Amphiox: Launches Today!

Amphiox: Launches Today!

Image depicted is the cover to the webcomic, Amphiox. It's a black cover with criss-crossing blue serpent coils taking up most of the background. The coils writhe around each other with faint glimmers of scales highlighted, before vanishing into darkness. This is a teaser for the beast that will be encountered and explained within the webcomic. Layered over the writing coils of the Amphiox is its tail, oddly centered and still compared to the rest of its body. An amphiox's tail ends in a fin with rounded tips. The fin's color is a bright, bioluminescent gradient composed of yellow fading into bright skyblue, before tapering into a darker cerulean. The tail has vibrating red highlights. It casts a rainbow of highlights onto its own scales. Attached to this tail are two more, lesser pectoral and dorsal fins, in cerulean blue. The pectoral fin pokes out near the tail, and the dorsal fin is further up, and larger. Layered onto the tail is a vertically-aligned title text: AMPHIOX, set in a serif font and bright white against the darkness of the rest of the cover. Under the tail, floating in the darkness, is more text set in white: H. McGill, http://amphiox.hmcgill.art.

Amphiox: Launches Today!
Today, my short story Amphiox launches in free-to-read format! This is the first time I’ve ever self-hosted a webcomic and I’m so happy it’s all come together. My partner Devin coded a website design I had in mind, and it is immaculate. Just look at that horizontally-tiling ocean texture with smart scrolling!

…Please. Look at my site and compliment my tiling ocean texture. I’m really proud of that.

Fishing for compliments aside, reception to my cover design and concept (magic doom eels) has been enthusiastic. Readers recognize I am trying something different with this project. My efforts are meant to create a webcomic that is exciting for readers to pick up, and also manageable on my end to create and display. I have looked at webcomics for a long time. Amphiox is my first foray into testing my three webcomic theories.

Theory 1: Readers are here to read a webcomic.

My readers are here to look at comic pages and read a story. I must design my comic to be legible on, at least, desktop, and if I can manage it, then mobile as well. While it’s a time-honored tradition to hide jokes in the alt text of webcomic pages, I’d also like to use them to point to the full text transcription in every page. I have omitted news posts in favor of these transcriptions. After all, a reader is here to navigate from page to page and the story must be kept intact between said pages. I can’t have a news post from my life interrupting a reader’s journey after the fact.

Theory 2: The webcomic must be something I can maintain.

While comments sections are fun, activity is what begets activity. A reader who sees no comments on a page is not going to feel great about being the first commenter. Someone else deciding to comment on my comic is not something I directly control. I refuse to sign up to do community management. I would also fear fan-theories and headcanons poisoning possible future plans for the comic. With these aspects in mind I have omitted the comments section. I do not want my comic judged based on how many people have commented. Readers may happily discuss my comic elsewhere if they please. For the part of the reading experience that I personally host, I prefer that readers do not influence each other’s opinions of the comic, or my own opinion of my work. My comic should be a connection between my work and one reader at a time with a bit of a personal barrier for safety.

Theory 3: I must fulfill an unstated but very real promise between me and my readers.

That promise is a complete story. Too many comics go on hiatus unexpectedly. This comic is complete, and, starting July 10th, may be read in full early via PDF purchase. Attached to this is a preorder sale for physical copies. The physical preorder sale is mostly a courtesy rather than a requirement. This is why I have opted for independent preorders rather than crowdfunding. I’m ordering a small press run of Amphiox anyway — Readers can grab their copies upfront if they so desire.

Now, will the story of Amphiox be satisfying? That is up to the reader. On my end, I have 46 pages of content to deliver, and after that, my half of the promise is fulfilled.

Read Amphiox as it begins updating daily here:
http://amphiox.hmcgill.art

Reserve a copy from the print preorder of Amphiox here
(includes spoiler PDF on July 10th, 2023):
https://hmcgill.art/product/amphiox-graphic-novel-1st-edition-preorder/

 

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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How to Color the World

How to Color the World

Digital screenshot preview of eight sequential pages from my upcoming short graphic novel, Amphiox. It's meant to be too small to read clearly. It features a lot of blues and reds.

From Inks to Colors
I completed the inks to Amphiox sometime in November. From there, I needed to figure out how to color a comic. I’ve done short comics in full color before. The thing with a one- or two-page micro-story is that each individual story can have its own color scheme. It’s a wholly different concept to color 48 individual pages in a book. The pages all need to look like they’re part of the same book, but also evoke different moods, times of day, and settings. I’d never colored more than a sequence of one or two pages before. This was going to get interesting, and fast.

Digital spread of black-and-white comic pages. It has several panels with striking black backgrounds. It is otherwise uncolored with black lineart on white background.For lack of knowing what else to do, I filled in spot blacks across all the pages in the comics, like I did in this page. 

It was hard to know where to go after I filled in spot black inks. They weren’t intended to be a final version of the comic, but they did make it look finalized. A fallback. The point of Amphiox, though, is to approach the challenge of making a complete comic, colors and all, so that I feel less afraid and lost while making other comics. Since I had the entire book drawn and inked, I had one advantage, and one advantage alone:

I know what the most complicated spread in the whole book is.

(…Or at least, I thought I did.)

Digital comics spread depicting a chaotic village of people who live inside of airships. All sorts of air vehicles are strewn about, near a garden and tables full of food. A lot of stuff appears to have been repurposed for village life, such as dumpsters used as storage and old solar panels used as roofing. There are hot air balloons, RVs, motorcycles, old military equipment, and helicopters perched near a section of highway that has clearly seen better days. There is a black fill on the ground and the rest of the subjects are white. Manta rays fly through the air overhead, which is not something they do in real life.Here it is. The most complicated spread. If I can’t get colors to work here, they’re not going to work for the rest of the book.

I chose this spread of the airship village because it is the most detailed and overwhelming piece in the entire story. How I ended up coloring this would influence the rest of the book. It would be hard to retrofit a color scheme from a simpler page onto this spread, because what if I didn’t use enough colors elsewhere? What if the colors I was using in smaller panels were cacophonous here, when I needed all of them at once?

Same digital spread as above, only now it sports chaotic colors, most notably: Bright green.My first attempt at flatting this spread. I used literal colors, except for the manta rays. They were made red in an attempt to make them stick out from the background more.

My thought process was, a nice bright green to welcome readers into the world, and make them see that, through all the wrack and ruin, something beautiful and fun had come together in the form of a traveling village. However, I discovered that coloring everything with a literal hue (as in, a 1:1 representation as seen in real life, which has no art direction) still led to a cacophonous color scheme. There weren’t many good ways to direct reader attention if everything is a very bright color. The biggest problem here was my inability to separate the extreme foreground (flying manta rays) from the extreme background (airship village and villages). I did genuinely like the green and what it represented. I just couldn’t get it all to agree with itself in one spread. That meant that this strategy also wasn’t going to work across the rest of the pages.

The good thing was that the way I had set up my flatting, it was easy to change colors with one click via Fill tool with ‘contiguous’ unchecked. I could blaze through as many color schemes as I wanted without too much fuss.

Spread of the airship village, only now in nightmarish red, yellow, and blue hues.My second attempt at flatting the airship village was inspired by the works of James Fenner.

I really wanted this to work. Really, really wanted it. It just wasn’t going to cooperate. I didn’t quite have a bead on what made Fenner’s color schemes work. The tone was ‘complete nightmare’ when I was going for ‘cool dream’. I had possibly overcorrected from literal hues to more symbolic ones. I also fretted that I was stealing a bit too fiercely from Fenner, whose entire portfolio uses basically this color scheme or other similarly unhinged schemes. It was still a great exercise and one that made me think more carefully about stylizing hues.

Digital spread of the airship village, now rendered in teal with...pink and purple manta rays? What?My third attempt at coloring this spread, before I gave up temporarily.

