This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). My entry didn’t go anywhere, but a couple of my peers were recognized for their excellent work, and they have allowed me to re-share their entries as well as links to their respective portfolios.

 

A two-page comic spread of teal, orange, and pink. In the first panel, Jade looks at a delicious mango hanging over head. In panel two, she climbs up a tree that spreads all the way across both pages. Then she sits in the branch and plucks the mango from the canopy. Panels 3-5 are devoted to peeling the delicious mango. The final panel depicts Jade enjoying her well-earned prize.

This memoir spread by Jade Vaughn, an Austin-based comics artist, depicts an exquisitely simple moment. I liked being able to experience the mango alongside Jade, after traveling up the tree alongside her. The layout has cinematic qualities and the color scheme is just juicy, there’s no other word for it. I can’t wait to see what other magical comics work Jade has in store!

 

Two-page horror comic by Suzanne Fiore Murata. It is drawn in grungy greens with red lettering on aged paper. Panel one is a bloody red splotch with narration written in it:

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Suzanne Fiore Murata’s horror-themed entry get a nod. Media for small kids frequently gets watered down by well-meaning adults, but comics are one of the safest spaces to experience fear and work through complicated feelings. I was already a fan of Suzanne’s work prior to this conference, so I loved that the judges agreed with me on the quality of her craft. Just love the textures, the mood, the lettering!! Very, very good.

 

Takeaways
The SCBWI Illustrator’s Day (Graphic Novel edition) was a nice nod towards graphic novels. Within SCBWI I’ve found it hard to find resources or events that welcome graphic novels, rather than prose books or picture books. That said, there was an implication that only people who were spotlit in the event should submit to the guest agents or publishers. Their tastes were very different from what I want to create, or where my art style is currently residing. I also would not feel great being a risky option for them to consider without having at least one complete graphic novel under my belt. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing success on a smaller scale first.

By far the most helpful feedback on this comic page came from my independent writing group, with a layout adjustment that I feel improved the clarity of the page. With regards to the SAW graphic novel intensive, this exercise did confirm that I want more technical feedback, both in volume and in intensity. However, it’s not fair of me to demand that of anyone in general within the network. It’s home to many people who are making comics as self-expression or who aren’t as keen on technique, for any number of valid reasons. I have also been enjoying it as more of an accountability/socializing thing. That said, I’m more likely to ask some of the friends I’ve made for critique over expecting anything too in-depth from my posts to the SAW course feed.

I’m also excited about getting to start on the final drawings and lines of Warlock’d in 2022, maybe even as early as December! Every time I work on something with lineart and coloring it feels good and natural, even though I still have some things to learn about the art.

Comics Tip

Art Contests, and When to Enter Them
Art contests are either opportunities to mingle with the art community at large, or straight-up scams. At their best, friendships are forged and skills are assessed. At their worst, institutions prey on amateur and entry-level creatives by offering one prize while soliciting as many entries as possible.

The key factors to consider when looking at an art contest are:

How will the art be used?
Is the institution going to use the submissions for profit? Logo design contests in particular are notorious about this. Why should a business get to use a logo as their trademarked identity for perpetuity if their prize is only a one-time prize payout? Logos and brand identity are worth a lot of money, more than most contests offer. If a business is going play fast and loose with its own identity, that’s not a good sign for both present and future professional involvement.

Is copyright retained by the entrant?
Some contests require entrants to forsake copyright on their work upon entry, causing all entries to become property of the contest holder. Do not do this! The work you create for a contest should remain yours upon conclusion of the contest, even (and especially) if it’s not chosen as the winner. No prize is worth forfeiting copyright upfront over.

Would I make this art anyway?
When looking at a contest, if it’s something I’d like to make outside of a contest, I’ll usually go for it. The contest gives a firm deadline that can be great motivation for just getting something done, even if it’s small.

In this instance of SCBWI’s memoir challenge, I needed more short comics as practice, the entries weren’t going to be used for any business enterprise, and I would retain my copyright after the event wrapped up. My chosen childhood memory may have been a little too weird or convoluted for this audience, but at least it’s an entry in my portfolio from which I can learn and move on.

…And yes, the depicted outfit in my comic was real. I’m sure that was the burning question on everyone’s mind!

Bless you, The 80’s. Never change.

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