Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Digital art of a spray of milkweed leaves, done in a cartoony cel-shaded style with thin, uniform lineart. The plant has six visible leaves and little bits of leaf scattered about it. Running through the leaves is a trail made by a little caterpillar chomping its way through the plant. The caterpillar at the end of this trail is perched on the biggest, most prominent leaf, and is preparing to crawl onto the other side of the leaf, away from the viewer. The caterpillar's butt faces the viewer. It is peach with dark gray rings around its body.

Cocoon Year: April into May
I 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

Following advice from several readers, I re-simplified my story beats and made the murder mystery into a main thread from the beginning of the story all the way through to the end. This involved completely re-writing my five-page synopsis but I feel like it’s worth it. It’s the same story, but written more cleanly and without all the edits that I’d applied like a vulture ripping up a carcass. I was advised to arrange specific information in my story in a different format than the extended synopsis and I think that will work out well.

I know I swore never to let feedback rip my project back down to stage 1, but in text format it’s easy enough to do that, and I didn’t completely restart it. It’s still the same story, the mystery just reveals itself at the right time now (the end).

Screenshot of a Trello checklist item that's been expanded. At the top is a summary of the chapter. Appended to the card are multiple checklists of things I want to reveal about characters and stakes.

I have also included checklists of character beats, plot information, and stakes within each scene. Upon writing each of these scenes I’ve thrown the specific checklists out almost entirely, but they still help me keep the three aspects of storytelling in mind. I think if I were to do this again, I would write out the scene, and then list character, plot, and stakes after I wrote the scene.

The story still feels cluttered from glancing at the trello, but whenever I write scenes — it feels very fluid and easy. The scenes are between two and five pages apiece, quick ltitle reads. Writing might be like acting out a play or a script for me. Each rendition, I feel more fluid, like the information I want the reader to know escapes more easily. At its core, the writing has also returned to what I originally envisioned for this project, long ago: Light. Cheesy. Dark and more serious themes hidden offscreen.

I don’t have to have mastered story crafting in order to make something like this. It can be rough, it just has to exist. Otherwise I will never be able to move on. All I need is for the characters to show their motivations, for the interesting details to be clear and interesting, and for me to be able to move on to artwork. I really, really hope that writing gets easier. I can’t afford to spend this much time scripting future projects.

Since Warlock’d is still all about writing, I’m grateful for my anthology pages where I can keep my drawing skills sharp. This week I completed an extremely tricky panel featuring three-point perspective, a cutaway of a castle room, and two scenes going on at the same time but different distances away from each other, and in different parts of the same setting. The worst part about this one was having to bring it back into iPad Fresco several times to get the perspective right on details.

Digital scribble art of a panel, with rough placement for text bubbles and boxes. If you squint you can see a cutaway room and a distant wall, but it's very abstract here.

Initial ‘blorp’ art.

Lighter, whispier sketch lines make the scene somewhat more clear, although the proportions are in question and there's not much detail. The 3-pt perspective is also not quite correct.

Initial perspective blocking-in.

Extremely rough lines based on a 3-pt perspective grid. These look like they were drawn in pencil but it's actually drawn in Adobe Fresco, on iPad. Also seen here is an attempt to make a ghost window like there's a transparent wall there, but I ultimately scrapped the idea for complexity issues.

Initial roughs based on the perspective blocking, but it was still missing important details.

Digital lineart, half sketchy and half polished, of the cutout room scene in 3pt perspective. Some explorations into medieval interior design include hanging tapestries, a fancy desk with a cool wooden chair and angled writing surface, and a bed covered with luxurious fabrics.

Inking attempt #1…Didn’t quite have enough perspective information based on prior sketches, so I sketched in where I needed to re-line this.

One more go with digital penciling on Adobe Fresco. Not everything lined up with the perspective grid so I left a lot of lines off for later.

More perspective blocking-in…hopefully this time’s the charm!

