A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

My graphic novel characters from left to right: Pierre in his red robe and black cape with gold trim, Margo hovering as her barn swallow self near Canicula's nose, Canicula smacking his mace against one hand while decked out in sumptuous furs, and Lebeau, charging in from the right in their secondhand armor.

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v

Fox Dragon
Reynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don’t tell me you’re the harbinger of the Revelation. What would Ysengrim think?

 

 

Digital artwork of an emu-like dragon, with a sheep's head on a long neck attached to a blue body with white spots down its back. It has a furry tail. The legs are gray and stripy with fur covering the toes and heels. A little spig of flowers springs from the heel of the dragon.‘The Maastricht Hours’, Liège 14th century British Library, Stowe 17, fol. 182v

Sheep Dragon
Leg warmers were a thing 650 years ago, I swear.

 

 

Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340. British Library, Add 42130, fol. 178r

Lion Dragon
Look, sometimes an apex predator rocks the soft baby pinks and blues. There’s no reason to get mad about it. It’s almost like someone got the description of a lion spot-on right up to the shoulders and then gave up. Whatever — do you know how many people will leave the abbey to go look at a lion way down south in person? That’s right. Not many. So lions are pink and blue now, and they wear comfortable hats. Deal with it.

 

Re-draw of a medieval illustration of a long, snakey green dragon with red lion paws and pink wings with stripes. The dragon has antlers and flowers for a tail. On its head is an extremely phallic hat. There's no getting around it.pontifical, Avignon ca. 1330-1340
 Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. Diocèse 8, fol. 59r

Hat Dragon
I have so many questions about this dragon. One of those questions is not what the hat is supposed to be. I don’t want to know anything about this dragon’s hat. Instead, I will focus on this being the world’s tiniest dragon obsessing over its hoard of a single copper penny, which telekinetically floats nearby.

 

 

Digital artwork of a large, purple, four-legged dragon with human feet sharing an even purpler tongue with a yellow winged cat dragon. The purple dragon has six extra heads in its collar and they all look like they're whining. It's also wearing bunny slippers on its back feet. Its front feet have weird sandals that blend into its skin. The cat dragon, meanwhile, only has one extra head, which is on its long winding tail, and that head looks really annoyed.

Beatus of Liébana, Commentarius in Apocalypsin, Astorga 12th century
BnF, Nouvelle acquisition latine 1366, fol. 106v


What is Even Going on Here?!??

This must be the end of the world. That’s the only explanation I have. I didn’t feel like drawing the Schmooze in the corner there so this dragon gets a comfy pair of slippers.

Comics Tip

Designing a Dragon
Say you’ve got a story that calls for a dragon. The first thing to do is figure out what function that dragon serves in the story. Is it a pet? Is it a steed? Is it a friend? Is it a foe? Is it a wild beast? Is it bigger, or smaller, than a breadbox? Can it speak or coexist peacefully with humans? Does it represent something beyond being a mythical creature, such as the greed and cruelty of mankind, or the vengeance of the natural world?

Or do you just want a dragon that looks super cool*?

*Dragon ‘coolness’ as the result of this exercise may be subjective!

Digital artwork of three possible dragon silhouettes. The first is serpentine with bat wings and a snake tail, with little tiny paws and feet. The second is an upright armadillo with an ankylosaur tail. The third is some sort of bird with four wings and a feathery tail and frills on the head.

Step One: Silhouettes
Regardless of how big your dragon is, the first thing you’ll want is a Shape for it to fit into. Grab a marker and scratch down some rough poses and proportions for your dragon. Don’t worry about details at this point, just get a broad picture of its shape and size. Try to think about how the dragon would move. Maybe it’s very agile, or more of a tank. Can it fly? If not wings, include a visual of how it alights in the air. If it’s a more literal animal, it will look a bit different than if it’s the figment of a child’s imagination. Same for magical beasts having more leeway for fanciness and silliness than most real-animal analogues for dragons.

Digital artwork of three possible dragon heads, rendered as black scribbled silhouettes. The first is a smooth reptile. The second is more horselike with bumps and ears. The third is clearly a beaked creature with a feathered plume.

In addition tvo the overall body, it pays to figure out how the dragon’s head will look. Is it capable of expressing emotions, or does it need to express emotions within the story? Are its emotions clear or are they buried under the complexities of being a different species from humans? Explore that.

Digital artwork of one of the dragon silhouettes, with the armadillo body and beak head as our go-to. The dragon has been rendered three times, sporting a horn and T. rex claws in the first, fins in the second, and lots of wings and feathers and raptor claws in the third.

If you have a head shape and a body shape that you like, explore spines, fins, fur, and hair. Maybe the dragon has many limbs, or an unusual tail.

Digital sketch, done very quickly, of a comic page containing a dragon. It has three panels: One with a dragon trotting through the forest. The second panel is a closeup of the dragon's eye spotting something. The third panel is a breakout panel of the dragon discovering a baby and picking up, so it's a good thing I designed it to have opposable thumbs.

Step Two: Try it Out
My controversial take is that it pays to see if the overall shape and size of the dragon works in terms of the comic prior to doing any detail work outside of the silhouette. Try drawing the silhouette version next to characters and in environments you have planned for your story. This is also why concept art sometimes looks different from the actual comic. I think it’s important to get a sense of how the big parts of the creature function in the story prior to working out the finer details.

 

Step Three: Integument Refinement
While still thinking about how your dragon works in your comic’s world, experiment with showing how it sees, smells, tastes, and touches the world. A zoo is an excellent place to scope animals and observe how they’re built and how they move through the world.

Various photos of different scales. A lizard, an armadillo, an eagle's claw, a grasshopper, a betta fish, and a pineapple are all examples of scales that would look interesting on a dragon.
For instance, a dragon is not limited to reptilian scales. Check out some mammalian, avian, insectlike, and fish coverings, too. Maybe even plants!

Photos of the following animal attributes: A big eagle's eye, a dog's paw in a human hand, a skull of a theropod dinosaur, and whiskers on a white kitten's face.
Can your dragon see in the dark? Its eye shape will be different depending on how it senses the world around it. Think about its other senses. How sensitive is its skin? A large nasal cavity means it might be able to sniff prey from a long way away. If it has whiskers, maybe it loses its balance from losing those whiskers, like a cat does.

Photos of an alligator's closed mouth with tons of teeth sticking out, as well as a bear's paw with long black claws poking out.
How does the dragon protect itself, and what does it eat? This will affect tooth and claw shape, and whether it can grasp things like humans can.

Photos of fire, a field of white flowers, a big towering cloud, and the purple reaches of outer space with tons of stars.
Is the dragon ethereal? Maybe it has primordial elements mixed in, such as fire, flowers, clouds, or stars. Each body part tells a story about the rest of the creature, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘realistic’. It’s a dragon, after all. Have some fun for once in your life, gosh.

Three possible color schemes for my dragon design. For my overall silhouette I chose an upright armadillo dragon with feathery wings, a hairy chest, feathers on its claws, a beaked face and horn on its nose. Color scheme one is monochromatic blues, number two is yellows, greens, and oranges, and the third one is a pale grey dragon with red eyes and black tongue.

Step Four: Color!
Depending on what the rest of your comic looks like, you will need to decide whether your dragon sticks out or blends into the background. Stories involving dragons as ‘alien’ or ‘other’ may opt for brightly-colored dragons. Sneaky dragons will need camouflage. Pet dragons might be more likely to have specific color morphs, like the ones seen in snake or pigeon enthusiast communities.

Step Five: Revision
At any point in the process, a change might need to be made to the dragon’s design. Most changes simplify a design so that it’s easier to draw and color over and over again. Better to do that early before the dragon exists in dozens, if not hundreds, of panels. I personally find it more difficult to edit a design the further along it is in development. That’s why having extra versions of the design lying around are so useful. Those can offer easier solutions to big problems that come from an extreme revision to the design at the end of a project.

So there you go! There’s really no wrong way to go with a magical dragon because it doesn’t exist in the first place!

Creative commons dragon reference photos generously provided by pixabay.com.

Care to read more?

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v Fox DragonReynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don't tell me you're the harbinger of the Revelation. What...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it. What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?I wanted: To meet other graphic...

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

"I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words."-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye I've been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some...

Want to chat about this?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Digital spot illustration representing the spirit of the Sequential Art Workshop's Graphic Novel intensive. Arranged around a sawblade are comic pages, sketches, an ink brush pen, a Wacom stylus pen, a speech balloon with a blue exclamation point inside, ink spatters, loose staples, and a teal stapler that looks like it's leaping out at the viewer (woah there, stapler).

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it.

What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?
I wanted:

  1. To meet other graphic novelists
  2. To exchange intensive critique on projects similar to mine
  3. To get the Warlock’d script to a stage where I could proceed to the art production.

Of these three things that I wanted, I met other graphic novelists and I got the Warlock’d script to a stage where I could start lettering it. Two out of three for $100/month isn’t bad.

 

What Did the Graphic Novel Intensive Do for Me?
I started the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive with a messy 4th draft of a comics script I’d been wrestling with for years, and some sample pages for what I wanted it to look like, seen here.

I ended the Graphic Novel Intensive with the following:

Screenshot of a Google Doc containing a thumbnailed comic page and some script. The script's contents are unimportant. This is mostly to show layout.

A completely revised and thumbnailed 330-page script

A curated gallery of 12 character designs for my graphic novel, Warlock’d.

These were rendered in a new, simpler style that is faster to implement. I think I could go even simpler than this, but this is where I’ve decided to try out the character designs in situ rather than fuss anymore over the lineup height chart.

Screenshot of Trello with Warlock'd to-do's in columns.

An organized Trello board for tracking my past and future progress.

Of these tangible things I created, I will note that they were of my own design for my own project. I proposed and completed them within the GNI program. I wasn’t particularly inspired by anything I saw there other than I couldn’t stand the thought of using paper index cards to organize everything. I opted for Trello for ease of organization and sharing, and some students thought it was good enough to adopt for themselves. I found myself resistant to incorporate suggestions from other students (such as changing my entire workflow to accommodate different software) but it was enough to have the invisible accountability to keep the work going.

And the intangibles: ‘Permission’ to start lettering my comic, as my script was now complete. Friends to chat general, surface-level comics-making with, but not really anyone willing to go mutually in-depth on our projects. Connections and familiarity with other comics artists, published, self-published, and otherwise.

I had an overall positive and productive experience, but I think a specific type of comics artist would benefit the most from the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive. Which begs the question…

 

Who is the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive For?

To help interested creators decide if they want to go for the Graphic Novel Intensive (GNI), I will present who leads the course, what other students bring to any given cohort, ways that the MightyNetwork interface benefits some methods of work and not others, comparable and different online courses in the $500-$800 range, and the harsh truth of making comics (which is: To make comics, one must…make comics. Sorry. There’s no getting out of it.) This is mostly my own opinion based on anecdotal observations, and isn’t technical or scientific in any way.

 

Who leads the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive (GNI)?
For the most part, Tom Hart (Rosalie Lightning, and who spearheads the SAW network itself) leads it. Tom Hart is a self-taught memoirist who examines his own personal pain as he draws his panels. He balances real-world observations with abstracted characters such as floating shapes and men who can’t stop screaming in the woods. As far as I can tell, his goal is to provide an affordable learning environment for a broad swath of comics artists. He also does a pretty good job of acknowledging each individual student in the cohort and encouraging them.

I spotted the following instructors and volunteers helping out during my time in the GNI. This may be an incomplete list based on my own personal observations. It may also change from cohort to cohort:

Emma Jensen, What We Don’t Speak Of
Jess Ruliffson, Invisible Wounds
Barry Sawicki, who is studying memoir and adventure comics about the woods

 

What Do Other Students Bring to the GNI?
I’d say my cohort leaned more towards booklike comics rather than cinematic comics. Different cohorts might bring different projects to the table.

There was no curation in terms of skill level or experience. Anyone can hop into the GNI even if they’ve never written a word or drawn a picture in their life. Portfolios are not required. If a person has $600-$800 and a way to submit the payment electronically to the school, they can join the course. What each person puts into the GNI (and gets out of it) is entirely up to them. I prefer this approach since I am typically not selected for curated cohorts and prefer not to even try when it’s part of the process.

There were around 70 students in the cohort as far as I could tell. Of these 70 students, I saw about 20 people consistently update throughout the entire six months, and of these 20 people, I think about half of them visibly made comics. It’s hard for me to say who was working on things behind the scenes without posting. The apparent ~50 person attrition didn’t sit well with me but I suppose that’s what happens in large remote art classes at this price range. I also don’t know what was going on behind the scenes there. They could have been working on their projects but choosing not to interact.

I saw memoir, nonfiction, informational fiction, picture book, fantasy/adventure, horror, science fiction, wildly experimental, and reality-based fiction as projects within the GNI. The environment is geared more towards ‘just getting it out’. Target audience was not largely discussed across the cohort. Creators typically opted for subject matter that was personally appealing to themself as a reader, whether that was art therapy-as-memoir, niche subjects, personal characters made up by themselves or by their friends, or dream projects that they wanted to finally pin down.

The critique atmosphere leans towards general support and acknowledgement of finished pieces. Technical questions are only answered if they’re brought up. If a participant knows what to ask there’s a lot of information available from the cohort itself. If they don’t know what to ask or are incurious, there won’t be much technique to pick up. Technique and workflow are not explicitly laid out in what I assume is an effort to be non-didactic. This meant that everyone had completely different goals, techniques, and were on different steps of their own projects.

 

What Sort of Feedback and Visibility Does the GNI Provide?
The MightyNetworks UI dictated a lot of the interactions within the GNI itself. Users upload ‘Articles’ to a feed containing anything they want to share, whether it’s WIPs, comics, illustrations, random photos, cat pics, or whatever else they’re focusing on that isn’t comics. There was a lot of socialization and procrastination, which is honestly what people should expect from comics artists.

Creatives who create their comics one complete page at a time, or who are at a stage to complete finished pages, will have more luck soliciting feedback than creatives who work in ‘waves’ (ie script, thumbnail, layout, lettering, roughs, inks, colors) across the whole comic. It was generally easier for the community to engage with complete work and I suspect the MightyNetworks UI had something to do with this, being structured like social media. People in the cohort were reluctant to read scripts and synopses. To this end, I would have to say, the GNI didn’t help me with the part I needed the most technical help with: Writing. However, this structure seemed very beneficial to those who only wanted to post complete pages and who felt more comfortable ‘just doing it’ and not worrying about longform writing structure.

All of the things I wound up with by the end of the course ( thumbnailed script, character height reference sheet, trello board) were mini-projects I’d designed myself.

One cool thing that the GNI does is open an end-of-the-course anthology compilation. It’s a small, easy vehicle for being published and given visibility outside of the school, to people who purchase the anthology. Participants are welcome and encouraged to buy copies for themselves. Profits go back to the SAW network, if I recall correctly. 

 

Cost Comparisons
When I first saw this course open up, I definitely thought: This is either a scam…or a steal. I admit, I waffled over joining upfront. The normal lowest cost on the sliding scale, early bird discount included, was $600 for a 6-month program. Most online/independent drawing courses go for $600 for four weeks or less, although they promise intensive feedback on specific subjects and critique along with weekly meetings. Your average art MFA can cost anywhere from $20k to $40k with mixed career results, so there you go.

