Beowulf - Process

I had the great pleasure of illustrating a comic book style version of Beowulf for Heinemann Publishing, and was honored to have it included in the Society of Illustrators West, 52.  I thought it would be informative to go over some of the process of making this story come to life - because it was a HUGE challenge!  (Nothing like starting a comic book to bring you to your knees and humbly learn to walk all over again.)  I have to give great credit to art directors Dianne Cassidy and Kathy Reynolds for giving me so much freedom on this amazing project. 

I'll use the spread below to show how things evolved from initial brainstorms to finish.  Here we find Beowulf diving into the lake that is the entrance to Grendel's lair, battling terrible monsters in his path.  Watch out, Beowulf!  Mother's behind you!

It all starts with the manuscript which needs to be broken down into panels on a page.  I was given a completed manuscript and, in this particular case, was given freedom to develop the layout of the panels myself.  I'd scribble and sketch right into the manuscript any characters and layout ideas that popped up.  Here are a few examples from some different pages.

As you can see, these are SUPER rough, really sketchy thumbnails.  At this point I'm brainstorming.  I don't know what the characters look like yet, but I'm jotting down story ideas.  If flow and layout seem to work on a small scale they should be able to translate to a larger size. 

Character designs did need approval eventually so the main characters were all developed roughly around this time.  Here are the main crew: Beowulf, King Hrothgar and his Queen, Grendel, and my favorite, Grendel's mom.   Quick note here that after approving the designs the publishers requested Grendel and his Mother be clothed in some way since this was a book for the educational market. 

Because the story takes place in ancient "Viking" times, this project took an enormous amount of research to get the correct feel for characters, time, and place.  This includes clothes, armor, architecture and all cultural elements.   I actually really LOVE the process of researching and gathering reference for these stories since it ends up being truly educational for me.

The crazy scribbly thing below is a thumbnail spread that has been enlarged and copy placed into it.  Enlarging a thumbnail is a surefire way for you to start weeping in your hands.  Believe it or not, these thumbs do have enough information for me to proceed to the next step.  There's still a lot of tweaking involved at this stage.  The layout on the right still felt confusing so it got developed some more before it got to the final stage. 

After receiving some feedback and any other changes to layout/copy, it's on to final drawings.  Somehow I have to translate all the scribbly gobbledy-gook of my thumbs into drawings that make sense.  The thumbnail above got turned into the drawing below.  I received another round of feedback on these final drawings to make some more adjustments here and there before moving on to final painting.

This is a good time to mention reference photos!  I needed to take lots of reference shots in order to accurately draw forms.  I can guarantee that any illustrator you know has more than a few embarrassing reference photos like these lying around.

While I awaited approval on final sketches I decided to solve color problems.  It's much easier and faster to do this on a small scale so I used my early sketchy thumbnails for this process.  All spreads were laid out and I keyed out the color scheme of the story from start to end.  Similar to color scripting a film or animation, I wanted to use color to emphasize certain moods, major changes in story arcs, or place settings. It was at this point I discovered that having the page be a black background instead of white would enhance the dark mood of the story.  I made this suggestion to the art directors and happily they went with it.

After some more back and forth with the art directors to fine-tune drawings with the layout and placement of text, it's off to final art!  I figured out my color problems already so I used the color script I made as my guide.  In this case, the art directors requested that each panel be painted as a separate image, not all together on one page, so they could make additional changes easily if needed.  Here we have final art, painted digitally, pieced together into their final positions and awaiting copy.

And below are the printed pages.  You'll see there was a small change made to one of the panels to help clarify for the young reader what is happening. There's always a bit of push and pull with these complex projects and small tweaks and changes can come through to the very end.


And that was my process for completing Beowulf from manuscript to the finished page.  I hope this is helpful for some people to see.  Illustrating a comic book is a very involved process with tons of work, but oh so rewarding! 

If you'd like to see the full set of illustrations for Beowulf minus the copy, please click here.  Thanks for reading!


It's been a couple years since I finished this project but I can finally talk about it!  I illustrated this comic book version of the classic story of Beowulf, being published by Heinemann for the educational market this year.  Specifically, it's the last in a series of stories aiming to help young, struggling students learn how to read. This was such a challenging project and so rewarding.  I'm thrilled I could be a part of a project that helps teach and foster a love of reading, and hopefully beyond that, a love of stories.

My art for Beowulf was accepted into the Society of Illustrators West, 52 exhibition.  Many thanks to art director and designer Dianne Cassidy and Kathy Reynolds for the opportunity to collaborate on such a fantastic project, and allowing me lots of freedom.

