Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Digital art of a newly-hatched monarch butterfly caterpillar crawling out of its shell for the first time. The shell is translucent, covered with dimples and ridges, with a slight sheen on top. It has a huge ripped hole in one side where the caterpillar exited. The caterpillar is a pale peach color with lines of black spines running down its body. Its legs and face are black as well. It crawls over an extrem closeup view of leaf fuzz, from a milkweed leaf. Where is our little friend headed? Text in the corner is a watermark: http://hmcgill.art

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March Summary
This week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing down — not because I had a lot of work left to do, but because I had so little work to do. I really, really was enjoying working on Warlock’d in earnest, in spite of the ups and downs.

 

 

Cocoon Week 9

I started bringing in my character profiles to the pitch packet. I have one page devoted to Cleric Stone, then one page devoted to demons, a page for supporting cast/murder mystery subjects, a page for a special character and twist in the story, and a page full of props because everyone who likes medieval stuff likes props, too.

I checked out a book on slavery which was…not exactly fun reading, but necessary. Lebeau’s backstory needed fleshing out. I’ve chosen to make them into a serf pursuing the life of a freeman. Paris was a place where people could expand their social boundaries and change their status in the world, as evidenced by the rise of a merchant class. To do this I figured I should look into how serfdom actually worked.

I read the overview of Slavery after Rome: 500-1100 (Alice Rio) and got through the first chapter on how people were made into slaves in the first place. What was most interesting to me was that, after being impoverished by slave traders, the typical thing a group of people would do is then turn on some other group of people and enslave them. It’s an evil that seems to spread that way. It’s also hard to describe people as ‘slaves vs. free’. My plan to incorporate the muddiness of being free or not is to reference it in Warlock’d as something an individual character goes through. After all, North/Western Europeans were supposedly against slavery, and yet serfdom was totally okay? Hmm. Really makes a person think.

The book itself is really clear and direct, much more so than many books on medieval history. I may have to type up a Goodreads review for it, in case anyone else needs a good resource on how this stuff worked back then. The parts that got to me emotionally were the aspects of women as slaves, the ancillae. This is a little dark for where I want to go with my caterpillar-themed comics blogging here but I did swear not to turn away from the honestly awful aspects of medieval life. There were terrible things going on! Just not the way pop culture tends to simplify and frame it!

Anyway I left most of the book unread after struggling through a little bit of it.

In terms of artwork, I moved in on the flatted colors and added shading here and there. I find that comics are easy to overwork. Not everything needs shading and highlights. Sometimes a character reads better when left flat. I really wrestled with the opening Hell page because my first attempt to shade it made in incomprehensible.

I also found myself bemoaning my overuse of purple in the middle pages. Purple is my Problem Color. I always want to use it, but I never use it well.

Cocoon Week 10

This week I returned to a portion of the process that I’m more comfortable doing: Book cover and lockup design! The following is not all of the work that I completed during this one week, but all of the versions of this cover leading up to the one I’ve decided will be in the final pitch packet. To everyone who ever nagged me about never including enough revisions in my blog: Can you just look at these, I’m doing it right here, stop making me anxious, thank you!

First version of a cover mockup for Warlock'd: To Hell, with Love. It's sedate with paper texture all over. Red bands cross it along the top and the bottom.A mass of wings spiral around the title lockup, blue like a barn swallow's but not arranged like the wings of any known bird. The feathers are shaded in the style of a medieval manuscript egg tempera painting. In the bottom band, rigid drawings of birdlike demon legs stamp across the ground, lending an Egyptian tone to the whole affair. Text at the bottom reads:

The very first attempt at making a cover design. I wanted to reference the Egyptian mythos that Christianity pulls from, as well as bring in multi-winged cosmic horror. Because…who doesn’t love multi-winged cosmic horrors? However the tone of this is all wrong. People might expect some paranormal romance and they might not be aware that this is a graphic novel, instead of a prose novel.

Second version of the cover to Warlock'd. It features a bright red border sparingly dotted with floral-ish golden symbols. Interior borders bear paper texture and a gold foil version of 'Warlock'd: To Hell with Love' lockup. A moth perches over the 'lock'd'. Another moth perches on the border. Margo perches at the bottom of the border, chomping a third moth. Behind her, in the snow, Paris burns all over. 'H. McGill' is written on the bottom of the layout under a small red flower.

