Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Digital art of a caterpillar suspended upside down, beginning to pupate. The style is cel-shaded with delicate, thin lineart and naturalistic (but not entirely accurate) proportions and details.  The caterpillar's body appears stuffed full like a sausage, to the point that the chrysalis inside seems to have popped the body's seam along the head. The caterpillar's antennae dangle limp from the sides of is head, its feet appear to be deflating, and its butt is scrunched up like a dirty sock. It's like the body is going to slip off the shell. You're welcome! Watermark at the bottom: http://hmcgill.art.

Cocoon Year: Finding the Character in Objects

Writing progress became confused, dismal. I figured something out between the way I approach problems and the way my spouse approaches problems. When we play a puzzle game called Picross together, we often mess up the puzzle and have to backtrack to solve it. My spouse will carefully walk it back, check all the options, and sometimes fudge things around a little bit. I wish Picross was that easy for me.

No, no. My way of solving problems? Throw it all out.

Start again.

Reset that Picross puzzle, look at step one from a clear board.

It’s a strategy I can’t always take. Social situations, for instance, rarely get a reset. But it does feel very good to look at the beginning again, especially if it’s not turning into something coherent.

At least with writing, I’m working with a backlog of character development tumbling in the back of my mind — I have better ideas about what they want, what sorts of things hold them back in interesting ways, and can be less depressing while writing as a result. The main thing missing from this most recent draft was a solid awareness of Cleric Stone as a character. As I was writing and all the plot threads tangled up like spaghetti noodles, I realized he needed an even simpler story, one about how Cleric Stone transcends worlds, and why he might personally need those other worlds.

So, I reviewed my hoard of visual reference. I think Stone definitely could be a materialistic character, not in a bad way, but in a way that makes the comic persuade readers that the setting is actually gorgeous. For this accountability update I’ve decided to share my favorite visual reference I’ve collected over the years and what they might add to this character and his story. 

For the purposes of this blog, I don’t have precise dates on everything, nor can I remember where I took some of these photos. I hope that readers will forgive me forgoing the academic aspects of recording these objects in favor of writing descriptively and accessibly instead. I only had enough time and energy for one or the other. Besides, many of these photos are from museums and books and can be safely researched there. I took all of these photos myself, not that they’re great photos, but just to be clear I’m not in the business of yoinking other people’s hard work and putting it on my blog without permission.

Photograph of a photograph in an old, black and white book of many medieval keys. They are all hand-crafted in alien shapes compared to modern keys. Moire dots are visible in the printing.

First off: Keys! I researched locks and keys for a recent anthology submission. Keys from the Merovingian/Gothic time period look so crude, and yet, obviously they worked. My biggest question, though, is always whether the keys started out looking so bent and worn, or if it’s aging or mistreatment that causes them to, for lack of a better word, droop? They almost all look like they were crushed under a wagon wheel.

This photograph is from a very old book that claimed one of the first ‘locks’ ever invented was live crocodiles surrounding a chest in India, so honestly I have a hard time taking that book seriously. (Of course there were zero citations for this crocodile lock thing, you don’t even need to ask.)

Photograph of a small, delightful medieval iron key mounted on white fabric. The key is handmade and highly decorative. The ring of the key has an abstract bent to it, with three small floral knobs, arrow scratch marks, and a 'handle' for a small hand to grab. This hand forms an 'arm' that turns into the blade of the key. This disembodied, gripping arm has holds in a dangling sleeve that resemble branches and flowers.

Here’s a medieval key I had the pleasure of seeing in person at a museum, and see? It’s not all droopy like the other keys. Maybe a little droopy. Clearly handmade, but made with care. I just love that the blade of the key is a little arm with a hand that grips the ring.

Photograph of a reliquary designed to hold the arm bones of a saint. This reliquary was made with silver. It depicts a hand reacing upwards with two fingers and thumb pointing up, and the pinkie and ring finger pointing down. A cloth sleeve has been fashioned around the wrist, followed by a bigger sleeve covered with spiraling latticework. A large clear round cabochon is embedded in the sleeve. Overall the effect is like a robot arm.

Seeing this reliquary, that contains a saint’s arm bones, in conjunction with the above key has me wondering about the significance of a disembodied arm. Would a monastery, in possession of an important pilgrimage artifact, have been cheeky enough to commission keys shaped like their featured reliquary? 

Also love that I can see the seams on the hand, where the metal was bolted together. I wonder if they constructed this around the bones themselves or if they slotted the bones in and sealed it up afterward. Honestly, pretty amazing technical work overall.

Photograph of an ivory chess piece. This depicts the queen in some sort of vehicle that appears to be half coliseum and half bathtub. Perhaps she is out to smite her enemies. There's a bloomy lighting effect over the image that might just be from finger oil on the camera lens.

This might be from later than the 12th century but I do love the idea of a ‘battle tub’ that a queen might ride into a warzone to slay her foes. How relaxing!

More seriously, though, that carving is incredible. Her face looks so lifelike.

Photograph of a heavily-inscribed, metal object on display. Unfortunately I don't know what this object is. I took the photo and chose to display it here because of the cool geometric patterns set in a strict grid of four panels with decorated gutters running through.

I’m not sure what this is, it might be an iron piece for decorating a doorway? I really love the roughness of it, whatever it is. The grid with four panels is so clearly planned, and the symbols inside are very deliberate. I also spotted a psuedo-hexafoil on  this down there in the lower right panel. I thought this was European when I found it in my files, because the decorations look a lot like the decorations on their jeweled books and other media.

Photograph of a serving bowl with seven hexagonal indentations. Every surface is decorated with some sort of floral pattern, except for four of the indentations, which each features a fantastical, stylized bird. The whole bowl is done in earthy terracotta paints on white clay, although it's unknown if the coloration was that way when the bowl was first painted. The pigments were over 800 years old so they may have aged.

I was really enchanted by this platter. A nice storage container for sorting different objects, maybe coins, jewelry, pigments, or fruits. In particular the aesthetic of there being mathematically gridded panels and each panel absolutely covered in some motif — love to see it. Want to work that into comic panels.

Photograph of a museum display featuring a metal eucharist holder fashioned in the shape of a dove, overlooking a book with a fancy gold, jeweled cover. The eucharist holder was the point of the photograph so it will be described more. It's a fairly lifelike dove, though a little stiff, fashioned with gold and painted with bright colorful patterns. The bird stands upright in a flat dish suspended by chains. Those participating in communion would grab wafers from underneath the dove.

One of my favorite finds! The metal bird is a eucharist platter. It would have little wafers at the feet, and be offered to worshipers. Someday there is definitely a scene somewhere in Warlock’d where Margo must hide behind one of these. Somewhere…even if it’s just my dreams.

The other stuff in the picture are incidental, but props to the museum display artists for creating such a cool display. It wasn’t even behind glass so I got to snap photos of this bird from all angles (not shown here).

Photograph of the top of a staff. This is some incredible crystal carving -- it almost looks modern for how smooth and precise it is. The carving depicts a great big decorative leaf curling in on itself. The crystal is clean and clear, and it looks like glass or ice.

Now, crystal work was a big surprise for me during this museum visit. I’d never even considered it. I think this is 13th or 14th century, but the material was so interesting I just had to take a shot. That doesn’t look handmade at all! It’s so clean and clear.

Photograph of a peculiar round cylinder made of crystal, supported by a gold aparratus that looks sort of like a desk or a table. It's hard to describe but if I was asked I would never guess this was from the 12th century. It looks like a Victorian object!

I didn’t do much doublechecking of dates on most of these photos, but on this one I definitely checked it. This is a 12th century container made of crystal. My jaw dropped. It looks so modern. I also have no idea what this is used for, but in context of my story it could host all sorts of entities. This would be such a cool way to create a medieval demon Tamagotchi.

What? “Medieval demon Tamagotchi” is the best possible way to describe the concept I have in mind. I don’t think there is a clearer way to pitch it. It might not make it into this draft either, but, oh, I have plans.

Photograph of two lead pilgrim badges mounted on a fabric backing. The lead is so old it is corroded and black. The pilgrim badges depict a stylized adventuring man as well as a masked mummer who appears to be crucifying Jesus, but, citation needed on that, I don't actually remember what these depict.

Pilgrim badges! These were a plot point in a previous draft. They may be a plot point in a future story but they don’t fit into the simpler story I’m working on now. My favorite thing is that weird sun-face mask. Absolutely must adopt that imagery somewhere.

Photograph of a small golden rectangular object that may be cloisonné at first glance but it could also be painted gold. I can't tell. The painting depicts two birdlike dragons, one with blue wings and one with green wings, facing off.

There’s horse girls, sports girls, gamer girls, and… of course…dragon girls.

I will always be a dragon girl.

Photograph of a closeup of some object -- I can't remember what object it is -- but I was enchanted by the borders upon borders of metalwork. There is a small human figure at the bottom, surrounded by either painted gold or cloisonné of plant forms, with a big round clear cabochon sun. The next border looks like belt buckles between floral engraving The border on the outside has thin abstract lines engraved in it, depicting scenes from another world.

Okay so this is what I mean by borders and patterns being a whole thing. Would love to have some layered effects like this in my comics, gem included. I just need a good story reason why some panels might look like this. Hmm!

Photograph of a rare depiction of a building. I can never find any medieval art of architecture so this really stood out to me. The building is a fortress with three towers and detailed, engraved brickwork. If I had to guess the metal used for this piece I might say iron. Inscrutable Latin lettering is inscribed in the base of the castle.

This stood out to me as very weird because most medieval representative artwork omits architecture. To be fair, my inner baby artist agrees, nobody likes drawing buildings. I still wish there were more representations of old buildings that aren’t around anymore. It’s sad that they didn’t get recorded. I guess most people just figured, if you want to go look at the building, go look at it right there.

I mean, buildings are tough to draw. They’re not organic beings and it’s not like perspective was a common theory around that time either.

Photograph of old medieval stonework strewn about a garden. The garden is small but busy, with short green plants, orange flowers, and maroon-leafed plants. Behind the garden, modern-day Paris bustles about. The stonework is covered with mosses. It's a sunny day during summer.

Now this was from Paris, where I just looked at the old buildings that were right there. Love this aesthetic but I have to keep in mind, these weren’t moss-covered rubble back in the day. They had form and function.

Photograph of the remains of medieval stonework that was not dated, but it definitely looks gothic to me. Only a little bit is left over, and it's been bolted to the wall of the cathedral. Vines grow playfully at its base.

Also enjoyed seeing the remains of what’s clearly Gothic architecture, although I have no idea if this was part of a revival or not. Mostly into those geometric floral shapes at the top being so delicate but obviously holding something big up at one time.

Photograph from a cathedral interior depicting various wildly-painted surfaces, up closely-packed columns all layered on top of each other. From left to right: There is a white column with delicate red and green vertical zigzag lines. A red column has a border with repeating checkerboard floral motifs, in red and green on a black stripe with white borders. The next column is very very thin and features drooping leaves on red fines, all on a gold background. The next column is forest green with horizontal zig-zag stripes, alternating between white and gold. A thin red column with a gold vertical stripe down the middle is next. There is one more white column with evenly-dispersed red crosses on it. The final column looks just like the first one. I just liked these patterns all being in such close proximity to each other.

Okay! Now this, this is peak panel inspiration. Really enjoy the different patterns coexisting like this. I understand this is probably a restoration or recreation, but it looks so much like illuminated manuscript  borders that I think it would be safe to incorporate into my comic without being too misleading. 

I also really enjoyed this flat, horizontal treatment on the walls. It does look very machined and perfect. Probably the closest thing I could compare it to is the Arts and Crafts movement in America and how it co-opted illuminated manuscript motifs, but this was in Paris, so, who knows. This is giving me some very big and very scary ideas for Warlock’d’s web design layout. These are all repeating tiles so it would work out for sure.

A larger shot I took with more focus on the painted ‘bricks’ than on the red wall. This was a very dim photo so I had to lacerate its contrast in photoshop, and I think the cracks are a lot more apparent in the photo than they are in real life.

Finally…Again, don’t care that this is probably historical reconstruction…Look at all those vivid patterns and colors coexisting. Being in here felt like being inside of an illuminated manuscript. It’s kind of interesting how the different aesthetics crossed from books, to jewelery, to buildings. It’s like there was a universal cultural aesthetic that everyone wanted to push.

Having gone through all of these I think I’m ready to make another outline, and make it something I actually want to write. I should look at my visual reference folder more often. There’s so much stuff in there, and it reminds me of why I like this setting and these characters. I’ve come to the conclusion that Stone, while following the local culture, is also more worldly and aware of different ‘worlds’ than other people. So this will give him depth and power.

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Digital art of a big, fat monarch butterfly caterpillar. It's covered in a cacophony of black, peach, and white stripes. It has big black feelers on its head and fake feelers on its butt. The remains of leaves that it has demolished in its everpresent hunger are scattered around where it steps.

Cocoon Year: A New Start
I keep saying I’m not going to restart the outline, but I wasn’t having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that’s a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.

