Commando Comic No.5187 ‘Ice-Cold Commando’

To celebrate my latest cover for Commando Comics being on the shelves here is a post looking at the creation of my second cover for the comic. This post was originally created for my Patreon supporters back in December 2018 and I have decided not to update the text so it reflects my feelings and thoughts at the time.

Four Commando Comics are published every fortnight by DC Thomson & Co Ltd and you can find out more information about them and a free digital trial at their website:

You can also buy this issue of Commando ‘Ice-Cold Commando’ digitally over at Comixology.

There was a four month gap between being briefed my first Commando cover and the next. The gap seemed to widen when my first cover was printed and on the shelves without having received the next brief but thankfully back in September a new cover arrived. At that time it was titled ‘Winter Warriors’ and the brief was pretty straightforward with a few supplied visuals.

‘Daytime, Finland. Very snowy. Two German Ski soldiers fire at Len who is jumping over a crevasse. Len is a Commando so he’s in a Commando uniform and he’s scavenged the coat from a dead Russian Lieutenant. To make matters even more confusing, he’s scavenged a German MP 40.’

Above: Hunt the Killer art by Alessandro Biffignandi and interior art on Ice-Cold Commando by Jaume Forns.

Having spent some time searching for various references, including your typical ski and ski poles used during WW2, I set about producing the rough that would let the Commando team see what I had in mind. I knew they wanted the character to be the main focus and that it needed to be a good action piece. Just as much for my own use as to show the editorial team I also worked up a colour version of the rough. This helps me make up my mind how I’m going to approach painting the work (and even in what medium) and also lets the the client get a good idea of what the final art will look like. Their only alteration at this point was to move the main figure more to the middle of the cover, an easy enough change and one I quickly changed on the colour rough and re-supplied for their approval.

As is my usual practice I then went onto pencilling a final version of the art but flipped onto tracing paper. As I’ve mentioned many times before flipping the art helps highlight any balancing issues. You can easily draw something like a face that when flipped looks odd and uneven, it is an easy way to spot your balancing mistakes and I recommend every artist should photograph or scan their work as they produce it and flip it to spot any potential mistakes before it’s too late. Also, as I pencil onto tracing paper it makes it much easier to then transfer the final pencils onto your art surface of choice.

Starting the painting I knew I wanted to tackle the overall background first and I also knew I’d be doing this in a mixture of watercolours and gouache. Many brilliant watercolorists can use the negative space left by masking the board to fantastic effect and if I was going to paint this purely in watercolours that is how I’d have approached doing the snow. However I wanted to use gouache for the snow and I started by painting in the mountain and trees in watercolour. The trees look like how I would paint them before the snow storm arrived and that is pretty much what happened.

I outlined a lot of the main character in watercolour in appropriate colour hues to how I was going to paint him. This acts almost as a barrier for the washes of paint I was about to add into the background. Don’t get me wrong it doesn’t stop paint from running over the lines but it does hinder them and with a bit of self control you can make life easier for yourself. All of the background hill and crevice were given a wash of watercolour and then gouache was added in afterwards. Several tones of grey/blue gouache were added as the snowfall on the trees and then a much lighter but not actual pure white was added mostly to the right hand side of the trees to indicate the strongest light source. The snow falling through the motion of the skiing character would be added near the end of painting.

I then painted in the main character and the two German Ski Troopers in watercolour making sure that their white coloured outfits were treated to a different greyish tone to separate them from the whites of the snow. Len’s stolen Russian winter coat was also treated to a brown/yellow hue to fit in with the mountains, the same golden glow right across the middle of the cover.

After finishing the painting the next stage was to scan it in and tidy up the file as it was. Again I knew from the beginning that I wanted to add a motion effect in Photoshop to give Len even more movement. Part of me regrets that some of the lovely snow covered trees became blurred but I think the effect added helps a lot with the action. 

The final art was supplied to the client for approval which, I’m pleased to say, was with much enthusiasm. Here is the press release for the comic which should be on the shelves from the 27th of December and for the next two weeks after.

Commando 5187: Home of Heroes – Ice-Cold Commando

Graeme Neil Reid returns for his second ever Commando cover! Fronting Jaume Forns’ icy interiors to ‘Ice-Cold Commando’, Reid’s cover leaps into action with Commando Lieutenant Ron Lamont’s escape across the frozen Russian wasteland. Get your woollies on, troops, it’s time to go skiing!

