Friday, September 22, 2017

How We Got Started in Graphic Novels

Nelson Beats the Odds series designed and illustrationed by Traci Van Wagoner and Kurt Keller

Creative Medicine LogoNelson Beats the Odds was the first in a series of graphic novels we've designed and illustrated for Ronnie Sidney II at Creative Medicine.

In the spring of 2015, Ronnie came to us with a story that had really clear descriptive scenes for practically every sentence which made it difficult for us to do a standard picture book spread. It was shouting out for a graphic novel approach. Not something we'd done before or quoted for. Boy, are they a lot of work. We suggested this to the client, and he loved the idea. Since he was going to be presenting and showing to a grade school and older audience, he thought the graphic novel would go over well with them. So what began as 32 pages with 16 spread illustrations turned into 32 pages with approximately 170 - 180 illustrations.

Style Research

Since this was a new style and genre for us, it required research. Research and more research. We researched, and read, and googled, and studied, and sketched, and researched some more looking at graphic novels, comic books, styles, themes, directions, applications, etc. You can see some of the reference that provided inspiration on Traci's Pinterest page.

Character Design

Character design working with photos provided by the client. Nelson and his friends which are based on Ronnie, his friends, and his teachers.
Character Design sketches for NBTO by Imagine That! Design

Text Dummy and Symbolism

After getting some characters establishing, a text dummy is created where we break the text up into spreads and loosely sketch out the scenes.

Work begins with a text dummy for Nelson Beats the Odds, Imagine That DesignCharacter and scenes sketches for Nelson Beats the Odds, Imagine That Design

Creating the Cells, Scenes, and Factoids

After doing a series of sketches and designs, we created the cells in InDesign, knowing that the cells themselves were going to add to the creative design and message of the book. We outputted those as pngs and placed them as masks in Photoshop for our first round of sketches.

Nelson Beats the Odds cell design and layout by Kurt Keller at Imagine That! DesignSince this story is about the struggle of overcoming learning disabilities, the client wanted to have the theme of mountains in the imagery demonstrating the struggle of overcoming the odds. So we set about trying to integrate this element into the design. We created shapes and cells to help bring in this feel as a vehicle of communication.

Nelson Beats the Odds interior cell desgin and layout by Kurt Keller at Imagine That Design
Ronnie also wanted to capture the feeling of sneaking into the special education classroom so his friends wouldn't see him. So, we created a ninja feel with Nelson sneaking to class not being seen.

This is where Nelson finds a teacher who understands and helps him to grow and gain confidence.

We had the additional challenge of getting so much copy into the book. Not only did we have a story line, but since Ronnie would be using this book as an instructional tool, he wanted to include other information, question/answers, facts to back up Nelson's story. We decided to create new call out sections in yellow for Notes / Facts / Quotes.
Nelson Beats the Odds interior design by Kurt Keller at Imagine That Design

Getting the work done

Since we were also the book designers this gave us the ability to control both ends of the whole book making progress, working the illustrations and design together which gave it much more of a cohesive feel and made the project flow smoothly.

With the basics established, it was time to get into the nitty-gritty of completing the book. Here's a working screen shot from Photoshop showing several spreads in various stages of progress.
Nelson Beats the Odds work in progress by Imagine That! Design

Ronnie was very happy with the end result, so much so that he wrote another book and another so we now have a series of graphic novels. Tameka's New Dress with a colorful patterned dress as the vehicle for Tameka's confidence to stand up to bullies, and Rest in Peace RaShawn where we worked only in black and white with highlight colors to pack an emotional punch. This was an emotionally intense book to illustrate -- and that's another story. And speaking of another story, we have a new book for this series in the works. We'll share more about that later. 

For more behind the scenes information about the Nelson Beats the Odds, check out this post on Traci Van Wagoner's illustration blog, Celebrate the Little Things, Hard Lessons Learned.

Nelson Beats the Odds cover art by Traci Van Wagoner, designed by Kurt Keller, Imagine That! Design

About Nelson Beats the Odds:

Nelson use to think school was all about playing around and talking with his friends. When he learns that he’s been placed in special education, he fears being teased so he keeps his learning disability and ADHD diagnosis a secret. With the encouragement of his parents and assistance from Mrs. T., his special education teacher, Nelson pushes the boundaries and discovers his potential. His hard work pays off when he graduates from college with his social work degree.

Nelson Beats the Odds is an inspiring story that celebrates friendship, resilience and empowerment. The striking illustrations give life to Nelson Beats The Odds while the author’s story is perfect for students diagnosed with learning disabilities or mental health disorders. Imagine That! Design provided the illustration, layout & design and formatting services. The company is located in New York City.

This book and the others in the series are available at Creative Medicine :
Or on Amazon
Check out Ronnie's Amazon page for links to all the books

 All images @Imagine That! Design

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