 

Cocoon Week 21

I wrote things. Mostly, I went deep into Stone’s relationship with a new character named Jean. From the most recent discarded draft, I rescued an opening sequence where clerics in 1191 AD discuss that Christians believed the world would end in 1000 AD. I want to portray medieval people as being capable of skepticism. Without knowing any better, I’d say pop cultural belief that they were all unerringly and unquestioningly religious has roots in Victorian misconceptions at best and fascist propaganda at worst. I don’t think there has ever been a time where all humans in a given area have stringently and similarly believed the same things. In other words, ‘everybody was good and Christian in medieval times’ is not really a thing. I know that clerics would often express skepticism although this is a creative process blog so I’m not obligated to cite a particular thing.

I’m trying a new technique where I’ve defined the finish line as 125 pages of script. Screenplays are a lot lighter than prose, and 125 pages is the given length for a 90-minute movie. Since graphic novels are a little bit like movies, and I err towards cinematography rather than literature in mine, the screenplay length makes sense to me. It’s also not something I’ve tried before so the novelty helps keep me focused for the time being. I went through and added pages and page breaks for specific scenes I have in mind. I am also checking a cozy mystery beat sheet and hoping that the connections I’m seeing aren’t just like, when someone randomly overlays a Fibonacci spiral on top of random images to ‘prove’ that spirals are everywhere in art and in nature.

Digital diagram of a golden spiral confusingly laid on top of a photograph of a spiral staircase. The spirals do not match up. The proportions are outlined via number and graph lines, but this still doesn't make any sense, nor is it supposed to make sense.  Photograph by: https://pixabay.com/photos/gaiazoo-spiral-staircase-kerkrade-7844381/ Fibonacci spiral diagram by: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_spiral#/media/File:Fibonacci_Spiral.svg

Legend has it, if you stick a Fibonacci spiral on top of any image, the image becomes well-composed. (This is sarcasm.)

Maybe beat sheets are more like for beginners and once I have a better grasp on how to write well, I can remix them more effectively. That’s also how a lot of compositional rules work.

Already I’m seeing a lot more flexibility as I move chunks of script around. Trello should be more apt for this, right? Well, not really. Trello was probably just making the plots more detailed than they needed to be. Or, they just don’t work with my writing explorations, which are probably also part of my process as well. I’m sure plenty of writers have piles of pages they used to get to know the characters behind their stories. I know I am kind of annoyed when I see someone’s first draft and it’s clear that they haven’t explored anything outside of hitting outline beats. It’s also quite possible that my previous strategy of using Trello is no longer novel so now I’m grasping for reasons why I shouldn’t use it anymore. It’s still possible I might return to Trello or even real physical notecards but that technique would need some sharper rules to keep the scene count from ballooning out of control.

I started doing the final colors on my Troubled Histories anthology. This means taking flats and adding highlights and shadows. I’ve erred towards a lighter touch since these pages will be quite small, chapter-book sized. Overworking images or having too much shading and highlights can make otherwise simple imagery confusing. Having simplified my color selection and shading process helps make these a breeze, so long as I’ve flatted the panel correctly.

Lineart of a king in a throne room toasting a groveling peasant. The lines are thin. There are two other images of process, and the final image will more completely describe what is going on in this comic panel.

Lines. The color was actually added to the lines after I figured out the highlights and shadows, but I’m too lazy to show this in the image itself.

Flatted colors of the above lineart. It's mostly reds and golds, with blue for the focal point of the king. Full description of image is in the version below.

Flats, with some flats acting as highlights and shadows.

Fully-colored and detailed comic panel made with digital art. The style is cel-shaded with special attention to points of interest, and allowance of colors to sit flat with no shading in areas where there shouldn't be much interest. Overall, the panel is very threatening and red in color, with gold accents. A king sits on a throne in a blue cape. He toasts a groveling peasant with a golden chalice in his royal hand. The king is surrounded by helmeted, cloaked knights in crimson capes. This all takes place in a throne room lavishly decorated with red curtains, a podium decorated with paintings and gold leaf, a fancy throne with dragons on the arm rests, and marble tiles in a checkerboard pattern for flooring.

And now I get to define shapes and pull the panel out of ‘flat’ land.

Once coloring is done, the lettering finalization will take place. I am languishing on this project and would like to focus on other things (…Warlock’d…) so I am not feeling anything super fancy or experimental on the letters. This will be a completely normal comic which is fine.

One other thing about this week is that my spouse, in pursuit of mental health, popped open Unity and started doing some hobby-level game dev. I’ve been mildly obsessing over pixel art in my off time so I decided to give him little ‘treats’ in the form of pixel art that he can program to do silly things. We both enjoy games where characters change visually so I’m experimenting with a pixel ‘doll’ that can be dressed up as it goes on an adventure.

Digital pixel art of a naked, doll-like character. It is so simplified it doesn't even have eyes or a mouth, or a bellybutton. The art is intended to be seen at 32 by 32 pixels, but has been enlarged to three times the size so as not to be actually tiny on a webpage.

Nakey 32×32 adventures!

Cocoon Week 22

Digital art of a 12th century lock found on a church at one point in time. This square bronze lock has clearly seen wear and tear, but originally it was an ornately crafted piece with animals entwined in detailed bronzework. It has an enormous crude keyhole in the middle. Dragon heads sprout from its corners. The lock has been posed on a checkerboard-like pattern that alternates between different shades of maroon.

It’s complete! My Troubled Histories anthology entry, ‘We Need to Talk About Locks’ is done. I submitted it this week to remove it from my plate. It helped me refresh my experience with the gaudy Warlock’d palette and how to keep it under control, as well as where and when to expand it. I’m looking forward to seeing this in print although I do wish I’d had more passion for it.

Screenshot of a color palette organized around four bold bands of orangeish red, goldenrod, ultramarine blue, and a very pale, almost neon, seafoam green. There are sixteen other colors gathered around these four main colors, in various shades of darkness, lightness, and saturation. An unimportant hex code remains on the red band from where the cursor was hovering as I took the screenshot.

This is the palette! It’s based on jewel tones used in medieval art. They liked colors. They weren’t sad gray people shuffling around dingy brown cities.

Warlock’d is going interestingly. I’m really slowing down on scenes and letting the writing chew the scenery. Readers can learn more than one thing about a character at a time. Not all of it is important. I can waste people’s time a little bit. I want to give them the sensation of hanging out with a character and really getting to know them, perhaps being fond of them. My points of escalation have also, for lack of a better term, de-escalated, into smaller steps that are more easily portrayed by this little setting. This isn’t an epic fantasy where you need to know a lot about the setting. I’m also trying to be less snarky and more earnest. The humor ought to come from characters remarking on their situations, not from me making fun of weird medieval things.

One thing I’m doing is porting around bits of writing to different sections helter-skelter. If something feels like it should be revealed earlier, then I move it up earlier. Scenes where I don’t quite know what’s going to happen yet become pages with page breaks for later. So far I am sitting at 28/125 pages in my count and hope to make every page count towards the whole. This story may feel ‘slow’ as a result — maybe that’s fine. If I can keep scenes mostly familiar and only introduce some esoteric thing every few scenes that might be better for readers.

I was reading a draft of Idolon, the next story in my Amphiox world, and really hated how many new things I onboarded and explained. I think there’s also something to be said for presenting something without explanation as a ‘well what’s that thing’ and then explaining it later when it’s actually important. But. I do need to write Warlock’d and not Idolon.

So far Margot is a lot funnier as a living character so I hope that her death (and subsequent resurrection as a lost soul) is more interesting as a result. Currently it feels like the antagonistic church forces act too quickly for Stone to work alongside them willingly.

I have also decided that Stone is a burgher whose wealth comes from the gold trade — both selling and crafting. In other stories his status was frequently up in the air — was he an official demonologist? Aligned with the church? Outcast? A random ‘lay cleric’? The way southern kingdoms interacted with northern kingdoms in Europe was through trade. I’ve settled on gold as something that people would immediately recognize as a special part of medieval culture, and that would lend itself to Stone’s background, wealth, and power.

Most people think of medieval caste society as two castes. Royals and not-royals. Looking into this via Wikipedia (bless all wikipedia historians), the society was more formally recognized as three different worlds, that of laborers, royalty, and clergy. Clergy sort of had a subdivision between noble clergy (from the royal world) and lay clergy (from the laborer world). Then, burghers and craftsmen were experiencing more privilege during a mini-renaissance than other times, so this seemed like a good spot for Stone. He only gets pulled into the religious esoterica on behalf of his friend, Jean. The story transforms Stone into a private detective who isn’t beholden to the crown or to the cross. This sounds good to me so far. Who knows if it will change later, but it’s nice to have specifics.

Concerning Lebeau…They’re gone. This poor knight is now sequel fodder. Rest well, my dear enby knight.

In their place is a quasi-love interest and plot macguffin of a character who currently goes by the name of ‘Jean’, pending a name change. Jean is Stone’s close friend. In my head they have an extremely romantic relationship full of physical and verbal affection. Stone, however, is a very private person and would likely not have much in the way of sexual impulses, much less act out on them. So yes, clearly and openly gay, but due to character personalities and situations and medieval people in general being quite affectionate with each other, not a typical romantic relationship concerning sex. I’m really hoping no one misinterprets this as being sex-negative because I’m not, I just find it easier to make Stone asexual. I can understand a lack of interest in sex for oneself. Happy Pride month next week, I guess.

Jean himself seems to be a lay scholar who aspires to the Benedictine order as a monk. He is able to afford a Parisian education, so something in his background out to align with that. He and Stone met as scholars and became friends. That’s all I know about Jean so far. I made an ill-fated foray into researching what people might find sexy about tonsures on Bluesky and found a whole lot of bald thirst. I get what I deserve.

I feel like I need to keep up writing the draft until it is done so that another random direction doesn’t pull me elsewhere. Perfection is a fascist’s tool for keeping control, after all.

Game dev with my spouse has continued. I am having fun chewing on the problem of how to make tiling textures with organic edges. I wish writing problems were this interesting to me. I guess the more I learn the more interesting those problems will seem.

Screenshot of pixel art depicting a forest composed of neatly interlocking 32 by 32 pixel tiles. The trees are in all shapes and sizes and very organic, utilizing a manual anti-aliasing technique. They are a very understated shade of green, almost gray.

To Do Next Week:

  1. Writing!!!
  2. Web design for Codex Apis (short comics collection) (Didn’t get around to this)
  3. Or, web design for Warlock’d? Still haven’t gotten around to it. It still feels so far off!
  4. More pixel art for my beloved

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

Digital art of a small monarch butterfly caterpillar creeping up a milkweed leaf and eating it as it goes. The style of the art is crisp thin outlines with cel shading. The caterpillar is peach with black rings around its body, a black face with shiny eyes, and little bitty nubs for antennae. The milkweed leaf is rendered with seafoam/aqua tones. The watermark on the image reads: 'http://hmcgill.art'.

Cocoon Year: April Summary
These weeks, frankly, saw a loss of focus, some deep questioning of what I’m doing, before ultimately returning to progress as normal.

 

 

Cocoon Week 15

My Troubled History anthology submission continues through the sketch and lineart stage. Since some of my roughs have to be done on iPad, sometimes I’ll take a panel to lineart before everything else is roughed. This also forces me to make decisions and keep to those decisions. No walking anything back.

Screenshot of a page during the 'blorp art' stage. If you squint, you can see what looks like a lopsided key in the top panel, and a doodle of a prison from beyond the barbed wire fence in the bottom panel.

This page in particular went through some interesting changes from the ‘blorp art’ stage. At first I envisioned art that strictly referenced a front-on photograph of Washington State prison online. This would have allowed me to very accurately depict a prison compound and not have to invent anything about it. However, I had some concerns over copyright and what this prison actually looks like. Many photographs of this place don’t look the same as each other.

Sketch of a two-panel comic page. The top panel has a modern housekey drawn more competently, with ridges and details. The bottom panel's prison sketch is more refined than prior, but still lacking in interesting qualities. It just looks boring. Too many horizontal and vertical lines.

I didn’t quite get the sense that I was referencing the photo correctly here. Neither did the composition say much other than: Prison. Barbed wire between viewer and prison. My initial idea was to use a very subtle 3-pt perspective grid to make this slightly more interesting. As I played with the grid tool something else emerged.

An even more refined version of the page above. The key has been properly outlined with clean lineart. The prison, meanwhile, has sketchy structural lines putting the viewer far below the prison and a large barbed wire fence, looking up at the institution's imposing stature.

The new layout makes the place look more imposing, and it lends a Z-shape to the imagery within the panel. As a comics layout artist I’m always looking for subtle paths to lead the eye to the next bit of text. I don’t do the typical Sunday Funnies layouts where text appears in the same place every panel. So, I need to hunt for angles that play into the order that people read things. I love to load up my illustrations with luscious detail but that doesn’t matter if the reader can’t find their way to the next bit of text.

Finally I let the barbed wire form a barrier between the reader and the prison. I think popping out elements of an illustration from a panel really sets off the mood for this page’s concept and manner.

How the page is currently looking with complete lineart: Both panels have crisp, thin lineart, ready for coloring. The barbed wire fence cuts through the entire bottom 1/3rd of the page and extends into the bleeds.

At the moment an earlier draft of my story is still percolating on the editor’s desk over at the Sequential Artists’ Workshop, but I feel confident about the story and art. Hopefully nothing needs changing.

I wrote some fast drafts of Warlock’d alongside all this, but nothing felt like it was ready to go. It’s a lot easier for me to edit than to produce so often I just have to shrug and trust myself to return with more wits about me.