I came to one conclusion: The ‘village’ portion of the illustration was likely going to be all one color. At this point, I had mostly learned about what my comic wasn’t going to look like. It was time to step back and think about the other extreme within my comic:

What was the simplest page going to look like, when it came to color?

Since this comic’s inception as a quick, experimental short prose story, I’d always had one scene in mind with a definite color. The character uses a red light in a dark grotto, so as not to disturb the local wildlife. The red light changes to ultraviolet, then back to red, so that the character can find a UV-sensitive egg. This red, then, was my next clue to the comic’s color scheme.

I looked at how red light lends two different tones to a scene. I used only a midtone and a shadow to begin with. No highlights. This kind of color scheme would heavily rely on silhouette and staging to work. Spot black fills were key. I had to hope that I’d set up my inks well enough for this. I was pretty sure I had, but, just in case, there’s always the option to obliterate detail!

Digital comics spread of a wayward explorer using red light to explore a cave full of rocks, eggs, and giant serpents. In one panel she is tripping on the stones and yelling 'Crap!'. She lands on a giant fin. More complete transcriptions will be available when the comic officially launches.I was shocked by how easy it was to flat this sequence.

Since this color was working out fairly well, I went ahead and flatted all of the pages in what I referred to as the ‘red light sequence’… No, not that kind of red light! Anyway. This firmly established this particular red as an important color to the comic. It meant that I needed to find other places to use the red to keep it as a thoroughline color, so that it wasn’t too shocking when the whole comic went monochromatic with red as the only hue. 

Digital screenshot of Photoshop's color picker tool, displaying al the hue sliders and options for selecting colors. A triangle with an exclamation mark next to the chosen hue indicates it's not going to print accurately in CMYK.Photoshop warns artists with a triangle if they’re about to use a color that won’t translate accurately to print. It’s mostly fussy about green tones, but any hue can cause trouble if it’s too bright or the K (black) value is too high.

I also needed to be aware of ink density. I believe that my small press printer of choice, Mixam, does digital as well as offset printing, depending on the amount of copies a person orders. Offset printing tends to be more dull so I relied on Photoshop’s ink density warnings wherever I could. I wanted a nice screen-to-paper conversion via CMYK values. I will find out whether these worked out when I get a proof of this from Milan. This consideration gave me about 4 different reds to work into my ‘red light’ sequence. 

Once I’d flatted the darkness of the cave, I reasoned that, the easiest way to carry this red color through the whole comic was to apply it to Lyrat’s clothes. She features throughout most of the graphic novel. I’d envisioned her as wearing a mauve jumpsuit when I was first writing her, but mauve is just another term for desaturated, dark red.

Digital comic page depicts a character dressed in red in the basement of an abandoned house, which has been rendered in soft, dreamy green tones.First attempt at flatting some opening pages. Green typically complements red, so I went with that.

I sat back and thought about the other elements in the comic that featured prominently. Sure, there was a giant magic doom eel, which was black, but that was already covered by my preliminary spot black fills. Black goes with any color scheme, same as white and neutral gray tones. I also found this lovely axolotl art and wanted to try grouping colors the way this artist grouped their colors. The magic doom eel has a peculiar face which requires many colors, so that gave me another space to throw in ‘all the colors’ and see if it worked. This page, I am hiding, because I would prefer to surprise readers with what the Amphiox’s face looks like. Stay tuned for the webcomic launch to see it for yourself.

My creature design inspiration led me to the color blue. Deep, oceanic, broad, cerulean blue. I had initially colored all the oceans in the comic with spot black. My thought was that this was a reference to the Euxine, to sleep, and to death, but once again I found myself pulling away from stylized colors to more literal ones, at least where the ocean and the water and the waves were concerned. This ocean is an enormous part of the setting so it makes sense that blue would be a major color in the comic.

