I've posted before about the wonderful Storytelling Collective's workshops. I've taken part in a few since the first "WYFA" workshop, and have always enjoyed the supportive and friendly atmosphere they cultivate. When I saw their #StoCoComics Challenge I had to give it a go. I've never attempted anything comic-like before, but this was the perfect time to try.
The challenge took place from April 18th to 27th, then submissions were collected and made available for Free Comic Book Day on DriveThruComics:
Make a one page vignette, ideally five panels in length, from start to finish under the excellent guidance of Kayla Cline. She took us through ideating, scripting, thumbnailing, sketching, inking, colouring, and lettering; alongside beautiful examples with well written explanations to help jumpstart our creativity.
I fully intend to give this another go, and so that I can see how far I've come when that happens, here's how the course went for me.
I felt like something in the cyberpunk genre, so from there I made connections between ideas until I got to my vignette's core concept: Get a prisoner out of their VR space station prison cell, so they could do another job.
Scripting began with some flash fiction. This is quick and dirty, getting an idea down on the page to start portioning up into panels and working out firmer elements.
Nate Griffin holds his breath as he waits for the tell-tale clunk of a successful attachment. Pale blue, green, and purple lights illuminate the cluttered cabin of his claustrophobic ship, dancing in the dim light as his fingers made rapid-fire movements across three separate keyboards. He had no AI on board, no automated systems, nothing that’d class as anything more than space junk on the ESS New Dawn’s scanners. Or so he hoped.
A soft thunk told him he was no longer floating on his own in the cold dark space. His ship clung like a limpet from the armour plated exterior of the space station, in a blind spot between defense turrets that had no chance to see him in the first place. Good stealth ship.
Another clack of keys started a small drill, followed by a probe, finding their way beneath the New Dawn’s hard exterior. Not deep enough to cause an atmospheric breach, but enough to reach an electronics cable he could piggyback a signal on. He could take down their entire life support system, but that wasn’t what he was here to do.
Nate reaches for a pack of gum, turns on music only he can hear, and then connects in to his chair. Dozens of cables fire into his back and the neural jacks on the back of his head, and he settles in for the ride. He searches their databases for a name, and grins widely when he finds it. Janice Leigh. After that it’s a trivial exercise to access the VR program she was in.
And then he was there. A small blackbird in a small back yard. A tree, something Nate hadn’t seen for years, stood proudly in the centre with a swing and treehouse on it. The back door opened and a womans voice drifted out “Tea in 10 minutes, sweetie, so don’t be long.”
A girl stepped out. Young, beautiful, raven dark hair and eyes to match. Freckles on her nose. Denim shorts, cropped t-shirt, sneakers. Approximately 14 years old, Nate guessed. Meaning they must have her on some accelerated program. The girl was happy, smiling, and crossing the yard to the tree house. Nate fluttered to the window. Janice, he knew it must be Janice, was picking through a stash of comic books and picking up a drawing pad. The walls were covered with her own comics. Heroics. Noble deeds. Some of the faces looked like Nate, which made him chuckle. They couldn’t program away everything.
Nate squawked. Janice’s head jerked up immediately. The comic book fell from her hand. Mother’s voice drifted up “Janice, sweetie, can you help me set the table?” and Nate watched as her lips moved to say “be right there, mom!” but no sound came out. Instead, she booped him on his beak.
That did it.
Welcome back inmate 39746191736. We’ve got a job to do.
After that, I looked for five story beats that I could make into my five panels:
- Nate on his cluttered tiny ship, mechanical keyboards, mechanical everything, with a big-ass chair of snaking cables. A clunk from outside as his ship makes contact with the ESS New Dawn.
- Connecting to their network. Needs showing somehow. Nate connecting to the chair?
- Idyllic back yard, with Janice running out to play.
- Her treehouse littered with comics. She boops Nate on the nose.
- Janice wakes in her cell, prison uniform, Nates words about escape echo in her ears.
And then I wrote enough (I thought) guidance for me to draw out those scenes along with any dialog. I did end up going back later and modifying the first panel (and some later dialog) because it wasn't obvious what 'Nate' was up to and how he related to Janice (later renamed Janet, to futher my networking puns)
Establishing shot. Nate Griffin is a man in his early 40s, with sunken eyes and greasy hair. He’s crammed into a tiny capsule that’s attempting to land on a heavily armoured space station, which we can see through a window over his shoulder. Nate is surrounded by mechanical clutter and is illuminated by neon key lights. He has at least three mechanical keyboards close to hand. He sits in a large cradling chair with cables that snake from it into part of the capsule we can’t see. Among the clutter are a variety of lucky charms, fluffy dice, and stress balls. A bowl of cold noodles is discarded on the floor.
Close-up shot of Nate’s head connecting to a row of formidable, low-tech, jacks that plug into sockets along his neck and spine. They thunk into place as we hear, from off screen, the thunk of the capsule making contact with the hull of the space station. Nate wears a visor over his eyes, and we can read text scrolling across it (in inverse/mirror image). A manual is half-fallen off a “shelf” of boxes and junk whose spine reads “Project Jackdaw”
Dialog on visor: Hull connection established. Drilling in progress. Connecting to their networ—
Virtual Reality of an idyllic childhood existance. The back yard of a large house; grass, bushes, pretty flowers, and a large tree with a swing and a treehouse. A small robot lawnmower goes to work on the lawn, and a cat loiters near the rear of the house. There are large glass patio doors that enter onto a (dark) kitchen/living area, with the faint shadow of a woman at a stove. A young girl (Janice), approx 14, wearing denim shorts and a cropped t-shirt, is pulling open the door and heading out. A jackdaw watches from a nearby perch, a pixellated trail giving it an out-of-place appearance.
Dialog, mother, inside house: “Supper in 10 min, sweetie. Don’t take too long!”
The girl climbs into her treehouse, which is covered with her own self-made comics. Some of the heroes look like Nate and an older version of Janice. She grabs a pad of paper and notices the jackdaw, which is tilting its head and looking at her from the treehouse windowsill.
Janice boops the jackdaw’s nose and the VR reality fades away (pixel-ish transition) to an older (late 30s) Janice in a prison cell, one hand held out as if to boop a jackdaws nose (connecting to VR Janice’s boop) while the other removes a VR helmet. A patch on her uniform says ‘Prisoner 8261’.
Dialog, jackdaw, as it fades out of existence: Welcome back, Janice. You know what to do.
Panel 1 - fingers on keyboard. Load “jailbreak.exe”
The next steps fell into place pretty quickly after that. Sketch out what's going on in each panel, then draw, ink, and colour the final version.
Welcome Back, Janet
Which isn't to say I didn't go back and forth a bit fiddling. The first and last panels didn't quite work the way I wanted them to. Plus I decided to give alcohol markers a try for the first time ever and do everything 'traditionally' rather than digitally, which did make life more interesting. But in the end, for a first go, I think it worked out alright and I am decidedly excited to give it another go soon.