The Steps to Creating a Graphic Novel: Andi Watson on PUNYCORN

punycorn by andi watson, a funny middle grade fantasy graphic novel

The day has come! PUNYCORN has arrived.

Who is PUNYCORN, you ask?

He’s just the sweetest, bravest little can-do unicorn in the land of Carbuncle! Who takes on evil Sir Ogre with the help of Wheeze the allergic dragon! And P’oo the dung beetle with the strength of a thousand men! Not to mention the pacifist sword Bloodgutter!

PUNYCORN is, in other words, a very funny middle grade fantasy graphic novel by legendary indie comics creator Andi Watson.

I could go on and on about how much I love this book, but instead I’m going to share some creative process info from Andi below.

Andi is a true comics pro, having written or illustrated or written and illustrated more than fifty comics and graphic novels. (If you want to see the full list, check out the jaw-dropping bibiliography on his website.)

A few months ago, he wrote a detailed description of how he created PUNYCORN in his newsletter. He kindly gave me permission to share his words here.

Andi Watson on His PUNYCORN Graphic Novel Creative Process

ANDI: Starting from a detailed synopsis, a Word file of roughly 13,000 words, I needed to break the story down into thumbnails. That way I could work out what I could keep and what I could cut in order to fit within the maximum page count (224 pages). Depending on publisher, genre and various other factors, not least of which cost, a book has a page count range you are expected to fit within.

My normal thumbnails are extremely primitive, barely legible visual shorthand to get the rough idea of the rhythm and number of panels on a page. That is fine when I’m the only one who needs to read them. When I have to communicate directly with others, an editor in this case, they have to be at least legible.

I grabbed my scrap paper and pencils and got to work. I scanned the results, and because other humans have to be able to read them, added text via a font rather than my (awful) handwriting. After sketching out the first 50 pages I shared them with my editor. They looked like this:

graphic novel layout example: punycorn page sketches by andi watson (middle grade fantasy graphic novel)

The early feedback I got suggested that the editor and I had different ideas of what counts as “thumbnails.” I felt like they were expecting something closer to what I would consider pencils. I would need to tweak my process again and present them in a more polished form.

However, I’d still draw thumbnails on paper to work out my thinking — example below from the second book in the series:

graphic novel creator sketchbook: andi watson's thumbnails for graphic novel series PUNYCORN

I’d invested in an iPad and Procreate and discovered it was the quickest way to get the thumbnails/pencils done while integrating them with text. I re-drew many of my scratchy pencils on the iPad. It’s a lot easier to manipulate images digitally and saves the chore of scanning artwork.

This is how they look after I’d changed up my methods:

procreate graphic novel pencils by andi watson for his middle grade funny fantasy graphic novel punycorn

After I’d had my notes from my editor I re-drew certain panels and changed pages to address them. I re-worked some scenes, cut others and added some new ones. That resulted in the pages falling differently in sequence, moving from the left hand to right hand of facing pages.

After the edits are approved I can move onto inking. With my previous book The Book Tour, I didn’t pencil it all before I inked it. I did both together, page by page, using pencil and pen on paper.

For Punycorn, as I’d already pencilled the entire book and I was staring down an approaching deadline, I decided to ink Punycorn digitally. It would be quicker, skipping the boring process of scanning artwork, and would make it easier to edit. I simply inked over my existing thumbnails/pencils.

Inking requires less brain work. It is more about muscle memory and perseverance. After the initial rush of doing something new after months of thumbnails/pencils, it settles into the challenge of meeting the daily page count without my brain melting out of my ears.

The solution for me is to listen to podcasts and audio books while I put in the hours.

This is what the inked pages look like:

inked graphic novel page example by andi watson from his middle grade funny fantasy graphic novel series PUNYCORN

For The Book Tour, I lettered the pages by hand on the page. Because Punycorn had to pass through the hands of editorial, copyedits and proofreaders, the assistant editor/designer (everyone is overworked in publishing) created a font from my lettering specially for Punycorn to make it easier to edit.

After the notes are addressed and the inks are approved, I can start on colours. As the art is already digital I hop on over to Photoshop to colour the line work.

Colour requires much more decision-making than inking, but it still boils down to a lot of repetitive pointing and clicking, so I keep the podcasts coming:

sample final colored graphic novel spread without lettering, from PUNYCORN, a funny fantasy middle grade graphic novel by Andi Watson

The lettering is combined with the colours in the final part of the process.

After addressing notes for the colours, the book continues its journey through the publishing process. Roughly one year after I finished, it appeared on the shelves (hopefully) of your local book shop.

Learn more and order PUNYCORN here.

Watch the AWESOME (one minute!) book trailer here.

Find out more about Andi on his website. Connect with him via his newsletter here, and via Patreon here.