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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Assignment - A Graphic Short Story

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

Choose a short story and turn it into a mini graphic novel.


The hardest part for this exercise was finding a story I could turn into a "graphic novel". Probably no different to having to think of my own story, but as visually active mind, once I have an idea for a story, I somehow already imagine visuals, whereas for a story I have found it can sometimes be difficult to put visuals together. When the story clicks the visuals fall into place fairly quickly, though I did need to scan through a few different themes to get something that clicked.


I read through lists of recommended short stories. I wanted a very short story that was somewhat easy to digest, to break down and figure out the panels. I read several amazing stories, some a little bit too abstract to work with, others maybe a tad complex. 3 stories stuck out to me, "The Fate of Customer 12" by HR Pinches (username on reedsyprompts), "To Plant a Garden" by Scott George (also found found on reedsyprompts) and finally "The Swan As Metaphor For Love" by Amelia Gray. The stories were very different from each other, but could potentially make for interesting graphic novels.


I found "The Fate of Customer 12" by HR Pinches to have wonderful illustrative scenes to work with, yet allowing for a bit of added flair to help build the atmosphere. I like how tension would build in the story, a sense of calm, knowing and performing through the first person narration, that of a fortune teller who knows that normal people do not have destinies; a repeated fact throughout the story played out like a mantra. It is strange in the way it unfolds, and for this reason, I lose the vision of what could be done for the graphic novel. It feels that something beautiful could be created based on the story, and in fact I do imagine much of the novel would be silent, however love the idea of it being a narration on thoughts, with no actual dialogue, only the odd exchange here and there. I think that could be interesting.


The story I thought to be maybe more manageable for this assignment was "To Plant a Garden". It feels to be simple, yet built on a complex idea of how machines have become the intruders of our peace, a future I do not look forward to as we see more and more of this becoming closer with the likes of ai. The story feels to be sweet in the simple human nature of wanting to do something for yourself, and for it be a connection to nature itself which goes against the powers of technology, feels to be rather poetic in the grand scheme of things.


I pictured a slow paced book, much like The Fate of Customer 12, possibly with a very clean layout for the panels, perhaps 9 panel per page or similar. In fact I like the idea of there being large panels, mixed with one or two others per page. I also really liked that the story only included two main characters, Mr Gombar and B-7269, a simple public maintenance robot.


It was going to be a huge undertaking to consider doing the entire story for this assignment. For this reason, I took the first part of the story up to the point where the robot tells it's name. There felt to be plenty of moments here that would make for an interesting few pages to a graphic novel.


I began with printing the story out. Using a few different coloured pencil, I highlighted different moments in the story that would be considered background, action, thought and dialogue. I hoped by doing this I would be able to see what number of panels would be needed to best tell the story.






I was starting to think about the layout for my pages. I could kind of visualise the contents of panels, but quite figured out how they would be laid out and what kind of panels they would fill. I I had borrowed this book from my local library, which couldn't have been a more perfect find for this assignment. I found the examples and information to be very useful when thinking about framing and composition.



I love how the full width panels looked across the page, and as I was working with a story that is set in a garden, I thought this would be a great way to show the landscape, and pacing the story so the reader would slow down.




This was another layout that I really enjoyed the look of. I like the use of space, and how bare the page is. I imagined using something like this for the time that Mr Gombar would be slowly placing the rose into the ground. It felt peaceful, slow and also creating an opportunity to force the reader to sit in the moment of pride, to be in the moment of the small achievement. To maybe feel the same way as Mr Gombar.


Unfortunately I hadn't included this moment in my actual work as I had reduced my workload to only a few pages of the story. However knowing possible future page layouts also helps with how the general look could be for the novel.


I started to thumbnail some page layouts, they felt kind of basic and perhaps still a bit heavy on the quantity per page. That said, I could see the pace of the story here. I might still wish to slow it down further, but it's a good guide to reference.




Whilst I had an idea of general steps in the story, and what those might look like, although not near final, I didn't have a vision on the characters, which could change the way I work the layout. I started with some research into character ideas. My thoughts for Mr Gombar was that he might be in his 50's or 60's. He suffers with Arthritis, but doesn't let that stop him. He has a working class background, had worked hard his whole life and was not shy of labour. He digs at this when the robot insists to do it for him. This for me shows experience, and to say he had dabbled in many things growing up. I sense that freedom has been taken, taken with this wave of robots that now scan everyone with face recognition tech and will do the work for people. It seems new, as he tells himself he should get used to it.


Lizzy Stewart - Alison


One graphic novel I really enjoyed reading is Alison by Lizzy Stewart. There is a really nice sketchy approach to the illustrations in this story with quite a simple character design. The fine line work with no varying thickness is really cool, something I think is actually quite difficult to achieve well. It's like TinTin, only more of a sketchy look rather than solid lines. I also love the textures in the artwork, and with it being about art, found this to be a very fitting detail in the style of the illustrations.


I included this as a reference for the way she draws people. That sketchy line work is definitely something I would be interested in using in my work.








Another illustrator I discovered in my research was Juliaon Roels. In particular, his sketches of people that I had discovered on Pinterest. It felt similar to the style or Alison, however giving more in the character design. I definitely felt inspired by this selection of doodles, which motivated me to start sketching my own character.






I made the robot sketches without mechanical reference, using a beetle to help think about the "sinewy appendages" that is described in the story. Not sure if I really pulled that off, but I guess I can have some creative input on the appearance as this wouldn't need to be added as text! I didn't think the robot as I had sketched matched Mr Gombar, it would definitely need a bit of work before finalising.


I moved on to making larger thumbnails of the first few pages.





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