February 2019 Anatomy of a Comic Page

Since embarking on my longterm comic project, “Kingdom of Sunlight” (henceforth referred to as “KoS”) it’s been my goal to try new things, experiment with layouts, angles and lightning, and generally improve my skills with every page. As a result of these regular experiments, I’ve established a process. I often feel that the making of comics can seem like obscure ritualistic magic to casual observers- sometimes even hardened fans- and of course, no two artists are exactly alike- so I’d like to do my part to demystify it by sharing some of my own process with you here.

(And click here for a link to the finished page!)


1- Scripting and Storyboarding

I actually have the script of KoS written well in advance. Eighteen chapters and several side stories in advance, to be precise (perhaps I am a little over-ambitious, or simply obsessed).

The scripts I write for my own eyes are considerably more open-ended than what I would share with a fellow artist of writer if we were collaborating on the project. Descriptions of the atmosphere and character actions are written in what might be described as a literary manner. I like to add bracketed cues to indicate the tone with which a line is delivered by the character (thinking in theatre terms here) and interpret it later as I’m drawing. I also don’t separate the pages into panels at this stage or give more precise directions than what you see below. This, again, is a symptom of the script being intended for my eyes only.

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Typically if I am working on shorter projects, collaborating on a project, or feel that several pages comprise a “scene” together, I will storyboard the whole thing all at once.

With KoS, I have taken to making pages either one at a time, or in small batches. This includes the storyboarding. I like the open-endedness of working one page at a time, without necessarily knowing what the next will hold. I’d also like to add that the term “storyboarding” is employed fairly loosely here. The doodles at this stage are about as complex as stick figures- an artistic shorthand that is about to undergo considerable revision.

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My focus here is on layout and composition. I want to have a basic idea of the “flow” of the page. Is it readable? How must the characters be posed to deliver their lines with the meaning I intend? I’m also thinking of light sources, and where they ought to be placed in relation to the characters for dramatic effect. This can mean designing environments on the fly around what seems like an interesting composition, and cementing the placement of objects later. I will even act out certain lines in front of a mirror or webcam to figure out what poses and facial expressions I’m looking for (no, you don’t get to see examples).


2- Linework

Once my references are assembled and I have a basic layout, I begin to draw the characters. When I am working digitally, the traditional line between “pencilling” and “inking” the page is blurred. I essentially do both at once.   

Environments will often take the form of a few reference lines (to make sure I have an idea of what perspective I’m working in and where the objects will be placed) while I finish working on the characters. Details like ruffles on clothing, the contents of bookcases, and paintings hanging on the walls go in last. There are even certain details, such as patterned clothing, that won’t make it onto the page until I’ve begun colouring.  

One of my particular quirks is that I like to have the placement of word bubbles and lettering well out of the way by the time I’m drawing (lettering not shown in the example below). This way, I can rest easy in the knowledge that I’m leaving enough room. I want the dialogue to be a part of the composition.

I also tend to draw on coloured backgrounds, as opposed to white ones, when I’m working digitally. I find this easier on the eyes.

Subtle and not-so-subtle changes will often occur to the poses and expressions of characters at this stage (including opting for more “cinematic” camera angles). I make judgement calls here based on how I want the characters to be perceived.

For instance, most of this chapter is told from the perspective of ‘Ambrosine’, the character depicted with a cane and clothing inspired by the mid-18th-century sack back gown. Like all the central characters in KoS, Ambrosine is an unreliable narrator. There are significant inaccuracies in her version of events, which will be patched through conversations and perspectives of later narrators. As such, I like the idea of giving each page of her story an “Ambrosine bias”. All she knows about the person she’s seen meeting here for the first time is that they’re a sorcerer, a suspected murderer, and “famously ugly”, whatever that means to high society. She also knows that her future may hinge on the outcome of this one unpredictable conversation. From her point of view, Nazare is distant, menacing, creepy- even snakelike- and that’s the lens through which the reader sees Nazare as well. If this same dialogue were depicted with a '“Nazare bias” it might appear very different. Is he the threatening presence here- or is he, rather, feeling threatened by the circumstances himself?

