Course overview Course overview
Learn how to develop a story and publish it
This course is designed to be an intensive introduction to comics and narrative, from the very first stage to having the comic printed. We will begin by looking at comics and storytelling, then create storyboards and compose our comic pages. We will go over techniques for inking, coloring, and even lighting and special FX. In the last week, we will also talk about how to promote your work and show your project to a publisher!
Comics: The Art of Storytelling WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
The more you know, the better.
Bringing out the best in talent
Shaun Healey has been a concept artist and illustrator in the game industry since 2008, having worked worldwide with gaming studios such as Rovio Ltd, Mojang Studios, 5 Ants and Spidermonk Entertainment, as well as freelance with other media and comic companies UDON, Tokyopop, and Hasbro. Now the lead character artist of Wayforward Technologies, he utilizes a background in comics, storyboarding and animation to bring creative concepts to life. Though versed in digital painting and effects, his specialization is in traditional, hand-drawn linework blended with digital color.
Comics: The Art of Storytelling Student gallery
Spring TERM Registration
Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021
Miki has been an amazing instructor. He has been really helpfull with all the students and provided great feedback and advice and the lectures have been really useful and interesting.
This class was incredible. The curriculum Miki has prepared went above and beyond what I was expecting. I will be recommending this class to everyone I know!
Miki did a great job of helping my panel to panel story telling ability and I feel that my growth in this class will be instrumental to my building a storyboarding career.
I learn a lot about composition of a page and storytelling, learn new tools to make my process faster and was able to make my drawing process both better and faster.
This course was awesome.! Help me specifically to me to put storys in a comic layout. Also, gave me great directions about inking, color and light. All of it greatly explained by Mikki!
This is not only the best Comics related class I’ve taken, but also one of the Best Art classes I’ve Ever taken, period. It helped my understanding of the entire Storytelling process, and especially how to apply light and Color and how those elements enhance the Narrative.
Companies that hire our students
environment design Benefits
What makes this learning experience unique?
Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.
1+ Year Access
Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.
Certificate of Completion
Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.
Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.
We can help with admissions questions, portfolio review / course recommendations!
Interview with Marina Ortega Lorente
Freelance concept artist Marina Ortega Lorente takes us through the process of how she created a dark and gritty world, exploring her story idea in Comics: The Art of Storytelling.
My name is Marina Ortega Lorente, and I’m a Spanish freelance concept artist based in Manchester, UK. I’ve always known I wanted to work on video games art (and later also tv shows and films), but the hard task was to discover how to get there. So I studied Fine Arts at Complutense University of Madrid, and later online at CGMA. I put together an entry portfolio. I relocated to the UK looking for work where I got a concept artist job at a small local studio, as well as freelance commissions as an illustrator for Games Workshop. After a while, I became freelance full time which I have been for 4 years now, working on “The Forest”, and more recently in “Beyond a Steel Sky” with Revolution Games.
I specialize in environments where I really enjoy playing with mood and lighting. My favourite part is trying to capture the feeling of a situation and have the viewer experience it through my work. My favourite games have always been single player where you can immerse yourself in the storytelling and the universe presented to you.
So, this doesn’t sound like comics, but I felt I needed to be able to tell the essence of the story behind an image more efficiently. And I wanted to work on something more narrative driven than the usual descriptive concept art breakdown sheets. So in the hope to get a new perspective on things, I decided to jump into learning one of the more exigent and complex ways of visual communication. Comics.
It looked way easier than it was. But I had never written a story in a script format with short descriptions and dialogue. Of course I wanted to develop my project, and I had this Unborn universe of my own creation in mind from before. It’s about those “monsters” that are more than just that, living among us, rarely visible but influencing us all. And the only person who can see them is our protagonist Dana.
This week is about planning and organizing the chaos of possible scenes in your mind in a reasonable number of panels, without any format yet, and getting those first ideas out as very rough sketches. It won’t be set in stone but beginning with this and facing blank pages would have been daunting without this assignment and Miki explaining how to face this first step. It’s a key step that is truly for yourself, as you will be redrawing this a lot once you get into shaping the panels and fleshing out the page.
COMPOSING A PAGE
The composition of the page plays a big role in how the story is understood by the viewer. It is key to the narrative as image composition is key to the storytelling of an illustration. But instead managing just focal points and rules of composition, you are managing it in a big scale. You have to think of the simplest most striking way to tell the story and how to use the flow of the page for that. Controling how the eyes of the viewer will be moving around the page-- when and how they will receive each piece of information for the story-- it's hard to have it make sense and be exciting.
I have to try to imagine how someone that doesn’t know the story yet is feeling at each point. This is one of the most difficult things, and the one that if you are not experienced in comics you will probably need more feedback on. There are some rules to follow but as it happens in art, many things are subjective and particular to your story. I fixed the panels a lot and they became simpler and better organized to tell my story during this week.
DRAWING AND REFERENCE RESEARCH
This assignment was more in my comfort zone. As a concept artist (also my regular job) reference is your first and best friend. And I decided to design some key locations of this comic. Although I had to translate them later into the graphic, high contrast style I chose and adapt all that lighting, it really helps to stop a little bit to think of the design of your key or hero locations, objects and characters before adding them into the story.
It is important to take some time here, as the design needs to serve the story and needs some reflection before going straight to draw the panels. You also need to think about how you will have to draw these things from different angles and keep all the places and designs cohesive.
Also, Miki showed us how he uses not only reference for design but basic 3D for some key locations. He is able to just rotate the camera, and get some perspective and size information quickly and efficiently. Which is really useful when you need to draw something in different angles and from different perspectives.
CHARACTER DESIGN AND FLAT COLORING
Here I was considering colour or actually going for a high graphic contrast finish. My comic is a mixture of horror and a psychological dark story, that has actually more to do with the darkness of our mind than with actual monsters. So I was looking for a muted palette that would allow me to emphasize and play more with the color and intensity of lights, than just local colors of materials. Seeing Miki’s process for coloring step by step is still helping me nowadays even in concept art.
On the other hand I began to play with this graphic contrast style and different textures more than color because I feel that kind of noir feeling fits with a rainy night in a dark city. So I decided to not only play with colors this week, but look further regarding the style I wanted.
In this class everthing has to work together and it all evolved together, so I think I am more proud of just the final week.
I felt I improved at reducing what I want to tell to the most important elements and to let go of the things that are not really helping to support it. How to be in service of the narrative and to understand how important page design and flow are to comics. Miki helped me a lot with this and to understand how comics work. It is not just creating beautiful panels, it is about guiding the eyes of the viewer within the pages at the pace and direction you want. You need to manage and control tons of information at different levels.
I cannot recommend this class with Miki enough. He is an amazing teacher and professional. He takes into account your background, level, and your strengths and weaknesses, to guide you while he provides tons of useful information. Not only about the comic itself, but about the comic world and how to be an artist in it. I took this class as an introduction of comics for one of my personal projects. Now I want to develop other pieces of art, like keyframes and not only comic panels, so more than being a finished comic, the class has become the beginning of something else for me.
Interview with Benedetta Pia
Character designer Benedtta Pia shows us her love of the craft as she brings her edwardin scifi 'Maledictus' to life in Comics: The Art of Storytelling
Hi, my name is Benedetta Pia and I'm a story artist and character designer from Italy. Since childhood I've always wanted to tell stories. Thanks to my mom (who is an art teacher, sculptress and a painter) and my dad who raised me with movies, cartoons and comics it felt natural to choose an artistic path after high school. So, I graduated in 2D animation in Florence which seemed the right compromise between comics and filmmaking, plus two online courses to deepen character design. I collaborated with an online magazine, did some concept art for an indie video game and recently got the chance to have a short story published in the fourth volume of an Italian zine called La Psicoscimmia. I signed up for Comics: the art of storytelling by Miki Montlló to better understand the medium of comics.
We started working on the script of our project. Being the backbone of our future assignments I ended up picking this old, nebulous story I had in mind for ages. It was far from perfect, but it was right for me in that period. I felt the need to give some dignity to these poor characters that were rotting on my sketchbook and word documents.
Maledictus is about Susan, a young lady that decide to take care of his father's inheritance with the help of her strange companions, like Rothard. Talks about personal growth with a sprinkle of body horror and nonsense, my jam. After the script and the storyboard, in which we roughly sketched the main key of the action, we wrote down what happened in the page and how many panels would take to narrate that sequence. Before the course I used to draw the pages without really understanding how to use them effectively, or correctly place the balloons. I spent too much time trying to have more aesthetically pleasing “puzzles” than be readable. I treated the pages like I had to animate it, making them slow and tedious when, as Miki told me, I had to keep only the key of the actions and compose it to guide the eyes of the reader where I want. Basically I had to apply the Kulešov effect (we also had a lesson on it), without losing time on useless details.
After writing down the script and storyboarding the pages, I did my research. I love researching because it helps me to give more solidity and credibility to my designs. Having a story with both historical and fantasy elements, I started gathering images that could help me establish a “mood” and the general elements that I wanted to include.
Once the mood board was over, I quickly began to concentrate on clothes, weapons and all the historical elements, so I could start designing the characters. Part of this process includes choosing the right shape to convey a message. Susan, for example, had to look classy and the canonically feminine Edwardian lady, but for her design I choose more pointy and triangular elements to emphasize her rude behavior, while Rothard has square and rounder forms to indicate his reliability, plus some recurring elements I used on the villagers and the creature in the forest too. Teeth and bulging eyes soon became a distinguishing mark throughout the pages.
Fortunato was the most challenging to design. Initially he was heavily based on H.P.Lovecraft and had more pointy elements like in the nails and the shoulders. He looked more like an antagonistic figure but it wasn't the case. In those four pages Fortunato appears like a threatening figure for sure, but I wrote him to be more of a mentor to the protagonists. Keeping this in mind, after I grabbed some references, probably binge watching Phantasm at night didn't help, I started reworking on him and choose more sturdy shapes and limited the triangular forms. I ended up grabbing other photos and playing with shapes, while keeping in mind why I choose Angus Scrimm as a new muse and what I wanted to achieve.
INKING AND FLAT COLORING
My biggest challenge during the inking phase was to keep the continuity, so I had to redo my assignments after the corrections. I reworked on the pages and took more time on the cleaning up process, like Miki suggested, to give an organic look to the page, using quick and precise strokes that later helped me save time while coloring. I started with the sky to establish what palette I was going to use for the lights, shadows and the atmosphere. I choose a sunset to create a contrast between the warm, reassuring colors and the unnatural situation the characters had to face.
Another line of reasoning was adopted for the protagonists' palette. The colors are limited and most of them are shared to highlight the connection between them. Susan has green and purple clothes like Fortunato and Rothard, which in turn share the same bluish dye I gave to the villagers.
10 out of 10 I would recommend this course. Miki Montlló followed us with professionalism and disponibility. The techniques he taught us helped me improve my skills and understand what are my strengths and how to use them. He explained to us how to create a professional portfolio and how promote our work on social media. Another thing that I loved was the ability to rapidly communicate with our teacher during the Q&A and instantly receiving suggestions or corrections to apply to our work, making everything easier.
School Days Adventure
Interview with Andy Ivanov
CG artist Andy Ivanov takes on the mysteries of middle school in his story for Comics: The Art of Storytelling.
Hey! My name is Andy Ivanov. I’m a CG artist with a traditional art background. Currently living in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and working full-time as a lead concept artist for a gaming company. Outside of my professional life I like to explore animation design styles and draw some cartoonish stuff for fun.
Thу course Comics: The Art of Storytelling attracted me to learn storytelling. Comics are one of the best and affordable ways to tell your story in pictures. It was very interesting to learn what tricks and techniques in this direction are.
My story is about four friends who love mysterious stories, urban legends, and try to personally check them out. I came up with the concept of these characters in advance but this is a new story. I wanted to make a small project dedicated to Middle School. Then I thought, why not back up this concept project with a story hook. I was inspired by classic movies from Steven Spielberg, some modern trends of the 80s, Gravity Falls and Stranger Things TV Shows.
The layout should help move the story and give the necessary emphasis to frame the rhythm of events. I received some good advice from an instructor--when you are looking for a layout composition, it’s not necessary to stick to the ideal composition in the frame itself. This helped me explore and find the right layout.
Character Roll Call
I chose 12-13 year old kids to design. I think this is a very interesting age when children already consider themselves adults but still believe in fairy tales or mysteries. And that's why they always find themselves in trouble. I tried to pick up the classic archetypes for the characters. Simple guys, in which everyone can find a piece of himself. I deliberately used clichéd characters, because it really works. For the main character Andy, I picked red and blue for an adventureous and casual feel.
Mike has blue and white colors - Sportive and little bit official. Tim is yellow - he has energy and a humorous guy. Ned is green - he is peaceful, clever and a little nerdy.
Setting the Scene
The composition of the framing is one of the most important parts in the visual storytelling process. Plans, frame cuts, sizes, all of this greatly influences the result. Miki gave a lot of good recommendations on this subject.
Research was one of the most interesting processes for me. Since I am not a resident of the United States, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube about American Mid School. I chose a suburb in Cincinnati, Ohio because of its diversity. I wanted a town with all four seasons. I checked a ton of pictures about school life on instagram and studied architecture of schools using Google street view maps. I fully dived into the culture, just to properly catch the mood. Kids lifestyles are free but at the same time they can be individualistic as well.Kids have a big platform for creativity and exploration and I wanted to capture that mood, that feeling.
A Splash of Color
I chose night colors to emphasize the mysteriousness of the story. Kids rush to school, but why at night? The narrative, the composition and actions that kids do, are pushing our characters to the mysterious stuff as well. Miki gave helpful advice on the outline colors for the whole page. This makes it possible to pre-evaluate not only one frame, but several pages in advance. This reminds me of color scripting in movies.
In the final week I tried to stick to the original plan. This helped me to keep the ideas in frames and work to the end. I can’t call it a problem, but I had to finish a few more pages because Montllo appreciated the beginning and he wanted to see what would happen next :) It became a little bit bigger project but it was still a pleasure to do! My advice to other artists: always plan your work from the beginning to the end. Do not rely on short-term decisions as a basis and follow the plan step by step.
