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, 20 May 2011

Rex Week I

R - Hello, this is Rex Van Ryn, Captain of the Starship John Barleycorn, and this is my blog! In this week’s post, I shall introduce you to the first of the scenes deleted from our graphic novel: six pages of art that would forever have been lost to the world were it not for this opportunity to give them a proper public viewing!

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3
Page 4

Page 5

Page 6


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.

 I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you a little about the initial ideas behind the scenes, which will demonstrate the thought process I go through when turning a story into a sequence of drawings. This sequence follows our young heroine, Maggie, on her journey from her home in Tower Hamlets to Central London, where she meets her friend, Ally. On the way, she steps over a drunk, navigates some of the local pond-life, and views London Town from the top of a bus.

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?


  1. Funny AND fascinating. Good job Rex! Your partner is missed, but this is yet another good JB post. Very interesting to know the creative process behind the pictures, the choices you make regarding angle and such, all the technical expertise of telling stories in picture form. Not so different from film in some ways and so I guess that having been a storyboard artist, and your JB partner being a theater director, is good background for comics.

    Very interesting.... We all know that many films have been inspired by comics, and people have moved from working in comics to working in the Industy, but it is interesting to reflect that it can work the other way round as well, that working in film/theater can be a good background for writing comics. (Joss Whedon, for example.)

  2. Most of my friends who draw storyboards are comic book artists too. It's an easily transferable skill so long as you can think like a big kid!


  3. She looks so lonely, but trying to be tough. Beautifully atmospheric, it doesn't need words at all!

  4. No words needed! Can't wait to tell Howard that!


  5. I like that sequence, too.... the images have a strong emotional charge.

  6. Well done, Rex. Good to hear your words as well as see your art. You're strangely monosyllabic around that Howard :o).

  7. Love it! Good luck with the solo posts, Rex.

  8. I agree that it is very interesting to know what effect you were striving for with the point of view angles; also, no words are needed for that sequence.It is amazing what a slight shift in point of view can do to alter mood. I've been to London on the double-decker and I love looking from that view!

  9. Impressive solo helmsmanship of the John Barleycorn enterprise, Captain van Ryn.

    Your co pilot will be most reassured I’m sure when he returns from his own adventures to alien territories in a far flung galaxy on the edge of the known universe, (well the far side of Europe anyway) ... boldly going where many have gone before .. I digress.

    I am particularly enjoying enlarging the art work from this week and the last, and examining it in detail. It is meticulous and skilfully drawn and a real pleasure to peruse. Rather sad to think that some of these scenes will quite literally never be seen by humans ever again ... its logical of course, Captain, that they should be deleted, but ... are you out of your Vulcan minds??

    This continues to be a most impressive enterprise gent(s). Great to know that the Captain’s log ..er blog .. is in such capable hands. Does the starship run on auto pilot when you both go on holiday?

    Signed: The Real Anonymous

  10. Thank you all for your support.

    Next weeks post is developing nicely with even more sequential art deconstructed and some astonishing revelations.

    Together we will triumph over the machine.