Below are the spreads for Beowulf, minus the text and bubbles.  Click on an image to enlarge.  Enjoy!


Society of Illustrators West, 52

Beowulf graphic novel I learned over the weekend that one of my art pieces was selected for the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, 52.  Many thanks to all the judges!  An exhibition of all selected works will be taking place at the Center Stage Gallery in Burbank this spring, March 7 - 30, 2014.

This image is from an interior spread of a graphic novel version of Beowulf, and the entire project has been one of my favorite and most challenging to date.  I can't name the publisher just yet - the publication date keeps getting pushed back and it is now slated for 2015.  However, I do have permission to show the work!

Many thanks to ADs Dianne Cassidy and Kathy Reynolds for selecting me for this awesome project and for all the freedom they allowed me from start to finish.  Also a big credit to designers Kathy Meisl and Michelle Groper for putting all the intricate pieces together for the final book!

I'll show more work from Beowulf and share a little bit about the process in future posts.

Pablo as Bob's Big Boy

When I visited Comic Con a few years ago I had snapped this pic of someone dressed up as Bob's Big Boy.  I had blogged about it at time, wondering what the heck Bob's Big Boy was doing at Comic Con.

Flash forward years later, and Pablo gets in touch with me after finding the photo of himself on my blog, dressed up as this character.  Pablo was great enough to tell the story of how he started dressing up as Bob's Big Boy, and why the character really does belong at Comic Con.  Below is his note, along with a link to a mother-lode of Bob's Big Boy comic covers.  Awesome!  Thanks, Pablo!

Bonus note - Here is Pablo's super fun tribute song to Bob's Big Boy on YouTube!

Hi Nadine,

I just happen to stumble upon your page called "Impromptu Gestures" Thoughts and sketches and happen to see a pic of me as Bob's Big Boy and the question caption at the bottom of the pic says "What is Bob's Big Boy doing at comic-con?" Well, let me explain. I had been wanting to go Comic con dressed up as a character but I felt I needed to dress for my body type and one day someone suggested I go as Big Boy.  I felt it was not right since Big Boy was not really known in comic... OH BOY was I wrong... VERY WRONG. Turns out Big boy had his own comic book that was given away for free at the restaurant that started in the 1960's and their two #1 versions, a West coast #1 and an East coast #1. The East Coast #1 was written by Stan Lee. Mr Scott Shaw told me this and why would he lie? Also, here's something I found on Wiki.

"The chain is best known for its trademark chubby boy in red-and-white checkered overalls holding a Big Boy sandwich (double-decker cheeseburger). The inspiration for Big Boy's name, as well as the model for its mascot, was Richard Woodruff (1936–1986), of Glendale, California. When he was six years old, he walked into the diner Bob's Pantry as Bob Wian was attempting to name his new hamburger. Wian said, "Hello, Big Boy" to Woodruff, and the name stuck. Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam sketched Richard's caricature, which became the character seen on the company logo. This character would also eventually be featured in The Adventures of Big Boy comic book, produced as a promotional giveaway for children visiting the restaurant. Since 1997, the comic book has been produced by Craig Yoe's Yoe! Studio."

So, that's is why I show up yearly to Wonder-Con, San Diego Comic-con, Wizard-Con, etc. as Bob's Big Boy. Check out these comic covers.

Comicon and stuff

Aaaah. Back from the massive nerdage of Comicon in San Diego. I'm still recovering, and I have to say that quite honestly, this event is way too geeky for me. I really can't understand hordes of people who painstakingly dress as their favorite characters. But they are always welcome here. I was at the event with my client Dee to shop around a particular project we're working on. I'll talk more about that in another post, but feedback was positive and we'll be following up with several publishers and perhaps even a studio for our comic idea. I also managed to pick up a few books, but again, that will be another post.

For now, here are some photos. I forgot my camera in the chaos of preparing, so these are taken with my iphone. Didn't have as much time for picture taking since we were on a mission...

con01 Don't know who these guys are, but I had to start somewhere.

con02 Lego Leia and Lego Maul

con04 Random Wolfman

sdcc08-04.jpg Giant Ugly Dolls! And you can see part of the new and improved Castle Greyskull in the background. There was a giant statue of a new and improved He-Man as well. He lost the prince Valiant hairdo.



con07 You can take a picture riding the unicorn from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

con08 Blurry Corey Feldman!

con10 Blurry Corey Feldman #2!

sdcc08-10.jpg Spikey fans.

con11 Tried to get one of the few Jack Sparrows lolling about.

con12 What the heck is Bob's Big Boy doing at Comicon?

con13 Not just 1, but 4! Count'em 4 Sexy Jesus'! By far these guys were my favorite. I love you Jesus!

con14 Ah, the Tonight Show babes interviewing a hapless geek on air.




con18 You know what they say about the size of a man's sword.

con17 Huh??????