I thought, there must be something going on here to make this course cheaper than what I see offered by the likes of Gnomon, a university, or other industry art courses. The answer is: There isn’t much individualized (or technical) critique. I think the self-study aspect is very similar to something like Skillshare or Coursera offers, although those are different communities. The most technical critiques were geared towards print production so that everyone could get their works to print. Many of the participants in the cohort didn’t know about print concepts like DPI, bleeds, gutters, and margins and had to be caught up during the various Zoom sessions.

Is the Graphic Novel Intensive still valuable? Yes: There is an instant community of other people making graphic novels together. I would not go into this program expecting any additional challenges or accountabilities on top of just making the graphic novel. It’s a lot softer and more nebulous than that.

 

Verdicts
If you asked me, I would say that the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive is the best place to go for the following types of comics creators:

Self-directed
The sad truth is, just taking the course won’t make a graphic novel appear with your name on it. There isn’t a course out there that can do that. You still have to decide upfront what you want your project to be, and how to go about making it. You also have to write and draw the graphic novel itself. No one will do it for you or show you how to do it. There are also no technical components or anything breaking down the individual skills involved with making a graphic novel, outside of asking other creators in the course what they’re doing. There are course materials to work through but they’re very light and are mostly recordings of other artists describing their own process. To get the most out of the course’s intention (“just get a graphic novel out”), whatever you have in your creative toolkit is what you must use.

Self-publishers and Small press
While the occasional alumnus of the Sequential Arts Workshop goes on to work with large publishers, my impression of the GNI was that the prevailing attitude was ‘whatever you’re making, just make it, even if it’s for no reason’. The vibe is less about being accepted into the publishing marketplace and more about removing barriers to making whatever you want to make. For this reason, I think self-publishers and small press enthusiasts will find this course the most interesting.

Willing to Take Social Risks
There is very little hand-holding when it comes to meeting other students in the cohort. It’s up to individuals to reach out to other individuals based on mutual interests. A person who never posts and never messages other people is missing the main value that the GNI has to offer.

Page-at-a-Time
Webcomickers and diary comickers will likely feel more comfortable with the MightyNetwork’s interface in terms of reader engagement. I observed updates of this nature (complete, polished single pages or spreads) got more feedback than those who were posting WIPs such as scripts and thumbnails. This may not be intentional within the course, but it’s what happens with a social-media-like feed where some content attracts more attention than others.

 

What Would I Change About My Experience?
I consider myself mostly self-directed but wanting to share my work for specific critique on a frequent basis with trusted peers who are similar to me in terms of goals and skill level. If I were to edit the course in a way that I think would improve it for my own purposes, I would add the following aspects to it:

Small Group Critique
I signed up for this course in hopes of discussing my project (Warlock’d), introducing it to other creators, and getting six months of dedicated, nuanced feedback from a variety of peers I normally would never have met. The Zoom calls were too large to accommodate nuanced critique of individual projects. So, my suggestion would be to  have small group matching done by organizers, either in breakout sessions from the main big Zoom calls or as their own weekly event. Maybe even rotating critique groups so that no one group completely drops off or runs out of steam. More of the nuts n’ bolts discussion work could be delegated to the students, essentially.

Code of Conduct for Soliciting, Giving, and Reacting to Critique
A code of conduct describing how critique works would be really helpful for creators who haven’t shown their work to others before. It would also have allowed me to feel safe giving and soliciting critique, because I could trust the recipient had also read the same code of conduct. Even in areas of the network designed for critical feedback, I did not feel safe getting into technical details with other creators on the network. I avoided commenting in-depth for the remainder of my time in the GNI. For this same reason I neglected to connect with anyone over my complete script. The expectations surrounding critique were that unclear.

Pitch Application
A small pitch application to ensure that people have something to make (and post, when they introduce themselves!) might help future GNI cohorts. This would be judged on proof-of-intent rather than anything skill-based, as I agree with an infinitely low skill floor. The course is more fun that way.

Something to Improve Engagement and Discussion About WIPs
I don’t know what this would be, exactly, but I’d love for the environment to shine lights on the stuff that hasn’t resolved into its final comicky form. More attention and support for scripts, layouts, and thumbnails.

 

My Experience with the Graphic Novel Intensive was Good, but —
According to the things I’d have liked for the program to have included (but did not), I would feel uncomfortable recommending this course to everyone. Here are my recommendations.

 

I think this is an ideal primary program for:
Self-directed, self-publishing/small press, extroverted creatives on a budget, who do their work one page at a time, sequentially, primarily for themself as an audience, and who respond well to generalized, group-targeted encouragement.

 

I also think this is an ideal supplementary program for:
Comics artists who are simultaneously working within a more structured art school environment, such as an MFA or technical school. The SAW virtual space is good for decompressing and avoiding burnout.

 

I think this program is worth checking out for:
People who want to find other people who make and read comics, whether it’s a hobby or a more serious vocation. I think this is a useful online space for those who aren’t able to travel physically to other locations or who are otherwise isolated. The price is reasonable for what the program is, and I recommend the early bird rates if they’re offered.

 

I also think that for whomever is interested, they might want to try the free parts of the SAW network first and see who they meet: https://members.sawcomics.org/

Comics Tip

Joining a Comics Community
While cartoonists are notorious for bricking themselves into tiny cabins far away from human society, let’s not be too hasty with exiting the grid. Making a big thing like a graphic novel is hard. Hermiting up too much makes it even harder. Here are some free methods for finding friends who make and read comics.

Meetup.com
Depending on how big your city is and where it’s located, anywhere from none to many comics groups may be happening. Also look for drink n’ draws, gallery walks, urban sketch groups, illustration get-togethers, and life drawing groups. Since these groups are open to whomever, not everyone will be a best friend, but that’s what coffee shops outside of the group meetings are for!

 

Conventions
Artist Alleys are great ways to connect with other comics creators. Even small conventions can be very good. Bring a budget and buy something from each table you visit, and take business cards with you. Afterwards, check bars and who knows, you might spot a creator relaxing after a long convention day. There are far too many conventions to list here, but check major cities for the really big ones and be on the lookout for local ones in smaller towns.

 

Discords
On this chat network, comics creators can hop into voice chat or carry on conversations via text while all simultaneously casting their screens and sharing their work. I have a quick list of active discords where comics artists tend to congregate and get things done. Note: Each of these links is a Discord invitation, so be prepared to be logged in with your Discord account or asked to make one.

Graphic Novel Artists and Writers
Artist Alley Network International
Comic Creators Workgroup

 

Livestreams
Some comics artists share their screen live for accountability’s sake. It’s always fun to pop in and look over someone’s shoulder while they work. Visiting a smaller stream might just make someone’s day, too. Twitch, Picarto, and YouTube are all common streaming services with varying levels of adult content allowed.

 

Networking Quick Tips
It’s important to be aware that you’re seeking specific types of companionship from people in these groups, but that doesn’t mean you have to announce it. Collaborating with others is a lot like dating. Don’t tunnel vision. Just go with the flow and see who becomes your friend.

When following up with a person, you don’t need to be funny, outlandish, or ‘stick out’ in their memory. A brief ‘nice to meet you’ email works fine and is actually fairly rare to receive after a social outing. Invitation for coffee where you offer to pay is also very reliable for continuing the relationship. Be sure to ask the other person as many questions about their own work as possible, rather than dumping your entire 10-volume graphic novel pitch on them.

Also, if you’re strictly social climbing, people can usually tell. It’s great to be friends with other people regardless of where they’re at in terms of their career. Never forget that.

Above all, when asked or if in an environment where it’s expected, share share share! Even if you’re not feeling confident about your work, other people love to see that you’ve put in the effort. They can also watch you improve as you continue to share.

Digital lineart of comic pages, a brush pen, a stylus, a speech bubble with an exclamation mark in it, an inkblot, and a stapler surrounding a round sawblade.

Or, if all that socialization stuff sounds too stressful…Here’s something to color all by yourself! Licensed under CC-BY-NC-3.0.

Care to read more?

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v Fox DragonReynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don't tell me you're the harbinger of the Revelation. What...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it. What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?I wanted: To meet other graphic...

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

"I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words."-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye I've been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some...

Want to chat about this?

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Digital artwork of the tiny blue demon, Titivillus. It is the size of the brass inkwell on which it perches. It's blue, covered with fur, with long ears, little horns, a long nose, and a devilish grin. Its wings are white with blue edges and red pinions. It wears a red kilt with a bit of paper tucked inside. It holds a feather quill that is taller than itself in its claws. Text on a ribbon swirling through his pose: To err is human and I'll hlep [sic]". Books are stacked behind him, but they are tiny books. Demon's books.

“I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words.”
-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye

I’ve been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some time. From the way Titivillus is referenced, I can’t help but feel there may have been some cheeky humor or warmth involved when invoking its mischief. “Drat! I wrote an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a'” seems more in-character than screaming and damning this little demon outright. The kind of curse you’d throw at a cat or other pet known for treading through wet ink before the words are set. This is only conjecture on my part, of course: The culture, opinions, and thoughts of a monk would be difficult to pin down unless they directly wrote them out.

Photograph of an aged fresco of Titivillus tormenting gossiping women and recording their words on a long parchment. This fresco is found in the St. Michael and Mary's church in Melbourne, England.

When I decided to do an homage to this paranormal frequenter of my own work, the above rendition popped out to me as ideal for adapting into a cartoon portrait. My interests skew towards 12th and 13th century and this immediately seemed more in-line with my personal aesthetic studies. In general, I can vaguely guess at an image’s age based on a few interesting features.

The feet
Byzantine demons are typically drawn with bird’s feet. The hoofed feet seem to be a conflation with the fauns, satyrs, and Bacchanalia-influenced renditions of demons from later centuries.

The teeth
Demons from this time period are typically drawn grinning. Americans may mistake these grins as friendly, or cheerful. They are not! They are hungry grins, angry and ferocious grins. Medieval Europeans didn’t bare their teeth like this to smile.

The line quality
12th and 13th century images typically have thick, lyrical lines composing their characters. Perspective and other underdrawing construction techniques are largely ignored. If I had to guess, this would be to accommodate art direction that could be applied easily by artisanal guilds, such as bookmakers, fresco painters, and weavers. Some artists did have individualized careers and specific styles to their work, but many were working with guilds overseeing them. This is just my guess, though.