Final lineart of the panel in 3-pt perspective. It features a collapsed tower and panicked soldiers in the background. High up in a cutaway room, a noble lady wonders what that sound was, but a guard prevents her from leaving the room.

Finally, lineart that works. Now may I finally move on?

For this week I’m happy to report small, if meaningful, progress on both projects.

Warlock’d Scripting:
-24 scenes Trello’d out and checklisted

Troubled Histories Anthology:
4/6 pages completely inked

 

Cocoon Week 18

Four ancient playing cards, depicting the six of coins, ten of polo wands, three of cups, and seven of swords. Creative commons image by Countakeshi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playing_card#/media/File:Mamluk_kanjifah_cards.png

Oh boy! I recently discovered what ‘may’ be the oldest playing cards in the world and I’m mightily inspired. I want to draw these as frames for character art for Warlock’d. I really need more Warlock’d art on my timeline because it makes me happy and people can finally get to know the characters.

Photograph of a graphite sketch of Stone in a modern gag sweater. It says

Also, it needs to not be like this (a silly meme). It needs to look less anachronistic. I can’t have people thinking Stone dresses in an 80’s gag sweater. (Don’t get me wrong. He would, but he doesn’t.)

Digital art done in a convincingly graphite-looking style of Cleric Stone, with expressive moody shading. He wears a black cape and a hat with feathers in it.

I also have this sketch of Stone that’s more elongated than the body type I eventually settled on. I’m also still rocky when it comes to really specific human anatomy which means I really ought to practice drawing my own characters more. It often feels weird or wasteful to draw them outside of pitching or an actual comic.

I like these characters! I think other people might like them too. It feels very vulnerable posting them on social media, especially when in the past I wasn’t great at drawing people. I worry that I’ve been inadvertently disrespectful by being incompetent (Sorry, Stone, your first few portraits were not great).

Digital sketches of skulls and mouth studies, messily arranged on top of each other.

Every week, I study human anatomy. So far I’ve gotten pretty good at rendering torsos and just need more finesse on facial expressions and limbs. I’d like to go faster but these are group studies that I host and people can only meet once per week, at best. My drawing study group copies diagrams from anatomy books for artists and it’s really sticking, because I can talk about what I’m drawing and share it with other people. What’s also neat is we have people of all ages and from all over the world who pop in and out. It’s a low-stakes, free drawing group so that means people can take breaks every week or so and it doesn’t hurt anyone.

In terms of writing, I’ve been reliably popping out one rough draft of a scene per day. This isn’t going to move the comic along fast enough for my tastes. I wonder if I can unlock some kind of writer’s high while I’m working on this. A lot of the subject matter just isn’t great for light, breezy writing; it’s actually an examination of justice and what that really means, in the context of a medieval setting. I’m also going to heavily edit before sharing it with a reader or two. I think I’ve got ‘my gang’ of people who reliably look at my work and point out problems in a way that I like.

Additionally, on Troubled Histories, wrapping up each stage of a comic process really takes forever! It’s that last ten percent and maintaining interest in it that does it for me. I’ve learned to accept this and allow my progress to be slow, so that I don’t cut it off altogether. However I’ve wrangled the most difficult panel of the comic so hopefully the rest is less painful.

Warlockd:
11/24 scenes drafted

Troubled Histories Anthology:
5/6 pages inked

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Writing!
  2. Web design for Codex Apis (short comics collection)
  3. Troubled Histories lineart finalization.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis 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...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: Weeks 13 & 14

Digital art of an arrangement of milkweed leaves, rendered in soft teal colors. It's a stack of leaves on a stem with one big leaf thrust into the foreground via foreshortening. All the veins can be seen in this one big oval leaf with a pointy end. Eating its tiny way through this leaf is a tiny caterpillar, near the tip. It has a lot of leaf to get through if it wants to become a proper butterfly.

Cocoon Year: March and April Summary
There was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock’d like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It’s a risk but I will be fine.

