Aesop’s Crow Fable Comic

Aesop’s Crow Fable Comic

During a Push/Pull Graphic Novel Workout zoom class I took with David Lasky and Greg Stump, I was challenged to tell an entire story using only two pages. In this ancient story, a thirsty crow must be clever and work hard to survive a harsh desert environment.

About Aesop
Yes, I know — if I fall into a research rabbit hole, I’ll never complete a comic. However, respecting the origins of this fable seemed like an interesting thing to do. Today we so often take these fables as always existing…something that just appeared, like magic, in our childhoods. Aesop was a real human being who used stories to gain favor from his fellow human beings, so I used his history as a pin to inspire the look of the overall comic.

This image from Aesop’s wikipedia article may or may not depict what Aesop actually looked like. Due to its easily editable nature, Wikipedia requires some double-checking, but the sources a Wikipedia article cites are always fairly solid. So, it’s okay to use Wikipedia as a starting point for research! I don’t have any plans for this short comic re: publication, so cursory research was fine for my purposes.

 


About the Setting
Aesop lived in ancient Greece, so I hunted for desert-like areas around that area and stumbled upon the island of Lemnos, Greece. It has lovely dunes, rocky outcroppings, and a fierce sun beating down. Perfect for dehydrating our crow-tagonist and forcing them to be clever. Maybe I’ll visit Lemnos someday!

 

About the Crow
Most people would opt for your standard black crow. I definitely have a fondness for the beaky fellows because a family of them sets up shop in my backyard every year. However, corvids come in a lot of shapes and sizes, so I looked into what sort of crow might be hanging out on a Greek desert island. I found the Greece-native Hooded Crow and felt like its duotone aesthetic was quite nice. The dramatic shifts in tone across its feathers look sort of like the lekythos’s design.

Also interesting: Crows actually do drop pebbles into water to raise the level of it! They are clever problem-solvers. Even back in ~600BCE (Aesop’s time), people were making accurate observations of nature that still hold up today. Perhaps I should do a followup comic of Aesop grumpily discarding all the pebbles a crow put into his lekythos.

 

About the Jar
I could have just grabbed an amphora and been done with it, but I needed something that could stand upright on its own so that the crow could interact with it more. I trawled the Smithsonian Open Access collection and came across this lekythos. A little bit of simplification on the design so it wouldn’t overpower our crow, and there we go! A period-appropriate pottery prop. Aesop himself might have touched one of these.

More photographs of this piece from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) can be seen here. You’re welcome for the giant, sprawling rabbit hole that the site is!

 

 

 

Comics Tip

Use Stories with Expired Copyright to Jumpstart Your Comics Portfolio
Say you’re not a writer. All you want to do is draw. You could hunt down someone to write a story for you, or you could wait for scraps of scripts from friends or writer’s blogs. But what if I told you, there’s a place where all the greatest works of literature from the past have been carefully digitized and proofread as ebooks…entirely for free? And which can be adapted as comics, even comics that can be sold?

Check out Project Gutenberg!

Works you might recognize that have expired copyright:
The Wizard of Oz series
The Odyssey
The Works of Mark Twain*

Project Gutenberg even has a ‘random’ button that will fetch you a surprise work from their vast selection. Get cultured!

*Twain reportedly fought for perpetual copyright extensions, so this one is pretty ironic.

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Moebius Study Comic

Moebius Study Comic

This page is an exploration into not only the style of Jean Giraud (aka ‘Moebius’), but also my own personal style. At the time, I was looking for ways to pare down the amount of work per comic page. I defined aspects of my style to rely less on painterly polishing and more on reaching a state of ‘complete’ in a quantifiable way. During the coloring of this piece I looked into flatting colors instead of placing them on top of a gradient mapped grayscale painting. I realized that I preferred having more manual control over my colors so that I could push the emotional aspect of colors more, over the ‘realistic’ aspects. My first attempts at defining my own comic style was deeply work-intensive (see below).

 

Let’s see…Overwhelming noise, textures, weird human facial features, colors all over the place,
takes forever to paint…Not to forget the hilarious mispelling of my old homepage url in the corner…
Yeah, let’s not do this anymore! Let’s get simple!

 

Not only will simplifying my style help me produce a long-form comic in the first place, but it will also be easier to pull off last-minute revisions at the end. I developed this new style on this piece during a Zoom class offered by Push/Pull Seattle.

Art software: Photoshop
Lettering software: InDesign
Typeface: Cloudsplitter by Blambot; hand-lettering by me

Comics Tip

Want to examine another comic creator’s style? Here are some small aspects to look out for when analyzing a comic aesthetic. They may seem like superfluous details, but they all add up in a big way.

Layout
How thick are the panel borders? How thin are the borders of speech bubbles and narration blocs? How big are the gutters? The margins? The margins inside of text holding elements? Is text allowed to break the grid? Is artwork allowed to break the grid? I’ve been using rather thick outlines for the panels so that readers notice my layout and where my layout gets broken, but I may experiment with thinner outlines.

Line weight
Does the artist use thin lines? Big, chunky lines? Closed lines? Open lines? No lines at all? I picked up a technique from Moebius of uniformly thin, closed lineart, so that I could quickly and easily fill tool my flat colors underneath. My lines are set at 5px for 1200dpi fidelity.

 

Color Scheme
Does the artist carefully balance their colors for maximum impact? Or, are they a rampaging, zine-spewing punk who slap down whatever’s on hand? As I find harmonious color schemes easier to apply, I usually head to paletton.com to restrict the colors I’m using upfront.

