Part of the reason why “Retail Sunshine” works so well for me as an artist is that I prefer to focus on characters. I enjoy facial expressions more than I do inanimate objects (unless those objects are coming alive!) and so when you read through “Retail Sunshine” comics, take note that throughout the first 101 episodes, there was an internal struggle in the series to find a happy balance between appropriate levels of emptiness vs. scenery. Many comic strips tend to leave the background out completely or merely suggest it with a line and this is useful when you’re in the newspaper with a new comic DAILY!
This was something I struggled with in “Livestock” as well, but I really did try and find ways to add “background elements” to the language of the comic. What I mean by that is, to create a dialogue unique to that comic that I could draw from when I needed to flesh out a scene more. For “Livestock” a major one of these elements were little sprigs of grass. In “Retail Sunshine” it was a random customer pushing a shopping cart, or maybe a big “SALE” sign hanging from the ceiling. Having these mentally on hand was useful in speeding up the design of a panel…otherwise, I would have to think of completely re-inventing the wheel, so to speak, with every panel!
Fast forward to the present with “Not Quite Extinct” and I am already several panels into the story but things are still moving rather slow. They may continue to do so based on the amount of detail I am imbuing into each panel, but meanwhile, I am trying to find a comfort zone around the “background elements” for this story. So far they are mainly plant and rock based but I do have plans for insects, lizards and maybe even other dinosaurs. Coming up with a visual language over time with a series is one thing, but when you want to hit the ground running, as I do with “NQE”, it has forced me to answer questions regarding the area my characters inhabit much sooner than I’m used to.
Research is playing a big role as I am studying cycads and other plant-life that would have been indigenous to the late Jurassic/early Cretaceous periods. In drawing these natural features, I am working on designing each plant in a style that fits the look of the book, that I can replicate with little difficulty and yet still stays true to the source material.