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, 27 May 2011

Rex Week II

R – The art in this week's post comes from deleted scenes focused on Ray Butcher, Maggie’s step-father....

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Page 6

Page 7

R – These pages were dropped only a short while ago. Both Howard and I liked the sequence a lot, and we even toyed with the idea of extending Ray’s plot-line beyond the original drawings...but ultimately we decided the scenes didn't work in the overall story, and so they had to go.

Talking of which, I hate to admit it, but this week’s blog post very nearly didn’t work either. “All you have to do is press a button,” is what Howard said, but I don’t just have to press a button, I have to think, and type, and spell, and turn the computer on and off! The Luddites were right, we should have listened to them! Smash the machines, I say, smash them! Has no one ever seen Terminator, or Battlestar Galactica?! Machines are evil! So count yourselves lucky that I managed to get this blog post together at all....

Right. Now, where is that button? I need to press a button…. Is it that one?


That one?


Ah. Must be that one….

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?

Friday, 13 May 2011

nihil declaro

H – I'm going to be away for the next four weeks, Rex. How are you going to cope?

R - I shall cope perfectly well, thank you.

H - Good! I’ve set the posts up, so all you have to do is to press a button. Can you manage that?

R - I’m not a complete Luddite, Howard. I know how to press a button!

H - We’ll see, we’ll see. In this week's post, I want to wrap up a few themes that have been developing here on the blog and in the Comments section over the past month or so; and to talk about what's supposed to happen next, while I'm away. Are you ready?

R - Yes.

H - Let’s pick up on something we spent a long time discussing when we started this blog: our decision to post our first-draft comics pages here. This is primarily a “making of” blog, examining the process of creating a graphic novel (aimed at readers interested in “creative process” issues as well as comics fans) – rather than the kind of comics blog where a final story is presented in weekly installments. Because of this, we spent a good while debating what we should post here by way of comic pages, since normally one doesn't publish first-draft work!  However, we realised early on that in order to discuss the ‘making of’ our novel, we'd need to introduce some of the characters and plot lines --  otherwise the blog would be full of story references that readers wouldn’t understand. It would become nonsensical!

R – Yes, but on the other side of the argument,  we didn't want to lead people down plot routes that might end up changing radically in subsequent drafts; we didn’t know if that would be fair to them. Or to let them become invested in characters that might have to be altered or cut.

H - Ultimately we took the decision (for our American readers: made the decision) to post the first-draft pages and be damned. Partly because we had no idea whether anyone would even be reading our blog at this stage --

R - We hadn’t anticipated such an avid audience!

H –  -- and partly because these kinds of changes between drafts are part of the creative process. So we're going to carry on posting first-draft pages from the novel...but I’m afraid those of you on the edge of your seats waiting for more story are going to have to be patient! In between postings of those pages, there will continue to be 'Around the table with' discussions with other creative artists, and 'making of' posts like this in which Rex and I ramble on about…

R - …stuff.

H – ...our working methods. For example, as the world within the mundus has developed, we've realised that we need to do more research into some of the historical periods we touch upon: Tudor England, the English Civil War, America in the 1920s and 1960s, etc..

R - We don’t have to go into enormous depth, though, Howard. We don’t have to become experts on these subjects, do we?

H - No, but I'm sure that as we look more closely at these periods, our research will throw up ideas and themes that will influence the feel of the comic. I'm reminded of a comment that Mermaid left here on JB a few posts ago, about living in a time of change.  The periods we've just listed were all times of immense turmoil. Did people living in these times, I wonder, have a clear understanding of just what they were living through? This quite fascinates me, this idea of how we view, and are viewed by, history. Will future generations look back on us, then, and wonder why we allowed so much bloodshed over religious ideas that are based on such antiquated texts? Or will we be the generation that finally breaks away from this? And if not us, then which generation will?

