This section is aimed a fair old bit at fellow geek artists who want to know about how the artwork itself was created, though there's lots of 'behind the scenes' fun for everyone else as well.

Here's the 'story' behind drawing a few of the pages...


Here's the earliest version of it I can find in the huge mountain of notes left over from the project...

First sketch notes for 9 11

And this is the rough that was sent to the publishers and displayed for comments on review night.

9 11 review night rough

Incidentally, planning a cartoon book of this scale sometimes feels like what I imagine writing a film script must be like; lots of references to 'the camera zooming in' on things etc etc.

Very early on this opening page drew a lot of comments, debate and words of caution, hence the furious scribblings on the word bubble.

As with all the pages, I drew a pencil outline first, which allowed for a final set of editorial comments while it was still relatively easy to alter the drawings. Once the ink was on, it was a different story. For SPEECHLESS I had to abandon my favourite scratch nib mapping pen, (The kind of metal nib you dip in a bottle of black ink) on the tight schedule we had it just didn't draw f a s t e n o u g h.

That kind of pen releases ink very slowly, and will splatter the page with it if dragged too fast across the paper. Plus the ink itself dries excruciatingly slowly- particularly in winter! (One of my most useful work tools is a hairdryer...)

I very reluctantly replaced it with some (eco unfriendly) 'high speed' felt tips. It's interesting how changing pen alters your style, at least to my eye. I wish I'd had time to use the scratch nib. I feel the artwork really lacks a certain look because of it's absence. The solvents in the felt tips were quite nice, though.

And there's also the possibility that having to draw the book so quickly has given it an interesting energized look..? I guess you're the judge of that, though, not me...

Here's the two stages the artwork went through before becoming digital-

9 11 pencil outline

9 11 inked in drawing ready to scan in

And here's the key visual reference image for the page:

9 11 visual reference photo

Right after finishing the black and white line art, and during a week where it looked as if the page might not make it through the very final rounds of long distance editorial comments, I reluctantly tried to think of an alternative 'fall back position' that might tone down the emphasis on 9-11. (Many people had commented that it seemed a very western-centric way to start a book that was supposed to be the exact opposite...)

It suddenly occurred to me seeing 9-11 at a global scale might be the answer, and also give us an opening page that looked very similar to the closing pages, creating a neat circle rather like the one seen in the plot of the smaller book.

alternative full globe version of 9 11 page

Although the crisis never arose, and the original made it through intact, I became quite fond of the new one, and started arguing it was the better of the two. I was persuaded otherwise by Chris at the NI, who felt the first version had a cinematic, graphic novel pizazz that the alternative lacked. I still wonder about it every now and then, though... what do you think?

alternative full page globe version of 9 11 page

I was really delighted by a very last minute (a day before the deadline!) change to a very minor detail within it... at the end of a party, I showed it to a few mates. I was very curious to see how many of the subliminal images and puns on the first page that they'd actually spot.

Then someone spotted one that I didn't deliberately put there! She said she thought this patch of 'realism' decay on the tenement block wall looked like an outline of Africa:

another accidental image

Subconsciously intentional or not on my part, it was an idea worth nicking, and simply needed a bit of a tweak to boost the resemblance... (And I've been honest enough never to try and claim credit for it...) I was extra pleased because it resonated really well with some of the other (deliberate) subliminal images on that page, but I'm saying no more about those- you'll have to find them for yourself... or not find them.


This page is a classic example of trying to ensure the book stayed true to history and peeled away some of the classic myths... a cozy image of the Suffragettes all being genteel, passive, middle class martyrs has been built up over the years.

But they weren't all like that, many were strident militant radicals who took NVDA to it's limits. Today the government would describe them as terrorists.

suffragettes first doodles

suffragettes editorial rough

Quite what was supposed to happen on 'WEDNESDAY', I can't remember. Let's hope it got done, whatever it was.

I was reluctant to use the force feeding image as I perceived it as being part of the "victim rather than freedom fighter" image... but was persuaded otherwise.

visual reference for suffragettes page

Hopefully in the context of everything else occurring on the page, it works..?

pencil stage of suffragettes page


This one was quite unusual in that the original early hours sketch made it almost unaltered to the finished page. And it was drawn stoned off my box, something I don't normally do (draw any artwork when I'm stoned.)

first nazi sketch

What constantly amazed me was how strongly people reacted to it, saying it was the best of the images so far... while I thought it was obvious, crude, overblown rubbish that anyone could produce. Hmmmmmm...

first nazi sketch

The image of the metallic symbol / badge nailed through the heart has a special place in mine, as it's a 2009 version of the very first 'political' cartoon I ever drew, of a much loathed Christian fanatic headmaster from my old Essex comprehensive.

