Saturday, June 4, 2011

Accessible Graphic Novels - Phase One: Bad Black Cats

A couple of months ago I set out on a quest to find the solution to the issue of accessible graphic novels.  Well, I haven't found it yet, though I have many ideas which I am going to investigate.  But I thought it might be interesting to document the process from beginning to end both for technical, and artistic interest.

The first thing I needed to do is find a subject or a story.  I had thought to go with The Patient Old Spider a dark children's tale I wrote years ago about a spider who eats fairies. Cool as that idea is, it's a fair task to create the artwork.  I did panels for the first few pages, but am not happy with them.  This is my first foray into this area, so I need to develop the cartooning skills a bit; and that project is a bit too involved for me at this time.

So I decided to choose simpler subject matter.  I will make some small comic strips to begin with.  My subject?  Two little girls are always getting into trouble and who provide me with endless story telling opportunities in short bursts.  My twin kittens, Lursa and B'Etor; the Bad Black Cats.

If you are a Star Trek fan, yes, I named my cats after the Duras Sisters.  If your not, it's irrelevant.  And if you work for Paramount, Viacom, or whoever owns the franchise now, those really are their names, no infringement intended.

The real Duras sisters: Lursa and B'Etor

My cats: B'Etor (front) Lursa (behind)

The first thing I needed to do was think up a story.  Something simple that can be told in 3 - 4 frames.  This is pretty easy for me.  I have a lot of photos of the fur balls.  So, the day before yesterday they were playing on the dining room table, and before I scolded them for it, I grabbed my camera and took several quick shots.  Thus, Bad Black Cats was conceived.

ctual photographs used for comic strip.
Of course, I'm not going to use the actual photos.  But I chose three of them to use as the basis for some drawings.   The photos above have already been cropped.  They are a bit fuzzy because you have to move quickly with kittens or you miss the moment.  When you already have a vision impairment, this added to the challenge.

After cropping the photos I began to draw.  There are two ways you can do this.  Draw on paper, scan in and ink.  Or draw on computer, ink.  I chose the latter.  Using the photos as an underlay, I drew over top of them using Corel Paint and my tablet.  Basically, I just blocked off the basic shapes in the composition.  After I was satisfied with the composition of the frame, I began inking them in.  I must admit, I found this process quite fun, and am pleased with the results for a first time attempt.

Finished drawings for comic strip
Once the frames were drawn, I now had to arrange them and come up with some dialogue.  Depending on who you "look" at the photos, you could come up with several little scenarios.  Generally, for a more complex story, you should think all of this out ahead of time.  Write your dialogue out and all of that.  But for this I just wanted to keep it simple.  So it was all quite spontaneous.

So, I decided on an order (what you see above) and now it was time to make the speech bubbles. There are a lot of ways to do this.  There are even specific comic making programs for the less ambitious! It's your choice.  For me, I like to use a vector program, Inkscape.

Inkscape is an awesome freeware program similar to Adobe Illustrator.  It is VERY accessible.  Almost everything can be controlled from the keyboard.  Very nice I must say.  The interesting thing, and maybe it's just me, but the keyboard commands are easy to remember.  They seem to coincide with the process of what you are doing.  I have never been able to remember the Adobe key commands.

The first thing you have to do is import the jpg file into Inkscape in order to wok with it.

For a more detailed tutorial an how to create speech bubbles using Inkscape, I will refer you to this blog.

After you have completed the speech bubbles on a frame, save them as svg files.  This is for future editing, and it may come in handy in the "accessibility process" later on.

Then, export the file as a bitmap. or PNG format.

You can use inkscape to do your layout.  And it works very nicely.  However, in this case, I just decided to use Adobe Photoshop, as I know the program backwards and can work very quickly.  Although, for something more complex, I'd use a proper layout program like Inkscape or Illustrator.

Basically, all I did here was make a black background, resize my PNG images to about 4 x 4.z to fit on the 16' x 6 inch strip. They did require some cropping of course.  And here we are.

Finished comic strip
Of course you probably can't read these speech bubbles, and I haven't gotten to the accessibility bit yet.  So here is a text descriptive.

Description Text
Three Panels on black background
Top Left Title
By Wanda Fitzgerald

Panel One:
Lursa and B'tor are sitting on the dining table. Lursa is looking at the viewer. On the table are yellow and orange linen place mats. A paper, part of a book and a rectangular blue object are visible. There is a padded rocker with a wooden frame behind the table.
Lursa is in front, seated, with her foot on a the metallic strips of the tassel of a cat toy attached to a rod. She has a green collar with a shiny green bell.  B'Tor is hiding behind Lursa. Only part of one of B'tor's ears is visible
2 Speech Bubbles:
1. B'Tor: "Pst, Lurs, yer not 'uposed to be on the table."
2. Lursa: "Hi Mummy. I found our toy.  I don't know where B'Tor is.

Panel Two
Same scene, but B'Tor is now on the rocker.  You can only see her head poking out from behind Lursa.  Lursa is looking away and to the right.
4 Speech Bubbles:
1. B'Etor: "B'Etor is a good girl.  See?  Not on table.  I get TUNA!"
2. B'Etor: (to Lursa) "You're bad Lursa.  B'Etor is good."
3. Lursa: "prrrr, prrrr, prrrr, prrrrrr.
4. Lursa: (thinking) "If I don't look at her, she won't see me."

Panel Three
Same scene from a different angle.  The rocker is not visible.  Lursa sits pretty looking at the viewer.
2 Speech bubbles.
1. Lursa: "Lursa is pretty.  Lursa is good.  But very, very pretty. And smart."
2. Lursa: "Hee, hee, heee.  I found the shiny toy. Prrrrrrrrrrr."

Bottom Caption
Antics of the cutest 'er, fiercest (and l'ilest) warrior kittens ever: Lursa & B'Etor.

There you have it.  It's not very sophisticated, the story is VERY simple. The subjects are awesome.  And it is a start.  Something to work with.  Now I will have to explore the "accessibility process". Wish me luck!

View more artwork by Wanda Fitzgerald @
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