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Spooky comic settings, for #WebcomicChat

Spooky comic settings, for #WebcomicChat published on 3 Comments on Spooky comic settings, for #WebcomicChat

A post I had to illustrate with the stock image of Lady Stanczia and Lord Imri’s eerie mountainside castle. (Last seen in Vampire Hunter Thorn #3.)

Q1: How would you describe the difference between “spooky” and “scary”? Is there one?

“Spooky” is a particular aesthetic, all ominous and Halloween-y. “Scary” is a much broader category. If you narrowly miss being in a car accident, that’s scary, but not spooky. Dark misty forests with no sound except a cold breeze rustling the leaves, on the other hand…those are both spooky and scary.

Q2: What makes a scene or setting spooky to you?

Let me just rec some comics that do spooky really well, and you can work it out backwards from there.

The Last Halloween (ongoing) is full of claustrophobic staging and ominous crosshatching. Along with all the specific pumpkins-and-graveyards type stuff.

Stand Still Stay Silent (ongoing) gets these wonderful eerie effects from detailed art with limited palettes. Check out this shadowy, rain-drenched forest.

Awful Hospital (hiatus) does a great job of combining the gory and horrific with the oppressively mundane.

Serenity Rose (complete) has lots of shadow-filled forests, ornate but falling-apart old houses, and elaborate gothic architecture. Plus stuff in the corner staring at you.

Q3: Are spooky settings limited to specific genres? Why or why not?

If you’re writing something like a lighthearted comedy or a fluffy romance, there’s a limit to how deep you can go into horror territory. But spookiness doesn’t have to be horrific — you can also do the cute-and-fun version. Any genre can be paired with at least some point on the spooky spectrum.

Or, to put it another way: any comic can do a Halloween special.

Q4: What sorts of elements make a scene less spooky?

Bright lighting, pastel palettes, humor.

Spookiness isn’t really something that happens by accident, it’s something you have to actively cultivate. But those are things that can temper it after it’s been cultivated.

Q5: Provide us some examples of your favorite spooky settings!

I did it for other webcomics up in Q2, so here are some from Leif & Thorn:

The dark and deserted-by-order Embassy gardens from Homecoming. And again in Vampire Masquerade, complete with cold blowing winds.

Mata in a deep dark hole — this is one where the spookiness gets tempered by the way he stays relaxed and keeps making jokes.

Stanczia and Imri’s castle from the main continuity. Complete with ominous business deals.

Rec your own favorite spooky comics in the comments!

Talking about detail for #WebcomicChat…well, trying to.

Talking about detail for #WebcomicChat…well, trying to. published on No Comments on Talking about detail for #WebcomicChat…well, trying to.

Q1: How do you feel about comics with incredibly detailed visual or story elements?

Deeply envious. If I wanted to draw comics in a minimalist style, a la 1/0 or xkcd, I could pull it off. But lush, elaborate, detailed art? Even if I tried, there’s only so high a mark I can hit.

Check out these establishing shots from Devil’s Candy, or these eldritch city environments from Zebra Girl, or this surreal interlude from Floraverse.

Q2: What sorts of things do you find necessary to put the most detail into?

Establishing shots — that is, a wide shot of the scenery when the characters enter a new environment. That’s what both of these are:

(The first one following a fourth-wall-straining metajoke about “gosh, this scenery would take forever to draw.”)

After that I make a conscious effort to put the characters in front of a simple background — various walls, rows of bushes and trees, a cave, the sky. In a black-and-white comic you can get away with just leaving blank white space around the characters, but in Leif & Thorn there needs to at least be a specific flat color.

(But I’m A Cat Person falls between the two (in a…grey area *rimshot*). It’s somewhat easier to cheat because I can fill the background with whatever shade of grey fits the lighting and tone of the scene, without having to keep track of which exact wall they’re in front of.)

It doesn’t save 100% of the work. You still need to keep your panels visually engaging by doing long shots, different angles, and other things that demand some thought for the background. But it cuts it down a lot.

Q3: How do you balance complicated details with simpler, more accessible details?

Mostly the common advice of “keep the characters/point-of-focus detailed and the background simple, so the focus stands out.”

Make your characters’ everyday outfits relatively simple and quick to draw, then give them more elaborate and complex clothes on special occasions.

Same with rare and fancy objects versus common ones. There are complex magical contraptions with engravings and swirly bits, but the smartcrystals they’re always using to make calls or browse the Network are just plain rectangles.

Q4: Do you have any time-saving techniques or resources for handling fine details?

Make yourself some stock graphics!

I finally made a nice tiled pattern for the embroidery on the trim of the knights’ uniforms, so I don’t have to draw random little fiddly bits every time. It’s just black lines on a white background, so I put it on a separate layer and set it to Multiply, and then it blends naturally with whatever shading or color-adjusting happens underneath.

And I have transparent graphics for the detailed art-nouveau Embassy gates. They can be resized, skewed, and otherwise distorted to match whatever angle the panel calls for.

Q5: What are your favorite comics that have immense amounts of detail?

The ones recced above, plus Homestuck (a ridiculous variety of planets and dreamscapes), Buying Time (cyberpunk settings and equipment complete with cycling Flash animation), and Serenity Rose (spooky midwestern town and supernatural environments).

Readers, what are yours? (And/or, what’s your favorite high-detail Leif & Thorn scene?)

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