At last, I’m getting started on the final artwork for the Charles Waterton comic strip project. I’m starting with the confrontation between Waterton and Mr Simpson the soap manufacturer, whose factory in Walton village has polluted air and stream and killed trees in the Waterton’s park.
Did the soap works look anything like the scene I imagined in my rough? I’ve been unable to track down a photograph of the factory as it was, so using a map in Peter Wright’s 1985 book A History of Walton I made a 3D model in Sketchup.
The factory was built on a triangle of land between the Barnsley Canal and Shay Lane. Shay Lane runs eastwards out of the village towards Crofton. I tried to use the satellite image from Google Earth as my starting point but that got a bit fiddly as I’m not familiar with the program so I started with a blank and drew out the buildings on the ground plane by eye, then I extruded them up into 3D objects using the Push Pull Tool.
With the two chimneys this isn’t so very different to the scene I conjured up from imagination but it’s not quite what I need for the showdown scene, so I’ll take the essential features from it and bring them together to make it a bit more dramatic.
A photograph taken after the factory closed shows that the canal ran past the soap works on an embankment, so the barges were passing by at roof level.
My first attempt at putting together a comic strip using Manga Studio EX5. Still a lot to learn, but I’ve managed the basics. On a short trip to Hornsea last September, we’d taken Map Art Lab with us for some crafty inspiration and the project that we had in mind was to design our own version of the sea monsters that were drawn as decorations on maps during the age of exploration.
At least a dozen swallows fly low over the pastures alongside the Balk, some of them nesting in the stables.
There’s a double yellow line of stonecrop in flower on a sunny, south-facing stretch of the concrete canal bank, one line along the top of the bank, the other on the lower ledge.
The green roof of an outbuilding in Netherton is covered in stonecrop but there it is showing predominantly the red of the succulent leaves rather than the yellow of the flowers.
To judge by how many times we’ve heard them singing, it must have been a good year for song thrushes. I recognise them by their thrice repeated phrases. Many of these varied phrases sound familiar but I can’t quite place them as impressions of other birds. Sometimes they’ll insert an anxious mewing phrase that reminds me of a bird of prey.
Blackbirds and others are joining in a late afternoon chorus in a strip of hawthorns and trees alongside a canal cutting. The vertical wall of sandstone on the opposite bank adds resonance.
We’re always listening for approaching bicycles on the towpath so we both automatically glance over our shoulders when we hear what sounds like a child’s hooter behind us; ‘pip, pip, pip, pi – peep!’. It’s a moorhen calling.
A moorhen swims alongside a mute swan nesting on a platform of vegetation at the edge of the canal. There’s no sign of cygnets this afternoon.
In the wood the beck now runs through a tunnel of fresh green foliage backlit by the sun. There are so many trees in full leaf that the valley seen from the Balk looks like the edge of a forest but a pair of mistle thrushes and a heron appreciate the acres of open space where grass has been cut, most likely for silage. The Strands has been cut too but the marshier sections have been left. Yellow flag is in showy bloom.
The landscape seems so lush and green that it feels as if it’s overdoing it, like a Samuel Palmer rural idyll. It’s the way England appears when I’ve been away in the Mediterranean and become accustomed to the grey green of herbs and olive trees. I come back and the green seems almost overwhelming.
Buttercups are at their best, some of the currently ungrazed pastures almost rivalling some of the buttercup meadows we saw in the Dales last.
The causey stone path has narrowed since we last walked along it as the mixed hedges the cow parsley close in on it.
Horbury Bridge, 2.55 p.m.; A female goosander leads her seven young up the rapids at the foot of the old weir. As we watch the whole family disappears from view, giving the impression that mother and young have dived simultaneously. It’s the first time that we’ve seen a mother with young on the Calder.
‘Mr Darwin Welcome. Delighted you have come to Yorkshire’ is the opening caption, spoken by Charles Waterton from the top branches of an elm tree to Darwin, then in his mid-thirties, midway between the voyage of The Beagle and the publication of The Origin of Species.
It’s a complex double-page spread but you’ve got to start somewhere so this very rough rough suggests how we can slot in the main aspects of a tour of Waterton’s sanctuary for wildlife at Walton Park. You could really extend this one tour into a twelve page comic story in its own right but that’s all the space we have for the last forty years of Waterton’s life.
I would so like to have heard a discussion between Darwin and Waterton about the Nondescript, Waterton’s enigmatic ape-man creation. Did it give Darwin the idea for his Descent of Man?!
And here’s another Darwin/Waterton which regrettably we’re unable to follow up in this brief comic strip biography. Here’s Darwin recalling his medical student days in Edinburgh;
‘I heard Audubon deliver some interesting discourses on the habits of North American birds, sneering somewhat unjustly at Waterton. By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently; he gave me lessons for payments, and I used often to go sit with him for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man.’
Charles Darwin, Autobiography
Also in Darwin’s autobiography there’s a passage which echoes Charles Waterton’s childhood. Darwin recalls; ‘To my deep mortification my father once said to me “You care for nothing but, shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”‘
At last, I’ve had a look through the script for the Charles Waterton comic and I’m onto the first pencil roughs stage, quickly going through the scenes doing what in the theatre would be called blocking in; planning the movement of characters. Even with something as chaotic as a punch-up with poachers I don’t want to keep changing the point of view too much so that, for instance, the character on the left is inexplicably on the right in the next frame. Based on a true incident recalled by Charles Waterton, this near fatal fracas ends up with a touch of Laurel and Hardy slapstick because, Waterton tells us, the poacher ran away with his hat and he ended up with the poacher’s.
Despite having read the Dummies book and watching several video tutorials, I’m still struggling to get up to speed with Manga Studio EX4 but at least it is easy to draw up the panels to see how much action I need to fit onto each page. I might very well draw the panels by hand in the final artwork, I haven’t decided on that yet, but at this stage I’m happy to have a grid to work in. Obviously I wouldn’t go for such thick ruled borders alongside my pen and ink drawings.
I can see the advantage of getting friends in to choreograph the fight and take reference photographs but at the moment fast pencil sketches, getting the gist of the action, are all that I need.
I was so looking forward to seeing my article in the local newsletter but, an illustrator’s worst nightmare, something went horribly wrong between the 300 dpi image I supplied and the print version!
Both reproduced here at 100 dpi, but I think you get the picture. Which is more than the readers of the newsletter will. John Welding says it looks as if the image has been converted to black and white, which is not recommended for anything scanned at less than 600 dpi.