Jenn Manley Lee


Page 14 of Part 4 : Birth

At last, a new page of Dicebox. Also at last, there's a new working blog on plus a lot of cleaned up code, restored function, updated links and so on. And perhaps more notable, these darn update delays are coming to an end. In a couple weeks I'll have finished a couple obligations and can turn more time back to Dicebox. This excites me.

Wander dice kits

When I was designing my incentive packages for the crowd-funded print run of Dicebox Book 1 : Wander, it was inevitable that dice would be included in some fashion. As my desire was for the the dice to be of my own design, I was pleased to discover Chessex, a company that specializes in making small lots of custom dice. They were great to work with and the dice they produced were lovely. The flexibility of Chessex's process allowed me to offer a set of four dice with three different "1" pips. For what this did to the cost of each dice set I felt I needed offer a sheet of games you could play with four dice or less as compensation. I looked up traditional games, choosing the most theme appropriate ones, like “Shut the Box,” and “Liar's Dice.” I wrote up my rules for the selected games from various sources in books and on the internet, often combining the rules of similar games, and naturally replaced the generic pronouns with "peh."

For these instruction booklets I wanted to recreate the feeling of those found in card sets and pocket games. the ones with small, compacted text on onionskin paper. After some experimentation, I discovered sumi practice rice paper worked the best. I needed to tape it to another, stiffer sheet of paper in order to run it through my printer, but it did beautifully. Trimming rice paper with an Exacto blade can be a right pain as it often snags and then tears, even with a brand new blade. Luckily I had discovered the wonder that is a rotary cutter which does a clean and quick job of it.

For a finishing touch, I created a "watermark" with a custom stamp I had made of the Dicebox poppy and a stamp pad with ink made for the purpose.

Among the games I wanted to include was Tabula, the precursor of Backgammon, which needed fifteen counters for two players. Which, naturally, I felt I should provide. Besides a few of the other games required counters for various purposes. The glass gems used for vase decoration ended up being a satisfactory and cost effective solution.

The Tabula sheet had its own folding challenges; I created a guide to aid folding it in thirds and learned that whacking the inside of a fold with a metal ruler was needed to make a clean crease.

A set of cleromancy instructions also seemed in order. As with the games, I pulled from various sources and shaped each fortune-telling method to my liking. One of the methods of casting called for a circle to help interpret the shape of the answer. It was a perfect opportunity to incorporate the circular symbol of Book 1, the labyrinth. (for Book 2 it's a spiral, Book 3, a wheel and Book 4, concentric circles) While experimenting with the layout, I wondered what printing it on the back of the instructions would look like. I decided it looked good.

Now, I needed a bag to hold those counters and the rest, didn't I? I began my search for the bags with only knowing that they needed to be black and have a drawstring. I quickly found myself on wedding supply websites looking at the wide variety of favor bags. My favorite of these sites is Save-on-Crafts, full of the most possibilities for future projects.

I found many candidates at a variety of sites but was reluctant to commit to 12 to 24 bags before seeing a sample. Luckily I came across U.S. Box where I could buy individual samples or various items. I chose the black fringed faux suede for the feel, size and vagabond appeal. I might not have chosen something so whimsical without being able to handle it first.

A box was needed to hold the whole kit and caboodle. After much searching and comparing, I ended up finding the absolutely perfect box back on U.S. Box., a red and black jewelry box, square with a snap closure. (It was almost like the manufacturer had me specifically in mind.)

I had already planned to make a custom insert to hold everything separately and securely in whatever box I ended up with. Quite a few prototypes were made in plain white paper before I worked it out. Then I created a final dieline in Illustrator which I then printed directly onto black sheets on Arjowiggins' Curious Skin paper, a very tactile and strong paper I always wanted to find a reason to use. To get the cleanest fold, I lightly scored the lines with the back of an Exacto knife tip before folding.

Time to load up the box.


Finally comes the branding of the box. The labels were made by simply printing black on the black Skin paper, inspired by the effect I saw when printing the insert die lines. As the ink isn't fully absorbed by the paper (which creates the effect), I need wait a day before trimming them out. I then adhere it to the top of the box by spraying the back with adhesive, using a makeshift guide to help me center it.

