Well, here we are, one day to go before we can all get our hands on Secunda #1!
Today we have the final part of our four part series Exploring Secunda where we will take a look behind the scenes during the creation of an issue. This article even includes video from our brand new YouTube channel!
Exploring Secunda, Part IV: Behind the Scenes
The creation of a single issue of Secunda has several different steps from the abstract idea to the fully illustrated page. More than just mere comics, the careful balance of historical accuracy, linguistic integrity, artistic rendering, and narrative enjoyability presents a complicated balancing act during the genesis of our Latin readers. Let’s take a look at just what goes on behind the scenes during the making of an issue!
Phase One: Writing
Of course, before any images are drawn, before any words are written, it all begins with an idea. Where the ideas come from, well, that’s for the philosophers to debate, but when they come is a bit easier to nail down.
It could be during research, for example the idea for issue #3: At the Kids’ Table, came to me while reading about Roman dinner banquets (cena). I had just read that the children at such banquets would not recline like their parents, but would sit on chairs in their own area. I wondered: what would being at one of those “children’s tables” be like? What would they talk about?
Other times, the ideas come while watching a film, reading a book or the browsing newspaper. A good example of this is the story from issues #4 & 5, which draw heavy inspiration from Scooby-Do. Sometimes the ideas come during a writing exercise, or while I’m doodling. And then there’s the time where the ideas just come out of the ether. Regardless how or when they come, however, every issue needs an idea.
Of course, before an idea can be put into action, it first must be researched to ensure that it is feasible. Would such a thing be possible in the 2nd century CE? Would it make a compelling story? Will it provide a context for meaningful use of language? Can it be done in one, at most two, issues? This is a pretty simple yet crucial step.
Alright, so we’ve got a good idea, and some research has proven it viable, the next step is to begin writing the actual script for the issue. At this point I take some time to toss the idea and research around in my head in order to develop a plot-line. I take notes, record myself telling the story and variations of the story, I explore motivations and characters and twists and setting… Once I have a solid idea of the story, I synthesize all that brainstorming into a point-by-point outline of the issue.
At this point, some writers might just go ahead and write out the comic’s complete script, often formatted like a screenplay. I, however, like to explore the visual element of the comic visually before I write the script. What does that mean? Well, first I’d better explain a bit about the typical comic book writing process so this can make a little more sense.
Depending on the writer and the artist, a comic usually has a script, which of course contains all the dialogue and a more or less detailed description of the action. Some scripts might describe the action in exact detail, complete with “camera” angles and shots for the final comic book page. Some might just describe the action generally, leaving it up to the artist to choose the angles and shots.
Generally the next step is for the artist to create what are called “Thumbnails,” basically little sketches of the final page used for approval from the writer then reference for the artist. Then the artist will begin to render the full-sized pages.
Since I am the writer and the artist, I do the script and the thumbnails in reverse order, sketching the thumbnails first. I sit down with my outline and start sketching out thumbnails with various notes, including dialogue notes. Basically I do this to ensure that the script I will eventually write is optimal for being rendered visually. While anything is possible with comics, not everything is practical, especially for comics as language learning tools. By making sure the visual element can be rendered with utmost clarity and comprehensibility first, I don’t have to spend time rewriting the script later when I eventually realize that there might be a better way of writing potentially large portions of the plot for the visual medium of comics.
Once I have the whole issue sketched in thumbnails I write that action and dialogue out into a script. Generally I write the dialogue within the script in Latin first, sometimes resorting to English when I need to research the best way of rendering something in Latin. I then review this first draft to make sure my Latin is correct and to translate the English bits. Once I am satisfied with this draft of the script it is then sent to my editor, who reviews its language and plot for historical and linguistic accuracy. Usually a script will go through several phases of editing, the final one of course being to check all the macrons are correct.
Phase Two: Illustrating
Once we have a solid script, it’s time to illustrate the comic, right? Not quite. First we need to make sure we know what all the characters and settings will look like. First we need to draw some concept art!
Concept art is where we decide what the characters and settings will look like, draw out maps of certain scenes or settings, and get the overall look for the issue nailed down. Concept art is more than just practice drawing characters and settings before official illustration, it is also valuable reference material for during the illustration process as well as a crucial time to make sure everything looks right before beginning illustration of the final product. Since Secunda is a historical fiction series, ensuring everything “looks right” is very important! From the clothes to the architecture, everything must look like it fits into the ancient world it is supposed to take place in.
Illustrating the Pages
Page illustration has four steps: layout, pencils, inks and color. First step is to layout the various panels on the page based on what I’ve got in my thumbnails. Then I sketch out the shots inside the panels, first roughly then I go over with more detail. Next I go over the pencils with ink, making the nice, smooth final lines for the page. I do all of these steps digitally with a creative tablet and the program Manga Studio Ex 5. These steps are pretty straight forward, so rather than explaining it, how about I just show you?
Here is a video of page 22 of Secunda #1 drawn and then inked:
Once everything is inked I send the inks to my colorist, who prints them out and colors them by hand! He then scans them and sends them back to me. Here is page 22 of Secunda #1 fully colored:
Once I get the fully colored scans back it is time to add the word bubbles. Again, I use Manga Studio Ex 5 which makes this process nice and easy. Here is page 22 of Secunda #1 fully colored and with all word bubbles, ready for release: