Graphic Novel Mentoring

We are mentoring the artist Gillian Steel through the creation of her graphic novel project.

Gillian is an eclectic artist, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, her practice includes short films, animations, video art (you can see her videos here), hand-crafted objects, printing and drawing. She has a day job as a cultural coordinator in Ayrshire and is also a mother of three. With so much already on her plate she has managed to produce a lot of script and final artwork in the three months since she started her book, which is extremely admirable! She lives with BAFTA nominated filmmaker Kevin Cameron, who is currently making a documentary about writer Alasdair Gray.

We actually first came across her work in the mid 90s when we were making one of our first comics Strange Weather Lately. At the time we used a local printer, Clydeside Press, and they also happened to print a comic that Gillian was involved in called Dead Trees. More recently, she invited us to conduct a series of workshops in Ayr with young women assisting them in a comic project called Come Back (you can read a blog about this project here).

And now Gillian has asked us to mentor her through the making of her full length graphic novel, Destination Detonate. For this, she received funding from Creative Scotland.

In our capacity as mentors we have met Gillian a couple of times already, and she has been talking about her project and showing us what she has done so far, as well as sending us the first draft of her script.

The first advice we gave her was to edit and cut away a lot of her text particularly descriptive text, as she would probably have ended up doing thousands of pages of comic otherwise. At the same time as editing, she has been developing some drawings to get a feel for the best way to tell her story combining words and pictures, and finding a narrative rhythm.

We also recommended she make some thumbnails of pages, rather than jumping directly to drawing final artwork. This will save a lot of work later on, as it is much quicker to rework thumbnails than finished pages, if and when she discovers that a sequence of panels doesn’t quite work.

Thumbnails can also help one see the story arc and stucture more clearly. On reading her text at the begining, one thing that struck us was that it lacked a clear direction in the storytelling. Of course stories can be experimental and there is no right way to create a graphic novel. But Gillian was feeling things out still and wasn’t quite sure herself just how to order the different scenes, or if they should be re-ordered at all. Perhaps what she lacked at this early stage was the ability to sit back from her story and look at it objectively – which can be an extremely difficult thing to do indeed. Hopefully thumbnailing has allowed her to find this perspective and clarify the story direction.

Gillian Steel’s script and try out sketches

So she has been producing thumbnails, not for the entire book, but in chunks of pages, and creating her final artwork, while she thumbnails another chunk. It’s quite an organic way of developing her story, and she is finding her feet as she is working on it.

Gillian Steel’s thumbnails
Much of her final artwork is rendered entirely in pencils, and she has created some very evocative and beautiful images. But as yet she hasn’t shown us her revised script. Next on the to-do list is to receive and read her first chunks of scanned pages so we can give her some feedback on storytelling.
Gillian Steel portfolio of final artwork
We’ll be posting more on mentoring Gillian over the coming months, as she further develops her comic, so watch this space…