Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 4 March 2011

in limine

H - After the excitement of our discussion with Rima over the past two weeks, we return to our comic. And on this front, too, there is some rather exciting news, isn’t there, Rex? 
R - Yes! My old friend and collaborator Rick Fairlamb has very kindly colored the comic's cover for us.

 H - It’s an absolutely stunning piece of art, which we will talk a little about in a bit. But first, tell me about Rick. What’s his story?
R – Rick is a storyboard artist and illustrator. I’ve known him for about twenty years. We shared a Soho studio in London for ten years, working on storyboards and illustrations mostly for TV. I consider him one of the finest illustrators around. Many’s the time that Rick came and dragged me out of my local pub so that we could pull an all-nighter. One time I was so drunk I couldn’t get off the bar stool! This was in the days before mobile phones. He called the pub and I said: “I can’t come back to work, I can’t stand up, you’ll have to come and get me!” So he came to the pub in a taxi to take me back to work, since once I got behind my desk I was able to draw all night no matter what state I was in. That was what advertising was like in those days. When we finished in the morning, I’d say, “Well, we got away with that again.” And Rick would say, “Forget it, Jack, it’s Chinatown.”
H - Why did he say that?
R - It’s the last line in the film Chinatown, Howard, and it just seemed appropriate. Also, we were in Chinatown.
H - I thought you said you were in Soho...?
R - Okay, smart arse, we were close to Chinatown. We ate there a lot.
H – That’s enough reminiscences for now, Rex. You’ve gone all teary eyed! Let’s get back to the cover art. I love the creative use of light sources in the way Rick colored your drawing, and beautiful touches such as the camera flares, which makes it look like a photograph. The detail is also quite amazing. How did you and Rick work on this?
R - I sent Rick an outline of my drawing, and also an inked version, to give him an indication of the light source that I wanted. I had a brief discussion with him about the color palette: a moody sky with a storm brewing, but with the sun breaking through the clouds throwing light onto John Barleycorn’s back. I knew he’d know what to do with it straight away.
H - Looking at your original drawing, I am quite surprised at the way he has developed your concept. The clouds for example weren’t in your original sketch, and the way he has colored the barley, so that it is slightly out of focus. He seems to have put in a lot of his own ideas.  
R - Yes. It was Rick's idea to render the barley in the foreground out of focus in order to throw the viewer's attention onto the figure. I knew he’d love the composition and get into the image, as when we worked together we would compete to create the most outrageous poses for characters, with the most drama and tension. 
H – Looking at the way Rick's color transforms your art, I'm reminded of our previous discussions about the use of color in the comic. At the moment the book is in black-and-white, but we've often said that we'd love to produce the whole comic in color. Yet we know that if we're going to publish it ourselves, financial constraints make this impossible. So now we're torn between wanting to publish the book ourselves, maintaining complete control of it, and wanting to find a publisher who'd be willing to fund an all-color comic.
R - I'd deliberately inked the pages for black-and-white, assuming the book would be self-published -- but that's before we started this collaboration. Now I'm tempted to reach for the sky! 
H - The pages do work in black-and-white...but I love what colorists can do with light sources these days, using computers to add such depth to a picture. We've seen this in some of the art we've put up in our ‘Around the table with…’ discussions, such as paintings by Didier and Dave Wyatt. So it seems this will be an on-going question: do we color the book or stay with black-and-white? What is the benefit of black-and-white, Rex?
R - The benefit is the atmosphere that black-and-white art creates, a kind of film noire feel. The subject matter of our comic fits that look: the magician sleuth, poking his nose into dark happenings. 
H - And the advantage of color, if we are lucky enough to have the choice? 
R - Color can give an extra dimension to the story's environments. And we've talked about using different styles of coloring to make clear distinctions between the mundus and the real world.
H - Yes, we'd discussed using color to give depth to the ‘real’ world scenes, in a realistic way, then using an old-style comic book flat color for scenes in the mundus.
R – Color can give the characters more depth too, as you can see the colors of the clothes that they wear. Maggie, for example, might wear really loud colored clothes... 
H - ...and Drake might sport a deep velvet jacket.
R - Yes, but you need to give it a color, Howard.
H - Huh?
R – Velvet is a fabric, not a color!
H - Oh, yeah, right…a deep blue velvet jacket.
R - Better. And maybe a deep red jacket as well, since he might have more than one!
H – Right, you're getting sarcastic now, Rex. I think we’ll stop.


  1. I love this cover! Yeah Rick! Yeah you guys!

  2. Cover is great, well done! Would be hard pressed to choose between colour and black and white though. However, definitely red for the jacket!

  3. Awesome cover. And to hear you describe the subject of your comic as a "magician sleuth, poking his nose into dark happenings" makes me want to read it more than ever.

    - Jon (in L.A.)

  4. Awesome cover. And it's become fun to eavesdrop on your conversations. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Dramatic artwork! Can't wait to be able to read the comic itself. Great work :)

  6. Love the art and love the discussion - I hadn't even noticed the lens flare (how interesting that far from making art obsolete, the camera has simply changed the way people do art). As ever I remain in awe and deeply envious of people what can draw and paint x

  7. Amazing stuff, the cover is awesome, a mix of colour and black & white sounds tasty, a dark green velvet jacket too

  8. Excited! Great to see the process behind the image too...thanks guys :)

  9. I'd favour a hue of deepest purple myself.

    Or perhaps a dark mink coat for the gentleman?

    This witty, yet highly informed, banter on the subtleties of the creative process is a work of art in its own right and is much appreciated!

    The Real Anonymous

  10. Love the colour, but there's something beautifully stark and dramatic about the Black and White...hmmm decisions, decisions! Perhaps, like the old books printed early last century, a majority of B/W, with a few colour 'plates' to add some of those extra dimensions you talk about (getting a feel of the personality of characters from the colours they wear and so on)?

  11. Thanks for the kind words Gents. What Rex fails to mention is when I arrived in said pub and found him on that bat stool, he'd been on a Guinness fueled killing frenzy. It was a blood bath! Many times I had to cover for him. So now you know why he was relocated to Dartmoor.


  12. Lovely cover! I do like black and white though for the pages.There is something pure and architectural and sculptural about pen, brush and ink, using hatching and line and inky shadows to give shape and so guide the eye. It's also very atmospheric. Sometimes colour can be too much, it becomes a blur and you miss details, which in a sequential narrative like this is important. The main thing in a comic I guess is the story telling flow, panel to panel, page to page. The simple graphic style of black marks on white card makes for a good narrative tool.
    I always want to run my fingertips over the lines in comics, as if I could feel the indentations the pen/pencils made in the paper! And Rex you hit the nail on the head with Noir; black and white films have that same simplicity of purpose, and such great atmosphere.

    Great article guys, and good to see the banter is back!

    And Howard, how could you miss that Chinatown quote!! Amazing film.


    ps favourite noirs; Kiss Me Deadly, Touch Of Evil