Making Mermaid Music

Welcome to Mermaid Music! This comic has been in the making as a comic for about two years. As a story, I started writing it over ten years ago, long before I ever knew I’d be doing comics. I had put it aside unfinished until recently, when it occurred to me that I had the beginnings of a graphic novel in it. The plot has changed considerably from the original written version, and I have it blocked out in chapters of about 36-40 pages, with an eventual total length of 250-300 pages.  I will be releasing chapter-long issues before then as a print series; the first one is now in print!

A story is a living, breathing thing, and while it is growing, it changes. Like cells dividing, little bits of the plot gently mutate and weave together and take on new significances, and new revelations of the characters’ histories and personalities sometimes lead in surprising directions. This happens with any story; but unlike publishing a finished novel, I’m writing, drawing, and publishing this story as I go (it’s a little like performance art) — so you can watch this story as it grows.

Of course, if I don’t want the finished story to look like Frankenstein’s monster, I have to adhere to the same long and involved process I would use for any full-length story, but working in chapters.  First comes the writing and the scripting, which looks a lot like a script for a play (the way I do it); then designing pages in tiny thumbnail drawings to get a sense of the composition.  Once I have the thumbnails settled for a chapter, I make a story map: tiny pictures of all the pages on one or two sheets of paper (I like graph paper) with the panels mapped in and one or two words to tell me what happens in each. I use these to keep from getting lost and to remember where I’m putting what text.

Then I can go ahead with pencilling the drawings full size on good paper, which is, for this project, about 25% bigger than the final print size. I don’t like to work too big because I tend to put in too much detail. After the pencil sketch comes inking; I’m using Pigma Micron pens on the first couple of chapters, though the flashback and dream sequences in Chapter One were inked with dip pen and brush, respectively. Finally, I colour the drawings with watercolour.

I use Photoshop for cleaning up margins and adjusting levels (and occasionally to fix a boo-boo) to prepare the pages for print, then lay them out in Indesign. I’m currently using a local print-on-demand shop, which does beautiful work, but POD is too expensive for me to be able to sell the books in shops. I do have them for sale directly; use the contact form if you are interested in purchasing one. Eventually, when the entire story is finished, I plan to do a big on-press run of the full novel.

Here’s the original cover concept for the first chapter, with the original title, The Mermaid. I wanted something that sounded a bit less generic, and since the story has lots of music in it, including singing mermaids, Mermaid Music became the new title.

Mermaid cover F sm

For my other work, including other comics, see my blog.

— Karen Gillmore

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