Character designer Benedtta Pia shows us her love of the craft as she brings her Edwardian sci-fi “Maledictus” to life in Comics: The Art of Storytelling.
Hi, my name is Benedetta Pia and I’m a story artist and character designer from Italy. Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to tell stories. Thanks to my mom (who is an art teacher, sculptress, and painter) and my dad who raised me with movies, cartoons, and comics it felt natural to choose an artistic path after high school. So, I graduated in 2D animation in Florence which seemed the right compromise between comics and filmmaking, plus two online courses to deepen character design. I collaborated with an online magazine, did some concept art for an indie video game, and recently got the chance to have a short story published in the fourth volume of an Italian zine called La Psicoscimmia. I signed up for Comics: the art of storytelling by Miki Montlló to better understand the medium of comics.
We started working on the script of our project. Being the backbone of our future assignments I ended up picking this old, nebulous story I had in mind for ages. It was far from perfect, but it was right for me in that period. I felt the need to give some dignity to these poor characters that were rotting on my sketchbook and word documents.
Maledictus is about Susan, a young lady that decides to take care of his father’s inheritance with the help of her strange companions, like Rothard. Talks about personal growth with a sprinkle of body horror and nonsense, my jam. After the script and the storyboard, in which we roughly sketched the main key of the action, we wrote down what happened on the page and how many panels would take to narrate that sequence. Before the course, I used to draw the pages without really understanding how to use them effectively, or correctly place the balloons. I spent too much time trying to have more aesthetically pleasing “puzzles” than be readable. I treated the pages like I had to animate it, making them slow and tedious when, as Miki told me, I had to keep only the key of the actions and compose it to guide the eyes of the reader where I want. Basically, I had to apply the Kulešov effect (we also had a lesson on it), without losing time on useless details.
After writing down the script and storyboarding the pages, I did my research. I love researching because it helps me to give more solidity and credibility to my designs. Having a story with both historical and fantasy elements, I started gathering images that could help me establish a “mood” and the general elements that I wanted to include.
Once the mood board was over, I quickly began to concentrate on clothes, weapons, and all the historical elements, so I could start designing the characters. Part of this process includes choosing the right shape to convey a message. Susan, for example, had to look classy and the canonically feminine Edwardian lady, but for her design, I choose more pointy and triangular elements to emphasize her rude behavior, while Rothard has square and rounder forms to indicate his reliability, plus some recurring elements I used on the villagers and the creature in the forest too. Teeth and bulging eyes soon became a distinguishing mark throughout the pages.
Fortunato was the most challenging to design. Initially, he was heavily based on H.P.Lovecraft and had more pointy elements like in the nails and the shoulders. He looked more like an antagonistic figure but it wasn’t the case. In those four pages, Fortunato appears like a threatening figure for sure, but I wrote him to be more of a mentor to the protagonists. Keeping this in mind, after I grabbed some references, probably binge-watching Phantasm at night didn’t help, I started reworking on him and choose more sturdy shapes and limited the triangular forms. I ended up grabbing other photos and playing with shapes while keeping in mind why I choose Angus Scrimm as a new muse and what I wanted to achieve.
Inking and Flat Coloring
My biggest challenge during the inking phase was to keep the continuity, so I had to redo my assignments after the corrections. I reworked the pages and took more time on the cleaning up process, like Miki suggested, to give an organic look to the page, using quick and precise strokes that later helped me save time while coloring. I started with the sky to establish what palette I was going to use for the lights, shadows, and atmosphere. I choose a sunset to create a contrast between the warm, reassuring colors, and the unnatural situation the characters had to face.
Another line of reasoning was adopted for the protagonists’ palette. The colors are limited and most of them are shared to highlight the connection between them. Susan has green and purple clothes like Fortunato and Rothard, which in turn share the same bluish dye I gave to the villagers.
10 out of 10 I would recommend this course. Miki Montlló followed us with professionalism and disponibility. The techniques he taught us helped me improve my skills and understand what are my strengths and how to use them. He explained to us how to create a professional portfolio and how to promote our work on social media. Another thing that I loved was the ability to rapidly communicate with our teacher during the Q&A and instantly receiving suggestions or corrections to apply to our work, making everything easier.