Purposeful Tangents with Derek Ballard

Purposeful Tangents with Derek Ballard

What is a Tangent?
In visual art terms, a tangent is any area in a drawing where elements of the composition are interacting in a confusing or illusion-destroying manner. Cartoonists who use linework are particularly suspect to tangents, although tangents plague everyone who creates visual art. Tangents, and the avoidance of tangents, are one of the most difficult concepts to learn as a visual artist…A person only knows them when they see them, and they’re specific to the piece at hand, so what a tangent really is depends on context. Clearing up tangents is one of the steps used to make a piece simple and clear, easy to comprehend. Here is one example of a tangent that has to do with clipping a character in a composition:

Typically, only certain parts of the body can be cropped without creating a confusing tangent. The example here shows how cropping just below the shoulders and in the middle of the arm retain the clarity of the pose. However, doing something like cropping the fingers causes ambiguity — Is the hand going into something offscreen? How is the character gesturing? I also like to portray the body-chopping aspect of tangents because this one is not only visual but also heavily context-driven!

As communicators, and providers of commercial art, visual artists are beholden to avoid tangents. Once eyes are trained to look for them, tangents are everywhere! Visual artists develop habits and styles to avoid them. For the most part, the reader benefits. Business as usual, eliminate tangents, increase legibility. Exercise control over the piece, the message.

But then I get something like this in my email about some upcoming short course through SAW…

And I start wondering, am I being too deliberate with my work? Is my style causing me exquisitely angsty artistical suffering, instead of allowing me to be productive? With a sigh, I sent Tom Hart more of my money, and signed up to meet Derek Ballard, who not only has a graphic novel called CHOREOGRAPH, but whose credits include storyboards/writing on Adventure Time, Midnight Gospel, and an upcoming animated series on Netflix.

Derek comes from a strong comics background that was the gateway to his career in animation. His work was spotted at a comics gallery which led to an art test with Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time team. For our first exercise as a small group, Derek gave us big chunky sound effects and speech bubbles on a grid of panels. We were tasked with inventing a story (characters, setting, dialogue) that incorporated the speech bubbles and sound effects in their original spaces.

Here was what I filled in from the time I had to draw stuff during the zoom call:

The whole time, I was thinking about, not only the ideas of using limited repetitive graphical elements (such as daisies in a field) to imply setting beyond the panel without drawing every last detail, but also this piece of art again:

I couldn’t get over how carefree the rendering was, and how much space it implied beyond the panel as a result. So, this resulted in Pierre getting his heel messily chopped by the border of the panel. Comparing the tangent that this created to something that I’d normally consider more ‘professional’ and the difference is really interesting to me! I’ve also blocked in the white space that the field creates as a result of how I crop the character sitting there.

Would the post-Iliad adventures of Achilles gone differently if he’d simply had his weak spot cropped out of the panel? Guess I’ll write fanfiction.

The next thing we did was to generate contextless comic panels that still seemed like they were part of one story, as fast as possible, really loose and fun. I focused on making panels ‘weird’ with Canicula and doing more odd crops. Then we were instructed to draw a story that made sense with our random, contextless panels. Absolutely everyone who did this assignment had a different take on it. I’m going to assume the open-endedness was on purpose.

Here was my initial lineup of panels. The flat color backgrounds reassure me that I can totally be lazy about some panels if I need it!

After we made the panels, we were asked to shuffle panels around and see how they affected story beats, seen above.  Depending on where I put that one big dramatic ‘Ha’ coming from Canicula’s mouth, the joke landed differently. Really nice to have ‘revision’ crop up in a class. Revisions are a constant for any professional visual artist. Normally revisions are shunned by shorter, casual classes, or classes more focused on self expression and art therapy, but Derek is a pro and wanted to show us all some pro techniques for situations that pros regularly handle. I really appreciated that.

So, Should My Comics Look Scribblier?
To my ultimate discomfort, it was revealed that my comics are indeed enjoyable if I just scrawl them out and not worry about smooth lines and coloring. So I’m still sitting with that and fidgeting. I don’t want personal pride to keep me from making more comics, but…Should I toss some of my previous art standards to the wind before I commit too heavily to something that might be keeping me from completing my projects?

