The Origins of Grace & Witherbloom! Part Two

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Now, at last, it can be… oh wait, I already did that bit.

This is the spoiler free continuation of the origin of Grace & Witherbloom! Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention that in a few hours Book V: The Obsidian Emperor will be available for FREE for a very limited time on Amazon. Why am I making it free? Well, I really like this book. I mean, I REALLY like it. I’ve enjoyed all the books, frankly, but there’s just something about the last three books where everything just feels like it’s firing on all cylinders. So I’m hoping to lure some more people into the fold (and hopefully they’ll like it enough to go back and get the first four books as well as the last two.) Also, if those of you who have been following all along get a free book out of it, so much the better.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

October, 2007

I now had a very general concept for my new web comic. But now I needed some characters to populate it. The word “Grace” was the first one to fall into place into the title. I liked Grace & ______ as I thought it could have a nice ring to it, depending on what name was paired with it. The name Helen Grace just sort of dropped out of the sky, and into my head. I really have no better way of putting it. Nearly an instant after deciding Grace would be the last name for the female protagonist, the name Helen appeared before it and I loved it instantly. The main reason for this is that I loved the world play in the name. Helen Grace. Hell and Grace. Get it? And as soon as she had the name I knew what sort of character she’d be. She’d be the sort of protagonist that simply wasn’t the center of many stories (that I had experienced at least) any more. She’s sarcastic, arrogant, and occasionally downright rude. She doesn’t have much time for anything or anyone other than what she’s focused on at the moment. She’s the sort of character that often plays second fiddle to the more classically nice and heroic main character in many stories. Those characters can often be very popular, but (especially around the time I first wrote this) are not often given the spotlight. I liked the idea of a central character who could be, at times,quite unlikable. But Helen is also incredibly humane and caring to those closest to her, of course, and she also happens to be right a lot of the time.

To balance her out though, I did think I needed a nicer sort to be her partner. He would be the one who helped smooth things over when Helen was a bit too rude. He’d be the voice of compassion in the face of Helen’s somewhat more pragmatic view. This character took shape in my mind very quickly. But, while this character is very likable and affable, he was also an equal sparring partner when it came to a battle of words with Helen. Although he would be Helen’s assistant, he’d feel more than free to question her if he needed to. I just needed a name for the character. I liked the dichotomy inherent in Helen’s name. So I searched for something similar to use for the last name of this character. The name Witherbloom was something I created by squishing together two opposite states. I loved the sound of it as soon as I came up with it. Also, it has a great deal of significance in the context of the greater story, which will one day become clear. Josiah was chosen simply because it sounded good with Witherbloom, and it was a nice, sturdy name to contrast the more fanciful surname.

In the last blog entry I mentioned that the web comic version of Grace & Witherbloom was significantly different than the book version. But so far all of this, more or less, sounds like the book, right? In reality, there were three very large differences with this version of G&W:

1. The story took place in present day
That’s right, these were not “Adventures in Victorian Sci-Fi.” They were just… well, adventures in sci-fi, I suppose. I had flirted with setting it in Victorian times at this point, but decided I wanted something more contemporary. The dress Helen wears in the story is oddly old-fashioned and this was a vestige of my original idea, but that’s it. One of the minor characters is even sporting a Nike tracksuit and an iPod Shuffle. So modern!

2. Helen was not a little girl
She was a full-grown woman. This is a fairly significant difference, of course.

3. Helen had a niece named Kathy
Kathy served a function that Wilhelmina would later take up, which is that of the “audience identification” figure that allows us to be introduced to the world of Grace & Witherbloom. She was a young girl who wore a pink hoodie and was dropped off at the front door of Grace & Witherbloom’s house by a taxi at the start of the story. She was not Helen’s biological niece, however.

The basic “concept” behind the premiere story eventually became the one I used for “The Village That Sleeps,” though the actual execution of the concept was completely different. After sketching out the basic panel layouts, I began working on the comic in earnest. At that time, I was still drawing things by hand and then scanning them in to color them. The thing that I discovered while doing this ten page comic was that comics were hard work. I had done some comics now and again, of course, but this was the first sustained narrative of any sort I’d done in quite a while. I also packed an ton of detail into the panels, so penciling, inking and then coloring the story took a ton of my time.

By the end of it, I sort of wondered why I had wanted to be a comic book artist. The truth of it was that I probably didn’t have the patience to be a comic artist. I loved telling stories and I liked comics as a storytelling medium but the amount of work that went into it might just not be for me. Especially when I wasn’t a 100% happy with the results. Despite this fear, I still wanted to enter the comic. I was proud of it, even though I worried my art skills weren’t really up to the task. So, I sent the comic off to Zuda and awaited their decision. At this point, I should say that I do plan to share the comic with everyone at some point. It may seem silly, but I’m a bit hesitant to show it until the books are all out. The reason for this is that I don’t want people to see the comic and then build a mental image of the characters based on them. I’d rather you did that on your own based on the descriptions in the book. Although their physical characteristics in the comic are similar to what I had in my head when I wrote the book, they are not the same. But some time after the final book is published I promise to put the pages up for all to read.

February, 2008

I don’t remember how long after I submitted the comic it was before the reply came, but on February 26, 2008 I got this rejection:

“We here at Zuda are fortunate enough to have dozens of excellent submissions, from a wide variety of artists, to review each week. Our editorial team carefully reads each and every submission. After much consideration, we have determined that other comics are a better fit for our editorial needs at this time.

Your characters and their motivations need development.
Work on your technical proficiency and craftsmanship.
Work on creating a better sense of depth and dimension in your artwork.”

Now, I could get behind the latter two. I knew my artwork needed work. I knew the lettering needed work. The coloring was a bit amateurish. The first one kind of confused me, though. In ten pages I thought I had established the characters as well as I could considering they were meant to be sort of mysterious. Now, many years later, as I look back on it, I can totally understand what they are saying. The truth was, I don’t think I introduced the concept in the best way possible with the comic. So, that was that. And I’ll be honest, I was nervous about whether making a weekly web comic would really be right for me after my experience with the first ten pages. So I felt like it might have been for the best.

The thing is, Grace & Witherbloom were never far from my mind. I had really come to like the main characters and some of the concepts I had come up with. So for the next eight months or so they would pop back in to say hello and remind me they existed. And usually I’d shoo them away. But I would think about them. And I would think about the fact that if a comic hadn’t felt quite right for them, and I didn’t want to commit to drawing a comic series… maybe their adventures could take some other form?

It wasn’t until October of 2008 that I finally took action on the thoughts that had been swirling through my head…

To Be Continued.

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