Dave: How do we put an episode of Mirabilis together? It starts with some really scrappy ideas, often just scenes that we’ve dreamed up out of context and that hang in the ether waiting to find their place to slot into the story.

Leo: We’re going to be looking at part of the witch bottle sequence from episode four, “The World Turned Upside Down”. But before we do, I just wanted to say that the witch bit was originally supposed to be all in one episode. You had some idea that we could get Jack to the Royal Mythological Society, send him off on a quick mission, wrap that up and get him back to meet Estelle - all in 5 pages.

Dave: I make that same mistake with every episode. I always think I’m going to be able to squeeze the story into fewer pages than it needs. The Transylvania sequence, for instance - that’s actually 41 pages, just over nine episodes. Yet when I wrote the original story arc outline, it was scheduled as two episodes - and they were supposed to be episodes 8 and 9, not episodes 14 to 22 as it actually turned out!

Leo: That’s why I worry when you say Mirabilis is going to be a 280-page epic. I think you mean a 980-page epic!

Dave: My only defence is that if this were a movie, the Transylvania bit would have been the entire second act - which on screen would be about 60 minutes. So I’m getting it down to one page of comic is less than one minute of screen time! Anyway… we’re looking at episode four.

Leo: This is the scene where Jack has escaped from the witch bottle. The witch doesn’t know that yet. She’s conjured up a storm that is about to sink a boat out at sea. Jack taps her on the shoulder, jams a live lobster on her nose, she drops her wand, Jack grabs it, and just in the nick of time he reverses the spell to put her back in the bottle.

Dave: It sounds so simple. But you know I have the kind of mind that loves a problem, even - I should say especially - a problem of my own making. So I decided I needed to have Jack looking off at the lobster pots at the end of the preceding page, and that the end of this page would be after he’s used the wand and there’s a big flash of light, but we wouldn’t get the reveal of the witch in smoke form being sucked back into the bottle till the next page.

Leo: So the beats you had to hit were: open on the witch in close-up to recap what’s going on, show the boat in trouble out at sea, then Jack gets her attention, she threatens him, he surprises her (and us) with the lobster, grabs the wand… a moment of peril as she’s looming over him, he uses the wand and - whoomph, flash of light in the last panel.
Creative Process

Dave and Leo describe the creative processes involved in writing drawing and colouring a page of Mirabilis.
It's all magic!
Copyright ©2008 Dave Morris Leo Hartas Martin McKenna. All rights reserved. No material from this website to be used without express permission of the rights holders.

Dave: Yep. First of all I plan that out really sketchily. For some reason, that stage is best done on the back of an envelope. That frees me up to fiddle around moving panels, adding or deleting scenes, till I get something that seems right.

I’ll lay out the whole episode in that very rough form, then I’ll go to the script stage, which is laid out using the same panel breakdown.
Leo: Which is a lot easier to work from than if you wrote it like a movie script, by the way.

Dave: By now I’m as confident as I’ll ever be that the layout isn’t going to change, so I draw up a more detailed version of each page for you to use as a guideline.
Leo: Which is a lot easier to work from than if you wrote it like a movie script, by the way.

Dave: By now I’m as confident as I’ll ever be that the layout isn’t going to change, so I draw up a more detailed version of each page for you to use as a guideline.

Leo: Okay, so now I take over. The first stage is a pencil rough which I used to do the old-fashioned way - that is, actually using real pencils and paper. Now I work on a 12" Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet.

I put the word balloons on at this stage so we can see if there’s any place where the text needs more room - or could be edited down. Incidentally a lot of people use Adobe Illustrator for the word balloons, but we use Serif PagePlus -

Dave: Because it’s cheaper!

Leo: And also I think it’s more versatile. Anyway, we’re used to it! The fonts are from Blambot and the ones we use most of all are Digital Strip for dialogue and Anime Ace for the Kind Gentleman, because he’s a bit more spooky and stylish than everybody else.

Dave: Yes, it represents his silken, resonant, velvet-rich voice, doesn’t it? Like Peter O’Toole. I was going to add that this is another place where dialogue gets tweaked, because often something I scripted doesn’t need to be said. Like if a character is looking at something on the ground - I’m thinking of the coin in episode one, and at first I had Jack saying, “What’s that?” or something on the nose like that, but in the dummy issue pencils you could see the object on the ground, so I changed it to, “Hmm, did you drop something?”
Leo: That’s Selsey beach, by the way - they’ve got a lot of pebbles there. You can skim them for hundreds of yards… Anyway, in the next stage I used to scan the pencils to inks in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet. These days with the Cintiq the roughs are already in Photoshop so I can start inking on a new layerright away, missing out tiresome scanning.

The artwork page is A3 at 300 dpi. Although it will be printed at A4 it is usual to work at a larger size, so that when it is reduced it will appear more detailed, and the quavering hand of the artist is less obvious.

I ink with the pen tool in a pure CMYK black, with all the sliders at 100%.  To find out more about RGB and CMYK read here.
Leo: Here's a layer set from the page I've been working on today.

At the top are the frame outlines followed by the ink layer itself. Sometimes there is text in the artwork.
The the rough layer and beneath that a folder containing bits of helpful reference that I've found on the internet, or scanned in, or digital photos I've taken myself. Finally there is a white layer, just a sheet of white so I can see the rough and ink layers which are transparent.

Before I send it to Mike for flatting I discard the rough and ref layers and add a top layer called "Colour Notes", where I write over the artwork any colour information Nikos may need. For example, "Night, misty", or "firelight from left".
Then the inked art files are sent over to our colourist, Nikos Koutsis, in Athens. Mike Toris, assistant to Nikos prepares  the flat colours first.

Flatting involves isolating flat areas of colour. These colours butt up against eachother "under" the black ink line. This allows the black ink plate to print over colours ensuring that the final printed image doesn't have unsightly white lines where colour plates may be slightly misaligned.

Isolating the colour areas is a big help to Nikos who doesn't need to waste time "cutting out" areas of colour to apply shade.

To the left are the flat colours with the ink layer on, and below with the ink layer off. Note how the colours extend even under large areas of black.
Nikos then applies different colouring techniques that combine textures, gradients and highlights. Of special note is the colouring and suppression of the black ink line. This has a powerful effect allowing lamps to glow brighter and making scenes appear more 3-dimensional by supressing the line on more distant objects.

Nikos then flattens all the layers including the black frames and returns them to me. I then combine the artwork into the original Page Plus file with the balloons and text. Then I generate a single CMYK Tiff of the combined artwork and balloons and send it off for positioning in the DFC and printing.
Top Tips

Here are few tips we've garnered from trial and error.

Yahoo Group Collaboration. The team and the publishers keep an eye on progress through each stage via a closed Yahoo Group. Useful because we are all in fairly distant geographical locations. It's critical that we keep the latest version of any file on the Yahoo Group because we've run into trouble if any one of us finds ourselves working on an earlier version of a file. Now we always make sure our final versions are uploaded to the group.

Presentation Dummy Books. Our intention with Mirabilis is that it will be published as a series of graphic novels. To gather interest amongst publishers and others we printed up a number of copies of a dummy novel ourselves using the brilliant LULU. Although moderately expensive, around twice as much as a regular novel, the print quality is fantastic and a lot cheaper and easier than printing it yourself on a desktop printer.
Bubble Collection. One of Page Plus's features is the "Gallery" where you can store previously made items. As I first made bubbles I kept a copy of them in the Gallery. Now when placing bubbles I have all of the common shapes close at hand.

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