Getting the right cover can be difficult. The cover is the first image that people will see of your book and your first, best chance to sell them on it. It will be the most-shared image and the image most equated with the title. For a limited series like Toil and Trouble, we wanted our covers to have a visual theme that connects each issue. We also wanted to use the covers to show off our cast, the relationships between them, and how they will change over the course of the series.

For the main Toil and Trouble covers, our editor Whitney Leopard hired artist Kyla Vanderklugt. Kyla had previously worked on Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches with Whitney and her style seemed a perfect for our series. The cover process often starts with a few cover concepts. These are generally rougher sketches that show off the layout without as much detail, but as you’ll see below, Kyla went all out on her concepts to really give us a sense of what they would look like. Here is what Kyla had to say about her concept pitches:

“One’s inspired by illuminated manuscripts (I was looking at the Book of Deer) – the sidebars showing bits of scenery from the issue, here the ships arriving and maybe the standing stones in the far distance.

The second one’s more minimalistic, for this one I was thinking of a similar central composition for each issue’s cover; so this one has a standing stone, and the second could perhaps feature Macbeth and an upright war banner – that sort of thing.

The last one doesn’t have to have the circular graphic design. I was playing around with designs that looked like a crown.”

issue 1 cover conceptscover_inkv2Whitney, Kyla, and I loved the design of cover 1, but felt that with so much going on we lost the witches who wanted to be the focus. We also felt that while cover 3 had a strong focus on the witches, cover 2 had the most potential for future covers following a similar design aesthetic. Whitney suggested taking the braided knotwork bands from cover 1 and adding them to cover 2 to help the series logo stand out from the image itself.

The inks looked really good so the next step was to add color. Here we played around with a few different ideas. White background, colored background, different color fires. We wanted to subtly sell that something supernatural was occurring here. These aren’t just women standing around a fire, these are magical beings. I suggested that we color the sky in that muddled yellow green that you only see during tornadoes and Whitney suggested that we change the color of the fire to blue or green to make it more magical. Since fairy fire (naturally occurring flames that happen in swamps) is blue, we went with that. Having all of these colors be natural, but still unusual to find in nature helps us ground our magic in a more real (and hopefully more unnerving) place.

issue 1 cover color ideasWith the colors complete, Jillian Crab designed our logo and actually nailed it right away. I love that our names are in a very old, gothic-looking style and that she kept that feeling while making the actual title a little tattered. It looks like it’s been through some toil and trouble itself. Also the gradient not only echoes the color in our braiding, but gives it a slightly ominous feeling.

Toil-and-Trouble-Main-Cover-by-Kyla-VanderklugtBet you never realize so much work went into a cover! Special thanks to the art, design and editorial team on this book, they not only do amazing work, but are putting with all of my foibles and historical fact-checking while creating that amazing work.

Issue 1 of Toil and Trouble by myself, Mairghread Scott, and Kelly & Nichole Matthews will be available September 2nd at your local comic shop and on digital platforms. Issue 2 is now available for pre-order and you can get the whole series at Boom Studios website. Stay tuned for future looks behind the scenes of Toil and Trouble.

Til then, Hail and Farewell!

 

 

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Earlier this week, I discussed the design process for the three witches, Smertae, Riata and Cait from my new comic series, Toil and Trouble with Kelly & Nichole Matthews. However, what adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth could be complete without Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

When I approached the design process for the human characters, it was important to me that they be very grounded in reality and match the actual history of the time, so that they would contrast nicely with the supernatural elements of our witches. The real King Macbeth lived in 11th century Scotland, so that is where my research began. I compiled a secret Pinterest board full of all the reference images I could find. Everything from clothes to ships to furniture to archaeological evidence from the time. I even traveled to Scotland to visit museums and castles, taking hundreds of reference photos.

Macbeth design Kyla

Character Design by Kyla Vanderklugt

Remember that I mentioned it can be hard to find images from a specific area and time period and one of my tricks was to look for specific historical figures for reference? Well the people in Macbeth’s area didn’t leave a lot of records about their fashion. But the people that lived to the south of them, the Anglo-Saxons, had a ton of stuff, especially in Macbeth’s time period, where they were fighting the Normans. By looking at examples of their fashion and comparing it to Norman fashion and the few references for Scottish fashion I could find (aided by the local Scottish museums I saw on my trip), I think we were able to come up with some likely outfits for our characters. Special shout-out to the SCA (a group of medieval reenactors who do fabulous research) and the Bayeux Tapestry (a giant, embroidered graphic novel of sorts that shows the Norman Conquest of England). P.S. As a cross-stitcher, I have a special love for this tapestry because a friend told me they got to see it in person and the back is nowhere near “as nice as the front”. In your face ladies who say your back needs to look like your front!

