Arcagen Journal Entry #3: Design choices for a comic

General / 19 August 2021

(This is a repost from my old blog)

Flashback scene from Arcagen-Chapter 1

Whenever you start a new comic, it’s a good idea to make reference sheets for your characters, locations or props. Remember, you will be drawing these elements many, many times during the story, and if you’re like me and care about design consistency, you will want to keep them “on model”. You might want to make a little research first, gathering inspirations, references, and trying different iterations before coming up with a final design. 

A very old design of Paloma. Back then, the story was going to start before the city was devastated, when Paloma was still a normal student. Later, I changed the script so the story would start with Paloma already trying to survive in a dying city.

But wait! Don’t fall on the mistake of spending too much time on this stage, because you might end obsessed on “how unique and original” they have to be. It’s important to have a memorable design, but your comic is more than pretty art. Think about the character interactions, the narrative, the pacing, the plot, and the soul of your story. 

Old design (left) vs New design (right) of Paloma. Notice how I reduced the amount of detail from the original design.

Also, be careful with the amount of detail. Every extra line you add to a character, location, vehicle or accessory is multiplied by how many times it appears on the page . Sum all that up, and you have many additional hours of work . Most people will overlook small details after the first time a design is introduced,. Remember, you are creating a comic to send a message, and more detail doesn’t mean more virtue . And by this I’m don’t saying “be lazy” with your art, just be aware of your designs decisions and how they will affect every panel you will create. During the development of Arcagen, I was aware of this “detail factor” for character creation, so I tried to simplify their designs as much as I could. For example, Paloma had black and white hair, and a zig-zag pattern on her hoodie. Now, her design is even more simplified, while maintaining a similar silhouette and theme.

Example of  simplification: I can see how Kishimoto wanted to reduce the number of lines used on Naruto after the timeskip. You can see how the new suit is a bit less complicated. Not to mention, most of the supporting cast ended using the same uniform to reduce production time.

But what about the environments? Here’s where I stumbled. One thing is to make a post-apocalyptic city full of worn buildings, rusty billboards, broken streets and crushed vehicles. And then there’s a post-apocalyptic city that is being consumed by giant plants. The overgrown vegetation was part of the plot all along, but I never quantified how many extra hours I’d be drawing all that. After I developed the pilot for Arcagen, I knew I had to reduce the hours put on those backgrounds. I’m glad I watched this video by Lars Martinson, where the comic gives us tips on productivity after spending 13 years on a single comic project. Now, even when I kept the overall scenario of a city consumed by plants, I have greatly reduced the “stages” my characters will visit, and I’ve also reduced the detail on the vegetation. As you might have noticed, most of the plants in my story are black shapes made with a custom “bush brush” I created, and the giant roots of the first versions of the comic will be present only at key moments in the story. 

Technique and detail comparison between the first panel of the comic. Old version (left) vs New version (right). Notice how I used a less controlled, more loose inking technique on the new version.

I’m sure I could simplify even more elements in my story in order to finish it faster, but since I’ve already started (for real this time) I’m sticking to the decisions I made after the first pilot. If I’m going to make new design changes, I’ll make sure to: a) They respond to a need in the plot or b) Add them gradually, so you won’t notice it immediately. Now that I’ve somewhat solved the design dilemma, the next big challenge is to write believable characters . I’m already thrilled to start lettering the dialogues between Paloma and Lechuza…

To be continued…

Remember you can already read the comic on Webtoon and Tapas. The new release schedule will be 1 episode per month. I want to extend my gratitude to my patrons on Patreon for helping us along the way.

Felipe Toncio, Tessa Wii, CQ, Chamakoso, Andres Blanco, Réka Rónay, Gonzo, Jacqueline Arévalo, Maxwell Wright, Victoria