Interview: Andy J Clarke on FLUX
Andy J Clarke, a Sheffield-based artist with roots in Greater Manchester, has just published the seventh issue of his comic series FLUX, which is infused with his love of science fiction and fantasy. And as we're fans of those particular genres too, we wanted to know more about the series and his processes for creating this future galaxy.
With a table on the Artist Alley at MCM London Comic Con in a couple of weeks, you can pick the FLUX series up in person and chat with Andy about the incredible universe of FLUX that he's creating.
You can also check out our review of FLUX volume one, where we gave it a very respectable 4.5/5.
Can you tell us about how FLUX came about?
I grew up on science fiction and am not ashamed to say I have been, and still am, obsessed. There are aspects of FLUX, especially in the world building, that I came up with when I was in school. I remember coming up with the idea of earth having a ring of artificial habitats around it in an art lesson when I was around 13 (now 40, for perspective). FLUX is something of an amalgamation of many ideas that I've come up with over the years, mostly character or world building concepts, that I initially thought would be multiple separate stories, but in fact worked together as a single setting and story.
I first started writing FLUX as a novel over 10 years ago, probably close to 15 years ago, but I ended up giving up on it when I realised I wasn't a very good novelist. Part of me knew then that I wanted it to be a comic rather than a novel, but not knowing what was involved in comic creation at the time, I didn't think it was within my means to make one.
Then, back in 2018, as my music "career" was petering out, I found myself looking for new avenues to focus my creativity. I've always had a need to create things, be it music, art, stories, etc. It was whilst watching Critical Role, being a massive D&D guy, and seeing the reels of fan submitted art, a lot of which was digital, I decided I wanted to try my hand at digital art. My mum was an art teacher and always encouraged me to pursue artistic endeavours, and in turn art was always my best subject at school. I just didn't keep it up after school, instead focussing on my music.
So, I was a little rusty, and digital art was a whole new approach for me. So I knew I would have to continually practise and keep drawing repeatedly. So I decided to make that fun and start making a comic, as that requires you to draw and draw, and would give me the repetition I needed to improve.
I revisited my original idea for a novel, and that became FLUX. I got two and a half chapters in and was seeing improvement in my artwork, and I decided I wanted to actually make something I could release, rather than simply doing it for my own enjoyment. I went back to the beginning and started to redraw everything I had already done, to bring it all up to a consistent standard, and released Chapter One in September of 2020.
What's been your favourite part of FLUX so far?
I love world building, as well as creating characters. I think it's why I like D&D so much as both a player and a DM. Seeing the concepts and ideas that previously only existed in my imagination, fully realised on the page is eminently satisfying.
One of my favourite pages is still the splash page in chapter one that gives the first view of earth and the ring of orbiting land masses. My artwork was still improving at that point, but that page stands out as a highlight for me. That and the double page splash of the UNC fleet in chapter five.
How many issues do you have planned? I assume everything is building towards one particular endgame, however far away that is?
I know how the story will end, and the major plot points that will occur on the journey to that ending are all planned out, but for the most part they are bullet points that I flesh out as I progress. During which subplots develop and the story evolves.
If I were to put a number out there, I'd probably say I'm looking at around 25 issues (or five collected volumes).
As I've gotten more involved in indie comic communities, many people have said you should never make an epic multi-issue comic as your debut. Oops!
How do you feel you've progressed as the series has progressed?
My artwork for one has been the biggest progression. As I mentioned earlier, I was new to digital art and was learning "on the job." I still see improvement in my work the more I do, and I often look back at earlier chapters and issues and think that they could be improved on, as I get hung up on consistency.
As I said earlier, I did go back at one point and redraw the first couple of chapters to bring the quality up, and it's hard to resist the urge to do that over again. But when you make something like a comic, you find you never stop improving, so looking back you will always see that difference, and I'd just get stuck in a cycle of reworking and reworking. Instead I need to stop looking back and keep moving things forward.
I've also developed my methods over the years and my approach to comic creation. As I make FLUX in my spare time alongside a day job, I've had to develop my process around efficiency without compromising the quality, and from that I feel that's helped me develop a style that is uniquely mine. Now that I have that method down and I suppose you could call it a routine, I've gone from being happy if I draw a single panel in a day, to now being able to easily draw a couple of pages a day (if I have the full day).
What's your process like for laying out a page?