There's a technique I use when I'm going through a difficult situation, or want to achieve something new in my life, which is to accept the fact that my current situation will change, because ultimately it can’t not. Even the mighty Roman Empire vanished into the dust of history. Once I have meditated on this and truly accepted that change is inevitable, then it's just a matter of negotiating the point in time when that change is going to happen. In my mind, it’s no longer a question of if, but when.

R - I agree entirely. “I am Great Ozymandis, King of Kings…”

H - Ah, Shelley!

R - Exactamundo!

H - And now, Rex, we must discuss a more important issue than the overthrow of tyranny and the tides of history….

R - Which is?

H - Last week, in Chris’s comment, we were referred to as the ‘Laurel and Hardy of comics creators.' So, the question is: which one of us is which?

R - Well, I’m clearly Stan Laurel.

H - How so?

R - Because I’m the one being picked on and insulted all the time, which puts me squarely in Stan Laurel’s shoes.

H – Oh, right. Okay...I guess.

R - Why? Do you think differently?

H – It’s just that I kind of think of you more in the Oliver Hardy role.

R - Why do you think that?

H – Well, you know…you have a similar physique.

R - Are you saying I’m fat?

H - I’m just saying you have similar physique to Oliver Hardy.

R - How dare you!

H – Well honestly, Rex, how much do you weigh?

R - About sixteen and a half stone.

H - I rest my case.

R - You can’t rest your case, Howard! You’ve proven nothing.

H - You’re right. I can’t rest my case...because…I have to pack my case for Portugal, as I Ieave tomorrow!

R - Nice segue, Howard.

H - I thought so. It leads us nicely into explaining to our readers what's going to happen to the blog while I’m away. You'll be in charge for the next three weeks, posting deleted scenes of Maggie and Ray Butcher, and discussing why they were axed. Then, when I return, we'll have the next set of first-draft comics pages ready to post; and then the week after that, we have the next installment in our ‘Around the table with…’ interviews.

R – Yes, I’m really looking forward to that one! Tell them about it, Howard!

H – A week ago, we had the privilege of chatting with Yoann Lossel, an amazing French painter and illustrator, and his partner, Claire Briant, a ceramicist. We're not able to post the discussion sooner as we haven’t had time to transcribe it yet, but we'll do so when I get back from Portugal. It was a very fascinating dicussion, and one not to be missed.

R - I had the pleasure of spending a day with them afterwards, and truly Howard, they are such a charming couple.

H - So that's all to look forward to in late June, when I return to Devon. And now I can put the moment off no longer. Rex, I place the blog into your capable…I place the blog into your hands. Look after it, care for it, nurture it….

R - Hooray! Now I am at the helm of my very own star ship!

H - Oh god!

R - It will be Warp Factor Ten all the way! The engines will ne take it, but I will boldly go where no man has gone before! Brace yourselves. I am setting a course for the heart of the sun -- a three week ride of thrills, spills, and crazy pills. I will finally allow the scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor to see the light of day.

H - Rex, next week's post is all set up and ready to go; you just have to press a button. That's all.

R - I know, I know. But on the basis that a picture speaks a thousand words, there’ll only be a fraction of the drivel our readers have become accustomed to. And each week I will be presenting a special, in-depth introduction to the series of sequential images: explaining the thought processes behind their creation, their heroic struggle for recognition, and their tragic demise at the hands of the tyrant. It will be my very own Director’s Cut...and like Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Wells before me, I will blaze a trail, defying the studio bosses and speaking truth unto the nations. It will be the John Barleycorn blog, Howard, but not as we know it!

H - Rex, what on earth are you talking about? What studio bosses?

R - Will Rex survive the weeks of solitude? Will he triumph over technology? Will the button be pressed on time? Tune in next week, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel….

Friday, 6 May 2011

fortes fortuna adiuvat part 4

H – In this week’s post, we're going to wrap up our introductions to the characters in our story, covering the last of the Major Arcana in your Tarot deck, Rex. It seems a good idea to finish these because I'm going off to Portugal soon, to direct a production of The Tempest --
R - And I get to take over the blog while you're away!
H – Yes. A worrying thought indeed. But I haven't left yet, Rex, so let’s look at the last of the characters:
13: Death - Ray Butcher.