I drew him gazing fondly at himself in the mirror, with a crucifix nailed through his chest. He was big on wearing Crucifixes and short on modesty. One of my fondest memories from school was my cool English / Art teacher saying "I have NOT seen this drawing, have you GOT THAT?" Praise indeed.

nazi pencil stage of artwork

nazi sky artwork layer

And here's an idea of the kind of visual reference material that went into it.

Hunting for visual reference materials for the book was quite a time consuming process, but also a vivid reminder of what an absolutely astonishing thing the internet is. As I kept saying at the time, the book would have taken 10 years, not 1, to draw without it. It's a serious mistake to take it for granted, it represents a cultural revolution.

nazi visual reference

concentration camp patches vis ref

Incidentally, one of the most uncomfortable / weird / dark experiences of the project was having to draw the antisemitism 'dialogue' bubbles that lead up to this double page spread.


All I want to say here is that if the media had ANY kind of commitment to the truth, this image of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein should have been flashed up on our TV screens EVERY time anyone ever mentioned Iraq.


Here's yet more deranged late night notes-

iraq scrawlings

The above notes might be a bit harsh on Obama? Well- we'll find out, eh..? (Not all of the notes are Iraq specific.)


One of the more bizarre tasks was trying to find the 'graphic Esperanto' phrase for 'THE SOUL' to be placed in the dialogue bubbles where racism / slavery is justified on religious grounds.

My first effort drew the comment "why is there a picture of a pile of mashed potato with wings on this page?" (I thought it was a cloud... clouds are insubstantial like souls are meant to be, right? Well, apparently not...)

various attempts at drawing a soul

I then thought I'd really hit the nail on the head by drawing the picture of a shoe sole with a halo and wings... it was a great pun, the shoe sole had a hole in it... a holy soul yeah? You get it? Yeah?

But I'd forgotten that despite being a visual pun, it was an English language visual pun, and I just hadn't noticed. This sent me into a paranoid tailspin about whether the rest of the graphic dialogue really was international or not. I still don't know for sure, as the book isn't published yet as I write this...


The character design was pretty much settled in my mind right from the word go. I'd already done something similar for a character that appeared in a set of posters drawn for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

pre speechless characters- nearly there!

Before the two book concept arose 'One Tree Island' was going to be inhabited by the same quite human style of character... Ugh! What a fuck up that would've been, huh?

The concept of giving them a gender was something of a late one as well-. Here's one sketch exploring how far to push the gender differences of the characters....

sketch of gender style


For a book of this size (timescale x budget + speed = quality) any way to speed the process up is a godsend... the starry skies above the earth were actually just one huge blue and black painting scanned in at very high resolution.

This was also the very first piece of artwork I created, on a beautiful summers day, even before any sort of publishing deal had been formally agreed- there's faith in the future for you! For a bit of (lighthearted! I'm NOT superstitious) good luck I painted it on the back of one of my old Buy Nothing Day posters from 1993...

drawing space

(Incidentally, the constant presence of the 'stars and atmosphere' backdrop in the big book was meant to act as a reminder that we all live at the bottom of an ocean of air, just as the characters in the small book live in a bubble of air floating in space.)

I then took a small chunk from this huge image for each panel, sometimes flipping or rotating it in the computer to try and ensure no two frames had identical starscapes... the stars themselves (drawn on Xmas day, it really did get that frantic!) were created in several separate layers so that each layer could be rotated and flipped to create a completely new set of 'constellations'.

Given that so many of the panels would contain maps of the earth, showing the curvature of the planet, and given how gobsmackingly difficult that is to draw, I cheated by repainting a small globe with the 'fat' continents of the SPEECHLESS world, photographed these and printed them out to trace on the lightbox.

model globe

photo of globe for cuba page

generic globe outline for lightbox

There were also a few standardized maps that appeared throughout. Although each is a unique hand drawing, they are all still tracings on a lightbox.

Of course, the above is an 'impossible' view or projection of the earth, you'd never see it in reality. I'm really pleased by how easy it still is for the eye to accept it as a legitimate view of our planet from a distance. Fooled ya! (I hope... or does it just look really weird..?)


I wanted the small book to have a very meticulous, hand painted look, as compared to the main book with it's very rapid, 'paint bucket' style. One of the main stylistic influences on the design was Roger Dean's 'floating island' icons...

Roger Dean floating islands

Although they in turn probably have roots in the floating island from Gulliver's Travels... The one on the right was the main poster in my teenage bedroom!

Here's a few sketches showing the gradual development of the design...

Early One Tree Island sketch

To get things going I decided to build a model of the island. Later on I realized it wasn't really needed... I think I did it just coz I really, really like building models of things from skip dived scrap...

study model of one tree island

Despite the hand crafted look to the small book, I'm afraid quite a lot of cheating went on. There were far fewer than 16 paintings of the main body of the island... I'd draw one, scan it in, then repaint on top of it to make it look different.

