SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

My graphic novel characters from left to right: Pierre in his red robe and black cape with gold trim, Margo hovering as her barn swallow self near Canicula's nose, Canicula smacking his mace against one hand while decked out in sumptuous furs, and Lebeau, charging in from the right in their secondhand armor.

Character Redesigns and Styleguide Revamps
As I’ve been thumbnailing the script of Warlock’d as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop‘s Graphic Novel Intensive, I’ve also had to sit and revisit my comic’s styleguide. There has been some character shuffling as my previous script draft evolved and became thumbnailed. I believe some of my earlier designs that I had prior to taking this course are too literal. I might take advantage of some stylization to not only make these people easier to draw, but also make them look more interesting as well! Here’s how my redesign process has gone for each of the three main characters in Warlock’d, with different goals and style considerations for each.

Painterly versions of Pierre in purple robes with a book and a sun behind him. Margo is yelling at him from the side.

As I’ve stated in earlier blog posts, my initial pipe dream was to create a very painterly comic. This met a swift end with the realization of how much revision goes on with my writing process, even in the midst of creating art. Working by myself and wearing all the hats is a lot different from being on a team. On a team, I have to accept the contributions of the other professionals as-is, and I only have input over my specific area of focus. As an indie comics artist doing all of the things, I have the power and freedom to change things if they aren’t working whenever I want…But if I don’t make it easy to change things, then I’m hampering myself.

Same portrait of Pierre and Margo, but with a half-painted, half cel-shaded look. Still muddy and murky.

Here was my second attempt at a comic style, for use in a pitch packet. I decided to wing the colors and coloring style, which resulted in very messy colors. The feedback was to simplify and stylize my characters more.

Full-color comic page done digitally with four panels. Panel 1: The Abbey of St. Germaine in the dawn, labeled as such. Panel 2 is full bleed and runs under panels 1, 3, and 4, zooming in on the roof architecture of the abbey. Panel 3 is of Pierre with his back to the viewer, framed by an arc window. Panel four depicts Pierre lecturing Margo about angel lawsuits.

Here is a page that was done in the same style as above…Results were muddy! Additionally, I didn’t have a set number of concrete steps to take to get the page to a ‘finished’ state, so some things would get lots of detail and shading, where others would not, and there wasn’t really a system to it. I was glad to get feedback on this so I could make it better.

A cross-section of colors, with bright red, orange gold, warm blue, and seafoam green.

With all of this in mind, I set out to further simplify and code my process as a series of specific steps. First thing on the docket was a pre-defined palette for use throughout the entire comic. I simply cannot be trusted with purple, as it turns out. So, I drew inspiration from the limited palette of medieval illuminated manuscripts. They didn’t have access to purple, so neither would I. Instead, I would rely more heavily on a medieval person’s favorite colors: Reds, golds, greens, and in special cases, blue.

Pierre and Margo, same poses as previous image, but now they have clean coloring with broad, flat colors, less shading, and more highlights around areas of interest on their designs.

The result is much more clean, more vibrant, richer and simpler. Also it’s easier to put together. Really, portfolio reviews are worth it.

One more go at Pierre, only now he's wearing a red robe with a yellow lining on his cape.

The yellow robe on Pierre proved difficult to make clear within the context of a comic panel. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because my backgrounds are typically very light on the contrast scale. I swapped his cape interior and his robe to make the yellow something he could discard for scenes where it would be unclear. The reds and yellows have practical significance (He’s able to afford fancy dyed cloth), as well as spiritual significance (He’s been assigned the medieval zodiac sign of the Sun, which is a bearer of good and bad signs, and the sign of kings and rulers).

Same page as above, but instead of smoky pink and purple, it has been rendered with bright orange and gold tones, with slate blue shadows.

This did get me to thinking, though — how committed did I want to be to such literal character designs? The environments are one thing — I really enjoy developing the details on those and getting the perspective all lined up. But the characters…Do they have to hew so close to real people? Also, what if I find feet really annoying to draw? What if I want to quickly see how tall all of the characters are? I developed my next round of character designs with this consideration in mind. Preview only for now, but I’m hoping to have a post cataloguing each character in the story next month.

Full spread of characters in the graphic novel, Warlock'd. From left to right: Pierre, Margo, Canicula, Lebeau, Renoncule, the Lieutenant, Ferrand, Briande, Janet, the Prévôt, and the Bishop.