To help my book look more like a graphic novel, I pulled in a character and glimpses of the setting. I’ve heard that red books sell better but who knows if that’s marketing superstition. It fits the color scheme of the comics. This red is its identity color and around which all color schemes revolve. It’s based off the feathers on Margo’s face. However, there’s not much storytelling going on…I guess there’s a bird who’s eating a moth. It’s not totally important to the story that she eats bugs. I have also greatly simplified my coloring process since I made this version of the cover so all that texturing isn’t going to be present in the comic pages.

Third version of the Warlock'd cover. This one has the same layout as the second version, but the grays have been turned into bright blues and the reds are punched up a lot. Margo is no longer perching but flying, with a devilish grin in her beak, down to Hell. Flames curl all around her and continue to Paris behind her. A golden flower rests over the 'lock'd' in the gold foil 'Warlock'd: To Hell, with Love' lockup.

After rewriting my synopsis a few times I had a better grip on Margo’s character, anyway. She is as proactive as a demon can be. I call this ‘action Margo’. I wanted to make it look like she actively had something to do with the fires in Paris, because she does! I also punched up the blues in the snow and I think it’s a much livelier color scheme. Many graphic novels sit back on their colors and I want Warlock’d to leap out. I left a lot of the framing elements intact for this one but as I was working on sample pages, I discovered that I was rendering fire completely differently than as depicted here.

My latest version of the book cover graphic. It's a digital illustration of a bright red, abstract frame around the image of a city (Paris) cloaked in snowy blue light. The city is on fire. In the foreground is Cleric Stone astride Margo the demonic barn swallow, riding her like a horse with reins made out of oversized wool thread. Margo grips a threadwinder in her claws. She is on fire and bringing the flames from the background to the foreground, where they flicker and grow. The text lockup overhead reads, in gold: 'Warlock'd', and an incomplete daisy wheel arcs over the 'lock'd'. The subtitle is in black: To Hell, with Love. Finally at the bottom, under a very small and complete daisy wheel, is 'H. McGill.'

Here is my final cover mockup, for now at least. Cleric Stone is a main character so he should be on the cover too. This is from a part of the story that many of my beta readers have felt is the most exciting part. I also re-did the lines on Margo with a higher dpi so that she would look as delicate as she does in the comic sample pages. I finally got rid of the fake gold foil effect because I would never want something like that illustrated on a cover, and even if this got printed and published I would not be guaranteed to get gold foil. Finally, I ditched Cloudsplitter for the title typography and replaced it with my favorite serif, Alegreya. This is as best as I can do for now so I’m going to use this in the pitch packet.

Okay. This packet’s getting too real now. The pages are all wrapped up. I should feel happy and proud, and I do, when I look at them. But, I don’t like stepping away and doing other things.

The coloring process went well. I marked three different color schemes throughout the twelve sample pages. I gave myself time to figure out each color scheme. One scheme is very dramatic and wild compared to the other two schemes. I’m not sure how jarring it will be to an outside viewer. I checked on the wild color scheme by itself and it works… but that’s the thing. When inside of the packet as a whole, will it clash with the more natural/understated color schemes I selected for other settings? Or will it show that the colors can expand in a really inventive way?

Client work has gotten vmore tedious than I’d like it to be. I was using Warlock’d as my ‘carrot’ to get through client work. I don’t know what I will fill the space with afterwards. I applied to a comics anthology with some thoughts on the history of locksmiths and prisons. But, I’m not sure how ‘fun’ that will be. I really did want to wholly work on Warlock’d and Warlock’d only through this year. I am dreading letting go of it, even if only for a little bit.

I didn’t feel very inspired to draw my caterpillar graphic this week. I keep putting it off. If I don’t have Warlock’d to work on, I may not need the caterpillars anymore since the art can be freely shared, and it’s easier to crop that for feature graphics on my blog.

I drew up a ‘props’ page featuring different items from Warlock’d’s story. As I was resizing them to look like they all belonged together, I discovered spaces to slip surprises for whomever browses my packet. Hopefully someday I can share this page publicly.

I have come to the philosophical conclusion that, even if I can’t share everything right now, I have this giant stock of images to share later if I need them. This is regardless of rejections or acceptances from agents and publishers.