Laying out a page can actually be a challenging process, and requires me to consider a number of factors. One being considering how it will affect the layout of the following pages. There are sometimes certain story beats that I want to ensure fall on an odd or even page number, so as to give a big reveal the desired impact, you turn the page to it, rather than it sitting there on the right hand side while you're reading the left. Also, I need to factor in where I want to fit in double-page spreads and ensure the page count leading up to it allows.
FLUX has a lot of debate and dialogue between characters and there are many scenes that consist simply of two people having a discussion, and I have to ensure I keep it dynamic and engaging. In these instances I tend to script out the entire conversation without any page or panel guides, and then I go through it and mark what I can best describe as "emotional beats," where the focus needs to change between either character to show their reaction or emotion as they are either speaking or listening. Sometimes a large panel with both characters in view and a back and forth of dialogue is enough. But more often than not it calls for multiple changes of angle and focus as the interaction moves forward. So I'll read through the scripted dialogue a number of times and try and get a feel for where it needs those switches in focus, and then break the script down into the panels and add the visual notes.
That then indicates to me how much dialogue there is per panel and what size and room will be required to accommodate it all. I'll then see how that amounts to page count and tweak things if I need to add or reduce a page to make it end on an odd or even page if necessary. I'll also sometimes have both my word processor and art programs open at the same time and mocking up the pages as I write the script, to allow me to have a better feel for how it will all fit together.
Can you tell us about your overall comic process? Do you write a script with detailed page layouts? Or make up the drawing as you go?
It has changed over the time I've been making FLUX. At first, I didn't really do scripts and did more of a general breakdown of scenes and brief notes on the gist of what would be said or happen in that scene. I would then build on that as I drew.
Now, as the plot lines are starting to get more complex I find doing a more detailed script is required. I still tend to start out with a bullet point list of each scene that will appear in the chapter, and then flesh those out into a general description of what will occur in each. Then I'll script out each scene individually, and depending on how eager I am to be drawing, I'll either make a start on the art for the first scene before scripting the next, or I'll keep going with the script. Either way, I try to keep both the art and the script moving forward simultaneously, mainly to keep myself from getting too bogged down in one thing. It's important to keep the process fun and not to make it feel too much like work.
My scripting tends to be quite loose, with the scripted dialogue providing the gist or intent, but maybe not the exact phrasing or wording that will be in the final product. As long as it's enough to guide me when creating the artwork. I'll then finalise and refine what I've scripted as part of the lettering process. Visual description can also be quite basic and may just say something like "close up view of Yara." If I were writing for another artist, I of course would go into much more detail, but for my purposes I just need a brief indicator that I can build upon when I come to doing the artwork.
I'll also often start the lettering process as I'm going, rather than waiting until the full chapter is drawn, again to keep things varied and break things up. This way I can also give my Patreon subscribers advanced previews of the upcoming issues.
Wearing all the hats, being writer, artist, and letterer, does give me a considerable amount of flexibility in my process, but also makes for a lot of work.
How much revision/editing do you do in your work as you near the end of a comic?
For me, revision and editing is a continual process, with tweaks and adjustments being made at every step. Doing my own lettering allows me to revise my script even at that late a stage. I tend to get a better feel for how things are flowing and how things read as I letter, and I do sometimes find I need to make odd changes here and there, even if it's just a small tweak to how something is phrased. Or sometimes I'll realise something that's been said doesn't actually make sense or isn't fitting for the character. On the rare occasion I may have to go back and revisit the artwork, even if it's just to change a facial expression to fit what changes I've made to the dialogue.
I'm also fortunate to have a partner who has a PhD in English Literature, and she gives each chapter a final proofread to ensure she catches any grammatical errors I may have made (which is usually a lot) and gives it the final seal of approval.
Are there any plans for any other series?
I do have a number of ideas in mind, primarily a fantasy story heavily inspired by my love of Dungeons and Dragons. I find myself torn between making a start on something new, working on it alongside FLUX, or waiting until FLUX is finished.
I think I probably will make a start on a second series sooner rather than later, and manage the two simultaneously. FLUX still has a number of years in it, and I'm not sure I can hold off on a new project that long.
If you're now inspired to check out FLUX, it's available at https://www.andyjclarke.co.uk/. You can dive in with individual issues, or grab volume one and then follow the ongoing adventure from issue six. And if you're a collector, be sure to grab a signed copy at no extra cost.
For digital readers, there are links to Amazon or Globalcomix, so you can easily access the excitement from anywhere.