Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Steve Yeowell

Steve Yeowell must be a comics creator known to any British fan of the medium, particularly if they happen to have grown up reading the titles produced by the House of Tharg – namely 2000AD and its sister publications. He has illustrated everything from ‘The Red Seas’, ‘Devlin Waugh’ and ‘Nikolai Dante’ through to ‘Tyranny Rex’, ‘Sinister Dexter’ and ‘Maniac 5’ for that particular title.

However, the strip which really broke him into the collective public comics consciousness must surely be the Grant Morrison-scripted ‘Zenith’. That strip alone ran to four books (and other sundry one-shots) and was among the first to tread the path of placing superheroes within a real world setting, like so many others have since, including most recently on television ‘Heroes’.

So, you can understand why I was extremely excited to learn that he would be covering art duties on ‘The Tale of the Hound’, one of a series of strips I scripted for Warhammer Monthly’s ‘Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat’ series. This particular tale was inspired by a Welsh legend but I added in elements of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and the phantom dog folklore that abounds in the British Isles, to give it a suitably dark, Warhammer twist. (As it happens, this is an area of creative inspiration that I plan to mine again in an upcoming project next year.)

I was fortunate enough to meet Steve a little while after the publication of ‘The Tale of the Hound’ and he was very complimentary about my script. I only hope that, one day, I might get the chance to work with him again. But only time will tell...

For the time being, here are pages one and four of ‘The Tale of the Hound’ five-pager.

Images from the Black Library’s Warhammer Monthly comic are the property of Games Workshop Ltd, and used with permission. Copyright © Games Workshop Ltd, 2007, all rights reserved.

London Calling

One of the elements I've added to this blog is a handy sitemeter. (It's at the bottom of the right-hand column if you're interested.) As well as registering how many hits this site receives, it also lets me know where in the world visitors are logging on from.

My wife couldn't quite believe it that people in Singapore and Chile were checking out the Unnatural History blogspot to see what I was up to at the moment. I have to admit that I find the thought rather exciting myself. It's great to know that people all over the world are interested in what I'm up to in my tiny corner of this dank little island we called Britain.

Either that, or they've ended up here by mistake.

Well, if you are visiting from overseas, let me know. Post a comment and say, 'Hi!' As the saying goes, 'There are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.'

PS - In terms of what I'm up to at the moment... I'm nearing the end of one project at the same time as starting on the next, but it's still a little early to reveal any more than that just at the moment. I promise I'll post more as and when I get the go ahead from my various editors/publishers.

Patrick Goddard - featuring Dylan Teague, Lee Townsend and Len O'Grady

I have only been paired with Patrick Goddard as writer-and-artist once, but what a gig it was!

Back in the day, the Black Library (Games Workshop’s publishing wing) used to produce a monthly comic called – funnily enough – ‘Warhammer Monthly’. In it tales were told of characters created within GW’s two parallel yet unconnected game universes, that of the fantasy world of Warhammer and the apocalyptic dystopian vision of the far future, Warhammer 40,000.

An iconic character from those heady creative times was Ephrael Stern, Sister of Battle, the heroine of the ‘Daemonifuge’ strip – and later award-winning graphic novel – created by legendary comic book artist Kev Walker. In the 41st millennium Ephrael fought against the insane corrupted servants of the Dark Gods, effectively a living weapon against Chaos. Her nemesis-turned-ally was Silas Hand of His Imperial Majesty’s Inquisition. The strip ultimately ran to three books, although the last ended abruptly only part way through when the Black Library ceased production of the comic.

For the bumper landmark issue 63, however, as a Christmas special popular characters from the two game worlds swapped places, just once, to see how things might have been. Hence the doomed Dark Elf Malus Darkblade became the female Dark Eldar Maless Darkblade, the Titan god-engine Imperius Dictatio became a steam tank battling skaven in the beleaguered Empire and the Blood Angels Space Marines journeying on their noble Bloodquest became blood-obsessed creatures of an altogether different order in the Northern Wastes of the Warhammer World.

