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 Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 RecapFor 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...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Digital artwork of an extreme closeup of a butterfly's pale green egg. The egg is ribbed down the sides with ridges and lines of indentations, softly shiny. The egg is nestled in the fine hairs of a milkweed leaf.</p>
<p>A black arrow points to the egg. Text over the arrow reads: "It's an egg! I swear!"</p>
<p>A watermark for http://hmcgill.art is present at the bottom of the piece.

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 Recap
These weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who approached me with offers to help. I wasn’t at the top of my game for these two weeks, but I did feel less alone and that helped me feel much better.

Revisiting some older parts of my packet really helped. These two weeks, I focused on the ‘wow’ spread depicting the setting.

All in all I’m building my own personal excitement for this blog post series. I can share more art than I thought! Not all of it, but some very fun stuff.

 

Cocoon Week 3

Something in me reawakened, and I laid out the new version of sample pages. This version focuses on the relationship between Stone and Margo. There aren’t any other characters present in the scene. I gave the ‘blorp’ art version to kind friends who read things for me and tell me when something’s off. It’s still a little bit confusing in this stage but hopefully some line editing will help.

Some feedback that I got encouraged me to explore earlier in the story, to show more of Paris and give some context to Margo. This I can do, but I was really hoping to knock out rough art much sooner. I don’t think I’m going to blorp any art in on the earlier pages unless I can get some eyes on comparing the two scripts.

I also revisited the Warlock’d city spread…This is a drawing referenced from a 14th century painting, but with a WIP Notre Dame substituted in. The intent for this piece is to be an interior liner that leads readers into the story proper. This was the best drawing I could do, lacking visual resources from the 12th century proper. I’ve reworked this piece a few times and this time, I finally addressed the messy coloring found in the details of the piece. I found the progression in color theory very interesting.

Grungy, ashen-grey digital artwork on a two-page spread depicting the artist's best guess at a 12th century Parisian skyline. It's very very gray with hot pink highlights. It depicts a small person with a candle crossing a black Seine river, fleeing the city on the Îsle de la Cité. A tall bridge runs over this river. A title lockup reads:

My very first attempt, trying to control the contrast with a grayscale treatment and color overlay. It’s also painterly and overworked. It was fine enough at the time, but my understanding of color is much more nuanced now.

Digital art on a two-page spread depicting the artist's best guess at a 12th century Parisian skyline. Compared to the previous graphic, the colors are more clearly and cleanly divided into sections. A bluish grayscale is applied to the hills, clouds, and city buildings. Soft orange and yellow is used for the sky and reflecting Seine river. The 'Warlock'd title graphic is now black on a sunrise. The overall effect is still fairly dreary. and the clouds almost look the same as the city.

This attempt was a bit better. I removed most, but not all, of the soft brushing. It was inspired by a Vermeer palette, focusing on red being the star color. Feedback was that grayscale is not a big seller in the comics world. A lot of graphic novels are very limited in color or washed-out, which is also not to my taste. I think I can do better!

Two-page digital art spread of the author's best guess at what the 12th century Parisian skyline might have looked like. Set on a sweeping backdrop of heavenly clouds and rolling hills covered with snow, the city occupies most of the foreground. Towers mingle with homey buildings, encircled by a great wall. A bridge crosses over the Seine river. The water has taken on the orange and yellow glow of the sky. A title lockup is wreathed by clouds in the sky: Warlockd: To Hell, with Love.

This is the latest color scheme rendition. I removed all desaturated colors and I am very pleased that the snow is more snow-like. It was also easier to control the gradients of color once I discarded more of the soft brush. I only left the brush on parts meant to fade into the snow a bit more. I’m really happy with the points of interest I was able to create and this is going to be my reference for snow from here on out.

I grabbed and assembled different photographs of a caterpillar’s life cycle to create Cocoon Year graphics. It’s helpful for me to have a checklist of all the art I need to do. I’m hoping that these smaller pieces help me warm up on drawing whenever I do them. I am also going to learn way more about butterfly anatomy than I ever cared to know.

 

Cocoon Week 4

I started the week with a self-imposed break. I call it…No Comics Sunday! Saturday as well but that’s last week’s break. Lately I’ve been feeling slower and slower which means, even if I’m having fun, I need to step back. Getting 1 or 2 hours of work in every day is worse than getting more solid work done four or five days a week.

