The Search for Style
Hello, lovelies! I hope life is treating you kindly. It's been a bit busy over here balancing my day job, my theatrical career, and other projects, but things seem to be running smoothly for the most part. I just came back from a terrific experience at the Jane Austen Summer Program in Chapel Hill, NC, where I had the pleasure of sharing a little bit of my personal journey adapting EMMA to graphic novel. It was fantastic, and although I had to rush back home due to previous commitments, I will surely be planning better for next year's program!
I got asked several times what comes in play when choosing an art style to represent a story. The truth is there is no short, easy answer to that question, because it's a journey that passes through several phases of transformation, and I wanted to share some of this with you.
If you've been following Duniath Comics for a while, you've probably noticed I do enjoy playing with different art styles, inking, and coloring techniques, which vary greatly in between projects. For example, if you followed my webcomic Spinsterly Ever After you might remember how heavily influenced I was by Japanese styles such as manga, chibi and kawaii: ovesized eyes, oversized heads, and over-the-top cuteness.
It's very true when they say we learn a lot from our mistakes. Now, don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the style I was able to achieve for Spinsterly, but on the run I also discovered it was simply not sustainable long term. The illustrations were created using a style called "layered color blocking", in which lineart is mostly omitted, and shapes are achieved by breaking down the illustration into countless layers, then doing shading on the edges to create diffused, soft lines that give the whole thing a very painterly, soft, grainy look normally seen in children books' illustrations. This process works beautifully if one is illustrating full-sized pages for a book, but being so time-consuming it's simply not the best choice for a comic or a graphic novel with an average of 5-6 panels per page, and a much larger page count, especially since I'm not a full-time artist, and I make comics in my "spare time". Thus, layered color blocking quickly became the bane of my existence, and Spinsterly Ever After was abandoned after only one season (at least for now).
As I moved forward with new ideas, doodles, and projects, I slowly and organically moved past manga, and into my own characteristic style. I've always been heavily influenced by classic comics such as Archie, Blondie and Calvin and Hobbes, in which simplicity has always given us dynamic, beautiful, and hilarious characters that have remained in our hearts for generations. Said simplicity has been reimagined in modern comics such as Dana Simpson's Phoebe and her Unicorn, a personal favorite. Take a look at this illustration:
Simpson uses very minimal shading, a very crisp and clean lineart, and beautiful backgrounds made of simple shapes and color gradients. Her style is exquisite, unique, and very characteristic. When illustrating a comic, it's important to remember that both characters and backgrounds will surely need to repeat panel after panel as the story unfolds, and this is why less is more. The simpler the style, the easier it is to get through a page, both as an artist and as a reader. Overly detailed backgrounds could potentially overwhelm the characters and distract the reader, and over-designed characters make the process of reproducing them panel by panel very taxing, and unnecessarily time-consuming. It's important to come up with a page that is clean, and offers enough information visually, so that it doesn't look cluttered when speech balloons and captions are added on top of the art.
When I started doodling the characters that later became my slice-of-life comic Your Sense & My Sensibility, I opted for a simpler, sharper, more cartoony style that in no time began to define Duniath Comics' signature style. It was me going back to the roots of my inspiration: the Archies, the Blondies, the Phoebes. It felt right.
Upon experimenting, I found out lineart indeed makes production much easier than color blocking in multiple layers, since one can simply "drag and drop" colors within the lines to render, and quickly clean up and elevate the image with shading, gradients, highlights, and effects. To add a personal touch I decided to start coloring my lineart a shade darker than the color inside instead of leaving it black, and I loved it! It keeps my palette sweet, and in my signature pastels. Little by little, I realized I was embracing my own style. My own thing.
When searching for the "right" style to bring EMMA to the world of Duniath Comics, I wanted to keep several of those things that make Your Sense & My Sensibility so special, so I decided to keep the colored lineart and the sharp Cel Shading. I didn't keep the little dot-eyes, and the rendering is a bit messier to give it a more "pastels and watercolors" vibe, since it's a story set in the Regency era. However, the character design took a lot of experimentation. At first, Emma's curls were very defined, which slowed me down every time I had to draw her 4-5 times per page, and I decided I wanted something more less defined, messy, doodly, cute. We're talking about Emma Woodhouse, who's got a portfolio full of unfinished, sketchy artwork. I wanted to play with that idea, and I really, really like it. Here's a collage of some of the many Emmas that have promenade through my tablet while exploring.
As I move forward with the creation of this massive project, I will share with you the final versions of the style, the palettes, the backgrounds, and the character design. Hopefully you'll love this adaptation. It is certainly being created with a lot of heart. As always, thank you very much for stopping by, for all the love and support, and for following along. We'll be in touch!