Cocoon Week 16

Digital art of a barn swallow character named Margo perched in the dirt. The style is thin, delicate black lineart with cel shading that follows a clear light source. Being a barn swallow, Margo is deep  blue with semi-iridescent feathers, and orange patches on top of her head, around her throat, and along one wing wrist. Her feet are blue and her cream belly is largely hidden by the wings and feathers folded along her back. Margo has a cartoony, overly grumpy expression. Her black beak is set in a deep frown. The inner yellow skin of her mouth is slightly revealed as she croaks the word

Lately I’ve been depressed that I’ve had nothing to show online for Warlock’d, even though I have all this media that I can’t share. So, I drew Margo and patterned her after ‘Lying Cat’ from Saga. She’s so grumpy about crimes! People seem to think she is instead committing crimes, instead of investigating them. I’m not sure how much trouble a barn swallow can cause but this is Margo we’re talking about. She’ll find a way.

Margo is based on several conflating ideas: That the human soul is shaped like a bird, that demons can take on different forms, that demons are aerial in nature, that the souls of the dead can become demonic, or even that a demon can be shaped for a specific task by unnameable universal forces.

Also… … … talking birb! It funny when birb mad.

Writing is the aspect to this project for which I have the least confidence. I used to write a lot of character studies as a roleplaying teen but lining up events for a plot is no joke. Writing alone is also very different from writing with a partner or a group. A lot of times ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ characters need to be deliberately toned down for games because there are still social contracts in play; players need to feel safe from negative social consequences. The immediate feedback of a writing game is a huge pleasure and bestows the same benefits of just hanging out with friends.

Writing alone is…writing alone. You know? Just by yourself with no feedback. Also, it is difficult to get over the hurdle of making sure your characters are always following correct social contracts — a character who gets along well in a dressing room game or a play-by-post forum is actually a boring character in a book or other form of media. Since the reader doesn’t have a stake in the story, or a character of their own to bob back at the writer, I suppose it creates a safer boundary for the reader.

In roleplay some subjects shouldn’t be broached at all, but in books it’s okay to explore deeper because 1.) If the reader doesn’t finish a book it won’t insult the author directly and 2. ) Books come with summaries and warnings and won’t suddenly change or do something unexpected, unlike in a roleplaying writing game.

Which brings me to the idea of voyeuristic media vs. interactive media, and some thoughts from viewing an article on the state of graphic novel sales. A kidlit group I’m in discussed the phenomenon of Spiders Georg and how it relates to top-selling graphic novels, and I’m sadly inclined to agree. Dog Man and Smile are that one guy sitting in the cave eating tens of thousands more spiders than any normal person would. People still grow out of comics. There aren’t enough dragon graphic novels and there aren’t enough fantasy graphic novels and there aren’t enough romance graphic novels and graphic novels cost twenty bucks apiece and a fortune to produce.

On one hand, this is an empty market to explore. On the other, what sort of risk do I represent to someone who would acquire my graphic novel? It has to be written, edited, laid out, drawn, inked, colored, printed, distributed, reviewed, and read.

Suffice to say, I got to thinking about the sheer amount of medieval history information that I don’t know what to do with, and how I can present it in a fun story format. I’ve always felt the push and pull of readers who wanted more, and readers who wanted less. A comic can’t really go both ways. But…something electronic could.

Just imagine: Warlock’d: the JRPG! Readers explore at their own pace and examine objects, taking in information where they need it and ignoring it where they don’t. I could make some nice pixel art for it and wouldn’t have to worry about actually creating a physical object. Literally get five dollars for doing nothing if it’s up on Steam and someone buys a copy.

Don’t worry, I’m not being totally serious.

But the idea…I see the appeal.

In other news more and more of my Troubled Histories story is coming together. The hardest panel so far has been this cutaway/3 pt perspective scene where someone inside of a castle reacts to a noise coming from outside the castle. I’ve had to run this image back and forth from iPad to computer a few times. I really hope I can get all the lines done before May so I have plenty of time to color it all.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Do perspective guides on Troubled Histories pitch.
  2. Clean up my 5-page synopsis for Warlock’d.
  3. Try not to regret sending in my pitch ‘too early’.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Digital art of a newly-hatched monarch butterfly caterpillar crawling out of its shell for the first time. The shell is translucent, covered with dimples and ridges, with a slight sheen on top. It has a huge ripped hole in one side where the caterpillar exited. The caterpillar is a pale peach color with lines of black spines running down its body. Its legs and face are black as well. It crawls over an extrem closeup view of leaf fuzz, from a milkweed leaf. Where is our little friend headed? Text in the corner is a watermark: http://hmcgill.art

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March Summary
This week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing down — not because I had a lot of work left to do, but because I had so little work to do. I really, really was enjoying working on Warlock’d in earnest, in spite of the ups and downs.

 

 

Cocoon Week 9

I started bringing in my character profiles to the pitch packet. I have one page devoted to Cleric Stone, then one page devoted to demons, a page for supporting cast/murder mystery subjects, a page for a special character and twist in the story, and a page full of props because everyone who likes medieval stuff likes props, too.

I checked out a book on slavery which was…not exactly fun reading, but necessary. Lebeau’s backstory needed fleshing out. I’ve chosen to make them into a serf pursuing the life of a freeman. Paris was a place where people could expand their social boundaries and change their status in the world, as evidenced by the rise of a merchant class. To do this I figured I should look into how serfdom actually worked.

I read the overview of Slavery after Rome: 500-1100 (Alice Rio) and got through the first chapter on how people were made into slaves in the first place. What was most interesting to me was that, after being impoverished by slave traders, the typical thing a group of people would do is then turn on some other group of people and enslave them. It’s an evil that seems to spread that way. It’s also hard to describe people as ‘slaves vs. free’. My plan to incorporate the muddiness of being free or not is to reference it in Warlock’d as something an individual character goes through. After all, North/Western Europeans were supposedly against slavery, and yet serfdom was totally okay? Hmm. Really makes a person think.

The book itself is really clear and direct, much more so than many books on medieval history. I may have to type up a Goodreads review for it, in case anyone else needs a good resource on how this stuff worked back then. The parts that got to me emotionally were the aspects of women as slaves, the ancillae. This is a little dark for where I want to go with my caterpillar-themed comics blogging here but I did swear not to turn away from the honestly awful aspects of medieval life. There were terrible things going on! Just not the way pop culture tends to simplify and frame it!

Anyway I left most of the book unread after struggling through a little bit of it.

In terms of artwork, I moved in on the flatted colors and added shading here and there. I find that comics are easy to overwork. Not everything needs shading and highlights. Sometimes a character reads better when left flat. I really wrestled with the opening Hell page because my first attempt to shade it made in incomprehensible.

I also found myself bemoaning my overuse of purple in the middle pages. Purple is my Problem Color. I always want to use it, but I never use it well.