The work shows the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, together with the Virgin of Mercy and the following characters: Prince Juan de Aragón (1478-1497), the first-born son of the Catholic Monarchs. Infanta Isabel de Aragón (1470-1498), sister of the previous one and queen consort of Portugal. Infanta Juana (1479-1555), who would come to reign in Castile and Aragon as Juana I. Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza (1428-1495), Archbishop of Toledo and Major Chancellor of Castile. On the right are six nuns dressed in the Cistercian habit and praying. And next to her appears an abbess with her crosier who has been identified with the sister of the said cardinal, Leonor de Mendoza, who was abbess of the monastery of Las Huelgas de Burgos between 1486 and 1499.

My other option was the rendition of Titivillus up in the right corner of this much later fresco circa 1485. Interesting here is that the demons still have bird feet, but the line quality and underdrawings are quite different from 12th and 13th century art. Still not much perspective going on. But, you can see the attempt at making more lifelike shadows and textures on the figures. I wasn’t enamored with this rendition of Titivillus (the skin tone is a bit problematic) but I did enjoy its stylish shorts. The bundle of books tied to its back also appealed to me, so that’s why a bundle of books appears in the background of my image.

Comics Tip

The Devil in the Details

While researching 12th and early 13th century artifacts I fell in love with this inkwell attributed to somewhere in Iran. I could easily imagine a European writer purchasing something like this in a marketplace and cherishing the zodiac-inspired designs. The glaring problem for me, as the artist: How do I replicate the incredible design work I see here, without pledging myself to its embellishment for weeks and weeks?

The solution is…to zoom out. The human eye wouldn’t perceive the designs on the inkwell at this distance anyway. Problem solved!

Tiny digital cartoon of a little Titivillus doodle perched on top of a decidedly plain-looking inkwell.

…What? That’s not what my illustration looks like? Okay. Fine. The original graphic is quite zoomed in, so the detail on the inkwell would be visible. I want the contrast of the fiddly details compared to the simpler design of the character, so what I do is…

Screen shot of the Layers panel. It portrays layer settings described below.

I set up a new layer, and I turn the ‘fill’ to 0%. I set up a ‘stroke’ style to this layer at the same size I use for the rest of my artwork.

Screenshot of the Layer Style menu. It has a 'stroke' effect applied at 5px. The position is inside, blend mode is normal, and color is black. Opacity is set to 100%.

The lack of antialiasing can look a rough up close, but it prints perfectly clean. These are also starter settings, so mess around with them until you find something that fits you or the artwork you’re detailing.

Screen shot of the Layers panel. It portrays Outer Glow effects designed to look like uniform outlines on a layer set to 0% fill.

Depending on the dpi and width of your linework, you may want to use ‘outer glow’ for your outline instead. Here are some starter settings for some sweet outlines with anti-aliasing to smooth them out a bit more. Mess with them until they suit your project.

Blank inkwell lines for decoration. It has a fancy domed lid and perches on little nubbly metal feet.

Time for some ink-on-inkwell action. What would you like this inkwell to look like? Detail it!

Digital lineart of Titivillus. Titivillus perches on an inkwell while holding a quill as big as they are. The ribbon twining around Titivillus's form is blank, ready for any sort of motto a colorist might like to apply to it.

Or, if you only feel like coloring, here’s the free-to-color lines including Titivillus (Via CC BY-NC 3.0 license). Put whatever slogan you like on the ribbon.

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A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v Fox DragonReynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don't tell me you're the harbinger of the Revelation. What...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it. What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?I wanted: To meet other graphic...

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

"I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words."-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye I've been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some...

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SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

My graphic novel characters from left to right: Pierre in his red robe and black cape with gold trim, Margo hovering as her barn swallow self near Canicula's nose, Canicula smacking his mace against one hand while decked out in sumptuous furs, and Lebeau, charging in from the right in their secondhand armor.

Character Redesigns and Styleguide Revamps
As I’ve been thumbnailing the script of Warlock’d as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop‘s Graphic Novel Intensive, I’ve also had to sit and revisit my comic’s styleguide. There has been some character shuffling as my previous script draft evolved and became thumbnailed. I believe some of my earlier designs that I had prior to taking this course are too literal. I might take advantage of some stylization to not only make these people easier to draw, but also make them look more interesting as well! Here’s how my redesign process has gone for each of the three main characters in Warlock’d, with different goals and style considerations for each.

Painterly versions of Pierre in purple robes with a book and a sun behind him. Margo is yelling at him from the side.

As I’ve stated in earlier blog posts, my initial pipe dream was to create a very painterly comic. This met a swift end with the realization of how much revision goes on with my writing process, even in the midst of creating art. Working by myself and wearing all the hats is a lot different from being on a team. On a team, I have to accept the contributions of the other professionals as-is, and I only have input over my specific area of focus. As an indie comics artist doing all of the things, I have the power and freedom to change things if they aren’t working whenever I want…But if I don’t make it easy to change things, then I’m hampering myself.

Same portrait of Pierre and Margo, but with a half-painted, half cel-shaded look. Still muddy and murky.

Here was my second attempt at a comic style, for use in a pitch packet. I decided to wing the colors and coloring style, which resulted in very messy colors. The feedback was to simplify and stylize my characters more.

Full-color comic page done digitally with four panels. Panel 1: The Abbey of St. Germaine in the dawn, labeled as such. Panel 2 is full bleed and runs under panels 1, 3, and 4, zooming in on the roof architecture of the abbey. Panel 3 is of Pierre with his back to the viewer, framed by an arc window. Panel four depicts Pierre lecturing Margo about angel lawsuits.

