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Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Recent Art aka Wizards and Barbarians and Troll Slayers Oh My



I have been a little lax posting art, so here goes a “dump” of some recent work. Mainly squeezed in when I had the time between other projects, but these are quite a bit of fun so I thought I’d share. Before I do, though, I wanted to add this: the world is obviously very dark right now, but there is one really great piece of news: Prabir Purkayastha, founder of NewsClick, was recently released from a prison! As Peoples Dispatch noted last month, “The Indian Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of author and journalist Prabir Purkayastha on Wednesday, May 15 terming his arrest by the Delhi Police in October last year, illegal.” While Purkayastha is not out of the woods yet, this is a significant positive step. I, for one, am very pleased. I’ve learned a lot from Purkayastha and NewsClick. Here are some recent comments from him, too.

Onwards to art!

Modern Wizard

I have long had a love affair of wizards and magic users. Dr. Strange, Gandalf, and whatnot. Long beards and pointy hats are preferred, but are not required. Hell, Bill from WIZARDS FOR HIRE — CHEAP! certainly fits that description, but his wizardly companion Butch sure as hell does not.

Speaking of wizards, if you want to read my hands down favourite version, read THE FACE IN THE FROST by John Bellairs. I’ve even read (and own!) his sadly incomplete sequel titled THE DOLPHIN CROSS that was included in the New England Science Fiction Association’s anthology MAGIC MIRRORS. John Bellairs died far far too young and I suspect many people know him mainly due to his young adult oriented series’ featuring characters like Lewis Barnavelt (and Rose Rita Pottinger!), Anthony Monday, and Johnny Dixon, but THE FACE IN THE FROST and THE DOLPHIN CROSS are amazing. That is not meant to take anything away from Bellairs’ other writing; I really love his prose and his YA books are really great with a dark gothic creepy vibe that runs through them.

Of course, for comics you can’t beat Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s early Doctor Strange stories serialized in STRANGE TALES. I have a few of those in print but mostly in reprint form (like DOCTOR STRANGE CLASSICS and ESSENTIAL DOCTOR STRANGE).

Modern Wizard with final inks and colours by Von Allan

Modern Barbarian

Barbarians are a character type I’ve not had much of an opportunity to draw. Which is a shame because barbarians are such a blast to draw. One of the great things about them is how they “cut through” the crap. There is no angst, no melodrama, no feelings, no nothing. Just violence and often murder, usually in the most over the top way possible. The great (and sadly missing) “Joesky” once built a great reaction table for when you want to know what a barbarian is thinking: roll percentile dice. There is a 1% chance that the barbarian will be “okay for now.” The other 99%? HATE. Yup! And if you want a modern version, look up the Cartoon Network’s pilot for KORGOTH OF BARBARIA (here's one on DailyMotion). Korgoth is pitch perfect, voiced by Diedrich Bader.

Modern Barbarian with final inks and colours by Von Allan


Modern Barbarian 
lifting boulder  with final inks and colours by Von Allan

Dwarf Troll Slayer

As some of you know, I love fantasy dwarfs. Hell, I love sci-fi dwarfs. I just love dwarfs. I tend to like my dwarfs a little more crazy than so called “vanilla” dwarfs in a lot of high fantasy. This guy is a great example. He’s technically a Troll Slayer, a more crazy than normal type of dwarf. As Chris Hogan once noted in his terrific gaming supplement SMALL BUT VICIOUS DOG, a Troll Slayer is “a kamikaze no pants dwarf with a big orange mohawk, prison tats, a two handed axe and a burning desire to ragequit life as violently as possible.” Yes. Yes! YES!

Given the “no pants” status of this fella, I put a censored version up for all to see. For those who want to see the uncensored versions, simply click on the image below and it will open up the (glorious?) uncensored version!

Nude Troll Slayer with final inks and colours by Von Allan

Process Work

I also decided to include some “process” work, mainly because I don’t often do that and I kinda thought, “well, why not?” So here are pencils and inks of the various pieces. As always, you can click on most of these to make them bigger (and, with the Troll Slayer, see the uncensored versions, too). You’ll see some subtle differences, especially between the inks and colours; even when I ink “by hand,” I’ll still do a little bit of digital work to finish the piece off. You’ll spot that if you look!