We went to a professional tea tasting and it was the perfect reset. Floating Leaves Tea is a shop we’ve frequented for years because it supplies incredible Taiwanese tea. What’s nice about these tea tastings is that we get to go and share her love of tea with none of the work involved in becoming skilled. It’s so nice to have a hobby rather than a drive. Did you know that tea can dance around the mouth, or rest on the tongue, depending on how it’s brewed? It can also be very minty and airy, or grassy, or floral, or ‘big’ or ‘small’, ephemeral or stalwart, and catch in the mouth, throat, chest, or stomach. We booked the whole afternoon for tea and caught up with the shop owner, who is always a delight.

Given time to reflect, I think there is a problem with how I seek and absorb reactions to my work. As a result, I am torn between respecting the feedback and effort of my peers and actually moving forward with the project. When this project lands on an agent’s or editor’s or publisher’s desk, they are going to have their own required changes and I will need to weigh those even more strongly than I weigh peer feedback. However, if I keep resetting my packet before querying, my pitch will never make it to anyone’s desk, so I just won’t know what specific agents and editors want. In any creative field, there is no good, no bad, no better, no worst, and no best…A work only has to clearly portray an idea, and then that either appeals to a specific audience, or it doesn’t.

With this in mind, I’m instituting a new rule for myself where I have to ask my peers ‘given a week’s deadline, how would your critique change?’. This seems like the kindest way to get more information and also move forward with the project. ‘Blue sky’ edits that completely reset the project are more useful when I get an official rejection or a revise/resubmit. I want to leave both options open because otherwise people might feel bad if they gave me the wrong feedback, and that’s quite the opposite! Everyone who has read my work has been most helpful. There is no wrong feedback, there is simply feedback that works better in response to different forces.

I asked other graphic novelists what their pitch packets looked like, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a 5-page synopsis is probably pushing patience in length. I need to make spot illustrations to break up the text. That or, I can really hone my one-page synopsis and let the detailed one be available upon request. From my peers I’ve learned that I can share snippets of my pitch packet, but I need to save the very special stuff for the submission packet. Fair enough. At least now I know I can share some imagery here fairly safely. Especially the stuff I cut from the packet!

One more bad habit of mine is to sit with the INDD document open and just…stare at it. I need to stop doing this.

In closing I’m going to share my favorite cut panel that was removed from a previous iteration of my sample comic pages. I feel like this is the best comic panel I’ve ever drawn, and I’m not even going to use it in the final packet!

Digital sketch of a starry-eyed, innocent-looking barn swallow. She has speech bubbles over her head. Text reads:

 

 

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Ride the incoming high, and not burn out.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 RecapFor 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...

Want to chat about this?

How to Color the World

How to Color the World

Digital screenshot preview of eight sequential pages from my upcoming short graphic novel, Amphiox. It's meant to be too small to read clearly. It features a lot of blues and reds.

From Inks to Colors
I completed the inks to Amphiox sometime in November. From there, I needed to figure out how to color a comic. I’ve done short comics in full color before. The thing with a one- or two-page micro-story is that each individual story can have its own color scheme. It’s a wholly different concept to color 48 individual pages in a book. The pages all need to look like they’re part of the same book, but also evoke different moods, times of day, and settings. I’d never colored more than a sequence of one or two pages before. This was going to get interesting, and fast.

Digital spread of black-and-white comic pages. It has several panels with striking black backgrounds. It is otherwise uncolored with black lineart on white background.For lack of knowing what else to do, I filled in spot blacks across all the pages in the comics, like I did in this page. 

It was hard to know where to go after I filled in spot black inks. They weren’t intended to be a final version of the comic, but they did make it look finalized. A fallback. The point of Amphiox, though, is to approach the challenge of making a complete comic, colors and all, so that I feel less afraid and lost while making other comics. Since I had the entire book drawn and inked, I had one advantage, and one advantage alone:

I know what the most complicated spread in the whole book is.

(…Or at least, I thought I did.)

Digital comics spread depicting a chaotic village of people who live inside of airships. All sorts of air vehicles are strewn about, near a garden and tables full of food. A lot of stuff appears to have been repurposed for village life, such as dumpsters used as storage and old solar panels used as roofing. There are hot air balloons, RVs, motorcycles, old military equipment, and helicopters perched near a section of highway that has clearly seen better days. There is a black fill on the ground and the rest of the subjects are white. Manta rays fly through the air overhead, which is not something they do in real life.Here it is. The most complicated spread. If I can’t get colors to work here, they’re not going to work for the rest of the book.