Taking this course I improved my skills of narration, colorization, and how the composition moves the story. Of course, nothing would happen without quality feedback from your instructor. A mentor helps you save time and guides you in the right direction. Miki Montllo is a talented and inspiring mentor, I was very lucky to have him as an instructor on my past course color and light. I hope one day we will meet personally so I can shake his hand. This is a very cool course that I advise everyone to take and who wants to improve their storytelling skills.
At this stage, my project School Days Adventures is a small concept preview of the story which demonstrates a fragment of this story. If there are investors who like the idea, this project could be a comic book or animated TV show.
You can see more of Andy's work here: https://www.artstation.com/andivart
The history of "Aegis"
Interview with Aishath Nasir
Aishath Nasir explores the visual possabilites of an altering European history for the narrative she developed in Comics: The Art of Storytelling.
My name is Aishath Nasir and I am a Canadian with an academic background in film, animation and photography, currently living in England. I spent a very short while as a novice in the tv and film industry, the most enjoyable stint having been a junior storyboarding role in Sin City 2. Working on this project made me realize that visualizing sequential storytelling was close to my heart, and most importantly my own stories had become somewhat of an obsession. The only problem was, although I loved comics and had decided to make one, I didn’t really know where to begin or who to turn to for advice. I spent years writing down story notes and character origins while looking for more information. I had taken CGMA classes before and been very impressed with the instruction and feedback I had received, so discovering the Comics: The Art of Storytelling course was a godsend.
For my CGMA project I chose my oldest story to try and finally bring it to reality. The working title was “Mirrored” during the span of the course, but its final title is “Aegis.” It’s an alternate history set in a fictional European country, one that had seen a supernatural war decades earlier and was only just beginning to recover. My story begins around the time that peace is broken. Central to the script are a small number of characters whose pasts have, knowingly or unknowingly, been influenced by the last war. My excerpt for the class follows main character Elizabeth as she encounters another of these key players, James. Since this was an important section I really wanted to get it right.
At one point I did consider using a newer idea but in the end, I felt that what I wanted to perfect and really fix was the story closest to my heart. Primarily because I was so close to it, I felt I might have lost objectivity. It was hard to share something that private for critique at first, but then I relished hearing the feedback my instructor Reilly Brown had, as every week he pushed me to make all the elements even better than before. I knew my story, but he gave me the tools to make it a story others could access and understand.
When designing my characters I started by considering their personal history. What background do they have? What sort of clothing were they more likely to wear? Do they care what others think of their appearance? Was practicality more important than fitting in? I also stuck to Reilly’s advice when it came to designing main characters that stood out from the crowd in whatever panel they were in, drawing the reader’s attention. This led me to color choices I might never have otherwise considered. How I personally dressed and what colors I liked had nothing to do with what was best for my character. This may seem an obvious point, but I would never have thought white pants and pink hair were going to end up on my female lead! I love it, but had it not been for the information and brainstorming I had done in class, I would never have gotten there.
Making these aesthetic decisions was one thing, but creating personality in a single image was about more than clothing and palette. I then needed to create designs that communicated who these people were in both their appearance but also in how they carried themselves. To that end I began each character with a very simple gesture that had to communicate the attitude of the person I was drawing. When I felt I had that down, I roughed out a body on top, choosing builds that were indicative of the person’s lifestyle. I then sketched expressions on separate sheets before deciding I had found the right face and emotion for each character. This took a long time, since it was basically the first portrait I had ever made of them and sometimes I found new designs that I liked better in the process. This was, personally, the hardest part of the course because now I had to commit to who these people were.
Composing a page
One of my biggest challenges was learning how to deprogram my storyboarding background from film and animation school. There were several advantages, since I had some composition training, but the main disadvantage came when I realized that more panels is not necessarily a good thing! I had to learn to be concise and show more with less panels on a page, allowing the ones that remained to be larger and more impactful. Panel layout also helped me communicate the importance of a scene, by making the image larger or more central to the page. The lectures were packed with examples on how to utilize panel layout and size to their best effect.
One breakthrough moment I had was when I tried to communicate Elizabeth traversing a long corridor of prison cells with various inmates, and I realized I could do this by making a large overhead panel of her in the corridor and simply insetting ‘glances’ of the scenes she was passing within them. In film this would have taken multiple shots and trying to maintain continuity (which is how I originally tried to do it, but failed miserably). With a comic book layout, this idea was communicated in a single page of less than six panels. I really started to see the power and flexibility of the page at this point.
Drawing Reference and Research
As my story is based on a culture evolving from a particular century, it was really important to find architectural and wardrobe reference that was true to the time, so that I could modify it while retaining certain elements, like buckles, hemlines, collar styles etc. I also picked up footwear and leather reference from modern fashion movements. Finally it was important to imagine how some of these might evolve over time while in isolation from other cultures. The challenge here was to find a way to make everyone appear as if they belonged in the same universe. The feedback from my instructor and other students during live Q and A was invaluable in assessing whether I had been successful or not! I’m still tweaking this aspect here and there, since this part requires lots of details to get right.
I chose to go with an inking style that was very heavy on linework, cross hatching, etc. It helped immensely to see what artists I admired had done to deal with certain inking and shading challenges. It took forever but it was absolutely worth it, and I was thrilled to have my instructor point me towards artists with similar styles so I could check them out.
This course itself was incredibly rewarding, and I have learned so much in a short time that it is difficult to say what I am most happy about having gained. Design-wise, I’m really happy with all three characters I drafted (Elizabeth, James and Bertie). I have a soft spot for Bertie because he is just nuts, and that freedom in his personality helped me draw him more loosely. In terms of what main skill I have improved upon, the one that I am most grateful for is learning how to effectively use the entire page, rather than each sequential panel, to communicate my story in the best way possible. I used to visualize one scene after another, whereas now I see the page as one piece of artwork. This changed everything about my approach and I can’t imagine having learned that on my own without the instructional videos and personal critiques from my instructor.
Since the class ended I have been scripting and planning a short origin story about Bertie, one of the antagonists, in an effort to have a smaller tale that will let me get a tight grip on the drawing style and mood before tackling the much larger main plot. I chose this particular story since it does involve a large number of emotional scenes with different expressions to master, action scenes, and lots of mood, but all on a smaller and more manageable scale. In a practical sense, having a short story a new reader( or potential publisher) can sample would make sense as well. Most importantly, I feel I’m now armed with the tools to get this story into the world to the best of my ability.
This is an intense course, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who has a story they want to tell in this medium. Time is imperative as you will be most successful when you spend the required hours problem solving and trying new things, plus the more you have ready to show each week, the more feedback and progress you can make. Ultimately if you are passionate you will never regret a moment you spend in this class. I would, and probably will, do it again!
You can see more from Aishath here:
Spectra: an artists' challenge to bring a supernatural story to life
Interview with James Rumfelt
My name is James Rumfelt. I grew up a military brat, in little towns you’ve never heard of. I graduated from a little town in Missouri called Fair Play, it has 480 people in the entire town, and my senior class had 16 kids in it. I wanted to be a comic strip artist as a kid, even getting my first strip copywritten at age 14. I always loved comics and aspired to do that one day. My plan was to attend the Joe Kubert school in NJ, but we were poor and I didn’t have the resources, so I left on a bus out of that place headed for basic training in the Air Force. I spent 8 years building bombs as a munition’s specialist. I left the military in 2007, went to college at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe Az, and graduated with a Bachelors in Game Art and Animation. After that I got a job as an Illustrator with the 82TRW in the Public Affairs career field. After working on a few freelance games (nothing you’ve heard of I promise) and doing AR/VR work with the Air Force, I really wanted to get back to making comics. It’s the best way to tell a big story, and even though they’re a ton of work, I love it. I had already taken several CGMA courses, and I really wanted to take a course with Miki, I loved his work on Warship Jollyroger. When I got into class and found out Reilly Brown was teaching, I wasn’t sure how to feel, but about a day in I was so glad. I basically got to learn from 2 amazing artists, and Reilly was fantastic. I loved every second of it.
The art I created for this class is based on “The Spectra Chronicles,” a project I’ve been working on for the past five years with a friend and writer. Fittingly, our friendship began over art, when he commissioned a drawing of a character he created for his daughter. We became friends instantly, and discovered we had something important in common: we both have sons with autism who we see as superheroes -- people with extraordinary abilities who have a hard time making their way in our world.
So, “The Spectra Chronicles” was born. It’s the story of Huxley, an eight-year-old autistic boy who becomes a hero not in spite of his autism, but precisely because of it.
Huxley lives in an arcane-punk world, filled with powerful magic and dark forces. His sister, Kyra, is one of the Spectra, an ancient sect of women charged with protecting their homeland using the emotional magic of Elossa. Though it gives them great power, they do not realize they are only wielding a fraction of Elossa’s potential; their “normal” minds cannot contain its full force. As the darkness of Eboleth looms, Kyra and Huxley discover that his unique, autistic mind is the key to unlocking the full power of Elossa -- but that overthrows centuries of custom and tradition, and makes Huxley the object of fear and suspicion.
To protect her brother, Kyra must take him and flee. Along the way, she must learn to communicate and connect with her challenging little brother so that, together, they can use Elossa’s power to save themselves and their world.
We want “The Spectra Chronicles” to be a great story people will love in its own right. But we also want to give autistic kids and their families heroes they can truly relate to and recognize. And ultimately, we hope to help people see autistic kids the way we see them -- as people with incredible gifts and abilities who sometimes struggle to live in a world of mere mortals.
I really tried to listen to Miki every week, and stay as basic as I could. Composition and layout aren’t my strongest suits. To me that stuff falls into a graphic designer area, and I just struggle there. So, I tried to listen to the things he said in the lecture and apply them in my first attempt. Of course, I ended up trying to make things too complicated and they all seemed cool. Like I remember having Overlap and Staggering all over the same page, I was breaking like every panel with some piece of action, it was just too much. Reilly came in and really got me on track, helped me to simplify things and lay them out so much cleaner. You hear the term “less is more” in art from the time you start drawing. I never really understand how to apply that. With Reilly’s help I was able to really see and apply those principles in week 2 for some much stronger compositions and layouts.
I featured my main characters from my story. Kyra and Huxley (The protagonists), Barra (The big bad) and Cael, who’s a support character the guide. Kyra is a brawler, I tried to stick with blocky shapes to show her power and stability, but she’s also a girl, and I want her to look feminine. Some characters are really great with this balance. She Hulk, Wonder Woman to name a few. I tried to just copy some of those design elements and showcase her attitude as well. Kyra is jaded and combative, she hates authority, and it struggling to care for a little brother she doesn’t understand. As the Father of an Autistic son, I know how that felt in the beginning. This workup was my humble attempt at capturing that.
Huxley is Kyra’s younger brother. I wanted to keep him soft and round. Everything on Huxley is well taken care of, he’s very particular about his clothes and his things. Younger kids with Autism tend to have a lot of dietary issues and sensory issues that make eating troublesome for them. Our boy was very skinny, well still is. So I wanted to make sure Huxley was thin, and his body type was appropriate for an 8yr old. Kyra carries him a lot in the story, I wanted to make sure that sizing worked also.
The entire series is about Kyra and Huxley. Their relationship to each other. Trying to work to figure out how to live together and love one another, despite the complications brought on by Huxley’s Autism. I wanted to tell a story about someone with Autism being the hero because they have that disorder, and someone who loves them working so hard to communicate with them and meet them in the middle.
Barra I used a lot of angles to keep him scary and menacing. Barra initially serves as just the creepy tech guy for the Spectra team, but he’s corrupted by an entity called Eboleth. I wanted to showcase some of his abilities after the corruption and still show off some of the tech he develops before he’s turned. Ultimately, he chases Kyra and Huxley through the entire series.
Cael serves as the guide. He’s given abilities through part of this ancient order he’s in. It causes the member to age dramatically. So, in reality he’s only about 20 years old, but when he was given his gift it aged him. He’s basically the Occupational Therapist in this story. The Guide. He helps teach Kyra how to care for Huxley, and also helps to keep him safe. I tried to keep Cael gaunt and frail looking, but he needed to look like he could be as good once as he ever was. That’s a hard thing to do, Reilly definitely helped me with that, and Brett Bean! I had Brett in the class before this one and he helped me develop some of these characters there as well, another fantastic class and instructor.
Again, I’m not great at composition. I had to rely a lot on Reilly for this week. He helped fix so many issues with my comps. Less is more, less is more. Keeping your composition straight forward and easy to read is the way to go, especially when you’re learning. He helped me to understand that starting at the beginning is still a great place to start. You aren’t an expert until you’re an expert. He showed me some really cool artists who are masters of composition, and helped me understand where I could end up once I have a better grasp on that stuff. For now, I’m taking it slow and trying to apply solid practice. For me I redid my pages almost every single week, after listening to crits and looking at what Reilly had said, it was almost always better to scrap it and start fresh with that new knowledge, and it was really great to see my stuff improving every single week.
The Rules of Research
page 1 page 1 edit (with dialogue)
Research is important always, that’s a big thing I’ve learned at CGMA. Research and there are no rules! Meeting the deadline is the only rule. Don’t steal stuff, but it’s okay to steal stuff…just do it ethically. I was doing a bit outside environment, so gathering reference for the vegetation and the rocks was important for me. All the shots Miki talked about I was familiar with, but I don’t consciously think about using them. Again, always trying to do something “less obvious” and “More interesting”. Which usually means I just make a page that doesn’t work. Reilly helped me with that in week 5, and I ended up using the “Landscape as a Mood” shot that Miki spoke about. I wanted to try and capture the big beginning of an adventure. Like the beginning of Lord of the Rings or The Goonies. Reilly had me work the comp a few times to land where I did, it was a lot of work, but worth it, I was really thankful in the end.
