Widgets Magazine

Drawn out

Students in the graphic novel class are divided into four teams—writing, thumbnailing, illustrating and post-production. (ANNE PIPATHSOUK/Staff Photographer)

Students work to finish graphic novel

Most of the time, Meyer Library is a serious place where students slave away over difficult problem sets and language exams. But on Monday nights, it is fun and organized chaos in classroom 220.

Several large mobile white boards are scrawled with panels of scenes, some peacefully scenic, others morbidly captivating. Illustrators are hunched over their papers, filling the blank panels with life. Tables strewn with sheets of papers dot the classroom. Thumb-nailers are sketching away at the whiteboards.

It’s a typical scene for ENGLISH190G, known as The Graphic Novel class, a two-quarter long project with an ambitious goal — to craft a quality graphic novel with a humanitarian focus, from scratch.

“We write nonfiction,” said English lecturer Adam Johnson, who co-teaches the class with fellow English lecturer Tom Kealey. “We go out and find stories from real people and help them find a larger audience.”

The students in the class handpick the graphic novel’s story. This year’s story is titled Pika-Don, which means “Flash-Boom” in Japanese, a term the Japanese used to describe the atomic bombings. Pika-Don chronicles the tale of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a shipbuilder who was a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombings in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The class is divided up into several teams tasked with portraying different aspects of the story, from writing, to illustrating, to thumb-nailing, to post-production editing.

The writing team is responsible for composing the script and storytelling of the graphic novel, which can only be tackled after extensive research on Yamaguchi. As the team is discovering, that’s no small task.

“One of the problems we had was to put words in someone’s mouth when they’ve never said them before,” said Lucas Loredo ‘12, a member of the writing team. “We had to figure out how comfortable we were with making things up, while remaining as faithful as we can to what actually happened.”

In addition to the difficulty of filling up the gaps of research, there is also the struggle to write about events that are, in some ways, almost beyond comprehension.

“How do you write about a person who has just experienced an atomic bombing?” Loredo continued. “How can you fathom experiencing Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

However, one beauty of the class is that this scaling this daunting obstacle is a collective endeavor.

“One of the most important parts of the class is the idea of collaboration,” Kealey said. “There is collaboration between individuals of the teams as well as between teams.”

For many students, the group nature of the work is a refreshing change. And it has its perks.

“Writing is usually something you do by yourself,” said Anna Rosales ‘12, another member of the writing team. “So it’s interesting to work together to write.”

“We’re not writers — we’re a writing team!” added Sarah Snow ‘10.

The writing team works closely with the thumb-nailing team, whose task is to bridge the worlds of text and pictures by creating storyboards. As such, thumb-nailers also directly collaborate with the illustration team.

“We get pure text and have to translate that into pictures,” said James Lipshaw ‘11. “We decide how much we need to show scenes textually and visually. We also get a lot of the creative control since the illustrators embellish on the basic scenes presented in the panels.”

The illustration team brings the novel to life through page after page of meticulous drawings.

“We use the thumbnails as a guide to draw the pictures,” said Tamarind King ‘12, one of the illustrators.”[You] pencil in things first, then get critiqued, then ink things in, then get critiqued again.”

“Hopefully, you won’t mess up,” she added. “If you do mess up . . . well, there’s always white-out.”

One of the greatest challenges for the illustration team is to establish stylistic consistency in the drawings.

“Everyone has a distinctive style,” said Katie Pyne ‘12. “And it’s hard having to look at something someone else has already drawn and trying to make your part look as close as it can so that it’ll look like only one person drew it.”

The final stage of the process is completed by the post-production team, which cleans up the lines, layout and font.

“My job is to make sure the lines are crisp and clean,” said Guillermo Huerta ‘09. “I try to keep the element of the hand-drawn feel in the panels.”

One exciting addition to this year’s graphic novel is that it will be produced in color, a first for the class.

“Black and white is a good starting point but this year, we’re adding color,” Huerta said. “We pick a single tone of color to add depth. With the dimension of color, you can add a whole lot of artistic direction to guide the eye with.”

With so many component parts working together on the project, coordination and timing are central concerns. Each team must be ahead of the other to ensure peak efficiency; for instance, the writing team must be one chapter ahead of the thumb-nailing team. This system often demands a commitment to invest long hours.

“We sometimes stay up really late to get things done,” Pyne said. “We’ve had sessions before that ran from 3 p.m. all the way to 11 p.m.”

But the workload isn’t putting a damper on students’ passion for the class. They’re invested in the project.

“The process has been like raising a baby,” said Susan Chen ‘10. “Every step takes longer and is more challenging than initially expected. However, with each elongated step, we can hone our various skills. We become more and more expert at our work. I trust that our end product is a testament to our uncompromising passion and persistence.”

“We’ll be banging our heads against the wall stuck on a single line — we do this quite regularly,” Loredo added. “But it’s all worth it.”