Do I want to share my packet with trusted friends? Of course. But I am still afraid that I will get feedback that pulls one string to unravel the whole packet. I want to know if there are problems but I don’t want it to be a problem that destroys all of my progress.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Complete addenda in character packet, particularly character art.
  2. Export character art and write descriptions.
  3. Edit query letters and figure out who to query first (Probably the editor?)
  4. Perhaps ask for a lookover by editor and writer friends?
  5. Grieve the end of the project, for now.
  6. Draw a little wrinkly caterpillar to put on this blog post (which may already be complete at the time of posting this)

Care to read more?

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Cocoon Year: Weeks 7 & 8

Digital art of a caterpillar munching its way out of a translucent eggshell. The caterpillar is chunky with a shiny black head, and little black grippy legs. Just the head of the caterpillar pokes out, while the rest of its body curls around inside of the shell. The egg rests on a nest of fine, curly milkweed hairs.

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February Summary
I 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 unethical of me to split my days in half for client work, but it doesn’t matter how I allot my time, so long as I hit my deadline. Typically, I’m only good for a 4-hour stretch of mechanical lettering. Any longer and I slow down, then make mistakes. It makes sense to start the day doing production work because by the middle of the day, I’ve lost focus on it and need to switch gears anyway. Developing my personal comics is great for that, and also related to my career.

I’m looking back on my pages and feeling really pleased with myself. My previous serious attempt at a comic, Amphiox, still felt iffy at this stage. It didn’t seem to matter how much I edited, re-sketched, or re-did the lines, it still felt somewhat amateur. However, I have over half a year of weekly anatomy drawing study under my belt, and it’s really showing. I’m not only drawing faster, it’s also showing up the way I want it to look. Perhaps this is my physical skill catching up with my aesthetic ‘eye’. Eventually that eye will once again speed ahead to something I can’t draw yet. For the time being both seem to be on equal terms.

Cropped shot of a heroic-looking Cleric Stone. This is black-and-white digital ink work looking up at him. He has a tyopgraphic halo that is on fire. He wears his hair in a series of braided box braids. Inscribed on the halo is the Latin phrase 'Flectere si nequeo superos acheronta movebo', translated below in text.

This page, sample seen here, was the messiest through the whole process, and now it’s one of my most favorites. Apparently, the trick with heroic upshots in cartoons is to draw the jawline anyway, even if it’s not correct to the perspective I’m referencing.

“Flectere si nequeo superos acheronta movebo.”
(If I cannot move Heaven, then I will raise Hell.)

As I was going I mentioned to Devin (spouse) that I’m no longer allowed to sit and stare at my InDesign file without doing anything. He responded that maybe I should enjoy looking at my project sometimes.

Fine, DEVIN.

As I worked this week, I discovered that Thursdays are going to be a problem while I have client work on my plate. I host a figure drawing study group on the Sequential Artists Network and it knocks out my entire morning. The very thing that’s making me better at making comics is…stopping me from making a comic! That’s all right, though. If I just accept this as part of my schedule then it’s easier to move along.

As far as breaks go, my schedule also needs to change as I fit client work in. I need one day every weekend where I do NO comic work at all, and one day where I choose what comics-related thing to focus on for the whole day. I’m allowed to draw or write, it just can’t be Warlock’d or client work. To be honest I haven’t officially ruled against ‘comics’ in general on the weekend, I just know I’m not in the mood to start another comics project. I did send in a small pitch for one of SAW’s nonfiction anthologies so I’m hoping that doesn’t burn me out.

No no, I’ve been doing pixel sprite art. Video game assets. Stuff like that. Things I can call ‘complete’ very quickly.

All that said and done, I’ve made great progress on my client work so far. Even better, I completed the inking and the lettering on my Warlock’d sample pages. I’m really happy with the tone that they convey, and how the layout interacts with the illustrations. I’m ending the week with the next caterpillar drawing for the post I’m going to make two weeks from now.

Cocoon Week 8

Client work feels slow, even in half-day bursts. The greatest part about this work is that I know how to do it, and that’s also the worst part. There’s no reason to ask anyone how to do anything, so I don’t get much collaboration. Revisions are mostly small nitpick things with little active discussion. It’s just busy work. It’s stuff I can do while listening to something else. There aren’t many thoughts going through my head while I do it.

Digital pixel art of a magnificent bird/fish monster. It's mostly pale off-white with luxurious blue and pink feathers. A decorative tail curls around its body while it stretches its wings. It's a combination of the pokémon, Milotic and Fearow.