Quickly! I’m feeling uncomfortable! To the self-deprecation chamber! 

You may be wondering, what’s the ah, kicker in all this? Well, after the class when I set out to find the cool panel design that had inspired me to be messier again, I found out that my interpretation of this panel of Derek’s work was in total error. The full composition of that panel actually looks like this:

So yeah…The original panel art that caught my eye wasn’t cropped weirdly at all. I didn’t even perceive the original artwork correctly. I actually don’t know where my perception of this panel came from. Maybe the emailed newsletter cropped it. Maybe I looked at it on the Patreon banner. Who knows? Experimenting from a completely mis-intended crop but still coming to an interesting conclusion? You could say, I sure went on a tangent! (Tinned laugh track).

For more of Derek Ballard’s incredible comics work, check out his Patreon.

Comics Tip

When to Letter a Comic
Comics are a synthesis of words and pictures. While they can vary between the extremes of a picture book vs. a wordless ‘silent’ comic vs. a full prose book, in general: Lettering is a necessary step for making your comic legible. Knowing when and how to do it is key for a clean comics-reading experience. Working with Derek reminded me that the order a comic is composed makes a difference and depends on the limitations and circumstances involved.

As a professional letterer, I will frequently get blank pages that need the script broken up and laid out on top of the artwork. Depending on the artist and the type of job, this has varying degrees of difficulty. Some artists are better at estimating the space for letters than others. Some script edits are wordier than others. Most of the time, I can fit any text using clipping, squishing the typeface by 6%, tightening the leading, and masking shapes behind character artwork. The other times, I query the editor, who changes the text. In very rare circumstances, the edit goes back to the artist to make room for the text. It’s far easier to change the layout or the text itself first, though! My work on the Riverdale Diaries was like this.

When localizing an existing comic into another language, I won’t have as much control over the shapes of speech bubbles. It’s my job to figure out the optimal font size in lieu of hard information from the original comic letterer. Sometimes I have to edit the speech bubbles themselves, but I avoid it whenever I can. I usually do localization with an FPO (For Placement Only) 90% opacity white layer between my text and the original comic before turning off the original lettering. This way I can line up the text on top of the original letters and more closely mimic the original comic’s feel. My work on Dog Man (Hombre Perro) was like this, and so is my work on the Spanish editions of Cat Kid Comics Club.

When I letter on my own, I letter immediately after thumbnailing and creating starter panels in InDesign. I can then export the pages as templates for drawing roughs. I always know exactly how much room my letters take up and, as a bonus, I can edit them without bothering an editor. In general, text is less flexible than art to move around. By lettering first I don’t have to guess how much space the words take up — I know for sure what room I have to draw my characters and settings! My work on Warlock’d, RAWR! Dinosaur Friends, and an upcoming third pitch are all made this way. It’s easier for me since I’m the entire creative team.

Care to read more?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!For the month of August, I pledged to 'rough' 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren't necessarily polished. As I...

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

How to Draw a Whole New WorldOn 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...

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

A Break from the Webcomic DoldrumsI’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...

Want to chat about this?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 6/6

Digital spot illustration representing the spirit of the Sequential Art Workshop's Graphic Novel intensive. Arranged around a sawblade are comic pages, sketches, an ink brush pen, a Wacom stylus pen, a speech balloon with a blue exclamation point inside, ink spatters, loose staples, and a teal stapler that looks like it's leaping out at the viewer (woah there, stapler).

Recently, I wrapped up on a sixth-month course offered by Sequential Artist Workshop: The Graphic Novel Intensive. I had an overall positive experience. Here are my thoughts on it.

What Did I Want the Graphic Novel Intensive to Do?
I wanted:

  1. To meet other graphic novelists
  2. To exchange intensive critique on projects similar to mine
  3. To get the Warlock’d script to a stage where I could proceed to the art production.

Of these three things that I wanted, I met other graphic novelists and I got the Warlock’d script to a stage where I could start lettering it. Two out of three for $100/month isn’t bad.

 

What Did the Graphic Novel Intensive Do for Me?
I started the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive with a messy 4th draft of a comics script I’d been wrestling with for years, and some sample pages for what I wanted it to look like, seen here.

I ended the Graphic Novel Intensive with the following:

Screenshot of a Google Doc containing a thumbnailed comic page and some script. The script's contents are unimportant. This is mostly to show layout.

A completely revised and thumbnailed 330-page script

A curated gallery of 12 character designs for my graphic novel, Warlock’d.

These were rendered in a new, simpler style that is faster to implement. I think I could go even simpler than this, but this is where I’ve decided to try out the character designs in situ rather than fuss anymore over the lineup height chart.

Screenshot of Trello with Warlock'd to-do's in columns.

An organized Trello board for tracking my past and future progress.

Of these tangible things I created, I will note that they were of my own design for my own project. I proposed and completed them within the GNI program. I wasn’t particularly inspired by anything I saw there other than I couldn’t stand the thought of using paper index cards to organize everything. I opted for Trello for ease of organization and sharing, and some students thought it was good enough to adopt for themselves. I found myself resistant to incorporate suggestions from other students (such as changing my entire workflow to accommodate different software) but it was enough to have the invisible accountability to keep the work going.

And the intangibles: ‘Permission’ to start lettering my comic, as my script was now complete. Friends to chat general, surface-level comics-making with, but not really anyone willing to go mutually in-depth on our projects. Connections and familiarity with other comics artists, published, self-published, and otherwise.

I had an overall positive and productive experience, but I think a specific type of comics artist would benefit the most from the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive. Which begs the question…

 

Who is the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive For?

To help interested creators decide if they want to go for the Graphic Novel Intensive (GNI), I will present who leads the course, what other students bring to any given cohort, ways that the MightyNetwork interface benefits some methods of work and not others, comparable and different online courses in the $500-$800 range, and the harsh truth of making comics (which is: To make comics, one must…make comics. Sorry. There’s no getting out of it.) This is mostly my own opinion based on anecdotal observations, and isn’t technical or scientific in any way.

 

Who leads the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive (GNI)?
For the most part, Tom Hart (Rosalie Lightning, and who spearheads the SAW network itself) leads it. Tom Hart is a self-taught memoirist who examines his own personal pain as he draws his panels. He balances real-world observations with abstracted characters such as floating shapes and men who can’t stop screaming in the woods. As far as I can tell, his goal is to provide an affordable learning environment for a broad swath of comics artists. He also does a pretty good job of acknowledging each individual student in the cohort and encouraging them.

I spotted the following instructors and volunteers helping out during my time in the GNI. This may be an incomplete list based on my own personal observations. It may also change from cohort to cohort:

Emma Jensen, What We Don’t Speak Of
Jess Ruliffson, Invisible Wounds
Barry Sawicki, who is studying memoir and adventure comics about the woods

 

What Do Other Students Bring to the GNI?
I’d say my cohort leaned more towards booklike comics rather than cinematic comics. Different cohorts might bring different projects to the table.

There was no curation in terms of skill level or experience. Anyone can hop into the GNI even if they’ve never written a word or drawn a picture in their life. Portfolios are not required. If a person has $600-$800 and a way to submit the payment electronically to the school, they can join the course. What each person puts into the GNI (and gets out of it) is entirely up to them. I prefer this approach since I am typically not selected for curated cohorts and prefer not to even try when it’s part of the process.

There were around 70 students in the cohort as far as I could tell. Of these 70 students, I saw about 20 people consistently update throughout the entire six months, and of these 20 people, I think about half of them visibly made comics. It’s hard for me to say who was working on things behind the scenes without posting. The apparent ~50 person attrition didn’t sit well with me but I suppose that’s what happens in large remote art classes at this price range. I also don’t know what was going on behind the scenes there. They could have been working on their projects but choosing not to interact.

