30 Years Since Akira. Not Just Another Film Anniversary.

Blog, Inspiration

Tetsuo, from Akira

Tetsuo Shima, at his tragic zenith [digital sketch] 

I can’t paint a perfect picture of 1989 for you. I was 18, exploring ideas of a life outside Norfolk, growing my hair long and wearing clothes hippy enough that would turn out, two years later, to be “you’ll do as you are” for an extra role in a BBC period drama set in 1968.

Otherwise I can’t give you much detail about 1989. Can’t remember the political climate (‘peak-Thatcher’ probably), can’t remember that summer’s weather (so, average then), and couldn’t tell you what the movies or albums of the year were.

Except for one. Akira.

Seen at Cinema City in Norwich, now a Picture House (boo, hiss, treat your staff better y’villains!), but then the artiest cinema I knew and Akira would be the first time I’d go. Pretty sure it had a wine bar, olives not crisps, and showed films where no one had guns, or that had zero scenes with police in it, or that eschewed screen violence for emotionally-complex conversations. Obviously I’d avoided it til then.

I’d never seen anime at this point, nor watched a japanese film beyond the odd Godzilla here and there. So on this occasion, going to the flicks frankly felt more like a sixth-form field trip. But oh. Oh. Oh my.

While the movie, first released in Asia in 1988, certainly swerves in and out of the story presented in Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s original manga (which I began to read as soon as I could find it), Ōtomo kept a firm hand on the story and animation’s creative direction, personally and zealously story-boarding with a visionary level of detail. As such, the worlds of Neo-Tokyo and old Tokyo are utterly complete, their biker gangs utterly of their streets,  the militarised telekinetic-psychic children entirely necessary to protect what’s left of Japanese humanity post-Akira.

Step forward Tetsuo Shima. A life spent under the protection of the system and his best friend is finally given the tools it needs to step out of the shadows and into the light that only really Tetsuo thinks Tetsuo deserves. Only his teenage friends are capable to helping him, and he doesn’t want their help; Tetsuo is too old to be controlled, and too young to control himself.

It’s a masterclass this film, and not just in its visual design that in 1988 was truly astonishing and awe-inspiring.

Here’s my list of firsts experienced in that short time:

  • I cried at a cartoon. More than once. A lot. Not a good ‘date movie’.
  • A cartoon made me question the very nature of consciousness, science, the universe and what it looks like when someone gets knocked off a moving motorbike with a pipe.
  • While olives may be delicious and nourishing, cinema food they are not.
  • Explosions – particularly ones made of white light – are waaay more powerful when there’s no sound. And, related to this…
  • … you can hear your jaw-dropping and mouth-gaping when it’s really quiet.
  • It’s ok to not really know what happens to a main character at the end of a story. Uncertainty and closure are not mutually exclusive and it’s okay to confront and accept the limits of your understanding. If cosmic geometry and fractal shapes aren’t enough for you then, my friend, er, whatever.
  • A character at the peak of their powers can be a study in abject tragedy.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and celebrating the tenth anniversary of Akira at The Ritzy in Brixton, now also a Picture House (boo, hiss, treat your staff better y’rotters!), my friends and I watched it again, cried a lot again, had popcorn instead, and were treated to a sale of cels and process drawings. 1999-me is even vaguer than 1989-me (I appreciate the pattern, but trust, of 2009 I’m lucid and 2018 is still very fresh) but I won’t forget that.

Inktober 2017 Round-up


#Inktober. A portmanteau that only the best of the internets can come up with. Usually for me, it’s an annual instagram/twitter event that I look on as a spectator – or at best with a degree of guilt having posted maybe one inked image on instagram to shamefully capitalise on the hashtag.

But this year I decided to go for it and pragmatically declared that I’d do it most days, sometimes using the prompts, sometimes just following an idea or train of thought, shonky or otherwise, to inky completion.

It is a significant challenge to make an image you’re proud of every day, especially as I tend to work slowly, despite knowing that caution and deliberation can stunt the life within an image, making marks muddier and inhibiting spontaneity and animation. So it’s with delight that some of my favourite inktober images were those with no prior pencil work, just making the most of the brush or pen I was using – seen with the magpie, the snail trail and ‘mysterious’ images.

