Middle Grade Magic

SLJ (School Library Journal) – Middle Grade Magic Screenshot

if you missed it, I was told the event has been archived and will be watchable for 3 months.

Little Witches Vol. 1 Delay

Due to an unforeseen printing problem, Oni Press has been forced to delay Little Witches Vol. 1 until August 2020. I’m trying to think of some fun extras to make up for the delay! Let me know if you have any suggestions.

In the Background

I love drawing people. I think people are endlessly fascinating artistic subjects, and I love drawing a character’s eyes, mouth, expression and body language. I never get tired of it! But backgrounds? They’re my bête noire. Drawing them almost always feels like a chore.

A very wise comic artist once gave me some very good advice: if the characters are talking about something that sounds cool then SHOW IT (I was trying to weasel out of drawing a background and he totally called me on it) . So what if it’s going to be hard to draw or take a long time? Tough! That NEEDS to be your show-piece panel/page. You better whip out some reference and your perspective cheat sheets because it’s time to get to work!

I always try my best to make the art on the page match the scene in my head, and I think backgrounds are an important part of that. Unfortunately, detailed backgrounds take a lot of time to draw. Which would be fine, except I have a two-hour round trip commute, a challenging dayjob (where thank god my supervisor is very supportive of my at-times hectic artistic schedule), and a houseful of demanding, slightly nutty rescues. Plus I’m human, which means it’s inevitable that I’ll get tired and burned out.

What that all adds up to is the fact that I only have so many hours in a day.

Which means it’s time to talk about cheats! :D

The same artist went on to say that I could continue to sweat every single detail on every single page, but most of my readers were going to blow through a page every 4 or 5 seconds (IF I WAS LUCKY). They were probably never going to look THAT hard at the backgrounds I’d spent so many hours slaving over. His recommendation? Give yourself a break! Let’s say you have a 6-panel page. You can get away with sketching or abstracting away 5 of the panels if one of them has a nicely rendered background. My personal preference is to use this trick with scene establishing shots; in my opinion, once the reader has a solid idea of the characters’ surroundings, they’re more likely to let you get away with employing “cheats” such as dropping the backgrounds while characters talk, or drawing objects from the foreground or midground without rendering the entire room.

So all that said, I’d like to write a series of posts collecting backgrounds I really love that do a great job employing these kinds of shortcuts.

First up? Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki. A LOT of the backgrounds have surprisingly loose rendering.

Whisper of the Heart
The world of Shizuku’s story in Whisper of the Heart / Mimi o Sumaseba
The kitchen in the new house, My Neighbor Totoro / Tonari no Totoro. The kitchen is really well rendered, because this is one of the first times we see it. The forest behind them (which has already been well-established) is a literal wash (that’s some artist humor there, hyuk hyuk…ok, all right, I’ll show myself out, yeesh).
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa’s secret lab from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind / Kaze no Tani no Naushikaa

You can see this in the Nausicaa graphic novels, too:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Vol 1. pg 10
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Vol 1. pg 22

Look at how many of these backgrounds are loose or suggestions. And it’s not like he CAN’T draw with an incredible level of detail when he wants to:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Vol 1. pg 6

What I’m saying is that, clearly, he has the skills, but he also knows the value of cutting himself some slack once in awhile.

You can see this technique in these backgrounds from Miyazaki’s 1979 debut film, The Castle of Cagliotro:

Remember, this was an early movie which means it probably had a pretty small budget and staff.
This is a really good example. If you look closely you can see how much of the detail is suggested in a way that doesn’t detract from the background’s quality.
Lots of suggested elements here, too. I’m willing to bet the artist knew the focus of the composition would be on the clock tower, so that’s where they focused their effort.

The point of all this rambling is a plea to be kind to yourself when it comes to your art. Remember, you won’t be able to tell your stories if you burn yourself out.

My Favorite Character Intros – Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins does a great job giving us everything we need to know about our main character in first 3 pages of the novel, without using any clunky “as you know, Bob” exposition. She makes it look effortless!