DIgital screenshot of an ocean texture, rendered with delicate, sparkling cerulean tones.(Regina Spektor noises)

I decided to make the amphiox’s fins blue instead of gray, and I filled in all the water in the comic with this blue color. It’s a warmer blue, not as warm or as bright as cyan, but it easily blends to the greens and yellows of a Mediterranean-climate body of water. This solved most of the comic color scheme in one fell swoop. I improvised in the opening series of pages and at the end to see if I could indicate the passage of time. I used a pea-green teal color to indicate the foggy morning of the opening pages, and purples and oranges to indicate nightfall.

Digital comics spread of the character on an island, tossing her rope into the abyss. Everything is lit with blue tones. The island is a vibrant yellow with green plants here and there.Then I worked on this spread, which I found to be very playful and bright. Exactly the tone I want in the comic.

Having flatted most of the comic, I took a break. When I came back, it was time to fix the airship village spread.

The airship spread returns! Complete color description is in the post below.Here is what I ended up doing.

While this spread had initially appeared very complex and needing tons of colors, it was actually a large variety that made my composition unreadable. There was a pair of dimensional planes that needed definition for the story of this spread to work: The meandering village in the sand down below, and the flight of the manta rays from the ocean. Any more colors and this spread loses all meaning. It was here that I invented the sandy yellow beach to contrast with the blue manta rays, and this yellow would  become more important later. There’s a thing called ‘atmospheric perspective’ which generally relates to the color blue and far-away objects turning more and more blue as they approach the horizon line in the distance. Here, I used atmospheric perspective, but with yellow. All the characters were colored with various shades of yellow, except for the two small characters that I want everyone to look at first in the top left corner. Yellow atmospheric perspective makes the scene look dusty but I think an airship village in the sand would be that way.

Digital art of an abandoned house overlooking a shore strewn with airships and the ruins of a highway. In the distance is an island. It is all covered in murky green fog.I still had some problems with the overall color scheme within the comic that I needed to address.

This panel looked fine on its own. The next page also looked fine. But, within the context of the whole comic…? It really didn’t match, at all, even though the pea-green showed up elsewhere in the comic. My favorite spreads were the ones with vibrant jewel tones. An art director friend, Sarah Dungan, reached out with some constructive criticism: Among other things, I needed to put the yellow from the airship village on the beach. I huffed. No!! This was my misty foggy mysterious opener!! How dare!

Same panel as above, but with an expanded composition to show more sky and more of the setting near the abandoned house. Abandoned picket fence and the shadows of electric equipment dot the cliffside.Well. I tried. This still didn’t look right, but it also didn’t feel right to walk it back to what I had.

As it turns out, there just isn’t enough room in a 48-page action adventure comic to properly display the slow, calm passage of time. This was also affecting how the sunset in the final pages felt — purples and pinks are very nice, but if they’re not really omnipresent in the rest of the comic, it feels weird for them to be central colors all of a sudden. It was time to dial back something about these spreads to be less literal and more stylized, fitting the style of the pages I already liked.

Same panel as above, but all the green is now a muted desaturated blue.Desaturating a blue can make it seem ‘greenish’ when placed next to something that is more deeply blue. Sarah is, after all, often right.

So, now my comic has two ‘modes’ of color instead of four. It has ‘outdoors’ mode, and it has ‘deep in a grotto with a monster’ mode. I think these are the most dramatic and exciting transitions for the reader, and having more modes would make it harder to sink into the world I’m trying to convey. Would I have room for more modes of color if I continued the comic? Most likely, I think I would, but I’m still going to keep mode-switching to a minimum and rely on the blue and the red the most.

Some good news though! My printed proof is coming shortly, after which I can tweak the colors to print better. I’m also in the process of designing a website and a preorder campaign for ordering the book. I’m just going to see where this goes!

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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Amphiox, Continued

Amphiox, Continued

Digital artwork of the opening page in a 48-page comic titled 'Amphiox'. It depicts the title in loosely-kerned Alegreya font as well as a section of some sort of eel, fin included.