I digress.

So where did we start with Macbeth’s design? Here is my initial description to Kyla Vanderklugt.

Macbeth: A man in his later middle-ages, starting to go gray. Macbeth is still very much a warrior, but is starting to pass his prime (think Eddard Stark from GoT) and his age only seems to compound itself as our story goes on. Still, when he smiles he smiles with his eyes, a dazzling forest green that still look young.

We know that Macbeth was called “ruddy” in descriptions of him, which can mean anything from darker skinned (like you see in Kyla’s design) to essentially tan from being outside, to rosy cheeked, to having red hair. We decided to go with the idea that Macbeth was dark-haired (to contrast with Smertae and Banquo, the two characters around him most often) but tanned from being outside all the time.

Macbeth kickingshoes

Art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

Also, as I dug deeper, we realized Macbeth was mostly likely born around 1005, so he would only have been 35 at the time he became king. So you see Macbeth got aged down and bulked up a bit in the transition from Kyla to the Matthews’ sisters design. The Scots seemed to make a big deal about their kings being active and physically fit men though, so I think our final designs really fit the bill.

Nitpicker’s note: I did also find reference to Macbeth being “cat eyed” but my sources so completely disagreed on what the heck that meant, I had to disregard it.

Next, to match our lovely Macbeth, we must include our Lady Macbeth to match.

lady macbeth Kyla

Character Design by Kyla Vanderklugt

Ah, Lady Macbeth, one of the most universally hated women in all fiction. Most people don’t realize that she is also based on a real person. The actual Lady Macbeth was named Gruoch and Macbeth was her second husband. She also had a son, Lulach, that she brought to her marriage…and that’s about all we know. No age, no physical descriptions, nada. We can guess she was a bit older than Macbeth (him being her second husband and her being his first wife) and Shakespeare does reference that Lady Macbeth had a child at one point (though he never says what happened to them). Everything else is up for grabs. so here’s where we started when I described her to Kyla.

Lady Macbeth: A middle-aged dark haired woman. Lady Macbeth is the kind of perfect that’s been hollowed out by disappointment. She’s lost  weight at some point and there’s a limpness to her body and her breasts.

And you can see that’s exactly what we got. I love her design and you can see it transition quite well in this flashback from the Matthews’ sisters. She got filled out a bit more, especially in her flashbacks, which are supposed to be Lady Macbeth at her happiest. But, unlike every Hollywood movie ever, she isn’t 18 married to a 50 year old. And while she’s pretty, she’s not a supermodel dropped into 11th century Scotland.

lady macbeth kickingshoes

Flashback Art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

Some sources indicate she might have had some embroidery on her clothes or more jewelry, but I preferred to give her a slightly more streamlined design so it would stay consistent. Despite my rambley posts, we are a graphic novel, not a history textbook.

Anyway, now that you’ve met the major cast of Toil and Trouble, I hope you’ll come back for more! Stay tuned for future posts looking at background design, cover design, our historical research and the scripting process. 

Toil and Trouble #1 will be available in stores and digitally on September 2nd and can be pre-ordered at your local comic shop with the form below or you can get a subscription at the Boom Studios website.

Toil_and_Trouble_order_form

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The central characters in my new comic series, Toil and Trouble are the three witches of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. In the play, these women function as supernatural seers delivering two prophecies to Macbeth that inspire Macbeth’s treachery and eventually lead to his downfall. The premise behind the series is to retell the story of Macbeth from the point of view of these three witches to uncover the true motivation behind their role in Macbeth’s fate.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll be looking at the design process for the witches and the thoughts that went into both their look and their characterization in the book. In our initial pitch, all of the witches were going to be completely nude as they are supernatural beings with no need for clothes and a lack of clothes would underscore when our “normal” characters can and can’t see them. (Also, while the entertainment industry seems to almost require partial female nudity, there’s something about non-sexual, full-frontal female nudity that still makes many people uncomfortable. We toyed with the idea of nudity to essentially put our audience on an uneasy footing right from the start). This was later changed to help the book get a teen rating and be more appropriate for schools and libraries. So fair warning, there will be some nudity in these posts.