 

Shading
Does the artist use spot black to shade with sharp, dark shadows? Do they use animation-like cel shading? Do they use soft shading? Do they use no shading at all? Do they use a combination of techniques? If so, where do they apply each technique? I leave most of my colors flat, but use a combination of cel- and soft shading on areas of focus.

 

Every drawing style trend is fleeting, so none of them truly go out of style forever. Don’t feel shy about analyzing your favorite comics styles, even if they’re guilty pleasures. Fear neither bean mouth nor sparkly eyes criticism. Whatever keeps you drawing is the best style for you!

Draw However You Want!
And respect your inspirations!

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Bear Berries: A COVID Comic

Bear Berries: A COVID Comic

Way back in March of 2020, we were just still getting used to wearing masks in public spaces. My partner Devin and I wore matching cat masks made by his mother to the local supermarket by the lake. The cashier offered us a silly conversation so I decided to immortalize it in comic form. Sometimes a person is very cute and funny for no other reason than to be human…or was he a bear, like, for real?!

I imagine most stories from the lost year of 2020 will not be very amusing. It was a year of quiet, sweeping change. My focus on levity here is to give the reader a quick respite before they must go about their day.

Art software: Photoshop
Lettering software: InDesign
Typeface: Cloudsplitter by Blambot; hand-lettering by me

Comics Tip

Have you ever had this situation? Lots of fussy objects in the same composition, each requiring its own specific color, but it doesn’t really matter which color? Manually picking different colors annoys me, so I messed with the brush settings in Adobe Photoshop.

Color Dynamics
There’s this Brush Setting in Adobe Photoshop called ‘Color Dynamics’ and if configured as seen above, the brush will choose different colors based on my current foreground color per every press of the stylus. For my own use, I keep the amount of brightness and saturation jitters pretty low, and turn hue jitter completely off. This means every time I lift the brush, and tap it back on the screen, I get a slightly different color — pretty much within the range of what I want, but I exercised zero brain power to get it. And if I don’t like the color, all I have to do is lift the stylus and press it back down for a different one. That’s how I blow through hundreds of not-very-important objects that still need their own color identities. Thanks, computer!

 

“What’s a Foreground Color?”
I’m glad you asked. It’s the color represented by the box in front, and the color that reliably comes out of your brush when Color Dynamics aren’t active. If you check ‘Foreground/Background’ jitter in the Color Dynamics menu, your brush will randomly select colors in between the two colors defined here.

 


If you’d like to try Color Dynamics for yourself on the same panel I did, or create your own strategies for dealing with situations like this, feel free to grab this Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) coloring panel and pop it into the coloring program of your choice. I’d love to see what you do!

 

Bonus chaos
Try ticking ‘Apply Per Tip’…I dare you…

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Vegetable Lamb of Tartary Illustration

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary Illustration

This is the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, otherwise known as the Barometz plant. It is an outstanding example of how information warps when delivered in unreliable ways, resulting in a genuine medieval-ish cryptid. This creature was inspired by two real plants, the first* of which was:

Cotton (Gossypium)

The plant was said to sprout lambs as though they were fruits. The lambs were connected to the plant by an umbilical-cord like stem, and could only eat the surrounding vegetation. After it ate everything it could reach, the lamb-fruit would die. I will also point out that medieval bestiary designers would often include cryptids in their books as religious metaphors, rather than strictly accurate scientific observations.

Even after Europeans became clearly aware of cotton, they still heard tales of a plant that sprouted from the body of a lamb. The second* plant to be mixed into this cryptid’s lore was the Woolly Fern. The rhizome that allows this fern to grow looks vaguely like a sheep, I suppose. I could imagine a situation where a European traveler in Central Asia would be taken aside by a friendly stranger and showed a funny little sheep doll, this Barometz, which would sprout into:

Wooly Fern (Cibotium barometz)
See the ‘wool’ between the stems?

Depending on who spoke of the legend, where, and when, the plant either fruited with sheep, or it grew out of a sheep-fruit. That inspired my composition to show a sheep fruiting itself from…itself! The legend fed into itself that way. Sometimes a creature is most real via hearsay, and that’s where it exists forever.

*’First’ and ‘second’ do not refer to anything chronological in terms of the legends surrounding this cryptic. I only used them within the context of presenting one plant at a time as a blog post.

Comics Tip

Preserving Textures in Photoshop with Masking
Say you want to forego the tedious experience of manually applying gold leaf to a page, or painting it on. Digital art is great for this and using Masking in Photoshop lowers the stakes even more.

To get started, bring a gold leaf texture into Photoshop on its own layer. This texture’s from pixabay.com, a great Creative Commons resource for art assets. Make sure the layer is selected, then look at the bottom of your Layers menu.

 

 

The buttons at the bottom of your menu look like this.
Click this button while your texture layer is selected.

 

The button applies a ‘mask’ to the layer, represented by the white box. The corner reticules mean all drawing will be done on the mask, rather than the texture underneath the mask.

While your Masking layer is selected, the colors on your Brush palette will change to black and white.

Black acts like an ‘eraser’ on the Masking layer. But, it’s not exactly the same as the Eraser tool, because the texture underneath the Masking layer is preserved, just hidden.

White ‘restores’ whatever you masked with black!

If you select your texture, your color palette goes back to whatever it was prior to selecting the masking layer. You can then manipulate the texture under the mask.

Try it out!

You can apply a texture of your own and mask it onto this coloring page that I’m providing under Attribution Noncommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0).

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