Having had a couple of strips appear in WHM and its sister publication Inferno! I had been fortunate enough to be asked to pitch for the Christmas special. The character that intrigued me most was Ephrael Stern and, at the time, I was keen to write something set in the sub-world of Mordheim, a millennial madness skirmish gaming supplement set five hundred years in the past of the Warhammer World. A new warband had been created for this setting, that of the Sisters of Sigmar, and Witch Hunters also abounded in the game. The parallels were just too obvious and so was born, ‘Ephrael von Stern – Sister of Sigmar’.

When the final comic hit the stands I was thrilled to see the images Patrick Goddard had produced, with Dylan Teague and Lee Townsend on inking duties. But what delighted me even more was that the strip ran first in the comic and also appeared on the cover, this time with Len O’Grady colouring.

So, I present here for your delectation, the cover of warped Warhammer Monthly #63 and two pages of strip from Ephrael von Stern – Sister of Sigmar’.

Images from the Black Library’s Warhammer Monthly comic are the property of Games Workshop Ltd, and used with permission. Copyright © Games Workshop Ltd, 2007, all rights reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Geoff Taylor

Geoff Taylor has been a stalwart contributor of book covers and box art for Games Workshop and Black Library products for a number of years. To have such an iconic artist produce a cover for one of my books felt like a real privilege.

Necromancer follows the sad fall of a once noble man into the ultimate darkness and evil of death magic.

You can see more examples of the work Geoff has produced for Games Workshop and the Black Library, as well as for other companies, here at his own website.

Cover images of Black Library novels are the property of Games Workshop Ltd, and used with permission. Copyright © Games Workshop Ltd, 2007, all rights reserved.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Simon Davis

I must confess that I have only ever met the renowned artist Simon Davis at conventions and, even then, I have a feeling that he has no idea who I am. However, I am fortunate nonetheless because he is another great artist who has provided an illustration for one of my short stories.

The story in question is ‘Mark of the Beast’, a Torben Badenov tale, concerning a Kislevite mercenary and his band, set within Games Workshop’s fantasy Warhammer World. The story was commissioned effectively as a prequel to my first novel ‘The Dead and the Damned’, published in 2002. ‘Mark of the Beast’ explained how some of the original mercenary band first got together and described the incident that forced them to quit the Tzar’s army, to go freelance, as it were.

Mark of the Beast

When it was published in ‘Inferno!’ #34, I was delighted to discover that Simon had painted the picture – of Badenov battling a brutish beastman – to accompany the story. I had been aware of his work previously through 2000AD, for which he stills regular paints. He is probably best known in that particular publication for his work on Sinister Dexter and, more recently, Stone Island. In fact, there is an interview with him in the latest issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Simon’s unique style certainly proved a fitting and dynamic choice for ‘Mark of the Beast’ and I only hope that the opportunity arises one day to work with him again, more directly this time.

You can read ‘Mark of the Beast’ in the Black Library short story anthology ‘Way of the Dead’.

The image taken from Black Library’s Inferno! Magazine issue 34 is the property of Games Workshop Ltd, and used with permission. Copyright © Games Workshop Ltd, 2007, all rights reserved.

Des Hanley

I have only ever worked with Des Hanley indirectly, but I have always been impressed with his careful pencil work.

Boyz in the Hive

Des served a four-year stint at Games Workshop as an in-house illustrator. When I was writing for the Black Library’s ‘Inferno!’ magazine, he was one of their regular contributors, providing full page illustrations for the stories within. One of the on-going characters I created for the magazine was a bounty hunter called Nathan Creed, who plied his trade in the urban wasteland that existed beneath the mountain-sized city of Hive Primus on the planet of Necromunda – but more about him another time...


I had already written two Nathan Creed adventures when Des was connected to the series. From then on he appeared to become the unofficial Creed artist. The first story he illustrated was ‘Boyz in the Hive’, originally called ‘Illegal Alien’, and was followed soon after by ‘Firestarter!’ and ‘Bad Medicine’.

Bad Medicine

Unfortunately, ‘Inferno!’ came to an untimely end and so there were never any more Creed stories but had there been I would have liked to see Des continue on the series. He now works for Crocodile Games and you can see many examples of his work for their Wargods series at their website. I also provide a link here to Des’s own website, although it has been ‘coming soon’ for quite some time. Still, there’s a great picture of a Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor there for all to enjoy in the meantime.

Images from the Black Library’s Inferno! Magazine are the property of Games Workshop Ltd, and used with permission. Copyright © Games Workshop Ltd, 2007, all rights reserved.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tony Hough

Tony Hough is another artist whose work I was first exposed to in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook, in this case ‘Spectral Stalkers’. Next came ‘Night Dragon’ which was also Tony’s first painted cover for the FF series. I loved the detail that went into these images and was particularly impressed by the painting of the Night Dragon with its gleaming metallic finish.

Then came my second FF commission, ‘Knights of Doom’. I was excited to discover that Tony was to produce both the internal illustrations and the cover. It was his painting of the Chaos Steed and its Beastman rider which really made the book stand out from all the others in the series (‘Knights of Doom’ being the 56th at that point). His use of a palette that was predominantly based around purple was both original and striking and meant that the scene – a battle against dark forces taking place at night – did not get lost in shadows and darkness, which could have so easily happened.

Skip forwards ten years or so and I was putting the finishes touches to the updated and expanded version of ‘Bloodbones’, ready for publication by Wizard Books. I discovered that Martin McKenna, who had already produced the cover, was not available to draw the internal black and whites, but was delighted to hear that Tony would be instead.

His style and skill had moved on in the past decade and I feel that his illustrations for ‘Bloodbones’ – realised with a rotring pen – have a lightness and depth that make them among some of the best black and whites he’s produced. The detail in these images is astonishing and I love how he has turned what were my original flights of fancy in the illo brief into living and breathing men and monsters.

The highlight for me was when Tony held an exhibition of his work in his home town of Luton, with his illustrations for ‘Bloodbones’ forming a core part of it. I was lucky enough to receive a personal invitation to the opening night. To see the images he had drawn enlarged and on show in a public space, with my name attached, was a definite first and one that will be hard to top.

You can see more examples of Tony’s work at and on his own website.

Mark Harrison

I first became aware of Mark Harrison’s work through the British sci-fi and fantasy weekly anthology comic 2000AD, specifically when he took over art duties on Dan Abnett’s re-imagined Durham Red strip. His blend of traditional art techniques and digital methods was a joy to below, expressing a level of detail not seen before, at the time.

I remember how I felt the first time I saw Mark’s work on Glimmer Rats, scripted by Gordon Rennie. This nightmarish sci-fi take on Platoon was made all the more disturbing by Mark’s intense visuals. Words such as blood-splattered and visceral just don’t go far enough to describe how the panels looked on the page and how, combined with Gordon’s words, they added a sinister depth to the growing sense of horror expressed throughout the series.

I heard Mark speak at a convention once about the lengthy process by which he realised his art. I was fascinated and over-awed at the same time. Here was a man who was passionate and dedicated about his work. To understand just how much he cared about getting it right and turning in his very best, you only have to read the relevant chapter in ‘Thrill-Power Overload’, David Bishop’s history of 2000AD.

Then came Abaddon books. For those who don’t know, Abaddon is an imprint owned by the company Rebellion who also just happen to own 2000AD. As soon as the new book lines were launched it was Mark’s images that were seen gracing the covers, helping to give them their own dynamic identity. Not long after I was welcomed into the fold and worked up the background setting for the Pax Britannia alternate-history-steampunk line of novels and started work on the first adventure in the series ‘Unnatural History’. And so I found myself working on a proposal for Mark Harrison to realise!

With both of my book covers for the series so far he really took the brief brief I provided and ran with it. His big gribbly monsters are fast becoming a trademark of the whole Pax Britannia series, what with the dinosaurs on the front of ‘Unnatural History’, the fantastic Nazi robot from Al Ewing’s ‘El Sombra’ and now the big beastie on the cover of ‘Leviathan Rising’. Have no fear, I have another suitably unpleasant monster in mind for Ulysses Quicksilver’s third outing and can’t wait to see what Mark will make of it.

Cover images of Abaddon Books novels are the property of Rebellion Ltd, and are used with permission. Copyright © Rebellion Ltd, 2007, all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Martin McKenna

I first became aware of Martin’s pen and ink work as a teenager reading the original Jackson and Livingstone Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebooks when they first came out in the 1980s. I think the specific gamebook in question was probably ‘Daggers of Darkness’. I was immediately blown away by the detail and liveliness of his illustrations. Only later was I to discover that Martin was only about seventeen or eighteen years old himself when he received that commission, making his achievement all the more incredible.

As he continued to illustrate other FF gamebooks – such as ‘Vault of the Vampire’, ‘Dead of Night’, ‘Legend of the Shadow Warriors’, ‘Moonrunner’, ‘Return to Firetop Mountain’ and ‘Revenge of the Vampire’ – I also became aware of his work for Games Workshop and their Warhammer role-playing games in particular.

When I was fortunate enough to receive my first Fighting Fantasy commission, ‘Spellbreaker’, it was mentioned that I could request the artist I would like to illustrate the book and the editors would see if that person was available. I immediately asked for Martin, and I wrote the illustration brief for that book accordingly, with him in mind. However, in the end it was Alan Langford who illustrated ‘Spellbreaker’ (having already covered such classics as ‘Island of the Lizard King’ and ‘Battleblade Warrior’). I continued to request Martin for my books until my wish was granted. Not only did he produce all of the internal black and white illos for ‘Curse of the Mummy’, he also painted the cover. Incredible as it seems now, this was his first cover for the FF range and a fantastic piece of work it was too.

Since the FF series re-launch under the Wizard Books imprint, Martin has produced covers for a large number of the re-issued adventures, including ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’, ‘Forest of Doom’, ‘City of Thieves’, ‘Island of the Lizard King’, ‘Legend of Zagor’, ‘Eye of the Dragon’ and many more. It was as a result of the re-issue that I was eventually lucky enough to have Martin work on ‘Spellbreaker’ after all, when he produced the cover for the updated Wizard version.

When my own ‘Bloodbones’ finally saw the light of day, after a lengthy ten years’ gestation, I was thrilled to discover that Martin had been asked to produce the cover for that too. Having realised ‘Curse of the Mummy’ in coloured ink washes, he was now working digitally in Photoshop. The finished result was fantastic and I present it here in all its glory to be savoured by you all.

In time, of course, I was commissioned to write the first truly new FF gamebook since Puffin’s run of 59 adventures (and additional FF publications) came to an end in the mid 1990s. I was delighted that Martin was back on cover duties and also on internals. His style has altered slightly over time but I feel that his work is still unmistakeably his own. The illustrations he turned in for ‘Howl of the Werewolf’ are, I feel, among his very best, suitably grim and gothic, and enhanced by the fact that they have all been created digitally (despite what first impressions might suggest), allowing him to implement a scraperboard style, whereby he can effectively draw in white on top of black.

In the long run, Martin McKenna has had as big an impact on the look of the Fighting Fantasy range as, say, Russ Nicholson or Iain McCaig, and continues to do so to day. Naturally he has gone on to bigger and better things, including working in television and as a concept artist for computer games companies. You can see more extensive portfolios of his work at, the CG Society and, of course, on his own website.
All images are copyright © Martin McKenna, 2007, used with permission, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Adrian Smith

I came to work with Adrian Smith through writing for the Black Library. We had briefly met at a convention but that was about it until I was told by my editor at the Black Library that Adrian had painted a picture for the Armageddon campaign that was being fought as part of a worldwide gaming event being run by Games Workshop. I had been commissioned to write a tie-in novel ‘Crusade for Armageddon’. Adrian’s picture was so large it was going to be split in half and used on two different book covers, one of them being mine.

As it worked out, he then went on to produce the cover for my third BL novel ‘Magestorm’. In this case I had been asked to write something to tie-in with the Storm of Chaos global campaign and to include characters from the WarCry CCG within it. One of these turned out to be the warrior wizard Gerhart Brennend. Adrian had already produced the image of the flame-wielding sorcerer for the CCG and his painting went a long way to inspiring much of the tale I eventually penned. I was fortunate enough to come across Adrian’s website some time after and was able to purchase the original painting, which now hangs on the wall of my office at home. And very smart it looks too.
Gerhart Brennend – a loner whose mysterious past is drenched in tragedy.

A pattern seemed to be emerging here as Adrian then ended up painting the cover of ‘Iron Hands’, my fourth BL novel, this time as a specific commission. This painting of Iron-Father Gdolkin was one of the pictures used in the Black Library calendar that year, and it still one of my favourite book covers.

You can find out more about Adrian’s work here.

Cover images of Black Library novels are the property of Games Workshop Ltd, and used with permission. Copyright © Games Workshop Ltd., 2007, all rights reserved.

The State of the Art

A pleasant side-effect of being a published author is that I have had the privilege of working with a number of artists over the years, either directly – for example with my comic work, or gamebooks – or indirectly. Some of them are well known in certain circles, some not so well known.

From time to time I am going to post some examples of the work these talented gentlemen (yes, they’ve all been male) have produced to accompany my stories, with hopefully some appropriate links.

But to give you a taster, these are just some of the artists who have produced covers for my books, provided internal illustrations for my gamebooks or illustrated comic strips I have written.

Alan Langford

Tony Hough

Martin McKenna

Clint Langley

Adrian Smith

Geoff Taylor

Mark Harrison

Paul Jeacock (a.k.a. Paul Staples)

Patrick Goddard

Des Hanley

Simon Davis

P J Holden

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Flight of the Paper Crane

Found this on YouTube today, completely by accident, but was so blown away by the film and the accompanying soundtrack that I thought I'd post it here to let others enjoy for themselves. Memories of Morph and Tony Hart anyone?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Leviathan Risen

Hopefully fans of the Pax Britannia series will be pleased to know that last night I put the finishing touches to 'Leviathan Rising' the second Ulysses Quicksilver adventure for the steampunk/alternate history line. It is now in the hands of my editor at Abaddon Books and will be available to buy March next year.

Even if I do say so myself, I am rather pleased with it. It was one of the more challenging books I have ever set myself to write, mainly because of the number of characters and interweaving plot strands involved. But I'm pleased with the end result and, after four months of writing, it's good to have it completed!

As is always the way when I achieve closure on a project, my mind is a-whirl with ideas for the next three Quicksilver books. (I hope that doesn't give too much away about the fate of the main character!) The third one, which should be out in time for Christmas 2008 - and you thought Christmas 2007 was kicking off early! - is well formed in my mind. I now just need to sit down a beat out a proposal, during which process I'll sort out all the fine details. But more on that later.

Between now and the next PB book I've already got another two projects on my schedule, but just for the moment I'm going to sit back and bask in the glory of having finished writing my eighth novel, which will also be my sixteenth published book. By my rough estimations that's about 680,000 words in terms of novels alone and, added to my other eight books (but not including the short stories I've written), approximately 1,000,000 published words.

Wow! I think that's a good enough reason to celebrate, don't you?