Volume Two, Before Stories: Sunshine

I really enjoyed drawing these Before Stories. I mean, they were a lot of work but I think the art and colouring are quite solid. For the Sunshine story, I wanted to firstly do a little romantic tale, with some fun and sweet moments. I was going to show Sunshine and Ray in the war but it seemed a little awkward. For me, the scene with Will and Sara was one of the biggest scenes of the saga so far, and I thought a lot about whether or not to include it – but I just went for it!

Planning the issue

Volume Two, Before Stories: Bubble and Speck

For this story, I wanted to flesh out what happened in the last war a bit, and also deal with Bubble and Speck’s relationship, take a look at Speck’s dad, and also look at how Bubble lost her arm (which some readers may not even have noticed – which is fine!). 

Planning the issue
Cover sketch
Planning covers

Volume Two, Chapter 11

Rather than me blather on, here are the ‘extras’ from the collected issue of chapter 11.

Volume Two, Chapter 10

I’m a big fan of ‘a day in the life of’ stories, so that’s what I was aiming for here, and I think it’s cool – but a bit long for a weekly webcomic. I loved being able to play with the colours on the first page and in the Power Place scenes. It was really important to me to continue the Sara/panic attack story. Honestly, when I started having my own panic attacks, supermarkets were one of the most challenging things. I’d go in and eventually feel dizzy, and really struggle to hold myself together at the checkout section, so that’s the kind of thing I wanted to convey here. It was also important to keep the various storylines ticking along – Bubble/Speck, Josh/Mo, Courtney and her mother/boyf, Rex and his family, Skater Ray, Harry/Rainbow, and Will’s stuff.

Planning backgrounds for this chapter
Planning the order of the chapter, making sure things flow properly
Detail of some of the photos on Will’s mirror at the end

Volume Two, Chapter Nine

A series of fun little pages which move the story along. Random thoughts – I love Harry’s parents (and they’re based on my brother and sister in law), I love that Speck lives in a doll’s house, it was good to keep Sara’s anxiety storyline and Rex’s Wild Woods placement ticking along, and finally there’s the mystery of what Brava is up to.

The plan was for Chapter 9 to mirror 5.

Art planning for chapter 9

Volume Two, Chapter Eight

I originally planned for Glitch and Harry to split up at the end of the volume, but that would mean just padding it out for ages, and then I thought, well let’s just split them up earlier, it’ll be more fun!
Again, it’s more of a static kind of chapter, which is challenging to draw – and I like a challenge.

Art planning for chapter 8
Sketch for Chapter 8 cover
Planning the restaurant layout for chapter 8

Volume Two, Chapter Seven

This is the kind of story I really wanted to do in Zeros – a more talky little story. It’s a different challenge to draw more static events (and keep it interesting) than draw a big fight scene. Definitely, I’m channeling Love and Rockets here, my favourite comic.It’s a nice little chapter as it moves things along and explains things too.

The art planning for chapter 7
Sketch for the Chapter 7 cover

Volume 2, Chapter 6 notes

This is a story I’ve wanted to tell for a very long time, and it’s one of the very first story ideas I had for Zeros, several years ago.
It’s also based on an experience I had myself – when I had my first panic attack in my late 20s. It was a crazy experience – the symptoms were unbelievable – but at that time, they involved my legs going numb and then my left side, and I was convinced it was a heart attack – this all took place over a few hours in the late evening. Eventually at about 1am, I asked a friend to take me to A&E where I was shocked to find that my tests (including an ECG) were all fine! At that point, it clicked that I’d had a panic attack (even though I’d never really known fully what one was).I wanted to tell this story, but also continue on to tell what happens next for Sara.

Even though I had the idea to tell the story years ago, I didn’t write it until just before I had to draw it. I knew I wanted Sara to have several trains of thought so I just had to decide what they were. 

Most of the Zeros pages so far haven’t had panel borders, so I wanted Sara’s story to have panel borders to convey the claustrophobia of her thoughts.I also rarely ever show thought bubbles (internal monologue), but I wanted to have them in this story. 

Here is a rough sketch of the cover.

Page 1
One of my first big symptoms of having anxiety were stomach pains – from my mid-teens into my early 20s. I went to the doctors a lot and had a lot of tests – the results were all fine of course. I saw an out-patients doctor for several weeks and I think he was baffled by it all. Now I know that it was all stress/anxiety-related – I guess I was having muscle pains or stomach acid stuff. When pains come on these days (due to stress), they will often go away in a few hours – because I’m not mentally obsessing over them and thinking “what could this pain be?”.
One big giveaway for me with the pains was that one day the pain would be on the left and the next day it would be on the right, so it obviously wasn’t a specific internal organ.

Page 2
The dream Sara refers to is the one she had in chapter 5.Sara is having lots of self-doubt and negative thoughts – which are fueling her anxiety.

Page 3
Sara is on her way to Invisigirl’s house – the rest of the girls are there (except Courtney) and you’ll see them in the next chapter.

I thought I’d have more to say about this chapter, but for me (at least) a lot of it is self-explanatory, as Sara deals with her memories and relationships with the people close to her.

Here are the layouts for this chapter plus a sketch of Sara’s outfit for this issue:

Volume 2, Chapter 5 notes

Here is the initial sketch of the cover for this chapter.
The final version was an attempt at an uninked drawing (no black lines).

Chapter 5 is a kind of prologue to the next chapters, and Chapter 9 will be the epilogue to this section. This doesn’t really come across in the digital collections because I had to even out the pagecounts, which is a shame, but not the end of the world.
Chapter 5 is more of a set-up chapter than a ‘big-incident’ chapter.

Page 1
I loved the idea of Speck living in a doll’s house and this is the same doll’s house that was in volume 1.
Here’s the page without any black lines – I love this effect!

Page 2
The giants in this scene were inspired by Japanese artist Lily Franky, who I learned about in the Japanese reality TV show Terrace House (the last, ill-fated season).

Page 3
Panel 3 – this is the first glimpse of this era’s Perfects.
Panel 6 – Spot the Wizardz poster in the mirror – the band, mentioned a few times in Volume 1, have reunited.
Here’s the page without any black lines.

Pages 4 to 6
Sunshine is having a nightmare here – flying to the Powertown Institute, flying alongside the Perfects from when she was a kid, spotting her mum, Mr Smith from Vol 1, Skater Ray and Will, Miss Greengrass and then those awful bullies from Volume 1.

The poster in Sunshine’s bedroom is Lizard Boy, a musician inspired by a Justin Bieber album cover.

Here are the thumbnails for this chapter – as you can see, I decided to make most of the panels square, but I’ve kept Sunshine’s panels oblong to match her next story.

Volume 2 Chapter 4 notes

Page 1
Panel 4

This was literally one of the first panels I ever thought of for Zeros – the idea of a character saying they’re bored while there’s all this superhuman activity behind them.
Among the people you can see flying behind Mo are a Bat guy, a Monk guy, a couple of Lady Gagas, a couple of Tori Amos’s (a mermaid from Silent All These Years and Pele from Boys for Pele), Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen, and a couple of characters from my friend Grant Springford’s comic the East End Sentinels.
Adding the two captions at the bottom was a last minute thing, so that readers knew exactly what was going on.

When I’m drawing, I often pop the page’s dialogue on the page so I can easily refer to what’s happening (see below).

Page 2
Panel 7
– for panels like this I tend to work on them over the course of a few months, just adding a bit at a time – pencils for a character, inks and then colours – otherwise I’d probably go mad if I drew it all in a day!

Page 3
The bottom two panels refer to an event from volume 1 – the revelation about the water.

For set-ups like this, where the characters are sitting in a certain order, I usually get a pic of the Zeros cast onto the drawing page, as it reminds me of who I’m writing about (12 characters is a lot to remember!), and for this I kept a key of where they were sitting – although it still includes ‘Hat’ the new character who was left on the cutting room floor.

Page 4
I was drawing this chapter when I was watching Normal People – a really good BBC romantic drama. It’s such a relatively simple story but it’s so powerful and effective. There are so many intense moments in it and I wanted to capture that in the way Sara and Ray look at each other – they have a complex history that is yet to be explored.

Page 5
Panel 6
It’s practically impossible to see, but Mo’s banknote shows who the current queen now is.

For no reason whatsoever, I decided to make the staff in this chemists look like Dr Bunsen and Meep from the Muppet Show (I love that show lol). 

Page 6
This really is what I want Zeros to be all about. It will have epic moments but I also want some interesting character moments, like Mo dyeing her hair here to make herself feel powerful again.

Volume 2 chapter 3 notes

I had a lot of fun with this chapter. I liked how organically it came together. I knew I needed chapter 2 to finish with Mo leaving the party early, but I didn’t know why she was leaving. initially, she just got overwhelmed and left. And then I was like, well I need to go to Courtney next, so there was my answer. Sometimes I can get stuck writing a story and it forces me to think about how to move the story on – and it can be really annoying – but the solution is usually pretty obvious and satisfying.

Courtney is a lot of fun to draw with the big eyes and weird hair, and it was fun to come up with a more grown-up version of her for volume 2.

Page 1, panel 2 and Page 2, panel 6
What’s Courtney eating in panel 2? Hmm, remember her Nana Biscuits in Volume 1?

Page 5, panel 3
Remember those guys that came down from the sky in the Vol 1 epilogue? 

Page 6, panel 2
Psimon was seen in the Mind Class in Volume 1.

Here’s a full pic of Nana Biscuits and Courtney – you can see it in the background a little bit, behind the door. (I flipped it so you can actually see Nana).

Nana Biscuits was inspired by, well, every good nan really. My nans always had biscuits or chocolates in a tin when I’d go and visit them when I was tiny. I thought it would be a really fun power for Courtney’s nan to have the power to actually create biscuits.

Here are this chapter’s thumbnails.

Zeros volume 2, chapter 2 notes

Page 1
This first page – the coma timeline page – was something I toyed with for a while and it could have appeared at the start of chapter 1, really.
I eventually realised that it slotted in well here. 
In panels 1 and 8, you can see how Josh/Toon stuck by Mo’s side; in panel 4, you can see Bubble, Speck and Sunshine checking in on her; in panel 5 you can see Mo’s parents and her little sisters; In panel 6 you can see the World War that happened, and in the following panel you can se the city being rebuilt.
You can’t see the full 10-year coma here – I left a couple of years out so it all fit on the page!
This page took ages to draw – I just drew a little bit each day over a few months.
Oh finally, look carefully in panel 1 – there’s an extra little detail there. Think about what happened at the end of Volume 1.  😉

Page 2
Originally, there was a brand new main character in this panel. I had decided that after Courtney left Class O in volume 1, she was replaced by a lad called ‘Hat’ who had teleportation powers. He’s not a new character – he appeared in Volume 1 as part of the Misc Class. Hat was going to be a big part of Chapter 11 too – but that’s a story for later. But the new character was bugging me and didn’t feel right – and I was struggling with his part of the story, for some reason. And then I thought “okay, how would this work if he wasn’t a main character?” It was a big realisation that I didn’t need him, and a relief too, as he was cluttering things up a bit. It completely opened things up for some of the other characters – Yuki, Rex and Invisigirl – who I was struggling to come up with stories for. By losing Hat as a main character, it made it easier to make the other characters work better.
I do feel guilty though, as Hat is based on a good friend of mine!
Here’s a rough original version of this page featuring Hat – for a long time, this was the final version. You can see how in the original Hat version, the other characters look a bit smaller/younger – I realised I had to make them look older/bigger.

Page 6
Originally, Will was going to be mute – you’ll get to know him more as the chapters progress and you’ll get to know what he’s been through. He was going to communicate with sign language and the other characters – especially Sara – would communicate with him that way too. I eventually decided that it wouldn’t work very well visually so I went with a different idea for him instead – hopefully it’ll become more evident soon.

Here are the layouts for these pages. I often paste a guide onto a page I’m working on so I don’t forget to add a character in and I can get the colours right.
I can’t find the layout for page 3. 😀

As a bonus, I’ve added a cover rough too – the full pic of the chapter two opener, which I used as the cover for the digital issue collection.


Volume 2, Chapter 1 notes

Starting work on Volume 2
Following a break after finishing Volume 1, I started volume 2 back in November 2019 and worked on it almost every day throughout 2020. From March 2020, I was working from home because of the pandemic, so that gave me a little bit of extra time each day to draw (ie, no commuting and no going out!). Most days, I just spend an hour in the evening (after work) on Zeros and I just tend to draw some elements for a couple of the pages of some of the chapters. It’s just a slow, steady progress rather than like drawing whole pages in an evening. Parts of this chapter were drawn in the Philippines (I went there for a couple of weeks in late Jan/early Feb 2020), and also Bognor Regis and Bournemouth (when the lockdown was eased off slightly in the Summer, so I managed to escape!).

Starting Chapter 1
I literally had no idea how to start Chapter 1 so that slowed me down quite a lot! You’re faced with the dilemma of how much to put into the intro chapter – whether to keep it relatively simple or put a load of info in there.
At some point along the way, I decided to model it on an ingenious Daniel Clowes story called ‘The Walk’ (for adults) where someone just literally walks around a few streets (it’s very well written). I’ve always, always wanted to do a story like that, so this is my take.
I wanted to keep Mo’s identity a secret until the end of the chapter and I wanted to keep elements of the superhuman world hidden – but hinted at – until the splash page. I went back and forth for a while on Mo’s current status – whether she was blind or in a wheelchair – but the eventual conclusion was pretty obvious (and having an unpowered person in a world where everyone has powers was something I’d thought about for a story a very long time ago). (Plus, drawing a wheelchair is hard!)
Drawing the cast in one of the final panels was difficult at first – I kept drawing them almost like kids and I struggled to decide how an 18 year old would be drawn. In the end, I realised that they should just look like my other O Men and Spandex characters but look fresher with less wrinkles!

Some more specific notes:

Page 1
Panel 1 – hmm, do you remember what word volume 1 started with?
Panel 2 – note that the kids have no powers here in the photo, back when they really were ‘Zeros’.
Panels 5 and 6 – I wanted to keep it a secret as long as possible that the whole world was populated by superhumans (in case you were new to the series or had forgotten), so I hid Mo’s parents’ superhair in the photo and when the mum appears in panel 6.

Page 2
I still haven’t revealed that the world is a superhuman one, but you can see hints of it in panels 4 and 5, plus Josh does look like his cartoon self.

Page 3
A lot of the characters here appeared in the first splash page of Volume 1. The street is semi-based on a street in Thornton Heath, a place not far from where I live.

Page 4 
Panel 2 – Marinder Kaur is a character from my O Men comic. She had healing powers and was codenamed Shine.
Some people who look like the original X-Men are flying next to the hospital.

Page 6
This was the first page I drew of Volume 2!

Here’s a batch of thumbnails for this chapter (I usually have about 2 or 3 attempts at this).
The original plan was to kick off the series with Mr Kit on the TV – but I thought that would set the tone for the series in an odd way.
You can see some mini sketches of different ideas for Josh’s hair-style.