It was a LOT quicker than starting from scratch. Creating the tree and characters as separate elements also gave a lot of editorial flexibility, something I was very grateful for later on when I realized there was mistake X, Y or Z in the narrative.

one tree island artwork pieces

one tree island artwork pieces stars and air

one tree island artwork characters etc

The atmosphere bubble effect involved a very subtle front layer to try and emphasise that the island was actually inside the bubble of air... in some of the early sketches it looks as if it's in front of the bubble.

Since the effect was meant to be sort of goldfish bowl (inspired by Carl Sagan's environmental essay 'The World That Came in the Mail', which makes a very interesting metaphor from a very familiar 'toy', familiar at least to someone who spent their childhood reading comic books:

old sea monkeys advert

Here's the 'editorial' version of page 10, when the characters were still very human like. Once the book had gone down the 'two books' path it began to feel very important that the characters in the small book should be simplified versions of those in the big book, just as the big book characters are a simplified version of us.

editorial rough of one tree island

That was one of the most indecisive design tasks of the whole project. Here's a whole load of sketches on the way to (hopefully!) getting it right. At one point I even considered reusing the very 'Polypy' (there's a new adjective!) characters from my attempt at a graphic novel mentioned earlier... (The purple octopus like thing.)

various test sketches of one tree island characters

The final 'maggot' design fitted in well with my innate contempt for humanity. Just kidding! Honestly. It's really just a joke. Really.

With the subliminal resemblance the island was meant to have to a half eaten eaten apple core. (Apples of course being a quite utopian image?) I guess they also helped give the island an even more alien feel, the thinking being that the more initially 'distanced' the reader felt from the world they were looking at, the more poignant the realization would be that the behaviour of it's inhabitants is the same as ours...

The glowing star clouds started out in life as a huge circular piece of artwork (to facilitate the background rotating in a full circle from the beginning to the end of the story) made by dropping coloured inks onto water saturated paper, and then adding layers and layers of charcoal 'space', following and enhancing the fractal patterns creating by the ink. The stars were added later using the computer. Each star has it's own glowing halo, made using digital blur tools...

nebula artwork

nebula artwork close up

When I showed the almost completed One tree Island drawings to people at yet another party (I hijacked a lot of people's parties with my folder of printouts!) the only element missing was that I hadn't decided what colours to give each character, so at this stage they were blank white bodies, see the 'stages of artwork' images above.

I was then absolutely stunned to see that because people couldn't 'track' each character from one page to the next, they were creating their own narratives to explain who was doing what to who! I was just completely blown away by this.

I'd always wanted the main book to have a strong sense of "what do you see, what is YOUR interpretation of these drawings?" but here was an absolute goldmine of potential audience participation in the narrative. Particularly since some of these 'party interpretations' were completely new to me, but just as interesting as anything I'd try to script into the tale.

I didn't quite have the boldness to leave all the characters with an identical white colour, there were too many 'political' plot elements that would have vanished completely had I done that (or was it a mistake?) but having the characters a sort of 'shades of grey' continuum from one side of the island to the other seemed a really good compromise?

OTI character skin tones

At any rate, imagine how dull the book would have been had each character had it's own very distinct colour... BORING!

Once the book was safely on it's way to the printers, I found this image on an astronomy site- it turns out One Tree Island is real, and not something I made up. Does anyone have access to a fast spaceship? I'd love to go visit and see how they're all doing... and see if they like the book? C'mon! Let's go!

the real one tree island


Here's an idea of some of the names you might have ended up with instead of SPEECHLESS, which was a real late runner...

It began as ONE TREE ISLAND, which continued being the informal working title for the small book throughout the editorial process... and sort of still is. But later on people felt it just didn't translate well enough into French and Spanish.

In some ways it's a great shame, it would have been interesting to explore the very unconventional idea of a book that literally had no (written) title... though I'm sure we would have eventually concluded it was as embarrassingly pretentious as 'The artist formally known as Prince'..?

attempts at a wordless title

It's still the name of the book folder in my computer, though...

one tree island without words?

It was then briefly called SMALL WORLD... (Or should it have been SMALL WORLDS, seeing as how there's two of them.)

small world version of cover

Then ONE WORLD, or at least in my head, for a short while, until I discovered everyone else (quite rightly!) absolutely loathed that one...

one world version of cover

The other contenders were:















...and there'll have been a good few others that I've (happily) forgotten.


And just to show that a book like this isn't all artistic fun and games, here's a small selection of images attempting to show the endless amounts of 'bureaucracy' that went into it's production.

Including the 'prison sentence' blackboard...

x number of days to go

..and the sheer quantity of notes involved...

meaningless editotial waffle

what a mess

more meaningless drivel

under pressure

piles and piles of paper

And this doesn't include the reams and reams of emails that went back and forth... and no doubt nearly drove the editors insane. (Despite the title of the book, I'm actually hopelessly verbose in real life...)

Polyp end edits here<-->