The Challenge of Nova, Crowdfunded Comic of a C21st Urban Fox Girl

 

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Since most people back creative crowd-funded projects to experience the process as much as to own the final product, I thought you might enjoy a bit of detail about the challenges and discoveries along the way:
 
In terms of process, after trying out a lot of sketches and ideas and developing up the central character, I decided to go back to first principles.  I diligently worked through the exercises in Ivan Brunetti’s excellent course book “Cartooning”.  That took a couple of months and I learnt an enormous amount.  I highly recommend it for anyone who storyboards narratives in their work, whether in film, architecture, comics or writing fiction.  
 
I then worked on the first 7-page sub-story, in draft, which I completed last week just in time for International Women’s Day (see it here: http://bit.ly/1stNOVA). This was on the advice of the excellent Rufus Dayglo who draws the Tank Girl comics.  Well, he suggested 5 pages, it spread out a bit (at one stage it had bloated to 14 pages).  If you have a look you’ll see how the drawing style is changing over time and with trying out different drawing materials.  This is the part that is unexpectedly taking me the most time.  However I think by page 6 it is coming together (although the text written with brush pen is not legible enough when reduced from A3 to A5, I realised while printing).
 
Going through this process is a real eye-opener of why comics are the way they are.  And why it’s actually a very difficult medium to get right – there is such a strong interplay between narrative, the characters, the images, the words and the page layouts.  If one part is off, it throws the others.  It’s really not possible to write the story and then just draw it up – what works in your mind just doesn’t on paper.
 
Then there are the material factors – whether I draw with line or brush, whether I add colour directly or as a separate layer, or using Photoshop.  And that’s just the production part; the reproduction is another set of factors.  Does the colour scan well?  How does it look when reduced, and on different papers?  Is the tone consistent across the pages?  Does it print right back-to-back?  The processes of production and reproduction have been a major factor in how comics have developed their style over the years and in different countries.  
 
For example the Belgian comics (Tintin, Asterix, Smurfs) which started in newspaper supplements, or the US strip cartoons in the Sunday funny pages (Mutt & Jeff, Garfield, Peanuts), needed to be drawn to work with the print quality achievable at the time, and were aimed at the newspaper’s specific audience.  The graphic (and narrative) styles that emerged from these constraints persist in the book format despite a completely different reproduction process.  Graphic novels developed differently in Europe, Japan and North America, and each style contains within it the history of its unique development.  I find it fascinating to discover more about this aspect as I work, “Aha! So that’s why they drew it like that.”  
 
Although computers now give us a wider range of options, and the scanning and printing technologies are far superior, many of the processes and challenges remain fundamentally unchanged.  There is not – yet – a discontinuity in style due to computers.  Rather, we see the graphic style of printed comics carrying through into modern day animations, computer games and CGI films.  It has become part of our visual history.
 
Back to my short, 7-page, draft story.  I must have drawn it half a dozen times, each time exploring how a couple of aspects come together.  And as you will notice, it is not right yet!  It is still a draft, there are many errors and things to improve.  There is a long way to go.  At the same time, it is now getting much easier for me to draw a story directly from an idea in a more fluid way, and allow the narrative to develop on the page.  That I believe is the unseen skill of the comic artist, once s/he has mastered the various tools and skills of the craft.  It is the magic that brings it all together to appear effortlessly ‘right’.  I can honestly say that despite being raised on Belgian comics and collected many comic books, and despite having drawn all my life and completed art projects, reports, dissertations and of course buildings, I had no idea how difficult creating a comic book would be.  No idea.  Would I have started if I’d known?  I don’t know.  When will the comic be complete?  I don’t know either.  As soon as possible, without compromising the quality.  I keep drawing, writing, learning, repeating, exploring, drawing, every day.  As the saying goes, “The only way to eat an elephant is one spoonful at a time.”
 
Do let me know what you think of the short story, and any ideas you have of new technologies that Nova could encounter in her adventures, that could provide answers to the core question we started out with:  “What’s the future like, Mum?”
 
The 7-page draft story:  http://bit.ly/1stNOVA
The Ulule page:  bit.ly/PazzaFuture
 
Thank you once again for your support, patience and encouragement.  I *really* couldn’t do it without you.
 
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