Cocoon Week 10

This week I returned to a portion of the process that I’m more comfortable doing: Book cover and lockup design! The following is not all of the work that I completed during this one week, but all of the versions of this cover leading up to the one I’ve decided will be in the final pitch packet. To everyone who ever nagged me about never including enough revisions in my blog: Can you just look at these, I’m doing it right here, stop making me anxious, thank you!

First version of a cover mockup for Warlock'd: To Hell, with Love. It's sedate with paper texture all over. Red bands cross it along the top and the bottom.A mass of wings spiral around the title lockup, blue like a barn swallow's but not arranged like the wings of any known bird. The feathers are shaded in the style of a medieval manuscript egg tempera painting. In the bottom band, rigid drawings of birdlike demon legs stamp across the ground, lending an Egyptian tone to the whole affair. Text at the bottom reads:

The very first attempt at making a cover design. I wanted to reference the Egyptian mythos that Christianity pulls from, as well as bring in multi-winged cosmic horror. Because…who doesn’t love multi-winged cosmic horrors? However the tone of this is all wrong. People might expect some paranormal romance and they might not be aware that this is a graphic novel, instead of a prose novel.

Second version of the cover to Warlock'd. It features a bright red border sparingly dotted with floral-ish golden symbols. Interior borders bear paper texture and a gold foil version of 'Warlock'd: To Hell with Love' lockup. A moth perches over the 'lock'd'. Another moth perches on the border. Margo perches at the bottom of the border, chomping a third moth. Behind her, in the snow, Paris burns all over. 'H. McGill' is written on the bottom of the layout under a small red flower.

To help my book look more like a graphic novel, I pulled in a character and glimpses of the setting. I’ve heard that red books sell better but who knows if that’s marketing superstition. It fits the color scheme of the comics. This red is its identity color and around which all color schemes revolve. It’s based off the feathers on Margo’s face. However, there’s not much storytelling going on…I guess there’s a bird who’s eating a moth. It’s not totally important to the story that she eats bugs. I have also greatly simplified my coloring process since I made this version of the cover so all that texturing isn’t going to be present in the comic pages.

Third version of the Warlock'd cover. This one has the same layout as the second version, but the grays have been turned into bright blues and the reds are punched up a lot. Margo is no longer perching but flying, with a devilish grin in her beak, down to Hell. Flames curl all around her and continue to Paris behind her. A golden flower rests over the 'lock'd' in the gold foil 'Warlock'd: To Hell, with Love' lockup.

After rewriting my synopsis a few times I had a better grip on Margo’s character, anyway. She is as proactive as a demon can be. I call this ‘action Margo’. I wanted to make it look like she actively had something to do with the fires in Paris, because she does! I also punched up the blues in the snow and I think it’s a much livelier color scheme. Many graphic novels sit back on their colors and I want Warlock’d to leap out. I left a lot of the framing elements intact for this one but as I was working on sample pages, I discovered that I was rendering fire completely differently than as depicted here.

My latest version of the book cover graphic. It's a digital illustration of a bright red, abstract frame around the image of a city (Paris) cloaked in snowy blue light. The city is on fire. In the foreground is Cleric Stone astride Margo the demonic barn swallow, riding her like a horse with reins made out of oversized wool thread. Margo grips a threadwinder in her claws. She is on fire and bringing the flames from the background to the foreground, where they flicker and grow. The text lockup overhead reads, in gold: 'Warlock'd', and an incomplete daisy wheel arcs over the 'lock'd'. The subtitle is in black: To Hell, with Love. Finally at the bottom, under a very small and complete daisy wheel, is 'H. McGill.'

Here is my final cover mockup, for now at least. Cleric Stone is a main character so he should be on the cover too. This is from a part of the story that many of my beta readers have felt is the most exciting part. I also re-did the lines on Margo with a higher dpi so that she would look as delicate as she does in the comic sample pages. I finally got rid of the fake gold foil effect because I would never want something like that illustrated on a cover, and even if this got printed and published I would not be guaranteed to get gold foil. Finally, I ditched Cloudsplitter for the title typography and replaced it with my favorite serif, Alegreya. This is as best as I can do for now so I’m going to use this in the pitch packet.

Okay. This packet’s getting too real now. The pages are all wrapped up. I should feel happy and proud, and I do, when I look at them. But, I don’t like stepping away and doing other things.

The coloring process went well. I marked three different color schemes throughout the twelve sample pages. I gave myself time to figure out each color scheme. One scheme is very dramatic and wild compared to the other two schemes. I’m not sure how jarring it will be to an outside viewer. I checked on the wild color scheme by itself and it works… but that’s the thing. When inside of the packet as a whole, will it clash with the more natural/understated color schemes I selected for other settings? Or will it show that the colors can expand in a really inventive way?

Client work has gotten vmore tedious than I’d like it to be. I was using Warlock’d as my ‘carrot’ to get through client work. I don’t know what I will fill the space with afterwards. I applied to a comics anthology with some thoughts on the history of locksmiths and prisons. But, I’m not sure how ‘fun’ that will be. I really did want to wholly work on Warlock’d and Warlock’d only through this year. I am dreading letting go of it, even if only for a little bit.

I didn’t feel very inspired to draw my caterpillar graphic this week. I keep putting it off. If I don’t have Warlock’d to work on, I may not need the caterpillars anymore since the art can be freely shared, and it’s easier to crop that for feature graphics on my blog.

I drew up a ‘props’ page featuring different items from Warlock’d’s story. As I was resizing them to look like they all belonged together, I discovered spaces to slip surprises for whomever browses my packet. Hopefully someday I can share this page publicly.

I have come to the philosophical conclusion that, even if I can’t share everything right now, I have this giant stock of images to share later if I need them. This is regardless of rejections or acceptances from agents and publishers.

Do I want to share my packet with trusted friends? Of course. But I am still afraid that I will get feedback that pulls one string to unravel the whole packet. I want to know if there are problems but I don’t want it to be a problem that destroys all of my progress.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Complete addenda in character packet, particularly character art.
  2. Export character art and write descriptions.
  3. Edit query letters and figure out who to query first (Probably the editor?)
  4. Perhaps ask for a lookover by editor and writer friends?
  5. Grieve the end of the project, for now.
  6. Draw a little wrinkly caterpillar to put on this blog post (which may already be complete at the time of posting this)

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Digital artwork of an extreme closeup of a butterfly's pale green egg. The egg is ribbed down the sides with ridges and lines of indentations, softly shiny. The egg is nestled in the fine hairs of a milkweed leaf.</p>
<p>A black arrow points to the egg. Text over the arrow reads: "It's an egg! I swear!"</p>
<p>A watermark for http://hmcgill.art is present at the bottom of the piece.

