The History of "Aegis"
Aishath Nasir explores the visual possibilities of altering European history for the narrative she developed in Comics: The Art of Storytelling.
My name is Aishath Nasir and I am a Canadian with an academic background in film, animation, and photography, currently living in England. I spent a very short while as a novice in the tv and film industry, the most enjoyable stint having been a junior storyboarding role in Sin City 2. Working on this project made me realize that visualizing sequential storytelling was close to my heart, and most importantly my own stories had become somewhat of an obsession. The only problem was, although I loved comics and had decided to make one, I didn’t really know where to begin or who to turn to for advice. I spent years writing down story notes and character origins while looking for more information. I had taken CGMA classes before and been very impressed with the instruction and feedback I had received, so discovering the Comics: The Art of Storytelling course was a godsend.
For my CGMA project, I chose my oldest story to try and finally bring it to reality. The working title was “Mirrored” during the span of the course, but its final title is “Aegis.” It’s an alternate history set in a fictional European country, one that had seen a supernatural war decades earlier and was only just beginning to recover. My story begins around the time that peace is broken. Central to the script is a small number of characters whose pasts have, knowingly or unknowingly, been influenced by the last war. My excerpt for the class follows the main character Elizabeth as she encounters another of these key players, James. Since this was an important section I really wanted to get it right.
At one point I did consider using a newer idea but in the end, I felt that what I wanted to perfect and really fix was the story closest to my heart. Primarily because I was so close to it, I felt I might have lost objectivity. It was hard to share something that private for critique at first, but then I relished hearing the feedback my instructor Reilly Brown had, as every week he pushed me to make all the elements even better than before. I knew my story, but he gave me the tools to make it a story others could access and understand.
When designing my characters I started by considering their personal history. What background do they have? What sort of clothing were they more likely to wear? Do they care what others think of their appearance? Was practicality more important than fitting in? I also stuck to Reilly’s advice when it came to designing main characters that stood out from the crowd in whatever panel they were in, drawing the reader’s attention. This led me to color choices I might never have otherwise considered. How I personally dressed and what colors I liked had nothing to do with what was best for my character. This may seem an obvious point, but I would never have thought white pants and pink hair were going to end up on my female lead! I love it, but had it not been for the information and brainstorming I had done in class, I would never have gotten there.
Making these aesthetic decisions was one thing, but creating personality in a single image was about more than clothing and palette. I then needed to create designs that communicated who these people were in both their appearance but also in how they carried themselves. To that end, I began each character with a very simple gesture that had to communicate the attitude of the person I was drawing. When I felt I had that down, I roughed out a body on top, choosing builds that were indicative of the person’s lifestyle. I then sketched expressions on separate sheets before deciding I had found the right face and emotion for each character. This took a long time since it was basically the first portrait I had ever made of them and sometimes I found new designs that I liked better in the process. This was, personally, the hardest part of the course because now I had to commit to who these people were.
Composing a Page
One of my biggest challenges was learning how to deprogram my storyboarding background from film and animation school. There were several advantages since I had some composition training, but the main disadvantage came when I realized that more panels are not necessarily a good thing! I had to learn to be concise and show more with fewer panels on a page, allowing the ones that remained to be larger and more impactful. Panel layout also helped me communicate the importance of a scene, by making the image larger or more central to the page. The lectures were packed with examples of how to utilize panel layout and size to their best effect.
One breakthrough moment I had was when I tried to communicate Elizabeth traversing a long corridor of prison cells with various inmates, and I realized I could do this by making a large overhead panel of her in the corridor and simply insetting ‘glances’ of the scenes she was passing within them. In film, this would have taken multiple shots and trying to maintain continuity (which is how I originally tried to do it but failed miserably). With a comic book layout, this idea was communicated in a single page of fewer than six panels. I really started to see the power and flexibility of the page at this point.
Drawing Reference and Research
As my story is based on a culture evolving from a particular century, it was really important to find architectural and wardrobe reference that was true to the time, so that I could modify it while retaining certain elements, like buckles, hemlines, collar styles, etc. I also picked up footwear and leather reference from modern fashion movements. Finally, it was important to imagine how some of these might evolve over time while in isolation from other cultures. The challenge here was to find a way to make everyone appear as if they belonged in the same universe. The feedback from my instructor and other students during live Q and A was invaluable in assessing whether I had been successful or not! I’m still tweaking this aspect here and there since this part requires lots of details to get right.
I chose to go with an inking style that was very heavy on linework, cross-hatching, etc. It helped immensely to see what artists I admired had done to deal with certain inking and shading challenges. It took forever but it was absolutely worth it, and I was thrilled to have my instructor point me towards artists with similar styles so I could check them out.
This course itself was incredibly rewarding, and I have learned so much in a short time that it is difficult to say what I am most happy about having gained. Design-wise, I’m really happy with all three characters I drafted (Elizabeth, James, and Bertie). I have a soft spot for Bertie because he is just nuts, and that freedom in his personality helped me draw him more loosely. In terms of what main skill I have improved upon, the one that I am most grateful for is learning how to effectively use the entire page, rather than each sequential panel, to communicate my story in the best way possible. I used to visualize one scene after another, whereas now I see the page as one piece of artwork. This changed everything about my approach and I can’t imagine having learned that on my own without the instructional videos and personal critiques from my instructor.
Since the class ended I have been scripting and planning a short origin story about Bertie, one of the antagonists, in an effort to have a smaller tale that will let me get a tight grip on the drawing style and mood before tackling the much larger main plot. I chose this particular story since it does involve a large number of emotional scenes with different expressions to master, action scenes, and lots of mood, but all on a smaller and more manageable scale. In a practical sense, having a short story a new reader( or potential publisher) can sample would make sense as well. Most importantly, I feel I’m now armed with the tools to get this story into the world to the best of my ability.
This is an intense course, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who has a story they want to tell in this medium. Time is imperative as you will be most successful when you spend the required hours problem solving and trying new things, plus the more you have ready to show each week, the more feedback and progress you can make. Ultimately if you are passionate you will never regret a moment you spend in this class. I would, and probably will do it again!
You can see more from Aishath here: