Posts Tagged ‘how to make a graphic novel’

Back in December of 2011 (so long ago, I was but a young lad…) I wrote a long winded post headlined “Can graphic novels make you smarter?” It discussed how combining the act of reading and looking at pictures to absorb a story activate different parts of the brain. You can read that post linked here.

At the time I hadn’t looked at the issue from the perspective of two interesting words which are usually used in the field of linguistics but have great resonance for the issue of using pictures and words together to tell stories.

Diachronic is a term for something happening over time. and ‘synchronic‘ refers to something that happens at a specific point in time.

In linguistics diachronic and synchronic have been defined as relating to the issues of examining language from a historical POV vs. a topological one. But I am interested in the broader meaning of the terms.

The big idea is that you gain meaning from language as it unfolds through time e.g. “Once upon a time there was a bear and a monkey who were best friends.”

Whereas you can absorb the impact from an illustration immediately e.g. an illustration showing a bear and monkey playing video games together.

Of course you can study the illustration, and gain more from it, but when you combine the experience of reading a story using words and have part of that story use visual imagery the brain is doing some extra work to build a larger meaning and context. Contradictions can arise and new levels of similarity can be gained.

I began to realize that a graphic novels and picture books activate different processes for a reader. And perhaps part of the intrigue and interest is that the brain is conceptualizing the narrative in different ways because of how we understand language vs. an illustration. (See this intriguing article from Science Daily about how a brain understands images) We read and gain understanding through time, while the image not only informs us in one ‘blast’ but they physically use different parts of the brain to gather meaning.

The brain likes to be surprised in a narrative. And by combining the use of language and image it’s a more dynamic experience.

I’m not saying that the more elements you add to a narrative creation the better it is. But it may explain why a graphic novel or a picture book brings such great pleasure and satisfaction to a reader.

I also suspect that better understanding how we experience words and pictures in different ways can help illustrators and writers better exploit what makes each form interesting and dynamic.

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Yes, the title of this post has a question mark. I have posted a few times about how I developed and created Earthling!, my graphic novel due out in July from Chronicle Books (Order a copy now! Like the book on Facebook! Read the first chapter for FREE on the Chronicle Book website! Visit the official Earthling! website!…Ok. I’m done now…)

This post will examine the development of a single page, from rough to final, full color art. I am leaving out most of the technical gobblygook. Resolution, file formats ETC.

It all starts with the manuscript. The story developed while working with my friend Tim Rummel and notes from my editor at Chronicle Books. Once the script was given an ‘OK’, no easy feat in itself, I started in on rough art.

As I was the writer AND artist on this project I didn’t worry about breaking the script down to what illustration goes on each page. I hoped that I was doing a good job of doing that when I wrote it. I was picturing the book as I worked.

Below is the ‘final’ rough sketch. This ‘final rough’ is built from sketches that have been revised and scanned in to design the page. I drew most pages 2 or 3 times. I sketched the entire book out once before revising.

This is the black line art, or inked page. BTW this file is at 1200 dpi, at 100% of final printing size. So the art was approx. 6.5 x .8. I’ve added the details and refined the rough.

Below is the color only file. This was done by Ken Min after I sent him a 400 dpi file on the line art.

Below is the text file. This was put atop the final art files when the magic-printing-gnomes made it all work on paper. Most of the thanks for that goes to John Lind, who designed the book, and the good folks at Chronicle Books.

And below is the complete page. With crop marks.

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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.

BELOW – page roughs

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!

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