Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Digital art of a well-fed monarch butterfly caterpillar helping itself to more milkweed leaves. The art is done in a style with thin black outlines and cel shading, but is otherwise rendered true to nature. There are three milkweed leaves in the picture and they have been eaten through the middle by the hungry caterpillar, leaving the steps and tips intact. The caterpillar, who is peach with black stripes, peels back the final leaf to nibble its edge.

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

 

Cocoon Week 19

I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d and was fairly confident in them, right until I hit the part where Stone returns to the fortress on the edge of town. Something about the character interaction felt lackluster, uninteresting, and not indicative of the world beyond the characters. It felt like a series of events that happen just because. Even though in the summary this part of the story felt solid, the details weren’t building to each other. The suspense wasn’t there. There wasn’t any friction to cause the characters to act in interesting ways.

Feeling lost, I consulted a couple of cozy mystery beat sheets (again) and rearranged my collection of scenes to better match the formula there. I don’t gel with ‘unviersal’ story archetypes such as Hero’s Journey and Save the Cat. However, I find genre-specific beat sheets very useful. Apparently there is such a thing as writing a story, figuring out which genre it is, and then editing according to a beat sheet. For now, and for my lack of expertise otherwise, murder mystery beat sheets make more sense to me. One curious thing I found was that in a murder mystery the protagonists can actually be pretty passive in the first act. They’re reacting to things, not necessarily pursuing a goal.

When first drafting this version of Warlock’d I used a mystery beat sheet. I stopped referencing it when I edited my summary, and edited it more and more. It’s gotten away from its original structure so I return to the beat sheet to make changes. One important thing I learned from this draft was that too much stuff happened passively while Stone watched in the later acts. This draft makes it so that Stone actively participates in an action sequence to save someone from being murdered by a demon. Prior to this he just watched that happen from above, followed by watching other stuff happen without him. This would be bad, to have the character revert to reaction and passivity in the second act.

I managed to finish outlining my Terrible Histories anthology submission. I feel all right about the lineart, but I may regret rushing the crowd scene. The next thing to do is flat all the colors. I know I will start out strong with the flatting but then revert to just getting it done and have to fix things after the fact. I’m confident that I can eventually beat the colors into shape prior to the deadline at the end of this month.

 

Cocoon Week 20

Screenshot of some flatting in my Troubled Histories anthology that I felt went particularly well. It depicts a man looking up at a fortress tower saying 'He thinks he can just take my stuff?

I’m devastated. I’ve realized that there is just too much going on in Warlock’d — and this was the light version of several prior drafts.

I swore not to scrap this draft and start over just because the writing is hard. I swore! And now I must break that oath.

Having gone more into Stone’s character and motivation, I’ve realized that he is not the type of character who can have much about him hidden from the reader. He can’t have some second mystery running tangentially alongside some other storyline.

I realized my own mistakes while watching Outer Range on Amazon Prime. This show is simply terrible: No focus, characters everywhere, strained storytelling and what appears to be un-charming Fargo fanfiction set in Wyoming for no reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if ChatGPT wrote this series, it’s that incoherent. The show’s principal problem is it doesn’t let the audience sit with anything concrete or form any positive opinions about anything. Some stories can do this in a fun way, but this show does not. I looked at Warlock’d in its current state and couldn’t bear to continue struggling with it, for its stories were in a similar state.

What then? Start over from the beginning, again? Well, sort of — There are bits of the current script that I like very much. They were developing Stone’s motivation and backstory. Stone has a missing friend now, and the primary aspect of his character (kindness) has more opportunities to shine. I want an opportunity to let readers sit with the setting, heresy, and the state of Hell as it was presented in the 12th century. What happens when a message that a religion portrays (an apocalypse in 1000 AD) doesn’t work out? The pivot is so interesting to me. Hell is an amendment to an apocalyptic prophecy. I believe a lot of modern evangelism and cults tend to hedge on apocalypses, and they never quite work out, so hopefully that’s something we can have in common with medieval people.

The scene where I stopped working on the current outline was one where Stone sticks up for himself against an authority figure who could easily kill him. It was a sillier scene meant to make a lot happen at once. It just felt…bad to write it. Like it was disrespecting my characters, somehow. I think this could be a potentially interesting scene with characters who are better set-up, but all I could think about was all the other things I wanted to set up and how they weren’t all quite relating to each other.

I took inspiration from a podcast where Saturday Night Live writers were reminiscing about process. Apparently they cut things that they like. While I feel like ‘Kill your Darlings’ is often too strictly applied, resulting in dull writing, in this case killing them feels right. I’m getting rid of things that I like in the current story. They’re going into the Sequel Fodder folder, as if someday I’ll spring them back out. It’s also interesting that the writers I like the most are humorists, as it seems like they’re less likely to try to write well, which results in less self-important stories.

Immediately, lacking a few of the characters who were too complex to onboard into an existing plot, I see a much clearer beat sheet, with more room to let readers experience the fun aspects of the setting — The food, the buildings in their original states, and especially all the folk spiritualities — without it all being something they need to pay special attention to. Not plot points, just details that build on an overall simpler plot. The last thing I want to do is worry my readers with worldbuilding.

Digital art of a 12th century lock with animals woven into metalworking designs. The lock is handsomely colored with gold leaf inlays, coppery hues, and a rich magenta background.

I’ll just console myself that my Troubled Histories anthology is coming together, although some of the flatting on pages is quite ugly and will need revision.

To Do Next Week:

  1. Writing!
  2. Coloring Troubled Histories
  3. Web design for Codex Apis (short comics collection)
  4. Or, web design for 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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Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

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

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

 

 

Cocoon Week 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocoon Week 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the idea…I see the appeal.

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

 

To Do Next Week:

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

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

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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.

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

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