Increasingly I’ve been fond of doing pixel art. There is a giant, fan-made RPG maker game that calls for over 200,000 individual 288×288 px sprites, and they’ve set up an automated art direction and QA process for it. It uses bots, post formatting, and artist vetting to make sure feedback is allowed. It’s not a perfect system and a lot of the art that gets through has varying quality. Surfing for feedback there feels really good, though. I wish more people would pick at my stuff. I think I’m just craving an environment where I can actively talk to someone else while working on a project.

That brings me back to Warlock’d, which felt awful to work on this week. No matter what I do to speed up the process, flatting never feels fun. However, if I ever want a chance at an environment where I can obsess over Warlock’d with someone else and we all get paid for it, flatting is what I must do. Flatting is also what I must do if I fail to pitch it well enough and it turns back into a webcomic (again…for the fourth or fifth time).

I’m not feeling great about my twelve sample pages as I wrap up the flatting. However, I also felt bad about flatting Amphiox. I think any freshly-flatted comic lacks all the carefully-plotted focal points since I haven’t set up any shading yet. A lot of the shapes are blending into each other and lack clarity. It makes it feel like there’s so, so very much work left to do on them, even though I’ve been working on them for weeks.

The only solid decision I’ve made is that Hell needs to be depicted as lifeless. For this I’m returning to my previously-scorned Vermeer-inspired color scheme, that largely hedges on grayscale, reds, and a little bit of gold. Here’s hoping it won’t be a turn-off, as Hell is featured in the very first page. However, I feel like being upfront about Hell’s aesthetic and purpose in the story is important. Otherwise I can’t imagine why someone would pick up a comic with ‘Hell’ in the subtitle. It’s ‘Warlock’d: To Hell, with Love’, not ‘Warlock’d: I Guess Hell Is Involved Somehow but Feel Free to Put it Back Down if it Makes You Uncomfortable’.

Another problem is how to handle firelight, and interior lighting in general. Medieval people did not have great interior lighting whatsoever. To make this feel natural I have to invoke braziers and torches and sunlight. I guess I have to trust that a print production designer later on will just shake their fist at me and some of my poor CMYK choices. Some of these colors are extremely dark!

So far loneliness is my biggest foe. I really want to talk to more people about my pitch. However, I’m worried I’ll get feedback that makes it harder to share to other people.  There’s always someone out there who wants to sharpen their fangs on a work-in-progress, for no reason other than an easy slam dunk. This is not to say that ‘Wow! I love it’ is all that helpful, either. What I really need is neutral shop-talk. Figuring out where my concept is confusing, cleaning up art, etc.

Over the weekend I consoled myself by expanding the sample pages into a full pitch packet document. I drew a stylized border to go around my synopsis page. For some reason being able to quickly make a border like this cheers me up a lot.

I’ve also decided to omit the glasses from future caterpillar artworks. It feels weird to be so snarky at myself when I’m putting in such an honest effort, and people seem to like just the caterpillar drawings on their own.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Shade and color sample pages
  2. Compile ‘Suspects’ character page
  3. Draw props
  4. Draw more caterpillar shenanigans
  5. Find someone to look at Warlock’d and not make me start over again.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Digital spot art of a round butterfly egg. It is gelatinous and the seafoam-green shell is semitransparent. The egg nestles on the hairs of a milkweed leaf. Inside the egg, a caterpillar with a lumpy orange body and a black head is clearly developing. A pair of glasses has playfully been added, developing as a biological part of the caterpillar, apparently. Text on the bottom left reads: http://hmcgill.art

Cocoon Year: 1st half of February Summary
Mostly 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 what work I was ‘allowed’ to do on my pitch packet. It helped to start on pages I had already inked in the prior draft, because the lines were there, they just needed to be finer fidelity. This was a good warmup for the rest of the pages. I roughed in a lot of settings and then, in panels where there weren’t any settings, I roughed in characters.

One thing that pleases me so far is how appealing I can make Cleric Stone look, at least to me. I’m going for a gender-fabulous, monkish/sorcerer vibe, and I think I’m getting there. Regular weekly practice drawing anatomy out of Anatomy for Sculptors (Zarins, Uldis; et al) over the past year has really helped. I’d done figure drawing and studied the human form before, but never had much technical practice. My 4-year college arts curriculum was not that rigorous, but I still regret to this day not going to one of my professor’s figure drawing classes for free. I’d been invited and everything.

