Spotlight

An Exiled Nobleman Undertakes a Perilous Journey – Beneath The Clouds

Caroline is a short lady who travels, climbs mountains, sketches compulsively, runs marathons and draws comics! She’s from the Midlands in the UK and is the creator of Beneath The Clouds.

Synopsis: A comic of ghosts and gunpowder, set in eleventh century Japan.

Genza, an exiled nobleman-turned-monk, is offered a chance to redeem himself by undertaking a perilous journey to Heian Kyo. Will Genza be prepared to confront his own demons in order to save the life of the man who exiled him? Will his daughter Masako make a new life for herself in the city? And does a stranger met on the road offer a chance for a new way forward?

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
Yes, I studied Illustration at Loughborough University.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Beneath the Clouds is set in 11th Century Japan, and is a historical comic because I like reading books and doing research!

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Adventure/Romance

What was your inspiration for the story?
I read the “Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon” and “The Tale of Genji” as a teenager and followed that up by reading as many books from and about 11th century Japan as I could get my hands on. It was before Amazon.com then, so that wasn’t many.

Several years later, on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, I wondered what it would be like to make the same journey a thousand years before and decided to write a comic about it.

I’d started at least three long term projects previously but never finished any of them, so I made a determined effort to create a story that I’d be able to finish

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
Katsushika Hokusai. I bought a copy of his Manga in Japan (it’s a manual of drawings for lesser-skilled artists to copy and learn from) and it’s one of my favourite art books. Also Fiona Staples, of the comic Saga, and Victo Ngai, an American illustrator raised in Hong Kong.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
I publish two pages a week, so it must be roughly 3-4 days. It’s difficult to say as I don’t work on pages individually.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I draft the whole storyline, then break the story into chapters with a list of the important events in each chapter.

Once I know a rough plot, I break each chapter down into pages and note what needs to happen on each page. I don’t write comic scripts.

I work on one chapter at a time- so I’ll storyboard the whole chapter, then draw, ink ,letter, colour and upload it before starting the next chapter to create a decent buffer.

Before I start drawing each page I take reference photos for poses. I have lots of photos on my phone of me wearing a dressing gown waving a ruler around, pretending it’s a sword!

I send the storyboards, and the inked, lettered pages to my beta reader to check if they make sense to anyone other than me. Usually there’s a few changes to make. I might add or remove a page if I need to.

I use Pentel brush pens, as they’re easy to get hold of and force me to concentrate on broad strokes instead of getting bogged down in fiddly details. I draw pages by hand using a lightbox and colour and letter using a computer.

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
The main story arc finished on February 2020. I’m following it up with a series of one-off stories about the characters featuring creatures from Japanese folklore.

How many pages do you have complete at the moment?
About 250+

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Probably about one to two years.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
I was not in a good place when I started the comic, so I’d probably give myself a hug and tell myself to cut me some slack! I’m also finding finishing the comic quite difficult as I have trouble letting go! Still haven’t solved that one. I’m thinking about a couple of follow-up projects at the moment though.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
I enjoyed creating a visual novel set in the same world. It was a good opportunity to learn some new skills.

I am also part of the Spiderforest Web Hosting Community and it’s great to have their support and to learn from the new and established members of that community.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Finding source material from the 11th century was very difficult as I don’t read Japanese. I am also very bad at self promotion and find it quite difficult to promote the comic as well as drawing, writing and uploading it. A twice a week update schedule and a full time job doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
My favourite character is Eiji. I like writing sarcasm. I’ve just started storyboarding a short story with him as the main character.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
I don’t find a particular character difficult, but keeping continuity across five years’ worth of work is a challenge. I struggled with the first couple of chapters as I was still finding a rhythm and I also struggled with the final few chapters of the main story arc. I’ve worked on it for five-odd years and wanted it to have a decent payoff and I didn’t feel like I was doing it justice.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
I enjoyed drawing the bonus art which shows off the beautiful clothes that people wore in the Heian period. I don’t usually get a chance to really wallow in costume detail when I’m working with limited colour and keeping to a strict update schedule. I also try to give most characters a distinctive shaped nose! I don’t know if anyone noticed that one 🙂

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Any character who appears in the comic for a short time, as it’s a struggle to keep one-shot characters on-model.

Where can we find you?
Beneath the Clouds is at http://www.beneaththecloudscomic.com

My personal website is http://carolineparkinson.co.uk

My Instagram is cp.sketch and my Twitter is cpcoventry.

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
I am an instructor for Urban Sketchers and if you have a chapter near where you live check them out! It’s great practice for comic drawing. Find them at http://www.urbansketchers.org. They are also holding virtual sketch meets, because as I write this we’ve been in lockdown in the Uk due to COVID-19. Hopefully as you’re reading this, everyone came out of the epidemic healthy.