 

 

Cocoon Week 11

I heard nothing back on the Warlock’d pitch packet (not that I was expecting a quick response). I went ahead and put together a ‘blorp art’ draft of my Troubled Histories anthology. ‘Blorp Art’ looks like this. It’s for lettering and getting the layout to agree with the artwork. I draw it directly in InDesign with the pencil tool, on my Cintiq tablet.

Screenshot of four comics pages in grayscale, with very quick, gestural art under lettered speech balloons.

I sent this draft in for editing but a friend also offered to read it for me. I sent it to my friend who pointed out a lot of clarity issues and things I needed to think about. Even though I value the editor’s feedback over at the Sequential Artist’s Workshop, I hadn’t heard back from them, so I decided to work on the artwork and get the drawings set in stone. The story has wound up with a little background story that goes on under my narration and it didn’t quite make sense, so I’ve been wrangling it and trying to get it as polished as my main message.

Digital sketch of a very ornate old lock, meant to hold a church door closed. It has crosses sticking out of it everywhere, as well as guardian animal heads and ironwork creatures twining around each other. A large crude keyhole is in the center of the lock.

Here’s the rough of my ‘cover’ page for the anthology. I’ve well and truly fallen in love with this 12th century lock that used to be on a church — perfectly conveys the meaning of ‘security theatricality’. This lock would be simple to pick, but you don’t want to make the person who owns such a fancy lock angry, would you? There’s so many dragons guarding this place…

Cocoon Week 14

I made the executive decision to proceed with working on Warlock’d as if it is not out on pitch. I need a rough script anyway. Back to my usual hijinx with a Trello board and Google Docs links, then!

Screenshot of a Trello board with stacks of digital notecards in columns. The background is a wood texture with metal studs poking through.

I like separating the story into arcs because I feel like, within a larger narrative, the reader looks for ups and downs, but they may not keep track of every single detail. ‘Oh yeah’ moments and other twists do need to be obvious but they can’t be hidden in flavor descriptions, small character interactions, or other unfair nooks in the story. Arcs set something up, bring the reader somewhere new, and resolve a setup so the reader no longer has to worry about that information as they read. After I make an outline and a detailed synopsis, I like to separate out arcs and then name them.

The arc labels could work as chapter names, but there’s only so much room in a graphic novel so I typically don’t like to separate longer stories into chapters. Separating them spends a page per chapter and every single page matters in such a visual medium.

Ideally, I want to have a rough draft of the whole graphic novel ready for whenever I secure an agent. I have several rough drafts in the past but this is the first draft that feels like it’s snapping and like I won’t regret adding detailed art to it. The writing gets riskier the closer to polished it becomes, because editors may want to have a say in what I’m writing. If it hits layout stage then it’s extra difficult to edit. However, I still think that treating this like a webcomic is my best bet moving forward. Nobody gets to dictate what I get done until they buy it!

I’ve been flipping between Warlock’d scriptwriting and more detailed roughs on my Troubled Histories project. I got notes back from the editors that matched my friend’s notes fairly closely, so I sent in a new version of my anthology submission that has more drawings on it.

 

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 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis 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...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Digital art of a teeny tiny baby monarch butterfly caterpillar chowing down on its own eggshell. The caterpillar stands on microscopic milkweed fibers and lifts the eggshell overhead, chomping away. The caterpillar is light peach in color, with a black head, black legs, and black spikes running down its body in rows. Its butt is facing the viewer. The eggshell and the milkweed leaf are seafoam green. A watermark in the corner reads: http://hmcgill.art

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March Summary
This is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.

 

 

Cocoon Week 11

This week was spent wrapping up additional character and prop art for my packet, as well as decorative borders to make it look more medieval. As I got closer and closer to the end of the pitch packet, it became harder and harder to work on. The next step after this is revealing it to people who don’t know me well, and who have no reason to love this on sight.