I saw memoir, nonfiction, informational fiction, picture book, fantasy/adventure, horror, science fiction, wildly experimental, and reality-based fiction as projects within the GNI. The environment is geared more towards ‘just getting it out’. Target audience was not largely discussed across the cohort. Creators typically opted for subject matter that was personally appealing to themself as a reader, whether that was art therapy-as-memoir, niche subjects, personal characters made up by themselves or by their friends, or dream projects that they wanted to finally pin down.

The critique atmosphere leans towards general support and acknowledgement of finished pieces. Technical questions are only answered if they’re brought up. If a participant knows what to ask there’s a lot of information available from the cohort itself. If they don’t know what to ask or are incurious, there won’t be much technique to pick up. Technique and workflow are not explicitly laid out in what I assume is an effort to be non-didactic. This meant that everyone had completely different goals, techniques, and were on different steps of their own projects.

 

What Sort of Feedback and Visibility Does the GNI Provide?
The MightyNetworks UI dictated a lot of the interactions within the GNI itself. Users upload ‘Articles’ to a feed containing anything they want to share, whether it’s WIPs, comics, illustrations, random photos, cat pics, or whatever else they’re focusing on that isn’t comics. There was a lot of socialization and procrastination, which is honestly what people should expect from comics artists.

Creatives who create their comics one complete page at a time, or who are at a stage to complete finished pages, will have more luck soliciting feedback than creatives who work in ‘waves’ (ie script, thumbnail, layout, lettering, roughs, inks, colors) across the whole comic. It was generally easier for the community to engage with complete work and I suspect the MightyNetworks UI had something to do with this, being structured like social media. People in the cohort were reluctant to read scripts and synopses. To this end, I would have to say, the GNI didn’t help me with the part I needed the most technical help with: Writing. However, this structure seemed very beneficial to those who only wanted to post complete pages and who felt more comfortable ‘just doing it’ and not worrying about longform writing structure.

All of the things I wound up with by the end of the course ( thumbnailed script, character height reference sheet, trello board) were mini-projects I’d designed myself.

One cool thing that the GNI does is open an end-of-the-course anthology compilation. It’s a small, easy vehicle for being published and given visibility outside of the school, to people who purchase the anthology. Participants are welcome and encouraged to buy copies for themselves. Profits go back to the SAW network, if I recall correctly. 

 

Cost Comparisons
When I first saw this course open up, I definitely thought: This is either a scam…or a steal. I admit, I waffled over joining upfront. The normal lowest cost on the sliding scale, early bird discount included, was $600 for a 6-month program. Most online/independent drawing courses go for $600 for four weeks or less, although they promise intensive feedback on specific subjects and critique along with weekly meetings. Your average art MFA can cost anywhere from $20k to $40k with mixed career results, so there you go.

I thought, there must be something going on here to make this course cheaper than what I see offered by the likes of Gnomon, a university, or other industry art courses. The answer is: There isn’t much individualized (or technical) critique. I think the self-study aspect is very similar to something like Skillshare or Coursera offers, although those are different communities. The most technical critiques were geared towards print production so that everyone could get their works to print. Many of the participants in the cohort didn’t know about print concepts like DPI, bleeds, gutters, and margins and had to be caught up during the various Zoom sessions.

Is the Graphic Novel Intensive still valuable? Yes: There is an instant community of other people making graphic novels together. I would not go into this program expecting any additional challenges or accountabilities on top of just making the graphic novel. It’s a lot softer and more nebulous than that.

 

Verdicts
If you asked me, I would say that the SAW Graphic Novel Intensive is the best place to go for the following types of comics creators:

Self-directed
The sad truth is, just taking the course won’t make a graphic novel appear with your name on it. There isn’t a course out there that can do that. You still have to decide upfront what you want your project to be, and how to go about making it. You also have to write and draw the graphic novel itself. No one will do it for you or show you how to do it. There are also no technical components or anything breaking down the individual skills involved with making a graphic novel, outside of asking other creators in the course what they’re doing. There are course materials to work through but they’re very light and are mostly recordings of other artists describing their own process. To get the most out of the course’s intention (“just get a graphic novel out”), whatever you have in your creative toolkit is what you must use.

Self-publishers and Small press
While the occasional alumnus of the Sequential Arts Workshop goes on to work with large publishers, my impression of the GNI was that the prevailing attitude was ‘whatever you’re making, just make it, even if it’s for no reason’. The vibe is less about being accepted into the publishing marketplace and more about removing barriers to making whatever you want to make. For this reason, I think self-publishers and small press enthusiasts will find this course the most interesting.

Willing to Take Social Risks
There is very little hand-holding when it comes to meeting other students in the cohort. It’s up to individuals to reach out to other individuals based on mutual interests. A person who never posts and never messages other people is missing the main value that the GNI has to offer.

Page-at-a-Time
Webcomickers and diary comickers will likely feel more comfortable with the MightyNetwork’s interface in terms of reader engagement. I observed updates of this nature (complete, polished single pages or spreads) got more feedback than those who were posting WIPs such as scripts and thumbnails. This may not be intentional within the course, but it’s what happens with a social-media-like feed where some content attracts more attention than others.

 

What Would I Change About My Experience?
I consider myself mostly self-directed but wanting to share my work for specific critique on a frequent basis with trusted peers who are similar to me in terms of goals and skill level. If I were to edit the course in a way that I think would improve it for my own purposes, I would add the following aspects to it:

Small Group Critique
I signed up for this course in hopes of discussing my project (Warlock’d), introducing it to other creators, and getting six months of dedicated, nuanced feedback from a variety of peers I normally would never have met. The Zoom calls were too large to accommodate nuanced critique of individual projects. So, my suggestion would be to  have small group matching done by organizers, either in breakout sessions from the main big Zoom calls or as their own weekly event. Maybe even rotating critique groups so that no one group completely drops off or runs out of steam. More of the nuts n’ bolts discussion work could be delegated to the students, essentially.

Code of Conduct for Soliciting, Giving, and Reacting to Critique
A code of conduct describing how critique works would be really helpful for creators who haven’t shown their work to others before. It would also have allowed me to feel safe giving and soliciting critique, because I could trust the recipient had also read the same code of conduct. Even in areas of the network designed for critical feedback, I did not feel safe getting into technical details with other creators on the network. I avoided commenting in-depth for the remainder of my time in the GNI. For this same reason I neglected to connect with anyone over my complete script. The expectations surrounding critique were that unclear.

Pitch Application
A small pitch application to ensure that people have something to make (and post, when they introduce themselves!) might help future GNI cohorts. This would be judged on proof-of-intent rather than anything skill-based, as I agree with an infinitely low skill floor. The course is more fun that way.

Something to Improve Engagement and Discussion About WIPs
I don’t know what this would be, exactly, but I’d love for the environment to shine lights on the stuff that hasn’t resolved into its final comicky form. More attention and support for scripts, layouts, and thumbnails.

 

My Experience with the Graphic Novel Intensive was Good, but —
According to the things I’d have liked for the program to have included (but did not), I would feel uncomfortable recommending this course to everyone. Here are my recommendations.

 

I think this is an ideal primary program for:
Self-directed, self-publishing/small press, extroverted creatives on a budget, who do their work one page at a time, sequentially, primarily for themself as an audience, and who respond well to generalized, group-targeted encouragement.

 

I also think this is an ideal supplementary program for:
Comics artists who are simultaneously working within a more structured art school environment, such as an MFA or technical school. The SAW virtual space is good for decompressing and avoiding burnout.

 

I think this program is worth checking out for:
People who want to find other people who make and read comics, whether it’s a hobby or a more serious vocation. I think this is a useful online space for those who aren’t able to travel physically to other locations or who are otherwise isolated. The price is reasonable for what the program is, and I recommend the early bird rates if they’re offered.