I imported my comic page sketches into a lower-resolution Cloud document that I could open on my iPad in order to use Fresco’s perspective drawing tool. I still don’t know why desktop Photoshop does not have a perspective drawing tool. Fresco’s is special. It can ‘snap’ drawing strokes to a perspective grid, 2- or 3-point. However, Fresco can’t handle high resolution files, so that adds some steps to my process. It’s worth it for spot-on perspective art where it matters, but it’s still very slow and I’d like to find a faster way to render my backgrounds. It’s also nice to take a break from the office and curl up with my iPad. It gives me the vibes of being much younger and messing around with my sketchbook on my own.

Once I drew some 2-pt and 3-pt perspective ‘guides’ via Fresco, I brought them back into the regular Photoshop files. I had a day where I got a lot of work done, so much that I felt sad and tired at the end of the day. I had to sleep on it and come back to appreciate my progress in the morning. This is the part of the art creation process where I start questioning the writing, and questioning it, hard. Very dangerous to do halfway through the complete art! I must vow not to restart my pitch packet.

 

Cocoon Week 6

I took a break from all pitch packet stuff over the weekend. I thought I would be okay if I drew for other silly projects but no, I woke up Monday morning with a pinched ulnar nerve in my drawing hand. The sensation that a pinched ulnar nerve causes is different from the usual artist injury, which is carpal tunnel syndrome. My pinky goes numb and my wrist hurts whenever I perform fine motor movements. Only stretching and rest helps with this.

I must still draw. I received a book from an inter-library loan in order to draw the Louvre a bit more accurately. If I kept stretching, my nerve should be okay, and I should complete my Louvre drawing in time to return the book. It was a book that cost $50 on Amazon for some reason. Why buy that when I can snap a photo of a page from the library for free? Besides, it wasn’t even a big book, or a long one. It was like a 24 page picture book in length.

Properly armed with reference, some buddies were drawing in a comics discord so I popped in and shared my Paris-filled screen.

Digital artwork of a rough sketch of the city of Paris, with the Louvre prominently featuring on the horizon. A bird has been drawn in controlled lineart on top.

I immediately discovered a problem with the tower on the next page that I had already drawn and inked. What I thought was part of the Louvre was actually a tower along King Phillip Augustus’s wall. I’d thought that maybe it was fun symbolism for Stone to be off on the side of the Louvre rather than in the middle of it. However, he certainly wouldn’t be on the wall itself, and they wouldn’t keep their (highly valuable) budget documents out there, either. This was quite frustrating because I had already spent a lot of time embellishing the top of my Louvre tower with crenellations.

I reviewed the diagram. I found a note that there isn’t consensus on whether the towers had conical roofs or not. So some quick architectural speculation later and…

A more refined version of the previous digital sketch. This displays the Louvre more convincingly drawn, with the middle tower featuring crenellations and outer towers featuring conical roofs.

I think it works! That big central tower needed to stick out compared to the smaller Louvre towers around it. So, why not: It’s crenellated! And the other towers are pointy! Visual contrast! Hierarchy! No one can say I’m wrong, even if it’s not exactly correct, either.

With my pages in various states of completion, I found it more helpful to start working on them in numerical order. Usually I want to focus on one setting or one character at a time.

Photograph of three copies of the Ilona Andrews Clean Sweep graphic novel adaptation stacked on each other in an array. They're on a fuzzy bean bag texture.  The cover design features the blond heroine brandishing a broom and a spell circle, while her magic cape flows behind her into a hunky brown-haired male love interest. Lightning sparks out of the magic circle. A planet hangs behind them in a royal blue sky. Text in white, whimsical lettering on the book reads as follows: The Innkeeper Chronicles Clean Sweep: The Graphic Novel. Ilona Andrews: #1 New York Times Bestselling Author. Adapted by ChrossxXxRodes. Illustrator: Shinju Ageha. A 'Tapas' logo sits in an orange pill in the left corner.

Oh, and a production artwork project I did with Andrews McMeel came in. I had always wondered if my layouts were too wild but these do look like legitimate manga! It’s so funny too, I knew I’d done 252 pages here but seeing it in person, these books are huge! I could probably throw one at an acid-spitting alien dog and knock it out. This was a really encouraging moment for me because I always tend to look at my own layouts until my eyes cross.