Inking: the more you know
page 1 (inked) page 3 (inked)
INKING IS HAAAAAAAAAAAAARD! I was inking the first issue of The Spectra Chronicles a few years ago, and asked a friend (A Joe Kubert alum and DC Artist for a time Tony Vassalo, you can find his work here https://www.facebook.com/vass.comics/) to look over my pages. He literally told me to just stop inking I was so terrible at it. It was solid advice at the time, but it’s something I really want to improve on. Bill Watterson and Skottie Young are idols of mine, their inking skills are unprecedented. They put so much identity into their lines, I want to be able to do that so bad. I made a pass at my pages, digitally inking, and one of my fellow classmates was saying some kind things, Reilly listened and then was like “Listen I don’t agree, this isn’t that good and I’m sorry to be unkind but letting you off the hook here isn’t going to help you get better”. That’s what I LOVE about CGMA. Every single instructor in every class I’ve taken here (This is my 8th) has been like that. You’re spending the money to take these courses, you’re here to improve, you don’t need to hear you’re doing great if you’re not. Reilly showed me a lot about how to improve, took the time to really help me work through it, and my 2nd attempt was light years beyond my first, I was so grateful.
page 5 page 6
I’m so scared of color. I tend to dive at color in the most passive way. I’m afraid to make bold choices when it comes to it. Reilly took one look at my first pass of color and pointed that out. My characters were getting lost in their backgrounds, nothing stood out. Just a sea of gray. Color sets up how we feel about so many things. The importance of color can’t be understated. After Reilly gave me my critique I went back in and started over, what I got the 2nd pass was again far better, a lot more bold and much easier to read.
The Last Week
cover concept (WIP) page 2 rework
The hardest part about the final week is just calling it done and good enough. That’s the issue with comics, and I think art in general. We’re all waiting until we’re “Good enough”, until we are masters, before we put out our work, or the thing we’re working so hard on. One of my favorite artists working is Jake Parker, he talks all the time about how finishing something is more important than making something perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. Make your thing, get it out into the world, the next thing you make will be better, and the one after that. You learn when you do, so DO SOMETHING. My pages changed tremendously from 1-8, they literally ended up being redone almost every single week. I was great to watch them evolve. Tips I would give other artists taking this class are to come into the class with an idea of a story you want to tell. Use this class as time to work on your story, and your characters. Don’t get married to anything you make. Listen to your instructor, and if you need to start over after they TEACH you, just do it, your work will be better every single time you do that. Be humble and just come ready to work.
I was really happy with my character designs and my final inked pages. The skills I improved most on were inking and composition. My instructors were amazing. I can’t say enough good about Miki and Reilly. Reilly gave incredible feedback, honest and effective, his dialogue was inviting, he was engaged, patient and just amazing. I really loved every minute of this course. Every piece of feedback he gave me made my comic better. He’s an amazing artist and an amazing teacher. I’m still working on my comic and intend to for the next several years. Currently almost finished with Issue 2. I worked on pages for issue 3 in this class to get a little bit of a “jump start”. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in making comics. It sets you up for success. It pushes you to improve and you get to learn from someone working in the industry and that feedback is PRICELESS. They’re not telling you things they *think* will work, or stuff that worked 20 years ago. They’re telling you things that work right now.
You can check out the course Comics: The art of Storytelling to learn more.
The Pale Mask: pursuing a passion of comic art
Interview with Alba Jaen
Artist Alba Jaen takes us through her journey of creating the first pages of her comic and how she pushed her narrative in Comics: the art of storytelling.
Hello, my name is Alba Jaén and I'm an aspiring comic artist and illustrator from Madrid (Spain). I've always loved drawing and painting, but really didn't think about the possibility of earning my living through art. During my teen years I was really into manga style, and during high school I decided that I wanted to study illustration. First, I studied Fine Arts at Complutense University of Madrid and then 3 years of Illustration at ESDIP Madrid art school. During the second year, one of the classes was on comics, and while making the project (along with my current writer), I realized I really enjoyed storytelling and the process of comic creation, which led me to study more about comic creation. After three years in illustration and building a portfolio, the process showed me what skills I needed and I wanted to improve. That's how I found CGMA, and have taken several courses from Fall 2018 to Fall 2019.
The Comics: Art of Storytelling class was one of the classes from CGMA that I was most interested in, but decided to take the class the last, to improve as much as possible, as creating comics requires a lot of different skills and you should be a balanced artist before taking it. With the course, I wanted to learn more about storytelling, the comic process and anything comic related. In addition, I also wanted to learn directly from instructor Miki Montlló, a comic artist I look up to and have followed on social media for some years.
"Four convicts condemned to death are graced with the opportunity to be exonerated of their condemn if they fulfill a dangerous mission: get into some ruins with centuries of antiquity to recover a valuable and powerful artifact: The Pale Mask."
That's the synopsis from "The Pale Mask", the project I was working on during the course. The story idea and the script is from the writer I've teamed up with, Luismi Fernández. The story is set in a fantasy world but has lovecraftian details.
Miki's approach to the storyboarding process was really clarifying. It was really important to learn how to read and manage information from the script (depicting only the essential), and to have a clear main idea for every page.
