Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Making the Page

Hey everybody, Alex here! Sorry about the huge downtown between posts - there's been a lot going on in the interim, so there's quite a bit to report!

First and foremost, Rachel has graduated from BYU and is balancing her Four Kingdoms work with a veritable mountain of other projects on her plate. Aside from that, I've also been keeping busy on a variety of new projects, from work-related game projects to a spectacular comic-writing opportunity with my good friend, Sean Rubin.

Have no fear, though! Progress continues on the comic, and our plan to have a solid pitch together for the next New York ComicCon is still perfectly on-track.

I figured that since it's been a few months since we really offered up a post, I'd treat you to something pretty in-depth and behind the scenes: a page's progress, from start to finish!

This is the first draft that Rachel did oh-so-long ago. This was obviously before any serious script edits, back when the comic script was basically ripped verbatim from the source material - which was, in fact, a novel. You don't need to be Scott McCloud to know that comics don't really support the exposition you can fit into a novel, so I had to really dive into other comics to see how they handled loads of exposition.

Long story short, they don't. At least, they don't in such a short period of time. I realized that I'd need to take a hacksaw to my script - not just here, but EVERYWHERE. I really took a good look at other comics in the genre, from Mice Templar to Mouse Guard, the latter really helping me figure out how to reduce word count using on-screen actions and expressions instead of nouns and verbs.

This panel also demonstrates some of the issues we had early on with paneling. The comic was originally laid out like a movie storyboard, with a lot of medium shots for expository sections like this. As Rachel eventually came to learn, comics have their own panel-to-panel language, and that would require a good deal of re-paneling.

This page on the left is a few revisions later. You'll see a few new things right off the bat. First, the script isn't as long. It's still long, but it's not quite as clunky and page-filling as it was in the original version.

Perhaps the biggest change here is in how the panels are laid out. Whereas the first draft consisted almost entirely of mid-range shots, this new version dares to go for the dramatic close-up, and also cuts away briefly to show the Juskadin in the third panel.

In general, this new layout represents the new direction we took after the initial draft, which was twofold: less text, and more diverse panel layouts. Close-ups, cutaways, dramatic angles - nothing is off-limits! If it makes the scene more interesting, we're all about trying it.

Finally, we have the completed page on the right. I did leave out a few steps before, like the completed inks and lighting studies that Rachel did, but we must maintain SOME level of mystery, yes?

It still amazes me just how much nicer things look in color! Sure, there are some excellent black & white comics out there (Bone popping into my head almost instantly), but I just love the palette that Rachel went with here - it really represents the heart of Four Kingdoms, which is a combination of dark fantasy themes and homages to classical animated films.

The Lutren army uniform, with the wave motif, just pops right out of the page when it's in color. Also, the third panel, with its silhouetted malice, really turned out well.

The re-panels and page colorings continue, along with a variety of other pitch materials, such as character portraits, maps, covers, all that good stuff. As things move along, rest assured we'll stick it here for you to see!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Coloring progress!

Hey, Rachel here!

It's been a long time since this blog has been updated! Mainly that's because of my time being strained with school, along with a huge overhaul on the art for this project.

One of the most difficult (and fun!) part of drawing a comic is when it comes to the coloring stage. Here is where a lot of the mood of your comic gets established - is it cartoony? Realistic? Sad? Intense? Dramatic? Silly and lighthearted?

We'd tried a coloring pass on one of our finished pages earlier this year, with these results:

At the time, I thought it was looking pretty sweet. Overwhelmingly Crayola Green color scheme for the forest, soft shading, an attempt at lighting... of course right now I can't find much good to say about it! It's very flat and boring, and one of the professionals we went to for feedback told me so (a shout-out to David Petersen: thanks a ton!).

I went on with drawing and fixing pages, and in my personal work, looked for opportunities to practice my digital coloring. Getting good color schemes, making believable lighting, improving my painting style - the sort of things that were lacking.