Defining Steps in a Personal Production Pipeline
My Amphiox short comic is an exercise in art production. Up until I attempted it, I’d never really done much longform comic storytelling. Most of my practice was in one- or two-page micro-stories. I chose 48 pages as a test for art production because that’s a typical length for a ‘floppy’ comic book, like the ones that debut monthly in comic shops. As I continue to work on it in drafts, I have to define particular stages of production. This frees me from judging myself too hard too early; if something’s not working, I can do my best and then leave it for a later pass.

At the moment, I’m working on inking. However, prior to this I needed the following passes:

  1. Thumbnailing
  2. Value Sketch
  3. Roughing
  4. ‘Clean’ Roughing

I don’t like two separate stages of roughing. For the purposes of figuring out how I like to work I had to give myself the opportunity to ‘let go’ on any given panel in my comic. But, will this be a fast enough process to deliver a comic according to a tighter schedule with more people’s livelihoods on the line? Most comic art I see has a roughs stage, then a lineart stage, nothing in between. I wonder if I have to sharpen my confidence to get to that stage?

Just for fun, here’s what the above stages look like on the most complex spread of my comic so far. It’s an airship village that I named ‘Villagespread.psd’ and it’s fun but I also am expecting a lot of myself with it.

Digital artwork of a very scribbly, simple 'airship village'. If you squint it might be full of airships.Thumbnailing

Digital artwork of the airship village, rendered in stark black and white. The shapes are still very abstract. There's stick figures running through it shouting 'Amphiox! Amphiox!'Value Sketch (with extra panels to indicate the path the characters take)

Digital artwork of the village spread, now drawn more competently and with grayscale shading. It's still pretty rough but at least the airships are visible.Roughing (with grayscale study)

Digital artwork of the airship village spread, with more work on the characters and refined setting pieces.‘Clean’ Roughing

Digital artwork of the airship village spread with the rough sketch set to low opacity, and a few polished lines on the left of the composition.
Inking (Work in progress, of course!)

I also did some late-stage editing on the writing in this draft. When test readers went through the comic they were greatly misinterpreting the following spread. They thought this was a rescue team. I came to the conclusion that this was just a few too many threads in a very short, simple story.

A rough spread with a subterranean submarine, new characters, banter, and uh yeah it's confusing.

However, it’s a bit late in the game to commit to a spread that is equally complicated as this one.

Digital artwork of a view over a hill. There's an airship village on the beach. A rickety house sits on the hill. Off in the ocean there's a grotto. There is text: ONCE UPON A TIME... A traveling village perched upon a shore.  The villagers kept an eye on the horizon. Hungry and deep, the ocean growled. The villagers called their planet, 'haunted'.

I schooched in a ‘prequel’ spread using graphic design to minimize the amount of art I needed to draw. White space is more than about being artsy or airy…it’s also about freeing yourself from extra work. This spread also solved a problem with staging that I had. It’s important that the reader be able to ‘feel’ the location of the airship village in relation to the Amphiox grotto and the haunted house on the hilltop. I’m not the greatest at prose but hopefully I could give a little bit of cultural context to how people react to giant magic doom eels.

Scanned traditional sketch of Lyrat with a patchier outfit and more utilitarian clothing.

I also redesigned Lyrat Poes (‘Poesy’ in the comic) because I didn’t want her to be so symmetrical. I also felt like her original balloony clothing was going to get caught on stuff. Now she looks more like she mods her outfits for jobs rather than fashion.

What’s Next?
Inking! So much inking. Especially that airship spread, wow. I was averaging about 3 full spreads per day before I hit that one.

How am I Feeling About Warlock’d?
Right. This was meant to be a thing that helped me with Warlock’d. Okay, so, I’m feeling intimidated by the amount of work I have to do to make a very long story (300+ pages) coherent and as polished as I am making Amphiox. However, I think that I can commit to polishing individual chapters and editing layouts in the same way that I’ve been editing Amphiox layouts. Am I glad I made Amphiox? Yes. Do I enjoy how much time it’s taking from Warlock’d? No, but at the same time, I needed a break from Warlock’d.

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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Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Digital artwork of a cow mascot over a colored-in balloon letter word of 'SAWGUST'

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!
For the month of August, I pledged to ‘rough’ 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren’t necessarily polished. As I went, I colored in typography supplied by Sally Charette, one block for each day I completed. The cow mascot, SAWgustus, was created and drawn by Adrean Clark. I even won an ‘Auggie’ – a casual award for participating.

How Many Comic Roughs Can I Get Done in a Month?
As it turns out, 48 individual roughed pages in 24 spreads is a reasonable first benchmark for me. These aren’t ready to ship at all, by any means, but I have a solid start to a zine I might be able to sell at Geek Girl Con coming up in November. Probably not full-color or fully complete, but it’s exciting to think about having a short story available when normally all I sell are one-off illustrations and charms and things like that. Check out my progress below.

Digital artwork of a sketch of Lyrat, a bandit who wears a beanie and a jumpsuit.

I did some explorations of character designs as I went, but they needed adjustment within the story, so I’m glad I didn’t get too polished too quickly. I think I’ll leave my other character designs like this in the future. A little amorphous until they need to be solidified.

Digital artwork of various cover ideas, including some typographical explorations, some character art, the Amphiox monster, eggs, and random junk in the ocean.

I even had some time to experiment with cover designs.

Now what I’m sitting on is a base for the rest of the comic. I don’t think I can get a full-color comic inked and printed by November, but a black and white one would be possible. I definitely want to take an appropriate amount of time with inking so that I don’t have to re-do that. I also don’t want to commit to color too early and use a color-key to help me make good decisions as I polish off the rest of this comic before the year ends.

Many thanks to the SAW community for the great space to post rough progress and catalogue my thoughts as I was creating this!

What’s Next?
I have the following steps to get through as I continue honing this project and turning it into a little comic for my portfolio.

  1. Test Reading: Two readers have tested my comic and written a short story summarizing what they think the story is about. I’ll be reviewing their thoughts and incorporating changes to the story and characters based on what they thought. Some of the comic is still too ambiguous at this stage.
  2. Rough Revisions: I’ve shuffled the spreads into an order from least-favorite spread to most-favorite spread. I’ll be revising them with fresh rough artwork
  3. Value Studies R2: Roughs are a great spot to pause and see if my values have changed from my initial studies. They also inform whether my compositions are still working or not.
  4. Color Studies: Roughs are also a great spot to try out color schemes and see what will fit for the entire story, or if I need to adjust particular compositions.
  5. Inking: This will likely happen in a few steps but I haven’t thought through them fully enough to deliberate what those steps are.
  6. Coloring: This, too, will have its own series of steps in a process. Probably something similar to how I color smaller artwork.

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?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Digital sketch of a comic page containing the image of a dilapidated seaside shack, as well as panels depicting a roughly-drawn character suiting up for some sort of task.

How to Draw a Whole New World
On August 15th, I was halfway through a self-appointed monthly comics challenge to create rough art for a 48-page short fantasy story. I’d been lenient with my goals, imagining that most of my time would be spent designing the environment of the story. The sorts of things I set out to draw (airships, motorcycles, tanks, other vehicles and things like houses, mechanical garbage, and other waste) seemed very difficult because I had never rendered anything like them before.

I’m pleased to say, I underestimated myself. I now have a rough setting for this short, silly action story.

Digital sketch of an airship village filled with various vehicles and junk. The humans are not yet drawn in, but there will be a lot of them and they'll make it look even messier.

In addition to the house above, I also have a mobile village of airships. They set down roots where they can, but the condition of the world itself causes these people to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Little roving villages like this are excellent at scavenging. They’ve taken all the refuse left over from a world-engulfing war and turned it into housing, transportation, farming, and more. While I can’t imagine it’s pleasant to have everything torn away by natural disasters, these are people who will come back and re-scavenge what they can, but also find new useful things dredged up from the ocean depths.