I chose this spread of the airship village because it is the most detailed and overwhelming piece in the entire story. How I ended up coloring this would influence the rest of the book. It would be hard to retrofit a color scheme from a simpler page onto this spread, because what if I didn’t use enough colors elsewhere? What if the colors I was using in smaller panels were cacophonous here, when I needed all of them at once?

Same digital spread as above, only now it sports chaotic colors, most notably: Bright green.My first attempt at flatting this spread. I used literal colors, except for the manta rays. They were made red in an attempt to make them stick out from the background more.

My thought process was, a nice bright green to welcome readers into the world, and make them see that, through all the wrack and ruin, something beautiful and fun had come together in the form of a traveling village. However, I discovered that coloring everything with a literal hue (as in, a 1:1 representation as seen in real life, which has no art direction) still led to a cacophonous color scheme. There weren’t many good ways to direct reader attention if everything is a very bright color. The biggest problem here was my inability to separate the extreme foreground (flying manta rays) from the extreme background (airship village and villages). I did genuinely like the green and what it represented. I just couldn’t get it all to agree with itself in one spread. That meant that this strategy also wasn’t going to work across the rest of the pages.

The good thing was that the way I had set up my flatting, it was easy to change colors with one click via Fill tool with ‘contiguous’ unchecked. I could blaze through as many color schemes as I wanted without too much fuss.

Spread of the airship village, only now in nightmarish red, yellow, and blue hues.My second attempt at flatting the airship village was inspired by the works of James Fenner.

I really wanted this to work. Really, really wanted it. It just wasn’t going to cooperate. I didn’t quite have a bead on what made Fenner’s color schemes work. The tone was ‘complete nightmare’ when I was going for ‘cool dream’. I had possibly overcorrected from literal hues to more symbolic ones. I also fretted that I was stealing a bit too fiercely from Fenner, whose entire portfolio uses basically this color scheme or other similarly unhinged schemes. It was still a great exercise and one that made me think more carefully about stylizing hues.

Digital spread of the airship village, now rendered in teal with...pink and purple manta rays? What?My third attempt at coloring this spread, before I gave up temporarily.

I came to one conclusion: The ‘village’ portion of the illustration was likely going to be all one color. At this point, I had mostly learned about what my comic wasn’t going to look like. It was time to step back and think about the other extreme within my comic:

What was the simplest page going to look like, when it came to color?

Since this comic’s inception as a quick, experimental short prose story, I’d always had one scene in mind with a definite color. The character uses a red light in a dark grotto, so as not to disturb the local wildlife. The red light changes to ultraviolet, then back to red, so that the character can find a UV-sensitive egg. This red, then, was my next clue to the comic’s color scheme.

I looked at how red light lends two different tones to a scene. I used only a midtone and a shadow to begin with. No highlights. This kind of color scheme would heavily rely on silhouette and staging to work. Spot black fills were key. I had to hope that I’d set up my inks well enough for this. I was pretty sure I had, but, just in case, there’s always the option to obliterate detail!

Digital comics spread of a wayward explorer using red light to explore a cave full of rocks, eggs, and giant serpents. In one panel she is tripping on the stones and yelling 'Crap!'. She lands on a giant fin. More complete transcriptions will be available when the comic officially launches.I was shocked by how easy it was to flat this sequence.

Since this color was working out fairly well, I went ahead and flatted all of the pages in what I referred to as the ‘red light sequence’… No, not that kind of red light! Anyway. This firmly established this particular red as an important color to the comic. It meant that I needed to find other places to use the red to keep it as a thoroughline color, so that it wasn’t too shocking when the whole comic went monochromatic with red as the only hue. 

Digital screenshot of Photoshop's color picker tool, displaying al the hue sliders and options for selecting colors. A triangle with an exclamation mark next to the chosen hue indicates it's not going to print accurately in CMYK.Photoshop warns artists with a triangle if they’re about to use a color that won’t translate accurately to print. It’s mostly fussy about green tones, but any hue can cause trouble if it’s too bright or the K (black) value is too high.

I also needed to be aware of ink density. I believe that my small press printer of choice, Mixam, does digital as well as offset printing, depending on the amount of copies a person orders. Offset printing tends to be more dull so I relied on Photoshop’s ink density warnings wherever I could. I wanted a nice screen-to-paper conversion via CMYK values. I will find out whether these worked out when I get a proof of this from Milan. This consideration gave me about 4 different reds to work into my ‘red light’ sequence. 

Once I’d flatted the darkness of the cave, I reasoned that, the easiest way to carry this red color through the whole comic was to apply it to Lyrat’s clothes. She features throughout most of the graphic novel. I’d envisioned her as wearing a mauve jumpsuit when I was first writing her, but mauve is just another term for desaturated, dark red.

Digital comic page depicts a character dressed in red in the basement of an abandoned house, which has been rendered in soft, dreamy green tones.First attempt at flatting some opening pages. Green typically complements red, so I went with that.

I sat back and thought about the other elements in the comic that featured prominently. Sure, there was a giant magic doom eel, which was black, but that was already covered by my preliminary spot black fills. Black goes with any color scheme, same as white and neutral gray tones. I also found this lovely axolotl art and wanted to try grouping colors the way this artist grouped their colors. The magic doom eel has a peculiar face which requires many colors, so that gave me another space to throw in ‘all the colors’ and see if it worked. This page, I am hiding, because I would prefer to surprise readers with what the Amphiox’s face looks like. Stay tuned for the webcomic launch to see it for yourself.

My creature design inspiration led me to the color blue. Deep, oceanic, broad, cerulean blue. I had initially colored all the oceans in the comic with spot black. My thought was that this was a reference to the Euxine, to sleep, and to death, but once again I found myself pulling away from stylized colors to more literal ones, at least where the ocean and the water and the waves were concerned. This ocean is an enormous part of the setting so it makes sense that blue would be a major color in the comic.

DIgital screenshot of an ocean texture, rendered with delicate, sparkling cerulean tones.(Regina Spektor noises)

I decided to make the amphiox’s fins blue instead of gray, and I filled in all the water in the comic with this blue color. It’s a warmer blue, not as warm or as bright as cyan, but it easily blends to the greens and yellows of a Mediterranean-climate body of water. This solved most of the comic color scheme in one fell swoop. I improvised in the opening series of pages and at the end to see if I could indicate the passage of time. I used a pea-green teal color to indicate the foggy morning of the opening pages, and purples and oranges to indicate nightfall.

Digital comics spread of the character on an island, tossing her rope into the abyss. Everything is lit with blue tones. The island is a vibrant yellow with green plants here and there.Then I worked on this spread, which I found to be very playful and bright. Exactly the tone I want in the comic.

Having flatted most of the comic, I took a break. When I came back, it was time to fix the airship village spread.

The airship spread returns! Complete color description is in the post below.Here is what I ended up doing.

While this spread had initially appeared very complex and needing tons of colors, it was actually a large variety that made my composition unreadable. There was a pair of dimensional planes that needed definition for the story of this spread to work: The meandering village in the sand down below, and the flight of the manta rays from the ocean. Any more colors and this spread loses all meaning. It was here that I invented the sandy yellow beach to contrast with the blue manta rays, and this yellow would  become more important later. There’s a thing called ‘atmospheric perspective’ which generally relates to the color blue and far-away objects turning more and more blue as they approach the horizon line in the distance. Here, I used atmospheric perspective, but with yellow. All the characters were colored with various shades of yellow, except for the two small characters that I want everyone to look at first in the top left corner. Yellow atmospheric perspective makes the scene look dusty but I think an airship village in the sand would be that way.

Digital art of an abandoned house overlooking a shore strewn with airships and the ruins of a highway. In the distance is an island. It is all covered in murky green fog.I still had some problems with the overall color scheme within the comic that I needed to address.

This panel looked fine on its own. The next page also looked fine. But, within the context of the whole comic…? It really didn’t match, at all, even though the pea-green showed up elsewhere in the comic. My favorite spreads were the ones with vibrant jewel tones. An art director friend, Sarah Dungan, reached out with some constructive criticism: Among other things, I needed to put the yellow from the airship village on the beach. I huffed. No!! This was my misty foggy mysterious opener!! How dare!

Same panel as above, but with an expanded composition to show more sky and more of the setting near the abandoned house. Abandoned picket fence and the shadows of electric equipment dot the cliffside.Well. I tried. This still didn’t look right, but it also didn’t feel right to walk it back to what I had.

As it turns out, there just isn’t enough room in a 48-page action adventure comic to properly display the slow, calm passage of time. This was also affecting how the sunset in the final pages felt — purples and pinks are very nice, but if they’re not really omnipresent in the rest of the comic, it feels weird for them to be central colors all of a sudden. It was time to dial back something about these spreads to be less literal and more stylized, fitting the style of the pages I already liked.

Same panel as above, but all the green is now a muted desaturated blue.Desaturating a blue can make it seem ‘greenish’ when placed next to something that is more deeply blue. Sarah is, after all, often right.

So, now my comic has two ‘modes’ of color instead of four. It has ‘outdoors’ mode, and it has ‘deep in a grotto with a monster’ mode. I think these are the most dramatic and exciting transitions for the reader, and having more modes would make it harder to sink into the world I’m trying to convey. Would I have room for more modes of color if I continued the comic? Most likely, I think I would, but I’m still going to keep mode-switching to a minimum and rely on the blue and the red the most.

Some good news though! My printed proof is coming shortly, after which I can tweak the colors to print better. I’m also in the process of designing a website and a preorder campaign for ordering the book. I’m just going to see where this goes!

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 RecapFor 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...

Want to chat about this?

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Digital artwork of a cow mascot over a colored-in balloon letter word of 'SAWGUST'

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 went, I colored in typography supplied by Sally Charette, one block for each day I completed. The cow mascot, SAWgustus, was created and drawn by Adrean Clark. I even won an ‘Auggie’ – a casual award for participating.

How Many Comic Roughs Can I Get Done in a Month?
As it turns out, 48 individual roughed pages in 24 spreads is a reasonable first benchmark for me. These aren’t ready to ship at all, by any means, but I have a solid start to a zine I might be able to sell at Geek Girl Con coming up in November. Probably not full-color or fully complete, but it’s exciting to think about having a short story available when normally all I sell are one-off illustrations and charms and things like that. Check out my progress below.

Digital artwork of a sketch of Lyrat, a bandit who wears a beanie and a jumpsuit.

I did some explorations of character designs as I went, but they needed adjustment within the story, so I’m glad I didn’t get too polished too quickly. I think I’ll leave my other character designs like this in the future. A little amorphous until they need to be solidified.

Digital artwork of various cover ideas, including some typographical explorations, some character art, the Amphiox monster, eggs, and random junk in the ocean.

I even had some time to experiment with cover designs.

Now what I’m sitting on is a base for the rest of the comic. I don’t think I can get a full-color comic inked and printed by November, but a black and white one would be possible. I definitely want to take an appropriate amount of time with inking so that I don’t have to re-do that. I also don’t want to commit to color too early and use a color-key to help me make good decisions as I polish off the rest of this comic before the year ends.

Many thanks to the SAW community for the great space to post rough progress and catalogue my thoughts as I was creating this!

What’s Next?
I have the following steps to get through as I continue honing this project and turning it into a little comic for my portfolio.

  1. Test Reading: Two readers have tested my comic and written a short story summarizing what they think the story is about. I’ll be reviewing their thoughts and incorporating changes to the story and characters based on what they thought. Some of the comic is still too ambiguous at this stage.
  2. Rough Revisions: I’ve shuffled the spreads into an order from least-favorite spread to most-favorite spread. I’ll be revising them with fresh rough artwork
  3. Value Studies R2: Roughs are a great spot to pause and see if my values have changed from my initial studies. They also inform whether my compositions are still working or not.
  4. Color Studies: Roughs are also a great spot to try out color schemes and see what will fit for the entire story, or if I need to adjust particular compositions.
  5. Inking: This will likely happen in a few steps but I haven’t thought through them fully enough to deliberate what those steps are.
  6. Coloring: This, too, will have its own series of steps in a process. Probably something similar to how I color smaller artwork.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 RecapFor 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...

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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 5 & 6

Cocoon Year: Weeks 5 & 6

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

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: Weeks 3 & 4

Cocoon Year: January Week 3 & 4 RecapThese weeks felt sluggish at first. I was recovering from a very deep cut edit to my sample pages. I queried my peers for help and was greatly assisted. A big thank you to everyone who reached out when I asked, or who...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 RecapFor 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...

Want to chat about this?