I went through all my writing, on both the short synopsis and the long synopsis, and added more to them where necessary. Lebeau’s new backstory has evolved into the tale of a saint with two skulls and an abandoned tomb. I scanned more through the book on serfdom and slavery, but didn’t find a whole lot more that would be specific to Lebeau’s case. I am also making an ‘historically inspired’ vs. ‘historically accurate’ decision to assume that if Lebeau can live in Paris and prove themself a good citizen, they’ll be free from tending an old tomb for the rest of their days. I don’t know specifically what law in Paris existed to accommodate this. Since it’s such a melting pot of a town I assume that King-appointed leadership might decide to protect its citizens, no matter where they came from.

The only Capesian law I do know about is one protecting a widow’s right to keep her late husband’s land. This is not true throughout Europe as far as I can tell, but what was important about this law is that it indicates the people of the time were able to tell when someone in their society was vulnerable. Were they able to consistently enforce such a law? Now there’s the trouble. Not really, I would imagine. Just an absolute dumpster fire of dueling power structures and lack of resources going on there. While crime faced fewer negative deterrents I still have to believe that most people wouldn’t actively try to hurt each other for no reason. Otherwise, humanity wouldn’t have persisted for 800 more years.

Anyway! Most of this is guesswork that slants towards making a dramatic story. If I must jump to a conclusion then let it be an entertaining one. I only worry about how much historical information people tend to absorb from pop culture and entertainment media. There’s also the mistaken idea that ‘more suffering = more real’ and I’m hoping that some of Warlock’d’s core themes successfully point this out.

On that note, it reminds me of the story of a nasal spray vaccine that failed. I don’t know about you but I would love to get a nasal spray vaccine. However, people didn’t believe it worked because it didn’t hurt enough. I think the same attitude has been bleeding into fantasy and historical fiction reader tastes. If characters aren’t suffering enough, then it doesn’t feel real enough. I myself enjoy a good round of character-obliterating pain, probably far more than my intended audience would enjoy it, but at the end of the day any sort of conflict can be relatable as long as it’s punched-up enough.

I had to return the book on slavery half-read, because interlibrary loans are tough like that.

Cocoon Week 12

I began this week with a couple of query letter drafts and a final readthrough of my full synopsis. I think that’s all finally ‘there’. An actual story with stakes and a conflict and rising action and falling action and themes.

I really do not want to just…leave Warlock’d alone while it’s percolating. Do I have to? Maybe it’s time to noodle on an Amphiox sequel about adult Lyrat’s day job. Or, I could work on my middle-grade dinosaur pitch, or my adult romantic comedy/abominable fancy mashup set in an Italian Renaissance-ish fresco guild.

Yes, to be honest, it’s probably time to pull up a backroom project and examine that, then leave my schedule open for suggestions and edits on my pitch if I happen to get feedback.

I’ve also been dabbling more with pixel art and it’s become an enjoyable part of my day. Crowdsourced art direction is chaotic and not always helpful, but I like talking to people about craft. Every now and then someone absolutely ‘gets it’ and even if things get nitpicky it’s a lot better than being ignored. I call this ‘pixel art brain rot’ but Devin thinks it’s fine that I’m doing this.

I chose the first agent to query. A friend stepped in to help me when I was struggling with a query letter. They rearranged my sentences and it was magical of them. I uploaded all my stuff to a portal and clicked ‘submit’ for the first time. I’m not quite sure what to expect because my packet was designed a little bit differently from what the agent specifically wanted, but I also feel like I have more than what the agent usually requests.

In other news, I pitched to another Sequential Artists Workshop anthology (Troubled Histories). They’re not the type to turn pitches away so now I’m writing something about locks. Here’s how my editing is going with Karlo and Emma:

“Locks weren’t very good in the 12th century.

  1. There were few ways to combat thievery: You could pile all your valuables into one spot, making them more difficult to remove, or hide them, or petition your local ruler to do something about thieves.
  2. As far as security went, it was largely theatrical. Most castles never saw battle. Their size and shape implied fortification, which was enough to keep most thieves away. However, castles weren’t built on any foundation so most of them could be dismantled by a determined person with a shovel.
  3. Imprisonment in these structures is expensive and reserved for prisoners of note, not random misbehaving commoners.
  4. Therefore, you get records of inhumane punishments for thieves — mutilation or death — because there’s no other way to permanently deal with a thief. Even banishment wouldn’t necessarily keep a sentenced thief away.
  5. Today, locks are commonplace, and we don’t kill people for thievery. Even though mass production of locks means people can perfect techniques for opening a house uninvited, the very presence of a lock is enough to keep most intruders away, just by communicating privacy.
  6. However, we aren’t looking at better ways of dealing with thievery by dealing with root causes (poverty and mental illness)… we’re investing in prisons instead, which are just as expensive as they were in the distant past.
  7. Perhaps prisons are like castles, in that they look intimidating but can be dismantled by new ‘locks’, such as universal basic income and a wider availability of mental health services.

So, it’s an overly generalized view of locksmith/legal history and no citations at all. Maybe too complicated and in need of simplification.”

To which Karlo has already responded with the following advice, and I’m paraphrasing pretty baldly here:

 

 

“Please, H., you’re killing us. For the last time, do not do additional research.

Just make the damn comic.”

 

 

However, joke’s on him. I already requested an interlibrary loan of a book on locksmithing. I was meaning to look into it anyway!

I also think I may release the full version of my other anthology submission, from In the News, Again, on social media. Here it is in full:

Digital art comics page. It has three panels depicting how my 2019 Geek Girl Con went. Panel one:

Page two of a comic done with a digital artstyle. It has four panels and takes place in a lime-green convention hallway. Panel 1: Me and Devin rush up the escalator with all my con merchandise in tow. A graphical badge overlaid on the panel indicates the year and date: Nov. 5th, 2022. Me: Is anyone even gonna show up? Panel 2: I'm wandering out from my table to pet a live iguana perched on someone's head. They're using a motor scooter to get around and their helper is nearby. The hall looks extremely empty and tables ar every far away from each other, blockaded by black curtains. Narration: I sit here for ONE eight-hour day and I'm not sure what sales will be like... Me: Wow! I love your iguana! Narration: I make $600. Panel 3: Me on a simple pea-green background, holding cash in hand. Me: Neat! Panel 4: Me on a dramatic explosion background while I grip the money fiercely. I look dismayed. Me: Wait, what?!

 

 

I think I can do a lot better than this for Troubled Histories. I’ve already refined my lines to be a lot thinner. The coloring is more deliberate, clean. Weirdly, pixel art has opened my eyes to a lot of cel-shading tips, too. I’ll be sure to use them liberally in my comics from now on.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Contemplate which gear to switch to while I wait for word on Warlock’d.
  2. Roll up another query letter or two, depending on vibes.
  3. Work on my locksmithing comic.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis 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...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

Want to chat about this?

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 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis 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...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Digital art of a caterpillar munching its way out of a translucent eggshell. The caterpillar is chunky with a shiny black head, and little black grippy legs. Just the head of the caterpillar pokes out, while the rest of its body curls around inside of the shell. The egg rests on a nest of fine, curly milkweed hairs.

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February Summary
I started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.

 

 

Cocoon Week 7

This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem unethical of me to split my days in half for client work, but it doesn’t matter how I allot my time, so long as I hit my deadline. Typically, I’m only good for a 4-hour stretch of mechanical lettering. Any longer and I slow down, then make mistakes. It makes sense to start the day doing production work because by the middle of the day, I’ve lost focus on it and need to switch gears anyway. Developing my personal comics is great for that, and also related to my career.

I’m looking back on my pages and feeling really pleased with myself. My previous serious attempt at a comic, Amphiox, still felt iffy at this stage. It didn’t seem to matter how much I edited, re-sketched, or re-did the lines, it still felt somewhat amateur. However, I have over half a year of weekly anatomy drawing study under my belt, and it’s really showing. I’m not only drawing faster, it’s also showing up the way I want it to look. Perhaps this is my physical skill catching up with my aesthetic ‘eye’. Eventually that eye will once again speed ahead to something I can’t draw yet. For the time being both seem to be on equal terms.