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 Recap
These weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who approached me with offers to help. I wasn’t at the top of my game for these two weeks, but I did feel less alone and that helped me feel much better.

Revisiting some older parts of my packet really helped. These two weeks, I focused on the ‘wow’ spread depicting the setting.

All in all I’m building my own personal excitement for this blog post series. I can share more art than I thought! Not all of it, but some very fun stuff.

 

Cocoon Week 3

Something in me reawakened, and I laid out the new version of sample pages. This version focuses on the relationship between Stone and Margo. There aren’t any other characters present in the scene. I gave the ‘blorp’ art version to kind friends who read things for me and tell me when something’s off. It’s still a little bit confusing in this stage but hopefully some line editing will help.

Some feedback that I got encouraged me to explore earlier in the story, to show more of Paris and give some context to Margo. This I can do, but I was really hoping to knock out rough art much sooner. I don’t think I’m going to blorp any art in on the earlier pages unless I can get some eyes on comparing the two scripts.

I also revisited the Warlock’d city spread…This is a drawing referenced from a 14th century painting, but with a WIP Notre Dame substituted in. The intent for this piece is to be an interior liner that leads readers into the story proper. This was the best drawing I could do, lacking visual resources from the 12th century proper. I’ve reworked this piece a few times and this time, I finally addressed the messy coloring found in the details of the piece. I found the progression in color theory very interesting.

Grungy, ashen-grey digital artwork on a two-page spread depicting the artist's best guess at a 12th century Parisian skyline. It's very very gray with hot pink highlights. It depicts a small person with a candle crossing a black Seine river, fleeing the city on the Îsle de la Cité. A tall bridge runs over this river. A title lockup reads:

My very first attempt, trying to control the contrast with a grayscale treatment and color overlay. It’s also painterly and overworked. It was fine enough at the time, but my understanding of color is much more nuanced now.

Digital art on a two-page spread depicting the artist's best guess at a 12th century Parisian skyline. Compared to the previous graphic, the colors are more clearly and cleanly divided into sections. A bluish grayscale is applied to the hills, clouds, and city buildings. Soft orange and yellow is used for the sky and reflecting Seine river. The 'Warlock'd title graphic is now black on a sunrise. The overall effect is still fairly dreary. and the clouds almost look the same as the city.

This attempt was a bit better. I removed most, but not all, of the soft brushing. It was inspired by a Vermeer palette, focusing on red being the star color. Feedback was that grayscale is not a big seller in the comics world. A lot of graphic novels are very limited in color or washed-out, which is also not to my taste. I think I can do better!

Two-page digital art spread of the author's best guess at what the 12th century Parisian skyline might have looked like. Set on a sweeping backdrop of heavenly clouds and rolling hills covered with snow, the city occupies most of the foreground. Towers mingle with homey buildings, encircled by a great wall. A bridge crosses over the Seine river. The water has taken on the orange and yellow glow of the sky. A title lockup is wreathed by clouds in the sky: Warlockd: To Hell, with Love.

This is the latest color scheme rendition. I removed all desaturated colors and I am very pleased that the snow is more snow-like. It was also easier to control the gradients of color once I discarded more of the soft brush. I only left the brush on parts meant to fade into the snow a bit more. I’m really happy with the points of interest I was able to create and this is going to be my reference for snow from here on out.

I grabbed and assembled different photographs of a caterpillar’s life cycle to create Cocoon Year graphics. It’s helpful for me to have a checklist of all the art I need to do. I’m hoping that these smaller pieces help me warm up on drawing whenever I do them. I am also going to learn way more about butterfly anatomy than I ever cared to know.

 

Cocoon Week 4

I started the week with a self-imposed break. I call it…No Comics Sunday! Saturday as well but that’s last week’s break. Lately I’ve been feeling slower and slower which means, even if I’m having fun, I need to step back. Getting 1 or 2 hours of work in every day is worse than getting more solid work done four or five days a week.

We went to a professional tea tasting and it was the perfect reset. Floating Leaves Tea is a shop we’ve frequented for years because it supplies incredible Taiwanese tea. What’s nice about these tea tastings is that we get to go and share her love of tea with none of the work involved in becoming skilled. It’s so nice to have a hobby rather than a drive. Did you know that tea can dance around the mouth, or rest on the tongue, depending on how it’s brewed? It can also be very minty and airy, or grassy, or floral, or ‘big’ or ‘small’, ephemeral or stalwart, and catch in the mouth, throat, chest, or stomach. We booked the whole afternoon for tea and caught up with the shop owner, who is always a delight.

Given time to reflect, I think there is a problem with how I seek and absorb reactions to my work. As a result, I am torn between respecting the feedback and effort of my peers and actually moving forward with the project. When this project lands on an agent’s or editor’s or publisher’s desk, they are going to have their own required changes and I will need to weigh those even more strongly than I weigh peer feedback. However, if I keep resetting my packet before querying, my pitch will never make it to anyone’s desk, so I just won’t know what specific agents and editors want. In any creative field, there is no good, no bad, no better, no worst, and no best…A work only has to clearly portray an idea, and then that either appeals to a specific audience, or it doesn’t.

With this in mind, I’m instituting a new rule for myself where I have to ask my peers ‘given a week’s deadline, how would your critique change?’. This seems like the kindest way to get more information and also move forward with the project. ‘Blue sky’ edits that completely reset the project are more useful when I get an official rejection or a revise/resubmit. I want to leave both options open because otherwise people might feel bad if they gave me the wrong feedback, and that’s quite the opposite! Everyone who has read my work has been most helpful. There is no wrong feedback, there is simply feedback that works better in response to different forces.

I asked other graphic novelists what their pitch packets looked like, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a 5-page synopsis is probably pushing patience in length. I need to make spot illustrations to break up the text. That or, I can really hone my one-page synopsis and let the detailed one be available upon request. From my peers I’ve learned that I can share snippets of my pitch packet, but I need to save the very special stuff for the submission packet. Fair enough. At least now I know I can share some imagery here fairly safely. Especially the stuff I cut from the packet!

One more bad habit of mine is to sit with the INDD document open and just…stare at it. I need to stop doing this.

In closing I’m going to share my favorite cut panel that was removed from a previous iteration of my sample comic pages. I feel like this is the best comic panel I’ve ever drawn, and I’m not even going to use it in the final packet!

Digital sketch of a starry-eyed, innocent-looking barn swallow. She has speech bubbles over her head. Text reads:

 

 

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Ride the incoming high, and not burn out.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

Want to chat about this?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Digital artwork of a monarch butterfly perched upside-down on a decorative seafoam-green leaf. The butterfly has bright orange wings with stark black outlines. White spots line the edges of the wings. The butterfly's body is covered with black fur that also has white spots. It has laid approximately one little pale green egg. The leaves form stylized curlicues.</p>
<p>Text on image reads as follows:</p>
<p>'Me' over a black arrow pointing directly at the egg, referring to me being 'born' or getting laid, perhaps? Not in the naughty sense, I'm literally being laid in this picture, inside of an egg.</p>
<p>'My Creative Impulses' is over a black arrow pointing at the butterfly, implying that I am a creation of my own desire to make graphic novels.</p>
<p>'http://hmcgill.art' is on the bottom of the image as a watermark to go to my website.