Finally, I re-use the white board sleeve that each box came to wrap and protect each box again after I stamp the sleeve with the Dicebox logo.

And there you have it. It certainly satisfied the urge to make a certain something. As did creating the dice cups, which I'll discuss in my next post.



Digital color match proofs of select pages for Book 1

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I couldn't afford a full set of color proofs, so I worked with the printer to select key pages on each signature to match to on press. This photo doesn't do the color of these justice. "Wet proof" of the endpapers for the hard cover (PMS 8860 metallic over PMS 1795)
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Oh my goodness, this whole book thing is really going to happen, isn't it?

Cover for Book 1 : Wander

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I've been saving this as a signal that the book is finally on its way to the printer.

As an apology and thank you for this whole process taking two months later than I than anticipated, I will be sending a print of the full wrap around art–without logo, etc–to everyone who has pre-ordered this book. I will also be providing free access to a pdf and/or cbr file of the book to the same. And maybe one other gift if I can source it for a reasonable cost.

I will closing pre-orders on the 21st of this month, when the cost of the book will rise from $25.00 to $26.50 USD. I won't be offering the custom dice beyond pre-orders and probably not the kerchiefs either.

This also means that I will soon be updating Book 2 again! I'm aiming to resume on a regular basis on the 21st of this mont, but that is dependent on my fulfilling of other obligations first, including finishing the spot coloring of Hope Larson's upcoming graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.

I will give further updates on the ETA of the printed books as I get confirmation from the printer.

Process of an Illustration - Stage 2 Refine and Render

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Continuation of my basic drawing process that I began here. And pretty much what the title of this post says; refine line art and color shapes and begin rendering. Though I try to work on the entire drawing, developing it all as a whole, certain parts are more developed than others, with the Griffen being the most refined at this point. I usually pick a person or object to work up first, one which'll be a good key to light and color quality.

One thing harder to see is me shifting the colors somewhat, nor did I document rejected shading.

Next post will be Stage 3: Textures, patterns and effects.

Process of an Illustration - Stage 1: Initial lines & color

As I wrap up the production files for the print version of Dicebox: Book 1 : Wander, I've decided to share my current art process to compensate for sporadic page updates. This'll specifically follow me making a stand alone illustration, but a lot of the steps hold true for how I approach comics. The piece in question is the art for the cover spread for the Asides, those fill-in comics that I was lucky enough to have folks gift me when I needed a break from Dicebox. As you might have noticed, I don't really have fill-ins anymore; my impetus for doing them was initially due to me being on a subscription site, Girlamatic and I figured paying customers deserved regularly scheduled entertainment. I continued to have them after leaving Girlamatic as that was the current expectation of a webcomics audience. Nowadays, with the general acceptance of RSS feeds and social media as aggregators, folks are more forgiving of a fumbled update (even if I am not). Also, I don't intend to take that much time off during parts anymore and I'm certainly not planning to have another kid.

Anyway, let's begin:

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Above is Stage 0, the rough sketch of an idea. This is a pretty elaborate rough sketch for me, but as this started life a cover concept for Book 1 and–though I liked the potential of the illustration– was iffy about it as a cover. So I sent it around to the usual suspects for feedback and got confirmation that it was a nice idea for a picture, but not a cover. It was during this process that I had the epiphany that it was actually the Asides cover spread in the print edition of Book 1 (silly me).

The entertaining white gap running vertically in the middle is me realizing the bed was too short and hence extending it.

Click above image for slightly larger view.
In Stage 1 you see the beginnings of final line art and initial color blocking. It's common for me to take the line art to a nearly finished point and then block in the basic color shapes so I can see how the basic composite is shaping up and to help me spot any drawing problems. The rougher line art indicates what wasn't working for me and where I started to extend it vertically.

Also, obviously, I've flopped the drawing. I actually liked it better this way from the get go and as I want to put the title and intro paragraph on the right hand page, it was a win-win situation.

This illustration is actually beyond this point in refinement, but not quite at Stage 2: Final line art and initial rendering. Which'll be my next entry here in a few days.