Cropped shot of a heroic-looking Cleric Stone. This is black-and-white digital ink work looking up at him. He has a tyopgraphic halo that is on fire. He wears his hair in a series of braided box braids. Inscribed on the halo is the Latin phrase 'Flectere si nequeo superos acheronta movebo', translated below in text.

This page, sample seen here, was the messiest through the whole process, and now it’s one of my most favorites. Apparently, the trick with heroic upshots in cartoons is to draw the jawline anyway, even if it’s not correct to the perspective I’m referencing.

“Flectere si nequeo superos acheronta movebo.”
(If I cannot move Heaven, then I will raise Hell.)

As I was going I mentioned to Devin (spouse) that I’m no longer allowed to sit and stare at my InDesign file without doing anything. He responded that maybe I should enjoy looking at my project sometimes.

Fine, DEVIN.

As I worked this week, I discovered that Thursdays are going to be a problem while I have client work on my plate. I host a figure drawing study group on the Sequential Artists Network and it knocks out my entire morning. The very thing that’s making me better at making comics is…stopping me from making a comic! That’s all right, though. If I just accept this as part of my schedule then it’s easier to move along.

As far as breaks go, my schedule also needs to change as I fit client work in. I need one day every weekend where I do NO comic work at all, and one day where I choose what comics-related thing to focus on for the whole day. I’m allowed to draw or write, it just can’t be Warlock’d or client work. To be honest I haven’t officially ruled against ‘comics’ in general on the weekend, I just know I’m not in the mood to start another comics project. I did send in a small pitch for one of SAW’s nonfiction anthologies so I’m hoping that doesn’t burn me out.

No no, I’ve been doing pixel sprite art. Video game assets. Stuff like that. Things I can call ‘complete’ very quickly.

All that said and done, I’ve made great progress on my client work so far. Even better, I completed the inking and the lettering on my Warlock’d sample pages. I’m really happy with the tone that they convey, and how the layout interacts with the illustrations. I’m ending the week with the next caterpillar drawing for the post I’m going to make two weeks from now.

Cocoon Week 8

Client work feels slow, even in half-day bursts. The greatest part about this work is that I know how to do it, and that’s also the worst part. There’s no reason to ask anyone how to do anything, so I don’t get much collaboration. Revisions are mostly small nitpick things with little active discussion. It’s just busy work. It’s stuff I can do while listening to something else. There aren’t many thoughts going through my head while I do it.

Digital pixel art of a magnificent bird/fish monster. It's mostly pale off-white with luxurious blue and pink feathers. A decorative tail curls around its body while it stretches its wings. It's a combination of the pokémon, Milotic and Fearow.

Increasingly I’ve been fond of doing pixel art. There is a giant, fan-made RPG maker game that calls for over 200,000 individual 288×288 px sprites, and they’ve set up an automated art direction and QA process for it. It uses bots, post formatting, and artist vetting to make sure feedback is allowed. It’s not a perfect system and a lot of the art that gets through has varying quality. Surfing for feedback there feels really good, though. I wish more people would pick at my stuff. I think I’m just craving an environment where I can actively talk to someone else while working on a project.

That brings me back to Warlock’d, which felt awful to work on this week. No matter what I do to speed up the process, flatting never feels fun. However, if I ever want a chance at an environment where I can obsess over Warlock’d with someone else and we all get paid for it, flatting is what I must do. Flatting is also what I must do if I fail to pitch it well enough and it turns back into a webcomic (again…for the fourth or fifth time).

I’m not feeling great about my twelve sample pages as I wrap up the flatting. However, I also felt bad about flatting Amphiox. I think any freshly-flatted comic lacks all the carefully-plotted focal points since I haven’t set up any shading yet. A lot of the shapes are blending into each other and lack clarity. It makes it feel like there’s so, so very much work left to do on them, even though I’ve been working on them for weeks.

