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...

Want to chat about this?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Digital artwork of an extreme closeup of a butterfly's pale green egg. The egg is ribbed down the sides with ridges and lines of indentations, softly shiny. The egg is nestled in the fine hairs of a milkweed leaf.</p>
<p>A black arrow points to the egg. Text over the arrow reads: "It's an egg! I swear!"</p>
<p>A watermark for http://hmcgill.art is present at the bottom of the piece.

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 Recap
These weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who approached me with offers to help. I wasn’t at the top of my game for these two weeks, but I did feel less alone and that helped me feel much better.

Revisiting some older parts of my packet really helped. These two weeks, I focused on the ‘wow’ spread depicting the setting.

All in all I’m building my own personal excitement for this blog post series. I can share more art than I thought! Not all of it, but some very fun stuff.

 

Cocoon Week 3

Something in me reawakened, and I laid out the new version of sample pages. This version focuses on the relationship between Stone and Margo. There aren’t any other characters present in the scene. I gave the ‘blorp’ art version to kind friends who read things for me and tell me when something’s off. It’s still a little bit confusing in this stage but hopefully some line editing will help.

Some feedback that I got encouraged me to explore earlier in the story, to show more of Paris and give some context to Margo. This I can do, but I was really hoping to knock out rough art much sooner. I don’t think I’m going to blorp any art in on the earlier pages unless I can get some eyes on comparing the two scripts.

I also revisited the Warlock’d city spread…This is a drawing referenced from a 14th century painting, but with a WIP Notre Dame substituted in. The intent for this piece is to be an interior liner that leads readers into the story proper. This was the best drawing I could do, lacking visual resources from the 12th century proper. I’ve reworked this piece a few times and this time, I finally addressed the messy coloring found in the details of the piece. I found the progression in color theory very interesting.

Grungy, ashen-grey digital artwork on a two-page spread depicting the artist's best guess at a 12th century Parisian skyline. It's very very gray with hot pink highlights. It depicts a small person with a candle crossing a black Seine river, fleeing the city on the Îsle de la Cité. A tall bridge runs over this river. A title lockup reads:

My very first attempt, trying to control the contrast with a grayscale treatment and color overlay. It’s also painterly and overworked. It was fine enough at the time, but my understanding of color is much more nuanced now.

Digital art on a two-page spread depicting the artist's best guess at a 12th century Parisian skyline. Compared to the previous graphic, the colors are more clearly and cleanly divided into sections. A bluish grayscale is applied to the hills, clouds, and city buildings. Soft orange and yellow is used for the sky and reflecting Seine river. The 'Warlock'd title graphic is now black on a sunrise. The overall effect is still fairly dreary. and the clouds almost look the same as the city.

This attempt was a bit better. I removed most, but not all, of the soft brushing. It was inspired by a Vermeer palette, focusing on red being the star color. Feedback was that grayscale is not a big seller in the comics world. A lot of graphic novels are very limited in color or washed-out, which is also not to my taste. I think I can do better!

Two-page digital art spread of the author's best guess at what the 12th century Parisian skyline might have looked like. Set on a sweeping backdrop of heavenly clouds and rolling hills covered with snow, the city occupies most of the foreground. Towers mingle with homey buildings, encircled by a great wall. A bridge crosses over the Seine river. The water has taken on the orange and yellow glow of the sky. A title lockup is wreathed by clouds in the sky: Warlockd: To Hell, with Love.

This is the latest color scheme rendition. I removed all desaturated colors and I am very pleased that the snow is more snow-like. It was also easier to control the gradients of color once I discarded more of the soft brush. I only left the brush on parts meant to fade into the snow a bit more. I’m really happy with the points of interest I was able to create and this is going to be my reference for snow from here on out.

I grabbed and assembled different photographs of a caterpillar’s life cycle to create Cocoon Year graphics. It’s helpful for me to have a checklist of all the art I need to do. I’m hoping that these smaller pieces help me warm up on drawing whenever I do them. I am also going to learn way more about butterfly anatomy than I ever cared to know.

 

Cocoon Week 4

I started the week with a self-imposed break. I call it…No Comics Sunday! Saturday as well but that’s last week’s break. Lately I’ve been feeling slower and slower which means, even if I’m having fun, I need to step back. Getting 1 or 2 hours of work in every day is worse than getting more solid work done four or five days a week.

We went to a professional tea tasting and it was the perfect reset. Floating Leaves Tea is a shop we’ve frequented for years because it supplies incredible Taiwanese tea. What’s nice about these tea tastings is that we get to go and share her love of tea with none of the work involved in becoming skilled. It’s so nice to have a hobby rather than a drive. Did you know that tea can dance around the mouth, or rest on the tongue, depending on how it’s brewed? It can also be very minty and airy, or grassy, or floral, or ‘big’ or ‘small’, ephemeral or stalwart, and catch in the mouth, throat, chest, or stomach. We booked the whole afternoon for tea and caught up with the shop owner, who is always a delight.

Given time to reflect, I think there is a problem with how I seek and absorb reactions to my work. As a result, I am torn between respecting the feedback and effort of my peers and actually moving forward with the project. When this project lands on an agent’s or editor’s or publisher’s desk, they are going to have their own required changes and I will need to weigh those even more strongly than I weigh peer feedback. However, if I keep resetting my packet before querying, my pitch will never make it to anyone’s desk, so I just won’t know what specific agents and editors want. In any creative field, there is no good, no bad, no better, no worst, and no best…A work only has to clearly portray an idea, and then that either appeals to a specific audience, or it doesn’t.

With this in mind, I’m instituting a new rule for myself where I have to ask my peers ‘given a week’s deadline, how would your critique change?’. This seems like the kindest way to get more information and also move forward with the project. ‘Blue sky’ edits that completely reset the project are more useful when I get an official rejection or a revise/resubmit. I want to leave both options open because otherwise people might feel bad if they gave me the wrong feedback, and that’s quite the opposite! Everyone who has read my work has been most helpful. There is no wrong feedback, there is simply feedback that works better in response to different forces.

I asked other graphic novelists what their pitch packets looked like, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a 5-page synopsis is probably pushing patience in length. I need to make spot illustrations to break up the text. That or, I can really hone my one-page synopsis and let the detailed one be available upon request. From my peers I’ve learned that I can share snippets of my pitch packet, but I need to save the very special stuff for the submission packet. Fair enough. At least now I know I can share some imagery here fairly safely. Especially the stuff I cut from the packet!

One more bad habit of mine is to sit with the INDD document open and just…stare at it. I need to stop doing this.

In closing I’m going to share my favorite cut panel that was removed from a previous iteration of my sample comic pages. I feel like this is the best comic panel I’ve ever drawn, and I’m not even going to use it in the final packet!

Digital sketch of a starry-eyed, innocent-looking barn swallow. She has speech bubbles over her head. Text reads:

 

 

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Ride the incoming high, and not burn out.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

Want to chat about this?

Amphiox: Launches Today!

Amphiox: Launches Today!

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

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

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

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

Theory 1: Readers are here to read a webcomic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

Want to chat about this?

How to Color the World

How to Color the World

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

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

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

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

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

(…Or at least, I thought I did.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

Want to chat about this?

Amphiox, Continued

Amphiox, Continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

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

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

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

Want to chat about this?