Here is a page that was done in the same style as above…Results were muddy! Additionally, I didn’t have a set number of concrete steps to take to get the page to a ‘finished’ state, so some things would get lots of detail and shading, where others would not, and there wasn’t really a system to it. I was glad to get feedback on this so I could make it better.

A cross-section of colors, with bright red, orange gold, warm blue, and seafoam green.

With all of this in mind, I set out to further simplify and code my process as a series of specific steps. First thing on the docket was a pre-defined palette for use throughout the entire comic. I simply cannot be trusted with purple, as it turns out. So, I drew inspiration from the limited palette of medieval illuminated manuscripts. They didn’t have access to purple, so neither would I. Instead, I would rely more heavily on a medieval person’s favorite colors: Reds, golds, greens, and in special cases, blue.

Pierre and Margo, same poses as previous image, but now they have clean coloring with broad, flat colors, less shading, and more highlights around areas of interest on their designs.

The result is much more clean, more vibrant, richer and simpler. Also it’s easier to put together. Really, portfolio reviews are worth it.

One more go at Pierre, only now he's wearing a red robe with a yellow lining on his cape.

The yellow robe on Pierre proved difficult to make clear within the context of a comic panel. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because my backgrounds are typically very light on the contrast scale. I swapped his cape interior and his robe to make the yellow something he could discard for scenes where it would be unclear. The reds and yellows have practical significance (He’s able to afford fancy dyed cloth), as well as spiritual significance (He’s been assigned the medieval zodiac sign of the Sun, which is a bearer of good and bad signs, and the sign of kings and rulers).

Same page as above, but instead of smoky pink and purple, it has been rendered with bright orange and gold tones, with slate blue shadows.

This did get me to thinking, though — how committed did I want to be to such literal character designs? The environments are one thing — I really enjoy developing the details on those and getting the perspective all lined up. But the characters…Do they have to hew so close to real people? Also, what if I find feet really annoying to draw? What if I want to quickly see how tall all of the characters are? I developed my next round of character designs with this consideration in mind. Preview only for now, but I’m hoping to have a post cataloguing each character in the story next month.

Full spread of characters in the graphic novel, Warlock'd. From left to right: Pierre, Margo, Canicula, Lebeau, Renoncule, the Lieutenant, Ferrand, Briande, Janet, the Prévôt, and the Bishop.

In my re-write, I’ve incorporated the new character of King Phillip II. Since I have a compelling scene near the end that features this king, I need a design for him. Here I wanted to explore telling the audience as much about this character as possible from one glance, since he’s only physically present in one scene and it’s at the end.

Stylized digital artwork of King Phillip II, or King Phillip Augustus, the ruler of Frankish kingdoms in 1190 AD. He sits on a throne carved to look like two dogs facing either side. Torches blaze behind him. He spills wine casually, the same way he spills blood. He wears beautiful clothing and ermine furs, with a crown of rubies on his head. He holds a scepter in his other hand. Behind him, the Oriflamme (flag dyed with the blood of a saint) flaps.

Where am I going with all this?
Frankly, not quite sure just yet — this is all pre-production work. I may alter the designs if they offer unforeseen challenges during the roughs stage of drawing the comic, which will happen after lettering. It’s nice to have a starting point, though!

Comics Tip

Writing Reference

While I’ve been writing Warlock’d, I’ve made use of many books to help inform the details of the speculative world in which it takes place. Without the following resources, I’d have never even thought about the political structures, architecture, culture, diet, or technology of the 12th century. While my comic will not be historically accurate, I found the following resources inspiring and important for filling in empty spaces in the setting. I don’t believe in strict accuracy when it comes to fiction, but it sure is fun to be curious and find cool things to bring back to the manuscript.

As of writing this all of the following resources are freely available online for anyone else who is interested in this time period.

Going Medieval – by Dr. Eleanor Janega, medievalist

JSOTR – Sometimes has free access to primary historical resources.

Goodreads – A compilation of print books that I’ve read. Most of these are available at a library. Hope the reviews are of some use.

Mandragore – Searchable database for old manuscripts — it’s in French so it takes some finessing to figure out.

Gallica – More French manuscripts, and other vintage oddities.

 

Care to read more?

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v Fox DragonReynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don't tell me you're the harbinger of the Revelation. What...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it. What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?I wanted: To meet other graphic...

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

"I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words."-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye I've been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some...

Want to chat about this?

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Digital artwork of a bishop's skull but with tiny goat legs poking out of it. He stands on a floral pattern with gold leaf. He wears a blue hat and is shaking his papal ferula menacingly (but possibly with good humor; who can tell with a skull's grin).

Skull Bishop
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v

Illustration Style Shift
Prior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny Valley. Part of this frustration stemmed from my loose grasp on structural underdrawings, and the other part was from how painting obliterates outlines. Paintings as illustrations are difficult to pin down as ‘complete.’ So, like I have done many times in the past, I turned to art history. Specifically: Bored, poorly-informed monks.

My goal with the graphic novel is to make it half comic, and half illuminated manuscript. What secrets lie in the vellum?