The only solid decision I’ve made is that Hell needs to be depicted as lifeless. For this I’m returning to my previously-scorned Vermeer-inspired color scheme, that largely hedges on grayscale, reds, and a little bit of gold. Here’s hoping it won’t be a turn-off, as Hell is featured in the very first page. However, I feel like being upfront about Hell’s aesthetic and purpose in the story is important. Otherwise I can’t imagine why someone would pick up a comic with ‘Hell’ in the subtitle. It’s ‘Warlock’d: To Hell, with Love’, not ‘Warlock’d: I Guess Hell Is Involved Somehow but Feel Free to Put it Back Down if it Makes You Uncomfortable’.

Another problem is how to handle firelight, and interior lighting in general. Medieval people did not have great interior lighting whatsoever. To make this feel natural I have to invoke braziers and torches and sunlight. I guess I have to trust that a print production designer later on will just shake their fist at me and some of my poor CMYK choices. Some of these colors are extremely dark!

So far loneliness is my biggest foe. I really want to talk to more people about my pitch. However, I’m worried I’ll get feedback that makes it harder to share to other people.  There’s always someone out there who wants to sharpen their fangs on a work-in-progress, for no reason other than an easy slam dunk. This is not to say that ‘Wow! I love it’ is all that helpful, either. What I really need is neutral shop-talk. Figuring out where my concept is confusing, cleaning up art, etc.

Over the weekend I consoled myself by expanding the sample pages into a full pitch packet document. I drew a stylized border to go around my synopsis page. For some reason being able to quickly make a border like this cheers me up a lot.

I’ve also decided to omit the glasses from future caterpillar artworks. It feels weird to be so snarky at myself when I’m putting in such an honest effort, and people seem to like just the caterpillar drawings on their own.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Shade and color sample pages
  2. Compile ‘Suspects’ character page
  3. Draw props
  4. Draw more caterpillar shenanigans
  5. Find someone to look at Warlock’d and not make me start over again.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis 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...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Digital spot art of a round butterfly egg. It is gelatinous and the seafoam-green shell is semitransparent. The egg nestles on the hairs of a milkweed leaf. Inside the egg, a caterpillar with a lumpy orange body and a black head is clearly developing. A pair of glasses has playfully been added, developing as a biological part of the caterpillar, apparently. Text on the bottom left reads: http://hmcgill.art

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February Summary
Mostly I mentally re-shuffled how I was going to approach the project, in terms of output and feedback. I picked up a lot of steam on the project as a result.

 

 

Cocoon Week 5

I started the week much less restricted about what work I was ‘allowed’ to do on my pitch packet. It helped to start on pages I had already inked in the prior draft, because the lines were there, they just needed to be finer fidelity. This was a good warmup for the rest of the pages. I roughed in a lot of settings and then, in panels where there weren’t any settings, I roughed in characters.

One thing that pleases me so far is how appealing I can make Cleric Stone look, at least to me. I’m going for a gender-fabulous, monkish/sorcerer vibe, and I think I’m getting there. Regular weekly practice drawing anatomy out of Anatomy for Sculptors (Zarins, Uldis; et al) over the past year has really helped. I’d done figure drawing and studied the human form before, but never had much technical practice. My 4-year college arts curriculum was not that rigorous, but I still regret to this day not going to one of my professor’s figure drawing classes for free. I’d been invited and everything.

I imported my comic page sketches into a lower-resolution Cloud document that I could open on my iPad in order to use Fresco’s perspective drawing tool. I still don’t know why desktop Photoshop does not have a perspective drawing tool. Fresco’s is special. It can ‘snap’ drawing strokes to a perspective grid, 2- or 3-point. However, Fresco can’t handle high resolution files, so that adds some steps to my process. It’s worth it for spot-on perspective art where it matters, but it’s still very slow and I’d like to find a faster way to render my backgrounds. It’s also nice to take a break from the office and curl up with my iPad. It gives me the vibes of being much younger and messing around with my sketchbook on my own.