First Rachel Chapter, page 1, Girl On the Train
First Rachel Chapter, pg 1, Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
First Rachel Chapter, page 2, Girl On the Train
First Rachel Chapter, pg 2, Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
First Rachel Chapter, page 3, Girl On the Train
First Rachel Chapter, pg 3, Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

By the time we finish reading these pages we know the following about Rachel:

  1. She’s a dreamer
  2. She’s a commuter on a train in London
  3. The train is unreliable and depressing (just like her! — dun dun DUN THEMES)
  4. The line she’s on connects two places named Ashbury and Euston
  5. She’s probably comforted by the sight of other people safe at home because she lacks security in her own life
  6. She’s divorced from a man named Tom and from the memories Rachel shares, it sounds like it was a good relationship, which really piques our interest, because how did she go from this awesome happy relationship to where she is now?
  7. She’s probably an alcoholic
  8. She dreading a weekend with absolutely nothing to do

That’s just good effective characterization!

I also love the second part of the book’s two-part preface. It’s so creepy and effective, with interesting fairy tale overtones:

Preface, 2nd part, Girl On the Train
Preface Pt 2, Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Twisted Magic Cover – My Artistic Process!

A friend commissioned me to draw a cover for her novel Twisted Magic which she posted on Tapas.io. I was very excited about this because I’ve spend years harassing Barbara to let me draw something for her, and I have a special place of intense geeky love for Twisted Magic (primarily due to it being one of her few novels where the adorable couple isn’t dead by the end *AHEM COUGH COUGH BARBARA STOP WRITING ADORABLE PEOPLE AND THEN KILLING THEM OFF IN HORRIFIC WAYS COUGH COUGH* ). Also, out of all her couples, I love Korin and Ádan the most, so this was really a dream project. Plus, Barbara has very high standards for her work, and I really wanted to prove I could rise to the challenge! Also, I decided to take this project on as a “fun” project to “relax” while struggling to dig my way out from under various other high-stress projects (YAY DECEMBERJANUARYFEBRUARY YAY).

Keep that context in mind while we examine the pros and cons of My Artistic Process ™(copyright – I’m too lazy to go find the symbol)(SERIOUSLY IT IS MY PHRASE NOW).

Let’s Begin!

First off, I def wanted to come off super super professional, you know, like a REAL artist, which is hilarious because Barbara has known me for something like 15 years now so I don’t know why I thought I could pull the wool over her eyes. ;D. Like any good artist, I began with the most important thing: a set of hastily drawn concept sketches:

The “They look too much like friends” sketch! (Korin’s the human, Ádan’s the elf)
The “action pose!” sketch (I 100% thought this was the one she was going to pick)
I did this one as a joke.

She emails me back and of course she preferred “Action Pose”, just like I thought she would, so I start developing that one.

Such intense! Much wow!

I shoot this off to her for feedback and this is when I realize I completely misread her previous email. She did not, in fact, pick Action Pose. She wants Hello Sempai.


I ask her if she’s serious. She assures me she is.


Yeah, I don’t know what the hell is going on w/Korin’s expression, Ádan’s head is too small, and I’m kinda proud of the forearm, but it’s living in a different time zone from the upper arm.
Oh no, I made it worse! (༎ຶ⌑༎ຶ)
That arm…I wish I could say I’d noticed by this point but I hadn’t.

OK, at this point I should have realized I needed to find some reference. Sadly, I was living in the denial bubble of “I CAN TOTES FAKE IT, GUIZ!!!”

If I add color, I can ignore everything that’s wrong with this! :D
This is where I realized I needed help and went off crying to my friend Myriam Bloom. She’s a great artist who taught me all about tangents!
Trying to fix it. Remembered at this point that Korin is not a disembodied head.
Oh god, that forearm. Distract from all the problems with more color!!!
This is where I remembered there are 3D models in Clip Studio Paint and I posed one to FINALLY get that damn arm figured out. Shoulda done that three weeks ago! Further attempts to distract from Korin’s missing body by adding a kicky scarf.
FIIIINE. I’ll stop being lazy and draw Korin a body.

And that, my friends, is one of the many ways ART HAPPENS! (^▽^)