I really had a lot of fun doing these! I hope you enjoy them, too!
Modern Wizard pencil roughs
Modern Wizard cleaned up inks by Von Allan
Photo of Modern Wizard inks at the drawing board by Von Allan
Modern Barbarian pencils by Von Allan
Modern Barbarian inks by Von Allan
Modern Barbarian inks at the drawing board  by Von Allan
Modern Barbarian lifting boulder pencils by Von Allan
Modern Barbarian lifting boulder inks by Von Allan
Modern Barbarian lifting boulder inks at the drawing board by Von Allan
Nude Troll Slayer pencils by Von Allan
Nude Troll Slayer inks by Von Allan
Nude Troll Slayer inks at the drawing board by Von Allan

Sketches with Watercolour


Apologies, folks. It has been a little while since my last update. Things have been busy, but in a “slow simmering” kinda way.

Buck-A-Store Perspective Sketch with watercolour by Von Allan

Buck-A-Store Perspective Sketch with thumbnail and printout by Von Allan

Another Quick Perspective Sketch


I posted about doing this a few months back, but I had some free time so I did another one recently. And it was so much fun that I thought I’d work it right up to colours, but this time doing so with watercolour!

My goal is always the same: just how fast can I rough out a perspective drawing? And especially: how loose can I keep it while having “enough” drawing to be able to ink it? It can be a bit tricky, but the goal is speed, relative accuracy, and fun. Never underestimate fun!

To avoid getting too fussy with details, I do these sketches with ink, using Zebra and Tombow brush pens as well as Paper Mate Flair Fineliners. If I make a mistake, I can fix it when I actually properly ink the piece, not at this stage. In other words, if mistakes are made, I live with ‘em. Who cares?

As many know, I generally ink digitally now, but that’s not always the case and I do “bounce around” between traditional inking and digital inking. For this piece, I went digital to speed things up. I avoid any “tight” pencils or anything like that; I just scan the sketch in, set it up in Manga Studio EX 4 (yup, I still use it!), and away I go to inking.

With this piece, I thought it would be fun to throw some colour in there, too.

I didn’t keep track of total time, but it wasn’t long, which is the whole point and goal. Zip, zip, zip!

Quick Perspective Sketch with Tombow and Zebra Brush Pens by Von Allan
Quick Perspective Sketch with digital inks by Von Allan
Quick Perspective Sketch with watercolour by Von Allan

Oh! If you’ve reached this far, don’t forget: I’m starting to put out free digital copies of my comics. Head on over to my “Pirate Von” section and take a peek! It’s at https://www.vonallan.com/p/pirate-von.html.

Christmas Craft Sale 2023 in Ottawa



As has become a bit of an annual tradition, I’ll be one of the exhibitors at the upcoming Vanier Artisans Christmas Craft Sale on Sunday, November 26th. This has been a really fun event in the past and the organizers (led by the amazing Charlotte Taylor) create a really great atmosphere. And the mix of artists is really neat; comics will be represented by yours truly, but there will be a wide diversity of artists and artistic practices at the show. Crafts, clothing, food, art, you name it!

One of the things I enjoy the most is the spirit of solidarity that everyone shares. In some events I’ve done in the past, that spirit has been sorely lacking. It’s hard to put into words, but I’ve certainly experienced a hostile competitive attitude in some of these other events. It’s a shame, because I strongly believe that we’re all in it together and that competition between artists should not be an element of any art show.

I was tasked to come up with a poster for this year’s event. This time I wanted to do something with Santa Claus, mainly because I don’t think I’ve ever drawn the big guy before. The problem with that is that Santa is so iconic it can be hard to “shake” other influences when approaching a design. I did what I could in that regard and came up with something that hopefully captures the ol’ elf in all his glory. With a little bit of wonder thrown in, too. I also included the final pencils ‘cuz I know that some folks like seeing the “process” from pencils to the final piece. It was a great deal of fun to do, too. And it all came together pretty quickly; literally I went from not having any firm ideas — save for the notion of including Santa — to getting in an image in my mind’s eye. That image held through right to the final colours and poster design.