 

 

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Create printer-friendly, pitch packet document layout.
  2. Finish up inking sample pages.
  3. Client work has returned! As a result my progress on the pitch packet will slow down somewhat. However, it won’t cause any nerve pinching for me to work on it since there’s not a lot of drawing.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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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 Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Digital artwork of a proposed graphic novel cover. It's blinding magenta with glitched-out blue, green, and orange striping. Glitchy letters spell out 'TERMINAL' on top. A white marble sphinx perches on a glitchy altar. A green pixel star bears 'H. McGill' in courier new.

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!
After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock’d, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of going over budget. However, I still want to participate in the publishing community and practice pitching. I wished to design a graphic novel concept that had a target audience clearly in mind before I began production on it. Warlock’d has already been through quite a few revisions and its story structure is settled, at least for me. I also have no idea who would want to read Warlock’d besides me. I hunted for a more flexible idea, one that an editor, art director, and publisher could alter to suit a target audience.

To be honest, I’m not sure what this Venn diagram really means. It’s a visual of what my brain looked like while I was thinking.

I started with a single concept:

 

A haunted pink computer teaches a girl to let go of her childhood possessions.

 

The earliest iteration of the idea centered on a girl who had amassed a hoard of stuff: Toys she never played with anymore, old art projects, embarrassing obsessions with cartoon characters, etc.  She was distancing herself from her friends out of embarrassment that she still loved all those old, childish things. Somehow, there would be a computer that would do ghostly stuff. Perhaps it was able to move items around?

Perhaps not. The fantastical aspects of my idea felt exhausting. Whatever had possessed me to fill Warlock’d with mystical structures was plum tuckered out. I could not deal with inventing and keeping track another imaginary system for how ghosts would work. I still love the idea of ghosts and hauntings mixed in with technology, but maybe the spirit parts are less literal. Death as a metaphor for new beginnings and all that.

Another early problem was that even someone as gently enthusiastic as Marie Kondo can seriously ramp up the anxiety of a person who collects items to comfort themselves. I’m not a fan of moral judgment in stories. It’s none of my business to tell people what things they should have in their homes to bring them happiness. I still wanted the aspect of ‘letting go’ so my new concept became more broad:

 

A haunted pink computer teaches a girl to let go.

 

This broader aspect gave me more wiggle room to construct the story. There was the question of who was haunting the pink computer. Without a literal ‘ghost’, what might there be? Old files from its previous owner? That seemed fun and interesting to me. The files needed something to tie them to the main character.

What if they were her mom’s files?

Do we need yet another children’s book character with a dead mom? Not really. Death! A metaphor for new beginnings, not actual death! Since my target audience is ‘moms who will buy the book to give to their kids, particularly daughters/nonbinaries’, it seems prudent to have a mom character alive and present. Possibly even…a cool mom. I doodled a mom and her daughter. I’m going research-lite on this one so they both look kind of like me.

I was also thinking about the kids that Sylvia might encounter. I named one ‘Evie’ and the other ‘Lark’. The idea was that Sylvia would be experiencing a change or unexpected distance with her friend Evie, which would lead Sylvia to seek out friendship with a ‘scary’ kid. Evie’s transformation from friend to enemy would have been marked by her wardrobe change. I’m still into this idea, although Evie is currently less ‘evil’ and more ‘developing social skills she does not yet have’.

My first draft of an outline was something like, Sylvia gets rejected from Evie’s friend group, so she starts to get to know Lark instead, and they make a video game, and there’s some interpersonal drama, but it gets solved with boundaries. It was really complex, though. I didn’t have much room for the mom or the haunted computer. The resolution was also quite mean, with Sylvia no longer working on the game’s art assets so that Lark wasn’t feeling so bogged down by her lack of skill.

Lark got dumped into a file called ‘Sequel Fodder’. Maybe worth exploring later, but not right now. I just want a simple book that is under 200 pages. Lark alone could add about a hundred pages of subplot.

My second draft of an outline included a horrible middle school computer science teacher. ‘Sequel fodder’ was too good for him. He was immediately gone after one readthrough. That left me a cast of about five characters: Sylvia, Evie, Sylvia’s mom, Evie’s mom, and two of Evie’s new friends to represent Evie’s exploration into social spheres, away from Sylvia. Lark is on the ‘optional’ end of the cast right now and I’ll see where he fits in after I finish draft 1.

The outline, when read aloud, became confusing, because ‘Evie’ sounds a lot like ‘Sylvia’. I experimented with different character names and settled on ‘Meadow’ instead of Evie.

I also tentatively designed the pink computer. I think early 2000s computers still look futuristic today, in a fun way. We don’t get the cool candy colors anymore and I think that’s a shame.

