Arcagen Journal Entry #2: Why a personal art project might be beneficial

General / 12 August 2021


(This is a repost from my old blog)

Do you think about your stories or characters while waiting in a line, walking on the street or looking through the window? Well, I do, even to this day. Arcagen, my personal comic project, has always been a way to distract myself. To think about the story and sequences within it, and how they will be constructed by the time they reach the paper. In a way, whenever reality is not interesting enough, I travel to this world I created, putting an additional brick or too to the overall structure, hoping that someday, I will see it beyond my daydreaming. However, thinking about it is just the first, and easiest of many steps that will follow. Having the drive to make it a reality represents a heavy, auto-imposed challenge.

Why do I keep making this personal project? Why make a comic book if I earn more with illustrations, or teaching? Why not spend that time playing the latest video game or watching a movie? Well, this could be a long, long answer, but let’s try to keep it short. We can agree that most artists that make a living through their creations didn’t start because they wanted to become wealthy. There’s this strange drive that makes me prefer this activity over many others that society tag as “fun”. Even sex, an activity that is promoted everywhere, falls short compared to the excitement of creating a new chapter of this story. In a way, I see this as a testament of my life. The proof that I lived, grew, and learned, in the form of sequential art. Something that came from myself, and extension of me, my memories, my experiences, and my abilities. As Scott McCloud would say, a pathway to “immortality”. I feel good when creating it, and I’m also hyped to know what people will think about it. Will my message be understood? Will this story resonate with others? Will there be fanfics about this?

Ok, that last part was about my feelings (a subject that will be touched again and again). But there’s also technical benefits, that may overlap to your daily job in case you are a visual storyteller:

Writing better stories:

Before putting this idea into the paper, Arcagen was probably the best comic never created. This is a common place to most ideas, until the moment when you start implementing it. Then you realise how many inconsistencies and gaps your story has. Suddenly, your idea wasn’t as great as you originally thought. This forced me to learn new methods of writing, search for new tools, and find new books that could assist me on this challenge. I currently use Celtx to write comic scripts, and I highly recommend authors Brian McDonald and Robert Mckee if you need help writing a story.

Having a better understanding of comics

You can make a great human figure. But how do you make a clear sequence of it over a page? What about the backgrounds? And the overall composition? When I started this projects many years ago, I showed the samples to my friends, who were amazed by my “level of skill”. However, it wasn’t until I showed my work to other professional that I realized how much I didn’t know. For example, I didn’t know how to balance blacks and white over a panel, nor flow between one panel and another. Many panels were full of unnecessary details that cluttered the composition, and so on. One of my colleagues recommended me the book “Framed Ink” by Marcos Matteu-Mestre , and I must say, it really helped me into making better pages. So in the end, it was better to start with a limited knowledge, that trying to know everything before even started. Failing faster meant to get better faster as well.

Not a bad first page. However, the excess of jumps between black and white ended adding unnecessary noise to every panel. I wanted to go all “Mignola/Fegredo” here without understanding framing nor value composition.

Here’s a another “first page” that got scrapped. I still like the concept, but the execution is boring, and the technique is lacking. However, I learned about a pigeon’s anatomy, so it wasn’t a waste in the end.

Building a visual library

Why this first sketch doesn’t look like what’s in my mind? At first, everything looks perfect in your head. Each scene flows and looks like a masterpiece (you even have the OST figured out!) Then, when you make those first drawings, you see how your hand doesn’t follow the instructions perfectly. Sometimes, it’s a lack of skill, but others, it’s a lack of visual a library. Sure, you can imagine exactly how a person looks, but how does that translate into paper? Whatever it’s in the script is not always easily drawn, as it was the case with many elements in my story: children, soldiers, plants, vehicles, animals. I didn’t have a complete domain over these elements, so I had to start looking for references and studies. Spending enough time with these elements increased my capacity to draw them from memory, not having to use reference, increasing my visual library . This exercise represents a great advantage for the professional, since who knows when your next gig will require a similar subject. My tip: You can never go wrong studying human figure for most comic projects.

Here’s where I had to start building a visual library for soldiers, weapons, etc.

So tell me. Do you have a story you want to tell? Have you already started? What have you learned while doing it? Please share it with me on the comments below.

Peace!

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