Storyboarding Waterton

It’s unusual for me to work in pencil but it’s the quickest way to produce so many drawings. I abandoned the tonal conte crayon shading after the first couple of frames. The Faber Castell eraser doubles as a cap for the HB pencil and proved useful, as it’s so much quicker than diving into the drawer for my regular eraser.

I recently read Guiseppe Cristiano’s Storyboard Design Course, so I’m keen to organise my ideas for my latest freelance job, a comic strip, in storyboard form. My work usually starts with a drawing in a sketchbook, or with days, weeks, months, sometimes years of research but I’ve got a midsummer deadline to work to for this job, so that isn’t an option. The starting point here has to be a story that works.

John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museums, is providing the script for this 36 page comic strip to mark the 150th anniversary of traveller and naturalist Charles Waterton. I’m working on Part 3, The Defence of Natural History which tells the story of the nature reserve that Waterton set up at Walton Park, near Wakefield, when his exploring came to an end in the 1830s.

park mapI’ve split John’s initial outline for the story into 33 frames. After a dramatic opening in which Waterton fights hand to hand with poachers, there’s a tour of the nature reserve. This doesn’t give me much of a chance for storytelling. Waterton simply takes us around his park like a presenter on Countryfile.

We might try introducing a character being taken on a tour of the estate just to create a bit of dialogue and tension. Charles Darwin was a visitor who admired Waterton but could also be rather scathing of Waterton’s views and eccentricities. Another possibility is that Waterton’s son Edmund could be the one being dragged around the estate.  Edmund was, like so many children, a polar opposite to his father.

Soapy Simpson

In The Storyboard Design Course, one of the artists says that he never starts his storyboard at frame one. He’d rather go straight in to the confrontation with the villain of the piece. In my case that’s ‘Soapy’ Simpson, whose factory polluted the stream in Waterton’s park and killed the trees in his heronry.

I found myself snarling as I drew Simpson and thinking of the kind of confrontation that Clint Eastwood  has with a smug but dangerous villain – Lee Van Cleef rather than Eli Wallach – in the Fistful of Dollars trilogy.


storyboardThe other scene that comes alive for me is the one of Waterton’s sisters-in-law, the Miss Edmonstones being racially abused in Wakefield. They were Arawak on their mother’s side, Scottish on their father’s so you feel that at that time they must have appeared quite exotic in the old market town. But so far we’ve got no definite evidence that this actually happened, just the odd hint that John Whitaker is following up with some additional research.

I’d like to feature the Miss Edmonstones as a contrast to the all-action adventures of Waterton. There’s often a woman (or in one case ‘the Woman’) in a Sherlock Holmes story to provide a contrast to the male world of Holmes and Watson.

Waterton's WakefieldHere’s a Waterton comic strip that I produced in the 1980s for a Wakefield Naturalist’s Society display at the Wakefield Flower Show.

Link; The Storyboard Design Course; The Ultimate Guide for Artists, Directors, Producers and Scriptwriters by Guiseppe Cristiano, published by Thames & Hudson

When Waterton Banned the Badger

Waterton letter

Charles Waterton always regretted his decision to evict the badgers from Walton Park when setting up his nature reserve in 1826. He feared that they might undermine the ‘poacher proof’ wall that he’d built at a cost of £10,000.

I’m using a quotation from a letter he wrote to Alfred Ellis in May 1864 as the basis for a comic strip. My aims are;

  • to experiment with developing Waterton as a comic strip character for a project that I’m working on for Wakefield Museum
  • to see what the possibilities of comic software Manga Studio Ex4 are
  • to use my Wacom Intuos 4 graphics tablet to produce artwork



Comparing the initial pen and ink ideas and the blue graphics pad roughs which I produced in Manga Studio, you can see that pen and ink works best for me but I want to follow the process through. Manga Studio is versatile enough for me to incorporate scanned drawings if that’s what I prefer to do. For now I’m working through the quick start guide chapter of Doug Hills’ Manga Studio for Dummies. I’ve been through it before years ago but never got back to the program since.


Here’s my first attempt at the first frame of Waterton in penitent reflection. It’s been drawn using the graphics tablet with the default pen tool, the ‘G’ nib. For the hands I used the PhotoBooth program on my iMac and photographed myself in the pose. I might have been overacting a bit!

Waterton’s Watchtower

I’D ALWAYS assumed that the stone watchtowers that Charles Waterton(1793-1865) built around Walton Park were primarily birdwatching hides where Waterton, accustomed to life in the tropics, could take shelter on walks around his nature reserve but when I read an account of a visitor to the Park in 1835, I realised that these were intended as sentry boxes. It was all very well for Waterton to enclose his sanctuary with a long high wall but in order to ensure that his pheasants and wildfowl wouldn’t be disturbed by gangs of poachers from the local towns, he had to organise night patrols.

I believe there were four towers originally of which I’ve seen three. Two of them were in ruins and have now disappeared without a trace but the third has been restored. They are positioned in strategic points such as where the stream flows out of the Park under the wall and at the diagonally opposite corner with a view down the slope to the Lake.

