsider how open and accessible you are online. I mean, I guess white grand wizards could just subscribe to my newsletter, then I’d be screwed, but I live in hope to be off their radar.


So I have this weekly newsletter and it’s the space where I’m really personal. It’s the space where my week is summed up. It’s the space where if you don’t exist in my weird pockets of the Australian Space/Time Continuum, you can catch what I’m up to.

I write a recap of sorts about my writing week – what I’m working on, how it’s going. I try to unpack my writing process, what I do, how and why. I want anyone reading it to get a sitrep on me, but maybe learn something through that process they can use themselves. I love nothing more than when someone replies that they loved the process slices in my week – especially when it’s an artist realising how writers tick.

Then I rapid fire out a suggestions of things/links you might dig – podcasts, interviews, articles, kickstarters, etc.

Followed by what quality media I imbibed that week and what I took away from it, good or bad [though I tend to usually only spend energy focusing on the good and helpful].

There’s a corkboard of dates for things coming up that’ll feature me or my name.

Then I drop some kind of After Credits Sequence – a little something for those who read all the way down. Could be an After School Special closing quote. Could be a weird short story. Could be a rant. Could be crap. Could be a link to something, or a cheeky heads up about something coming up.

Most newsletters come in ~1500 words, lately. The biggest ever was 5k, but I won’t be trying that again any time soon. They rarely dip under 1k. They should feel worthwhile, without being laborious. Should be.

Anyway, yeah, I write a weekly newsletter about the comic life I chose [not the comic life that chose me].

I really think you’d dig it.


Oh, yeah, it’s called The Two Fisted Homeopape – I figure if you get where those two elements have come from then you’re going to love my newsletter. Enjoy.


Hi all,

I wanted to take a moment and discuss the AUDIO COMMENTARY pledge level because it’s the one I love the most – hit the campaign here to scope it out [LINK]

DE2_Media2_bY’see, I love process [those who know me already know this, and Paul Allor just eyerolled so hard his peepers are still spinning] but it’s true, I dig the world of and around writing as much as I love writing. I listen to writing podcasts all the time, I read interviews from creators I dig/trust, and I love getting my hands on back matter and extra material in comics, especially when it pertains to how the book was made – logistically as well as a peep inside the creative mind.

I grew up reading a lot of non-fiction about entertainment, books about slasher flicks, books about 70s cinema, Stan’s Soapbox [ha]. If you find the right stuff, and if you dig deep, you’ll learn and level up every single time. I read movie scripts, I love Stephen King’s Author’s Notes because they are all fascinating insights into great ideas and minds, and Ed Brubaker is my back matter northern light.

Then for me, I get specific with the process content I can find and will really inform me on a deep level. If Matt Fraction writes something on his tumblr, man, you best believe I’m all over that. This trend of writer’s writing Commentary on their works is great because it gets under the skin of the best – and it’s also why I choose to do it: it’s fun, hopefully someone learns something, and I usually get a new understanding on my own work/process, too [LINK]

Now, I’m not saying I’m a Fraction/Gillen in this world [Allor’s eyes just stopped rolling because he started nodding in agreement with me]. I will never be as good as them, and that’s fine, but I wish more people who were as good as them were as open with their process. I wish people shared scripts and notes and deconstructions and ways to do things. And I figure if I do it, then maybe someone else will get the idea to also do it. And then we have a culture of analytical sharing.

It’s why both of my Kickstarter campaigns so far have had thick script pdfs offered, and why Stretch Goals often unlock pitch material or other analytical works. I put out what I wish to see more of in the world.

And this is why I’m so excited about the Audio Commentary. It’s all this stuff I’d write but then also not afraid to go into crazy tangents, because it’s spoken and I can rattle this stuff off with only a thought. To type it all would be insanity. But to ramble into the mic, well, that’s just going to be fun. And hopefully informative.

