Schwitters

from Newcastle Stories …and that.

a Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology

Newcastle Stories …and that was the Paper Jam Comics Collective’s 10th collaborative anthology, launched as part of the Late Shows on 17th May 2014. It was launched as part of a larger exhibition in collaboration with The Holy Biscuit entitled ‘Urban Fictions’.

I had two pieces in the comic. This one, Schwitters, is about the how the Merzbarn arrived in Newcastle and is still viewable at the Hatton Gallery.schwitters-web

Calvert

from Newcastle Stories …and that.

a Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology

Newcastle Stories …and that was the Paper Jam Comics Collective’s 10th collaborative anthology, launched as part of the Late Shows on 17th May 2014. It was launched as part of a larger exhibition in collaboration with The Holy Biscuit entitled ‘Urban Fictions’.

I had two pieces in the comic. This one, Calvert, is about the how the Tyne and Wear Metro System got its font.

calvert-web

DIBI

(Design it: Build it) 7th – 8th October 2013

Hosted by the BALTIC

I recently attended the DIBI conference held in the BALTIC. Here are some of the things that I attended that made me prick my ears up and stuck out as particularly interesting or memorable.

Lean Start Up – Idea to MVP

Bobby Paterson from Searchcamp lead an interesting set of presentations which used the word Lean a lot, which I guess means that Lean is a thing. I don’t quite understand what that thing is, but was able to deduce a few useful principles:

Identify the Minimum Viable Product – don’t faff around building a feature rich monolith to your own genius before showing it to another human.

How to do this? Identify the Minimum Viable Customer – a small and specific customer base, find out what their problems are and answer them. Quickly. Then learn from its mistakes and build another and another as many times as possible before the money runs out.

This is more or less the main creative lesson in any field of creativity, but the methodology comes with tools that may be useful in other fields too – the key tool for creating the story of how your project is going to work together is the Lean Canvas.

Very interesting and I now have a fairly substantial reading list to investigate.

Disco

The Design it thread of the conference contained a Disco ball, and as this slowly spun it created pixelated animations above my head. This felt in some way relevant and appropriate, and I’m glad it was there.

Fortunately, the talks were more than capable of competing with its hypnotic spinning… are those pixel colours derived from people’s shirts and hair colour? Parts of a whole… it’s like a metaphor for social something…

disco-ball-dibi

…hmmm! oh wait, no – hangon this is interesting:

Clouds of Dust

Luke Murphy-Wearmouth gave a very interesting talk about the concept of Desire Paths. This is a concept I was aware of but not really sure how to translate it into the field of web design.

Firstly and most obviously, use your analytics, heat maps and eye tracking to find out what the users of your site want to do. Prioritise those things and de-prioritise the things they don’t want to do.

The term Decaying Interfaces was used. The idea being that your UI can evolve more or less live based on how its used. This can be done for individual users but for the user group as a whole: A button can become more minimal in its design and explanation as the users become familiar with its purpose.

I’m not entirely clear on how this might be put into practice without inviting the problems that come along with removing or altering the customers landmarks, but I do find it a very interesting idea and worth thinking further on.

Cross Platform Branding

I’d have probably skipped this one if I’d not read the small print emphasising that what we’re going for here is an emphasis on the use of typography to create and project the personality of your site. Our control over the design, template and context is increasingly limited in a mobile first and responsive world, but our choice of typography and spacing can increasingly be used across multiple devices and media.

In my opinion, use of type is one of the areas that has most radically evolved (revolved? – almost) in the last few years, and wisdom about serifs, lowest common denominator system fonts and accessibility that felt set in stone five years ago no longer applies now we have much higher resolution screens and the availability of web fonts.

Paul McKeever gave an convincing and compelling introduction to the state of the art ranging from the strategic and branding concerns down to the nuts and bolts of performance and implementation.

The tool he was hawking looks to be worth further investigation: http://typecast.com/.

A good night to avoid daytime systems failure

This talk on sleep and its patterns and function by Kirstie Anderson was very interesting: though somewhat tangential to the theme of the conference as a whole, I found it an entertaining and enlightening talk, and will attempt to take its lessons on board.

How Documents can change your world

NoSQL is a topic i’m pretty interested in right now. Ross Lawley introduced the key concepts of NoSQL, document databases and MongoDB. There is a lot about this that still puzzles me and the topic of how the heck you manage and mitigate relational issues is clearly one that will become clearer once i’ve had more hands on experience of these kinds of systems.

The talk covered a lot of ground and was refreshingly honest about the weaknesses as well as the strengths of this approach. My feeling is that where there’s a clear chunk of data that can expand or contract, that sits somewhere in a tree like hierarchy, MongoDB is worth investigating.

One of my current work projects involves web based survey and questionnaire systems, the storage and onwards distribution of the data collected, and its display (probably using JSON and D3). I feel this might be a good match for that project.

One Size Fits None

This passionate questioning of the increasing reliance of CMS and Grid systems hit the nail on the head for me. The slightly bristly response from some of the audience (rushing to the defence of the Twitter Bootstrap) served as evidence that a valid point was being made.

Which was as I remember it, not so much that Twitter Bootstrap users are wankers, but that the increasing reliance on a small set of grid system and cms is leading to a homogeneity of design.

Marta Armada made the point that when unquestioned, when it is simply assumed that your grid or templating system of choice represent best practice (because it looks like other sites look right now), it creates a feedback loop that kills creativity in design and brings too much of its own design baggage (both visually and in terms of file sizes and downloads, typography, how buttons bevel, colour schemes, icons and such).

You can’t see a clique from within, and all systems can institutionalise. Bravo.

To Sum Up

This was a pretty good conference and a boost to morale. The usage of drum and bass as a shorthand for cool was sometimes a little trying, and there were some minor logistical hickups, but I know how hard those are to get right. The party was good, I chatted to some old friends and new and came fourth in the build a lego star destroyer competition and feel that I should have done better. They gave us beer and pies. All good.

Content wise, DIBI talked directly about the issues surrounding the proliferation of devices and media that i’ve been wrestling with recently.

I was gratified to find others with the same or overlapping sets of problems. While there are some new routes forward starting to emerge in Responsive Design it seems that while there isn’t yet a best practice to settle into everyone is enthusiastic about that and that this might be a good thing.

Also, nobody I talked to felt the need to prefix the word object with business or the word software with enterprise like they meant something. The focus was on the things that pull in the opposite direction from those kinds of terms:

Creative problem solving using forward looking tools and having a UI that’s a pleasure to use.

Quote of the Conference:

“Flat White? No friend, there are only two kinds of coffee: Americano and Irish”.

Cheers.

Boardgame Jam – How it Went

Make and Mend Market, 21st September 2013

Hosted by the Star & Shadow Cinema

So, on Saturday, myself and Alexi Conman* set out to run a Boardgame Jam as part of the Make and Mend Market at the Star and Shadow Cinema.

I’d not really planned much beyond obtaining about fifteen quids worth of old boardgames (Alexi and Jack Fallows donated some more), and cutting up some mount board into squares, circles and hexagons with my newly obtained Die Cutter. More on that topic in another post.

board-game-bits

We had a pretty good time, and it was mostly about figuring out how we might do such a thing in future and agreeing that it we probably will. More on that soon too.

So we made some games. Here are a few of them:

Cops and Robbers

cops-robbers-death

An interesting game, and one which at a number of points made me wish I’d brought some kind of disclaimer forms with me. The cops and the robbers start at opposite sides of the track, and both travel clockwise. Whichever catches up to the other wins: it’s effectively a roll and move game loosly based on monopoly, but it has a couple of interesting mechanics and an theme that became increasingly scatalogical.

Both the cops and the robbers have squares that allow them to place cards on the track in the path of their opponent. In the case of the robbers, it allows them to blow up bridges and knock the cops into holes, slowing them down. In the case of the cops, there appeared to be only two kinds of cards: ones which meant instant death for the robbers and onces which required the cop player to mime having a poo, or (in game, presumably, thankfully it didn’t come up during play testing) moon the robbers. Aside from instant death, these cards were entirely thematic.

The ability to decide where in the path to place these was interesting to me, and livened up a roll and move mechanic. Also interesting from a mechanics perspective: robbing the actual bank was emulated by stacking wooden cubes: you gaine as many hundreds of dollars as you have cubes stacked. If they fall, you get none. I thought that this nicely related to the dexterity required by safe crackers and was thankful that it didn’t involve any bodily functions.

Post apocalyptic scattered civilisations

post-apocalyptic-scattered-civilisations

As a result of our random concept generation system, while I was figuring out Cops and Robbers, Alexi was experimenting with hexagons towards building a game of route finding through an irratidated landscape. This appeared to remain in a very experimental phase.

Extreme Jet Pack Vertigo Builder

extreme-jetpack-vertigo-builder

Cuttlefish brought a concept that he’d been working on with his daughter for a while now. A collaborative game in which all players must get to the top of the central tower, building their scaffolding as they go using engineering principles and plays such as ‘The Inverted Gandalf’.

His earlier versions involved meccano and suffered from long delays between turns while bridges and towers were constructed. Replacing these materials with plasticene and lolly sticks made this a very interesting game indeed. Plasticene is more immediate.

The rules were simple: roll a dice to decide whether you move (each lolly stick is three squares long), gain building materials, or require you to add a block to the central tower. The players characters are required to stay on the lolly sticks, and falling off means returning to the bottom. All the players win if they all get to the top. All the players lose if any of the blocks fall off the tower.

I think it was a pretty good game, and certainly one which anyone could easily pull the pieces together for cheaply: the rules were formalised just enough to make it play without too much debate or interpretation and the materials we ended up using made it precarious and falls were frequent enough to be a real threat but not enoeugh to make the game frustrating. Very good.

Warewolf Hat Director versus Spoon of the Undead

warewolf-hat-director

We pulled together some quick prototype cards to experiment with an idea Alexi Conman has been developing. Alexi has an interesting direction with this game of hidden roles, mixed messages, conflicting goals and trust, and the cards we drew up here were a little flippant but did help us experiment with some of the ideas that are going into the game.

All in all?

We had a pretty good day, and I think we’re certain that we’d like to do something like this again, but with more structure, planning and outcomes, and specifically aimed at mid-teenagers and above rather than younger kids.

* I think it was Alexi Conman. You can never be 100% certain of these kinds of things.

Alcohol …and that

Cover Design

The Ninth Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology

One of the few PJCC Anthologies i’ve not contributed a story to, Alcohol …and that‘s cover was created by Brittany Coxon and Myself: we both designed it, I pencilled, Britt inked, we both coloured and then I did the typography.

We were pretty happy with the results, and I’d like to do something more in this daft sci-fi style. How many bottles of beer can you count?

Alcohol ...and that

Asteroid Belter

The Newcastle Science Comic

As part of the British Science Festival in September 2013

I’m immensely proud to have been both a contributor to and a part of the development of the Newcastle Science Comic where I was co-editor of the comic a a whole, and also a page editor for a good number of the pages within. I looked after the production site of the comic.

The Newcastle Science Comic was originally published as a run of 10,000 44 page newspapers given away free during the  British Science Festival in September 2013 – it was printed by the excellent Newspaper Club.

The comic is available to read online in full at the Newcastle Science Comic website. The Newcastle Science project is still active, and new projects and activities are being organised by Editor in Chief Lydia Wysocki.

Those pages where I contributed creatively were:

Cipher Mice versus Spy Cat

Writer and Artist: Paul Thompson

Asteroid-Belter-Newcastle-Science-Comic-34

 

The Amazing Three Parent Monkey

Story: Alexi Conman, Art: Tony Hitchman,
Colours/Letters: Paul Thompson, Science: Sourima Shivhare

Asteroid-Belter-Newcastle-Science-Comic-26

Astoundishing Science

Story and Art: Oscillating Brow,
Colours and Letters: Paul Thompson

Asteroid-Belter-Newcastle-Science-Comic-40

I also worked  on the two puzzle pages: with Oscillating Brow on the Science Courier Collection Conundrum and with Terry Wiley on the Asteroid Belter Brain Melter, and put together the credits double page spread at the end.

Go read it: Newcastle Science Comic

Girls from Mars

Tales of the Hollow Earth #3

Written and drawn by Paul Thompson.

After another disappearance, a security consultant discusses the benefits of using good sealing wax on your correspondence and observes that Astrid is clearly seeing more than she should.

coral

accountant

library-stairs

gudrun-tour

Returning characters introduced in issue 1 (Lure), the history of Gudrun Black and her career in Novalucia’s unique seafood trade is further revealed and Astrid Moriarty returns to the library to continue her investigations.

Girls from Mars begins a story which will end in issue 4, Unreliable Narrators due … soon, and features back cover artwork by
Ian Mayor

ian-mayor-hollowearth

You can buy Girls from Mars on Etsy or

Comicsy for Three Pounds.

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

Robohunter

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.

robohunter-cover-dobbyn

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: