Jenn Manley Lee

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Posts tagged griffen
Cover for Book 1 : Wander

Click above image for larger view.

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 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:

Click above image for slightly larger view.
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.

I got better*

So Dicebox got a write up on io9 yesterday, which was a completely delightful shock. It is a great review with the added bonus that the reviewer, Lauren Davis, picking up on those aspects most important to me, making me feel that I did my job as a storyteller. So I am a little ashamed that my first reaction was my, uh, dissatisfaction with the art of the sample pages she chose. From a story angle, her selections are very rewarding. And understand that as I've been going through the rewriting and tweaking process on Book 1, I've gotten kinder towards my old art, finding most of it acceptable. (Do I still want to redraw everything? Yeah, but I wanna finish Dicebox even more and move on to the other stories rattling around my brain)

Of the seven examples chosen for the review, only one will stand as is. And two more will need only minor tweaks. But of the other four, one will be reincorporated into a rewrite of the scene and so redrawn, one needs everyone to get back on model, one is slated for a serious makeover and one has already been redrawn and recolored though not uploaded as I need to tweak the following pages to have it integrate.

But I'm actually not here to whine and moan about that. Heck, it tells me that I chose correctly on what some of the keys pages are. I'm here to show and go through why I chose to redo a page that contains a panel that is used over and over again as a positive example of the art of Dicebox. That being page 10 of Part 5, "Blood from a Stone."

(click a thumbnail for a larger view in new window)

On the left is the original page art, on the right, the revision.

I was never satisfied with the feel of this page, specifically I wanted more of a sense that the characters are in and surrounded by the space and for the plains they are walking across to be a significant presence. So I took the opportunity of being invited to a group show to rework this page, exploring how I could make it really work the way I wanted it to. Which is my criteria for the other couple of pages I plan to revamp, i.e. that they are somehow key pages and there is something I can learn in the redoing. After all, I always intended Book 1 as my journeyman project, what I would use to learn the craft of a cartoonist.

First thing I decided to do was make the first panel a background flood image to allow it to be an environment to the characters and the other panels. To aid this, I felt some indication of foreground was called for and so moved up the second panel to reveal some of it. This had the added bonus of suggesting motion between it and the next panel. Lastly, I decided to let the Griffen in the last panel break the frame for continued integration with both the background and the first rear view of her. Also as a mood break to accompany her comment.

And you probably notice the updating of the color palette and the increase of contrast, all things that I need to apply to the rest of this scene before I will upload this revision. Because, as happy as I am with the redo, I would find the disconnect too jarring and so be doing myself no favors.

*The title for this post comes from a response I made to Kevin Moore when he called me on my propensity to redo the same pages over and over again. He and many of my other friends are forever trying to break me of this filthy habit.

What was old is new again

I broke my week long Dicebox fast yesterday by doing some exploratory sketches of what Griffen will be wearing at the beginning of the next book. And her wardrobe through out Book 2 in general, which will be a cut above the bargain bin ensembles of Book 1. More extreme for me will be the actual styled haircut she'll be sporting.

(click this and all images for a larger view in new window)

I haven't come up with what I want just yet, but the colored sketch above is getting there. However the real reason I'm sharing it is that, before I had even finished this sketch, I realized that I had sketched Griffen wearing a similar get-up a few years back.

Once upon a time, I had planned to do a short story featuring a younger Griffen in a stream of conscious tale called "Journal" which was structured around Griffen, well, writing in her journal right after she had gotten back from visiting her father's grave. This sketch below, freakishly like the one I had just done down to the cigarette, also served as a color test for the limited palette I was planning to use.

Though I hadn't actually written or drawn said comic, I had done a good deal of prep work which included, beyond designing a look and outfit for 30 year-old Griffen, creating a decorative map of her home world as well as her old home office. There was also back story generated along with some contemplation of the culture and structure of her home country, most of which will be used to inform certain parts of Book 2.

I'm actually glad that I was suddenly inspired to sift through this old abandoned work, rediscovering certain things, some remembered, some not quite. Disappointingly, the fully colored and refined Photoshop art files for the map and Griffen's office had become corrupt, but I rescanned the pencils, quickly spot colored the office drawing, as both will be useful reference for Book 2.

And whereas I have no real desire or need now to do the short comic "Journal," I do regret not being able to use the nifty title graphic I came up for it.

Probably not worth the wait, but what the heck.

Okay, near a month later, here's the follow-up/continuation to the last post in this journal. Which I promised, um, well, a month ago.

All right lead up to the purpose(?) of this drawing was to explain how I always learn something about my characters and story from the fill-ins folks do for me and that what I learned from Patrick's was that I just don't push the metaphor's far enough. And so I was redesigning Molly and Griffen to reflect the elemental nature of each book and as the next book was water, well, then they should have forms appropriate to that element. And so, as the next book was the Book of Water:

Hey, this was to be an April Fool goof off post, not the height of wit. Also a chance to take cheap shots at my characters.

The punchline to all this (such as it is) will be up in the next couple of days,

Frontispiece for Dicebox : Book 1 : Wander

First off, that is exactly what I based my design for the Dicebox homepage on, the frontispiece of a book. Here are some examples from books from the 1600s:

Ovid's Metamorphosis The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

(Click images for larger views.)

Note the pillars in each example; this is a reference to an architectural frontispiece which "constitutes the elements that frame and decorate the main, or front, door to a building; especially when the main entrance is the chief face of the building, rather than being kept behind columns or a portico." (definition courtesy of Wikipedia)Also note the pair of framing figures in iconic clothing surrounded by all sorts of symbolism.

Since Dicebox was started as a way for me to process stories throughout my life and since the earliest way I remembered getting stories that meant something to me was through books, this was a natural choice for the story's homepage. I will be creating a new frontispiece for each book which will then take up their traditional place in the printed collections.

Now for the symbolism.

Obviously much of it relates to Molly and Griffen but all of it is influenced by the particular Book of Dicebox it fronts. This is Wander, the book of Earth and Plants, the Black book, South, Summer and so on. Hence the black background, the idyllic summer landscape with a prominent mountain and so on. (I did make an entry in my Process Journal which illustrates and somewhat explains how I've organized the four Books of Dicebox and why.)

Before I list the symbols that are Molly and Griffen specific, let me emphasize that they are not opposites; they are partners. I paired the symbolism on this page evenly between them in categories, sometimes it's classically opposing aspects, sometimes they are items the same category, and sometimes they are two parts of an equation.

The Pillars

The capitals (or crowns) are Green Men which also form the masks of Comedy and Tragedy. Green Men make repeated appearances throughout the entirety of Dicebox; there have already been three in this first book. (As this dissection of the frontispiece will be lengthy as it is, I will explore why this figure fascinates me in some other time and place.) Molly's Green Man is comprised of Hawthorne, Griffen's is Alder implying all the further symbolism tied up in those trees. The aspects of Comedy and Tragedy aren't really that character specific, they mostly are announcing a story. I made the decision who got which on who seemed unhappier throughout this Book (it was close).

Topping the Green Men are the Moon and a Beetle for Molly and the Sun and a Bee for Griffen. The celestial symbols are due to their essential presence more than any implication of gender roles or primacy. Molly's insect is a beetle because they are associated with secrets and cycles of awareness. The bee is associated with Griffen for its link to speech and thought as well as the ritual uses of honey. (The Sacred Bee by Hilda Ransome will give all the particulars)

The base of the capitals is an egg-and-dart pattern with a kanji symbol in the center. Molly's character is rou, a root of flesh, a carcass cut open; Griffen's is gua, a root of bone, representing a skull and vertebrae. I chose the egg-and-dart pattern because of the variety of interpretations I have heard of its meaning: life and death, male and female, symbol of Aphrodite (to go with the symbol of Hermes of the top bar) and so on.

The symbols contained in square plaque that begins the shaft of the pillar are very character specific. The dominating center symbol represents their place of origin: Molly is from Korsevei, which means crossroads in Norwegian and Griffen is from Aaleth, an arctic-like planet which has an artificially created green space around the equator named the Ouroboros for obvious reasons. The squares in Molly's represent Earth and the triangles in Griffen's are for fire. The symbol in the top left corner of Molly's is an electrical notation of "ground" which pairs with the on in Griffen's upper right representing "fuse." The symbol in the lower right of Molly's is for salt and Griffen is blocking hers for for sulfur.

The base of the pillars are decorated with the mystical representation of each character's celestial object, interspersed with the stage in the poppy's cycle the best aligns with each; Molly is the Bloom, Griffen is the Seeds.

The Objects

I'll start with the "female" and "male" tools: Molly has the broom for all it's association with protection and controlling influence, Griffen has a distaff as she is the storyteller of the two. Likewise Griffen has a saw given her tongue and Molly the hammer as she is the stabilizer.

Molly's coins at her feet and Griffen's blade are nods to where I feel they are in the classic Tarot categories, thought you'll want to refer to this journal entry as to how I place Swords.

The cat and the crow are the common animals that best represent their respective personalities; is they had familiars, it would be these animals.

Molly and Griffen

First off, I should mention that the color red is their color. As to why, let me refer to my response to Dylan when she asked me on the Dicebox Forum:

I've acknowledged to myself ages ago that Dicebox is, beyond being about Molly and Griffen, a call and response to all the stories I grew up with and ever encountered. So I spent some time exploring certain recurring and dominant themes of classic tales and myths, researching them and forming my own response to them. The hell with Joseph Campbell. You won't see most of this directly addressed within Dicebox--it will be often be even more than subtext, more like 3rd sub-basement text. It's the flavor and my personal unifying force.

Naturally I was going to delve into color symbolism--and this was still when I thought Dicebox was going to end up being black & white. Each Book has been assigned a color as well as other forces. And red is first and foremost blood to me.

I don't think it's any secret that I am interested in female energy and roles in stories, along with other border walkers such as tricksters and the like. Repeatedly, blood is aligned with women and border places. Death, birth, the river surrounding Faerie, blood on the snow, blood in the shoe. And then there's the whole idea of blood as guilt by association. Can't trust a woman 'cause they bleed 3 days a month and don't die of it. (This leads me back to the Southpaws thread--female energy is often associated with the left side, the sinister and dark.) And of course the whole Dicebox-->Peorth-->Womb connection.

And, yes, so far in Dicebox Molly and Griffen have worn some scrap of red, be it shirt, pants trim, knee patch or coat lining. And the red will vary from a maroon to a pink---from dried blood to a blood partially rinsed from a white rag.

Now, all that said, this is a standard I am setting up so I can break it at the appropriate time.

They have their own colors as well, represented by the clothing they are wearing. Griffen has white and yellow, representing air and fire, whereas Molly has yellow and black, for fire and earth.

They are both dressed in idealized versions of the outfits they appear in at the beginning of Dicebox, Griffen being the Victorian fop and Molly the hardy rustic traveller. (side note: Molly's boots are based on those on a statue of a priest and soldier somewhere in New York City, somewhere near Time Square. I can't remember who and haven't found it again on subsequent visits. These were to be the boots she wore throughout Dicebox, but, obviously, I changed my mind.)

Pieces of the same puzzle: the candle and the egg, the lock and the key. These have much more to do with how each keeps their secrets and how the other might discover them.

And, finally, Griffen's mouth is open, where as Molly's is shut, an aspect of this pair that will be elaborated on in the page notes of the very first page of Dicebox.

Yes, I use photo reference

Hello and welcome to the first installment of Jenn's penance present for missing updating Dicebox this week! I'll be updating this process journal three times on Wednesday, May 9th and then once a day for the next week with sketches, thoughts, and, well, my process notes for how I go about creating Dicebox. I'll also be updating the Dicebox Explication Page a similar amount. And I'm taking requests, either via email or in the comments below, for explication points, story notes or even which concept I should sketch next off of my Sketch Table. Anyway, like I said, here's my first offering, and as you might have guessed, it's about how I employ photo reference.

Above you see a pretty straightforward use of photo reference featuring my latest lovely model, Dylan Meconis. The main reason I asked her to strike this pose was so I could check that I had the shoulder action correct ( I did, actually.) But I got an extra bonus in how Dylan's left arm ended up underneath her and the lazy elegance her left hand over the edge of the bed. This is a detail I wouldn't have necessarily thought of on my own, and it kind of makes the panel for me.

I can go pages without having a strong desire or need for photo reference; the time I desperately want it is usually is during a conversation heavy scene. I want to make the figure drawing as interesting as possible with all those odd off hand details that occur in real life, those touches that give real life and personality to a pose.

Another big reason reasons I want photo reference is to illustrate for me how a person actually, say, rinses a cup out in the sink.

As you might have noticed, I ended up drawing a totally different view than the one I got of Dylan at the sink. And yet, this photo still gave me all the information I needed to execute the drawing. Which is good, as I often try to plan in advance what I think I'll need for photo reference as to not overly impose on my gracious models' time. Then, as often as not, by the time I layout then draw the page or scene in question, I've rewritten and re-staged the scne or page in question.

Case in point, I actually took reference shots for Chapter 7, Scene 3 more than a year in advance with Dylan and Erika Moen. Yeah, well, beyond actually moving this scene from Chapter 6 to Chapter 7, things got rewritten by the time I actually drew them, as is my wont. Still, these photos were incredibly useful despite not following precise layouts.

As you can see, I shifted who struck what pose and created my own. Still, having two people interacting was invaluable. My biggest complaint about pose books, even my favorites, is the lack of person/person interaction, that's some of the most time-consuming stuff to figurre out.

I've really been fortunate with having such willing, co-operative and talented models. Rebecca Woods is an amazing and dynamic model for the comicker--heck, she was willing to pose on a step ladder so that I could actually get the pose and angle I wanted for a scene.

And last, but not at all least, there's my constant in-a-pinch-model and in-house editor who does the absolute best Griffen hands: