Aesop’s Crow Fable Comic

Aesop’s Crow Fable Comic

A two-page, full-spread comic that encompasses the entirety of Aesop's crow fable. Panel 1: This panel stretches across both pages. On the left page the crow flies. On the right page, the sun bears down. Panel 2: The crow sweats, mid-flight. Panel 3: The crow notices something below! An exclamation point is over his head. Panel 3: The desert island landscape offers up but a single, black-red-and-white lekythos jar. Panel 4: The crow alights the jar. Panel 5: The crow peers into the jar. Panel 6: Closeup of the crow's eye, seen through the jar's round hole. Panel 7: A divider bearing the pattern of the lekythos. Panel 8: A cut-out panel where the crow wobbles the jar back and forth in an effort to get the water inside. Panel 9: The crow appears to be looking at a skeleton nearby... Panel 10: The crow was actually looking at the pebbles around the skeleton. It picks one up. Panel 11: The crow drops the pebble in. Panels 12-15: The crow continues depositing pebbles in the jar until the sun goes down. Panel 16: The crow finally tastes the sweet liquid within the jar! Panel 17: The crow guzzles it like a fool. Panel 18: It's possible that the liquid inside of the jar wasn't water at all, as the crow drunkenly sings into the night.

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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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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