A miscellany of weekly ramblings on comics, art and film by Ted Mathot, storyboard artist and writer/artist/self-publisher of graphic novels and comics

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Changes to Rose and Isabel store

I've updated the Paypal buttons in the sidebar so you no longer have to purchase additional shipping for international orders. the Paypal calculator will add shipping and handling charges based on the shipping address. If you encounter any problems with the shipping process, please let me know. Thanks!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Making Rose and Isabel :: Part 02 :: Research

Now that I had the idea for The Civil War Project, research was the next step. Since the American Civil War is incredibly well documented (I have several 400+ page books that each cover just a few days of the war), it would have been completely irresponsible of me to begin work on a story of historical fiction without research.

Research should not solely be limited to books, TV and movies. I often tell people who are interested in telling stories for a living that one of the most important things is drawing on experiences from their own lives, for it enhances the work and makes it unique. Without those experiences, all we have to pull from is what we've seen on TV or in movies or read in books. There is too much generic, formula-based stuff out there already, so we need to get out there, explore and observe. I seriously regret not traveling to the locations in Rose and Isabel because it would have been an incredibly immersive experience. To stand on the battlefields and soak in that environment would have been better than anything written in any book. So, being the time period that it is (1864), the character interactions are where I pulled from my own experiences and observations. The books and movies would have to stand in for everything else.

Here are just a few of the books I referenced while researching R&I.

Obviously I'm not going to get everything 100% historically accurate, but I wanted to have enough in there to make it believable. I took plenty of artistic license and I knew that going in. The unforeseen benefit to research is uncovering things that end up contributing to the story in major ways. In the book Not War But Murder by Ernest B. Furgurson (not pictured above), one of the opening passages tells of vultures that swooped in to feed on the dead and wounded at Cold Harbor. I had no idea there were vultures in Virginia, so I cross referenced it and sure enough...there are. There was the local variety as well as a second breed of vulture that migrated up from the deeper South to feed on the carnage. The soldiers would fire muskets at the birds to keep them away from the wounded. The bit with Rose's vicious attack on the vulture in book 2 was a direct result of this research, and became one of the cornerstones to Rose's emotional collapse and the subsequent rift between her and Isabel.

Vulture studies (Cintiq and Photoshop)

first "final" designs for Rose and Isabel

Other very important books not included in the picture above were The Civil War Times Civil War Album by William C. Davis and Bill L. Wiley, An Uncommon Soldier, The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, by Laura Cook Burgess, Warrior Women, An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines, by Jeannie Davis-Kimball, and most importantly, The Encyclopedia of the Amazons, by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. This last book provided much of the information in the prologue to R&I. An invaluable resource. Warrior Women is where I read about the story of The Gold "Man".

It was definitely an interesting cross-section of material to be reading through, and it was a lot of fun to ping pong between the two subjects of Civil War and warrior women.

Working Backwards

Before I could actually get into the research and plan the story, I had to ask myself a few questions (absolutely essential in story development--ask questions!). Where do Rose and Isabel start their journey? Where does it end? What is the path they will take? What is the timetable? I didn't want the journey to take years -- too long (although this was the original idea). I didn't want it to take weeks -- too short.

My answer came when I decided to have the climax happen at Andersonville prison, a dramatic location and great set-piece for the finale. So I worked backwards from there. Since Andersonville wasn't in full operation until 1864, the problem now was that I wouldn't have any of the really famous battles in the story (Gettysburg, Antietam, etc...they all happened earlier in the war). So I focused on a lesser but very important series of skirmishes that included the Battle of the Wilderness which led to the Battle of Cold Harbor, where Rose suffers her complete breakdown. This part of the war fit right in with the timeline I was trying to hammer out and I was lucky enough to find a series of 4 books that tell in exquisite detail this entire time period right down to the hourly weather. To The North Anna River by Gordon C. Rhea was the one I referenced the most, but the others gave me plenty of information as well.

Going backwards further from there, I could have the girls travel through Fredericksburg, witness the aftermath there, and prior to that land at Belle Plain, the source for the Union's reinforcements. Now I knew my story would start in early May 1864, and end in late August, when Andersonville was heavily populated. I had my timetable: beginning, middle and ending. This was about as far as I went with the outline (I later jotted down a basic outline of scenes but kept it limited). There would be no script, no detailed structure, just ideas and lines jotted on paper as they came to me. I wanted to keep the story fast, loose and spontaneous. Now it was time to start drawing pages.

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.