Hey all. This post will be a new series of articles discussing previous pages throughout The Mannamong comic regarding my planning and thought process in creating them. Sort of like a director's commentary. I thought it would be fun to explain how and why I came up with the scenes in the final draft. But also to relay my intentions and hopefully see if my approach resonates with my readers. Starting with, of course, chapter one!
If you don't mind excessive commentary frame by frame of every page, spelling out all the intended nuances, and want to understand the artist's perspective, then this is the behind-the-scenes for you!
Page 1— To set the mood of the story's theme, I wanted to focus on something that would reflect its message; the manna and desire. The manna is the focus of the page and how desire can influence life for better or worse. Highlighting how once you've had a taste of what you've wanted, the pleasure and satisfaction becomes addictive. Yet having desire breathes life as motivation, so it's neither completely good nor bad. It just requires balance. Ending the page stating that guidance is needed to steer souls away from danger through blindsided, unmanaged desire.
The guardians are clear indicators of the mannamong as we progress the story. But this page carries an important message in explaining how our wants can be healthy with proper wisdom and support. It can be said that people describe "Mother Nature" as benevolent or cruel depending on the context of how the world shaped them. I feel this is because while the world has amazing things to behold, it also has many dangerous elements due to its unforgiving nature. And our desires can quickly transform into something unhealthy if we're not careful. But in the end, having desires makes life meaningful and enjoyable. It all depends on where our focus is and who inspires us. An important distinction to keep in mind when we read how these so-called "guardians" behave themselves…
Page 2— Right off the bat, I wanted to grab the reader's attention with a bang! Beginnings are surprisingly the most difficult to write in fiction because they should make a statement about the story's direction. First impressions matter a lot.
Starting the comic with a thunderstorm at night is meant to set the tone of unpredictability and dread for what's up ahead. The lightning bolt striking against the mountainside and forcing the Jeep to a halt tells the reader that nature itself is trying to stop our two starting leads from progressing.
So, the storm is supposed to be a sudden, loud moment to contrast from the first page's narration. Very brief and to the point while it packs a punch. But it also entices a crucial question right away. Who are these two characters, and why are they in the middle of this terrifying weather at night? The shock in their expressions should convey that they're at the peak of urgency for whatever reason and are forced to pause for the reader to digest what is happening all in one page.
Page 3— The pile of rocks that resulted from the lightning strike is a literal blockage from moving onwards for our two characters. But it also shows how close they were to being harmed, emphasizing the dangers of their surroundings. Stuck, the adult Vianne, vents her frustration as the girl, Kali, struggles to catch her breath. A single frame to show how exasperated they are. Nothing to disclose yet, but the page conveys that they're in a rush and getting through this storm is a must, especially with Kali expressing her impatience and weakly trying to leave the Jeep against her mother's orders. Her flushed face and slumped demeanor are the keys to putting the pieces together. Whatever the reason is for enduring this storm is because of her.
Page 4— With Kali falling straight into the muddy water and her mother chasing after her, it's clear she's not in the best physical condition. The following frames show she cannot even get up without her mother's support. Tire tracks lead to a cave as the storm rages on to show they've retreated to shelter, realizing there's nothing more they can do to press onward. Ending the page with a suspenseful, hopeless feeling to the reader. If not curious as to how they'll get out of this. At least, that was my intent.
When I was writing how to start the story, I needed a way to subtly convey small details about my protagonist in an organic way that's... well, telling a story. Too often, I found myself not finding every beginning scenario I came up with exciting. There were ideas of starting the story in an abnormal dream Kali would have that foreshadowed events to come, which I wasn't even sure of yet. Or following Tonto's escape from mannamong captivity as he retreats to Kali's home. But they were usually stretched out and didn't tell me anything about who they were or why I should care — bloated, yet with little substance.
Eventually, I came around to thinking how chaotic a thunderstorm can be as a native Floridian. And how scary they could be for a child when it's awful at night since you can't tell how severe it is. I thought, "I would hate to be out there." And a family trip to Colorado not too long before making these pages showed me how dangerous driving around the mountainside could potentially be if you're not carefully watching out for rockslides and some of the guard-less roads. So I combined the two to set the tone I was looking for to grab the reader's attention right away.
While not going too much in-depth to the first pages' purpose of elaborating on the theme "desire," I thought it correctly conveyed that in a not so obvious, yet not subtle way with these first few pages. What matters is these two characters want to be out of danger but must face this storm to get what they want. And what we do know about them as people thus far is how Kali seems determined to push on even when she's unwell, almost ready to trek through the storm by herself, and Vianne's short temper dealing with stress overridden by her concern for her daughter.
Looking back on this, it was the best choice to focus strictly on Kali with her mother. There is a lot of subtle info to take in that helps define our protagonist and the story going forward in less than ten pages. And these are just the first four! Something I’m quite proud of. It certainly saved me from unnecessary extra work with the previous drafts of my old long-winded prologues.
We'll continue to elaborate more on the characterization between Kali and Vianne in the following few pages, but I wanted to end the post with this:
Before I decided to tackle The Mannamong, I've spent my free time over the years observing all the fictional works I've read or watch while refining my ideas into many drafts. And I eventually realized that the introduction is sometimes a do-or-die moment. It's probably what held me back from starting the comic until after I graduated from college because I somehow knew I needed it to begin strong. But as the saying goes, it's always the first step that starts the journey, even if you're unsure where it's leading you. When I decided to just go for it, I finally felt confident I was beginning the story strong.
And I hoped by explaining all this, I successfully articulated the kind of suspenseful introduction I was setting this series up for with my drawings.