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, 22 April 2011

ab hinc

The new working process.

H - So, what's today's post about, Rex?
R - It’s about…well, we’ve reached a point…it's, um, the creation of our production…studio. Our production office. 
H - Very eloquent. What about it?
R - Well, we're now in production. We've finished the pre-production work and we're now producing our book. We have a specific time frame for completion of the project, which is very do-able, and I'm delighted.
      H - The pictures today are of the John Barleycorn studio as we have set it up this week, in a two-room cabin near the woods behind my house. One of those rooms is my office, the other is an empty room I usually use for martial arts and theatre practice – and we've now turned that second room into a work space for our graphic novel. In many ways it seems that we've taken a long while to get to this point. But that's the nature of how this graphic novel is being gestated and will be born, is it not?
R - Yes.
H - When I showed you my ideas for how to set up the studio, you told me that it looked like a miniature film production office.
R - Yes. It reminds me of some I've worked in as a storyboard artist.
Rex is puzzled.
H - So my question to you then, Rex, is: Why didn’t you suggest working like this before?
R - Because we've spent a good five or six months sitting round your kitchen table working. It was only last week, when you took down the punch bag in your  dojo and made it available for John Barleycorn, that we started coming up here to work, laying the art out on the floor. And it was only after that that you suggested we should put the art up on the walls. Also, remember, it's only been the past week or so that we've been working full-time on the comic, so we didn't need a dedicated workspace as much as we do now. 
      H - Yes, many good changes seem to have happened as a result of our making the decision to work full-time on the project. Neils Bohr, the 20th Century quantum physicist, used to stage mock gun fights with his lab assistants, using water pistols, because he wanted to find out why it was always the gunslinger who drew his pistol last who would win the fight. He came to the conclusion that the second gun slinger was what he termed ‘decided.’ He didn’t have to think, he just reacted, and thus was faster at drawing his pistol. 
R - What has that got to do with anything?
H - I don’t know. Maybe we will find out in the fullness of time! You know, Rex, there might be another reason we've moved to the dojo. We're in the middle of a heat wave at the moment, and the studio's porch is a perfect place to work in this sun!
R - Absolutely.
H - Which begs another question, Rex.
R - Which is?
H - Since we're in the middle of a heat wave, why are you wearing a long, heavy, black velvet coat? 
R - I don’t know what you're talking about.
H - Well, you do know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about why you're still wearing that velvet coat in the middle of a heat wave.
R – Well, Howard, it’s because it's the only one I have.
H – Okay, Rex, I’m clearly not going to get a proper answer out of you about this; and to be honest, if you want to sweat like a stuck pig, then you’re free to do so. 
R – Well, at least I am not prattling on about water pistols....
H - Back to our discussion: We've now laid the graphic novel out in sequential scenes, and it's displayed here on the walls in a way that makes each scene easily identifiable and accessible. We can see at a glance where new art work is needed, and we have an over view of the story from beginning to end. We have information about the characters at our fingertips, not just stored inside a computer. This means that when we discuss them in the future, we will be able to take character information listed on sheets of paper out onto the porch and ‘walk with them.’ 
Howard is puzzled.
R – Yes. Except, um, Howard, I don't know what 'walking with them' means.
H - ‘Walking with’ lets us act out little sequences which will help to solidify each character’s role in the story, including exactly what they know about the plot at any specific time. I had a realisation, when I came to write some of the scenes, that I didn’t know what it was that some of the characters did or didn’t know about the overall plot. Perhaps this is something other writers experience too: a difficulty in distancing oneself from one’s own omnipotent knowledge of the story. Does that make sense?
R - I think what you're trying to say is that because you know everything, from start to finish, it's sometimes hard to remember that the characters don’t know everything as well. Their reactions and responses aren’t going to be your reactions and responses.
H - Very well put, Rex. I suspect we will also find that being surrounded by the characters and story every day means that we'll absorb them into our psyches even more. We'll be catching relationships and correspondences subliminally, which should give us a deeper understanding of the book. It's as if, starting this week, we're submerging ourselves fully into the story and the story-telling process.
R - So how are you finding working full-time?
H - It’s good! It's taken quite a bit of pressure off our workdays, since we can work as long as we need to each day. Also, our focus isn’t being split between competing projects now. When my theatre company used to rehearse a new show, we'd often go to a farm in the south of France, which was in the middle of nowhere. The farm was set up as a theatre retreat, and had no TV or other distractions. We found that the amount of work we were able to do there was exponentially more, even though, paradoxically, we also spent a lot of our time relaxing. When we rehearsed back home in London, we'd often come into rehearsals distracted by everyday living - traffic problems, housing problems, etc. A large part of the day was wasted on these things, rather than spent working. In France, all we did was work, eat good food, and lie around in the sun – and we got an enormous amount done. Similar to how you and I have been working this week, in fact, Rex!
R – Yes, I’ve found that even though we’ve only added a few hours to each work day, the output has been amplified by 200 or 300%. 
H - That’s not possible. By definition, the most you can have is 100%. I would have thought a man of your pedantic nature would have know that, Rex.
R – Hmm. It’s a pity you took your punch bag down, Howard....

Relaxing - Tilly is puzzled!


  1. Good to see that the John Barleycorn character went down so well last week, and interesting to see that some people are reading the story as it goes along, while others are waiting for the finished story. Do remember, this is only a first draft you’re seeing, and story lines can change between drafts!

    Rima, I have pressed Rex on the 'golden section' in the art work, and he refuses to either confirm or deny it. Personally, I am not sure that he would have thought about it that much, but he is a dark horse and it's quite possible that there are even more esoteric patterns in his artwork than I am aware of, or that he lets on.

  2. I really enjoyed this post.... and was intrigued with what you said, Howard, about what the characters do or do not know about the plot. I;d never considered that before from the perspective of the author - fascinating!

    Enjoy the heat wave, we slipped quietly back to winter - howling winds and snow showers yesterday... fire in the wood stove this morning. Yikes!

  3. Love seeing your workspace and intrigued by all the art on the walls that we've not seen yet! It does indeed look like film production offices I have known, if you substitute LA for the Devon country side. And I enjoyed seeing Tilly with the two of you, who I've come to know and love through your wife's blog, Howard. Good luck with the work gentlemen. Looking forward to the pages to come.

  4. Funny, my great grandma had a velvet coat very similar to the one Rex wears. However, she only wore it when she went 'out' to the 'moving pictures'. She would never wear it on a hot day :)

  5. Oh heatwave, schmeatwave!!! It can't be a heatwave if you're enjoying it! I'd swap one of ours for one of yours any day, we're about to clock up our 5th month of summer and still almost no rain!

    Great to see all the artwork up and interesting, as Valerianna said, to consider the conundrum of author omniscience vs character knowledge. Having everything in front of you, at your fingertips, makes so much sense to me. I guess it's because I'm a more visual person, but one of the reasons I can't seem to write long poems let alone a novel length story (I think, anyway), is that I feel like a lose a connection with it as soon as I have to turn a page to write more. I like to be able to see the whole thing in front of me all at once, see the shape of it, how it sits on the page, see any particular part of it right in front of me without having to go turning pages to find it. Maybe I should try your method, if I can find some free wall space around here!