Actually, I wanted to take a moment and say this was a special concern for me with Cait because she looks so young. The idea of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone were crucial to our design concept, so Cait really needed to look young to fulfill that part of the trinity. But while we never intended to treat her in a sexual manner, I’ll admit I was kept up at night by the prospect of being called a child pornographer. I want to tip my hat to Sarah Stone for doing such an amazing design of Cait that kept her from feeling at all sexual, even fully naked. These are the kinds of struggles you have when you’re making art.

Cait initial sketch

Initial Character Sketch by Sarah Stone

Anyway let’s take a closer look at Cait,  who in the play is known as the “First Witch”. Cait is the peacemaker in our trio of witches and looks like she is a pre-teen girl despite actually being the oldest of the witches. All of the witches are tied to an element and Cait’s is earth. We also wanted to play with the idea of the maiden-mother-crone cycle, so Cait is representative of the Maiden. Here were my initial character design directions:

Cait:

Element: Earth

Type: Maiden

Colors brown skin (like soil), pale hair, black tattoos like vines creeping through her skin. Younger than Smertae and almost childlike with a teen build, Cait is wide-eyed with hair like a tangle of branches which leaf, bloom and shed their leaves throughout the story. Quiet, Cait sees much and says little. She’s often the last of the group to make a move, slow to change and to anger and wary of making a misstep.

Her familiar, Paddock, is a black adder and usually coiled around her, preferring to stay in close physical contact whenever possible.

Cait color

Final Colored Design by Sarah Stone

All of the witches are meant to have supernatural elements that set them apart from the mortal characters in the book. They each have tattoos or magical markings with Cait’s being the tree branches that grow directly out of her skin. It was decided early on that these branches would almost be like the horns or antlers of an animal so you’ll notice a stag-like quality to them.  Graves from the time period she lived in (around 6,000 BCE) show that animal pieces were buried with people and I liked the idea that Cait might have been buried with a pair of antlers on her head a la the Celtic deity, Cernunnos.

When artist Sarah Stone designed the witches, these were her thoughts behind the design:

Blonde hair, perhaps so light it’s almost white. Frizzy, tighter curls that loop around branches and leaves. wide, large golden eyes or maybe darker eyes, to seem more faun-like. Branches almost form antler-esque silhouette perhaps? There can be three prominent ‘horns’. most childlike proportions: small breasted and a petite frame. shortest. Branches envelop and even appear to grow under her skin in some places. Her snake familiar can coil around her and her branches.

Later when we added clothes, we looked at the furs and leathers being worn in the Neolithic era. The cut of her outfit is based off the clothing found on a Neolithic man in the Alps. I noticed it had a very similar design and material make-up to traditional Inuit clothing, which is where we got the idea for the contrasting color stripes. We wanted something that would show off the branches growing out of her arms and legs, so we took away the leggings she probably would have worn and rounded out the outfit with some Neolithic jewelry.

Cait Kickingshoes

Art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

One of the coolest things about a character design is seeing how other artists interpret it. After Sarah designed the three witches, cover artist Kyla Vanderklugt and interior artists Kelly and Nichole Matthews had to bring that design to life on the page. The strong elements that were important to us from the start (her branches, her darker skin, her child-like appearance), are all noticeable in every incarnation even as little aspects may change with each artist’s style.

Cait Kyla

Art by Kyla Vanderklugt

When the series opens, Cait awaits the return of Smertae, the witch that Riata exiled many years ago, and she hopes that Riata and Cait can reconcile. She sees the others as her family and wants that family to be happy and whole once more.

Cait believes that the witches must unite in order to watch over Scotland. As our story continues, Cait must try to keep her fellow witches in line as they battle over the heart of a king and the soul of a nation.

Stay tuned for future posts about the designs of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Toil and Trouble will be available in stores and digitally on September 2nd and can be pre-ordered at your local comic shop with the form below or you can get a subscription at the Boom Studios website.Toil_and_Trouble_order_form

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The central characters in my new comic series, Toil and Trouble are the three witches of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. In the play, these women function as supernatural seers delivering two prophecies to Macbeth that inspire Macbeth’s treachery and eventually lead to his downfall. The premise behind the series is to retell the story of Macbeth from the point of view of these three witches to uncover the true motivation behind their role in Macbeth’s fate.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll be looking at the design process for the witches and the thoughts that went into both their look and their characterization in the book. In our initial pitch, all of the witches were going to be completely nude as they are supernatural beings with no need for clothes and a lack of clothes would underscore when our “normal” characters can and can’t see them. (Also, while the entertainment industry seems to almost require partial female nudity, there’s something about non-sexual, full-frontal female nudity that still makes many people uncomfortable. We toyed with the idea of nudity to essentially put our audience on an uneasy footing right from the start). This was later changed to help the book get a teen rating and be more appropriate for schools and libraries. So fair warning, there will be some nudity in these posts.