Here is the new and improved color pass:

I managed to find a way to make light more luminous, and in general got a better grasp on how to work with color. In half a year I don't know where I'll be or how much further I will have improved, but this felt like a big step forward. And the best part is it'll make this comic that much easier on the eyes for all y'all! :)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dakkan's Journey

I must again apologize for these large gaps between blog posts – I can assure you that it’s not because we’re lazy!  Quite the contrary, it’s our genuine lack of lazy that’s kept us from updating regularly.  I’ll try to keep things coming at a regular pace from here on out.

To make up for the long gap between posts, I’ve got a special treat for you all, courtesy of Rachel herself!  Not just any ‘ol artwork, but a full-fledged storyboard of a Four Kingdoms-inspired event that occurred in Dakkan’s early career in the Lutren Military.

This storyboard project was actually for one of Rachel’s many art-related college courses, so some liberties were taken with the world of the Four Kingdoms for the sake of the storyline.  For example, badgers and raccoons were added in because their natural ‘masks’ made them great highway robbers, even though they're not featured in the actual world of the Four Kingdoms.  So while this can’t be considered 100% canon as-is, a rough approximation of these events definitely did occur in some capacity in Dakkan’s past.

In the original Four Kingdoms script, Dakkan was not quite the same character he is now.  I had written in a kind of free-wheeling goof to play off of Quinlan’s cynical world view, but he was proving to be generally devoid of character; a standard comical sidekick with no real depth to him.  But when Rachel’s long-time character, Dakkan, was introduced as Quinlan’s best friend in a later draft revision, the friendship came to life.  It became more than a hero/sidekick relationship – these two characters had become friends through painful life experiences: no proper father figures, a debilitating fear of taking another’s life, and a deeply-rooted sense of loyalty to their respective kingdoms, among other things.

This origin-type story chronicles Dakkan’s very first mission as a Lutren soldier, guiding a pair of merchants through a dangerous part of the forest.  When they are confronted by highway robbers, Dakkan’s quick temper takes hold and he finds himself quickly in a fight for his life!  What happens next changes him forever.  Let’s just say that there’s a good reason you won’t see Dakkan hefting a sword in the comic anytime soon.

The full video can be found by following the link below.  The Quicktime movie features one individual storyboard panel per frame, so simply click the link or download it, then use your Left/Right arrow keys on your keyboard to scroll forward and backwards through the story.  Also, I should mention that these boards, like the Four Kingdoms comic itself, are rated PG-13, T for Teen, etc.  That said, enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hi everybody!  Sorry about the delay - I meant to put up something about New York ComicCon on here, but ended up writing the last blogpost instead.  In a nutshell, NYCC went incredibly well, we got a lot of good feedback about Four Kingdoms.  An extra-special thanks goes out to Dave Petersen for his critique of the first issue roughs; when we do get the page revisions completed and everything is pretty and colored, it'll look much better than it would have had he not given it that once-over.  Hopefully we'll be able to show some "before and after" panels sometime soon to go over the improvements being made to the layout.

Of course, that brings me to the next part of this post - "soon" is, of course, a relative thing.  While I can imagine how full-time comic artists and writers are able to focus entirely on their craft, it's only because I have a good imagination; Rachel and I do have priorities with our full-time jobs (student and game designer, respectively), but don't worry - work always continues on Four Kingdoms, no matter what happens!

I'll wrap up this post with a fantastic piece of guest art by Alchera.  Hardin never looked so menacing!

The next couple of weeks will be busy busy busy on my end, as the Game Developer's Conference is coming up and, like some kind of geeky salmon returning to its point of origin, I am compelled to return to said GDC as often as possible.  Maybe if you're all really good, Rachel will come on here and bestow upon you a gift of some kind?  We'll see!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Writing with Pictures

Game designers make better comic writers than novelists for a few reasons - first, aside from maybe Hideo Kojima and the Metal Gear Solid series, game designers must condense their output to fit into set constraints. If I work on a mobile phone game, I've only a few kilobytes-worth of text I can squeeze in, and then there's that tiny screen! Instead of saying "When you pick up the basketball, run towards the basket", one must instead say "Pick up ball, run to basket".