H - Ray Butcher is Death.
R - Death Ray! Flash Gordon conquers the universe!
H - You see, this is exactly the kind of nonsense that makes me worried about what's going to happen whilst I am away! 
R - It's exactly the kind of nonsense that has been edited out of this blog, time and time again -- and exactly the sort of nonsense that it needs, in my opinion.
H - Like I said, I haven't left yet, so let’s get back to Ray. Ray, who is represented by Death.
R - He brings about the demise of a central character! ...Or does he?
H – Yes, he does, in a manner of speaking; and that will be in the next set of comic pages that we post, on my return to Blighty. We’ve met Ray before, of course, as the alcoholic, feebleminded ne’er-do-well who threatened to kick Maggie out of her home. One reason why we didn’t post his Tarot card last week was that we'd originally cast him as The Devil, but that card is now…

15: The Devil - Maximillian Knight.

H - …Maximillian Knight, who is a fire-and-brimstone preacher.
R - Enough said. That's all this character needs in order to be the Devil, in my book.
H - Although there are also greater depths to him, plot wise.
R – Yes, for he's another of the 13th Conjuror’s puppets.

18: The Moon - ?

H - Number 18 is the Moon.
R - Yes, she is one of my favorite characters and absolutely critical to the story.
H – Actually, we have absolutely no idea who she is yet, do we Rex?
R - Er, no. 
H - We hope that the process Jon described in the Comments last week is going to start to work with this character: that she will make her role known to us in the next couple of months. Luckily, she doesn’t first appear until quite a way into the book.
R – Ah, but she's the subject of a fourteen-page spread that I plan to draw in your absence, Howard!
H - Hmmm. Well, Rex, if you don’t mind having more cut scenes, then fill your boots (or, for our American readers, ‘go to town’).  
R - My word!
H - Next week will be the last post before I go. We’ll talk about what's supposed to happen on the blog while I am away – such as posting art from some of our previously cut scenes, which I know you are excited about.
R - Oh yessssss!!
H - Seriously, though, getting back to this Tarot card: we do have a few ideas about this character, but nothing fixed yet.
20: Judgement - Oliver Hardy.

H - So, Oliver Hardy. Obviously a character in the mundus.
R - Yes. He is the Oliver Hardy of the films, as in Laurel and Hardy, but within the mundus he dresses like Doctor Watson, as in Sherlock Holmes. He is a detective who works for D.C.I Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe). 
H - And his partner is…

21: The World - Stan Laurel.

R - Stan Laurel, of course.
H - So, we have Henry the VIII as a judge, Marilyn Monroe as a Detective Chief Inspector, and Laurel and Hardy as detectives!
R - Yes.
H - Quite a strange police force! But the piece de resistance is that the Chief of Police is none other than…

22: The Fool - Will Summers.

H - ...Will Summers, Henry the VIII’s fool. I think he's one of my favorite characters! And it's clear why he represents the Fool in the Tarot deck – although, unusually, he is number 22 instead of the usual 0. Why is that, Rex?
R - “Whoever shall be first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”
H - That may well be true, but why is this card number 22 instead of number 0 in your Tarot?
R - Because that’s how it was in the Bacchus Tarot, which I based my Tarot on. And I wanted to keep the 0 as a substitute number, in case of emergency.
H - Very wise. So, there they are: all the major characters in our story...except one. 
R - Yes, Glady, the fortune teller. But she is the one who ‘lays’ the Tarot, so she is not ‘in’ the Tarot.
H - That sounds very profound! Be in the world, but not of the world.
R - Don’t try to bend the spoon, but know that there is no spoon.
H - Many a mickle macks a muckle.
R - What!?! What does that even mean, Howard? 
H - It’s Scottish.
R - And you’re worried about me taking over the blog for a month!