The art was originally drawn for a never-completed story, The Machines of God, as an action sequence over which a narrative would run. I later re-worked the pages into the first draft of John Barleycorn Must Die -- but Howard cut them when he was working one weekend and, mysteriously, one of the pages of this sequence turned blank! He took this as a sign that the sequence should be axed. He’s like that. Most people would have just re-loaded the page. However, after he had ground me down with hours of justification for his actions, I finally agreed that the sequence was surplus to requirements, as it slowed down the action of the Prologue.
Some of the more observant amongst you may have noticed that a few of the pages we've posted so far have a bird motif at the top, and Page One of this sequence is no exception. Whereas I’d love to claim this has some deep esoteric meaning, in reality it is just a page extension, necessary because the format of the comic changed from A4 to standard American format. This format change happened when I first took the art from the three unfinished comic projects (Immortales, Machines of God, and The Wallpaper That Ate London) under my wing and decided to create a single new story (John Barleycorn). The bird motif that I used to extend the page size is one of those 'happy accidents,' as I now think that the repeated use of this motif also serves to unify the various scenes.
The narrative of the first two pages, above, is designed to emphasize the vulnerability and isolation of the young girl. I show that the lift is out of order, so she is forced to take the staircase. At the base of the stairs, from a worm’s eye view, there is drunk slumped over his bottle and piles of rubbish. Since they are in the foreground of the frame, we see that the girl will need to step over them both. Were I to reverse the shot, so that we look down the stairs, the sense of danger would be lessened.
On exiting the stairwell, the environment is hostile, dark, and it's raining outside. The tower block literally towers above the girl. This shows a harsh side of London, as many people experience it: the city as a lonely, threatening place. In The Machines of God, the young heroine (who was not called Maggie in that story) was very capable of looking after herself on the streets, as we see in the scene above where she takes swift action to overcome the threat of a gang of boys. But this was not the image we wanted for our Maggie in John Barleycorn.
I particularly like the sequence of drawings where the girl is sitting on the front seat at the top of a double-decker bus. (This is a position I liked to sit in when I lived in London myself.) As well as giving us a strong sense of Maggie's isolation, it also evokes the feeling of being on top of the world...like being in a lighthouse.
I hope you enjoy looking at these pages of art (ruthlessly discarded by Howard) as much as I enjoyed drawing them.
Now...which button do I press?