Finding the Footprints of Life

Created for a course about Comics & Medicine in the Biomedical Communications Program, this comic book takes a complex scientific topic and translates it into a visual story. The story is based on my personal experience with the NASA AMES Pavilion Lake Research Project. It details the classification of biosignatures, the importance of astrobiological research, and what kind of work is being done at Pavilion Lake.

Date: April 2016

Supervisor: Dr. Shelley Wall | Biomedical Communications

Audience: General

Media:

Adobe Photoshop

Development Process

Writing the Narrative

The script for the comic was originally drafted in a separate document. Minimal research needed to be done since the narrative was based on my personal experience working on the Pavilion Lake Research Project. The text was partitioned and numbered based on the beat and rhythm of the narrative that I envisioned would flow across panels. These numbers served as a guide for where text would be assigned when designing the panel and illustration layout.

Planning the Layout

The most difficult part of this assignment was to decide how to marry text with illustration. Using the script as a starting ground, I worked hard to envision what I would want to see when I read each caption of the script. I made small, rough sketches of the actions being performed in each panel. I used numbers corresponding to the script to guide the dialogue occurring in each panel. After I did this, I reviewed the illustration and inserted additional panels to ensure the rhythm of the narration held up.

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My comic features one main character teaching the reader through conceptual spaces. I used Scott McCloud's narrative style in his "Understanding Comics" to inform how I wanted the character to behave and interact with the reader. Because the main character navigates through conceptual spaces to teach, I knew that he would take on several representations and that he needed to be recognizable. I was happy with the first draft I came up with, but still played around with ways to visualize his appearance, mood, and expressions. In the end, I settled with something that resembled the iconic friendliness of Tin-tin!

Creating the Characters
Rough Draft #1

At this stage I wanted to combine my ideas of the text and illustrations into a first-pass. I created a document in Photoshop that had the panel boundaries and full text in each panel. I printed this out and sketched my ideas for the illustrations in each panel.

Illustrating the Visuals

Once I was happy with my ideas for the illustrations and how they complemented the text, I began to draw each individual page of the comic in my sketchbook. Since some panels had recycled visual assets, I only created illustrations that were unique. I planned to copy, paste, and even modify some parts of these illustrations in Photoshop to make up the other panels.

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Rough Draft #2

When all the illustrations were complete, I scanned the illustrations and brought them into Photoshop. I now merged these hand-drawn illustrations with the panel and text I had previously made and created a second rough draft for review. 

Putting in the Professionalism

While I was happy with the hand-drawn illustrations, scanning limitations and the imperfections of the human hand didn't meet my standards for creating a professional body of work. So I decided to trace over all of my hand-drawn illustrations in Photoshop, giving them the clean and precise look my work is known for.

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The Wrap-Up

Once I finished re-illustrating my visuals in Photoshop, I once again combined them with the layout I had for panels and text. Minor revisions, such as font style, size, and layout adjustments were made. Final touches such as shading and page numbers were also added. A coloured cover page was also designed in Photoshop.

Complete!

This was such a fun project for my final semester of my graduate studies. I was growing a little tired with how much work I was putting into my studies, so getting to have a side-project that catered to my more creative and expressive skills was a welcomed respite. I put a lot of time turning an important personal experience into an entertaining and engaging piece, so I hope you'll find the time to pick up a copy and read it!

© 2018 by Mark Belan.