For many artists it was clear that their inktober was about them exercising their ideas within their style of drawing and it was largely mind-blowing, entertaining and envy inspiring. However, for me it was really important to use the month to understand ink. I’m always frustrated when ink ruins pencil work. That’s one reason why I find working digitally pleasing.

So here was a chance to deal with those issues to find a way to really work with ink in way that works for me and I’m delighted at how some of the images are and can only be ink with a brush, with a nib, or from a technical pen. That’s ink’s beauty.

You can see them all on instagram.com/patchmiller.

I’m selling 7″x7″ prints (on Arches 300gsm watercolour paper) and the original artworks of most of these inktober posts. Please drop me a line if you’re interested.

The images





Koschei The Deathless

Day one (for sorrow)

The tools

The mark-makers

The inks

The eraser



I was recently asked by the lovely illustrator John Shelley at Words and Pictures, the online magazine for the SCBWI, to muse on which books had been pivotal in my decision to become an illustrator. Indeed, which book from childhood to now was my go-to, my origin story.

After soul-searching (always good when you’ve got work to avoid) I cam to the conclusion that there wasn’t a single book. Asterix, Tintin, The Hungry Caterpillar, Where The Wild Things Are,  Clifford, all beloved from childhood to teenhood to now, er, hood, but did any of them bring me to illustration? Were any of them on my shelf, and reached at for inspiration?

In the end, the way it dominated my reading and imagination for so long, 2000AD simply deserved the title, despite owning just a few soft and spongey copies these days.

Here’s the post in full – but as Words and Pictures is a bit child-friendly, here’s my director’s cut, which – fair warning – uses the word ‘bugger’. Well… it is the anarchists’ comic of choice, surely?

Inspiration for children’s illustrators isn’t limited to children’s publishing. Continuing our series on treasured bookshelf titles that have had a profound impact on illustrator members, Patrick Miller steps into the world of science-fiction to remember the seminal weekly comic 2000AD

While looking at all of the books on my bookshelves for this article, the memories that emerged gave me a shortlist brimming full of inspiration; dozens of children’s books that inspire me, recent and vintage, and triple the number of illustrators that I’ve discovered and am dumb-struck by. But I kept coming back to a fact that meant I had to diverge a little from the remit of this article.

The title of ‘An illustrated book without which…’ goes to 2000AD, undoubtably the UK’s most influential comic. Hence the divergence — there isn’t one convenient volume, but 40 years of weekly stories and illustrated awe. And that’s part of the joy of comics (not graphic novels – comics) that sequential, episodic drip-feed.

Without comics I wouldn’t have drawn so much as a kid, and without 2000AD I’m certain that my illustration voice would not go to the same quiet emotions that it does. I certainly wouldn’t have the same goal in my illustration — to tell a rip-roaring story through the emotions of a character we love to love or loathe.

So if there’s a thread that runs through my life leading me to this point today as an aspiring illustrator, 2000AD marks the casting on.

John Higgins cover for Prog 471 (1986), featuring Ike Nobel, the exploding man. Ike Nobel was this issue’s Judge Dredd story antagonist, but as so many Judge Dredd stories, the lines between tragic antagonists and the heartless protagonist made for a thought provoking illustration like this.

As a kid I don’t think I was passionate about books as escape. The books I was excited about came from the village library in Caister-on-Sea that my mum worked part-time in — and it’s thanks to my bit of that library that I read all the Asterix and Tintin’s. Well, all those available to me in Caister, in the 70’s. They were all awesome and I love them deeply to this day. But I don’t, and never have, owned one.

That said, with their incredible adventures and adult locations and characters, Asterix and Tintin kept me reading them alongside weekly funnies like Whizzer and Chips and Buster, and the more sophisticated 2000AD. An anarchic mix of sci-fi and epic fantasy starring incredible characters created by great writers and jaw-dropping illustrators including Alan Moore and Jamie Hewlett, now great mainstream (but never compromised) creative figures.

Jesus Redondo, 1982. Nemesis The Warlock. Revolutionary, freedom-fighter, terrorist and sexy bugger. I mean, look at him. He’s riding a griffin wielding a lance into battle against human religious zealots who want to ethnically cleanse the universe. Sexy. Bugger.
Simon Bisley, 1989. Page from Sláine, in Prog 630. Sláine is a fantasy character that draws on Irish and Celtic myth, especially the legendary hero Cúchulainn, whose fearsome strength, guile, courage and ability to warp his body in a ‘warp spasm’ that Sláine shares. Real myths brought to life, with astonishing accuracy and humility. But it wasn’t all fighting, as this tender page of dialogue shows. Lovely storytelling.

2000AD launched in the late 70’s, around the same time as other comics for older children were finding success in a market where girls’ comics usually outsold those for boys. Tammy had sales of 250,000 copies a week, unthinkable nowadays, compared to 2000AD’s 220,000. As a legacy of that level of popularity, many of 2000AD’s characters have survived and thrived for well over 30 years; some all 40 and continue to gain deeper relevance in the widestream.

John Higgins, 1986. Another panel from the Ike Nobel story, another in a long line of 2000AD  stories that force the reader to not just question the authority of an authority figure, but to question the authority of a system, of government. As much great sci-fi does, Judge Dredd and his home, Mega City One, have always been perfectly analogous of the flaws and wonder within our current state of mind and society.

2000AD gave me in the 80’s the confidence to talk about comics as being as valid as any other medium. For me, this might be best illustrated through The Ballad of Halo Jones, a sci-fi saga following a young 50th Century woman across the universe through crappy jobs, war, love and beyond them all.

Ian Gibson, 1986, The Ballad of Halo Jones. Halo Jones herself, in Prog 463. Always reflective and beautifully observed. Ian Gibson is the only artist of Halo Jones, as the great Alan Moore was the only writer. The ‘check your spigot’ sign is just one instance where they built Halo’s world in minute and often funny details, but to expansive effect.

It’s a true epic, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Ian Gibson from 1984 to 1986. But for legal issues, they would have carried on for another 6 years, taking Halo to old age. What an amazing character she would have become.

Ian Gibson, 1986, The Ballad of Halo Jones was always told from a woman’s perspective – and I mean woman, not girl’s. Halo in a literally pointless war where none of the soldiers – all women – know what they’re doing or why, but the trauma is real. As a teenage boy I wasn’t just learning that girls can kick ass as much as boys – 2000AD was never that dull. No one and nothing else was saying half as much.

Despite her being an incredibly strong woman, my memories of Halo are so much deeper — of sadness, confusion, regret, grief, joy, fear and courage. For me they’re visual memories — borne of how Ian Gibson inked her with such tremendous empathy. If I could just get 10% there.

Judge Dredd even, on the surface a stereotype on steroids, a literal metaphor of justice itself, impassive, unemotional, has had the benefit of 40 years of complexity developed in and around him, enabling him to have dozens of artists render him and his world in their own ways, teasing out parts of Dredd’s character and the Dredd universe in their dozens of ways. It means I can drop in to Dredd at any point, and my version of him can be as much mine as he is seminal artist Brian Bolland’s, and remain 100% Dredd.

Now, as I’m often listening to art directors, publishers and agents on the ingredients for stand-out illustration, I hear the common refrain ‘appealling characters’. My go-to reference point will always be 2000AD. From the lightest of souls to the darkest, if ever I’m stuck on seeing a character from every angle I go back to the yellowed, spongey soft newsprint downstairs and see how it’s done.

Ian Gibson, 1986, The Ballad of Halo Jones. This speaks for itself.

Life drawing: Week 3 (warning: boobs)


Anyone that read last week’s life drawing post (just me) would know (you probably don’t) that I didn’t expect to be at this week’s session. I thought I was going to see Suicide Squad, long anticipating it being legit awesome.

However, two-star reviews gave my wife ‘angry sad feels’ reminiscent of the BvS balls-up, so I decided to not give Zack ‘of poop’ Snyder any of my cash. I’d experience the exact same amount of shame and expense by going to Trafalgar Square and throwing a pound coin at a pigeon every 8 minutes for two hours.