The show will be at the Vanier Community Service Centre (270 Marier Avenue, Ottawa, ON K1L 7H8). And I’ll have not only comics and graphic novels (including WOLF’S HEAD!), but various art prints, cards, and whatnot, too! If you’re in town, why not drop by? It really is a lovely event!

Vanier Artisans 2023 Christmas Craft Sale Poster by Von Allan

Pencil version of the Vanier Artisans 2023 Christmas Craft Sale Poster by Von Allan

Halloween-Themed Craft Sale in Ottawa


I was tasked by the ever-wonderful Charlotte Taylor to design the latest poster for the upcoming Emond Park Craft Sale here in Ottawa, Ontario. Charlotte has been shepherding this event for a number of years now and it's always a great deal of fun to participate! And it's extra fun to do the poster art, too! This time the event will have a Halloween tone and I wanted to make sure that theme came across in the poster design! As an added bonus, I also included a quick photograph of the raw pencils and final inks. I don't always work this way, but when I do it does give me a chance to share this art process with you folks. Well, to some extent, at least!

The details of the event are on the poster, but it'll be on Sunday, October 1st from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Emond Park is in the heart of Vanier, a neighbourhood of Ottawa, and is very easy to find.

The Facebook page for the event just went up, so local folks (and not so local folks) can find additional details at https://www.facebook.com/events/867926031418097. It should be a lot of fun!

Poster illustration and design by Von Allan for the Halloween-themed Emond Park Craft Sale event in Ottawa, Ontario

Pencils and Inks comparison by Von Allan for the Halloween-themed Emond Park Craft Sale event in Ottawa, Ontario

Interview with Barney Smith of StoryComic fame



Barney Smith of the fantastic StoryComic site (https://www.storycomic.com/) was nice enough to have me on his show! And unlike some other radio/podcast shows, this was actually done live in front of the camera! Video! Shocking!

What is truly amazing to me is that Barney has now done 289 (!) episodes of his show. That’s 289 interviews of all kinds of writers and artists, many working in comics but certainly not everyone, and he does it with humour and grace along with a boatload of great questions, too. And since he’s based in Vermont, he’s also done a special subset of episodes that deal with creative folks that live in that state (I think about 42 episodes in that category). That is one hell of a lot of work and, as I noted to Barney, I’m not sure how he does it. A love of the medium certainly helps and he has that in spades, but still… I get tired just thinking about how I’d handle that many interviews, especially given all of the research and energy that goes into it.

And, of course, The Center for Cartoon Studies is based in White River Junction, Vermont. That’s important because the school, as they note on their website, “centers on the creation and dissemination of comics, graphic novels and other manifestations of the visual narrative” as is one of the few that do that sort of thing in North America. See? How cool is that?!

So, what do we chat about? Well, not only my background in art and comics, but also how I approach telling the stories I do. We’re talking art here (and by art I mean “art” that’s very broadly defined). In other words, there are no right and wrong answers to how one makes art. There are just tools and different approaches and a great deal of learning. Whew, boy, the learning truly never stops and that’s one of the joy (and, okay, one of the occasional pains) about art. I was delighted that Barney was interested in talking about this, mainly because I think it’s one of those things that can kinda get glossed over. In other words, how one (as a creator) thinks about and approaches the story they are trying to tell is very important. It’s very easy to confuse or otherwise lose the reader and, at least for my own work, I rarely want to do it and never want to do it by accident (for those interested, one of my most abstract stories is this older one, that really needs to be read at least twice to really “grok” what it’s about).

And, of course, we take a pretty deep dive into WOLF’S HEAD, my ongoing comics series, too. (and pssst! Don’t forget to check out the new snazzy trailer for it, too!)

Okay! With that out of the way, here is the interview itself from YouTube (and if this doesn’t play for you, you can jump directly to the interview on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P-TMAfNxMY). Alternatively, there’s also a terrific podcast version that you can listen to — or even download the .mp3. That’s on PodBean at https://storycomic.podbean.com/e/episode-289-wolf-s-head-when-an-ai-baby-teams-up-with-an-ex-cop-von-allan-exclusive-interview/


I hope you enjoy it! And many thanks to Barney for having me on to talk about a medium I love so much!

