Lost Ship Retrospective

Reflecting on how the project went, tools I used, and what’s coming next

Last week I wrapped up Lost Ship, a sci-fi comic I had been working on since September 2018. It’s my third finished comic, and I leveled up quite a bit while working on it.

I have been reflecting on the project and how it went as I figure out what’s next. Here’s a look at the making of Lost Ship.

Inception

I spent all of Summer 2018 preparing for and producing a comic specifically for mobile devices called Lunar Space Colony. It was based on a short story I wrote about a young woman’s experience leaving Earth to work on a colony that orbits the Moon. Once I got eight parts into the comic, I really started to dislike the project. I lost almost all interest and decided to take a break.

A panel from Lunar Space Colony

Taking a break was the right thing to do, but I felt defeated and nervous about undertaking another project. So I spent my time making illustrations and trying to get back in the groove. In September 2018, I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to draw 100 spaceships. I ended up only drawing 50, but the project spurred me to think about the stories of these ships.

The two ships above got me thinking about a small crew that explores the reaches of space. That was it – the initial idea. So I took it that idea and began to further explore it.

Pre-Production

Inspirations & Visual Reference

My main inspirations for Lost Ship were the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gundam, Star Trek, and the art of Moebius. I wanted to make something that was non-violent but hopefully still dramatic.

I start every project by gathering visual reference. It’s such a helpful step. It helps me set the mood and what to aim for. Here’s a look at some of the key visual references from the project:

Concept Art

One of my favorite parts of making a comic is figuring out what the characters and world look like. It’s when a project starts to feel real. Above is a look at some of the character art and explorations. I shared a bunch more concept art in a previous journal entry.

Writing the Script

I hand-wrote the script in my notebook since I knew the idea was pretty small. I wanted to contain the project to no more than 28 pages, especially after dropping the ball with Lunar Space Colony, which was intended to be a long-running project.

I wrote out the script panel-by-panel using my own format. It’s pretty simple but it works for me, especially since I’m the one writing and drawing the comic.

Page 14 (Boarding the Ship) 
---
Panel 01 (2x1): Harlow, Tomas, and Mia suit up to board the ship 
Panel 02 (1x1): Babylon docks with Mesa
Panel 03 (1x1): Tomas enters the code to open Mesa's door
Panel 04 (1x1): Tomas signals to Harlow and Mia it's safe to enter
Panel 05 (1x1): Harlow and Mia jet across from the Babylon to the Mesa

It’s worth mentioning the page above totally changed during the thumbnail phase. A script is just a starting place. Since I stick to a 2×3 grid, I specify the size of each panel when writing the script.

Thumbnails

With the script ready, I sketched out the pages and panels to get a sense of the blocking. Something new I tried with Lost Ship was creating pencil thumbnails in a stapled zine to be able to actually read through and revise the comic. I loved being able to hold the comic at this stage. I wrote about this process in more detail if you’re interested.

NINA

Before I began production in earnest, I made a four-page comic called NINA to test out the paper, grid layout, and pens I planned on using for Lost Ship. This was immensely helpful.

Production

Inked page before toning and lettering

The process of actually producing the pages didn’t vary too much from past projects. I pencil, ink, and scan the pages. Then I clean them up digitally.

I used 9×12″ 100 lb. smooth bristol board for the pages. I used Koh-i-noor Rapidograph pens for inking.

I started the actual production of the pages in November 2018 and wrapped them up in December 2018. Then a little bit of time in January was spent revising and cleaning things up.

Tones

I experimented with using digital screentones (repeating black patterns, usually dots) to tone the comic, but I ended up using a grayscale palette instead. I find the moire effect of the screentones at various digital resolutions to be a bit offputting. I’m not quite ready to work on projects in color, so using various shades of gray felt like the right choice for Lost Ship.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of screentone vs grayscale:

Lettering

Side-by-side lettering comparison

I hand-lettered the comic at first, with the intention of leaving it that way. But as I neared the end of production, it just looked sloppy. My lettering isn’t awful, but there were parts that were pretty illegible. It’s important that people can read the text, so it made sense to me to re-letter Lost Ship with a font. The font used through is Comicraft’s Monologous. I wrote a bit about why I re-lettered before release.

Release

I originally intended to print Lost Ship as a mini-comic like my other projects, but I decided against it as I got closer to wrapping the project up. To be honest, the amount of time and money I spend printing mini-comics isn’t really worth. There’s not really an audience who wants to buy my stuff (yet), so spending a full day and a couple hundred bucks is a tough sell for me. I’d be open to printing future projects, but I decided to stick with a digital-only release for now.

On Monday, January 14, 2019, I put up Lost Ship for free online as a PDF and shared it on social media and with friends. A few folks had kind comments, but, like most of my creative work so far, the response was pretty quiet. That’s okay. I didn’t expect much.

I recognize that I’m a beginner artist and that it takes time to get good and build an audience. I make comics because I truly enjoy doing it. I put my work out there for free because I want it to be as accessible as possible. I’m hoping that as I continue to improve as a visual artist and storyteller that my future projects will find more of an audience.

Reflections

I enjoyed working on Lost Ship. It was just what I needed after losing a bit of confidence after Lunar Space Colony. I’m back in a positive mindset and excited about making comics in a way that I wasn’t at the end of Summer 2018.

I have a lot to learn about how to effectively get the word out about my projects, but for now, I’m focused on improving my craft. I want to get better with the consistency of my art and my ability to render what’s in my head.

I love thinking about and exploring sci-fi works. Something draws me to that setting in a way that contemporary and fantasy ideas don’t (at least for now). I’m not sure if I’ll return to the world, characters, and mystery of Lost Ship, but the door is definitely open.

My biggest takeaway from the project is that I do my best work when I steadily chip away at something every day. Within a few months, I end up finishing something. Slow and steady. Nothing wrong with that.

What’s Next

I’m not 100% sure what’s next, but I have some ideas for smaller non-fiction zine projects and a longer cyberpunk comic (120+ pages). I’m on the fence between diving into that cyberpunk comic or working on the zines while honing specific art skills. Time will tell as I keep exploring the ideas.

That cyberpunk comic is going to be called ERSATZ, and I’ve been doing some visual explorations for that project lately.

Logo type exploration

Thank You

As always, thank you for reading and following along. It’s almost been a year since I released my first mini-comic, Terminal. It’s wild how time flies. I’m going to keep doing my best to make interesting comics. I’m looking forward to sharing more about what’s next as I figure it out.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist

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