Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cocoon Week 1

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

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

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

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

 

Cocoon Week 2

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

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

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

 

To Do Next Week:

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

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

Want to chat about this?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

Full-color digital artwork of 250+ creatures of the Carboniferous period. A graphic of the world in the upper left corner encourages viewers to 'spot 'em all!'. The Carboniferous lasted from 359.2-299 mya. There are too many creatures in the graphic to name, but there are sharks, nautiloids, ammonites, fish, amphibians, arachnids, insects, and even a couple of edaphosaurs (mammalian reptiles) present in this period. They're scattered all around the continents before they were even Pangea. Plenty of plants dot the landscape in between, including plants still extant today such as ginkgo.

An Illustration of Gastronomical Proportions
This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits. The meals involved as puns are all based on my own personal tastes and are in no way representative of all the great food out there. I should be ashamed of all these puns, but no, I’m going to include a chart so that you can track down each and every one of them. Many of the puns were contributed by regular viewers to my weekly livestream and no, I’m not sure whether I should thank or blame them.

Gastronomy labeled map - full details pending

Horoscopes
As a writing exercise, I wrote encouraging food-themed horoscopes for each zodiac sign.

Steak

Aries
“B-aries”

You are bold and swift. As you charge forth into your creative endeavors, remember that the things you are creating and offering to the world can also be things that you, yourself, enjoy.

Steak

Pisces
“Stargazy Pie”-sces

You’re looking at the stars all the time in search of inspiration. Don’t forget to glance in front of you every now and then. We wouldn’t want you to end up in someone else’s pie.

Steak

Aquarius
“Asparagus”

Today, you’re going to chop all the woody parts off your project. This will make it super soft, buttery, and crisp after it’s fried. Look to Taurus and pour a little red wine for a great pairing.

Steak

Saggitarius
Saggi-“Pear”-ius

Keep your eye on the prize, but — if you can load your arrow upfront, who would blame you? Maybe you have a secret resource that you’re not utilizing yet. No shame in using it.

Steak

Scorpio
Lobster Tail

You might be severely underrated. Even prisoners didn’t want to eat lobster in Victorian England. But look at this dish now — Golden, buttery, delicious…expensive. Boil your heart out.

Steak

Libra
Li-“Bread”

Your work is going to be a staple in someone’s life. Maybe not everyone likes raisins in their loaf, or rye, or sourdough, but trying different angles will show you the true grain eventually.

Steak

Virgo
Extra “Virgo” Olive Oil

Honey, you’re delicious, and you belong in every meal. Just remember to add yourself after the pan is heated so you don’t evaporate into smoke. Tonight: sit in a bowl with some oregano

Steak

Leo
Le-“Orange”

If your work isn’t quite complex enough to attract attention, utilize your sunny personality. Big, simple flavors are refreshing, especially if they’re offered by someone kind and friendly.

Steak

Cancer
Boiled Crab

You’ve got something really grand in the works, and you know it! The project may take awhile to get from one place to another, but once you have it, it’s yours to steam and butter.

Steak

Gemini
Ge-“Mint”-i

Have you shared your project with someone you trust? Not every pitch session has to be about critique. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to sit down with someone who only has praise for your work.

Steak

Taurus
T-bone Steak

Your stalwart nature will save the day. Flip your project and your finesse will result in a juicy, flavorful meal — and it’s also okay to use extra spices. A good sear is what locks the flavor in.

Comics Tip

Comparing Processes in Similar Projects
Lately I have been on what I could term an ‘Eye Spy’ kick, where I’m fascinated by broad, landscape compositions with lots to teeny, tiny intertwining scenes and characters. My previous work in this vein was this snapshot of the Carboniferous, featuring over 250 organisms from the time period.

Full-color digital artwork of 250+ creatures of the Carboniferous period. A graphic of the world in the upper left corner encourages viewers to 'spot 'em all!'. The Carboniferous lasted from 359.2-299 mya. There are too many creatures in the graphic to name, but there are sharks, nautiloids, ammonites, fish, amphibians, arachnids, insects, and even a couple of edaphosaurs (mammalian reptiles) present in this period. They're scattered all around the continents before they were even Pangea. Plenty of plants dot the landscape in between, including plants still extant today such as ginkgo.

For this complex Eye Spy page, I had each organism in its own named layer folder. The folder contained visual reference, a rough sketch, and lineart. I approached the composition by laying out all of the organisms as sketches first. Then I created their lineart. After that, I duplicated the lines and merged them so that they would be easier to color. I felt weird about having over a thousand layers in one document, but my computer was able to handle it.

For the Gastronomy concept, I wondered if simplifying the document might help complete it more quickly. Instead of compiling reference for everything, then sketching every character, and then drawing lineart for every character, I worked on the piece one constellation at a time. All the sketches are on one layer, and all the lineart is on one layer, and then all the stars are on one layer.

Which one works best for me?
The results were… drumroll please…Absolutely, 1000%, my process on the Carboniferous was better. Working on individual illustrations meant I was constantly switching between research, sketch, and lineart mode on Gastronomy. My Carboniferous creatures, as sketches, could be moved around more easily and tangents were solved. This was not the case with Gastronomy constellation characters and I fear the tangents in this piece.

For creating highly-detailed landscape compositions like this, I recommend:

  1. Organized, named layers, in folders per miniature that exists in the illustration. Don’t be afraid of a thousand layers in your document. Just save it as a .psb. It’s all good.

  2. Do visual research for ALL of the characters or mini-illustrations first.
  3. Sketch ALL of the characters across the whole composition before doing lineart.
  4. Give yourself a composition-editing phase between sketching and lineart. Easier to move, enlarge, shrink, and otherwise edit sketches than it is to edit lines, in my experience.
  5. Once the lineart is done, create two duplicate, flattened versions of all the lineart. One is to behave as lines, the other is to help with flatting. Keep at least one copy of the lineart with separate characters because they can be useful outside of the big composition as spot illustrations, or as easy selection areas for the magic wand tool.
  6. Chunk the whole composition into 9-12 squares for coloring flats, details, and doing small paintovers. Polishing a fraction of the larger illustration per day helps manage burnout and gives a series of smaller accomplishments to reach.
  7. Choose points of interest in the overall composition. Putting big highlights and shadows on everything can make it hard to focus (although sometimes that’s the point!). Selectively highlighting certain parts of a larger Eye Spy composition allows the other subjects to fall back and ‘hide’ a little, making it more fun to look through.

On a final note, there was also a small hiccup with Gastronomy where my reference star chart omitted around 40 additional southern constellations. The way I had constructed the illustration hampered my ability to add them in harmoniously.

This Gastronomy constellation food chart is available as a free coloring page under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 3.0.

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?