The first concept design I did was the main character, Jay Montgomery, graphic novelist. I chose Jay because he’s based on me, and therefore easiest to consider. I played around with exaggerating the size of his forehead (top right) before settling on a more realistic dimension. It’s amusing how much he looks like Chris Evans in the middle full figure shot (the BBC Breakfast DJ, not Captain America) but I don’t mind that. He maybe needs to look a little nerdier, a little more Woody Allen, I’m not sure. That should be simple enough, just a matter adjusting his height, width, and the ration between head and body.
Key to Jay’s concept is the design for his metaphorical interpretation. I was thinking a lot about the nature of reality as I drew this, how it isn’t simply the tangible things about us but how we perceive those things in our minds. As we interpret the world around us, speak to people, go to work, get on and off buses etc. we’re also daydreaming, remembering, and imagining other conversations and possibilities.We are absorbing the events we experience, both tangible and imagined, and reacting to them emotionally. So to portray reality in a resonant way there has to be some way to render this side of our experience, this constant shift between tangible and imagined. I’m happy with the style I’ve come up with, and feel hopeful that If I continue to explore this direction in the sequential pages some magic may occur.
I drew the kids next, partly based on my childhood friends and partly what is practical. Drawing kids is hard, particularly when you get into the differences between an eight year old and a six-year-old. I feel I’m on the right track but need to practice a little more. Childhood is a very evocative area of everyone’s mind so I feel this is worth spending more time on.
Pippa is athletic and attractive, and a pub singer, so I designed her with those factors in mind. I love the idea of her having her hair up most of the time, apart from special occasions like performances and dates. It makes her seem more real, one of many details I hope adds to the sense of an interior life away from the scenes she appears in. I’ll probably re-ink these before adding colour, as I’m not happy with most of the rendering. Or maybe just use it as a design, and make a note to ink her less fussily with my new brush on the comic page.
I’ve been checking the sizing and proportion of the characters against a height chart as I draw them, which’ll hopefully prove useful when I render them next to each other on the pages.
Key to all this concept work is improving my drawing and inking, experimenting with different brushes, and streamlining my process. With a hundred or so pages to draw I need to keep things practical and realistic, in terms of the amount of time each page takes me to draw and the consistency of the style. So I’m mostly drawing and colouring digitally, and keeping the art style within the parameters of my natural style. But I’m always trying to simplify my rendering. I find comic art much more potent and expressive when it uses as few lines as possible to convey a powerful image, or message. As part of this exploration I did some simple mark making and character heads, before settling on a brush called Belgian Brush 1, which has the variety, style and accuracy I’m looking for. Crucially it doesn’t blur out on occasion, like my previous brush, while still allowing me to draw both fine lines and thick lines without changing the nib size.
That sounds free and easy but it required a total reinstall of Windows and all the latest Adobe software to get the latest brush features working in Photoshop. This was painfully time-consuming, though long overdue. I’d been using Photoshop 4 for about six years, and my computer had started to run very erratically and switch itself off at the most inopportune of times. I was also using two different computers to complete different stages of the comic creation process, which was silly. So I now have the full Creative Cloud working on one computer, which should make my comic creation process a lot more fun going forward.
I played around with Clip Studio but decided it wasn’t for me. I’m going to make the comic in Photoshop, Illustrator, and with paper, pencils and brushes. Though there may be some oil painting in the mix somewhere too.
I also spent a lot of time working on my lettering process. so look out for a post on that soon.
The most important concept art of all is of course the pages. There’s no point creating an amazing piece of concept art if it’s not practical for churning out comic panels in a consistent and interesting way.
The art and lettering have to be produced at the rate of about a complete page every one or two days. I’ll talk more about the process for these in a separate post, but I’m broadly happy with my approach.
There are clearly lots of areas to improve, such as some of the inking lines, the faces of a couple of characters in some panels, and some of the lettering balloon fidelity, but nothing too time consuming.
I’m sure my style will evolve somewhat over the course of creating the graphic novel, so my plan at the moment is to press on with new pages and see what happens.