Books from Wondercon

books.jpg A small listing of the books I picked up from this year's Con: • Zombies vs Robots vs Amazons 1 and 2 by Chris Ryall and Ashley Wood. I love Ashley's meaty oils and gestural/dynamic panels in scratchy ink. Great texture. Plus it's about zombies and robots and amazons all fighting eachother! C'mon!

• Chris Sanders' Sketchbook 2 - full of his fantastic little critters and busty babes. Really, this guy is just an incredible draftsman!

• Claire Wendling's phenomenal work in drawers 2.0. Claire blows me away. She can draw her figures and animals like Frank Frazetta and also do concept work for animation and comics. I don't think her super simplified characters are as strong or interesting as her other work, but it's nice to have the entire gamut of her style in one book. I love, love, love her animals and figures. The gestures!

• Afterworks 1 and 2 - I was late on this bandwagon, but I got 'em now! Lovely work from the folks over at Pixar.

• Istanbul by Dupuy and Berberian. I couldn't pass this one up. A real lovely book of sketches of this incredible city. It's full of beautiful quick and whimsical studies of the architecture and people. Again, this is where my family is from, and the illustrator is Armenian. Yay!

Wondercon 2008

Yesterday I attended the geek-fest that is Wondercon in San Francisco. I'm definitely on the "artist-geek" end of things, but the "fan geeks" definitely make the event highly entertaining. I picked up some really great books which I'll talk about later. But first here are some pics from the day. These photos were taken with my phone, so apologies for the low quality. Some people really spend time making elaborate costumes. I don't even know who these characters are supposed to be. wingd duo

Ah, yes. Cobra Command! cobracommand.jpg

Again, I have no clue what character she's supposed to be. But it's cool!masked lady

Silent Hill was a pretty awful movie, but I loved the production design, and these evil characters. They were pretty memorable, and I was pleasantly surprised to see these two go through all the trouble of recreating them here. silent hill

Lou Ferrigno! The Original Hulk!!! I'm usually not so easily star-struck, but this guy made such a big impression on me when I was 5 years old and watching the Incredible Hulk on tv with my dad. He scared the living crap out of me back then, and I think also helped nurture my fascination with horror and all things scary. lou

Ann Telnaes

112207bushrelasaudi.jpg I'm an avid newspaper reader. Waking up early and perusing the articles and photographs every morning with a cup of coffee and a bowl of chunky oatmeal is bliss to me. I always go through the op/ed pages which include the editorial cartoons. And over time, I've discovered that the cartoons that stick out to me the most are those by Ann Telnaes.

What I love about her work is the perfect combination of her style that makes such great use of simple shapes and caricature, matched with her searing portrayal of issues that face our country. I think she's pretty incredible. Her line quality and draftsmanship are inventive and superb, simple and precise. And her clever scenarios are full of bite, wit, and fiery satire. Indelibly, her cartoons leave a lasting impression on my mind.

Looking at her site, I discovered that I'm not alone. Ann has won the Pulitzer Prize for her work in editorial cartoons. Before cartooning, she worked at Disney as a designer, and is a graduate of Cal Arts.


11-1024-persepolis.jpg I got to see a screening of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis last night at the newly remodeled Sundance Kabuki Theater. It was quite the event, with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and popcorn, a man playing some lovely music on a giant standing bass, and media and press people flitting about. But the star was Marjane who was there herself, along with her co-director of the animated film.

Based on her autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis follows Marjane's story of growing up in Iran during the revolution, and her life outside of her homeland, when she flees. The animation closely follows the stark black and white graphic style of her comics, but has also been flourished with shades of gray and minute instances of color. There are so many striking moments, visually, graphically. Some scenes are told with only images, and ultimately end up being more powerful than if they had included dialogue.

Marjane discussed her story and her views in a brief interview on stage before the screening, and her striking firebrand of a personality really burst through. However, her sly humor also was very apparent. And despite the horrors that she faced during the revolution in Iran, and some of the horror that is depicted in in her story, Persepolis is just as much about the humor and absurdity of life and of coming of age in this modern world. I loved it, and will see it again when it is released in theaters.