Conversely, when you write a novel, your first instinct is to describe in detail. You set the scene with words, and you have to cater to your entire audience on the first try – as Jef Mallett said, “Being a good writer means never having to say ‘I guess you had to be there’.” This is doubly important with fantasy stories because you – the writer – are the only person who’s ever been to the place you’re describing. With a comic, words take a backseat. Description is no longer imperative, as the artist can show exactly what it is you mean to say.

In this respect, writing a comic script is a bit like writing text for a game. Both comics and games rely on visuals to tell the story, with text acting as a supplement. Crack open any good comic and you’ll see the art is telling the story most of the time – not the text. Because of this, finding the right balance between what you want the characters to say and what you want the characters’ actions to say is a blurry line that I’m still figuring out. As I’ve learned over the last few drafts of the script, when you write a comic, the artist is as much a writer as the writer is. If you believe a picture is worth a thousand words, then that makes the artist even more a writer than the actual writer!

My first draft of the Four Kingdoms script was very much still the novel I had begun to write beforehand. It wasn’t until Rachel laid out the initial thumbnails of the Felis prologue and some of the other scenes that I realized I needed to apply my game designer shtick to the comic’s script. Let’s take a look at the evolution of some scripty bits:

The Lost "Felis Prologue":

In the original prologue, a group of shadowy hooded figures argue around a table in a dusty old library. After some back and forth, a few plot details began to emerge – they were recording some important historical event, a stranger was among them who had been a participant, and the facts surrounding this event were impossible to determine. The scene would have gone on for about two and a half pages, most of it just people sitting around a table arguing.

A snippet of this lost scene:

Shadow 1: This is not another one of your abridged travesties! This is the most important thing that any of us in this room will ever write! There hasn’t been an event like this since the Four Kingdoms War, and that was a lifetime ago!

Shadow 2 (to the others): Brother Camriel is speaking in exaggerations.

Shadow 1: I speak the truth! Our writing of these events will affect our relations with all the races of the Four Kingdoms. This is not some skirmish between Vulpin tribes or Polcan pirates! We write of a world war, and we cannot take that responsibility lightly!

Words and words and words! For a comic, especially a comic that introduces a brand new fantasy world, showing a bunch of shadowy cloaked characters in a library probably isn’t the best way to garner interest. Thankfully we came to our senses and condensed the Scholars sequence into a single page and added some nice visual splendor to pique interest.

My second and last example (since I’m starting to belie my point about being succinct with this post) is a series of panels from Quinlan’s introduction:

Original text:

Quinlan: When my grandfather told me that I needed to join the Tamian Military, he gave me a choice of paths to follow. I chose to be a scout so I wouldn’t have to kill anyone. He was against it, of course. It was the first time we ever really fought.

Janik (surprised): Yeah, but… you’re so good at Tesque…

(Quin collects his supplies and stands up, offering Janik a paw)

Quinlan: Knowing how to fight is a philosophy. The true act of fighting, though, that’s… something quite different. Honestly, I don’t know whether to thank my grandfather or hate him.

Janik: Why’s that?

Quinlan: Well… it’s hard to explain. To him, the best way a warrior’s life could be spent was by constant fighting, risking life and limb. Whenever he tried to explain it to me, I just got… scared. Eventually he stopped trying to explain, and he let me become a scout. I think he considered that his greatest failure.

Janik: And you think that’s why he willed you to become captain after he died?

Quinlan: How could I turn down his dying wish? He got what he wanted, that’s all he cares about, I’m sure.

Janik: Well, he lived in a violent time. Things are more civilized now.

Quinlan (as he and Janik walk away): That’s just what worries me, Janik… I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that’s true at all.