I know if Fraction dropped an Audio Commentary for $20 I would be all over that business. But, again [yes, Paul, yes, I know] I’m not Fraction. And I’m aware of this. Which is why, for that $20, you will actually be buying:

  • DEER EDITOR: FEARLESS [with full back matter activated]
  • RKL Script PDF #2
  • Down Under PDF – a short from Owen Gieni and I
  • CHUM Preview Ashcan – the up-coming surf noir series from Sami and I from ComixTribe
  • Blind Dates and Broken Hearts ebook – about Daredevil’s lovelife
  • The Secret History of Paul Keating PDF – a comic short from Matt Lesniewski and I
  • Noirvember ebook – 30 essays about noir
  • HEADSPACE pitch doc – for the process junkies to see how Eric Zawadzki and I got that book off the ground
  • STUCK IN THE GUTTERS #1 magazine pdf – made by Leo Johnson, feat. many comics and essays, incl. one from Dan Hill and I about FURY MAX: MY WAR GONE BY
  • Audio Commentary files [hour/s of fun]

That’s 11 different things to download which works out to less than $2 per thing, not to mention that’s using the Monopoly money currency of Australia which converts into ~$15US. I gotta say, that’s some pretty wild value.

Photo 28-02-2016 10 15 36 pmNot to mention, do us a solid and get us to this $3k zone and if you’ve backed $3+ then you get to submit a 6 word antler noir story and it’ll end up in the back matter [discretion allowed if you decide to be offensive of Allor-inflammatory].

OR, bump us to the $3500 stretch goal and I’ll also unlock a PDF download of the #1 issue of a new series from Sami Kivelä and I [and many friends] called CURRICULUM and it’s an absolute ripper.

I know the Audio Commentary sounds high end, and it is, but it’s going to be some serious back matter truth bomb strafing for your ears, and it comes with this absolute slate of other downloads from more comics to ebooks, magazines, pitches, and the chance to worm your own bad self into the comic.

I hope you see the value and the fun of it and consider this pledge level because at the end of the day, the lion’s share of this campaign’s funds will go to Sami and he deserves every single damn penny for the amazing job he’s done on this book.

OH, and there is now going to be an Antler Noir prose piece in that thick PDF for FEARLESS and it opens like this:

A Refined Palette for Murder

Written by Ryan K Lindsay, Illustrations by Sami Kivelä

Someone once asked me if I could smell human emotions. Like I’m some sort of freak. Or god.

I politely told them I couldn’t smell them, deer can only smell certain poisons and delicious meals, but I told him I could read them. I’d know if you were nervous from fifty yards. You couldn’t hide your seething frustration from me if I was driving 180 miles an hour past you.

I’m a journalist, I get to the truth every time, but I don’t use Super Olfactory Mojo to get there. I just sit down and watch and think.

It shocks me how many people don’t think anymore.

Take this party I went to last weekend, for instance.

DE 2_coverI’m looking forward to bringing this campaign to a close, I can’t thank you enough for believing in our insanity, and we all here at The Truth HQ wish you an ace end to your day and week.

Believe in antler noir – [LINK]

ymmv .13 – I Haven’t Written a Goddamn Thing

One month down and I haven’t written a damn thing.

Well, that’s what it feels like anyway. I didn’t actually script a full page of comics in January, which makes me feel icky and lazy and stupid and crazy. But I have been writing.

ymmv .13 – I Haven’t Written a Goddamn Thing [LINK]

This column is the sort of thing I didn’t think I’d be writing. It’s a peek into perceived failures, and also what the role of a writer really is. It’s not even something I like to think about because I love scripting and all the rest can feel like work sometimes.

I guess writing is a job and not some creative job where I ride a unicorn to my rainbow office in the sky.

RKL Annotations – NEGATIVE SPACE #3

NEGATIVE SPACE #3 is late. There’s no two ways about it. It’s a new year and a whole month in and you are only just getting your mitts on this beast. We are all crazy proud of this issue so we thank you for holding on and dipping back into the waters with us.

negative space 3Owen Gieni continues to drop serious A-levels of game and heat in this book so it’s an eyeball feast, and Ryan Ferrier is the letter we need AND the one we deserve.

