Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Eleanor Oddbody Arcane & Modern: MTV Creator Pitch Live '13

This year at SDCC, one of the panels I participated in was the MTV Creator Pitch Live. It's a panel where 3 creators are given a topic just before SDCC and then asked to pitch their idea in front of an audience for a vote-by-applause and bragging rights going to the winner. I was on this panel last year (and you can watch the video of last year's pitch as well as read my blogpost about it here) and won, so I was asked to come back this year to defend my title against Tony Lee & Sanford Greene. This year's challenge was "to develop a concept that COULD ONLY be done in PRINT and distributed through brick and mortar shops, preferably your LCS. The idea here is to think about the value of both your LCS and the unique properties that print offers vs digital, and develop both a story and product that leverages both." My pitch: Eleanor Oddbody: Arcane & Modern

I want to stop right here and say that the images and story I created for this pitch were for the pitch alone and not a project I plan to work on. Though I've talked about taking a mouse-break before getting to The Weasel War of 1149, this is not a project I would or could tackle alone or in that time.

Half of the challenge I already had an opinion on. I've been focused on printed books being art objects since Mouse Guard started coming out in hardcover format. I believe that as the digital shift happens, printed material will need to be more than just a physical content folder, but concerned with design, paper quality, production, format, and presentation. I used two books in the start of my pitch as examples of how I wanted my idea to be expressed. Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian & the Gryphon & Sabine books by Nick Bantock. Jeremy's book has beautiful production value with it's cover design and deckled edges, but it's standout feature is a fold out wanted poster that you are instructed by a character in the book to unfold.
In Nick's series, the story is told through a progression of correspondence that you, the reader, get to remove from envelopes, and read. Both have an interactive, tactile, and immersive/voyeuristic quality that can not be replicated digitally. But from there, I need to explain my idea in terms of story...

Eleanor is a young girl living in the middle ages. She isn't a princess or come from a traditional trades family...her kin are all seers, bone rollers, soothsayers, potion brewers, medieval barbers, and Oracles. These are odd folks even for the times, but Eleanor is proud to be with them and to learn the family business.
Art Notes: I never do well with drawing any face meant to be pretty. So I drew & painted these Eleanor character pieces based on photos of my niece Kate.

Unfortunately, the Black Plague has started to spread and as Eleanor's family's business is to deal with the unknown and fix the unfix-able, they too are exposed to and infected by the plague. In 1351, her grandfather Gwain the Gaute, magically sends Eleanor (the only one of them not yet showing the black boils) away to find a cure...
Art Notes: This was the first piece I did for the pitch. I had fun with the lighting effects and Gwain's hands. This drawing also established Eleanor's costume for the other images, something I wished I'd designed a bit differently as I went, as it's a bit boring.

Eleanor emerges from her grandfather's conjured smoke and mist to emerge in 1851 London in front of "Oddbody's Federation of Alchemy, Incantation, & Prophetic Arts Arcane and Modern.". It is a place most Londoners ignore and see as a shop for the deranged or as a talent office for novelty seances, card tricksters, and parlor magicians.
Art Notes: I based this building on a real french castle (the reason for which I'll explain later) but altered it to make it less royal and more cozy.

Oddbody's is run by characters who, in the story, would be referred to as Eleanor's uncles, but who are in-fact her great great great great great grand nephews: Oscar "Long" Oddbody and Edmund "Tall" Oddbody. They give Eleanor mixed news on her arrival, that the cure to the plague is to eliminate the rodents and their fleas and to wash with soap....and also that they, even with their vast resources at Oddbody's, have no knowledge of time-travel magic. And so Eleanor is stuck in 1851 with no way to cure or see her family.
Art Notes: I'm rather fond of my design for Edmund, but Oscar is a bit too monochrome. My goal was to show a more laid back "uncle" and another who is more rigid. Not with a Bert & Ernie range in temperament, but with a few of those characteristics working on a subtle level.

Eleanor arrives at a time of "magical upheaval" in which her uncles, as well as all the notable members of Oddbody's have no time for her. They can not properly train her in any magic arts, they are too busy huddled around tables, shooing her away, looking into crystal balls while asking her to be silent, and locking her out of rooms as they conduct group magic to deal with some major problem which is unknown to Eleanor. This being the age of child labor though, they don't think it harmful at all to magically bind Eleanor to the building (it's for her own protection) and have her mend, clean, wash, and organize Oddbody's. Her chores do give her a bit of insight into their world though, she is asked to re-copy ancient texts (which is well suited to her since her handwriting matches perfectly) and to care for and feed the unusual creatures there.
Art Notes: This was my favorite series of paintings to do for the pitch. Each portrait got to sum up a personality and history and adding the text gave the audience a full picture of each character

Oddbody's proves to be a lonely place for Eleanor. It's not that the adults are mean or cruel like in a Roald Dahl book, they just are very very busy with important work and there are no children around for her to interact with. The only friend 'her age' is a 291 year-old Gryphon named Sinclair. Sinclair doesn't speak, but interacts with Eleanor all the same and is about the size of a large dog.
Art Notes: This is the second pass at Sinclair. The first version didn't have enough bird cues in the face design leaving it to not feel like a gryphon at all, and was overall a lion-ish yellow color. This version has more of a mixed animal feel and I prefer this coloration.

While left unsupervised, Eleanor and Sinclair explore the archive of magical knowledge at Oddbody's. They look for any way to send Eleanor home, they eavesdrop to find out what the "magical upheaval" is, and they research to discover what ever became of her family from 500 years ago. Eleanor becomes the curious kid detective character of classic children's literature, and as the reader, you are along for the ride watching the mysteries unfold.
Art Notes: This piece really sums up the feel of the project for me. It's kids and pets being more inventive and intelligent than adults give them credit for and the level of mischief those qualities can get them into.

As the book unfolds, we, along with Eleanor, find that a group of industrialists have harnessed a dragon while it slept and are using it to literally fuel the industrial revolution. All the heat and fire used to smelt, cast, harden and forge all the metal of that era is being provided by this beast (who had woken up briefly in the 1600's and sneezed to cause the fire of London). Clearly, Oddbody's Federation members are so occupied with this because they are terrified that such a powerful and intelligent magical creature is under the unqualified care & false control of the non-magical world.
Art Notes: I have to thank Cory Godbey for this one. He gave me this idea, and I did my best to capture it as a sepia-toned old photograph.

 Here is where I get back to the pitch's challenge. To embrace the qualities of print, each book in this series would contain inserts, booklets, and fold-outs. But so that it's not a gimmick, each piece would have content that is important to the story and needs to be read. Newspapers with articles mentioned in the stores (and personal ads on the back that perhaps give character insights and clues) Maps of London with character's annotations, booklets showcasing a peek into Oddbody's library (complete with watermarks that provide hints), clues & bits of advertising, postcards (written & sent by Eleanor's grandfather who has followed her into the future, but is still 50 years behind her), and blueprints of Oddbody's iteslf.

To help you explore Oddbody's, a cut-and-assemble papermodel would be included. This would be assembled by the reader and would be modular so that in addition to the outside of Oddbodies, you get views of the inside in 3D as well...and some places that may be locked and off limits to Eleanor in the story, would be visible in the model...like perhaps a room marked 'Chrono-magic"...
Art Notes: For the pitch, I found this papermodel of a real French castle that felt like it could be a basis for Oddbody's before I did the exterior painting. This way I didn't need to build a mock-up papermodel if I had designed something from scratch.

So far, I have not addressed the part of the challenge that dealt with your local comic store...but the following inserted items would deal with that. Everything so-far is done alone, reading, exploring clues, even building the model...but I wanted some of these extras to be something you would do with other fans of the series....and where better to find other fans than your local comic book store. Perhaps in the book, a play is referenced. With a cut-and-assemble paper puppet stage and a script, fans of the series could read aloud and perform the play, getting not only an immersion experience, but perhaps seeing parallel stories in the play and Eleanor's troubles

Two types of games would be included in the books. One would be a card game that could be played over and over. While this is mainly meant to get you further into the experience of the world of Eleanor Oddbody, the game's rules could help explain more about the scene in which it's played in the book. "Eleanor found the card game to be extremely fast paced and rather confusing to play"...well when you play the game and discover the cards are two sided and there are no 'turns', you can relate to Eleanor. The game would also have a bluffing, hand signals, or a social component to play...so this isn't a game that can be played as an app on a device, this is meant to be played in the presence of good company.

