Thumbnails to finals - the story continues

After my brief segue last month into gushing over one of my favourite graphic novels, Jeff Lemire's Essex County, I thought I would pick up where I left off previously. So I'm back to talking about about how Secrets of Jarrow came together. 

I spent a pretty idyllic summer a few years back sitting on my porch thumbnailing through the story in my sketchbook. I don't know if most comic book artists go through a thumbnail stage (see April's post) but I have always loved this part of book making. Unencumbered by the need to get everything right, it allows me to see the page in its entirety, think about points of view, darks and lights, close ups or distant shots, balloon placement and just generally how the story is best told graphically. Sometimes I will decide to spend an entire page or two with no words at all, just imagery to carry the narrative forward. Many of my important decisions are being made at this stage, as my written script is very minimalist with little or no description of action or panel breakdown. Minimal script writing is a luxury I can allow myself as I am writing my own text and don't have to communicate what is in my head visually to the artist, unlike many comic book writers.

So as I have said, my path forward is mostly determined at this stage and during the time spent creating the finals (a couple of years minimum) I reference these sketches closely and constantly. If I don't then it is easy to get bogged down in the details of the final art and lose the big picture. Often, in a gestural way, I have captured exactly the pose or expression I want or the scaling of art that I need in any given panel, and if I stray from this too far the final art can feel a bit flat.

Recently I have gone completely digital with my work (other than the thumbnails, which I still do in my sketchbook) and as a result have taken this one step further, scanning in the thumbnail as a first rough draft of the page that I can layer at the bottom of my document. I then work directly from that for my first pass - but more on my digital transformation later, Secrets of Jarrow was mostly done analogue!

Here in this thumbnail from the book I'm currently working on I managed to capture exactly the feel I wanted...

which I hopefully was able to replicate in the final art.

I will post a couple of examples here, showing the thumbnail and my final inked page from Secrets of Jarrow, just to illustrate how closely those quick sketches resemble the finals. Ideally I would show the final pencils rather than the inked page, but as I inked directly on the pencils, that intermediary stage no longer exists for this book!

I always liked this sequence, which happens early in the story. Hopefully you can decipher my thumbnails (they really are just for me to understand!) but I think you can see how the page structure and Crow's body language translates to the final line art. I adopt a more cartoony style for my thumbs as a short hand to getting the action right.
My only real change in the final was adding the Crack! in panel three, which sets up the sequence on the book's following page.

Again, you can see how the layout for this page tracks pretty closely to the inked final below. Interestingly enough, in this sequence I have Podd with Crow (upper right). This is p.26 in my thumbnail layout, but I did a major re-write after finishing the thumbs, inserting ten more pages before this one, so that the inked version below is numbered p. 36 in my file.

Speech balloons have moved around a bit and Podd is no longer in the scene, but the shape of the page remains the same!

And some newsy bits...

My First Podcast!

Wayne Hall at  Wayne's Comics (Major Spoilers) contacted me last week to talk about Secrets of Jarrow and comic-making in general. I spent a really enjoyable hour with Wayne and we covered a lot of ground! If you would like to hear the podcast it can be found here at this link:

And my first review!

I was really pleased to open the Toronto Star today and find a review of Secrets of Jarrow in Mike Donachie's graphic novel column. The review of Secrets along with three other great new Canadian comic releases can be found online at this link: