I have to admit that Second Empire happened pretty
much by accident. One thing I was most certainly not planning on doing was
creating an epic length graphic novel about a Dalek civil war. Originally
I was not even a massive Dalek fan, as anyone who has seen my main website
will have realised I am interested in Japanese anime and the Warhammer
40,000 universe and those interests date back to the 1980s. So why am I
best known for doing a Dalek comic strip?
In 2007 my efforts were mainly focused on building CG models of the gigantic starships that feature in Games Workshop's Battle Fleet Gothic tabletop wargame, a spin-off of Warhammer 40K, and I had just finished building two of the smaller vessels from the game. I had been working on those two models for the better part of the year, adding layer upon layer of detail to models based upon metal gaming miniatures no larger than the last joint of my thumb, until they actually began to look as if they might be kilometre long behemoths. I had started work on a third vessel but was making very little progress and I came to realise that I was actually looking for excuses to to avoid working on the model, my hobby was becoming a chore.
Working on the principle that a change is as good as a rest, I decided I would do something completely different for a while and then return to the starships with renewed enthusiasm. I had been meaning to have a play with Daz 3D's Daz Studio ever since discovering they had an anime style character and so putting the starships aside I began work on what would become the image titled Dock 38. It was a fairly simple project using Daz Studio's Aiko3 character and various clothing items downloaded as freebies from the web, as well as a hovering robot probe and several buildings that I created in Cinema 4D, the whole project took exactly a week from start to finish. I began work on it one Saturday afternoon and finished it the following Saturday afternoon and after those multi-month long starships it felt great to go from nothing to a finished image in just seven days.
My original plan was that I would have my change that was as good as a rest and then get back to Battle Fleet Gothic, but after doing Dock 38 I was still reluctant to return to the grind of detailing that starship so soon. I started looking around for a new subject to work on and it just so happened that the Doctor Who story Daleks in Manhattan was broadcast that evening. At that time I was still in two minds as to whether or not I liked the 2005 redesign of the Dalek and as I watched the episode I got to wondering how I would have redesigned the Dalek. By the time the show was half over I was itching for it to finish so I could get on the PC and try building a Dalek of my own.
I deliberately did as little research as I possibly could and still have the model be recognisably a Dalek, I wanted my design to be more influenced by my rather vague memories of the Daleks in the classic Doctor Who than by the reality of the props and so I downloaded just enough images for me to get the right number of skirt panels and reasonably accurate proportions and only referred to those references when I absolutely had to.(Which probably explains why my first Daleks had such flat heads). I was quite pleased with the result, though it probably owed as much to my love of anime and post Star Wars Science Fiction design as it did to Doctor Who. I posted some images of the model on one of the CG modelling forums that I frequented and as the membership was primarily American one of the first responses was along the lines of "it's very nice, but what is it suppposed to be?"
I think at that point I had already been bitten by the Dalek bug as I had only meant to build the one and then get back to Battle Fleet Gothic, but as I write this in 2012 I still haven't touched those BFG models since 2007. Having built my first Dalek I decided to learn more about the species, as working on the model had stimulated my memories on the subject and I had relised that there had been more than one type of Dalek in the classic Doctor Who.
When I had done my initial reasearch I had encountered a website called Project Dalek which had offered free Dalek plans, but because I didn't want detailed reference I had passed it by. My latest search once more turned up Project Dalek and this time I decided to register since it was free. My plan was simple enough, get in, download the plans, leave and never return. Having got in and downloaded the Dalek plans I decided that as I was there, I might as well take a look around and see what Project Dalek was all about. I suppose I was expecting that the place would be full of Dalek nerds wittering on about what Daleks have for lunch and how they manage to ravage the unuverse equipped with nothing more than egg wisks and sink plungers but the reality proved to be far different.
Nerdy fanboy discussion was actively discouraged and instead the site was all about building Daleks, full size props, scale models and CG models. If I had to classify myself, I would say that I am first and foremost a modeller, I love building models, either plastic kits or 3D virtual models, and it is the process rather than the result that I enjoy, modelling to me is about the journey, not the destination, a finished model is a by-product of my hobby, not the goal. So I found Project Dalek quite fascinating, a site dedicated to building model Daleks (to me a full size Dalek prop is a 1:1 scale model of a fictional alien death machine) and the site quickly became one of my most frequently visited favourites as I delved ever deeper into the world of Dalek building.
I posted some images of my CG Daleks in the relevant section of the forum, half expecting the serious, Dalek minded membership to be appalled by my treatment of a classic design but they were very well received, which further encouraged my desire to build more Dalek models. I also discovered that there was far more to the Daleks than I had ever imagined. Although I had watched Doctor Who since the Jon Pertwee years, I wasn't really a serious fan. I owned books and models and videos from Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and dozens of anime shows, and I had a ton of Warhammer 40K stuff, but I had never bought a single item of Doctor Who merchandise, had never even watched a single episode of the show more than once. So I was quite surprised to discover just how many different Dalek variants had appeared in the show over the years. And there was more than just the TV show, there were the two Dalek movies, I had seen them both several times but had completely forgotten about them until Project Dalek jogged my memory. There was also the comic strip on the back of Televison Century 21 magazine, the existence of which I was completely unaware of (as I was only a couple of years old at the time they were published, I guess I didn't do much reading back then).
The Dalek comic strip caught my attention, not just because it was (to me) a new take on the Daleks but also because a fellow CG modeller, Iain McLumpha, had used 3D graphics to create some new and original Dalek comics in the style of the original TV21 stories. Iain's work inspired me to have a go myself, and as I had never done anything like that before I decided I would tell a simple story of a renegade Dalek general sparking a Dalek civil war, that I figured would run for 30 or 40 pages. Initially I only posted the pages on the Project Dalek Forums but by the time I reached page 36 it had become apparent that the comic was probably going to run for more than 50(!) pages and in the meantime my own website was sitting idle, so I decided to post the comic here too.
As a newcomer to comic art I had completely underestimated how long it would take to tell my 'simple' story in that format and I have just taken a break from working on page 557 to write this introduction. Second Empire has become the biggest, most sustained CG project I have ever worked on and despite the years I have spent on it I am having just as much fun doing it now as I was when I first started.And yet,If I had watched something other than Doctor Who that night in 2007 I might never have become interested in Daleks and if I hadn't found Project Dalek and the work of Iain McLumpha I would probably never have tried my hand at a comic strip.
Second Empire proved to be immediately popular with
Dalek fans, prior to beginning the comic I used to receive one or two
emails a year from people who had found and enjoyed the work on my
website, suddenly I was getting one or two emails a week from
people who were reading my comic, as well as a lot of positive feedback
from the membership at Project Dalek. Amongst those who got in touch with
me was Andrew Wagstaff, who asked for permission to animate the comic. As
I knew nothing about animation, already had my hands full with the ongoing
comic and was not possesive of my models I was happy to send the Second
Empire scene files to Andy and let him breathe life into them.
Aided by a group of Second Empire fans who volunteered to do voices, assist with the aniamtion and create a musical soundtrack Andy has been steadily adding a fourth dimension to my 3D artwork and posting the results on YouTube, the links below will take you straight to the individual episodes.