How Ash Pure makes his comics
Ash Pure is the mastermind and creator of The Lion and the Unicorn. This slightly dystopian comic is probably one of the most visually striking I’ve ever seen because it doesn’t look like anything I’ve read before. Stylistically, it slightly reminds me of the art Dave McKean did for Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Ash does say his work has been influenced by McKean although their creative processes are totally different.
Hey Ash! First of all, how did you get into comics?
I’ve always drawn and made comics. I used to sellotape together pages of rough cut A4 (get an adult to help you at home!), great big wads of paper which I’d start filling with, often plagiarized material – I mean ‘fan art’ – and sometimes my own characters. Who knew how many superheroes lived in Muswell Hill? My problem was that I never finished anything. I’d get off to a great start, have the first few pages filled then the rest would stay empty. A problem I’ve only recently been able to overcome! The moral of this story, beginnings are easy, endings are hard.
What are you currently working on?
My on going labour of love (I started in 1999 Yikes!) is The Lion & The Unicorn, which is an Urban-mythic, sci-fantasy saga set in an alternate reality London. This year I finally finished Volume 0, (see I told you, endings are hard) but before I get stuck into Volume 1 I’m taking a bit of time out to help some other creators get their comics out there. I know how it is, you get the hard bit, the story and the art done, you have a beautiful book ready to go and then the bit that should be easy, mechanical even – packaging and printing the thing, never happens. People run out of steam, they get fatigued and lose confidence. It’s asking a lot to be the creator, the designer, the publisher and the marketing department. So I’m stepping in to help bring out some really progressive and diverse books, that all fit somehow with what I do. Watch this Space!
Where did you get the inspiration for The Lion and The Unicorn?
There are some obvious reference points, The Avengers (no, not that Avengers, the fruity, UK TV show from the 60’s) is an obvious stylistic touch point. Then beneath that there’s the British myth and History, the Arthurian and Celtic legends crossed with the new stories from the urban counter-culture. But really deep down, at the purest level, the true inspiration, the thing that keeps me coming back to TL&TU is the belief that it can be a force for change, that it can in someway help… Now don’t laugh… to save the world. I said don’t laugh!
You might think I’m mental, but I literally couldn’t get up in the morning if I didn’t think what I was doing was in some small way doing something to offset all the hate, horror, lies and fear that we’re constantly bombarded with. You might think I’m kidding myself but for me that’s what stories, especially myth and legend (which fantasy and sci-fi are our modern equivalent) are for. They are our most powerful tools to convey knowledge and ideas, to hold up a dark mirror to the world we live in while also giving hope and the potential for change.
So that’s right, I’m saving the world one panel at a time.
The art in your comic is quite different, could you describe your process and why you chose this style?
I call it Composographicfotorotomancy (yes seriously), because I take photographic backgrounds, cut them up and remix them to create the alternate reality for the comic – London’s mythic alter ego Thamesis. For the characters I shoot my friends against a green screen (Sounds flash? it’s juts a roll of green paper) then rotoscope (sounds posh, it means tracing) them in Photoshop adding elements I’ve created or cropped from other photos. I then lay it all out in InDesign and process the text in Illustrator. Easy!
Why do I do it this way? The short version is because my drawing simply isn’t good enough. Or at least not good enough to create this world the way it looks in my head. I am always envious of people who can sit down with a pencil and paper and create entire worlds. I need hardware, software and a lot of bloody time. But because I trained as a graphic designer these were the skills I had at my disposal – photography, vector illustration, typography, so I just used what I knew and it came out the way it did, it wasn’t a conscious plan. Necessity is the mother of invention. You can quote me on that.
Do you yourself have a favourite comic?
Ooh that’s a tough one, there’s lots of comics I would recommend, Jimmy Corrigan, Saga, From Hell and Akira being a reasonable cross section… But to pick a favourite… I’d have to say 2000ad. Not only was it responsible for warping my fragile young mind – when I show my American friends that this was the comic I grew up reading as a child, they look at me as if to say aaaahhh… Now I get it! – but for me it’s the perfect format. The mix of stories and styles, genres and characters all side by side, out every week. I love an anthology, a collection, it’s a very British thing and 2000ad was and continues to be the best, The most diverse and groundbreaking.
Who has been the biggest influence on your comic and how has that person changed your work?
In terms of Art it has to be Dave McKean, he was the one who showed me it was possible to use photography in comic making, to use graphic design as a storytelling tool. I think he is one of Britain’s greatest living artists – in any medium.
For writers it has to be Grant Morrison, I came to his work a bit late, but when I first read the Invisibles it blew my mind. The sheer breadth of ideas, the depth and scope of his vision, the pace and imagination. It’s unparalleled.
What would you suggest for young artists or people trying to get into the industry to do?
I’m not going to say the obvious and not particularly helpful, ‘Just do it’, ‘don’t give up’ etc. I’d say more important is to not just take criticism but actively seek it out. Listen to bad reviews, to what people say, are they right? Be honest with yourself, and I mean really host, so honest it hurts. It’s not easy but it’s the only real way to develop and grow.
When it comes to the idea, the story make sure other people can ‘get it’. People come up to me at cons and want to tell me about their story, and I want to hear it. And they get very excited explaining all this cool stuff that will happen in their comic and I have to be honest and say ‘I don’t get it’. If you can’t tell me in one sentence what it’s about – A sentence that doesn’t reference any cosmic technology or long lost Mcguffins – Then it’s not clear enough in your mind. The story, I mean the true heart of the story needs to work without the special effects. Someone tell Hollywood.
For artists I’d say do something different, be progressive, be bold don’t stay locked into styles or conventions that are ‘off the shelf’. I see a lot of stuff that looks the same, endless versions of the same thing. Break out, be bold, be brave. At the end of the day it’s not about mastering your craft. Do that as you go. In all aspects just get it out, fail fast and start again.
And in terms of the business side actually getting paid, I say cut out the publishers and distributors, grow your own fanbase, use social media and the online community to contact and nurture your audience, then if you run a kickstarter or a patreon you have the fans and you can even get paid. Imagine that!
Oh yeah, just do it and don’t give up.
If you want to follow Ash’s work, you can like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter and just check out his website.