In my re-write, I’ve incorporated the new character of King Phillip II. Since I have a compelling scene near the end that features this king, I need a design for him. Here I wanted to explore telling the audience as much about this character as possible from one glance, since he’s only physically present in one scene and it’s at the end.

Stylized digital artwork of King Phillip II, or King Phillip Augustus, the ruler of Frankish kingdoms in 1190 AD. He sits on a throne carved to look like two dogs facing either side. Torches blaze behind him. He spills wine casually, the same way he spills blood. He wears beautiful clothing and ermine furs, with a crown of rubies on his head. He holds a scepter in his other hand. Behind him, the Oriflamme (flag dyed with the blood of a saint) flaps.

Where am I going with all this?
Frankly, not quite sure just yet — this is all pre-production work. I may alter the designs if they offer unforeseen challenges during the roughs stage of drawing the comic, which will happen after lettering. It’s nice to have a starting point, though!

Comics Tip

Writing Reference

While I’ve been writing Warlock’d, I’ve made use of many books to help inform the details of the speculative world in which it takes place. Without the following resources, I’d have never even thought about the political structures, architecture, culture, diet, or technology of the 12th century. While my comic will not be historically accurate, I found the following resources inspiring and important for filling in empty spaces in the setting. I don’t believe in strict accuracy when it comes to fiction, but it sure is fun to be curious and find cool things to bring back to the manuscript.

As of writing this all of the following resources are freely available online for anyone else who is interested in this time period.

Going Medieval – by Dr. Eleanor Janega, medievalist

JSOTR – Sometimes has free access to primary historical resources.

Goodreads – A compilation of print books that I’ve read. Most of these are available at a library. Hope the reviews are of some use.

Mandragore – Searchable database for old manuscripts — it’s in French so it takes some finessing to figure out.

Gallica – More French manuscripts, and other vintage oddities.

 

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 2/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 2/6

Digital art of a character design based off of the medieval cynocephalus, or dog-headed man. (No relation to Dav Pilkey). The men are both dressed in fine furs with felt hats and wear snarls on their muzzled faces. The only difference between the two is that one man is entirely wolflike, fur and all, while the other man has no fur on their face, leading to a very bald complexion.

A Tale of Cynocephali
In the six-month Sequential Arts Workshop (SAW) graphic novel intensive, I’ve been getting meaningful work done on my thumbnails and script. Soon, I will have a complete thumbnailed version of the graphic novel.

As for the cynocephali (or medieval dog-headed men) above, that represents a character redesign challenge I had while revisiting the fourth or fifth draft of my script. The first iteration of this character, named Canicula, is represented by the gray wolfish man. Early feedback indicated that sure, wolf heads are cool, but Canicula looked like he was a werewolf form of Pierre, one of the comic’s deuteragonists!

Hated to admit it but I can sort of see how Canicula initially looked like a wolfy Pierre.

So, I dug deep into Wikipedia for more visual reference. 12th century images of cynocephali are quite rare online, or I simply haven’t found them yet. I landed on this example of a 17th century depiction of Saint Christopher as a cynocephalus from Russia and couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Kermira, Cappadocia St Christopher depicted with the head of a dog. From the 5th century on, it was widely believed in Byzantium that the saint was one of the mythic dog-heads, a barbarian race without the gift of human speech. Nevertheless his depiction as a dog-head had not been the dominant in the Byzantine art, since the Byzantine Church frowned upon the linking of one of its saints with the cynocephali. In the post-Byzantine art, though, especially from the 17th c. onwards, the Orthodox artists several times paint the Saint as a dog-head. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)

There’s something quite arresting about the skin tone, the ears, and the haircut on this artwork. I couldn’t put my finger on it….

Screenshot of Mok Swagger, a character from an ill-fated animated movie called Rock n' Rule. He has excessive eyebrows, lips, and teeth, and he's holding some kind of vaporwave stick. He looks an awful lot like a cynocephalus, with the pointy ears, big curved nose, and ridiculous lips.I don't know. Ask Nelvana.“My name is…Moknicula Swaggercephalus.”

Ah. Okay. Well. This will be my homage to Nelvana’s ill-fated attempt at adult animation, then! Exactly the right level of uncanny valley.

Character redesign: Complete! For now, anyway.