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Certain repeating elements between pages will be kept in a separate file as source imagery to quicken my process. Examples on this page include the office chair, bookcase and two paintings. Since the content of the paintings is, in this particular case, plot-relevant and intended to reappear at a later date, they are actually drawn separately in advance, and then placed on the page and warped into perspective using the photoshop toolkit.

Here’s a preview of the full painting hanging in the sorcerer’s office, which is so far only hinted at on the page itself:

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3- Colour

I used to have a very adversarial relationship with this stage of the process. Throughout my life, I’ve typically preferred dramatic monochrome (I love ink-based black and white comics- especially those with cross-hatching!) or a handful of very specific moody colour palettes. In fact, I’ve spent so much time drawing in black and white, I sometimes find it difficult to imagine what an object or environment would look like in full colour without a reference.  

I’ve spent the past couple of years actively seeking opportunities to use colour in new ways so I can train myself to understand it better. KoS is no exception.

On the whole, I think I’ve been relatively successful in rehabilitating my relationship to full-colour art. I’ve taken to starting with vibrant, kaleidoscopic backgrounds to set the mood, and flatting certain aspects of each scene over top of them. My philosophy so far has been to make the characters appear ever so slightly more pronounced and recognizable by giving them recurring colour themes.  

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This particular page involves some experimentation with believable fabric patterns, inspired by 18th century styles. It’s another repeating element which I can create once, and then re-purpose. The addition of light and shadow will make this pattern appear increasingly more subtle as the page progresses.


4- Lighting

My intention with KoS was to create a stylistic hybrid that appears painted, but in a muted, subtle sort of way. In order to quicken the creation of each page (speeding up my workflow is something I still very much need to work on) I simply create a sepia layer of shadow, followed by a layer of light that softens any harsher brushstrokes left behind by the hastily painted shadow layer. You can see the difference with the first (shadows only) and second (shadow with light/blending layer) examples below:

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Over the course of working on this project, I’ve been increasingly interested in practicing ambient environment lighting. I’ve also been using light layers to amplify the illusion of depth, especially when it comes to separating characters from the background and one another.

Facial expressions always receive the most dramatic treatment and greatest attention to detail. I try to balance liveliness (even to the point of caricature) with the more grounded style in which the characters are drawn. Conventional beauty standards are very far from my goal. I would rather leave idealized depictions of people to my portrait drawing gigs at local craft fairs, and draw something that feels more honest to me- with all the tangible awkwardness that entails. If my fictional characters would see these panels and complain I’ve drawn them at their worst, I’m probably doing something right.


5- Anxiety and Crippling Self-Doubt

I’m joking of course.

Well- half-joking.

Actually I can’t remember the last time I’ve been satisfied with something I drew for more than a minute before the litany of self-criticism set in.

While useful, in so far as it can help me improve my skills, I also recognize this habit puts me on the fast track to artistic and emotional burnout (and I’ve certainly had my fair share of that already).

I suspect most artists who see this heading will smile in a moment of bitter self-recognition. It’s awfully common.

Personally, I consider it a pernicious habit of mine that needs breaking.

Thinking so doesn’t make it any easier, of course. But at least I can imagine there must be healthier ways of pursuing self-improvement than systematically tearing apart my own work.

I’ve come to understand that tending to my mental health is a far greater part of the job than I’d ever have expected.

It’s also the most difficult.

Now, I’d like to think that if I can find the courage to admit to excess self-doubt, and even recognize it as a crucial thing to overcome in the creative process (as opposed to something even remotely honourable or necessary for improvement), it would have the reverse of the effect I fear. Far for making me complacent and self-aggrandizing, it would cause my output to quicken, and I could surpass myself more easily than ever before.    

Ah, well. Something to work on.



November 2018 The Shout Out Anthology and Working on Torontovka

I've been a little quiet of late, and I'd like to share the reason why. For the past few months, I've been diligently working away at "Torontovka", my one-shot comic for the Shout Out Anthology, and I am just know coming into the final stretch of that work.

Shout Out is published by TO Comic Press, and is described as a comics anthology for young queer readers, created by queer creative teams, with queer-identified teenage protagonists. The Kickstarter for Shout Out launches mid-November (I believe the Twitter page is most up to date as of writing this post, if you wish to find out more: https://twitter.com/shoutoutcomic)

It's a project I'm very excited to be a part of.

These are the kind of stories I wish I'd had access to as a child. The kind of stories that would, in a country like Russia, fall directly under the purvey of the draconian "gay propaganda law", born of the notion that queer people are not born, but rather "made" through exposure to "corrupt Western society" and that predatory older queer people are out to "get" children and "convert them".

Now the peculiar reality of being queer, whether that means you're transgender, bisexual, or any other combination of variants under the LGBTQ umbrella, is that unlike "membership" in other minority communities, such as ethnic or religious background, you're most likely to be born to a straight, cisgender family— that is to say, outside of the community you will eventually find yourself taking part in. Unfortunately, this also means that many of us who are a part of other minority communities, or else deeply religious ones, are pressured into making an uneasy choice. Do you prioritize your heritage and the community you grew up in (which may very well hold more "traditional", conservative views on the subject than the broader culture), hiding your true self all the while? Do you endeavor to live freely, even as you know this could mean becoming a "traitor" and distancing yourself from that community forever? What happens when you enter the queer "community" only to find little sense of community to speak of, or else end up ostracized within it for your religious or ethnic background? Do you have no choice but to settle for thinly-veiled "tolerance" from all sides when you know acceptance is not forthcoming? What if even tolerance is out of reach?

"Torontovka" is a story in the tradition of the urban horror genre that asks some difficult questions. It tackles such dark topics as the double-isolation of being simultaneously an immigrant within a majority culture and a queer kid in a predominantly homophobic immigrant culture. A story that examines how personal narratives can be shaped by that isolation, and how internalized fear and hatred can sometimes turn into something monstrous.

This has also perhaps been my first time writing and drawing a story intended for a younger audience (since I was at that age myself, anyway). I recognize that some might find these topics too heavy for younger readers to handle. To those people, I would like to pose a question. Are they too heavy when that same middle schooler you're thinking of is going through the very isolation I just described? When they reach out, desperately searching for something that resembles them, only to find nothing— and ultimately be forced to conclude that there is something deeply wrong with them? Who is prepared to take responsibility for their complicity in that deafening silence?

The adage "Be the person you needed when you were younger" has rung true for me in so many ways while working on this project. I still don't know the true origins of this phrase (having heard variations on it from many different sources over the years), but I do know how deeply it has affected me.

I hope that "Torontovka" can be that for someone, wherever they are.

June 2018 Kicking off the Month

Since June is also Pride month, a time of year that is close to my heart and soul, I would like to start off with a throwback link to a project by Toronto's Our Space, collecting personal stories of gay and bisexual men's experiences with the medical system and sexual health. I was deeply honoured to be given the opportunity to draw sketches illustrating these men's personal stories- ranging from the funny and hopeful to the heart-wrenching. (you can read them here)

I've been working with various LGBTQ community organizers and activist organizations around Ontario to create posters promoting their projects, services and campaigns for some years now- long before the Yozhik is Blue Illustration Studio was even a fully realized project in my head- and hope to continue for many years to come.

I would also like to announce my upcoming attendance at Yeticon artist alley- a return visit, but nonetheless very exciting for me! I have many new prints of original artwork on sale this year, and will of course be offering on the spot commissions, as before. Something new this year that I'm especially excited about is the raffle for one free commission- for more details, you'll have to come see my booth! ;)

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May 2018 New Developments

I'm getting into May with the Cardinal Press Espresso Bar 12-hour comic challenge complete and ready to feature in their upcoming local artist anthology. You can check out a preview below, with the first three pages of "Freelance Witchcraft", a side story for the Kingdom of Sunlight universe that many freelance artists may find all-too-familiar.