This is a process post where I try to open up how we broke the eggs for this omelette but it usually devolves into my just gushing about Owen’s work. I hope my weepy collaborator love helps you somehow, let’s dive in.


Love the fact this is so crucial to the issue/story and yet doesn’t really exactly spoil what’s going on.

Also love the crazy violence peppered throughout the whole thing. We went from one very central image for #1, to a smattering of subtle word things for #2, and now this is just a visual buffet the more you dive into it.


There’s a joke on this page, you see it, right?

It’s not even that good a joke but I really just wanted to keep it because it’s beyond absurd and so it’s a hint to the whole tone of this thing. Even when it’s serious, and bad, there is time for this moment to occur.

It’s also totally a SAGA style opening splash, no bones about it. Complete swipe.


Beta makes with some serious James Remar info-dumping to open the issue. Womp.

Poor Guy, so sad, so committed to talking out loud to himself to keep us all on track.


The way Owen handles Guy’s expression completely sells this whole ‘using a tentacle on a mask to mimic putting a hand up to someone’s mouth to shut them up’ moment.

Pretty much just every way Owen handles this weird landscape and the Evorah in it proves he’s worth more to this book than I ever was or could be. He’s playing with a lot of pieces and he’s making it all work like crazy.


I’m worried this sequence is plodding but I’m realising it’s just metered tone when taken as part of the whole story. This is my ebb before we get to some serious flow right into the finale of this issue.

All of this is set up for what happens ahead and so I’m glad I took my time here.

Also, look at Beta turn nasty and almost burnt in her blackness in that middle panel. That’s some colour as storytelling stuff going on right there.


You should get a sense of just how pig-headed and stupid and doomed Guy is from this page and how he handles himself here.

The way this random Evorah shuffles into the room but then doesn’t quite see Guy yet is so superbly well placed and handled by Owen. This sequence was hard to write, and I thought I might’ve blown it, but he really brings it all home. That transition between the final two panels really sells the split second moment Guy has before he’s completely screwed.

Also, that child’s skeleton on the table is totally all Owen. Blame. Him.


Pretty certain that first panel of Guy wrapped up by some tentacles is completely all Owen and it’s so damn effective. Makes it look like he’s been stitched up, but then you see it’s a showdown…and he’s being saved by Beta. The way she holds him down and leans right over the table is just pure perfect Gieni body language. This is masterful in every sense of the term.

Also, take in them Ryan Ferrier scribble balloons. So ace.


Beta is so confident, so forward, and she’s literally dragging Guy into it all. And there’s no small metaphor that he’s being taken into and down an unknown black whole.

And that bottom panel of Guy swimming forward to this unknown is one of my favourite panels of this book. If ever there was a Depressionaut, this is he.


Guy is lost, Beta is too quick, and we all quickly see just where this is all taking place and that the unknown is a scary and ridiculous place.

It’s also so cool to know that when you ask Owen for bioluminescent bubbles then it is exactly what you are going to get. This is an example of writing right into the strength of the artist.


This is the false beat before the real BOOM.

Wish I could’ve tweaked the dialogue some more on this page, it just doesn’t pop as much as the others.


This, man, THIS is just far too much fun. Owen obviously throws himself headlong into every square inch of this book and this is wild proof right here. Look at this thing? I had an idea, linked to a YouTube clip, I gave some suggestions, but this right here is beyond my brain. Look into those eyes and despair. Owen Gieni just drained your soul.


This turning point for Guy was one of those sad gags I had to throw at him. The fact he’s about to die and instead one of these giants is going to just suck on him like an emotional everlasting gobstopper and could you imagine anything worse in your life? This is why my characters would gang up and mutilate me if they ever gained independent sentience, I’m no good for them at all.

Owen took that Evorah hugging panel and just gave it everything, didn’t he? This one panel is just pure high art right in the middle of the page. And if you look closer, you’ll see Beta struggling to open it up and her body language is again on point.

PAGES 12 + 13

Double page spread klaxoooon.

