Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

Cocoon Year: Weeks 15 & 16

Digital art of a small monarch butterfly caterpillar creeping up a milkweed leaf and eating it as it goes. The style of the art is crisp thin outlines with cel shading. The caterpillar is peach with black rings around its body, a black face with shiny eyes, and little bitty nubs for antennae. The milkweed leaf is rendered with seafoam/aqua tones. The watermark on the image reads: 'http://hmcgill.art'.

Cocoon Year: April Summary
These weeks, frankly, saw a loss of focus, some deep questioning of what I’m doing, before ultimately returning to progress as normal.

 

 

Cocoon Week 15

My Troubled History anthology submission continues through the sketch and lineart stage. Since some of my roughs have to be done on iPad, sometimes I’ll take a panel to lineart before everything else is roughed. This also forces me to make decisions and keep to those decisions. No walking anything back.

Screenshot of a page during the 'blorp art' stage. If you squint, you can see what looks like a lopsided key in the top panel, and a doodle of a prison from beyond the barbed wire fence in the bottom panel.

This page in particular went through some interesting changes from the ‘blorp art’ stage. At first I envisioned art that strictly referenced a front-on photograph of Washington State prison online. This would have allowed me to very accurately depict a prison compound and not have to invent anything about it. However, I had some concerns over copyright and what this prison actually looks like. Many photographs of this place don’t look the same as each other.

Sketch of a two-panel comic page. The top panel has a modern housekey drawn more competently, with ridges and details. The bottom panel's prison sketch is more refined than prior, but still lacking in interesting qualities. It just looks boring. Too many horizontal and vertical lines.

I didn’t quite get the sense that I was referencing the photo correctly here. Neither did the composition say much other than: Prison. Barbed wire between viewer and prison. My initial idea was to use a very subtle 3-pt perspective grid to make this slightly more interesting. As I played with the grid tool something else emerged.

An even more refined version of the page above. The key has been properly outlined with clean lineart. The prison, meanwhile, has sketchy structural lines putting the viewer far below the prison and a large barbed wire fence, looking up at the institution's imposing stature.

The new layout makes the place look more imposing, and it lends a Z-shape to the imagery within the panel. As a comics layout artist I’m always looking for subtle paths to lead the eye to the next bit of text. I don’t do the typical Sunday Funnies layouts where text appears in the same place every panel. So, I need to hunt for angles that play into the order that people read things. I love to load up my illustrations with luscious detail but that doesn’t matter if the reader can’t find their way to the next bit of text.

Finally I let the barbed wire form a barrier between the reader and the prison. I think popping out elements of an illustration from a panel really sets off the mood for this page’s concept and manner.

How the page is currently looking with complete lineart: Both panels have crisp, thin lineart, ready for coloring. The barbed wire fence cuts through the entire bottom 1/3rd of the page and extends into the bleeds.

At the moment an earlier draft of my story is still percolating on the editor’s desk over at the Sequential Artists’ Workshop, but I feel confident about the story and art. Hopefully nothing needs changing.

I wrote some fast drafts of Warlock’d alongside all this, but nothing felt like it was ready to go. It’s a lot easier for me to edit than to produce so often I just have to shrug and trust myself to return with more wits about me.

Cocoon Week 16

Digital art of a barn swallow character named Margo perched in the dirt. The style is thin, delicate black lineart with cel shading that follows a clear light source. Being a barn swallow, Margo is deep  blue with semi-iridescent feathers, and orange patches on top of her head, around her throat, and along one wing wrist. Her feet are blue and her cream belly is largely hidden by the wings and feathers folded along her back. Margo has a cartoony, overly grumpy expression. Her black beak is set in a deep frown. The inner yellow skin of her mouth is slightly revealed as she croaks the word

Lately I’ve been depressed that I’ve had nothing to show online for Warlock’d, even though I have all this media that I can’t share. So, I drew Margo and patterned her after ‘Lying Cat’ from Saga. She’s so grumpy about crimes! People seem to think she is instead committing crimes, instead of investigating them. I’m not sure how much trouble a barn swallow can cause but this is Margo we’re talking about. She’ll find a way.

Margo is based on several conflating ideas: That the human soul is shaped like a bird, that demons can take on different forms, that demons are aerial in nature, that the souls of the dead can become demonic, or even that a demon can be shaped for a specific task by unnameable universal forces.

Also… … … talking birb! It funny when birb mad.

Writing is the aspect to this project for which I have the least confidence. I used to write a lot of character studies as a roleplaying teen but lining up events for a plot is no joke. Writing alone is also very different from writing with a partner or a group. A lot of times ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ characters need to be deliberately toned down for games because there are still social contracts in play; players need to feel safe from negative social consequences. The immediate feedback of a writing game is a huge pleasure and bestows the same benefits of just hanging out with friends.

Writing alone is…writing alone. You know? Just by yourself with no feedback. Also, it is difficult to get over the hurdle of making sure your characters are always following correct social contracts — a character who gets along well in a dressing room game or a play-by-post forum is actually a boring character in a book or other form of media. Since the reader doesn’t have a stake in the story, or a character of their own to bob back at the writer, I suppose it creates a safer boundary for the reader.

In roleplay some subjects shouldn’t be broached at all, but in books it’s okay to explore deeper because 1.) If the reader doesn’t finish a book it won’t insult the author directly and 2. ) Books come with summaries and warnings and won’t suddenly change or do something unexpected, unlike in a roleplaying writing game.

Which brings me to the idea of voyeuristic media vs. interactive media, and some thoughts from viewing an article on the state of graphic novel sales. A kidlit group I’m in discussed the phenomenon of Spiders Georg and how it relates to top-selling graphic novels, and I’m sadly inclined to agree. Dog Man and Smile are that one guy sitting in the cave eating tens of thousands more spiders than any normal person would. People still grow out of comics. There aren’t enough dragon graphic novels and there aren’t enough fantasy graphic novels and there aren’t enough romance graphic novels and graphic novels cost twenty bucks apiece and a fortune to produce.

On one hand, this is an empty market to explore. On the other, what sort of risk do I represent to someone who would acquire my graphic novel? It has to be written, edited, laid out, drawn, inked, colored, printed, distributed, reviewed, and read.

Suffice to say, I got to thinking about the sheer amount of medieval history information that I don’t know what to do with, and how I can present it in a fun story format. I’ve always felt the push and pull of readers who wanted more, and readers who wanted less. A comic can’t really go both ways. But…something electronic could.

Just imagine: Warlock’d: the JRPG! Readers explore at their own pace and examine objects, taking in information where they need it and ignoring it where they don’t. I could make some nice pixel art for it and wouldn’t have to worry about actually creating a physical object. Literally get five dollars for doing nothing if it’s up on Steam and someone buys a copy.

Don’t worry, I’m not being totally serious.

But the idea…I see the appeal.

In other news more and more of my Troubled Histories story is coming together. The hardest panel so far has been this cutaway/3 pt perspective scene where someone inside of a castle reacts to a noise coming from outside the castle. I’ve had to run this image back and forth from iPad to computer a few times. I really hope I can get all the lines done before May so I have plenty of time to color it all.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Do perspective guides on Troubled Histories pitch.
  2. Clean up my 5-page synopsis for Warlock’d.
  3. Try not to regret sending in my pitch ‘too early’.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Allowing Synopses to Build on Each Other As I write, I learn new techniques for visualizing entire stories. Learning to understand synopses has been really important for me. One important thing I’ve learned about them is that they’re good for sharing with...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Finding the Character in Objects Writing progress became confused, dismal. I figured something out between the way I approach problems and the way my spouse approaches problems. When we play a puzzle game called Picross together, we often mess up the...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: A Retrospective of Drafts I really wish this wasn’t already halfway through the year. I’d hoped to have gotten started on the art part of my project instead of languishing on writing like I always do concerning Warlock’d. For both weeks, I decided to do a...

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Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Setting the Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comics Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Allowing Synopses to Build on Each Other As I write, I learn new techniques for visualizing entire stories. Learning to understand synopses has been really important for me. One important thing I’ve learned about them is that they’re good for sharing with...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Finding the Character in Objects Writing progress became confused, dismal. I figured something out between the way I approach problems and the way my spouse approaches problems. When we play a puzzle game called Picross together, we often mess up the...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: A Retrospective of Drafts I really wish this wasn’t already halfway through the year. I’d hoped to have gotten started on the art part of my project instead of languishing on writing like I always do concerning Warlock’d. For both weeks, I decided to do a...

Want to chat about this?