 

I also think that for whomever is interested, they might want to try the free parts of the SAW network first and see who they meet: https://members.sawcomics.org/

Comics Tip

Joining a Comics Community
While cartoonists are notorious for bricking themselves into tiny cabins far away from human society, let’s not be too hasty with exiting the grid. Making a big thing like a graphic novel is hard. Hermiting up too much makes it even harder. Here are some free methods for finding friends who make and read comics.

Meetup.com
Depending on how big your city is and where it’s located, anywhere from none to many comics groups may be happening. Also look for drink n’ draws, gallery walks, urban sketch groups, illustration get-togethers, and life drawing groups. Since these groups are open to whomever, not everyone will be a best friend, but that’s what coffee shops outside of the group meetings are for!

 

Conventions
Artist Alleys are great ways to connect with other comics creators. Even small conventions can be very good. Bring a budget and buy something from each table you visit, and take business cards with you. Afterwards, check bars and who knows, you might spot a creator relaxing after a long convention day. There are far too many conventions to list here, but check major cities for the really big ones and be on the lookout for local ones in smaller towns.

 

Discords
On this chat network, comics creators can hop into voice chat or carry on conversations via text while all simultaneously casting their screens and sharing their work. I have a quick list of active discords where comics artists tend to congregate and get things done. Note: Each of these links is a Discord invitation, so be prepared to be logged in with your Discord account or asked to make one.

Graphic Novel Artists and Writers
Artist Alley Network International
Comic Creators Workgroup

 

Livestreams
Some comics artists share their screen live for accountability’s sake. It’s always fun to pop in and look over someone’s shoulder while they work. Visiting a smaller stream might just make someone’s day, too. Twitch, Picarto, and YouTube are all common streaming services with varying levels of adult content allowed.

 

Networking Quick Tips
It’s important to be aware that you’re seeking specific types of companionship from people in these groups, but that doesn’t mean you have to announce it. Collaborating with others is a lot like dating. Don’t tunnel vision. Just go with the flow and see who becomes your friend.

When following up with a person, you don’t need to be funny, outlandish, or ‘stick out’ in their memory. A brief ‘nice to meet you’ email works fine and is actually fairly rare to receive after a social outing. Invitation for coffee where you offer to pay is also very reliable for continuing the relationship. Be sure to ask the other person as many questions about their own work as possible, rather than dumping your entire 10-volume graphic novel pitch on them.

Also, if you’re strictly social climbing, people can usually tell. It’s great to be friends with other people regardless of where they’re at in terms of their career. Never forget that.

Above all, when asked or if in an environment where it’s expected, share share share! Even if you’re not feeling confident about your work, other people love to see that you’ve put in the effort. They can also watch you improve as you continue to share.

Digital lineart of comic pages, a brush pen, a stylus, a speech bubble with an exclamation mark in it, an inkblot, and a stapler surrounding a round sawblade.

Or, if all that socialization stuff sounds too stressful…Here’s something to color all by yourself! Licensed under CC-BY-NC-3.0.

Care to read more?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!For the month of August, I pledged to 'rough' 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren't necessarily polished. As I...

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

How to Draw a Whole New WorldOn 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...

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

A Break from the Webcomic DoldrumsI’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...

Want to chat about this?

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?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!For the month of August, I pledged to 'rough' 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren't necessarily polished. As I...

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

How to Draw a Whole New WorldOn 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...

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

A Break from the Webcomic DoldrumsI’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...

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SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). My entry didn’t go anywhere, but a couple of my peers were recognized for their excellent work, and they have allowed me to re-share their entries as well as links to their respective portfolios.

 

A two-page comic spread of teal, orange, and pink. In the first panel, Jade looks at a delicious mango hanging over head. In panel two, she climbs up a tree that spreads all the way across both pages. Then she sits in the branch and plucks the mango from the canopy. Panels 3-5 are devoted to peeling the delicious mango. The final panel depicts Jade enjoying her well-earned prize.

This memoir spread by Jade Vaughn, an Austin-based comics artist, depicts an exquisitely simple moment. I liked being able to experience the mango alongside Jade, after traveling up the tree alongside her. The layout has cinematic qualities and the color scheme is just juicy, there’s no other word for it. I can’t wait to see what other magical comics work Jade has in store!

