I have finished three comic scripts(1st drafts) and sketched a mini comic in thumbnail form this week. I have written a small game and will see that it gets made. The regular weekly SPREY webcomic update is drawn and will be coming in later today as well.
Something must have changed this week. I can’t remember any dramatic happenings or vows to do better in the future. But I do remember a single question that stuck in my head. “How can I make this more fun for myself?” First I was under the impression that this is a silly, selfish question. I feared I would lie down on the sofa, eat junk food and watch cat videos and bad retro flicks all day, following my flawed human nature. Indeed, “fun” has had a bad connotation in my head. But what I wasn’t seeing was how my exerting rigid self control all the time no matter the circumstances actually made me numb to effective self control when it becomes vital from time to time. When the button is always pressed, it’s signal becomes irrelevant.
So I carefully and with preemptive pain and regret slackened my hold on the reins over myself. The result was an increase in everything, even just an appetite for living life itself. And no, sitting down on the sofa and “wasting” the day away did not cross my mind even once. Instead, I turned to tasks I do daily or ought to do, because they are important to me and have the potential for making my life better in the future. The key is not to try to force anything out of your day that takes effort and can be frustrating at times, the key is to have enough fun with them that you keep doing them or are not so frustrated that you don’t come back for another session the day after. Suddenly not sitting all day and not looking into screens all the time are concerns that I take seriously, too. Everything I do or choose not to do I will pay for in one way or the other. And as I’ve stated numerous times before, I want to have a long life full of creating art, so I must behave like that. And my productivity didn’t really decrease. It slightly increased. I’m still quite bad at time management though or at setting and sticking to priorities. But at least I do have that bit more leverage on me that could make the difference.
I’ll keep you updated how things go and whether I learn more about having fun!
I have SPREY specific news for this blog as well. This week I had the great opportunity to try a different tweak in my workflow. From the time I did a page a day I still had that mindset of making a page from start to finish and then moving on to the next. This sometimes exacerbated how different the pages look, depending on my daily form and whether I remember what I did yesterday for what effect and with which colors and shapes in mind.
This week I made three pages, lined them and then colored them in bulk on Friday. I will probably hold the third one back for next week’s update to build up a puffer over time in case a really bad week ever hits me. But other than that, coloring pages in bulk really opened my eyes why comic pros work like that. If you have the luxury to put your mind on “oh, it’s coloring day” drive and think about nothing else, it’s infinitely more fun and somehow faster than switching through every step of comic making every day. I will see whether this was a fluke or is something that always works with next week’s work. I find it weird and funny to think about it.
So, Monday I will make thumbnails and layouts. If I realize that I need some fancy new design or have to do additional studies to get something right, I will try to do that the same day or sacrifice a piece of Tuesday. Tuesday and Wednesday I will line. The rest of the time I will color. It’s also worth noting that I do the speech bubbles in layout phase already. I never retroactively try to fit a speech bubble in a panel that wasn’t planned with one in mind. It could work, but why do twice the work when you can make big decisions like storytelling in the very beginning? And it’s so chill to sit there on Saturday with the work already done and look through it critically whether it needs some tweaks or last minute editing, or whether there are some obvious blunders like forgetting to set the color of the gutter to black. It happened to me twice already! It is also critical that I take Sunday off. It is good for my mental health. It is an opportunity to just play with other things and to come back on Monday with fresh eyes and a refreshed mind for SPREY.
Sounds good? Well, I will test that. And I will report.
As promised we are taking a closer look at my project for the 100 days of making comics challenge today.
What my comic is about
Corvus is a one shot about what it takes to be a hero. Struggling mage apprentice Corvus unknowingly helps his master Magister Grimm to unleash a deadly curse on Corvus hometown, killing everybody and turning them into undead. Corvus barely survives and does his best to stop his master from causing further harm, knowing he cannot undo anything and is hopelessly weaker than his enemy. Corvus teams up with gritty mercenary Doomsire (name might change later) who was sent out to hunt Corvus down as the suspected necromancer in this. Later, Corvus‘s best friend mage Asmund joins them to stop Grimm.
How far I am
I have written and finished the script for the comic at the best of my current skills.
This is not my first comic script, but I am the first person to admit that I‘m not on the top of the game yet. I have two particular beginner difficulties.
I do not write out dialogues, otherwise I might be tempted to needlessly procrastinate on single lines forever. How does this still work? I instead summarize the dialogues that have to happen. All what has to be said still gets written down, but I have no excuse to tinker on the language forever. The heavy lifting of the final phrasing is left for storyboard me when it comes to thumbnailing the pages. This is also an incentive to not go overboard with the amount of text I will want to put into speech bubbles and instead show as much visually as I can.
