There are so many things to keep in mind while illustrating a graphic novel! Obviously, it’s good to think about the regular things like sizing, demographic, tone, and what brushes and tools you’ll use to finish it. Those are expected parts of any creative process, especially a book-making process. I wanted to share with you some of the things I think about while illustrating my graphic novels that are beyond the technical details.
With each graphic novel I do, I also am improving all of these skills and continually working on honing them. It’s no surprise to me that I think I did a better job of doing all these things in Look On The Bright Side versus the first book Go With The Flow. Practice makes you better at this and a graphic novel gives you a lot of time to practice.
- Pacing – you want to make sure that the reader feels like the story pushes and pulls visually as the emotions do. You want to slow the visuals down when there is a need for a pause and you you want to make them more chaotic when there are stress and climaxes in the story.
- Page breaks – You want to make sure the reader is continuing to turn the page with anticipation. It’s always a wild thing when a kid tells you they read your book in one hour when it took you four years to make. On one hand, when I hear that, I think, “Omg it took me so long to make, please savor it” but on another, I think, “Good my page breaks worked and you couldn’t put it down!”
- Visual intrigue – I want you to find the pages interesting, not too repetitive, and… pretty. I try to do my best to change up the panels where I can to give your eyes a treat and brain space to continue to get excited about the story.
- Humor and heart – Figuring out where to get physical comedy into moments of the script is crucial for young readers. Delivering in flip opposite moments of emotional tension is also important too. I don’t want you laughing in moments of tension or feeling unintentionally tense in moments of levity.
- Method acting – you did read that right. I often think that those early passes at visualizing the script are really all about acting. Now I’m too shy to be an actor. I do public speaking but getting to gather the energy to be another person is something that I tried in middle school and promptly rejected. However, as a graphic novelist, I have to channel the inner workings of every single character. Aware of how each of them feels, moves, and reacts… which shouldn’t be the same. Then I get to visualize that on the page. I find that thumb-nailing is very exhausting because I do mentally act out the scene many different ways before I am able to commit to one I think would work.
- Easter Eggs – Yes, I am a huge Taylor Swift fan. Why do you ask? Putting little easter eggs to my other works, own life, or secret spoilers is important to me. With permission, I included some of my friends in the background of Go With The Flow. In the sequel Look On The Bright Side, I realized I didn’t include myself in the first book, so I included myself in the background. I also always have plenty of rabbits in my books, feel free to count the rabbits! This is a fun thing for me that almost no one notices, but I enjoy. Illustrating a graphic novel is a labor of love so I like to make it fun for myself this way.
If you’re a graphic novelist, I’d love to know what other things you focus on doing when you illustrate a graphic novel. If you’re a reader of graphic novels, I’d love to know if there’s anything I listed that you really respond to while reading a graphic novel.
Look On The Bright Side is available in bookstores everywhere on 10/10/2023. If you’re reading this after that date, I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy wherever you get your books!