Words + Pictures where Time = Space

Perception at TEDx, 18th May 2013

Hosted by The Lit and Phil.

This talk was given by Paul Thompson at TEDx at the The Lit & Phil,
in Newcastle upon Tyne on May 18th 2013.

The theme was Perception, and the talk attempted to address this in three ways:

Firstly, by demonstrating how the layout of the page and panels could control the perception of time on the page, displaying cause and effect simultaneously.

Secondly, how minimalism and abstraction can create a sense of both empathy and otherness.

Finally, by using examples specifically about outsiders, aliens, ghosts, characters with altered bodies,
altered perceptions of their realities or comics set in worlds the reader is not intended to fully understand.
Primarily these are Weird Tales, Ghost Stories or comics involving some level of body horror. Or, more importantly, Calvin and Hobbes

Introduction – Anatomy Lesson

Empathy and Otherness

Comics with Various Levels of Realistic Rendering

Comics with Abstract Art, Language and Otherness

Comics using a Clear Line style to achieve Empathy

Some other Good examples of Noir/Horror

Time and Space in Comics

Comics about Outsiders and Perception

Comics about being Not Human

  • Duncan the Wonder Dog, by Adam Hines
  • Swamp Thing – Anatomy Lesson, written by Alan Moore, art by Steve Bissette and John Totleben
  • Zombo, written by Al Ewing, art by Henry Flint
  • We3, written by Grant Morrison, art and Frank Quitely
  • All Star Superman, written by Grant Morrison, art and Frank Quitely

Recommended Reading

Robohunter : The Best Man


The Best Man

by Paul Thompson and Cuttlefish

A comic strip I wrote and that Cuttlefish Comics drew for Zarjaz 17. I’ve always liked Sam Slade. A very cynical and mercenary character with far too many character flaws: On a good day, he can just about scrape through as a lovable rogue in the Han Solo mould.


This story was originally constructed as a screen play for two characters waking up in their apartment but ended up having so many badly abused props it fell quite naturally into this world. We’re very pleased to have been considered worthy of being the cover story – and the cover in question is by the very excellent Nigel Dobbyn. It was edited, lettered and generally made ship shape by Bolt-01 and is available now from the FutureQuake website.

Robohunter - The Best Man

The Maker Faire

2013 at Newcastle Centre for Life

This weekend I attended Maker Faire UK at Newcastle’s Centre for Life. It was fascinating: in previous years i’ve been inspired by the Laser Cutters, Plotters and 3D Printers on display.

This year, those devices are practically mainstream, and it’s no longer enough to show a thing that you’ve cut or printed. The star of the shows were the couple of devices that turn those technologies into a bit part in a bigger show:

The Arduino and Rasperry Pi

What couldn’t a person do with powerful, cheap open source computing, processing, control units?

I’ve clearly seen only the tip of the iceberg, but I don’t think you could easily come away from a faire like this without being impressed by the
possibilities for democratising invention and technology that open source thinking has created.

Not just possibilities for engineering or computing or pole dancing robots, which were a lot more more effective than they should have been,
there were some very biological exhibits on show:

A man showed me a copy of his heart he was building. At least I think that’s what I saw.

Internal organs were modelled in knitting, electronics were incorporated into fashion objects, living organisims were forming the basis of arcade games, and some robots were knitting.

Let us be careful how we re-combine the elements of the above sentences untill we have improved as a species, yes?

But not too careful.

I’ve long been intending to visit (and join) the Star and Shadow based ‘Maker Space‘, but this show has made it a certainty.

This is what the Maker Faire looked and sounded like:




Tales of the Hollow Earth #2

Written and drawn by Paul Thompson.

Agent Koen, a man with very little understanding of the world beyond the company of his fellow Inksekt agents and oblivious subordinate of Mister Chambers, is recalled to life to assist Astrid Moriarty in her investigations and at the same time find out what he can about her Grandfather.




The monster of the piece was designed by the UK’s most exciting folder of paper, Mark Leonard and the theme of the issue revolves around the pleasing Etymology of the word Entomology:

“that which is cut in pieces or engraved/segmented”



The Network

A comic by Luke Halsall and myself – Luke came up with the idea, we both worked it into a short, but quite abstract story, and then I drew it. Pretty pleased with how it worked out.

The Story was published in Glow 2 Horror Anthology in 2012.

Some keys to Plato’s cave

(and the goths who live there)

I’ve been writing and drawing comics over the last few years, sometimes I think a bit about that.

…and one of the things I think is that there is sometimes a tendancy, when deciding what a prop or background character looks like to go for the platonic archetypal ideal typical proverbial object….but this is also the generic and boring prop, no matter what flourish and decoration you add to it. No-one is surprised, for example, when the Key to Hell in Neil Gaiman‘s classic – Sandman– looks like this:

Sandman Key

Which is grand: after all, Sandman is a world whose central aesthetic is pretty goth, and one of its themes IS symbols, archetypes and platonic forms.

…but if you’re not writing a fantasy novel set in all of history’s subconscious, you might want to think a bit more about what the archetypal version of your prop might be, and weigh the pro’s and cons of the familiarity of the ‘symbol’ version of the object against the benefits you’ll get from using something more specific.

Because, despite the fact that I think if you asked most adults to draw a Key they would draw something similar in form to the ‘symbol’ form above, most people’s day to day experience of anactual key has more in common with the Key to the Fortress of Solitude in Grant Morrison‘s All Star Superman:

All Star Superman : Key

Which is brilliant: it replaces the symbolic version with the every day and this is unexpected.

Once you’re away from the platonic form, and using a form that is either more real world or completely alien, you have a much wider range of attributes to consider. The objects form, size, wight, material all have semiotic considerations that can be used to deduce a lot about its owner and the culture and story in which it exists.

  • Plastic, Wood and Metal?
  • Over or Undersized?
  • Embellished or Minimal?

So, if you look at your props and in all honestly it looks like something a Goth might like, you maybe need to think on it a bit further. Your haunted house will possibly be more effective and surprising if it’s a suburban semi detatched than the house on the hill, for example. It will also offer up different and interesting storytelling opportunities.

As an aside, I’m quite interested in Tim Burton’s films: he’s as goth a filmmaker as you can get, but I’m quite looking forward to seeing his Dark Shadows clash of goth and 70’s aesthetics.

Tales of the Hollow Earth : Cosmology

April 9 – 16 2011 – Made In Newcastle

Ten pictures by Paul Thompson

ONE : Games

The best board games are those whose depth of complexity and strategy comes from a very small number of easily understood elements and rules.

Chess is considered to be a very deep game – it has six types of piece and, including the rules for their movement, winning conditions and a couple of exceptions, about a dozen rules. Our greatest computers can match our greatest human players.

Go has only one type of piece, and despite or because of this simplicity is so deep that computers still cannot match the best players.

Given a tiny number of rules of engagement, then where does the conflict come from?


TWO : Physics

Why is there something and not nothing, and what is it all made out of?

All matter is made out of molecules and molecules are made out of atoms, are made out of electrons, are made out of elementary particles. These are far too numerous and untidy for anyone to believe that they’re the final word.

But even if physicists successfully pair it down further, where does my motivation come from?



THREE : Stories

Various theories of elements have existed – most commonly four or five, being variations on the theme of: Water, Air, Fire and Earth, occasionally subdividing one, or adding another such as spirit or void.

Unlike the elements of quantum physics, these elements are often associated with properties we would recognise in our daily lives (Hot, Fluid, etc.) both as physical phenomena and components of a personality/emotional states. These kinds of ideas/metaphors are used as component parts in the system of Tarot.

The twenty two cards of the Major Arcana could represent a single story, which would not be unfamiliar to viewers of the Star Wars Trilogy. Or the Matrix: The FoolThe MagicianThe High Priestess, ending with The SunJudgement and a return to The World.

FOUR : Comics

Show people two dots and a line and they will see a face. Show them two pictures next to each other and they will begin to construct a story. Now you understand comics.

I write a comic called Tales of the Hollow Earth. The stories in this comic are inspired by science and the tendency to see meaning where there may not necessarily be any.

But what would the subatomic, elemental particles of a fictional word look like? The quanta of Middle Earth is probably very different to the quanta of the universe of Victor Frankenstein, The Justice League of America, Doctor Benway or Calvin and Hobbes.



FIVE: Finding Meaning where it may not Be?

So this exhibition represents early attempts at mapping the fundamental principles on which the universe of my Tales of the Hollow Earth is built. Where does the conflict come from, in that world, where does the meaning and aesthetics come from.

By early attempts, I mean to say that these pictures, which I hope you like on some level, are experiments with these ideas, and not expected to be successful. Recurring themes, some obvious, some not, run through the series. Some of them were deliberate, some I spotted afterwards, and some are entirely your own.


SIX:  Why is there Something and not Nothing?

I’m thankful to Made in Newcastle for the opportunity to have a deadline to work to, without which none of this would likely ever to have became a real, nailed to the wall exhibition.

Why you should care about this personal cosmology isn’t for me to say, I’m afraid and I’m not going to argue strongly that you should at this stage – it’s an experiment and a work in progress for me. That said, I hope it works for you on some level.

Thanks for taking the time to look though, please let me know if you got anything out of it. I hope that this meandering was useful to you on some level.

Let me know.

Boltzmann’s Eye

Tales of the Hollow Earth #1

Written and drawn by Paul Thompson.

Astrid Moriarty arrives in Novalucia with a collection of cameras that can photograph things that are not there.



Noir, surreal and funny, Tales of the Hollow Earth is now in its third issue out of an planned five, and has been described by noted
lunatic Ian Mayor as being: “…like Edgar Allan Poe and Kafka discussing Doctor Who in a teak lift” .

One of the overarching themes is accidentally finding meaning where there may not be any – folks just can’t help it. It has also been described as “Bureaucracy Punk”.

A 20 page comic with subdued colour and now includes Lure, a backup strip which was originally created for A4 Comics (created and edited by Daniel Clifford (Sugar Glider, Art Heroes) and features extremely aggressive seafood in a part of town with viral cartography.

You can buy Boltzmann’s Eye on Etsy or Comicsy for Three Pounds.



Horror Comics panel at Hi Ex

Horror Comics panel at Hi Ex

Last weekend, I attended Hi-Ex. I’ll write about it’s wonders more generally shortly (which are already very well documentedelsewhere). This post is specifically about the Horror Comics panel on the Saturday afternoon. These people took the stage:
And this is my interpretation and recollection of what was said…
The first topic on the table was the suitability of the comics medium for the horror genre, and how it compares to film and prose. A few fine folks had been discussing this in the hotel bar the night before, so I felt well prepared for the subject. On balance, it seemed most folk considered that both other mediums have distinct advantages over comics in the genre.
Show and Tell
Comics cannot so directly control the pacing, speed and atmosphere of the storytelling as film, nor do they have such a captive audience. It’s easy to be distracted, to go make a sandwich, before turning the page. Shock, therefor, isn’t strong point of comics – we didn’t think it possible for a comic to genuinely cause someone to jump.
At the other end of the spectrum, comics don’t leave quite so much of the atmosphere up to the imagination as prose. And there’s nothing more horrific than what you can imagine.
John Higgins was the only panelist who favoured drawing the gore and the horror directly, the others preferring to leave it off panel. John Higgins is apparently trained as a medical artist though, so I guess he’s the chap in the room most qualified to show you, quite literally, what you’re made of.
Meat and Monsters
The conclusion therefor, is that comics own niche of the horror genre is to disturb and provoke rather than gross out or shock. Body horror was favoured by Al Ewing, who (I paraphrase) pointed out that regardless of what we might think of ourselves, we’re all piles of goo. Which lead to a long discussion of the links between the classic monsters: transformation of humanity.
Frankenstein, Werewolves, Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, all being transformed humans, losing their humanity and control, physically and psychologically. Swamp Thing fits this description nicely, and Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing was well discussed.
Initially conceived as a man who due to a chemical accident becomes a “muck-encrusted mockery of a man”, Alan Moore reworked the character as a pile of muck which comes to realise that the man it thought it was did indeed die in the accident.
Supernatural Romance
The genre of Supernatural Romance was discussed – Twilight and the like. Obviously, this being wish fulfillment fantasy rather than horror, the classic monsters have had their fangs pulled. To generalise (possibly too much, since I’m not familiar), being a vampire in these series presents very little by way of problems beyond a mild addiction with no negative effects.
Vampires have always had a sexual element to them, which is why they often crop up as misunderstood heroes in contemporary fiction aimed at teenagers, and the panel discussed the reason for the neutering of this particular classic monster is simply because our attitudes towards sexuality have became less negative, puritanical or fearful since the Victorians.
Also, I guess, we’re less convinced by the notion of being ‘damned’.
The Rules
The rules for being a vampire may have been softened over time, as have the rules for many other monsters, but one of the key elements of the genre was the rules: most of these beasties are not particularly dangerous so long as you follow the rules. This was pointed out in horror parody Scream, on a meta level, in which the rules to be followed were that of the genre, not any particular monster.
The upshot of this hypothesis is that the true horror comes from the other human beings, then, who cannot be trusted to keep the rules either through incompetence or malice, and put everyone else in danger. The fact that Zombies can run now somewhat subverts this, but that’s more to do with a change of pace in modern film than in the genre itself.
Neither Rhyme nor Reason
Ghost stories were pointed out as an exception, in which the rules are absolutely unknown and often unknowable until long after it’s too late, regardless of whether the protagonists can co-operate with one another.

Alien was mentioned as possibly not being a horror film by the above definitions, but I think it fits nicely into the sub-genre of the Haunted House, of which the wider implication is the Death Planet: an environment in which anything can kill you at any time and for no reason at all. As Al puts it, more eloquently than I could ever hope to:OH NO! THEY WERE ALL EATEN BY A TREE!

Although a likeable, competent character is more likely to survive than those who aren’t, plenty will die along the way, and such stories will tend to go out of their way to hide their protagonist untill late in the day. Since morality and competence is defined by the author, as is who lives and who dies, such stories make excellent cautionary tales, and were considered to be direct descendents of such.
And that is the way of such panels, we had an excellent wander around the genre and some of its implications for storytelling in all media, not only comics. Plenty to ponder, there I thought.