Wolf’s Head Issue 18 Page 1 Process


I thought it would be fun to share some of the ol’ “process” behind a recent page from WOLF’S HEAD. In this case, it’s the first page to issue 18. And hey, 18 issues in for an indy comic book series is not too shabby, folks.

This page features Lauren Greene and Super Bob Sanchez chit-chatting in a diner in Alberta. The page also builds off of issue 17 and the various struggles that Lauren is currently going through. While I don’t think there’s any “right” or “correct” way of starting a comic, I’ve long been partial to opening with a splash page to get things going. This is especially useful here because the preceding panel in the previous issue was actually very small. So if one is reading these issues in sequential order, it should be fun to leave off last ish with a tiny panel and then start this one with a biggie.

I’ll start with the final coloured and lettered page and we can work backwards to the initial layouts. Oh, one important caveat: while some pages take a bit of visual brainstorming, in this case I knew exactly where I was going (building from last issue, right?) so I didn’t need to do that. That’s often not the case and many pages take a bit of thumbnailing (usually tiny thumbnails) to work out mentally how I want to approach a page. This is often especially true for covers; considerations of logos and whatnot influence how the page might look. In other words, sketching and “mucking about with page design” is a tried and true way to go.

WOLF'S HEAD issue 18 Page 1 Final Page illustrated by Von Allan

Next are the final inks, including screen tones (or, if you will, Ben Day dots or what I long called “zipatones”). Generally I do not include the lettering in the final inks (well, at least for colour work) and that is reflected here. Inking is one of my favourite things to do and this page was a blast to work on!

WOLF'S HEAD issue 18 Page 1 Final Inks illustrated by Von Allan


Next up are the final tight pencils. There is a bit of visual cheating going on here. I actually rarely rough out a page like this as one individual unit. Rather, I actually do various pencil sketches (and sometimes even inked sketches) on different sheets of paper, scanning them into my computer and finalizing the pencil layout that way. I like that approach, mainly because it allows me to isolate various parts of the illustration and work on that. In this case, the diner is a good example: isolating the perspective drawing from the figure drawing allowed me to play around with some ideas, something a bit harder to do if everything was on one sheet of Bristol board.

WOLF'S HEAD issue 18 Page 1 Tight Pencils illustrated by Von Allan


The next two illustrations showcase more of what I mean. First is the tighter pencilled perspective sketch of the diner and that’s followed by the very loose sketch (this time with my trusty Tombow brush pen) as I loosely laid down some ideas. These actually follow part of the same process I described here, but in this case I did do a round of tighter pencils rather than just go into final inks because I needed to be sure of a few different things. The trade-off is time, but I felt it was worth it in this case.

WOLF'S HEAD issue 18 Page 1 Tight Background Pencils illustrated by Von Allan


WOLF'S HEAD issue 18 Page 1 Loose Background Pencils illustrated by Von Allan


Not included here are the separate figure sketches. I generally do loose little gestures, often in ink, and then scan, check, print out, and tighten into final pencils. You can see the final result in that first sketch above.

Some pages are slow, some go surprisingly quick, and this one was somewhere in the middle. It was a lot of fun to do and hopefully starts off issue 18 in an engaging, intriguing, and beautiful way.

Vanier Artisans Christmas Craft Sale



I'm very pleased to announce that I'll be one of the participating artists in this year's Vanier Artisans Christmas Craft Sale. This is organized by the always capable and wonderful Charlotte Taylor and she's bringing together a wide range of artists of different disciplines for the sale. I really like that; I don't like "silos" and the idea that artists have to "stay in their lane" or somesuch has never made much sense to me. I like that different artists can get together for an event like this. That's a neat way to share art and a great way to have some fun. And a special bonus is that I designed and illustrated this year's poster, too!

The poster has all the details. And there's also a Facebook event page for it at https://www.facebook.com/events/1277240033075854/

I'll be bringing a number of my comics and graphic novels, including the hardcovers of WOLF'S HEAD and LOVE, LAUGHTER, AND LOSS. Plus prints, cards, and a few other odds and ends. And I think a very special guest will be joining me there, too. That's all hush-hush and super secret! The only way to find out is to come!

So if you're interested in meeting some amazing artists and perhaps buy some lovely art for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or "just because," please drop by on Saturday. It should be a lot of fun!

Poster designed by artist Von Allan for the 2022 Vanier Artisans Christmas Craft Sale

Drawing Kids


Given everything that has been going on, when I get a chance to draw I've been looking for fun little pieces to work on. The illustrations below certainly fit that bill!

Drawing kids is a great deal of fun. Very challenging, but fun! Why challenging? Drawing adults allows for more "wiggle-room." In other words, there's more flexibility in how one chooses to render adults. Or rather, I find that there's more flexibility. That's partially based on style, probably mixed in with a bit of my own sensibility when it comes to figure drawing. If you over-render children, they immediately look "wrong." Generally my goal is to try and keep everything as simple as possible while (at least in these cases) still maintaining my own visual style. It might sound easy, but it's really not in practice. In the cases of all these girls, I didn't want to get too cartoony or abstract, so that also influenced how I approached each piece.

In the case of the middle illustration, I also decided to play a bit with colour holds (where I change my black linework to a colour). Why do it? Again, for fun! It's neat to play and see how the art (and, more importantly, the feeling of the art) changes with different visual approaches. I've done it before, something you can see in this little celebration of Mary Marvel.

One of the things I love about art is that there's no "right" way to do it. There are multiple ways and multiple approaches. How one feels about that is a reflection of them, at least in that particular moment. And, of course, opinions change about art, too. Even how I approach colour has changed over time (see this, for example).

I don't know about you, but I find that pretty exciting.

Illustration of young girls balancing books on their heads by Von Allan
Illustration of two 'tween girls chit-chatting and goofing around by Von Allan
Illustration of three girls raiding a bubble gum box and blowing bubbles by Von Allan

Municipal Election Signs for Ottawa Transit Riders



With the 2022 Ottawa Municipal Election just around the corner, the Ottawa Transit Riders tasked me with the illustration and design of their issue-based campaign signs. I wanted to keep “within the ballpark” of what I had done for them in the past, but try to give a fresh spin on things, too. Part of the challenge this time around is that these signs are much larger than before (24" × 18" versus 17" × 11"), but at the same time they needed to be clearly legible and eye-catching from a distance. I wasn’t going to get away with a lot of fine hatching or subtle colour here!

Another challenge was to have a double-sided sign with both French and English text. Working within their requirements was challenging, but that’s also part of the fun!

The “extra” challenge was that they also wanted the illustration to be used for a campaign button, too. That’s hard; the button itself is only about 2" in diameter, so too much fine detail would be lost if I simply shrunk my art down from 24" to 2". What I wound up doing instead was taking my initial design for the campaign sign, shrinking it down alright, but re-inking and re-colouring the entire thing in a different way to make this smaller version “work.”

What makes this election fairly fascinating are the number of incumbents who are not seeking reelection. These include Councillors Jean Cloutier (Alta Vista), Diane Deans (Gloucester-Southgate), Keith Egli (Knoxdale-Merivale), Mathieu Fleury (Rideau-Vanier), Jan Harder (Barrhaven), Catherine McKenney (Somerset), Carol Anne Meehan (Gloucester-South Nepean), Scott Moffatt (Rideau-Goulbourn), as well as Mayor Jim Watson. Catherine McKenney is running to replace Jim Watson as Mayor, but I’m not sure if any other current Councillor is doing so (Councillor Deans was, but announced that she had dropped out). The nomination period is still open, so this could all change.

Anyway! My sign designs are below. I added two mock-ups in attempt to show what they’ll look like “out there” in the world at large. Pretty neat, eh?

English language Ottawa Transit Riders sign for the 2022 Ottawa municipal election by Von Allan
French language Ottawa Transit Riders sign for the 2022 Ottawa municipal election by Von Allan
Mock-up of the English transit sign in the wild. Photo adapted from Ken Lund using a Creative Commons licence
Mock-up of the English transit campaign button by Von Allan

The State of WOLF'S HEAD


Teaser image for Wolf's Head on KindleWhew, boy, what a tough couple of months. While there has been some joy (receiving the City of Ottawa grant and being shortlisted for the Peter Honeywell award being the best), for the most part it has been one helluva frustrating slog. I’m going to do my best to outline what the current situation is, mainly to help solidify my own thoughts on what’s gone wrong. Or, to put it another way, what hasn’t?

To put it bluntly, sales are not good. Worse, every attempt I’ve made to mitigate that has failed. What’s discouraging for me is that I clearly have no fan-base. How do I know that? Well, sales (both in print and digital) are the biggest example. Sales are extremely poor and are not getting better. In fact, they are getting progressively worse. In different circumstances, that would be enough to shut the series down. In fact, I have done exactly that in the past (specifically with my previous graphic novel series STARGAZER, ended after two volumes, and with the digital-only series METAL GODS, ended after four issues).

What makes WOLF’S HEAD different from those two? The biggest difference is that WOLF’S HEAD has never reached the Direct Market and, as a result, has been cut off from its largest potential audience: comic book fans. Mixed in with that are the aforementioned awards and grants; these have been especially important in teaching me that WOLF’S HEAD does have merit in certain (local) art circles, but there’s a “circuit break” between that and the larger comics community world-wide.

In fact, one of the biggest examples I could point to in terms of specific my role with in the comics community is the utter lack of media coverage and interest in my work. Not just with WOLF’S HEAD and not just recently; a significant disappointment to me was when the documentary film I’m in (titled I AM STILL YOUR CHILD) received no traction whatsoever with comics media. If the film had been covered, then more people might have been introduced to both me and my work. I had partially launched WOLF’S HEAD with exactly this in mind: maybe my role in the film would help galvanize interest and awareness in the series. Since that didn’t happen, WOLF’S HEAD did not receive the momentum from the film that I hoped it would.



Diamond and the Direct Market

Teaser image of Lauren Greene, the main character from Wolf's Head, on KindleTeaser image of various scenes from Wolf's Head on KindleThis has been difficult for me to place, mainly because getting a direct answer from Diamond Comic Distributors has been so difficult. For those who don’t know, Diamond is the largest distributor of comic books in North America and Great Britain and they also distribute comics and related merchandise throughout the world. Prior to 2020, they were a de facto monopoly in the world of comics; however, with DC Comics breaking from Diamond in early June 2020, the monopoly label is harder to apply. Diamond was also a de facto monopsony; though that, given DC’s departure, is harder to apply, too.

For a small press like Von Allan Studio (that’s me, folks), Diamond plays a critical role in facilitating sales of comics and graphic novels to comic book stores. Fortunately, I have an account in good standing with Diamond; in fact, STARGAZER was distributed into the Direct Market (under Item Numbers NOV101057 and AUG111259) through Diamond a decade ago. Unfortunately, my amazing sales rep departed the company and his replacement has been fairly problematic. This is key: while Diamond never outright rejected WOLF’S HEAD, they’ve never accepted the series, either. In other words, WOLF’S HEAD exists in a sort of limbo for the past few years.

That has been dismaying for a few reasons:
  1. WOLF’S HEAD is a far stronger work than STARGAZER and it remains baffling to me why the latter was accepted for distribution while the former hasn’t been.

  2. “Limbo” also means that WOLF’S HEAD could be accepted for distribution with Diamond tomorrow… or never.

  3. The specific format of the print versions of WOLF’S HEAD was a result of attempting to meet Diamond’s specifications.

    While I don’t want to stray too far into the weeds here, the basic process works like this: once Diamond has agreed to take on a title for distribution, each issue/volume has to maintain a minimum sales threshold or risk cancellation. That threshold is based on total dollars; so selling 1,000 copies of issue 1 of a $2.99 US series results in a total dollar amount of $2,990.00, but selling 600 copies of issue 1 of a $9.99 US series results in $5,994.00! But that requires a print format that justifies the higher cover price. To do just that, I went with a trade paperback trim size and approximately 60 pages of content per issue for WOLF’S HEAD. I felt that this would give the series the best chance of meeting Diamond’s benchmarks while still giving readers a terrific experience.
Now, if Diamond had formally declined distributing WOLF’S HEAD, then I would have went in a very different direction with the print version of the series. Since I was in “limbo,” however, I decided to go ahead with it, hoping that, as the series progressed, Diamond would get on board and distribute the series. Sadly, that has never happened, leaving me with a print format that I’m not particularly happy with.

I did manage to get a few Canadian stores to pick up the series. But a combination of the pandemic (see below) and bad luck have basically ended that experiment. The store that did the best with the series was Librairie Astro in Montreal. Sadly, they closed in the summer of 2018 and I lost one of my biggest advocates. Strange Adventures in Halifax was carrying the series, but has apparently stopped. I say ‘apparently’ because I’m not exactly sure what happened; I suspect the audience simply never developed for the series.

What format would I be happy with? Well, either a saddle-stitched periodical series (i.e.: ye olde 32 page comic) or, better, a beautifully produced hardcover series that collected each story arc.

As it stands, I suspect the next release of WOLF’S HEAD (issue 7) will be the last with this 60 page format.













Comics Media

Teaser image of Sanko the dog and his best friend. Both star in Wolf's Head on KindleTeaser image featuring the first six cover of Wolf's Head on KindleWithout Diamond distributing the series, gaining media attention for WOLF’S HEAD from “comics media” (for lack of a better phrase) has been problematic. Some of this is understandable; a lot of comics media supports the Direct Market and are very plugged into Diamond’s distribution cycle. WOLF’S HEAD lack of distribution with Diamond falls outside of this purview and, as a result, few media outlets have been interested in discussing the series.

What’s been frustrating to me is that WOLF’S HEAD is broadly distributed. Finding the series is not difficult for either readers or retailers, primarily because WOLF’S HEAD has world-wide distribution through Ingram. This also means that the series is easy to find at online at retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Waterstones, and so on. However, from the point of view of “comics media,” this isn’t enough. Worse, this lack of distribution from Diamond has also disqualified WOLF’S HEAD from the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards (while I’m not positive on this score, I believe that the “Shusters” require distribution through Diamond for eligibility).

More importantly, the lack of media attention has meant that the series is pretty much unknown with the audience I need the most: comic book fans. Especially comic book fans who like independent or alternative comics (or “comix”). It is very hard to grow a series if your key demographic doesn’t know you exist.

Comics Media are also tricky to talk about because there’s a split in what and who receives coverage. More mainstream sites like Comic Book Resources or Bleeding Cool tend to focus on corporate intellectual property. This means titles from Marvel, DC, as well as licensed properties. Sites like The Comics Journal focus on more literary titles. Unfortunately, either due to the lack of distribution from Diamond or other reasons, I’m persona non grata with both. And that’s certainly not for lack of trying on my end.

The knock-on effects of all this is problematic. As a simple example, there is now a great deal of scholarship being conducted on comics with some truly fascinating insights from some remarkable scholars. Unfortunately, comics scholars aren’t, as far as I can tell, aware of my work. Or even aware of me, for that matter. A second example are librarians. Librarians have become key advocates of comics, but I’ve never managed to gain library support for WOLF’S HEAD outside of my own local Public Library. WorldCat certainly illustrates this plainly.

This is disappointing because my work has been in libraries in the past, but without awareness of the series it would be difficult for a librarian to justify the purchase of the series, especially given the times of austerity we’ve been experiencing for the past twelve years.

COVID-19

The pandemic has effected everyone. In the face of the death toll (it boggles my mind that 200,000 people have died in the United States alone and we’re not that far from 1,000,000 dead throughout the world), it’s a bit hard to think of anything else, but there have been knock-on effects for everyone, even those who haven’t directly been hit by the virus itself.

Obviously declining retail sales are a significant example. The effects are more horrifying when you think about food scarcity, layoffs, evictions, and the like. Yes, it could certainly be worse; in fact, I’d argue that one of reasons that COVID-19 has not been as horrific as, say, the 1918-19 Influenza pandemic is that there are still enough social programs by various levels of government to help prevent the situation from spiraling out control. Plus science has a far greater understanding of how pandemics spread than it did back in 1918-19. Still, the official governmental responses has been problematic (really? 200,000 dead in the US?) and we are clearly not out of the woods yet.