The other game would be something akin to a blend of a traditional Role Playing Game and a Choose Your Own Adventure book. This also would be done in groups where players take on the role of characters in the book and determine how certain chapters of the story play out.
Since Roleplaying traditionally allows players to take their characters on their own route, this proved to be a design challenge so that the end of any variation of the players choices could sync up with the next chapter of the story itself...

The players are guided through several (perhaps hundreds) of choices, but ultimately pass through a handful of plot options (A-H on the graphic)..and eventually funnel back down with fewer choices to the same end point. Each of the plots that can be explored would be referenced later in the books, but could be read at face-value to someone unfamiliar with the information from any given path. For example, perhaps route A deals with Eleanor getting, through seance, to witness the last moments of her father's life before he died from the plague...later in the book, there could be mention of Eleanor crying at the terrible vision of what her Father's end suffering would have been. If you had not played out the 'A' plot, you would still understand the story's text...but having played it, would have a deeper connection to her emotions.

 I see Eleanor Oddbody as a series of slim hardcovers (to keep production costs down and to encourage you to visit your local comic shop with each book's release) that could be packaged in a nice slipcase. An art object of a book series you would be happy to display in the main living space of your house. Something you could only experience in print and not digitally. Something that satiates your love of collecting, story immersion, and, world building. Something you not only want to share with your friends who enjoy this type of material, but that you are encouraged to share. I think comic folks and lovers of fiction like this tend to feel very alone, like outcasts and on the fringes of society...but that isn't the case any more...we are like Eleanor, trying to find a way to a family that feels just beyond reach and to a modern world around us that we think ignores us...but the truth is, look at popular TV and movies, look at events like SDCC...there is a community of us, and the best place locally to find them is your local comic shop.

At the end of the pitch panel, I received the most applause and won the panel for the second year in a row. I really do like this pitch and idea, but I know that I could not do this project alone, even if I wanted to. It would take a team of artists, writers, and designers and a very forward-thinking publisher (to see publishing something like this in an era of digital-is-the-future) to make this work. I'm not saying Eleanor will never see the light of day, but with my dedication to Mouse Guard, it will take the right people coming forward to make this work.

Also of note, I have been retired (for the time being) from the Pitch Panel. This means I go out undefeated and that next year before SDCC I can stick to my usual amount of panic and scrambling and not the amount required to pitch something like what I've just shown you. I am curious to see what new blood enters the panel next year...

While it's not up there yet, I believe MTV Geek will be posting the video of this panel on their site soon.

Watercolor Wednesday: *announcement*
Last week's watercolor pieces marked the 1 year anniversary of Watercolor Wednesday! And with 52 weeks of new paintings under my belt, I'm going to take a break from Watercolor Wednesday. After a look back at last week's paintings, I'll explain what comes next...The first of the two paintings is titled 'old scratch' and was a play on making a fiddle playing devil who looks a bit frail and harmless (that's how he gets ya!). This is one of the larger Watercolor pieces I've offered for Watercolor Wednesday.

And the last watercolor for a while, is of my watercolor tray. I did the rough sketch for it when I didn't have my tray handy to look at, so it's not accurate to the number of cakes my set has (I have less). It felt appropriate as a way to round out this year-long experiment.

So my plan is, to collect all of the non-copyrighted Watercolor pieces I did for this project and publish them in a nice little hardcover art book. I'm still in the planning stages of this project, but hope to have something ready before Christmas available for purchase. And I'll gladly start up Watercolor Wednesday again sometime soon-ish...but a year felt like a good place to rest. And then I'll measure out another 52 weeks from the point I start up again as a planned break. Thanks to everyone who participated in buying, spreading the word, and taking the time to look at my paintings this last year.

Upcoming Appearances:
Baltimore Comic Con: September 7-8
New York Comic Con: October 10-13
North Carolina Comic Con: November 9-10


PaulD said...

whoa! That is amazingly cool and I would gladly pitch in.

Greg said...

WOW! I love every part of your pitch! Amazing!

DMSeamus said...

That's pretty ambitious. After talking about this with you over the weekend, I can see how it can only be a team effort. With the right team though, this could be a blockbuster. If you need a design guy, I'd be glad to throw my hat in the ring.

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