I mentioned I am working on a graphic novel for Chronicle Books called Earthling!. It’s been created as a kids graphic novel, but I hope adults will find it entertaining to read as well. It’s due out, well, soonish. As in the sooner I get it all done the sooner it will be out. I will post a bit about the graphic novel (GN) from time to time, and more often as we get near a release. I’ve been asked by quite a few people to talk about how I developed this and what my process is. And here it is.
BELOW – development art – Earthling!
Earthling! is a sci-fi story (surprise, surprise) and I don’t want to give too much of the story away – yet. It’s a long story. About 230 pages or so. It’s a big story and the epic nature means a lot of locations, characters and action.
It’s based on an idea I had for an animated short while I was in the UCLA graduate animation program. But my friend Tim Rummel, who also produced my first animated short called The Thing with No Head, felt it had the seeds of a much bigger story in it. He talked me into writing and rewriting it and developing it as a graphic novel. Tim and I work really well together and have similar takes on issues of story and character and he helped me keep it moving before an agent decided to pick it up and get behind it. Denis Kitchen and John Lind believed in it enough to get it in front of a wonderful editor who was interested in graphic novels. And she bought it, after a few discussions and a revision to the synopsis/outline.
My production process has five phases -
1. write the entire story in comic/screenplay format so it is easy to review and revise
2. revise manuscript with editor until it is considered in final form
3. draw page roughs (revise script to meet the needs of the final format if needed)
4. place roughs into Adobe Illustrator to place text (review by editor)
5. final line art and painting (Photoshop)
By writing the entire story out first in script format, we are able to make sure the story works. That the big issues resonate and the characters are as rich as possible. And it makes it easy for editors and others not accustomed to GN’s and comics to review it. But editors need to understand that the script MAY change when I start drawing. That the script has to be in service to the final illustrated format.
Now The Details -
Working with my editor at Chronicle Books, I wrote the entire story out in screenplay format. Well, a sort of comic-screenplay hi-brid format. The point being anyone could pick it up and read the STORY and PLOT and understand it. They didn’t need to know about comics, or graphic novels or panels on a page. They could read and comment on the STORY. That’s the important part isn’t it? No matter what format the material is in.
We edited the manuscript/script many, many times. And for those who dislike the editing process, Earthling! got better each time. Tim and I would talk through notes and he would give me feedback as well.
The structure simplified over time and with my editor’s help I concentrated on the elements that didn’t make sense or support the story. During this time I did some rough character designs, and did lots of sketches of location and elements in the story that are important.The editorial folks got to see these.
A bit of a side note here – I wouldn’t rccmnd this method to GN projects where the author and artist are different. Because I am both drawing and writing it, and I have some experience with panel style stories, I tried to write it to take advantage of ‘the page’ so to speak. And I know my limits as an artist, what I do well (character acting, funny characters) and what I don’t do well (serious looking sci-fi technology). So I can write the story while seeing it on the page and knowing (hopefully) how I would be drawing the action.
So after many months of editing and revisions we arrived at a final manuscript. At least a manuscript that the editor felt made sense from a story and character perspective. Or she was tired of seeing my revisions!
At this point I started doing roughs. I draw roughs on 11 x 17 paper, with a full spread (two pages). The book is approx 6 x 8. So I can do these rough/thumbnails in the right dimension…or almost the right size.
I draw each page 2 or three times, usually. Sometimes I can nail a simple page in a single rough. But often I end up drawing several versions, redraw some panels, or change the composition of the page and redraw. Then in batches of 20 or 30 pages, I scan them in. Then I can pick and choose from the various roughs to create a ‘final’ rough page.
So any given page may be made up of roughs from three or four different pieces of paper. I get to pick what worked best and craft a page I like.
This ‘rough’ is now in high resolution and slightly larger than print size.
Then I create a print resolution (300 dpi) Photoshop file, and import that into an Adobe Illustrator file that is set up for print (proper bleeds, ETC) and add the balloons and type. Sometimes I find a problem where the art didn’t leave enough room for the type and I have to draw a new rough, and scan in, or make some changes in Photoshop and reimport the revised rough drawing into Adobe Illustrator. When all the type is in, this Adobe Illustrator file can be exported as a PDF for the publisher to review. So they have rough art AND final copy to review.
BELOW – page roughs and panel breakdowns
And upon final sign off, I will import the type layer back into the high res Photoshop file with the ‘original’ high resolution rough drawing and will draw and paint the final art on a new layer.
It’s important to note that in the drawing phase, the script will change again. This is what makes a graphic novel unique compared to a prose book. The manuscript you write still has to work on a drawn page. It’s similar to a film in that the final product is not the final script. It’s the film that comes from it.
BELOW – early character design
During the art phase, I’ve rearranged character’s dialogue, I cut one character entirely, I have cut scenes and written new dialogue to end a chapter or compliment a drawing that pushed the story in a slightly different way. Sometimes my writing just came up short when paired with the art and some dramatic scenes ended up needing far less dialogue once the art was there to carry meaning.
The script ultimately has to mesh with the drawings, composition and visual pace set on the page. I feel it is a back-n-forth process, not a writer writing a final script that can never be altered. Much easier to do when the writer is also the artist and creator.
BELOW – early character designs
And that’s where this story ends. I am a little over halfway done with the roughs. The editor and I will be talking about a few notes in the next week or so. I’ve drawn ‘final art’ on a few pages, just to make sure it’s all working (file size, resolution and how it visually reads when printed out at 100% size).
Earthling! is moving along. Just a few more months of sleepless nights and it will be nearing a point when I can say it’s almost done!