How A Textbook Diagram Became A Sci-Fi Graphic Novel (Where An Artist Gets Her Ideas, Part 1)

Ron Blakey/Wikimedia Commons

It’s a common question for artists, and one of the most dreaded:

“Wow, your work is awesome! Where do you get your ideas?”

If you’re an artist and someone’s asked you that question, chances are very, very good you’ve said one of three things:

“Uhhh…[make up something]”
“I get them from my dreams. *haunted look*”

(Okay, maybe you haven’t said that last one. But it sure was tempting, wasn’t it?)

Now, if you’re not an artist and you’ve ever asked that question… I apologize, but… chances are good you didn’t get the “real” answer. In fact, it’s possible the artist didn’t know the real answer. I know I didn’t until… well, until I wrote this blog. As an artist, I just never thought about it. Ideas just kind of happen, you know? They’ve always “just happened.” Such is the life of a creative person.

That’s not fair to you, though. I really believe that if you’re following this blog, whether you’re an artist or non-artist, you’re saying, “I like your stuff. I think I might like you a little bit, maybe? I don’t know. I’d like to get to know you better.” And I think that’s cool. You’re interested in what makes this artist tick, and I appreciate that.

So tell you what. Before I do anything else on this blog, I’d like to throw back the curtain (or try to, at least) and show you where the art comes from.

I’ll start with a story.

If you read my introductory post, you probably saw me mention a little project called “The Oracle Fragment.” You may have checked out its home on my website. If you did, you probably figured out the genre pretty quickly. If you didn’t…well, let’s just say it ain’t no spaghetti western.

Would you believe it was inspired by a high school homework assignment? And it was a completely different genre for nearly six years?

It started one day when I was, oh, sixteen or so. Like a good student, I was reading my homework assignment for…which class was it? History? Earth science? I can’t remember. All I remember is it had to do with the geological history of our planet, because I was reading about the tectonic plates, how they move and grow and crash into each other. It was a fascinating subject, and I was paying close attention.

Just then – BAM! In the middle of the page was a diagram of Pangaea, the theorized ancient supercontinent. I froze. My heart skipped a beat. I stared at it, all but helpless as something…happened to me.

I wish I could remember everything I’d been thinking about that day. Obviously, pieces of an idea had already been floating around in my brain, waiting for a larger force to come along and smash them together. The diagram of Pangaea was that force, tailor-made for those specific pieces, for that specific moment. (I say “tailor-made” because I’ve looked at diagrams of Pangaea since, and I’ve felt nothing. Are they interesting diagrams? Yes! But the circumstances that gave them their power are long gone.)

After I saw the diagram, my imagination took off like a rabbit on caffeine. I got out a pencil and paper and started scribbling down ideas, pages and pages of them. By the end of the day, I had it: I could create a world like Pangaea, populated by wise, powerful humans…and it could be ancient Greek fantasy!

If you’re scrunching up your face and saying, “I didn’t see anything like THAT on your website,” believe me, I know. Your confusion is 100% warranted.

See, I came up with a lot of ideas for that world. Cultures, characters, a story, all assembled from pieces of things I thought were cool. Over the next six years, the world changed constantly. The one idea that survived the changes, no matter what they were, was a setting I especially loved: the cavern city.

I freakin' love caverns. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The cavern city is not an original setting. Not at all. If you asked me, “Where did that idea come from?” I could literally say, “Everywhere.” I was steeped in sci-fi/fantasy, and underground cities are rampant in those genres. Zion from the Matrix, Moria in the Lord of the Rings, the Underdark in the Forgotten Realms books, the Dwemer cities in the Elder Scrolls… I could go on and on. (But TVTropes has a whole list, so I won’t bother.)

Still, something about the idea of a cavern city speaks to me. The fact that it’s not only stuck around this long, but taken over the entire story, is proof of that. My brain loves playing in underground spaces and imagining the mysteries they hold.

Sure, I’m writing a sci-fi story now, not an ancient-Greek-Pangaea-fantasy. The characters have changed completely, the context is worlds away from the original, and a Pangaean continent doesn’t feature in the story at all. But that original fantasy world is where my cavern city was born, and it’s all thanks to a diagram in a textbook.

Of course, this story is just an example of the ideating process. It shows you where I got one, maybe two ideas. As an artist and storyteller, I’m coming up with ideas all the time. So where do I get those?

Tune in next time for the answer. \\//

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