Since art tends to be a discretionary purchase, in the face of the global pandemic my print sales have declined. Not that sales were robust before 2020, but the pandemic has destroyed them. While book sales in general slumped when the initial lockdowns occurred, there seems to be some evidence that book sales are now stronger, at least in some markets. Unfortunately, this has not led to any sales growth for WOLF’S HEAD or any of my other backlist, though this is not surprising given what I’ve outlined above.

Digital Comics

Teaser image of Wolf's Head issue 6 on KindleTeaser image of Wolf's Head issue 17 on KindleWhat about digital sales? WOLF’S HEAD is available on both ComiXology and Kindle and released in periodical format (i.e.: approximately 30 pages) for $1.99 US each. This format has not led to strong sales. In fact, sales have been very weak. Kindle is almost a non-starter; while it doesn’t take too much work to format titles for Kindle (using the Kindle Comic Creator software), I’ve only had a handful of sales in this format. My ComiXology sales have been marginally better, but ComiXology (and Kindle, for that matter) really require reader awareness and interest when seeking out titles. What do I mean?

Well, there’s a conundrum with digital discovery that I don’t think has been solved yet. In a ‘brick and mortar’ environment, people can stumble across titles that they might not have known about simply because they are on a shelf, let alone activism from a passionate sales staff. While COVID-19 has obviously effected the ability of people to enter into retail stores of all types, this is still a key element of what makes ‘brick and mortar’ stores so compelling. Wander in, stumble across something interesting, buy it, and try it. With digital comics, it would appear that you really need to know what you’re looking for. I realize that digital does allow some degree of browsing, but (at least from my point of view and experience), this doesn’t seem to work all that well in practice.

As a result, my digital sales have been very poor. What I find interesting about this is that my 2020 experiences with Kindle and ComiXology mirror my 2014 experiences with ComiXology and my series METAL GODS. Things really haven’t changed all that much at all.

Where Things Are At

As disappointing as this has been, the good news is that the comics art grant from the City of Ottawa has helped mitigate some of the damage detailed above. In fact, if it was not for the art grant and the Peter Honeywell award shortlist, I suspect I would cancel WOLF’S HEAD immediately. As it stands, WOLF’S HEAD will continue, at least through the current story arc, and then I’ll revisit in 2021.

Self-publishing is hard. Frankly, I’ve never wanted to do it, not because I’m against self-publishing per se, but because of the immense amount of work involved in doing it. Hell, I already wear all the hats (writing, art, production, etc…). Adding “publisher” to that list is a bridge too far. I badly need a publisher. I badly need an agent, too.

With WOLF’S HEAD, it’s hard to know how things will go. My efforts to find a publisher for the series will continue, though that is one helluva slog right now (my jealousy of authors with formal publishing contracts knows no bounds!). For the short term, this means that WOLF’S HEAD will probably be turned into a webcomic.

Webcomics actually terrify me. While once-upon-a-time I did do a webcomic through Girlamatic (THE ROAD TO GOD KNOWS...), that was both a long time ago and with a group of allies. Doing it alone is scary. And WOLF’S HEAD was never designed to be a webcomic; I’m leery of how transitioning the series to that format will work in practice. At the same time, I know that a WOLF’S HEAD webcomic might be the best (only?) chance that the series has to find a real audience.

To paraphrase one of my favourite movies, “art is a cruel mistress, but she is her own reward.” Easier said then done. I don’t like writing and drawing in a vacuum. While I’ve never minded the solitary nature of the craft, my stories are meant to be read. I’ve never wanted to make ‘outsider art’ that few if anyone reads. My goal was never to ‘hermetically seal’ my work from the world at large, either.

It’s not a fun feeling to be where I’m at, struggling to find an audience and struggling to make a living at it. Solutions are difficult to find. And the loss I’ve been feeling is difficult to place. Given the state of the world (not just with COVID-19 but with the wildfires in California and Oregon, the explosion in Beirut, and so on), there’s a lot to be thankful for. There really is. Art and writing bring me a great deal of joy, not to mention the fact that I’ve grown a great deal as an artist.

I’m extremely proud of WOLF’S HEAD, despite the terrible sales and lack of awareness that it even exists. I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done. And it’s been a joyful experience, too.

It would just be truly awesome to be able to share that joy with readers.

Wolf's Head by Von Allan

Link to Von Allan's Wolf's Head comic book series

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