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?

Biscuit Mountain

Biscuit Mountain

This is a personal diary comic about one of many bike rides to this awesome breakfast place. Every time we go to this restaurant, my partner Devin claims he will not order the Biscuit Mountain. Every time we go, Devin orders the Biscuit Mountain. The denial is part of...

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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.

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.

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!

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 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?

Biscuit Mountain

Biscuit Mountain

This is a personal diary comic about one of many bike rides to this awesome breakfast place. Every time we go to this restaurant, my partner Devin claims he will not order the Biscuit Mountain. Every time we go, Devin orders the Biscuit Mountain. The denial is part of...

Want to chat about this?