It may be well possible that I‘ll sooner or later fall on my nose with this approach or that my writing skills catch up, so that writing finished dialogue into the script doesn‘t cause so many problems anymore. But not now. As with many other things, only finishing multiple comics will give me the experience I need to estimate things correctly.
Camera angles and panel layouts
Camera angles and panel layouts are the crux of comics. If you read any professional script, you will find those. I leave them out unless I have an idea in my head already, which almost never happened so far. Keep in mind that most pros do not write for themselves to draw it afterwards but have to describe their vision to a team of other people. But setting my camera angles and panel layouts would be pretty handy for me as one woman army as well. I just don‘t know them without having tried a couple of thumbnails on paper right now. Think about it. If you do not have a pool of experience about those things already, how should you imagine anything when you just close your eyes? I am honest with myself. I love movies and sequential art, but at my current skill level camera angles and panel layouts are not exactly my second nature. That is okay and it will come later, so now I don‘t worry about their absence in my scripts too much.
Again, storyboard me is left with the heavy lifting, but I will either discover that I do my best work primarily visually either way or get better at scripting to a point that camera angles and panel layouts aren‘t that much of a problem anymore.
And before anyone says these are just lazy crutches – I literally had to choose between never finishing a script or finishing scripts with these two handicaps, but get it done. Can you imagine that with my first works I struggled with story structure so hard that that seemed like a video game end boss already? The anxieties and insecurities of a beginner are real. Nothing is to be taken for granted, especially when you have a very visual person writing for whom words seem painfully slow. But you cannot sketch everything in a sensible way, especially complex plots and story structure, so writing has it‘s undisputable place in the process.
I am a self-professed design procrastinator! I do not procrastinate from doing design work, on the contrary – I am never leaving this stage voluntarily if not forced to. I have fun researching and sketching, pushing variations around and thinking about meanings and symbols. I will for example make a giant sheet of costume design ideas or haircuts and then never find something that is 100%. It never feels 100%. The only solution? Try again another day, just continue sketching and searching…
So far, this has been working against me when making comics. This would even work against me as a concept artist, as concept artists have to finish, too! But if I would find a way to nurture this trait of me right, this could become one of my strengths. At least I don‘t have to worry about not doing enough in this stage ever.* (*I wish I was as obsessed with researching how the world works for the script (painful smile)).
So are there „simple“ solutions in sight that could mitigate the worst for the sake of this challenge?
Deadlines and peers
The most obvious way to go are hard deadlines and constant pressure by having to show the daily progress to friends. „Why have you made 50 costume variations? 30 of them nearly look the same (to non-designers) – and haven‘t you made 25 the day before already? Narrow it down to 3 favourites and work within that frame! Also- is the comic done yet?“
To my amusement I don‘t seem to have the same problems with environments. I tend to be happy to come up with anything on this front and don‘t question or feel so much here. Props on the other hand trigger my curiosity again really really badly. I always want to know how things work and am happy to look at countless variations of them, admiring the creativity and craftsmanship of past and present people who made them.
Also I guess lists are my friend. Can‘t go off the rails when you have a list that is set in stone what you HAVE to design, and do not strive away from it. Even better: mark down if something is important or not. I can already see the trap of designing a whole mage academy out although I know that I will realistically only need 3-4 rooms in detail and a base overview of the academy for establishing shots.
Remember why you are designing
I try to remember this and tell it to myself daily from now on: I am not designing because the process of designing is the biggest joy for humanity. I want to give things a good form, a good vessel. The vessel itself is not the goal. In my case, I want to make a comic and express a whole story through pictures. That leaves me with a lot of choices to make, but my designs serve something that I can always go back to to see whether they are helping express the story. Getting stuck in design phase does not help.
Is it enough to board with it? Are you putting in more work into details than these specific details deserve? The board will tell. If you see something in one scene and basically a couple of shots only without lasting impact on the story…guess how much time you should spend designing it.
This implies the storyboarding/thumbnailing stage is not as linear as I thought it would be. I thought I would have to draw it down once, set in stone and perfect. Therefore script and designs and visdev general should be as finished as possible, right? Using the board as a living countertest could well mean that I will have to make a scene a couple of times in several runs, each time reassessing and adjusting storytelling and pictoral elements. And weirdly, I‘m looking forward to it, as I love the Rapid Viz sketching method (very simplified: draw versions of the piece on top of each other until it gives up and looks good. Sometimes you have to start over from scratch several times.)
