With the first page of the Robert Smalls graphic novel done, here’s the page as it appeared at different stages from script to page.
I have outlined the whole novel and fully scripted the first section. I had originally planned to start at Robert’s birth, and then work linearly, but just before I started drawing, I decided I liked the idea of opening with a snapshot of the moment that is perhaps most memorable in the story; the actual escape, so I scripted a page for that.
I was more concerned with mood and impactful visuals for this, as it is a moment that will be revisited in much more depth later on.
The page was almost entirely hand-drawn and -coloured, digitally, in Photoshop on a touchscreen tablet but the ripples on the water were partly hand-drawn and partly created using some effects in photoshop, and the fog in the first, second, and last panels was created by adding and manipulating a photo I took of some vapour (vaping does have its uses…).
First of all, with the script page superimposed on the Photoshop document, I sketched out rough ideas for each panel next to its description in the script. Here, I liked the first ideas I came up with except for the last panel where I ultimately decided to pull out from the ship a bit. As this page is just a one-page snapshot of the escape before the scene will change, in the last panel, I decided it would be better to leave with a better impression of the steamship The Planter and the space it occupied rather than the escapee’s faces. There will be plenty of time to explore them and their reactions later when the escape is revisited in more detail.
I also decided to leave showing the naval blackade until the second panel so that the first panel could stand as a fairly innocuous looking panel on its own; the blockade would be a sort of mini-reveal.
Then, happy with the rough sketches, I drew rough panel borders and dropped each rough into its corresponding panel and scaled it to the right size. (The grey circle in the second panel is a circular guide I used to draw the steering wheel).
The second picture here is after I’d gone to each panel, and redrawn them with neater linework. Pretty much all the linework is a single weight and this is before I added any solid blacks. I decided on a higher viewing angle on The Planter in the last panel partly because it just looks more visually appealing, and partly so it could be easier seen that it was carrying cargo including several canons.
A Touch of Colour
The third picture is at a stage where I’d gone back to the linework to add some weight variation to it, and added the solid blacks. Then I’d started colouring by adding a single flat colour to each area that needed colouring. I struggled to decide on a base colour to look right for black skin at night until I tried purple and then suddenly it clicked!
Finally, I finished the colouring, adding light and shade, and things like reflections, ripples, glows, and mist. The escape happened on a foggy night and, I’ll be honest; I’m not very accustomed to drawing and colouring night-time or foggy scenes so this was a challenge for me. I wanted to make sure it was clear it was night time, but at the same time, I didn’t want the page to be too dark, entirely unclear, or flat-out boring so I used the clouds and moon in the night sky to brighten the whole page (hopefully without making it look too fantastical) and used the lights of The Planter both times they appear to pull focus to the ship.
The Planter, in the last panel, was very hard for me to draw. Drawing vehicles is not something that has ever come naturally to me but I’m going to have to get used to it as I’m going to be drawing that ship a lot over the course of this novel! Randy Von Nostrand’s digital 3D model, and photos from The South Carolina Maritime Museum of their model of the Planter made by Dennis Cannady helped immensely!
Then all that was left to do was add the text, blacken the gutters between the panels, and crop the page to the correct size. I wanted black gutters to add to the night-timeness of the scene, without making the panels themselves any darker than they already are. For the text, I’ll admit; it’s kind of semi hand-lettered.I’m already writing, drawing, and colouring this all myself and lettering is a skill in itself – one I’m not practised at. I wasn’t sure of my ability to letter this well and consistently, but I also didn’t want someone else to do it or to use a pre-made font so I sort of found a solution that’s in-between.
I used the website www.yourfonts.com to create a font from my own handwriting. In theory, it’s very simple: you fill out a form, writing each character in the appropriate box, then upload it. The site maps everything you wrote to the correct key and sends back a TrueType Font. In practice, I haven’t stressed out so much about my handwriting since I was in primary school! I wrote and rewrote each letter to get it just right! Given that it’s going to be seen throughout the novel, I wanted it to look its best, but I didn’t want to overwork it so much that it wasn’t identifiably my writing. I wanted it to be my “Berocca” writing: My writing… but on a really good day!
On the advice of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, I altered the placing of the dialogue bubbles, to making clearer where the voice was coming from the boat, and to guide the reader to the second panel after the first panel.
One thing I want to make sure I do when we come back to this scene is to try to create a greater sense of movement from The Planter, which is maybe not conveyed very clearly here. That said, all in all, I’m pretty happy with the page. So there it is: Page 1 from script to page.
Of course, I’ve added all the people that have helped to my Supporters page.