It really was quite a challenge to not only come up with a script on the spot, but also simplify my typically detail-heavy style to try and fit into the assigned time constraints. I was especially wary of facing my mortal enemy- the art of hand-lettering- and in that department at least, I'll be working digitally for the foreseeable future. But I think the experience was more than worth it!  (admittedly, it took a bit longer than 12 hours to finish inking)

This month is mostly devoted to preparing for the season's many comic conventions. I'll be announcing my attendance at each in turn closer to the date- but for now, I can say with complete certainty that I'll be returning to Artist Alley at this year's Yeticon, where I'll be unveiling a new series of original prints and previews of my graphic novel project, “Kingdom of Sunlight”. Hope to see you there!

April 2018 Shows and Features

So it's been quite a while since our last news update, and I would like to bring back the the habit with a few highlights of early Spring:

This April, my sketchbook will be on display once again for this year's ARTiculations Fill’er Up Sketchbook Challenge Exhibition, running from Saturday April 7th to Sunday April 29th at the Earl Seakirk Gallery. I recommend coming in to see their many other talented challengers, and browse their adjoining art supply shop, where I occasionally restock on brush pens from the imported Kurotake Bimoji collection.

I'm also very excited to be displaying original comic book pages at Newmarket's Cardinal Press Espresso Bar in anticipation of their 12-Hour Comic Drawing Event on April 28th. -in which I will most certainly be participating! (more on this later)

Finally, I would like to share news of my recent aesthetic feature for Comicadia's Under the Ink (check it out here), a growing online community dedicated to the promotion and preservation of independent webcomics. I love their dedication to nurturing the medium, both in terms of its creators and readers.

This is very busy time for the studio, and you can look forward to more news coming very soon!

Return from Yeticon

I've just come back from tabling at Yeticon this past weekend, and it's been an experience! I was humbled and pleasantly surprised to find that my personal work sold just as well if not better than my fan art, which is not what you would usually expect of a fan convention. As with my previous weekend, I'm returning with a series of commissions as my unofficial souvenir. 

This has also been the weekend of meeting many fantastic artists and having the chance to speak to them in person. I'm floored by everyone's kindness and sense of camaraderie- and I hope to be back next year (if you can't tell from the derpy picture x'D)

  

 

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Sketching at Barrie Pride 2017

I had a great time working as a sketch artist at the Barrie Pride Festival this year. So many lovely people came to pose for me! The picture attached was taken by a festival volunteer who was kind enough to help me keep my booth stable during a rough patch of wind, and provide some great conversation as well. The depiction is all the more true to life as I had so many interested people, I barely had a chance to lift my face from the drawing board! 

 

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Barrie Spring Art Tour

I lent a few works to an exhibition spot this past weekend, offered to me by the Drawing House as part of the Barrie Spring Art Tour. My new, slightly larger piece was intended to keep the eye enraptured, constantly moving among the branches and alighting upon new details every moment. A journey of discovery to capture the viewer's attention for some time. It seems my forest was successful in drawing many the wandering eye. 

2017 Fill’er Up Sketchbook Challenge Exhibition

This March, I accepted a challenge from the ARTiculations gallery in Toronto to do at least one separate, tangible creative thing a day, culminating in a completed sketchbook. My one-month project is currently being exhibited at the Earl Selkirk Gallery from Friday April 7th 2017 to Sunday April 23rd 2017 at their 2928 Dundas St West location. A unique and rather exciting feature of this particular exhibit is that you can not only open each sketchbook and flip through it at your leisure, but also write comments on sticky notes for individual artists, and leave it in their sketchbooks for them to later find. The gallery space is open to viewers throughout the week, and there is no fee for entrance, so feel free to come and take a look!

 

The Leshy and the Firebird

A new piece that I've been keeping under wraps until quite recently- "The Leshy and the Firebird" or "Леший и Жар-птица". Based on slavic mythology, the painting depicts an autumn forest spirit willing a young firebird to life as it holds the ashen feather of one long past in its other hand. This painting has three characters. The leshy, or forest spirit- the newly risen firebird- and the forest itself; grand, ancient and unknowable. 

A close-up of the leshy and firebird in the painting foreground.

A close-up of the leshy and firebird in the painting foreground.