Monday, August 04, 2008
Making Rose and Isabel :: Part 01 :: The Beginning
What I plan to do over the next few weeks is attempt to describe the process of making my first graphic novel, Rose and Isabel, from its inception in 2003 to its release in 2005-2006 while hopefully providing some useful information for those who are thinking of undertaking a similar endeavor.
I've wanted to draw comics since my early childhood when I drew stick figure strips with names such as "The Wah-Wahs" and "Hot Dog, Frank and Wiener" but the real serious notion came when co-workers Ronnie del Carmen and Enrico Casarosa began drawing and selling their comics and art books at Comic-Con back in the early 2000s. I was so inspired by this I decided to give it a go.
The first thing I needed was an idea, and a strong one that I would be able to stick with for the duration of the project. As cheesy as it may sound, I had a dream about the story before I ever wrote or drew anything. All it was was a single shot of three brothers and two sisters walking away down a road in Civil War uniforms, going to fight for their country. I had just finished reading Elmore Leonard's Tishomingo Blues, about a mob hit that was to be carried out during a Civil War re-enactment, so that may have been partially responsible for the dream's content. Anyhow, the dream even had a piece of music that went along with it (including lyrics that had something to do with families fighting together) but when I woke I couldn't remember the words or hum the tune. But I had the kernel of the idea.
I liked the concept of the woman warrior as well, so I considered mashing the two ideas together and the story started to take shape. It is well known that women fought in the war, so it was certainly a plausable story from that angle, with the woman warrior idea being the hook. That's when I started drawing, focusing on the two sisters as the protagonists, separating them from their brothers in what would be essentially a search and rescue mission. Conflict is what makes makes stories work, so every step of the way I had to make sure that there was conflict whenever possible, especially between the two sisters. I had no idea who they were or what they would act like, but they would have to be different to contrast with one another. The Rose character immediately came to the forefront. Why, I have no idea but I was immediately struck with the character. Below are two of the earliest sketchbook pages from July of 2003.
I struggled early with how to draw the girls once they donned their uniforms; do I go for a broader appeal and make them "designy" with tailored outfits that were form fitting and dynamic? Or do I go the opposite direction, stay true to history and the story and make the uniforms baggy and realistic since they were stolen from male soldiers?
The second option won out because my gut told me that was the right way to go. Your gut will tell you a lot of things, so trust it.
I now knew I didn't want a designed, hyper-real environment. It had to be realistic since the characters were the ones who were unreal. That is part of the conflict in R&I. If the world is as hyper-real as the characters, they will blend right in and not stand out like they should (in the first X-Men film the scene that really struck a chord with me was the opening with Magneto during WW2-- the world was real and he was unreal which was a great contrast).
So now I had two sisters who were plunged into a situation where they were at odds with everything around them. The conflict was there and since I had no idea what to call this story, I embarked on what I tentatively and generically called The Civil War Project.