Story: George Low | Art: Jaume Forns | Cover: Graeme Neil Reid

It’s quite exciting that the press release makes a big deal of the cover art and for myself I’m excited that the story is by an ex-Editor of the Commando Comics range. I haven’t read the story yet myself so I plan to walk into town and hopefully see it on the shelves and buy myself a copy. If you can get a copy yourself please do and let social media know all about it, it helps me get more work from the team if they know folks like it! 

Guest – David Hitchcock

I’ve known artist David (Dave) Hitchcock for a long time, we used to write letters to each other before emails where a thing, so that long. He’s a good friend and an amazing artist with a long list of projects to his name. He made his name with his creator owned work like ‘Spirit of the Highwayman’ and the Eagle Award winning ‘Springheeled Jack’. He’s produced a wide variety of comic work over the years including the two volume Madam Samurai with film screen writer Gary Young, Frankenstein Texas with Dan Whitehead and has an ongoing association with the UK’s sci-fi comic 2000ad.

Dave has a very recognisable style to his art, something that I think a lot of artists spend a lifetime searching for but he’s refined and expanded upon his ‘look’ over the years. I sent him a couple of questions and then asked him to talk us through his work on an illustration.

You are well known for your style and fluid pencil work, do you have any favoured tools of the trade?
I prefer a soft lead, a 2b or 3b sometimes even 4b for darker areas. Last year I started adding a colour wash to some pieces. For those I use coloured inks and watercolours, no particular brand, whichever is at hand.

You’ve produced a varied amount of work but have you always favoured comic art for your own projects?
I started self publishing around 1987, yep I know, I’m ancient. I’ve always had a fondness for gothic type work and found that that had become my niche. Recent years I’ve done the occasional bit of work for 2000ad and Heavy Metal, currently I’m working on commissions and any other gig that might come my way.

Whose work outside of comics do you look for inspiration?
I do like many artists outside comics, but my mainstay is the Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham. I’m always amazed when I look through any of his beautifully illustrated  books, the sheer imagination, for the time period is unbelievable.

Where can we see more of your work?
I’m sadly lacking a website, so I can only direct you to either my Facebook pages or Comic Art Fans where I have a gallery of my work and also a few pieces of comic art from other artists I admire.

Here’s a handy list of links:

Dave’s Artist Page on Facebook

Dave on Comic Art Fans

Dave’s old but still clogged full of art blog –

Insta Dave at Instagram

I’m generally always available for commissions, a lot of the work I produce is simply just what I fancied to draw at the time, like this Thor image. I love Jack Kirby, so I fancied doing my take on Thor v The Destroyer. I’m always on the lookout for more regular comic work, but in the meantime I may as well scratch a few itches.

Here’s a step by step of the way I generally work. I do my initial layout loosely on the actual  paper the piece will be on, so there’s never any scraps of paper floating about as a rule.

I begin to pencil a little tighter then I start inking  certain areas. There was a lot of erasing with this one in order to get the correct stance for our thunder god and the destroyer. At this point I was thinking how the colour would be on it, as there is a lightning bolt right through the middle.

I continue pencilling in some background details. And then use an ink wash to darken the sky and the masonry above the destroyer.

As the lighting is reflecting off the sides of the figure I thought it only fitting to add some patented ‘Kirby Krackle’.

More watered down ink wash to try and create some ‘light’ from the open visor.

Then I begin to add watercolours. Sometimes I use coloured inks too. Whichever suits at the time.

I then add some colour to the crackle effect and use the same shade as reflection on his torso.

Finally I add more falling rubble and masonry. I lay the watercolours/inks directly over the pencil shading. 

Here’s the finished scanned image.

Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer the questions and walk us through his process. I’m sure you’d all agree that Dave should get himself a nice new website to show off his portfolio of fantastic art. Check out the links above to see more of his work or contact him for commissions.

Four artists paint one tree

Just as a quick follow up to my last post about my Sleeping Beauty homage painting I thought I’d share a link to a short documentary film made by Disney back when the film was in production. Here we see four Walt Disney Studio artists, Eyvind Earle, Marc Davis, Joshua Meador and Walt Peregoy all paint the same tree but with wildly different approaches. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the working life and way of thinking these artists had at the time plus of course amazing to see them actually create art.

In a faraway land, long ago…

I’ve used quite a few excerpts from Patreon to make up this post on what was to become my acrylic painting ‘Dragon Steps’ a homage to the classic 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty.

29th December 2018

…before Christmas I had decided to once again return to the plentiful land of Walt Disney and the film Sleeping Beauty. 

It was only back in May that I worked on a painting of Maleficent’s tower castle and I’m sure most of my supporters will know my admiration for the design and styling of that film along with most of the Disney output. While referencing that last painting I was struck by three or four scenes that I thought I would return and look at again at some later point. So it is back to Maleficent’s castle but this time the interior and in particular a scene where she descends to her dungeon to converse with Prince Phillip.

Screengrab from the film and some quick Photoshop layout changes.

You can see from the screengrab I took that it is very dark and brooding. The castle is obviously very old and the dark tone offsets the fact that there are a lot of colours going on underneath the surface. In the scene you have a light source coming from further down the stairs but also from above, neither are strong sources of light.

I thought I’d expand on the scene as seen and and decided to make some changes to accommodate what I had in mind. I want the light source to mainly come from below so that Maleficent is walking from the gloom down to the light, this will mean I can add in a long casting shadow of the character back up the wall. I got rid of the just seen archway at the bottom of the stairs to open up the extent of the light source. In general I thickened up the pillars and adjusted the angles slightly. The pillar on the far right being the most obvious as I didn’t want its archway to then come into the picture as it does in the actual screengrab but I did want it still there to help frame off the light coming from below. The stairs in the film are somewhat higgledy and the steps lower down are of different sizes. I decided to make them a bit more standardised and also to drop their position to make them appear steeper. This in conjunction with the angle of the steps I added to the left help give the staircase a much better sense of depth and height as if she descending into the bowels of the castle.

Digital layout pencils done in Photoshop

It’s important to get the basics of this right and I’ve spent a good bit of time yesterday and today sorting out the rough of just the castle, after all it is the majority of what is going to be the painting. I quickly coloured the rough to help keep me straight as to how I want the light to work. I’m happy with how this is looking so I’m going to move onto pencilling the piece and at that point I will add in Maleficent, Diablo her raven and the shadow caste by them.

Traditional pencils

7th January 2019

During the holidays I started work on a new Sleeping Beauty piece and this past weekend I took the chance to pencil up the painting and transfer it onto a board ready to get painting.

You’ll see I’ve added in Maleficent and her long (dragon) shadow, Diablo her pet raven and given the crumbling brickwork some more character. I’m planning on painting this in acrylic but with the latest Commando cover taking precedence then I’m hoping that I can perhaps find and hour or two in the evenings to make a slow start to this. Hopefully doing a little bit while concentrating on the paid work will keep my mind on the painting and not feel like I’ve got to rush through it when the Commando cover is finished.

First washes over painted acrylic pencils

14th January 2019

I was determined to make a start to this painting over the weekend and although I didn’t get as many hours in front of the board as I wanted (I never do) I did managed to begin. The majority of the time was spent painting in the pencils again in acrylics. This is as boring as it sounds and takes no small amount of time but it does afford you the ability to make some minor changes which I did with the dragon shadow. If I had started to add washes of acrylic on top of the pencils without first painting them in again they would’ve quickly disappeared. Often when I do this I paint in the pencil work in roughly the colour I think I will then be painting the area in. So for example a lot of it was painted in various shades of grey and blue but on the right hand side I painted a lot of the steps in a medium green.

Having finished the pencils (again) I then set to adding in washes of colour over the whole piece building up colour and tone. This is very much like using watercolours and you can make it do some similar effects but I just want to keep building up the layers until I get to a level I’m happy with then I will start to add in some detailing.

So far I’m keeping the palette very limited having used Payne’s Grey, Cerulean Blue, Sap Green, Ultramarine and Zinc Mixing White and I reckon that will be the colours for the majority of the painting. I will add in some others but only in smaller amounts.

Building up the layers on the brick work

18th January 2019

I spent the day working on castle walls keeping to the colours I mentioned before. Ultramarine with Payne’s Grey for the blue colour coming in from the top left and all the ‘faces’ that look onto that direction. A mixture of Cerulean Blue and Payne’s Grey mixed with Sap Green for the sides that are being lit by the glow at the bottom of the stairs. 

At the moment I’m being put off by the untouched steps at the top and the fact that I need to do more work on the walls above it. So the next session, hopefully over the weekend, I will concentrate on sorting that out.

Top steps and the dragon take shape

21st January 2019

This was what I’d managed to get done over the weekend, essentially as planned I painted in the steps nearest to the viewer, added more tone to the wall above and painted in the shadow of the dragon. At the moment I think I’ll need to darken up the head of the dragon but today I’ve been working on the green of the lower stairs.

I’m at that frustrating point where I’m not happy with things but I know I just need to keep going and it’ll come together. I’m not happy with the work I’ve done today anyway so maybe it’s best that you are seeing the weekends progress rather than todays. More work on it tomorrow should hopefully sort out my issues.

Filling in those lower greens

22nd January 2019

Well the trouble with painting at a larger size is that it’s taking more time 🙂 I always hit a point in a painting when I know that I’m well past the half way mark and that it is maybe not quite the home stretch but I can envisage the end.

Getting that first stab at the lower green walls and steps was hard going. I mistakingly decided to add Emerald into the green mix but quickly spotted my mistake and swapped to adding Lemon Yellow in with the Sap Green to get the right shade I was after. Still lots to be done on it but I know the base is right and with it the painting is coming together.

Tomorrow I’m going to do more detailing and with the majority of the board covered I’m going to start sorting out some tonal issues. And I want to add some random strokes and some light colour changes (small blobs) in places to help break up the monotony. All of this has been painted without any Black as I want only the characters of Maleficent and Diablo to be painted in Black to help them stand out from the dank interior walls. So there is more washes of mixed Payne’s Grey and either Ultramarine or Sap Green to be added to help get the tonal balance right.

Diablo and Maleficent start to appear

23rd January 2019

Good session today, lots done although you might not be able to tell comparing this to yesterdays post. But I did a lot of tonal changes today and added in more random detailing on the walls. I still think I might need to add yet another wash of Payne’s Grey on certain places but I’m pretty happy. Finally got the Mars Black out and painted in Diablo and started on Maleficent before time ran out.

All being fine I reckon I will finish the painting tomorrow then it might be best to let it sit for a day so I can check on anything I’ve missed on want to change before scanning it in. 

The physical painting finished

24th January 2019

It’s done! I finished painting it this morning, sat with it for a few hours and then realised I’d missed of Maleficent staff! Doh! So with that added I painted on my little ‘R’ signature and removed the masking tape. Pretty sure the painting side of this piece is done and dusted and all I need to do now is scan it in and tidy it up.

I’d always planned to paint in the three ‘glowing’ dots of the following fairies but I’m not sure you’ll have spotted that throughout showing the work in progress? Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are sneakily following Maleficent down into the dungeons but of course her dragon shadow has its eye, mouth and claw on them. I fully intend to enhance the fairies glow power in Photoshop once it is scanned in.

By pure coincidence, while looking online at title logo designs for Sleeping Beauty, I’ve noticed that it will be the 60th anniversary of the films release next Tuesday. I honestly hadn’t intended to paint this image in recognition of that date but it seems somewhat apt now.

While painting this piece it became quite apparent that I was running out of acrylic paints. Many of the tubes I own are quite old and have dried up through age so after I finished painting I went online to my art supplier of choice and ordered a nice big pile of acrylic paints. Luckily they’re having a January sale on acrylic paints so the pennies spread further and I could order more than I intended and some new brushes. Being able to order paints like this comes down to having your support. Seriously, apart from using your pledges to pay for postage on the postcards recently I’ve saved up the last few months pledge money and blown it on supplies. You guys keep me going. No exaggeration, and I hope you’re enjoying what I’m painting with your support!

Commando Comic No.5153 ‘The Red Devil’

This post was originally created for my Patreon supporters back in August 2018 and I have decided not to update the text so it reflects my feelings and thoughts at the time.

An altered version of this post was printed in the excellent Illustrators Special ‘The Art of Commando’ book published by The Book Palace in 2019.

Four Commando Comics are published every fortnight by DC Thomson & Co Ltd and you can find out more information about them and a free digital trial at their website:

You can also buy this issue of Commando ‘The Red Devil’ digitally over at Comixology.

Released today, Commando Comics No.5153 ‘The Red Devil’ is the first of what I hope will be many featuring my art on the cover. If you live in the United Kingdom and follow British comics at all you will probably have come across these digest sized comics at some point. Commando has been published since 1961 and is well over 5,000 issues and counting, it is a well known feature on many newsagents shelves. For myself Commando and its science fiction offshoot Starblazer (now sadly not in print) were, along with rival publishers titles like War Picture Library, just part and parcel of my comics reading as a child. You picked up these war comics along with humour titles like Buster, The Beezer and Nutty and action comics like Victor and Warlord. There where so many of them that you never ran out and you swapped and traded copies with friends.

When I was 16 I went to the offices of DC Thomson & Co Ltd (to give them their full name) with my high school portfolio stuck under my arm in the dwindling hope that I could convince them to take me on as some sort of art office junior and learn my trade. Sadly it wasn’t to be, times were changing at Thomson’s and the arrival of computers on the scene was radically changing how the art department worked. I spent a great hour or so being shown around the art department and given encouragement and criticism from the manager viewing my portfolio. I was dejected but not unhappy with the result knowing that I was going to be heading off to college eventually after having attained the right grades for entry by taking night classes.

Cut to three years later and two years worth of college study later I was about to move onto another two full years in a different course but decided that I would once again see if I could make ground at DC Thomson. Apart from cherry picking some college pieces to show them I purposefully painted a humour piece (they are well known for publishing comics like The Beano and The Dandy) and two sample covers for Commando. Since I’d begun to show interest in art I’d always loved the painted covers found on Commando Comics and I envisaged them welcoming me with open arms to the fold with the two samples I created. Sadly once again it was an interesting visit but a definite no to my abilities. I’m sad to say that as I approached my 20s the lure of graphic design and a steady job took me away from art and my attempts to work for DC Thomson.

Still it was always in my mind what could have been and many years later when I did finally start creating work for the company it was with a sense of ‘finally’ that I had convinced them I was up to the job. Creating some paintings for them of their humour characters (the same characters I had painted before as samples) and being commissioned to do them was a big ‘You’ve done it’ for me. Over the last five or six years though I’ve still looked at the covers for Commando Comics and thought ‘give me a go’ and finally I got that commission. Ghosts laid to rest? Well maybe in one way but now I want, and hope, that they continue to commission me and I can settle into being one of the artists that is known for painting the covers of the title in its 57th year.

The brief for the cover came with a very simple description and a few images of the main character Irina that is wonderfully drawn by the interior artist Vicente Alcazar.
‘1942, Daytime in Stalingrad. Close up of Irina and her sniper rifle. Irina is in herearly 20s, She had long dark hair tied practically wears Russian army Winter private uniform for 1942 and is armed with Moisin rifle.’

I set to work on roughing out the layout for the cover in pencil on paper and knowing that I wanted to impress and put across my ideas well enough I decided to also colour the rough in photoshop. Knowing that the story was about a sniper my mind instantly returned to the countless Commando, Warlord and Victor covers where the crack shot sniper centred onto their target which we saw through the circular crosshair sights so graphically used to great effect. It seems like an almost unwritten rule for a war artist to include these round crosshair sights in a story about a sniper and who am I to break a rule that works.

I submitted my roughs and was pleased to receive a very positive response with only one request to alter the colouring to reflect the title of the comic. So a quick play around in Photoshop and with added red elements the rough was approved.

Onto the pencils where the details of the rifle, destroyed city, targeted soldier and Irina herself where all nailed down in my usual way of pencilling flipped onto tracing paper. The finished pencils where then scanned in and the tracing paper version was used to transfer the pencils onto the watercolour art board I was going to paint onto. Part of the image wraps around the comic and I wanted the image on the back of the comic to stand on its own which is why I placed the ruins of Stalingrad in an opposing colour scheme in this area. It works as a whole but also separately and I recall as a kid, and even now, excitedly seeing what hidden bonus had been painted on the back of the comic.

Painting in watercolour moved through quite swiftly with me concentrating on getting the main character right first before adding in the background. 

The finished piece was scanned in and retouched and modified in Photoshop. With no small amount of trepidation I sent off the cover for approval by the editor and was delighted by the response and praise for my first cover.

Here is the press release for the issue:

5153: Action and Adventure: The Red Devil

Hiding in the thick snow, the Red Devil is watching. In the battle-torn, bomb‑shelled carcass of Stalingrad, she stalks her prey. Her sights aimed and her finger taut, she pulls the trigger…

Specially selected for the cover, Graeme Neil Reid’s exhilarating art shows our hellish heroine in a blood red light, capturing her plight for the Motherland as well as her deadly shot! 

|Story | Iain McLaughlin | Pencils | Vicente Alcazar | Cover | Graeme Neil Reid | 

I managed to read the comic a couple of weeks ago when the editor showed me the proofs ready for the printer. It’s a cracking little story which moves along at a good pace all written by the talented Iain McLaughlin who has a long and varied career on many different DC Thomson titles among other things. The comic will be available in all good newsagents for the next two weeks along with the three other issues also released at the same time. If you can I’d ask that you try and pick a copy up and if possible sing the covers praises on social media to Commando Comics themselves. If the comic sells well and enough people mention my art then it all helps to convince the editor that I’m worthy of more and I’d love to see this become a regular gig. As always with client work where I can’t share the work prior to release with my supporters I will endeavour to record the process and show it upon release of the work.