Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Talking Pixel Art with Tom Curry and ‘Skellibob’.

Morning Chums. Something a little different today. 

As anyone who has met me will tell you - I am old and crap with anything technology based. I am just coming round to digital comics via Comichaus, ComiXology and the like. However the world of webcomics is an area that I am wholly ignorant about. I manage to read a couple every month or so. Vanguard by Dan Butcher, anything by Elizabeth Querstret and now the mighty Skellibob by my buddy and sometimes comics collaborator Tom Curry.

But not only is this a regularly updated and funny webcomic it is also done in a different style than I am used to. Pixel Art seems on the rise again and Tom is kind enough to explain it’s origins and how and why he uses this technique.

This really is a great webcomic. I always enjoy dipping in and reading a couple. What I’m also learning is that a good webcomic should have a regularity that keeps the readers coming back and forms a friendly familiarity to the page and it’s characters.

Head to the bottom of the piece for all the links you’ll need.

So I put some questions to Tom - here we go.

Never Iron Anything (NIA) - Tell me a little about skellibob. What’s he all about.

Tom Curry (TC) - So that’s an interesting one to start with. The short answer is Skellibob is a blank slate, which I know sounds like a wanky answer but let me explain. From an in story perspective, we see Skellibob’s rebirth from a pile of bones to the animated skeleton. Now they seem to know the basics of life, they can walk, talk, understand humour. However, seem to have no idea about who or what they were pre death and that will form a major point of the story going forwards. It’s one of the driving forces behind why Skellibob is doing what they are doing.

Now from an storytelling point of view it’s useful to have a blank slate character that can be the audience surrogate. This has been done loads and I’m not breaking any new ground here but it’s a useful tool and trying to be edgy and not use clichés is a good way to make a mess of a story. Of course you don’t want every panel to be: show a thing and then Skellibob looks to the reader and say “Omg isn’t this wild”. Instead having someone who can discover, question and accept the world provides an interesting narrative tool. It also allows the people around Skellibob to explain and reflect of him rather than be in his shadow. There was a pretty good radio series called Elvenquest (radio 4 which I think does this really well and probably influenced how I write Skellibob on the page  

Finally, there’s a real trope in videogames with the blank slate character. The one that comes to mind is Link, a character so blank most people think he’s called Zelda. His actions, which are by extension the players actions, are what define him. Part of me is trying to bottle a little of that in Skellibob. Maybe it’s a mistake as the audience doesn’t have that direct control but we’ll have to see!  

NIA - Why approach it as a webcomic?

TC - There are two reasons I wanted to tackle it this way. Firstly I’m there’s the flexibility that comes with an online media. I can make a page whatever size I want, however many panels I’m looking for. It gives me a freedom that is both intoxicating and scary. Also being dyslexic it makes it possible to change mistakes and update it there and then. There’s also the ability to use other aspects of a digital medium, such as animation to enhance the story. Of course we can get into the tired, what makes a comic a comic conversation and sure there’s a space for that but for me I want to tell a story and tell it the way I want to.  If that means I mix things and people don’t think it’s a comic anymore, cool more power to you, I’m still telling a story though

Secondly, webcomics were the things that got me back into comics. Pack in my late teens I started reading webcomics again, mainly ‘XKCD’ and ‘Saturday morning breakfast cereal’ and just fell in love with the medium again. The way those comics took you from setting to situation to joke was fascinating and something I wanted to emulate. Then I started to look into longer form comics, web and print and so on,  but still kept up to date with those shorter form comics and what they were doing. 

NIA - Pixel art. Explain it to an old bloke like me. Seems to be really popular at the moment but adopts a retro style? 

TC - Pixel art is a form of digital art, created through the use of software, where images are edited on the pixel level, and that’s the key point, individual pixels are placed and edited. It generated from limitations in older game hardware to visualise what they were showing. From there video games moved on but people carried on making art this way with the limitation in place due to them enjoying the stylistic choice. Now it’s hit a peak where the people who played these games are now making art for pleasure in this style. 

The real challenge comes from telling a story with only a limited tool kit and making sure it’s read correctly. For me it was purely a case of drawing this way, finding I liked the method and the output and running from there. The interesting thing is scale, how big does a piece of digital art need to be before it’s no longer pixel art. For me it when you can’t edit an individual pixel. This image  (artist, shows what I love about pixel art. With a limited pallet and relatively small scale the artist has been able to tell a story. If I can get 10% of the way there, I’ll be happy.  

NIA - What can we see coming up?

TC - In short, carrying on Skellibob’s story, exploring the world and continuing to put this comic out. From a technical point of view the website needs a bit of TLC and I really want to integrate some other aspects to help tell my story. In other projects, I’ve got something on the back burner that I’m doing in between arcs of Skellibob and might put out or just do it for me and my own enjoyment. 

NIA - Physical copies?

TC - I’ve gone from no, never to maybe some day. I’d like to take the Penned Guin approach. Quietly put this out wait till I’ve got a big chunk then collect it, rinse and repeat! Put it this way, it’s not in the near future but on the horizon.

Thanks Tom. 

You can find more about Skellibob and read his continuing adventure at and follow Tom on Twitter @thischucklehead

Many thanks for reading.

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