And now the scene as it appears in a more current draft:

So, getting back to my original point – if you’re a novelist at heart, comic writing will take quite a bit of practice to get right. If you’re a game designer, especially a game designer that constantly has to work within tight size constraints – you might actually want to give comic writing a whirl. Half of the fun of game design comes from working within constraints - so the constraints of comic writing should very much appeal to you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Kingdoms of "Kingdoms": Deltrada

To describe the northern kingdom of Deltrada is to describe the whole of the militaristic Canid race – cold, brutal, and always willing to turn a petty fight into a lifestyle choice.

Calling the Canid ‘petty’ is hardly fair, however, considering that not long ago, they were nearly wiped off the map entirely. The Canid once lived in the barren Northern Wastes, struggling to survive off of the inhospitable terrain.  When the Four Kingdoms War broke out and all the seven races in the land were at each other’s throats, the Canid had to make a choice: attack one of the races to the south and take their land, or put their entire race’s future at the mercy of the unforgiving northern winters.  They steeled themselves for battle and attacked their nearest neighbor – the Ermehn.

Things went poorly for the Canid at first.  They lost almost every skirmish against their more experienced and battle-hardened foes, and they were at risk of losing their entire campaign unless they did something drastic. On the eve of the final battle, the Canid managed to convince the neighboring Tamian and Lutren races that the Ermehn race was a threat to them. This alliance tripled the strength of the Canid army, and the Ermehn were soundly defeated.

The Canid named their new kingdom “Deltrada”.  They quickly built a capital city, several military garrisons, and a massive wooden wall blocking off all major paths leading into the Northern Wastes – believing that the Ermehn would attack them the first chance they could.

Deltrada is currently under the protection of the Canid leader, Lord Odrahn, and his three generals: Clovis, Tyril, and Galleon.  In the 85 harvests that have passed since the end of the Four Kingdoms War, the Canid have become a military superpower – their entire society is now based on keeping the Ermehn locked away in the Northlands, firm in the belief that the Ermehn are simply biding their time for one last massive battle to retake their land.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Kingdoms of "Kingdoms": Sunsgrove

Progress report: Things are moving! We’re hoping to have the first issue’s final script and panel roughs all laid out and ready to go by New York ComicCon next month. At the very least, this will be a busy month in Four Kingdoms-land!
For the next few blogposts, I figured I would go into some detail about the landscape and history of the Four Kingdoms, going into each of the titular kingdoms and their inhabitant races. This post is dedicated to our main protagonists’ home: Sunsgrove.

Sunsgrove is quite the anomaly when it comes to the Four Kingdoms – the other three kingdoms are ruled by dominant races, while Sunsgrove is split in two: Lutren territory and Tamian territory.

Lutren territory lies to the south, snaking its way north along the western coastline. Tamian territory, further inland, makes up the rest of the kingdom. Think of it like this – the Lutren live on the coasts, the Tamian live in the massive forests of the Western Deep. And that’s Sunsgrove!

During the Four Kingdoms War, when racial alliances were forged to battle against invading species, the Tamian and the Lutren banded together to overcome the Polcan race, which was threatening to push them both into the desert-like midlands (now home to the Vulpin and the kingdom of Nessa). With the Tamian’s knowledge of the Western Deep and the Lutren’s seafaring skills, the two races were able to push the Polcan from the coasts and into the Great Sea, where they now live as pirates and bandits.

To this day, the Tamian and Lutren share the land peacefully, with a Lutren queen and a Tamian king representing the continued alliance between the two races. Our hero, Quinlan, serves directly under the Tamian king, Dabheid - so expect to see a bit of this pudgy monarch. Dakkan and Kenosh serve under the Lutren queen, Sorcha - who's a bit of a hard-liner. Dakkan really doesn't like her that much - and rest assured, the feeling is mutual. As the political situation in Sunsgrove deteriorates, expect to see these royal monarchs doing what they do best!