Digital sketch of an airship being open for boarding and then rising up into the air with other aircraft.

Designing this large airship presented two challenges: How do I make a big central vehicle believable, but also function in the layout in a way that makes sense? How do I convey that this was once an industrial and military vehicle retrofitted to become mobile housing? I looked up futuristic concepts of airships as well as the aircraft used to cart other aircraft around.

Since characters are leaving the scene, I wanted them to run from left to right, up the airship ramp. Otherwise they’ll look like they’re arriving into the airship. The motion of left-to-right feels more like exiting. Which meant, in previous scenes, the airship needs to face our left.

In a situation with more resources or higher stakes, I could have explored other methods of quickly boarding a mass of people onto an airship. This would have required redrawing scenes I’d already roughed in. For the sake of keeping a personal learning project going, I limited exploration of this airship design and proceeded to other parts of the setting. I’m hoping that by adding people in the next round of drawing, I can really convey the scale of this thing.

Digital sketch of an underground basement, filled with trash. There's a rough stocky character featured in it.

This basement was a fun exercise in pointing the viewer’s eyes to specific spots, where I will later add more characters. Also love the idea of putting so much random, odd details in that the reader might pause and look at this image more carefully, instead of glossing over it like readers normally do in comics.

Digital artwork of a beach strewn with junk, while some sort of cryptid-like snake monster swims off in the background.

This is going to be the final page and interior liner of the short story. Drawing junk feels so intimidating until I actually start looking up photographic reference and typing prompts into an AI image generator. Then it becomes oddly soothing, almost addictive. Can’t stop drawing junk!!

Comics Tip

Staging Tactics
The direction from which characters enter and exit panels can add or detract storytelling value to each panel. The ways characters are situated near each other can simultaneously add depth to their story relationship as well as allow the audience to keep track of their relationship to each other in a scene. A lot of how readers perceive comics depends on the language they are reading and which direction the words flow in an order that makes sense. This was something I was thinking about as I focused on my environment design for this short comic.

The English language reads left to right. English readers are going to perceive the writing and the artwork based on how it’s laid out. Elements on the left side of a panel are going to be perceived first, followed by elements on the right side of the panel.

Digital sketch of a man entering from the left on a comic panel.

Directionally, elements traveling from left to right may feel faster to the English reader, more fresh and new. When a character walks in from the left side of a panel it feels more like they are there for the first time.

Digital sketch of a man entering from the right on a comic panel.

A character walking in from the right side of a panel feels like they’re returning to the scene from elsewhere because they are walking against the direction of reading English words.

Digital sketch of two men entering a comic panel at the same time, each from a different direction.

When two characters approach each other in the scene, the reader may experience a slight bias towards the one on the left because that is the first character they perceive. The character approaching from the right is going against the flow of reading, which gives the character a feeling of blocking, antagonism. When elements are introduced in a scene, we tend to prioritize the first element we see, often preferring it to additional elements.

DIgital sketch of two people sitting and having a conversation. In the second panel there is a dramatic closeup.

Additionally, comics readers do not fully perceive images as they read. They read the text, and then they observe the image peripherally. If two characters are sitting side by side, then the characters need to maintain that same relationship throughout the scene, even if they get up and walk around.

Digital sketch of two people sitting and chatting. In the second panel, it's hard to tell who's speaking because the character positions have been flipped.

Otherwise, the reader may append the wrong speech bubble to the wrong character and become confused, snapping out of the story. This applies to stage left and stage right concepts rather than literal positioning of the characters in the scene, and why the 180 rule is a good thing to keep in mind. Avoid flipping the positions of characters arbitrarily, unless there is a clear transition between them that shows where they’re moving in relation to each other, or where the camera is moving.

Check out comics from other languages to see how their layouts differ. Japanese comics, reading right-to-left, use different conventions from English comics for how they introduce characters and settings. Sometimes comics in any language use strong visual elements to help the reader find their way through more unconventional layouts, too.

 

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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