 

Deerface McNoHands
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320
BL, Add 36684, fol. 36v

My best guess for this character is that it’s meant to depict a medieval mummer. I was utterly charmed by the hidden arms = complete lack of arms. I carried that chaos over into the re-draw. While I have no doubts that medieval people would absolutely suit up in deer hats and robes for no reason, they typically did this kind of thing for Christmas. This leads me to believe that the black ‘vine’ in the antlers is ivy, which would have been used to protect houses from evil spirits. In this case my personal story is that this mummer got a bit tangled up in the decorations this year and is perhaps in need of a good New Year’s resolution. The pink and orange leaves are my invention and represent jazz hands energy.

 


Snail Puppies…Snuppies….or Snrams?
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320
BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v

What…are these? Snails? Rams? What awaits them at the top of the ladder? Is this what people turn into when they die and are ascending to the next life? I got lucky with this one and was blessed with extremely precious clay fanart of my attempts to figure out what these things even are.

 

Bibo Ergo Sum
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 100r

“I Drink, Therefore I Am.” Sounds pithy, but remember: This guy’s dead. The person who drew him is dead. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But, I added some flavoring botanicals to my illustration and now this image is gracing my friend’s Ko-Fi, set up so that he can buy various gins and tell me what they taste like. What? It seems like a good deal to me.

 

Severely Outdated Baby Yoda Joke
‘The Smithfield Decretals’ (Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria), Toulouse ca. 1300, illuminations added in London ca. 1340
British Library, Royal 10 E IV, fol. 30v

This Yoda-like entity is basically every history-communications go-to when they try to relate medieval art to the modern day. It ranks almost as highly as coconuts. Medieval people had access to coconuts! It’s called ‘trade routes that reach ecosystems, which occasionally contain coconut trees’. Anyway, half of medieval Twitter complains about attempts to reach The Youths via the coconut horse hoof sound effect bit from Monty Python. Anyway. So far, no one complains about the Yoda wearing hot Vibram five-finger shoes.

 

Ye Olde Pokémon Starter
Worksop Bestiary, England c. 1185
NY, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.81, fol. 10v

Okay, about those red things: They’re berries. Medieval monks wouldn’t go out and actually look at a hedgehog. They’d blithely copy the folk story about hedgehogs rolling in grapes and berries to get them stuck on their spines. The hedgehog would then go to its family and give them fruit shish kebab. I give the original illustrator of this bestiary entry props for figuring out a way to color all of the berries in each row on the hedgehog’s back with one swipe of the brush. Excellent time management. Accurate observation of animal behavior? Not so much.

Takeaways
It’s a lot easier to relax when drawing these strange little characters. The simplicity of materials lends itself well to less detail, more emphasis on silhouette. If I were making a comic with only a quill and very limited paints, it would similarly look small and honest in nature, just like these marginalia. I found myself really empathizing with a lot of these centuries-old cartoons. No wonder people ran off to join monasteries and bookmaking guilds. I would, too, if it meant drawing cartoons all day.

Comics Tip

Do-It-Yourself Vellum Texture
Illuminated manuscripts have a particular ‘look’ to them, and the base of that look is the substrate onto which they are painted. This look can be quickly and effectively executed in a digital painting program by understanding the real media materials that the original artists used to create them. Originally, marginalia was painted onto stretched sheets of calf skin called ‘vellum’. These days, artists can digitally recreate the look of vellum, while omitting the expense and cruelty.

Scanning/Photographing
Take a trip to the local crafts store (or craft-re-use center) and pick up different papers. Lay them flat in the sunlight so your camera of choice can pick up all the wonderful, crunchy wrinkles. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got tissue paper, newsprint, copy paper, vellum (the paper kind, not the skin kind) even some fabrics — The texture is what you’re after so give a few things a try. Photograph them at different times of day and see how the color/texture of your paper changes. If you have a scanner, try that out as well, although the lighting will be different!

Tea-Staining
Making your own aged paper/vellum is a fun way to spend the afternoon. Get cheap black teabags and brew them, then slop them on top of the papers of your choice. They’ll immediately wrinkle, distress, and stain the paper in a lot of interesting ways. It’s almost like watercolor. If you want the paper to remain flat, try stretching it on a masonite board with watercolor tape. Otherwise, let it warp and wrinkle for extra textural interest. Photograph and scan this like you would a found texture.

Layering Digital Filters
Art programs can do a pretty good job mimicking real world textures. It’s often just a question of which filters and effects to apply. The ‘noise’ filter is a good place to start, and the ‘motion blur’ and ‘gaussian blur’ filters are a great polisher for any real-world texture. A little bit of hand-painting can also work wonders.

Stock Textures
Many stock photography sites have paper textures that look enough like vellum, they’ll do the trick in a digital application. For free ones, check out Pixabay.com and Wikimedia Commons. I have also created a free vellum stock texture here using scans and digital filter layering techniques. It is public domain for any desired use, even commercial. What sort of illuminations might be possible on this texture?

A free stock texture that looks like vellum, or medieval calf skin. This texture is public domain and may be used for anything!

Care to read more?

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v Fox DragonReynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don't tell me you're the harbinger of the Revelation. What...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it. What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?I wanted: To meet other graphic...

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

"I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words."-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye I've been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some...

Want to chat about this?