cottonseeds 3 header spooky forest layout

Layout | Episode 2 | Independent Art Blog Series

Welcome to Independent Art Series, Episode 2, Layout! In case you missed it, here’s Episode 1.

Independent Art Project

Graphic novel series, Cottonseeds, issue 3, pages 2 , 3, and prep art for page 4. I planned several pages ahead because they’re all connected.

Independent Art Tools

Photoshop, the internet, and my experiences.


Different kind of layouts.

Step 1 – Double Page Spread Layout

This kind of layout wasn’t the quickest decision I’ve made. The ide made me hesitate. Doulble page spreads are usually used to create a whole landscape, often for big action sequences, typical n superhero comics. That’s not what I have in mind, though.

I want a double spread character thoughts layout. Unusual? Yes. But! I’m an independent artist. Traditional rules be damned.

Still, there are pros and cons. This acticle

, for example, does a good job of showing how double page spreads in the digital publishing era, are rendered obsolete. And they’re right. Publishing on physical paper means a left to right layout, in other words, horizontal. Digital means scrolling (dragging, depending on your device) top to bottom, a vertical layout. So, farewell traaditional double page spread.

Speaking of traditional, I cna understand all too well why many comic book artist would hate double page spread. Though I’ve never worked for a traditional comic company, I have worked for a lot of different publishing companies in three different provinces. No matter the type of publishing company, the expectations for artists are the same. Do all this extra work for the same pay and in the same amount of time. It can be very stressful.

I can well imagine the horror of being given a double paage spread with the mount of time used for a single page.

With all the many different articles arguing pros and cons for a double page spread sand different layouts, digital vs print, I’ve yet to see anyone reach the same conclusion as I did when I started working on Cottonseeds.

Why not both?

Times have changed and I’m independent. I can do what I want according to my own schedule.

My long-term plan has always been to have the whole Cottonseeds series in print (eventually, fingers crossed). For the meantime, I’m offering each issue a I finished them a digital downloads on my website.

There’s also another factor. From my years of working in publishing a a graphic designer, pagination for left to right is permanently tattooed in my mind. Seriously, work on the pgination for physical books enough times, and you paou’ll never be able to get rid of the info.

For me, it’s matter of keeping an open mind. Also, I think too much, which you probably noticed by now.

In conclusion, I design all pages keeping mind both print and digital, horizontal and vertical, left to right and top to bottom. Because I can.

So, I hesitated, but then I committed to a double page spread layout for pages 2 and 3, because it will work in any orientation. Printed, page 2 will be the left page, page 3 will be the right page. Digital, vertical scrolling. It works either way.

On a sidenote, I’e known since day one that readers who prefer the traditional comic book layout probably wouldn’t care much for Cottonseeds. Honestly, I’m not even trying to target that audience. If you like it, great, if not, well I tried.

Following me so far? Excellent!

Step 2 – Full Page Forest Background Scene

I want a forest background for both page 2 and 3, with panels overlayed for my double spread.

This step was a lot of fun. I love working with trees, they have such personality. The text for page 3 is partly inspired by an old post of mine about trees.

Finished reading the old post? Great. Moving on to the forest design.

I wanted a spooky forest scene but the fact I’m working mostly with black and white stumped me a bit. Black trees on a black background because it’s the middle of the night? Well, that’s not going to work. But then I remember two things.

One, summer camp. The middle of the night will only look pitch-black because you’re close to the ground (from a human perceptive, anyway). At night, trees and plants (etc) are still visible, just a shadowed shape. That’s what makes it spooky.

Two, photographs. I’ve seen (and own a mall collection of ) a lot of tree/forest photographs. The sky at night looks blackest close to the ground, but further up, and it’s more like a deep blue.

I can work with that.

Yes, my mind goes all over the place. Still with me? Okay, phew.

I lassoed the rough shape of trees in Photoshop, right down to the roots underground, with a black to blue sky in the background. A close-up of the roots will be used on page four. Remember that for the next episode.

Step 3 – Page 2 Layout

Easy enough. It’s the same art as page 1, with a few minor differences and different text. 4 panel layout. Opened the working file for page 1, Save As, page 2. the added a layer with my forest scene as the background.

I created 4 empty groups, then 4 white layers, 1 per group. The I played around, resized and adjusted until it looks like the right layout for the page. How did I know when it looked right? I don’t know. I just did.

Step 3 – Panels 1 and 2

The cops are there too fast (page 1). Sam is just frozen. So I made it fast. Panels 1 and 2 show doors slamming on the police car, on each side. with a nice loud SLAM.

Step 4 – Panel 3

Full width. Cops have guns pointed at Sam’s back. Front view of Sam, hands raised as he continues his inner commentary. Most of the art from page 1 is used in this panel.

Step 5 – Panel 4

Full width again. Extreme close-up of Sam, another inner thought, leading to his supernatural partner, Misty, who will appear on page 3.

And page 2 is finished.

By the way, this is how my scripts look. One big long note to myself, a bunch of numbers, and text. Adjust as needed. It makes sense in my head.

Image, page.

Step 6 – Page 3 Layout

Save As, page 3, delete everything accept the forest background. Create 3 groups, three white layers as panels, full width, short to tall by the end of the page.


Step 7 – Misty

Resizing down is better in digital art. So in another 8.5 by 11 document, I created a full sized version of Misty hiding behind a tree. I saved as a PNG, and used the final image a duplicated layers in the page 3 document. My idea i to create three paanels and look like the camera is zooming in on Misty.


Step 8 – Captions for the Trees.

Trees don’t talk in the Cottonseeds universe. They whisper deadly secrets. So I wanted a branch border, leafless and sharp. Of course, for captions need to be readable, the border still has to be in a square or rectangular shape, roughly. I want that for the branch border anyway, so I made it rough.

Image, branch, text goes here. Made with the lasso tool

I added the text from my script per caption.

That’s it. I’m finished pages 2 and 3.

Celebration image.

Thanks for tuning in and join me next week for Episode 3!

Note: Cottonseeds has been removed from the website and will be uploaded again when the whole story is complete.