I tried a cover mockup of the computer but it looked too much like an ‘iMac G3 user guide’. I also didn’t want to run into licensing issues, particularly with the wallpaper background or with the icon face. This ‘character’ will also undergo a few more design revisions as a result. For now it looks the way I want it to look.

I messed with the graphics and came up with some pixel art I think a 12 year old girl in 2001 would make so that the UI and display were more bespoke and less corporate.

Once I had some characters to mess around with, it was time to generate sample pages and see how they all worked together. I made a quick script as an opening chapter and laid out the following eight pages:

 

As you can see, I added Brooke and Leah, who represent Meadow’s new friend group. There is not yet much thought to either of these characters, but I imagine Leah as a socially-savvy, protective friend, whereas Brooke is a sweetheart who enables others to have fun. To Sylvia both girls will initially read as antagonistic but she will eventually realize they are legitimately cool girls. This will occur to Sylvia even if they aren’t exactly friends by the end of the story.

Some small changes according to feedback included giving Leah a hair cap and making the pillows look less like rocks. In general I’m interested in completely redrawing these pages so that the characters look like they have more structure. I also waffle between simplifying or making characters more complex-looking. Looking back at my initial sketches I think it’s probably a better idea to lean into gestural poses and simplified eyes. I like my character sketches a lot more than I liked my completed pages.

I also made a ‘wow’ spread to represent an exciting moment that happens later in the graphic novel. This one, I’m fond of, especially the technical details and the bubble letters. If you spot the Evangelion reference congratulations! You’re a nerd!!

The finished product I have in mind is something that has relatable interpersonal drama, with cinematic segments to keep things fresh. This book should be a safe space to indulge in the pleasure of gossip without hurting anyone in real life. I think it would also be neat to have some logic puzzles and real computer science thrown in. However, that requires a bit more research than what I have now. I will be querying my partner, who is a software engineer, for specifics.

What’s Next?
I’ve revised the outline and it feels solid enough to chunk into scenes. I’m writing those into a first draft of the script. I’ll reread the script with notes to let it influence how I reorganize my outline. Already I’m thinking about putting Lark back in…but I digress. I will submit the pitch packet to agents as long as I have a first draft and the test pages all done. Scary, but hopefully I learn something about it as a result!

Comics Tip

How to Make Pitch Packets
 First of all, there isn’t a universal format for pitch packets. Graphic novels have always been an odd market. I’ve seen very extravagant packets as well as very small simple ones. It depends on the editor, publisher, or agent as to what they individually want to see, but it can be hard to get that information. I think a good strategy is to check agent, editor, and publisher homepages for what formats they like. They want materials they can easily show and talk about at a meeting with interested parties.

Here is the subtle thing that I don’t think most people realize.

Forming a pitch is about quickly getting to know a project…for the creator. I don’t think pitches are for publishing entities alone. Graphic novels take years to produce and I think the pitch is the ideal way to gauge whether a project is worth investing that amount of time into. The two-sentence elevator pitch, the outline, the rough draft, the character sketches, the sample pages…that’s also for the creator to test things out and see what they like creating. I also personally feel like an organized pitch is the mark of a professional. I know that art can be legitimate and completed even when it’s messy, but when it comes to the publishing system and making sure the whole team involved can get a book at the end to sell, and then feed their families…Yeah. Being professional isn’t necessarily the fun part. Being able to follow through comes from structure and discipline. It’s about selling the idea, and then it’s about reliably following through on that idea. It’s about showing others how you will work with them, whether that’s about story structure, scripting style, drawing style, etc.

For these reasons, I think good materials to have for general external pitching include:

  1. Two-sentence summary.
  2. Five-sentence summary.
  3. One-page outline.
  4. Full outline.
  5. Sample pages (check editor/publisher/agent for which pages they want to see)
  6. Written character studies and their purpose in the story.
  7. Drawn character studies and size/silhouette comparisons.
  8. A setting study or two.
  9. A complete rough draft of the script.
  10. 50 polished pages of the script.

Nice-to-haves might include:

  1. Polished character portraits.
  2. Character lineup.
  3. Concept art of the story’s defining moments.
  4. A complete, revised 2nd or 3rd draft of the script, although be aware that editing and changes may still happen to the story!

This is all I know so far, but I hope it offers some ideas of where to get started when it comes to forming a new graphic novel.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

Want to chat about this?