Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comics Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryMostly I mentally re-shuffled how I was going to approach the project, in terms of output and feedback. I picked up a lot of steam on the project as a result.     Cocoon Week 5 I started the week much less restricted about...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese 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...

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Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Digital artwork of around 48 pages of extremely messy, light comic artwork. Panels have been arranged with pink outlines.

A Break from the Webcomic Doldrums
I’ve been working hard on Warlock’d, but not in any capacity ready for public release. There is a lot of editing to be done on it (and has been done on it) and it gets overwhelming on a day-to-day basis. One issue has been that I’m not quite confident enough in my steps between layouts to complete art. Doing one-off single page gag comics is one thing, but it doesn’t quite give me enough experience with doing a whole batch of pages in a consistent style.

‘Sawgust’ logo and mascot created by Adrean Clark

The Sequential Artists Workshop is hosting, for the first time ever, an event dedicated to completing a comics challenge over August. It’s called SAWgust and it’s a comics-themed NaNoWriMo-type event run by two volunteers: Adrean Clark and Susan Marks. The cow mascot’s name is SAWgustus and also a leftover from when the event was called ‘SAWCoWriMo’. I wouldn’t let Adrean and Susan get rid of such a good boy. The cow remains even if the original pun does not and currently goes by the name of ‘SAWGustus’. I preferred ‘Gus’ as his name but I got what I wanted with regards to the mascot in the first place, so there’s no need for me to be petulant.

As for my project, I chose to comic-ify a short fantasy heist story I wrote last year. This would include some fun challenges: Character design, setting design, monster design, and a lot of practice drawing machines. I pre-gamed with 48 thumbnails and rudimentary lettering. It’s not part of a larger pitch, it’s just a short story that I can wrap up and sell at conventions as a single-issue floppy. There’s no additional baggage or expectations of it. All it needs to do is exist.

Then I got excited and did a series of value studies for all the pages as well. This is amazing for me. When I squint and look at all the pages at once, it already feels like a real comic!

Anatomy could use some work, of course!

I’m going to incorporate the value studies into Warlock’d. It gives me one more round of editing built into the layout stage. I hope it revitalizes my energy for my project and helps me move on out of the writing and into the artwork. I wonder what else I’m going to learn from this monthly challenge!

Comics Tip

Quick and Easy Margin Measurements for Organic Comic Page Layouts
You may have noticed weird pink outlines along some of my panels. These are FPO (For Placement Only) graphics that help me eyeball margins between panels. When using organic layouts it can be tough to figure out how far away panels ought to be from each other. Mechanically measuring each one takes too much time. However, by using Outer Glow and Object styles, we can make this process much less painful and perhaps even fun.

Page without guides…It’s hard to tell if all the panels are evenly spaced near each other.

Page with guides. Now we can see how far away each panel is from its neighbor!

Snap pink bands directly on top of one another for fun and profit.

Now all the panels are evenly spaced!

These borders are an Outer Glow Effect that can be set up within InDesign’s Object Styles panel. Use these settings for crisp edges on your Outer Glow. Color is up to you — I suggest something vibrant that can be seen clearly on whatever color your pages will be. I used pink because it’s cute and grabs my attention. As for the size of the margin, mine are typically 1/4th inch, but margin sizes differ according to personal taste. Definitely play with that until it’s a width that suits your comic.

You’ll need to apply the Object Style to each panel in your document. The easiest way to do this is to click the Object Style before creating the shapes. This will automatically assign the Object Style to all shapes you create until you click a different style. However, if a panel or two sneaks out of it, never fear, just select the shape and click the Object Style.

Why is the Object Style so important? Because once you’re done carefully laying out your panels with even margins, all it takes is one click on the checkbox seen above to disable the pink margins from all panels that have the Object Style applied. It’s also easy to turn back on if you feel like a stray panel looks off.

Now go out there and have nice even margins in your comic!

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryMostly I mentally re-shuffled how I was going to approach the project, in terms of output and feedback. I picked up a lot of steam on the project as a result.     Cocoon Week 5 I started the week much less restricted about...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese 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...

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Goblin Week 2022 Retrospective

Goblin Week 2022 Retrospective

Digital artwork of seven gangly goblins.

Throwing Down on Social Media
I don’t often participate in big group challenges in public, but this one caught my interest: Goblin Week! It was started by Evan Dahm in 2012 and every year, the goblins just get more goblin-y. I created seven different goblins with different goblin careers. One aspect of the challenge that I was proud of was testing out how fast I could conceptualize a goblin, draw it, and color it. I could make a couple per hour with my new lining and flatting style. The goblins didn’t make as big of a splash as I’d hoped on social media but I am happy with them and hope they live lovely little goblin lives.

Comics Tip

Developing a Following for a Comic via Community Events
Big community challenges aren’t necessarily great for exposure. Many times, artists who already have a following are the ones who are going to get big numbers within a large group event. I’ve done many community challenges in the past and have a few thoughts to share about them, besides simply honing your skills.

Digital art of dragons chasing a tiny Margo.One of my old Inktober entries. Margo has attracted quite the following.

What is the trick to gaining followers from community challenges? I would say, picking smaller challenges that occur frequently is a great place to start. Why is this? Well, if you think about advertising, it’s something that has to happen consistently to ‘take’. A person often won’t click on an ad the very first time they see it. If the ad is persistent, they are more likely to click it. The same goes for following an artist. A person who sees that artist’s work multiple times is more likely to recognize and follow them.

If the only community event an artist does occurs once per year, and is already oversaturated with the works of other, bigger artists, then that is not going to result in many new followers. Sure there are oddball lucky submissions that do numbers, but for stuff like Inktober and Goblin Week I could tell that artists who already had followings were being seen and shared the most. My own submissions for just the one year reached a couple of new people, but this was only with the help of those who already followed my accounts (about 2-3 thousand people across my various accounts, as far as I can tell). So, this makes me think that the really big community challenges aren’t necessarily the best ones for comic artists hoping to attract new eyes to their work.

Try Small, Repeating Art Contests
My suggestion for those looking to build their following would be to start small, with small challenges, that repeat frequently, so that your work gets presented to the same audience on a relatively frequent basis. People love to watch growth so even if your work isn’t up to par at the beginning, it could get there eventually. Persistence is going to win the day if your goal is to build a following. Pick one or two monthly challenges with consistent deadlines, such as on Facebook or Twitter, and add to the community there. Then, once momentum builds from the smaller communities, it’s easier to make a statement in larger community events.

My final note, of course, is that social media is inherently meaningless on its own, so some thought ought to be put into what a following may be used to leverage. Don’t build your following for a comic at the expense of making the comic, is all I’m saying.

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryI started out strong, felt some lag, and came across an unexpected second wind while designing supplementary graphics for my pitch packet.     Cocoon Week 7 This week some client work landed on my hard drive. It may seem...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February SummaryMostly I mentally re-shuffled how I was going to approach the project, in terms of output and feedback. I picked up a lot of steam on the project as a result.     Cocoon Week 5 I started the week much less restricted about...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese 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...

Want to chat about this?