The storyboarding process, although difficult to solve, I believe is one of the most interesting -and the most crucial-, as deciding what goes into each panel is both challenging and fun. Even though for this stage it wasn't needed, I wanted to think about the shots that might work for each panel, to have a greater idea on how the final page composition might look. This definitely helped me with the layout of the pages the following week.
On the first pages of the story the light changes were crucial for the narrative, so I decided to include some basic color keys to remind me on later processes where the light changes should occur, and although it took me a lot of extra time, it has been really useful as it makes it more clear.
Composing the page requires you to organize every panel in a way that's easy to understand for the reader, be smart with the distribution of information, as well as making it as appealing as possible. It's also important to start planning the placement of the text bubbles, as they are crucial to guide the viewer's eye. Therefore, this week was even more challenging than the previous one.
I tried various layouts for the 9 pages I storyboarded. Pages with less amount of panels were much easier to organize, but the ones that had a lot of information really needed more changes. During this process I learned about rethinking and simplifying pages to make them appealing and not overwhelming. I put a lot of effort in this stage, but it was definitely rewarding, as it made the final pages much better.
Characters and Location Design
Characters from my project are a bizarre group of adventurers that you might encounter in a fantasy roleplaying game. Therefore, I needed each of them to stand out on their own. Before the start of the course I did some sketches of the characters to explore ideas, which helped me to get to the final designs I used for the course. I talked several times with the writer about the characters and what best suited them, looking for references of historical outfits and weapons. For example the gnome, Hinbrick, is inspired by the clothing that German Landsknecht soldiers used to wear. In order to make each character a clear and distinctive silhouette I used props and clothing, as well as a different pose that best suited their personality. Last, I did some color iterations before I decided on a color scheme for each character. After Miki's feedback, Yaromir would become bigger and I'd have more variety of sizes in the party.
I did a lot of research for each specific location and also anything that could help with the mood and color palettes. Miki gave me really useful advice, especially on lighting, to help me improve the designs.
Before starting directly into penciling, I prepared the page with the margins, gutters, panel sizes and also locating the speech bubbles with the text that I would use for the project, in order to know how much space I would have for the drawings. Having these guides, it was easier to plan what final shots would appear in each panel, and also allowed me to simplify some of them, to be more effective and readable. After that, I took specific references that I would need to use and I sketched and refined the drawings. The weapons would repeat every time the characters would appear in a panel so I looked for 3d models of them so that I could rotate them and use them for reference. During the lecture Miki taught 10 useful shots, and for the last panel of the first page, I used the "same action-same frame" one, where various characters perform the same action in different stages. Also, I used this stage to start planning the dark areas of ink, as my project really needed that inking to enhance the narrative.
Planning where the dark areas would be helped me with the process of inking. However, the backgrounds were a big challenge, especially the long shots of the cave with the characters, as they needed great masses of dark areas and to show a menacing atmosphere. I paid special attention to this, especially in the last panel of page 1, so it would turn out with a proper mood for the scene. Miki pointed out that my backgrounds were too symmetric (which looks really artificial), and helped me search for a balanced asymmetry in order to get a more organic look. He also advised me with the characters, especially their faces, knowing where to locate details and where to simplify to get a better read, working efficiently. The sound effects were changed too, needing to be more clear and visual.
Color and Finishing a page
Thanks to the script and the basic color keys of week 1, I knew what kind of light source I wanted in each panel. Panels lit by the torches needed more orange-yellowish tones for the light. There were some panels with a supernatural green light and others with a magical light casted by Hush.
During the feedback, Miki mentioned the pages needed a stronger light and that the colors were dull and lacked saturation, and that by making those changes the pages would be more impactful. You can see on the example the progress of 2 pages, from the flat colors, my initial approach to start applying color, and how it finally ended after the feedback.
The last week, apart from how to finish a page, Miki gave us advice on how to build a portfolio and show it to the publisher and how to manage social media. All the advice was really useful, as promotion is also part of an artist's job.
As I mentioned in the biography section, Comics: Art of Storytelling was the course that I was most interested in and I highly recommend it, even if you're not really into comics. First, Miki is a great instructor, his lectures are well arranged, each one has demonstrations as well as weekly recommendations, such as art books, comics, authors, artist, depending on the topic of the lecture. Also, Miki does live sessions with all the students during feedback, as he likes to interact with students and directly talk to you when providing feedback, which has been great. I believe Miki really understands the level of each student, and knows the best way to push you to make the most of your project. He is really easy to get in contact with and has no problem in solving doubts. Also, he kindly shares his experience as an artist, and provided useful advice.
Doing this course really makes you improve at every step, but I believe storytelling and narrative is where I've learned most. It was great to follow other student's projects through each Q&A, and I believe I have learned a lot also from my classmates and the feedback Miki provided them. Everyone was really nice and had awesome projects that I hope they continue so that we can all enjoy.
In conclusion, I loved taking this class and I encourage everyone to take it. You have to work hard, but it is definitely worth it.