Putting Pencil to Paper
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
My work-in-progress report #1
Embarking on a graphic novel feels a lot like planning a movie. I’m certainly employing a lot of techniques that I have honed for film and animation. I also expect that I’m going to have to acquire a lot of new skills to see this project through to completion. But hey, we’re in the early days, let’s celebrate the process!
It all starts (for me) with a treatment. The words and pictures are constantly tugging at each other, so I’m not simply illustrating a text or adding words to an illustration. In the treatment, I’ve laid down the overall plot, noted some character arcs, and organized the material into chapters. This treatment is about 30 pages, with each paragraph corresponding roughly to one page. Right now the finished story looks to be about 200 pages.
Next come the breakdowns, and the text gets a swift kick in the ass. As the story begins to play out visually, the pacing and structure begin to take shape. Sometimes an idea can be perfectly conveyed with a single large “splash panel,” other times a bit requires a series of drawings to work. Seeing each two-page spread laid out also informs the pacing, and even the design and shape of panels, in order to create a pleasing visual layout.
It’s like storyboarding for film, but more so. For one thing, the screen size keeps changing. And there’s a degree of costume and set design that goes into every panel. Sometimes the hardest part of doing breakdowns is keeping the setting in my head. That’s where preparing some photo reference helps.
After the breakdowns are complete, the next step will be to script the dialogue and captions. There’s an upper limit (for me) of how many words can be crammed into a panel. I never want the artwork to feel like an afterthought. The words and pictures need to have an appealing balance. So the breakdowns will get kicked around a little more by the text.
So far, I’ve completed breakdowns for three chapters, and that’s taken about as many weeks. In between, I’ve also begun designing my own hand-lettered fonts, started character designs and model sheets for the cast of characters, and simply tried to make a practice of drawing every day. Because pretty soon, the task at hand will be to draw those 1200 panels.
One thing at a time. It’s still early days…