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 Recap
For those who weren’t in the know, this year is what I am going to call my ‘Cocoon Year’, where I establish my creative process by tracking and describing it. Seeing as social media is not extremely helpful for literally anything I’m doing, I’m cutting out small, social-media-friendly pieces in favor of developing larger projects. Chief among these projects is Warlock’d: To Hell, With Love.

Some of my friends have reached out to me about Warlock’d, concerned about its progress. I’m concerned too. I’ve had iterations of this cozy mystery graphic novel in various stages but never feel happy with the writing.

Progress is slow without feedback. Feedback is difficult to get. Either people don’t understand the project, won’t talk technical tips in an attempt to be encouraging, bash it subjectively, aren’t familiar with my target audience, or don’t understand that I’m deconstructing medieval pop culture stereotypes.

By the same token, at best I am an amateur historian, just like how, with RAWR! Dinosaur Friends, I was an armchair paleontologist. I’m making do with the information I have available to me. It’s not always the most up-to-date, largely text-based, and I do not fully understand the most complex parts of this time period. I fear sharing much for this reason.

Demons are difficult to talk about. For some people, demons are very real, present-day entities, for good or for evil or for silly. Demons are part of religious history, so religious and spiritual discussion inevitably crops up. From an art historian perspective, many demons are racist caricatures. None of these are safe subjects to talk about on a whim.

I have some friends that I would love to share Warlock’d with, but I fear wasting their time if the writing is not quite good enough. Luckily, I’ve been working really hard and this is getting easier. I often feel bad for wasting people’s time. If I get better at writing then it’s less of a waste for them.

It’s also hard to share progress for a project that oscillates between being an indie webcomic and a published graphic novel. I can’t ever tell how much I should share, and if things I’ve shared publicly hurt my chances of getting published (or if I even want to be published…I literally have everything I need to do a webcomic!)

With all this in mind, I participated in #DVPit this year and got so much attention on Warlock’d that I feel it’s best to query, at least a little bit, before I settle in on this project as a webcomic. Having a very polished and workshopped pitch is also good for indie development. I feel like sharing my progress shouldn’t hurt my chances, as long as I talk about my trials with writing, revisions, and synopsis hell. I may keep my character and cover artwork close to my heart until I get rejections from querying.

I have never once actually queried Warlock’d. I have taken it to workshops and reviews. There’s been interest from agents but I suffer the curse of perfectionism, as well as not knowing whether this project is an indie webcomic or not.

I also have some very wonderful friends who have taken an increasing interest in reading my work…and are even willing to read revisions. Once problem I had in a past writing group was that revisions weren’t allowed! It was so hard to keep track of people’s progress beyond slapping down the first draft. To me, revisions are where writing gains depth and interest. It hurts to feel like my critique went nowhere.

Ideally I could have this book picked up by a publisher and share my process in great detail on my blog. I fear marketing mishaps if I retcon something I worked on in this blog but honestly, I don’t know of anyone who’s ever blogged their graphic novel creation process from pitch to finished book. There might be a reason for this, probably that graphic novels are soul-crushing work. It’s something that still feels very helpful to me. SAWgust was very good for tracking a shorter project. Having a whole year might be great for tracking a longer project.

Game development is also a recurring distraction…I’m currently working on a little physics-based platformer where players wreck our house with our cat. It’s nice to get away from comics every now and then, although game dev is its own challenge. Having to wrap my head around how sprite cat heads work on a rotating circle body was the most recent challenge.

Anyway. In the spirit of what I want to do with my blog, my comics career, and my website, here’s a breakdown of how my first three weeks in 2024 went:

 

Cocoon Week 1

I started out with an existing synopsis that I’d written in October 2023. Several people read it. It was deemed ‘fine’ but not amazing. A big problem was character motivation. The villain felt evil for no reason. I had a reworked synopsis that I shared with no one for fear of it being too long. I wrote a ‘shorter version’ that, of course, became much longer. However, I feel pretty good about this long “short” synopsis. It feels more focused.

I have a lot of questions about cozy mystery structure. Initial research tells me a cozy mystery-style murder ought to have been committed for a specific and clearly-defined reason…but a lot of Warlock’d’s emerging themes involve a chaotic reality under a spiritual ‘veil’ that appends meaning and order where otherwise there is none. I’m leaving a couple parts of the story as accidents, but they do feel like  temporary pins for the time being.

I also wrote a sample script to show off how Margo and Stone (formerly Pierre) interact. It’s pretty good and has been workshopped very intensely, but Stone’s motivation never feels strong enough via his dialogue. Maybe he’s too chill, or too masked. I wonder if I should lean into this and make it part of his devil-may-care attitude.

Margo, on the flip side, is the easiest dialogue in the world to write. She’s ranting in the same cadence as a barn swallow chirps. I find that the more I type freeform, run-on sentence, shitposty even, the more I hit Margo’s voice. She has been a fairly popular character in past versions of Warlock’d, so at least there’s some aspect of the project I understand.

 

Cocoon Week 2

I stalled out on remaking my sample pages. I had a version of the pitch in roughs/inking stage but the writing was too complex. This version tried to set up Tittivillus alongside Margo, and Stone’s character was just getting lost between them. As a result I was getting too precious about the art that was furthest along in the panels. Rewriting according to that art wasn’t producing a good set of sample pages. I’d also caught some illness in between starting and stopping the sample pages, and looking at it reminded me of feeling sick.

I worked on character designs instead. I’m not sure how many of these characters will fit into a pitch packet. They’re all mentioned in the synopsis, save for Tittivillus who goes into the story and then gets cut frequently. Poor guy. One cutesy idea I had was to format the characters like a suspect lineup, with lines behind their heads. I suppose I should do a pitch packet layout in InDesign. I want feedback on the text parts first.

I also stalled out on making a ‘cocoon year’ graphic for the blog, and thus postponed creating a blog entry for the week after. I think queueing content is a healthier thing to do than write up to the blog post deadline I set for myself. What I’d like to do is have 24 evolving ‘cocoon year’ graphics to show a caterpillar doing its thing, every other week until the end of the year when I see what the butterfly looks like. I really like Monarch butterflies so I’ll go with that.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Make Cocoon Year posts easy to update by prepping artwork.
  2. Slowly rebuild momentum on my pitch packet, especially the sample pages.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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