Last time I shared my process for making The Book Tour graphic novel. That was a book for grown ups and was also a project initiated without a publisher attached, and some risk of it never finding one.
That was a story I worked on until it was finished. I didn't show it to anyone or put out feelers to editors, without regard for where it would be positioned in the publishing landscape, how it would fit on a publisher's list or even if there was a market for that sort of book.
I didn't worry about page count or set myself a deadline. I let the story run for as long as it needed to. That is risky, foolish and liberating. I avoided second guessing myself into making changes that I thought would make it more marketable.
My forthcoming book, Punycorn, is a different beast. It's a middle-grade (8-12 yr olds) graphic novel in an existing genre (fantasy) pitched to a traditional publisher who has input at every stage. It's much more of a team effort and I changed my working methods to fit within the existing workflow of my publisher.
Starting from a detailed synopsis, a Word file of roughly 13,000 words, I needed to break the story down into thumbnails. That way I could work out what I could keep and what I could cut in order to fit within the maximum page count (224 pages). Depending on publisher, genre and various other factors, not least of which cost, a book has a page count range you are expected to fit within.
My normal thumbnails are extremely primitive, barely legible visual shorthand to get the rough idea of the rhythm and number of panels on a page. That is fine when I'm the only one who needs to read them. When I have to communicate directly with others, an editor in this case, they have to be at least legible.
I grabbed my scrap paper and pencils and got to work. I scanned the results, and because other humans have to be able to read them, added text via a font rather than my (awful) handwriting. After sketching out the first 50 pages I shared them with my editor.
The early feedback I got suggested that we had different ideas of what counts as thumbnails. I felt like they were expecting something closer to what I would consider pencils. I would need to tweak my process again. I'd still draw thumbnails (example below from the second book in the series) on paper to work out my thinking, but would need to present them in a more polished form.
I'd invested in an iPad and Procreate and discovered it was the quickest way to get the thumbnails/pencils done while integrating them with text. I re-drew many of my scratchy pencils on the iPad. It's a lot easier to manipulate images digitally and saves the chore of scanning artwork. This is how they look after I'd changed up my methods.
After I'd had my notes from my editor I re-drew certain panels and changed pages to address them. I re-worked some scenes, cut others and added some new ones. That resulted in the pages falling differently in sequence, moving from the left hand to right hand of facing pages.
After the edits are approved I can move onto inking. With The Book Tour I didn't pencil it all before I inked it. I did both together page by page using pencil and pen on paper. For Punycorn, as I'd already pencilled the entire book and I was staring down an approaching deadline, I decided to ink Punycorn digitally. It would be quicker, skipping the boring process of scanning artwork, and would make it easier to edit. I simply inked over my existing thumbnails/pencils.
Inking requires less brain work. It is more about muscle memory and perseverance. After the initial rush of doing something new after months of thumbnails/pencils it settles into the challenge of meeting the daily page count without my brain melting out of my ears. The solution for me is to listen to podcasts and audio books while I put in the hours. This is what the inked pages look like.
For The Book Tour I lettered the pages by hand on the page. Because Punycorn had to pass through the hands of editorial, copyedits and proofreaders, the assistant editor/designer (everyone is overworked in publishing) created a font from my lettering specially for Punycorn to make it easier to edit.
After the notes are addressed and the inks are approved I can start on colours. As the art is already digital I hop on over to Photoshop to colour the line work. Colour requires much more decision making than inking, but it still boils down to a lot of repetitive pointing and clicking, so I keep the podcasts coming. The lettering is combined with the colours in the final part of the process.
After addressing notes for the colours, the book continues its journey through the publishing process. Roughly one year after it's finished it will appear on the shelves (hopefully) of your local book shop (14th of November).
That's the methods I used to create two quite different books for different audiences using different methods. I hope it's offered you an insight into what happens from the author's end long before a book reaches the shelves or is delivered in a brown cardboard mailer.
Please pre-order from anywhere you pre-order your books. They are the key to the success of any new release.
Out November 14th from HarperCollins
Publisher : Clarion Books (November 14, 2023)
Hardcover : 224 pages
ISBN-10 : 0358571995
ISBN-13 : 978-0358571995
Reading age : 8 - 12 years
I now have a bunch of my books on Kindle. Dumped, Breakfast After Noon, The City Never Sleeps (short story sampler), Super Hero Pink(previously Gum Girl...it's a long story), Glister and Princess Decomposia.
I have a patreon which I update regularly. Tuesdays and Saturdays I post process and behind the scenes stuff such as Punycorn colour pages. Thursdays I post a one page comic story.
I still have books out in the world: Sunburn, Paris, Kerry and the Knight of the Forest & the awards nominated The Book Tour. Support my efforts through my store – digital comics – patreon or by leaving a positive review online.