Riata bw design

Initial Character Sketch by Sarah Stone

Last week we met Smertae, now let’s take a look at Riata,  who in the play is known as the “Second Witch”. Riata is the leader of our trio of witches and looks like she is in her forties so she has a more angular frame and some gray hair. All of the witches are tied to an element and Riata’s is air. We also wanted to play with the idea of the maiden-mother-crone cycle, so Riata is representative of the crone. Here were my initial character design directions:

Riata:

Element: Air

Type: Crone

Riata Color Design

Final Colored Design by Sarah Stone

Riata’s a cold woman that sees four steps ahead of everyone else and loves nothing more than to move pieces on the chessboard. The kind of woman you always expect to have unusually pointed K9s. Her tattoos are red and angular.

Her familiar, Graymalkin, is a red kite (a type of hawk native to Scotland), always on the hunt. [Note: In folklore a Graymalkin refers to a cat or winged cat that served witches. But since the other familiars’ names don’t reference a specific design and since our familiars are shape-shifters, we made Graymalkin a bird most of the time.]

All of the witches are meant to have supernatural elements that set them apart from the mortal characters in the book. They each have tattoos or magical markings with Riata’s being done in red. I also wanted her tattoos to be angular and severe so I used a lot of reference material from wind burns and severely dried skin. I wanted Riata to look like her tattoos were made from her skin starting to break open. Riata also has blackened hands with taloned fingers like a bird of prey which sharpen and grow when she is angry or using her magic. As the book goes on, you’ll see this blackness creep up as if her skin is necrotic.

When artist Sarah Stone designed the witches, these were her thoughts behind the design:

Dark hair, straightest. The most mature, and the tallest. Her frame can be almost elvish perhaps. Longer face and half lidded, cold, but beautiful piercing eyes. Pointed canines. Feathers break her silhouette, sometimes seemingly coming from her hair. Overly long nails like talons, stained black. Her tattoos could have the texture of burnt wood, like they are burns but not of flesh. When she casts, perhaps red flame or smoke bleeds from them.

Riata Kickingshoes

Art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

Later when we added clothes, we researched what was being worn around the first and second century, which was also the time of the Celtic hero, Boudicca, who became a strong inspiration for Riata’s look. Since the witches are each from different time periods of Scotland’s history, their clothing became an essential clue to their history but it can be hard to find clothing reference from so long ago. Since Riata’s story also relates to the Roman Invasion and is closest in time to Boudicca, I was able to research her clothing by looking for articles related to what Boudicca would have actually looked like. Note: Riata would have likely worn plaid, but plaid is REALLY hard to draw consistently especially on non-formfitting clothes. Sometimes you need to compromise.

One of the coolest things about a character design is seeing how other artists interpret it. After Sarah designed the three witches, cover artist Kyla Vanderklugt and interior artists Kelly and Nichole Matthews had to bring that design to life on the page. The strong elements that were important to us from the start (her long hair, her tattoos and talon hands, her pale skin), are all noticeable in every incarnation even as little aspects may change with each artist’s style.

Riata Kyla

Art by Kyla Vanderklugt

When the series opens, Riata awaits the return of Smertae, the witch she exiled to the sea years ago, while also preparing Scotland’s forces for a confrontation with Norway.

Riata believes that she has foreseen the path to the best fate for Scotland and needs her fellow witches Smertae and Cait to help her fulfill it. Riata hopes Smertae’s exile has proven to her that she needs to fall in line, because she needs to be able to trust the women at her side. As our story continues, Riata must face the darkness of her own past, even as she battles for the very soul of the land she loves.

Stay tuned for future posts about the designs of Cait, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Toil and Trouble will be available in stores and digitally on September 2nd and can be pre-ordered at your local comic shop with the form below or you can get a subscription at the Boom Studios website.

Toil_and_Trouble_order_form

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