An emotional vista, and I wasn’t sure it’d work, but then Owen just comes along and slays it like it ain’t no thing. It’s almost like a picture book for just a moment, a dark, haunting, terrible book for kids about why life sucks. From top left to the promise of life to the bottom right and the ‘real’ promise of life, the only promise it can offer, that it ends, and this page actually gets to me a little.

Though I didn’t realise how well this spread would go down. The reviews loved the shit out of this and I thank them for it.

There’s even this weird little colour scheme thing going on that makes me think/feel INSIDE OUT a little and that’s just too damn fine.

I’m also quietly proud of the device at the bottom where we see the happiness bomb charge and it’s exposition but silent. You still have to piece all of this together, keep thinking, keep up.


The layout on this page is nuts, the colours, the way we move through the motions. Guy smiling is weird enough but this cropped image of him makes it even more ghastly, a rictus of depression.

I love Guy’s body language as he tears into this beast, he’s so victorious. And the colour draining from the Evorah as they change emotion is something Owen just completely nails.

As for the echo of lines in this page from the last, where I flip the meaning, yeah, you know I’m quietly proud of that – though not silent, I’m still gonna tell you.


This is a page of complex human emotions. I want you to still hold them, feel them, and yet still not fully understand. Because who actually understands human emotions, we are insane, erratic, flippant. That’s what makes us so beautiful sometimes, and it’s really something I want to try and write.


“This is how angels must feel.” is one of those lines I wasn’t sure would get through but I knew I’d fight for it, though this was completely unnecessary. It stayed through every draft, never questioned, and I’m still really glad with how simply it sums up Guy’s feelings as he essentially annihilates a bunch of creatures.

And how good does that annihilation look against that green? Bloody ripper.


War is hell and we all lose. Guy’s boot hitting that dead Evorah shell kinda says it all for me. And that Ferrier SFX in there is perfect to make you feel the split second moment.

Beta’s dialogue is so much fun to write, but even more fun against the droll sensibility of Guy. He never reacts or gives anything away and tone doesn’t play on the page against a back and forth so you need to bring a lot to it but if you do, and you get it right, then these two are so fun against each other. Beta never seems to pic up on Guy’s feelings, which is hilarious for an emotionally charged species. I guess happiness drowns and blinds you – which is completely true, btw.


Owen’s layout on this coda page for the battle just makes me smile. It’s all a pause, a breath, and it leads into that final beat of the issue. These pages are important because you get interplay, you get set up, and you get to slingshot into what comes next.


Because of course Rick is a mansplainer. And these two are just as much fun to write as the Beta/Guy pairing and that’s been really fun in this book, figuring out how to pair characters up to bring out the best in them all.

This page is filler, kinda, but it’s insight, and it’s also a pause, but it works because we gave Guy/Beta the pause so now Rick/Briggs get one too right before the end. I like getting these pages when I can, to let the characters play and shine. You can’t always show them within the action so you find the beats.

It was Owen who brought the sight gag of Briggs trying to pry Rick off the tablet, which I think plays well to show how absurd this all is. It’s weighted, it’s dark, it all means something, but it’s also batguano absurd, which you have to be fine with.


It was important for me to have Guy stand up to Rick, and Kindred, verbally first. This isn’t a sneak attack, this is him really stepping up and doing what he is doing. Cutting Rick off came as a happy accident because I couldn’t think of a good Bond villain entrance for him but then realised Guy wouldn’t stand for it anyway, he’s got to do what’s coming.


And here comes the realisation for us all, the reason Guy survived down there was because the thought of dying just filled him with such goddamn happiness. There was glee in the thought he was so close to the end. It kinda backfired when it killed the creature that would kill him and so then he’s actually not going to die, but it’s what awakens in him the knowledge of how all this emotional malarkey works, and he’s going to go out with a bang, and that kind of agency is important in a suicidal person. It certainly is in Guy.

It was always really important to me that even at this stage of the tale we have Guy still be suicidal. He’s not cured, this isn’t him fixed. And then we have him use this weird happiness over his own death emotional whirlpool to attack Kindred. This is where his arc is going.