In terms of technical studies I’ve also been working my way through the facial expressions section in Anatomy for Sculptors.

Comics Tip

Managing a Team of One
As I’m independently producing a graphic novel, I’ve come to realize I am doing 4-5 separate jobs, all at once. Just being one person, it might seem easy to keep myself organized, but no, of course not. My brain goes in 4-5 different directions at once. I have to reign myself in and focus on one part of the graphic novel at a time. Above all, writing comes first. Many graphic novelists (and, er, non-graphic novelists…so… novelists) turn to notecards and sticky notes to keep their plots under control. While I adore tactile crafting and drawing whenever possible, I turned to a digital solution.

Trello.com is a free notecard-like sorting system for keeping track of tasks. It accomplishes the one simple thing that I want it to do: Make digital cards that are editable, legible, and can be swapped around. I can access my cards from anywhere. They are also share-able for feedback and if I really wanted, I could invite collaborators.

Screen Shot of a Trello board. It has several columns, including to-do lists, lettering, thumbnailing, and the like. The background is a snowy mountain lake.

I set up my columns to reflect each ‘job’ I have to do in order to complete my graphic novel: Conceptualized, Scripted, Thumbnailed, Lettered, Roughed, Inked, Colored, Polished. Right now I’m very focused on bringing everything into the ‘Thumbnailed’ stage. At the time of writing this I have Act 1 thumbnailed, most of Act 2 thumbnailed, and bits of Act 3 thumbnailed. Trello lets me hop around like a time traveler so I can resolve the scenes I am most interested in first.

If you’re interested in giving Trello a try, and haven’t been traumatized by it yet in a tech workplace, it’s free to use here.

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 1/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 1/6

I signed up for a 6-month graphic novel course via Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW). It’s very heavily focused on individual study and progression. As for the graphic, I got sorted into the ‘orange’ group, although it seems like I’m just sort of interacting with whomever. I’m doing a lot of sketchy thumbnail work for the course and…making friends! But mostly working, starting with an exercise to help me visualize my entire graphic novel before going in to the nuts and bolts.

Setting Up Benchmark Scenes
Even though I’d been working on Warlock’d for years prior to this SAW class, I picked up a fun exercise that I will be doing for future projects. The idea is to quickly explore the whole book before writing a single line of dialogue. In my case, I’d already written the script, but every time I tried to fix it, it just spiraled into new ideas. So, to stop it from expanding further, this exercise really helped.

 


Warlock’d in Four Panels

Here I quickly jotted down the spine of the story. They turned into jokes because this much truncation lends itself better to humor than drama. These scenes need to happen for the story to work.

 


Warlock’d in Eight Panels

Here I misunderstood an eight page assignment but I still found this helpful to do anyway. It was sort of like mini-thumbnails for fleshing out the four panels above, giving them more context and thumbnails for the actual pages.

 

 


Warlock’d in Eight
Pages
From the four, then eight, panels, I was able to derive a lot of pages that I’m either excited about reaching, or…excited about changing altogether. Hey, not everything’s a masterpiece. At least I know many months in advance that it needs editing, rather than after I’ve fully drawn the page.

 

Takeaways
This doesn’t have to be done digitally. It could be drawn on napkins with ballpoint pens. The point is to quickly jot ideas down and become more familiar with them, even set up a few to look forward to polishing. Spending too much time and polish on explorations is just like vacuuming my cat…Sure, maybe it looks nice at the end, but did I really have to do that?

Comics Tip

Make Friends, and Support Them
Making comics may seem like a lone effort, but without a community, a comic goes nowhere (and possibly never gets finished). Part of paying into the comics community means supporting other comics creators.

Buy and read the work of your peers. Get to know their interests outside of comics. Beta read scripts for each other. Toss money into a comics Kickstarter or two. Go to some conventions and strike up some conversations with exhibitors in Artist Alley. Show up to a weekly local drawing group. Trade tips and resources. While it’s not a one-for-one trade in most situations, being successful at comics means being part of a larger group of people.

With that in mind, here are three comics friends of mine who kindly volunteered for shout-outs, as well as a link to the Sequential Artists Workshop. Check out their stuff!

Digital lineart of an orange with orange blossoms and orange leaves. It is uncolored so that readers can download it and color it for themselves.
But if you’re not feeling extroverted, help yourself to this CC BY-NC 3.0 licensed free coloring page!

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?