Thursday, 15 March 2012

Nic's Sticky Notes: Bayou Shock - Or How I Created A Monster

As we get ready for the big launch of Bayou Arcana at the Bristol Comic Expo (along with White Knuckle as part of the Markosia Showcase - it's going to be a big weekend!) I thought I should get with all the cool kids and post one of those "Behind The Drawing Board" things.

So here it is. 

This is how I brought the story of my beautiful swamp witch and her tear-stained, tormented, unaturally long life to be.

Our story is Swamp Pussy and The Hanged Man. Working together, what else could we do but a love story?

We're going to use page 6 (of 12) as our example for no other reason than it was the one I was doing when I remembered to take screen grabs as I went along.

Of course it all begins with the script, and my script was written by the incredible Cy Dethan. If you are reading this you will know who he is, this being his blog, after all. Click on the page if you want to actually read it.

Having read and talked about the script, we next have to design the characters. Here are some initial sketches of Swamp Pussy in her transformed state. Kissy kissy.

It's a bit pale as my pencil sketching is very light, but click on the image and you will see a bigger, better, version,

I didn't really have to think about Swamp Pussy's witch form at all. She was waiting there under the surface paper of the drawing pad, blowing little bubbles and humming a sad song, just waiting for me to call her out.

I drew her leech mouth completely from my imagination, then thought I'd better look up what a real leech's mouth parts looked like. They look like the leeches in my head, as it turns out.

Once all the characters are alive and kicking it's time to build the comic they are going to exist in. I like to thumbnail layouts for an entire story or episode before I start so that I have a sense of the shape and rhythm of the whole thing. I think it's incredibly important when making a comic that you have thought about the art side of things as a coherent whole to be experienced in time by a reader, not as a number of stand alone page or panels.
Here you can see all 12 pages covered in scribbles that no doubt make sense only to me!

The whole story takes place in the shadow, literally and metaphorically, of a huge and ancient swamp tree. Doing the layouts like this gave me the idea of bringing that concept out visually by having one full bleed panel on every page where the tree could extend out infitnitely far, beyond the page, beyond the book, but also act as an axial point of the story with all the panels hanging in its branches.. Had I not been able to see the shape of the entire story like this that idea might not have occured.

This method also makes it much easier for me to be sure that the flow and timing of the script is matched by the flow and timing of the art.

Given that the deadline was nice and far away I had the luxury of drawing non-sequentially, which I prefer, lacking the discipline of a professional artist! I would not be able to indulge that little quirk of doing the bits I feel like on any given day without having the whole thing planned out.

It also makes lettering easier, which I'll come on to next.

After the thumbnails comes the real layout. I draw entirely on a wacom  tablet, so this is where it moves into the computer. As you can see, I just rough out where the main figures are going to go and an indication of their basic poses, attitudes, and spatial relationships.

As the backgrounds are all swamp trees, I didn't draw those in at this stage.

The coloured markings and text that you see over the page are the guidelines for print. They show you what will be cut off by the printing machine (the red bit, called the Bleed), what may get trimmed off (there is variance because it depends on how the paper is postioned in the machines) and so is not safe to assume will be there and should not contain anything important (the yellow bit, called the Trim) and the "Safe Area" (the white bit). I have learnt from experience that you put this layer on the top before you do ANYTHING ELSE!

Doing the art that I am going to be lettering is brilliant. It means that I can be sure right from this very early stage that there will never be any conflict between what is shown and where the letters need to go, whether people are in the right positions to match speaking order and all of the other things that bother letterers in the small hours of the night while everyone else is tucked up in bed!  It also means I don't have to draw the bits behind the lettering!

Below is the page itself as I start to fill it in. You will see some slight changes from the script, some from the layouts, and even the removal of what was to have been Swamp Pussy herself leaning down from the branch in panel 3.

Normally, I wouldn't even necessarily finish each panel before moving on to the next one, but I was trying to be neat with the idea of this future blog in mind.

So that's how I make a comic. Backwards. With the art being the "colouring in" that supports the structure/compostion and the lettering!

Swamp Pussy and the Hanged Man
Story: Cy Dethan
Art & Letters: Nic Wilkinson

"With his final breath, a hanged man curses the faithless lover who betrayed him to his death. Disfigured and transformed, the woman lives a hundred years in the shadow of the Hanged Man’s tree – the Weeping Witch of the Great Arcana. The curse decrees that men will forever be drawn to her and that all who see her will love her. She will never be free until her own heart is broken as the Hanged Man’s was."

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