On an evening visit to a neighbouring wood Waterton once surprised a poacher. In the ensuing fight Waterton, who was on his own, without the support of his trusty gamekeeper, John Ogden, was wrestled to the ground. Fortunately he fought off his assailant by grabbing him by the cravat and choking him until he ceased his attack and fled.

Again for this illustration I’ve worked from reference, this time from two photographs kindly supplied by John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Museum. I hadn’t realised that the towers originally had a conical turret roof. When the watchtower was restored a few years ago the roof was omitted, I guess for structural reasons, but what a difference it made when I reconstructed the tower with the roof in place. It changed from looking like a military installation to looking like something out of a fairy tale, the sort of enchanted little tower that a traveller would find on a walk through the woods.

No doubt one or two gangs of poachers were in for a big surprise on the night that they they went down to the woods and first came across the tower and the band of guardians that presumably hid inside it.

Waterton’s Wall

CHARLES WATERTON completed his wall around Walton Park in 1821. It had taken five years to build and cost £9,000. Refusing to go into debt to complete it, Waterton, who as a teetotal Yorkshire squire was something of a rarity, quipped that he’d paid for it with the money he hadn’t spent on claret.

It seems a simple concept today but it had never occurred to anyone before to enclose an area with the sole purpose of providing a sanctuary for wildlife. Enclose an area to hunt wildlife, yes, but not to preserve it for the purposes of enjoying it for its own sake and studying its habits.

He also pioneered the concept of a country park by providing an area for picnics and outdoor concerts in a clearing in a small wood near the farm buildings known as the Grotto. Keeping some areas strictly for the birds and allowing open access to the public in others ensured that visitors didn’t unduly disturb the birds and animals in the perfect patch of unspoilt countryside (a rare commodity in the industrial districts of mid-Victorian West Yorkshire) that they’d come to enjoy.

Waterton been inspired by his experience of the wilderness of what is now Guyanna to recreate a pristine version of as many English natural habitats as he could fit into his park; lake, swamp, hedgerow and woodland. He regretted that he didn’t have an arm of the sea available to complete his selection.

He picked up ideas on his travels in Europe, notably the use of ivy to cover ruins which he’d seen in Italy in a park where pheasants could coexist with the throng of townsfolk taking a stroll because the birds had instant access to dense cover.

I’ve enjoyed working on this illustration even though I decided not to go on location to draw it, which is usually my preference. I’d taken a photograph of one of the few complete and uneroded sections of the wall in the summer, so I worked from that. As you can imagine drawing the sandstone blocks of the wall had a therapeutic effect on me. Unlike when I’m writing, I find that I can listen to the radio as I do this kind of step by step drawing, alternating from classical music on Radio 3 and news and documentaries on Radio 4. Bliss.

I don’t as yet know whether the final use for this illustration will be in black and white or colour so I took a high resolution scan before I started adding the watercolour. The illustration has to sit easily with nineteenth century engravings of the Park.

The line drawing was in Noodlers black ink, using an ArtPen with an extra fine nib.

Wild Goose Chase

Our (anti-clockwise) 6½ mile route via Anglers Lake (bottom right), Walton Park (top centre) and the woodlands, mainly coniferous, of Haw Park, highlighted in Google Earth.

WE’RE MISSING one of the regulars on our traditional and slightly delayed Boxing Day birding walk. My friend from schooldays David hasn’t been able to migrate back from Cumbria to his home town this year so this is the perfect opportunity for John (back from Plymouth) and I to add two brand new species to the list of Boxing Day birds that we’ve built up over the last 30 years or so.

On our way to the Main Hide at Anglers Country Park we meet local birder Peter Smith and ask him to point us in the direction of today’s star birds:

“Is the American Wigeon still around?”

Pete explains that it’s out towards the centre of the lake. And he directs us towards the Greenland White-fronted Goose which has joined a flock of Greylags in the fields beyond.

“We’d like to get them on our list, so that we can tell David, who’s been coming round with us for the last 30 years but can’t make it this year!”

“That’s ‘griping off’!” chuckles Pete.

Sadly, we don’t get the chance to ‘gripe off’ David. I’ve no doubt that we saw the American Wigeon and the Greenland White-front, but we didn’t have the birdwatching skills to pick them out amongst (a) the hundreds of European Wigeon on the choppy water’s of Europe’s largest pond-liner lined lake and (b) amongst the other 77 grey geese (we counted them!) in the field.

Mute Swans, Wintersett Reservoir (also known as Top Reservoir) south west of Anglers.

David also missed out on an us getting slightly lost. After puzzling over the geese for 5 minutes we decided to press on directly to Walton Park but soon found that the footpath started veering off unhelpfully in the direction of Crofton. Still, we can’t complain because we spotted around 33 species including Goosander, Tree Sparrow and Pink-footed Goose (the latter probably an escape but, as a native, it can still go on the list).

And there was a bonus; because we hadn’t managed to get out on the Boxing Day bank holiday we were able to finish our six mile circuit at the Squire’s Tearooms in the Anglers Country Park visitors centre.