Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

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

 

Cocoon Week 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flats, with some flats acting as highlights and shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

Nakey 32×32 adventures!

Cocoon Week 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Do Next Week:

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

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 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: 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 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

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

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

 

 

Cocoon Week 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocoon Week 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the idea…I see the appeal.

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

 

To Do Next Week:

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

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 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 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?