Once I drew some 2-pt and 3-pt perspective ‘guides’ via Fresco, I brought them back into the regular Photoshop files. I had a day where I got a lot of work done, so much that I felt sad and tired at the end of the day. I had to sleep on it and come back to appreciate my progress in the morning. This is the part of the art creation process where I start questioning the writing, and questioning it, hard. Very dangerous to do halfway through the complete art! I must vow not to restart my pitch packet.

 

Cocoon Week 6

I took a break from all pitch packet stuff over the weekend. I thought I would be okay if I drew for other silly projects but no, I woke up Monday morning with a pinched ulnar nerve in my drawing hand. The sensation that a pinched ulnar nerve causes is different from the usual artist injury, which is carpal tunnel syndrome. My pinky goes numb and my wrist hurts whenever I perform fine motor movements. Only stretching and rest helps with this.

I must still draw. I received a book from an inter-library loan in order to draw the Louvre a bit more accurately. If I kept stretching, my nerve should be okay, and I should complete my Louvre drawing in time to return the book. It was a book that cost $50 on Amazon for some reason. Why buy that when I can snap a photo of a page from the library for free? Besides, it wasn’t even a big book, or a long one. It was like a 24 page picture book in length.

Properly armed with reference, some buddies were drawing in a comics discord so I popped in and shared my Paris-filled screen.

Digital artwork of a rough sketch of the city of Paris, with the Louvre prominently featuring on the horizon. A bird has been drawn in controlled lineart on top.

I immediately discovered a problem with the tower on the next page that I had already drawn and inked. What I thought was part of the Louvre was actually a tower along King Phillip Augustus’s wall. I’d thought that maybe it was fun symbolism for Stone to be off on the side of the Louvre rather than in the middle of it. However, he certainly wouldn’t be on the wall itself, and they wouldn’t keep their (highly valuable) budget documents out there, either. This was quite frustrating because I had already spent a lot of time embellishing the top of my Louvre tower with crenellations.

I reviewed the diagram. I found a note that there isn’t consensus on whether the towers had conical roofs or not. So some quick architectural speculation later and…

A more refined version of the previous digital sketch. This displays the Louvre more convincingly drawn, with the middle tower featuring crenellations and outer towers featuring conical roofs.

I think it works! That big central tower needed to stick out compared to the smaller Louvre towers around it. So, why not: It’s crenellated! And the other towers are pointy! Visual contrast! Hierarchy! No one can say I’m wrong, even if it’s not exactly correct, either.

With my pages in various states of completion, I found it more helpful to start working on them in numerical order. Usually I want to focus on one setting or one character at a time.

Photograph of three copies of the Ilona Andrews Clean Sweep graphic novel adaptation stacked on each other in an array. They're on a fuzzy bean bag texture.  The cover design features the blond heroine brandishing a broom and a spell circle, while her magic cape flows behind her into a hunky brown-haired male love interest. Lightning sparks out of the magic circle. A planet hangs behind them in a royal blue sky. Text in white, whimsical lettering on the book reads as follows: The Innkeeper Chronicles Clean Sweep: The Graphic Novel. Ilona Andrews: #1 New York Times Bestselling Author. Adapted by ChrossxXxRodes. Illustrator: Shinju Ageha. A 'Tapas' logo sits in an orange pill in the left corner.

Oh, and a production artwork project I did with Andrews McMeel came in. I had always wondered if my layouts were too wild but these do look like legitimate manga! It’s so funny too, I knew I’d done 252 pages here but seeing it in person, these books are huge! I could probably throw one at an acid-spitting alien dog and knock it out. This was a really encouraging moment for me because I always tend to look at my own layouts until my eyes cross.

 

 

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Create printer-friendly, pitch packet document layout.
  2. Finish up inking sample pages.
  3. Client work has returned! As a result my progress on the pitch packet will slow down somewhat. However, it won’t cause any nerve pinching for me to work on it since there’s not a lot of drawing.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis 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...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

Want to chat about this?