… there is no reason to not storyboard my first act immediately. It will suck brutally for the lack of solid settings and awkward lighting, but I will have a brilliant body of sketches to show you how proper environment design makes the next version better. And many things that might or might not happen! This feels like a big, exciting science project!
I already found out that „just draw“ is not a way to go here. I will stop chasing the 100% designs that will not happen and settle for the 70% designs that do the job. So I will create my helping lists of characters, environments and props to make sure I‘m on track.
Other than that I have already settled on going act by act. I will design and storyboard everything for act 1, then rinse and repeat for the other two acts, one at a time. To my surprise it turns out that environments are more important than the characters for storyboards to me. If I have no idea where I am and how the place looks, I cannot imagine a thing, while I could always use stick figures or blocks with a smiley as stand-ins for my characters and the board would still work.
I can see why storyboarding stage frightens me. Revenge of the script is coming as well as wrestling with a let‘s say fluid state of the designs. But I still have to do it. And having said all of the things before, storyboarding act 1 should be my most important goal right now and getting into a state where I can do so.
The storyboard countertest idea feels like an explosion in my head, taking several fuses out. Let’s see what I think about it tomorrow.
– Make lists with characters, environments and props of act 1 that you have to design and then do not strive away from the lists
– Prop up your imagination by taking special care of the environments:
have all floor plans and at least some mood sketches for the places ready that you want to use as setting
build simple 3D models if necessary
research into architecture and how mage academies and medieval towns are supposed to work. This is unavoidable, but to be kept as reasonably short as possible (how about roughly 6 hours per setting? Several sittings – not overestimating my focus and motivation)
– Make your character sheets and have them ready. Do not panic if you are literally unable to draw your characters in a consistent way. That means you aren‘t done evolving your style on a very basic level yet. Hopefully the readers will forgive.
– Make your initial storyboard of the first act, disregarding anything you haven‘t done yet, to have a starting point.
I’m carefully estimating this all might take 4 weeks. But who knows? And if I get a substantial amount of act 1 done in 100 days, that would be amazing! Also I don’t really swim in characters and settings for this comic (the lists will tell).
I spent most of the time writing a comic script yesterday. The first interesting observation was that the first time ever I seemed to have no problem writing through a first draft from start to finish. Although I craved this since years, only now is it all coming together so that is even possible. The second interesting observation was observing me while doing the work. In a way telling a story to me feels like drawing, another mode of creation. And in order to follow through with the set priorities, telling the story first and really getting from start to finish with it, I threw “correct” formatting out of the window and mostly didn’t try to give great final words to the dialogues. I need to know the essence of what is said, I can fight with the single words and sentences later on. At least that was my thinking. And it seems to have worked out for me, for this very first draft.
At 9 PM in the evening I sat down to draw then, jokingly, wondering if anything at all was left to put on paper. I was surprised when I could do my dailies within a shorter amount of time then usual. It’s as if I hadn’t missed a thing. Maybe I even had to say/express more than usual. I have no idea what that means for my process, but reading and drawing should be a regular, if not mostly daily part of it.
I decided to give improving my fitness a new try. To my surprise touching my lifestyle at all led to a couple of days of exhaustion and confusion first. But now I’m more determined to keep going in a healthier and more physical active direction. I need and want many years of making art, so I better work on balancing all the sitting hours out a lot!
For drawing, this also meant a new chance. After the confusion washed over me, I went back to the fundamentals with a new appreciation and curiosity. My goal is making comics. Currently I lack any skill to draw backgrounds at all, so I’ll focus on closing the biggest gaps in that this month. I started out with exercises I saw in a Tyler Edlin video, putting some base geometry out there, playing with forms until you are used and comfortable to make non-representative but good looking compositions. I also tried to ignore the fact that sometimes my digital lines even after years of trying to get into digital are wonky as hell, but I can’t fight all battles at the same time.
Even after doing this for two sessions, I can see how this changes my perception already. Wonky or not, some of the compositions would make sense already. I could work with that, build that up. Also I’m wondering what even my process was before, if establishing composition & dynamic line, then forms, then perspective and then adding onto that is so new and fascinating to me. How did I miss this? Or did I just never pay enough attention and instead tried to force something finished out? This might be one of the disadvantages of a self-learner. You sometimes just don’t get the point, sometimes even for a couple of years. But at least I got to be myself all the time, even if sadly, sometimes it’s really hard to envision what oneself is.
About the artist
Styxcolor creates freelance concept art and illustrations. She started the Street Prey Webcomic in 2020 to further explore her love for storytelling.