Alexander Comic Art Test // Art Directing a Graphic Novel

Alexander the Great comic by Reimena Yee

Thoughts on the in-progress art direction for my Alexander the Great graphic novel/comic.

Sorry! I had to get the SEO keywords outta the way. Haha.

I’m slowly reaching that stage in this book’s development where I am confident enough to labtest its art direction.

If anyone recalls that post on my Onion Method, this is the process that comes after. For awhile now, I’ve been meaning to do the sequel, in which I talk about how I develop the art direction of a graphic novel (it’s in my drafts, deliciously titled as “Cooking the Onion”) but

1) I’m agonisingly busy and I wish I had more hours in a day, or clones of myself to delegate the thousand and one projects in my life

2) I need more examples to support that post. I was very bad at documenting my process for my earlier works, so I don’t have many pictures/journals from this stage – because it’s work often done quietly and personally. But this is exactly why I need to talk about the work, because it’s an essential stage of graphic novel making that’s often ignored in conversation in favour of scriptmaking or final art producing, which are more comprehendable and see-able.

I’ve gotten better at this documenting, first with Seance Tea Party and now, more actively, with Alexander Comic. So I guess this post could be the appetiser. A preview of the deliciousness the Onion Method sequel will deliver.

So, with Alexander Comic, a few details of its art direction were clear from the beginning.

  • It is intended to both inherit and improve on what my last historical fiction, The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya, established. Mainly, art that is inseparable from the narrative (see: Comics as Poetry), executes the majority of the emotional and worldbuilding work, and is inspired by the art of its setting.
  • Because of the many ways Alexander has been interpreted by myriad artists and writers across the centuries, and because the book is about that legacy, the art direction must reflect that multicultural, multichronological heritage embedded in the Alexander legends.
  • Despite all that, it’s still recognisably my style. It’ll be completely true to my natural sense of pacing, and it’ll be very artsy.
Very early concept art for the many faces of Alexander the Great

I usually prefer to work out a substantial part of my story and prepare the groundwork with some research, before I dive in further to developing its visual voice. This doesn’t mean I don’t draw sketches or concept art; just that I can’t do the heavy stuff unless I’m sure I know what I’m supposed to draw.

Alexander asks a Tree a question and it roasts him.

Knowing what I want to say means building up my toolbox of motifs: these motifs come by collecting character details, research, and possible story scenes. For example, this page test above, one of the first ever comics page I’ve created for Alexander Comic, came because I had worked for months to retell in my own way, the legendary stories of Alexander’s conversation with the talking trees. Alexander’s melancholy isn’t present in the original legend. However, as that melancholy will be in my retelling, it affects how the tree will say that bit of dialogue, which then affects the visual presentation. This particular composition won’t be possible if I had given Alexander a different emotion.

Another conversation with another Tree.

Welcome to Sad Boy Town. Population: me and Alexander.

Wow he’s getting it real bad.

Hmm, nearly all my test pages are mean to Alexander, haha. It’s mainly because [XYZ SPOILER] is a core theme of my retelling, and one I have more motifs for. There are of course, other themes and other aspects of the book, but those require more research – especially the scenes that feature Alexander’s actual life in ancient Macedon. Perhaps they will come soon… once I finish working a different graphic novel in progress.

Meanwhile, the trailer (which can be read here) focuses more on the second part of the art direction: Alexander’s legacy, and the Many Names and Many Faces he possesses.

They are early pages so I feel they are unfinished, but they represent the spirit of the art direction. The art style transforms as Alexander does, revealing also the cry-worthy terrible historical scope of this story.

The narrative pacing is also more “me” – few words and few panels, with the art carrying most of the weight. I don’t do this with my traditionally-published books because of page limits. It’s different with my webcomics though. I let them breathe.

This brings me to my most recent test page.

In tandem with my personal project to level up this year, I want to pursue experimental compositions more. New ways to employ the elements of the medium to tell a story. *

*who am I kidding though? I do this with every comic.

When I finished the sketch of this test page I realised this could be a good opportunity to play with colour. And between that, work on the close-to-final default style of the book.

Note: There are two major styles in Alexander Comic – the default one, which is just my natural style and mainly used when Alexander is being “seen” as a historical figure; and the homages, which consist of the Many Names and Many Faces, and mainly used when Alexander is “seen” as a legendary figure.

I like the lines but I think I might want them thicker. We will see.

Alexander the Great comic by Reimena Yee
Alexander the Great comic by Reimena Yee

And the colours. How I usually colour comics is inspired by the French comics style, and lately I find myself attracted to limited yet stylised palettes. So all this pink and purple and blue was my attempt at it.

This test page is the closest I’ve gotten to the final look of the comic. All of the character designs here (Alexander, the Servant, Bucephalus and Hephaestion) have settled down. The visual voice is more sure. If I had to start the comic today, I’d be ready – though a little concerned!

There’s still a lot of work to do, especially for sequences that involve Alexander’s real life (sighhh, the amount of visual references I need to gather, and the amount of information on architecture, fashion, etc I have to study…). Fortunately for my sanity, this project has the benefit of time and freedom.

And there you have it. The WIP art direction of my Alexander the Great comic. I’ll explain more about the process in the Onion Method sequel, if and when I find the opportunity to create that post. Somebody please remind me before the year is over.

Until next time.

Hello, hello

  1. Pingback: New coming soon web comic by Reimena Yee – Alessandro III di Macedonia

    • Victoria Gomez
    • July 3, 2020

    Loved reading this! thanks for sharing

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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