As It’s Halloween it seems like the perfect time to talk about ‘ghosting’. Though it sounds like some sordid thing involving ghoulies, in the comics world it usually refers to drawing in the style of someone else. Something that can be very hard to get right now that so many artists have their own style.
Aside from a few character cameos in Justin Beaver, my first proper ghosting work was It’s A Blunderful Life in The Dandy, which featured the World’s unluckiest boy, The Beano‘s Calamity James. James is one of the hardest characters to draw as Tom Paterson‘s intricate style is, like Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid‘s before him, extremely hard to recreate naturally. I gave it a good go, but Paterson’s manic lucidity still somewhat eluded me. It’s very much a character in his style sitting in a puzzle in my style.
A month or so ago I had another attempt at drawing a Paterson style James puzzle, and got much closer this time by spending a very long time image sourcing and pouring over his work. I found a whole strip set in space, as was the puzzle, and copied and adapted images from it to suit the puzzle. I’m very proud of the final piece, but I wouldn’t do it again. In fact I ditched another Calamity James puzzle, ‘Wheel Of Misfortune’, shortly after because I couldn’t face it!
Ghosting is extremely hard to get right, there are some fantastic artists out there who can ghost with such accuracy that you can hardly tell it’s their work, but sometimes (as in Jamie Smart’s Roger The Dodger) it is best to ignore the original art style and draw your own. Drawing in another artists style can inhibit what you can do with a character, unless you are willing to take liberties (I always draw The Bash Street Kids in Baseball boots, as I simply can’t draw shoes like Dave Sutherland). The problem with Calamity James is that the art is so recognisable and weird that if you were to draw the character in any other way it just wouldn’t be Calamity James.
I’ve been lucky enough to get to drawn most of The Beano‘s familiar characters in puzzles over the past year, everyone from from Dennis The Menace to Little Plum. I can’t tell you what a thrill it has been getting to draw all my favourite childhood characters and having to ghost so many of my favourite artists. Some I found easier than others though, Dave Sutherland’s Bash Street Kids are fairly easy because you have 50 years of reference material to look at. Barrie Appleby’s Roger The Dodger was the hardest for me, due to his complicated shirt and hair.
Ghosting is very much a skill, something I picked up from learning to draw by copying Jim Davis’ Garfield and later less successfully Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. That’s essentially all it is. Copying. You can see clearly see both artist’s influences in this strip, A Bear Behind, from The Dandy.
Sadly I didn’t get to draw any of the big characters for The Dandy, aside from a few cameo appearances and repeated sightings of Phil Corbett’s Korky The Cat, which I’ll blog about another day. So when The Dandy ended and they asked me to do two strips for the final issue: Auntie Clockwise (originally by Wayne Thompson, who draws Bananaman for The Beano) and Hamish the Haggis Basher (originally a one-off strip by Tom Paterson) I thought was the last time I’d ever have the chance to draw Dandy characters.
Little did I know I’d be bringing back Desperate Dan just 10 months later…
The Halloween issue of The Beano is on sale from Wednesday 23rd October in WH Smiths, Sainsbury’s, Asda and all good newsagents, priced £2.