Posted August 17, 2021 at 10:49 pm

Writing

A really straightforward chapter. 6 pages. Just Alexander and the Servant heading out and beginning their quest.

You may have noticed the appearance of a couple of ancient Greek words. Originally I had Alexander yelling 'WOOHOO' then replaced it with the vernacular 'EUAI-AI-AI'. Small details, but they mean a lot to me in regards to immersion.


Thumbnailing and Sketching



Tools

Thumbnails: Moleskine notebook, mechanical pencil

Sketches: Procreate, iPad with Apple pencil


Time taken

Thumbnails: 15 minutes.

Sketches: (not counting breaks) Around 3 hours.


Inking and Colouring



Tools

Inks: Huion Kamvas Pro, Photoshop

Colours and Letters: Photoshop


Time taken

Inks: A week and a half of intermittent work. Recovering from minor burnout and juggling that with the remastering of The Carpet Merchant Book 2.

Colours: Around 7 - 8 hours.


Research

The first four pages of the chapter are centered on immersion, or the building and layering of details to construct a lived-in world.

Recreating and exploring the historical past through material culture, art history and vernacular folk tradition has always been my niche interest in historical comics. The past feels more alive when I see the things our ancestors used to live their life, express themselves, and find comfort in their favourite foods or trinkets. So I try to evoke that same feeling of wonder and connection in my comics.

In my opinion, material culture is something that is done more effectively in visual storytelling than prose. There is only so much an author can do when presenting the sentence 'Alexander drinks wine from a kylix' to a reader, who may or may not understand what that action looks like... or even what a kylix is. (You can read about my descent into madness when I had to find the answer to this 'How Does One Drink From a Kylix' question) As someone who can present that sentence in the form of an image beamed directly to the reader's mind, I am able to show them how Alexander holds his wide-brimmed cup between his ring and middle fingers (the right hand, because the left is unclean). And that image alone does a lot of work to tell us how interesting their cups are with the individualised designs and how mundane people treated those cups back then. The past then feels lush, with that detail and many others.


In Chapter Two, I wanted to achieve the same goal of immersion in Babylon and its surrounding landscape.

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I'm a little bored and frankly, annoyed at the standard depictions of ancient Mesopotamia, and in general the Middle East past and present, through the dry yellow-filter lens of Hollywood. Where are the plants? The colours? The green?? Like, I know that part of Iraq (where Babylon city is) has an arid climate and desertification, but there's a concept called land cultivation and apparently, the Mesopotamians of the Ferticle Crescent created this really cool thing called civilisation based off their mastery of agriculture which they also invented. So again, where are the crops and trees that supported and fed the cities? Where is the human touch?

But I'm also annoyed because a big part of why so much of the region looks so dry right now is because of war, sanctions and politics (not to mention the passage of time and climate change, hahahaha). And it's actually the consequences of those factors, and not the land of Babylon as taken care of by its people, that is exported in the form of imagery to the global north. Not to mention the present areas of modern-day Iraq with farmland and gardens... further emphasising the yellow filter as yes, a choice, yes, an artistic license, which displays the decision-maker's laziness of thought and incompetence in making alternative choices.  #hottake

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I wanted a Babylon that was lush and rich, to honour its reputation as a grand, old city in the Fertile Crescent (though at the time of Alexander's reign the place was at its decline... then again, Alexander had been Great King for a while and if I recall correctly, there wasn't any destruction of crops or livelihood to the ordinary folks in Babylon...). If not lush, just enough to show that life was still happening, that food was still being produced. So here's a date palm orchard, a barley field... two of the stable crops of the city. And of course, people who were cultivating and harvesting these crops using their knowledge and labour. The sort of people who are lost to silence while the king and his military hog up the spotlight.

Posted August 1, 2021 at 6:30 pm

Writing

Now this is where the REAL work began. Beyond a few one-shot experiments, I hadn't actually drawn Alexander or the Servant acting as characters in service of the narrative. So it was fun and exciting to do that, to realise the story as I had imagined it (more or less) in my head during script-writing.

Chapter One is made to complement and contrast slightly with the Prologue; introduce my voice and my art style in their purest state; and establish this version of the Alexander Romance as entirely original (in the sense that it's mine). Unlike the Prologue, there is little to no intertextual allusion. Accordingly, Alexander's appearance doesn't shapeshift, since narratively and visually, I'm introducing his primary face to the reader (which I call "the Lysippos face"), an invention of my own design based on research and a combination of several references.

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The writing of this chapter (and the rest of Alexander Comic) is very new to me. Rather than the standard way of approaching comics as a script, or sometimes, as prose squeezing itself into a visual medium – I'm trying this thing where I am approaching it as poetry, which values economy of words and precision of feeling/meaning/impact/imagery.

There’s this idea I have that comics writing is more akin to poetry than prose, since speech bubbles are already evoking actual speech (pauses, tone, emphasis, etc), and when bubbles are separated, the separation acts as caesura or enjambment.

What if I take this idea as far as I can go?

How do I combine the poetry of the written word with the poetry of the visual in a way that feels inseparable?

Especially in a way that only comics can do, with its ability to manipulate time by spatial relation. (basically, the closer two panels or bubbles are in the space they share, the closer they are in time. The opposite is also true)

Poetry has already experimented with how white space can change rhythm and meaning, which is exactly what I have done with the dialogue. The added spice is that I am also using panel arrangement and all of the other graphic literary devices to serve the same function. The most obvious example is on Page 25 - 26, when Alexander is talking about the omens:

"Not too long ago,
(enjambment, then the following line on the next panel/page)
I received an omen.
Many, in fact.

(three panels)

I'm to die soon.

(following panel)

Right here.
(end stop, with the reader turning the page)
In Babylon."

I am looking forward to more experiments in this area, especially when I get to the silent scenes, when images become the only linguistic device for meaning.

Thumbnailing and Sketching



Tools

Thumbnails: Moleskine notebook, mechanical pencil

Sketches: Procreate, iPad with Apple pencil


Time taken

Thumbnails: Under an hour.

Sketches: (not counting breaks) 9 hours. In real time, two or three days.


Inking and Colouring



Tools

Inks: Huion H610 Pro, Huion Kamvas Pro, Photoshop

Colours and Letters: Photoshop


Time taken

Inks: A week of intermittent work, starting from June 30th to July 9th. I was juggling both completing my other graphic novel and getting used to the new drawing tablet, which has a glassy surface texture and a retina screen that my outdated senses found disorienting. (I'm adapting alright now)

Colours: Another week of intermittent work, from July 9th to 18th. I finished colouring the last 8 pages (4 spreads) within a day. The one that took the most time was the banquet spread.


Research

In the Prologue Author Notes I mentioned the place-setting I had to do for this chapter. Place-setting was pretty much the entirety of the research this time. I had to design the interiors/exteriors of buildings, place appropriate props and dress characters accordingly. Fortunately it's still small-scale, on easy mode – I only had to expend most of my brainpower for the one room (the banquet). In the next chapter, I have to draw the outside of Babylon...

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As for Alexander's clothes, I did the work for it ages ago. I originally began from this concept drawing, which was my first take on the first time he wore a hybrid Macedon-Persian outfit. The fashion snob inside me couldn't stand it though – it didn't look like something a king (or an actual person) would wear, especially with the Macedonian flat cap. So I did another pass (drawing below), which had more thorough research on the visual motifs of Achaemenid art and several design alternatives.

Caption: 6 fashion design drawings of Alexander in his royal Persian outfit, accompanied by notes and stock Achaemenid motifs.

Alexander's Persian outfit was a a purple chiton with a white middle, accessorised with a sash, diadem and staff. Pretty vague. A lot of possibilities are hidden within this description – many ways to pleat a skirt, tie a sash, decorate a hem – just as there are many shades of purple.

Some people would choose to give Alexander long sleeves up to his wrist, but not me. I decided to go with the long skirt down to his ankles.

This chapter will be the only time in Book One where we will see Alexander in this style of dress.

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The piece that begins this chapter comes from another Alexander Romance author, Nizami Ganjavi, who I have referenced in the Prologue as an influence. It's taken directly from the prologue of his own Alexander Romance poetic epic, the Sikandar Nama e Bara.

The epic was translated into the only English edition in the late 19th century, but given its super literal translation, the whole thing is a bit of a doozy to read. Here is the original English passage by which the quote comes from:


(of Sikandar’s life) many the events that formerly (long ago) passed. --

Them, I make living by my own water of life (lustrous verse).

Sikandar, — who took the path of truth (spirituality),

Tracked out the fountain of life (the water of immortality):

Wandered, so that by the path of good fortune,

He might, by the fountain of life, becoming living:

Sought the road to the fountain of life (the poet’s lustrous verse),

— Found now that fountain, which then he (vainly) sought.


My consultant Richard Stoneman recommended I give a go at reinterpreting the passage – which was a bit worrying since I couldn't read the original Persian text hahahaha (obviously he can). So we had a brief conversation about creating a more accessible translation, and I came away with a draft, then revised it so that I merged the two sections of that verse into a single story. (The first section is Nizami stating the takeaway message of the second section, which is the actual poem) 

I felt that the subtle transformation of the water of life from a physical, bodily cause/effect into something more transcendent and intangible was the key to this poem, and the reason why I wanted to feature it as the opening for Book One. It reminded me of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, which more or less has the same takeaway message. And it also reminded me of the Epic of Gilgamesh, when it turned out in the end that immortality is not obtained through items but through deeds worthy of a poet.

Posted June 10, 2021 at 2:30 am

Writing

The Prologue was initially written as a shorter piece, spoken by the Servant. Later on, I adapted and expanded his monologue for use as sample pages in a pitch packet… You can read the original prologue here.

In the first version of the comic, I wanted the Servant to be our narrator throughout. This is no longer the case, as I’ve now asserted my voice as the narrator instead. This doesn't mean the Servant has ceased his original function as storyteller. He just does it in a different way now.

Both old and new versions of the Prologue set out to establish the comic's core theme (Alexander’s kaleidoscopic legacy) and its reason for existence (the tradition of storytellers before me in an unbreaking chain of one king’s life and deeds). The Prologue stands in as “an invocation to the muse”, just like in ancient Greek poetry, but modified to become an invocation to both my creative elders and the reader as we embark on a retelling of this story once again.

I also took inspiration from the preambles of Arrian and Nizami Ganjavi, both of whom are authors of Alexander literature, and who also discuss early in their respective books the kaleidoscopic legacy of Alexander and the mad endeavour they were undertaking in writing about this king of many names and many faces. Even between themselves, about a 1000 years apart, they were encountering similiar issues of craft in the researching and writing process.


For example, the line “A keeper of pearls among treasures” is a direct reference to Nizami's invocation in the Alexander Romance epic, Iskandarnama. He described the research process as a kind of treasure-hunting, where pearls are strewn in every Alexander-related text and his job was to string them together into something pretty. In contrast, Arrian called most of it trash, and his job instead was to shift through the garbage and find reliable information for his biography on Alexander. (Well, reliable for the time...)

Personally, I am somewhere between the two. But look, here I am, in 2019 - 2021, a thousand or two years later, dealing with the same things! I could relate so much to their complaints and their fascination for this singular historical figure. All of those things remained true, and I think anyone who has ever written something about Alexander will get it.

Anyway, this theme of shared legacy and shared experiences across time and space and culture is really central to the concept of the comic. It's actually, in fact, the first and only reason why I took on the project. So for the very first pages I wanted to honour this intergenerational intertexuality. Not just through my words...

but in the art as well.


Thumbnailing and Sketching



Tools

Thumbnails: Moleskine notebook, mechanical pencil

Sketches: Procreate, iPad with Apple pencil


Time taken

Thumbnails: About an hour? Less than that.

Sketches: (not counting breaks) 2 hours 16 minutes. In real time? Maybe a day.


Inking and Colouring


Tools

Inks: Procreate, iPad with Apple pencil, Huion H610 Pro, Photoshop, Astropad

Colours and Letters: Photoshop


Time taken

Inks: (not counting breaks) 16 hours 21 minutes in the original pass in Procreate. About 3 days in real time, as I was juggling some other work. Then on Photoshop, about 1 day for additional inking.

Colours: About a week or so. It's much longer than usual because of the details and having to recreate the original illuminated miniature drawings. As you can see in the Prologue, a lot of the art's heavy lifting is in lineless colour.

Additional detail: I custom-made my own font, which took an entire night.


Research

As I mentioned in the FAQ, the way I do this type of comic, the research is interactive and dynamic and ongoing throughout every stage of the process. It'll be the same for every chapter of this comic.

The Prologue is generally light on research, since more than half of the 18 pages are my takes on Alexander Romance motifs and my original ideas, which came from work done during the three years of development. Plus selecting the miniatures to be featured.

The most research-intense pages were the Poets and Painters section of Pages 12, 13 and 14. It was simple enough writing the text, to convey that feeling of shared heritage, but whew, it's not enough to just say it, I had to actually show it. I wanted to show that there were people behind the books that we now see disembodied behind glass cases and picture frames in museums and libraries. I wanted to show the brushes and palettes and stationary these storytellers were using, and I wanted to make a visible evolutionary connection from illuminated manuscripts to broadsheets to zines to modern day comics and book illustration. Like, without the foundations of bookmaking and printmaking and mass printing, comics wouldn't exist. Without typewriters, we wouldn't have laptops. That sort of thing. It's a humbling and amazing thing to be aware of, as someone who writes and draws their own books.

Otherwise, the Prologue is alright in terms of workload. Chapter 1 comes next, and I am simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the amount of research I need to do for place setting (it'll be set in Babylon). But hey, at least I get to finally draw Alexander in his fashionable Persian King outfit.

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WHAT IS THIS?

The 21st century graphic novel retelling of the Alexander Romance, a historical-fantastical account about the life, deeds and legends of Alexander the Great.

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