'Enhance!' - behind the scenes

by Si-G

Hi, new droid Si-G here to talk about my first strip for 2000AD and how it came about.

Why 'Enhance!'?
The title and initial inspiration for the whole story come from my favourite scene in Blade Runner. Deckard feeds a photo of a room into a voice-operated machine connected to the TV. He orders the machine to zoom in on the photo as he searches for clues. He says 'Enhance!' and the view appears, impossibly, to turn a corner into another room. We're not just zoomed in, we're at a completely different point of view to the original! I loved that, and thought, 'what if you could have a machine that miraculously turned a 2D photograph into a 3D environment? You could get addicted...'

My brother droid Pete-G and I were both fans of Alan Moore's rhyming strips, particularly A Cautionary Fable (Prog 240) and The Lethal Laziness of Lobelia Loam (Prog 323). The narration in verse form we used in 'Enhance!' was an expanded and revised version of the lines we had written in rhyme for Tharg's Pitch Fest.

The Pitch
Dreddcon:1. London, November 2000. Forget Mean Arena, forget Strontium Dog: The Killing, there is no more terrifying contest than Tharg's Pitch Fest! To stand alone on stage, in a large room full of people staring at you and three of 2000AD's top droids taking notes sounded nightmarish. What could make this torture worthwhile? The chance to leapfrog the submissions pile and pitch your best story directly to Tharg. The glittering first prize, a Future Shock in the Galaxy's Greatest Comic.

As someone with worse public-speaking skills than George W Bush, I took the precaution of roping Pete into presenting the two-minute story pitch (he co-wrote it, after all). He would bear the scrutiny of the audience, while I cowered next to him behind some very large drawings [left].

I was still almost sick with nerves but Pete delivered the rhyming couplets of our pitch superbly, and at exactly two minutes. The audience was appreciative, but what would Andy Diggle, Robbie Morrison and Frazer Irving make of it? I don't know. All I remember is a desperate urge to return to my seat. I'm afraid the combined wisdom of three comics professionals went in one ear and out the other. In the end, we shared first prize with a young writer called Si Spurrier (and I will be reminding people of this when Si goes on to revolutionize comics and writes the next Maus or Watchmen).

The script
So we were going to be in 2000AD. First we had to turn the two minute outline into a script. Luckily Andy Diggle was patient and gave us valuable feedback on our first attempt. A rewrite later and it was done. But then, for me, the best bit came when Tharg let me draw it! This was never part of the Pitch Fest arrangement, but I had hoped it would happen. You have to realize I started reading 2000AD aged 9 and it's one of the main reasons why I went into a career of illustration. Being commissioned to draw a strip for 2000Ad was, in my book, a Very Good Thing.


For comics, I tend to jot down key images as thumbnails and then start to lay out the text. For me, the dialogue and captions are worth sorting out early on because they have such a strong effect on the page design. Not only do they determine how much space is available for the images, but they also guide the reader's eye across the panels. Once I know what space I have to play with for the art, I go back to the images and establish the best point of view for each panel. Combining the text and images helps to determine the shapes of the panels and the look of the overall page. For this strip I used a 6 x 9 panel grid as the basis for the panel layout, with the most important panel of each page breaking out of the grid. By restricting the number of different shaped panels used, I hoped the layout would distract less from the story. In the case of page 1, I wanted panel 5 as big as possible for maximum impact, so the first four panels were just 6x1 grid squares each and the fifth panel is a full page bleed.

Because the Enhancer device in the story allowed the user to navigate in 3D space inside a 2D image, I had to make the space depicted in my artwork as consistent as possible. I took the unusual step of building every scene in a 3D application, which allowed me to move the camera around the figures until it matched the point of view of each rough panel.

I inked directly over the figures using Flash, a vector-based drawing application. Vectors give lovely crisp strokes and I find Flash to be the most intuitive drawing tool. The only drawback is you can zoom in again and again without losing quality so it's easy to spend an hour drawing a detail so small it's invisible to the naked eye!

And that's how it was done, including enough late nights on the computer to make me think I was turning into poor old Dave from the story!