 

Two-page horror comic by Suzanne Fiore Murata. It is drawn in grungy greens with red lettering on aged paper. Panel one is a bloody red splotch with narration written in it:

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Suzanne Fiore Murata’s horror-themed entry get a nod. Media for small kids frequently gets watered down by well-meaning adults, but comics are one of the safest spaces to experience fear and work through complicated feelings. I was already a fan of Suzanne’s work prior to this conference, so I loved that the judges agreed with me on the quality of her craft. Just love the textures, the mood, the lettering!! Very, very good.

 

Takeaways
The SCBWI Illustrator’s Day (Graphic Novel edition) was a nice nod towards graphic novels. Within SCBWI I’ve found it hard to find resources or events that welcome graphic novels, rather than prose books or picture books. That said, there was an implication that only people who were spotlit in the event should submit to the guest agents or publishers. Their tastes were very different from what I want to create, or where my art style is currently residing. I also would not feel great being a risky option for them to consider without having at least one complete graphic novel under my belt. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing success on a smaller scale first.

By far the most helpful feedback on this comic page came from my independent writing group, with a layout adjustment that I feel improved the clarity of the page. With regards to the SAW graphic novel intensive, this exercise did confirm that I want more technical feedback, both in volume and in intensity. However, it’s not fair of me to demand that of anyone in general within the network. It’s home to many people who are making comics as self-expression or who aren’t as keen on technique, for any number of valid reasons. I have also been enjoying it as more of an accountability/socializing thing. That said, I’m more likely to ask some of the friends I’ve made for critique over expecting anything too in-depth from my posts to the SAW course feed.

I’m also excited about getting to start on the final drawings and lines of Warlock’d in 2022, maybe even as early as December! Every time I work on something with lineart and coloring it feels good and natural, even though I still have some things to learn about the art.

Comics Tip

Art Contests, and When to Enter Them
Art contests are either opportunities to mingle with the art community at large, or straight-up scams. At their best, friendships are forged and skills are assessed. At their worst, institutions prey on amateur and entry-level creatives by offering one prize while soliciting as many entries as possible.

The key factors to consider when looking at an art contest are:

How will the art be used?
Is the institution going to use the submissions for profit? Logo design contests in particular are notorious about this. Why should a business get to use a logo as their trademarked identity for perpetuity if their prize is only a one-time prize payout? Logos and brand identity are worth a lot of money, more than most contests offer. If a business is going play fast and loose with its own identity, that’s not a good sign for both present and future professional involvement.

Is copyright retained by the entrant?
Some contests require entrants to forsake copyright on their work upon entry, causing all entries to become property of the contest holder. Do not do this! The work you create for a contest should remain yours upon conclusion of the contest, even (and especially) if it’s not chosen as the winner. No prize is worth forfeiting copyright upfront over.

Would I make this art anyway?
When looking at a contest, if it’s something I’d like to make outside of a contest, I’ll usually go for it. The contest gives a firm deadline that can be great motivation for just getting something done, even if it’s small.

In this instance of SCBWI’s memoir challenge, I needed more short comics as practice, the entries weren’t going to be used for any business enterprise, and I would retain my copyright after the event wrapped up. My chosen childhood memory may have been a little too weird or convoluted for this audience, but at least it’s an entry in my portfolio from which I can learn and move on.

…And yes, the depicted outfit in my comic was real. I’m sure that was the burning question on everyone’s mind!

Bless you, The 80’s. Never change.

Care to read more?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!For the month of August, I pledged to 'rough' 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren't necessarily polished. As I...

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

How to Draw a Whole New WorldOn 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...

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

A Break from the Webcomic DoldrumsI’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...

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?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!For the month of August, I pledged to 'rough' 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren't necessarily polished. As I...

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

How to Draw a Whole New WorldOn 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...

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

Amphiox Comic – August Challenge Prep

A Break from the Webcomic DoldrumsI’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...

Want to chat about this?