Calia Nova – A Lifelong Dream Becomes a Nightmare!

Olivia Barone is an artist and writer from the metro Detroit area, pursuing a BFA at the College for Creative studies. Her heart is in storytelling, with comics serving as a happy medium between prose writing and visual art- her two main passions. Interpersonal drama and complex worldbuilding are her minor passions. She spends her summers as a pianist at fine dining restaurants and nearly all of her waking hours mulling over the idiosyncrasies of Calia Nova.

Synopsis: Aspiring witch Violet Amaryllis aims to reform the corrupt Hero Industry, and attending academy Calia Nova seems like the perfect way to do it!

However, not all is as it seems; she’s soon swept up in politics and rivalries she can’t begin to understand. As she inherits her predecessor’s mistakes, powerful enemies threaten both her life and ideals, and Violet realizes she knows nothing. It’s too late now, though; the galaxy is counting on her, and her lifelong dream might just be a nightmare…

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I’m currently a junior at the College for Creative Studies, getting a degree in Entertainment Arts and minoring in Creative Writing.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Science Fiction. A lot of my favorite pieces of media are science fiction: film Interstellar and novel Dune come to mind. I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of interstellar travel. When I was 16 I became extremely interested in theoretical physics and endeavored to write a hard sci-fi novel involving just that, but after months of writing equations and pouring over the smallest details- in an effort to make everything accurate to known science- I realized faster-than-light travel isn’t truly possible beyond conjecture and threw in the towel. I decided to make my next story “anything goes” and thus Calia Nova was born.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Action, Supernatural, F/F, Coming of age.

What was your inspiration for the story?
In terms of media, the four biggest inspirations are Avatar the Last Airbender, Revolutionary Girl Utena, OK KO, and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. They were what I was watching in the year-long period I seriously started to plan the comic and develop the world. You can see their influence in all different parts of Calia Nova. Cucumber Quest was a huge inspiration, too. Along with all those things, much of the comic was heavily influenced by my own life and what I wanted to see- and didn’t- in the media I consumed. Like most creative work, Calia Nova is really just an amalgamation of all my favorite media and my own life experiences!

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
So many! Gigi DG had the biggest influence on me in terms of environments, color theory, and comic layout. Cucumber Quest was basically my guidebook on how to make a webcomic at the beginning (and I still love it). Nathalie Fourdraine, Nelnalium, and several cartoons made between the late 90s and early 2000s influenced me as well, along with various other artists I’ve encountered online.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
Anywhere from five hours to over twenty. It depends on the complexity of the page and the backgrounds involved. I have a few pages that took me over a week to finish.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I always write the script based on the story and chapter outline, then go to my sketchbook and draw tiny layout thumbnails for every page to make sure I stay within the ~50 page per issue range. I then transfer the layouts to the digital page file with the proper dimensions and refine it from there- sketch, lineart, color scheme, background, flat color, rendering, and so on. I use SAI 2!

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?
It is not finished. Calia Nova is going to be three books of six issues, totaling around 1,000 pages.

How many pages do you have complete at the moment?
Over 100!

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
I came up with the characters in 2017 without a story in mind. They went through several iterations before landing on the Calia Nova universe, which naturally grew from the way their ambitions and backstories intersected over time. When I realized I had something coherent I buckled down and smoothed out the rough edges, added some extra characters here and there, and by 2019 I had the majority of the story figured out. Production of the comic itself began in August that year. Creative pursuits are organic things before they’re committed to word or drawing, so the fine details are somewhat malleable, but all the main events and characters have always been set in stone.

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?
The first chapter was extremely difficult for me to make because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; I’ve been an artist my entire life but comics were a whole new realm to me. When I was about two-thirds finished, my mentor Tara Kurtzhals took me under their wing and really helped me shape Calia Nova into a much more polished product, artistically and story-wise, and I owe so much of my comics knowledge to their help. I’d probably tell my previous self that I would have so many cool opportunities and meet some really awesome people because of the comic, and that I should really make layouts for every page from the start instead of meandering page-by-page according to the script without a visual outline!

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
Coming up with character interactions, especially the ones between main characters Violet and Finn. Sometimes I’ll come up with something so lore-relevant or finally have the pieces fit together in some section of the story, and I’ll get this massive adrenaline rush and get excited about the story all over again (hurriedly jotting it down into the notes app of my phone before I forget), which is one of my favorite experiences. This usually happens when I’m trying to sleep.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
It can be hard to grind out the pages, especially at the start of the chapter when I’m looking at hundreds of hours of (mostly monotonous) work ahead of me. Being an animator trained me for monotonous, repetitive work so I’ll put on an audiobook or podcast or even video game playthrough and slog through it. The sense of accomplishment when I’m looking over an issue of fully finished pages is worth it.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Moxca… and I can’t answer that just yet!

I really do enjoy writing all of my characters, though. Even the most unlikable ones! For this, I’ll go with the boring answer: the main character, Violet Amaryllis. She’s ambitious, booksmart, naïve, sensitive, and too eager to prove herself, especially against her long line of high-achieving ancestors. She struggles with her identity and her role as both half human and half witch, particularly when she’s been a failure on all fronts as a witch. A big idea for Violet’s arc is that what we want- or what we think we want- isn’t always what we need or what others need us to be. I mean, I’m drawing my characters for a living instead of working for NASA.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Several of the male characters were hard for me to both develop and write because I just can’t bring myself to care about them as much as the female ones. It’s my fatal flaw! The main cast I’ve had for years is nearly entirely female and the male characters were mostly shoehorned in to try to fix that ratio, so they’re both new and at first were mostly inconsequential. I’ve had my script proofreaders point out that I included a male character in a scene, only for him to be a silent witness of the events while the female characters carried out the important discussion and action… Now that I’m aware of it, I make a conscious effort to have them both be included in the story and be as three-dimensional as their roles require. As I’ve created the comic and gotten to know the characters better, their voices all come pretty naturally.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
I love drawing all of them, but probably the main character Violet. I think she’s ingrained in my muscle memory at this point. She’s really expressive and I have a lot of fun drawing her reactions to things. I also really like drawing Jax and Moxca, but that’s for a different reason!

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Both Director Robin Li and Moxca had designs that troubled me for years. Halfway through the production of chapter one, I finally hit designs for them that actually worked (and had to go back and redraw several panels in Robin’s case). I’ve drawn Robin so many times now she doesn’t trouble me, but Moxca is still a little tricky.

Where can we find you?

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
You can read way further ahead if you buy it on Gumroad, starting at $3 per issue!