This is just a page to behold. I was initially going to hold it over until the next issue but Chabon convinced me to have it here and he’s so right, it’s a killer ending. Because – and I cough out some clickbait – you won’t believe what happens next. We still have one full issue to make all of this count, and count it all certainly does.

But, again, look at this page. Just…thank you Messers Gieni+Ferrier.

And this is where the final chickens come home to roost for everyone. One. Issue. To. Go.

Thank you for getting down on this issue. I hope you dug it. Though if you’re reading this I doubt you’re the kind to go this far into hate-reading a comic. I guess.

Indie comics live and die on readers caring, so thank you for taking the time. It means the world to all of us at NEGATIVE SPACE HQ. Stick around, see what drops next month to wrap all of these shenanigans up, which I guarantee you is a worthy and gut-kicking finale to the whole mess.

And remember: if you are suffering from depression, please hit THIS LINK to see the access you have to support. No one has to suffer alone. We are here to help you.

ymmv .011 – Top 10 Writing Swipes from the Books of 2015

I didn’t want to do a best of list [too subjective] and writing about my favourite 10 books of 2015 just seemed like a snoozefest [because it is one] so instead, in the flavour of the column, I wrote about 10 books from 2015 that I would wish to steal something from in my quest to make better comics. As such, I now present to you, for your consideration:

ymmv .011 – Top 10 Writing Swipes from the Books of 2015 [LINK]

If you read these books, then maybe you’ve already done some tracing from them, and if there’s something you haven’t yet dug down on , well, have at it with my Stamp of Approval.

Or if you think swiping is for losers, well, you’re probably right. I’ll just see myself out then.

ymmv .02 – Knights of the Round Table

My column on comics process over at Loser City has successfully hit its second deadline and this time I’m talking about your Knights of the Round Table – those first reader peeps you trust to give feedback and ask questions and lead you int the brighter light of glory.

You have some Knights, right? I hope so, they are your best allies in this soul crushing campaign to bring comics to its knees in front of you.

So, yeah, here me bang on about being able to let go and ask for help, because it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it’s actually call *gasp — choke* collaboration. Dig.

ymmv .02 – 2 [LINK]


I’d love to hear about your Knights, how you found them, what they do best for you.

NOTE: ymmv is an abbreviation for ‘your mileage may vary,’ which means an idea might be rad for me but won’t work for you. That’s pretty well the mystical truth behind any advice, knowing it when giving as well as receiving it is key.

Have a great day.

Your Writing Process Will Murder You Dead – BKV Edition

I wish every writer took the time to write about their process, or drop hints, or just describe the shitstorm that is the inside of their cranium because I find all of that stuff so helpful and important and powerful and true.
Even when everyone does it different and feels it different and produces it all different.
No writer is the same, but be damned if we aren’t all a face on some weird dodecahedronical 4th dimensional beast spewing self-absorbed tweets and wondering if we are the only one.

Anyway, enough about me, I wanted to showcase this great Brian K Vaughan piece you can read online and is from the mega-huge superfantastic SAGA HC containing the first 18 issues of the title I love so dearly.
He drops plenty of bombs for your process id to chew over breakfast, I wouldn’t be quoting so much as lifting the piece so instead I’ll link to it here:


But I will highlight one line because it’s the sort of thing I find useful to remind myself, and the sort of thing we should all know/remember/practise and here it is:

I try to force myself to use no more than six panels a page, and no more than twelve balloons of dialogue per page, with no balloon exceeding two typewritten lines of text

Think about the myriad reasons to do this. Think of the letterer, allow that person to do their job sanely. Think of the artist, allow that person to have room to do their job creatively/awesomely. Think of the reader, allow them to not be overwhelmed by the page/words/text-slabs/density. Think of your characters, your pacing, your beats, everything. Paring back is good, assuming the intelligence of your readership is fun, and a good editor once told me that whenever you feel you are finished the whole thing could probably lose 10% easy and not suffer at all. And he was pretty well exactly dead on the money with that call.

I’d been thinking about this all this week because an editor asked me to start numbering all the dialogue/captions on the page [nope, I’d never formatted that way before] and I started freaking out because all my pages were running up into double digits. This made me feel a lot better.

As for panels per page, well, man, this is something I’ve loooong stewed over. I noticed way back when that BKV/Pia Guerra’s Y: THE LAST MAN possibly never ran over 6 panels, and always seemed to average around 4, with some 5, a few 3, and that consistency really got to me. Then I read EX MACHINA by BKV/Tony Harris and that book’s like clockwork for 4 panel pages. And then SAGA is 5 panels most of the time.

From there, I started looking at how other comics rolled – obvs WATCHMEN is the 9 panel grid, Frank Miller would rock the 16 panel grid, I noticed the widescreen layout of Hitch on ULTIMATES and Parlov on FURY MAX and soon I can’t read something without counting the panels with the hand behind my back.

But what does this for me? Knowing all this is no good unless it informs you, maybe even elevates you. So for me, I started looking at what my go-to was for panel count on a page. I seem to sit ~5-6 for most pages, on default. But in editing I’m always looking to drop a panel if/when/where I can. I’m doing this tablet view book and I noticed I definitely love 3 panels per tablet page, so 6 per art page. Whereas I’ll skew to 5 if I’m scripting just a plain full page.

Suddenly, you start looking at the splash pages you do – should you do a Brian Wood and pack the pages with density so you can afford that double splash of Conan sitting down [still one of my favourite double splashes of all time, because it’s about emotion] or do you eschew the splashes entirely, like Phillips/Brubaker on CRIMINAL who only ever dropped 1, and it was a guy looking up at a star filled sky.

Panel count is so important because it’s the control you exert over the reader, over time, and over the way the story reads and feels. If you aren’t thinking about it then what the hell are you doing this in comics for?

Anyway, sometimes rules like this are great because they give you a guide, a starting point, and something to keep you on the straight and narrow and not making the crazy noob mistakes [some of my early early scripts called for some insane 11 panel pages, and worse – and you can go way higher than that, but not with the amount of dialogue and people I also wanted in those panels :(].
Then, as always, remember it’s just a suggestion and if you wanna go crazy with a 25 panel page, or a silent page, or silent issue, or splash with no art, or whatever, then at least you’re probably one step closer to doing it with meaning. Because the old saw of not breaking the rules until you know them and show you can use them is so so very true.
Anyway, also read the post because thinking about BKV stressing over his words and hating on himself makes me fell better about myself in all sorts of nasty mental ways.

Recap of 2014 as a Year of Writing

This has been an amazing year. I’ll flat out call it, it’s exceeded my expectations. The writing has gone well and it has been fun.
In March, I launched HEADSPACE at Monkeybrain Comics, with Eric Zawadzki cocreating and on main art duties, Chris Peterson drew addition pages, with Marissa Louise on his colours. Dan Hill edits the whole beast, and Chris Kosek designs our back matter – which consists of me prattling on about myself and my work. Then from issue #3, Sebastian Piriz flew in and has taken over from Peterson on extra art.
The book is about Shane, the sheriff of Carpenter Cove who comes to discover he’s actually inside the mind of a killer. So he has to figure out how he got there, why he’s there, and how he can survive to get out when the killer’s mind discovers the town and wants to purge it with manifested fears and memories. It’s sci fi/PKD pulp/thriller fun for all.
I actually spent most of 2013 writing HEADSPACE so it was nice to see it finally land. The 22 page/99c download debut from ComiXology was well received with reviewers loving it, readers digging it, and me not entirely loathing myself in its wake. There are currently 5 issues available, with the last 3 coming thick and fast in early 2015, and another piece of good news to follow. Without a doubt, HEADSPACE is the biggest book of my career, so far, and it’s possibly the one I’m currently most proud of.

DEER EDITOR was an issue I cooked up with Sami Kivela over a long period of time, and in between his other art responsibilities. Once finally completed, I decided to throw my piss into the wind and Kickstart the comic. I was staunch on needing this Kickstarter to have minimal-to-no postage. This was a digital experience, hence why I set my goal so low ($1000) – because I legit didn’t ‘know’ I’d make it.
However, we did make it, we made it at ~230% of funding and got the book into a lot of people’s hands. It was a scary and humbling and awesome experience. I’d definitely do it again.
This book has been a special project for me, something a little different with the black and white aspect of the art, and I’ve been humbled by the feedback it has received.

I think the GHOST TOWN tpb landed early in the year. I did that with Daniel J Logan, and Brian V Dyck on colours, at Action Lab Entertainment’s Danger Zone imprint. The trade has the issue #1 in it with art from Justin Greenwood and words by Dave Dwonch. It’s got some beats I’m proud of. If you can find it, hook in. But good luck, it’s nowhere — except on ComiXology for $7.

At the very beginning of the new year, I was invited to pitch for the Vertigo Quarterly series and was steered towards the Magenta issue. I was stunned and honoured to get the look in and was also determined to not lose it, so I set aside everything else (it was right at the start of the new year, at a new school, in a new role, I felt mentally swamped, so I managed to wade through the first rejection to land with the second). The resulting story was GLOVES, a story I did with Tommy Lee Edwards on art and John Workman on letters, and edited by the fantastic Sara Miller. I am exceptionally happy with this story, if I was going to debut in the big leagues with one short I’m glad it was this one. It’s a boxing noir tale, so it shows more of my wheelhouse than less, and it’s got a twist that I think works, and it’s a character deconstruction as well. If you picked up the Magenta issue of the CMYK anthology then I thank you, and hope you dug it.

After the stirring success that was the OXYMORON HC on Kickstarter last year, I was keen to get into the world of Joe Mulvey’s SCAM. THREE CAR MONTE is my story in the Ultimate Scam Collection HC with Adam Masterman on art. It’s a tale about a scam with three possible leads to take. The pages were broken down to chase all three leads at once, and in different narrative ways. This was a nice short to experiment with and try new things.

I continued to write back up material by way of essays. I wrote in a fair few issues of SHELTERED where I wrapped up my investigations on the way the world will end and I started a series of interviews with preppers. These interviews were each written in fury storms of words and thoughts and feelings and I’m actually really bloody proud of how they came out. Alongside this, I also has my back up essays about cryptozoology and weird stuff as featured in modern fiction/media run to the end of the first arc of STRANGE NATION in issue #8. Those were also wicked fun.

Just the other week, a package arrived from IDW and I had no idea what for and I found inside MLP: ADVENTURES IN FRIENDSHIP, an MLP collection of 3 one-shot issues put into this little HC picture book-style book and my issue runs first, with gorgeous art from Tony Fleecs. Pretty cool. The issue is technically from last year, March last year, but this presentation was too cool to ignore.

And then, to be honest, with all that stated above, the year suddenly doesn’t look that impressive. I’ve got HEADSPACE, and DEER EDITOR. Then some shorts. Or that’s how my brain sells it. I mean, hell, I even look slack. But here’s the dirty little secret:
Most of these things from 2014 were written in 2013. And a lot of 2014’s writing has been in prep for 2015. I hope.
At present, I am:
-polishing the second issue script of a mini with a beyond rad publisher that’s not yet been announced (I’ve also looked at prelim colours for the cover, and thumbnails for #1, and I am very happy)
-art continues to roll in for HEADSPACE, it’s going to end strong.
-polishing a script for a spy short with an artist I’ve wanted to work with for years – at present, it’ll just be self-pubbed
-waiting for art on three one-shots that have been placed with artists
-have a script for a one-shot unattached to an artist – it needs the exact right one
-another one-shot script just waiting for the attached artist to come back and be available again
-another half-issue script where I’m just waiting for that artist to come back and be available again
-waiting for word on a pitch an editor at an insane publisher asked for – and which I’m very aware will get knocked back, and I’m cool pessimistically saying this because if you knew the publisher, you’d know I’m actually just being pragmatic – and I’m also just honoured to have been asked to pitch and that they dug it enough that they wanted to see more, that’s the big win in this situation, trust me
-waiting on art for another short to be self-pubbed/uploaded
-waiting on art for another short already with a cool anthology
-discussing with an artist which of two projects we have lined up we might want to kick into high gear in the new year
-there’s this gargantuan writers room/multi-artist book that’s been ticking over for about 18 months now that I’m hoping and thinking might just hit in 2015…maaaaaaaaybe
-talking with two publishers who both want non-fic books about comics from me – which I’ll do, if I ever get the time
-and there’s also talk (mostly in my house, but there’s talk) of more prose work seeing daylight in 2015

So, yeah, if even half this stuff makes it to the page it’ll make 2015 look rad even though it was 2014’s hard work.
Writing is funny like that. We are two days shy of the year and I’ve already written and attached artists to more pages than I completed in total for 2014. You just gotta sit tight and wait and hope it all plays out, and also know it ALL can’t and won’t play out. Which is cool.

And as for goals for the new year. Well, I generally keep those close to my chest. My goals for 2014 were these two:

1 – get some more short work out the door…and I did.

2 – set up the next mini beyond HEADSPACE…and I did. Oh, boy, did I.

So for 2015, yeah, I have just one goal. Beyond finishing all of the above, natch, I have one goal. But that’s just for me for now.
Anyway, I hope your 2014 was busy and productive. I’m off to go ensure my 2015 looks like it should.

Write, drink coffee, and be merry.

Are You a Mignola or a Liefeld?

Been listening to the LET’S TALK COMICS podcast recently, catching up on a few eps — and if you haven’t scoped the show yet with your earholes then get on that because it’s ace for comic creators just idly chatting the super secrets of their process and humble origin stories.
So, anyway, I’m catching up and I’ve just listened to two very different eps with one featuring Rob Liefeld, and the other Mike Mignola. And in each ep we see how wildly different the two are.
Liefeld blew up the scene as a teenager, his style dynamic, his enthusiasm electric, but admittedly his craftmanship was lacking in certain respects. Regardless, he shot out of the stratosphere quickly and then soon splintered off from Marvel to start his own imprint with a few other mates which you might have heard of, Image Comics.
Liefeld’s star rises meteorically, the coin rains, but he has now supernova’d somewhat as his carcass is slowly washing up on the sandy shores of comics. Despite all this, Liefeld loves his work, loves who he is, and will only pause talking about himself and his designs to drop a Todd Mcfarland impression (which is, admittedly, pretty ace).
Then we look at Mignola and he admits when he started he put out some inking work that wasn’t superlative. Then he bounced around various Marvel projects, most of which I rarely see mentioned among the ‘classics’ and then he just dropped out of favour with Marvel. He was good, never great. This is how he saw himself, he felt alright about some things, he loathed others. He’s incredibly humble.
But then, Mignola comes out with Hellboy and begins a four colour journey that will take over two decades, multiple titles, a slew of insane creative talents, and will slowly but surely prove Mignola to be a modern master of the craft.

Reading HELLBOY IN HELL recently showed me how dominant Mignola is as a tone setter and a storyteller. Reading HAWK & DOVE or THE INFINITE did not do the same for me with Liefeld’s modern work.
I found it fascinating that one of these men was the clear break out success, and that man probably did get, and still has, more money then the other, but the other has become a respected titan in the industry and he did it slowly, with missteps, but then huge leaps forward – not in money but in craft.
So it got me to think – are you a Mignola or a Liefeld? Which would you want to be? How do you think you could be either? What steps would you take?
For me, Mignola is the clear winner. I want to chip away at the craft and process and finally do something of deep meaning, something that’s clinically amazing. Because while it’s fun to get paid I would absolutely hate to be a flash in the pan. I am in this to tell stories, money is merely there to help me do it, I’m not doing it necessarily for the money, y’know? It’s also worth noting that one of these stories features more initial failure, and self-doubt, and will take longer, and be a muddied path. It’s not for the lighthearted, but tell me it isn’t worth it.
Hurm, which makes me think, Frank Miller most definitely sits squarely between these two at present. Make of that what you will.
These are the career thoughts that plague me while I clean the kitchen. I hope you dig.

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