How do the pros #MakeComics? We’re here to tell you. Comicosity is picking the brains of a pro who is killing it in the comics industry, and this week I was lucky enough to talk to Kit Seaton! You’ve seen her art in Afar and you’ll want to make sure you check out the upcoming Norroway Book One: The Black Bull Of Norroway! She was kind enough to give us a glimpse into her creative process here:
What does a typical day in the life of Kit look like?
Sundays through Tuesdays have a pretty consistent routine. I like to reserve the first half of the day for running errands, checking email, read the news, and any odds and ends to do around my apartment. The latter half of the day into the evening is when I start to work on projects. I usually wrap up work around 10-11pm at night, but I always tend to stay up a little too late reading, catching up with people, or occasionally playing puzzle games. The other half of the week I am attending meetings, doing class prep, advising, and teaching two 6 hour studio classes in the Illustration dept. at Cal State Fullerton. Even though there’s a little bit of down time during my days, it’s always critical that I’m productive so that I can hit my deadlines. I usually work for about 4-7 hours every day on projects or grading, except the days when I’m teaching. Usually I’ll try to get a couple hours of work done on those days too.
What time of day do you do your best work?
Afternoon through the evening is my most productive time, so that’s naturally when I’ll start. I can work pretty late into the night, but I usually try to stop before midnight so I can wind down a little before bed. It works for the most part, but it can be a little challenging when I have a morning class.
Comics is a collaborative medium. How do you work with your teammates on your projects?
Every collaboration I’ve had is a little different. I’m been the most involved in the story development end of things in my collaborations with Cat, my sister, who’s writing Norroway. We’ll usually call and discuss plot points and character development over the phone a couple times a week, or we’ll message each other on WhatsApp. This works the best for us what with Cat living overseas for about another year. Since we’re siblings, Cat and I tend to be more sensitive of comments from each other on our work. We find we often work best by being supportive of each other as possible, and seek feedback from beta readers and peers where the emotional stakes feel a little less high. We have a small but trustworthy corps of people we rely on. Most of my other collaborations are done over email. I’ve adapted pretty well to working with different kinds of scripts. I’m receptive to feedback from my teammates. When revisions are justified and make the work stronger, I’m happy to do them. I’m not very precious about my work, but I do have to be mindful my limits on time. Time constraint has become a very effective editor, and often my layout decisions are based on practicality. If it’s not clear to me or someone on my team, then it won’t be clear to the reader and it will merit a note of revision. Clarity is always most important. It’s important to be considerate of one’s team; who will provide feedback, who will letter, or who will color, and what will they need from me to make their part of the process smoother. Everyone on a team has their own style and approach, so I find its good to be adaptable and roll with whatever comes my way. So far this has helped me most in terms of not remaking past mistakes, and becoming more efficient and effective as a storyteller.
How do you manage your to-do list?
Recently, I invested in a huge wall calendar that hangs on my studio wall. I have most every deadline for the foreseeable year penciled in, so every day I can walk into that room and see what my goals for the week will be. This has been my greatest salvation. Otherwise it would be impossible to keep track of it all. I had tried to set reminders on my phone, but I think all the extra pinging has contributed to my hair turning prematurely grey. I’ve also started keeping more lists, and I think I’m going to try bullet journaling so I can keep better track of my accomplishments. We’ll see how that goes.
What is your workspace like?
I recently moved, first last year, from Savannah Georgia to Southern California. Then this summer I moved again to an apartment that was a bit more in my budget and frankly more comfortable for my long suffering geriatric cat. So the studio is in a bit of flux, the walls are a little sparse, except for my wall calendar, my pièce de résistance. I’m working on getting a little more art on the walls, things my friends and former students have given me, and have a more prominent spot for reference images and notes. I have a few costumes from some productions when I had a brief stint as a costume designer, and I have a mannequin that I’ll often display them on, mostly for my own amusement. Other than that, I’m mostly satisfied with my storage. I have a flat file that a friend back in Georgia helped me assemble. It was a monster to move, required two doors being taken off their hinges, but I’m so glad I have it. I have a pretty organized closet space for materials. It can get quite hot in there during the summer months (which is most of the time in Southern California). It needs to be a practical space, but cozy. If I were to assign myself an animal’s personality, I’m a bit like a badger. I like to burrow into a comfortable space and not come out for days at a time.
Art supplies are like junk food for me, and I like to play with everything. Teaching gives me an outlet to demonstrate all kinds of media; inks, watercolor, gouache, pastels, oils, acrylics, monotypes, and teach students how to play and explore media they may not have worked with before. Most of my process for comics is currently digital, and mostly for time and practicality. I do most of my comic work in Clip Studio on the iPad Pro. I’ve had to adapt to it a little, but it facilitates working pretty much anywhere and at any time. If there’s a lull in the day at school, I can get a little inking in. I can prep files and make revisions much faster too. I will always love the scrip of a nib on hot press watercolor, and the permanence of choice that comes from working traditionally. So one of my goals in the next year or so, is to open up some space to bring traditional mediums back into my process. In the meantime, I try to draw digitally as much as I would traditionally. I freehand everything, even in the background and my perspective grids. I’m ok if buildings and objects look a little wonky, as long as they have some nuance, and are cohesive with the world of the characters. At the inking stage, I try to commit to the line and resist the tendency undo and redraw to many times. I hope it makes things look a little less stiff, but maybe digital always looks digital. I don’t really know.
What do you love most about creating comics?
It’s funny, but the part of the process that creates the most resistance in me, is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding, is the layout stage. Because that’s when I feel like I’m really doing the storytelling work. I first think about the grid for the page, and then I go panel by panel. What does this shot need? What is the best vantage point? It is the longest part of the process, not because of how tight it needs to be, but because it requires the greatest amount of my focus, judgment, and discipline.
What is your favourite phase of a project?
FINISHING. Graphic novels are huge investments in time that take at least a year to complete. Finishing means a book on the shelf, a reward for all that hard work, and an opening to bring a new project in.
What do you listen to or watch while you work?
My sister needs total silence when she writes, I do often need something playing in the background when I’m drawing. I don’t always listen intently, but I need something that grounds me to the reality of the space I’m working in. Sometimes I just want something ambient, like rain or cafe sounds. Other times I may want to listen to a new favorite musician (I currently enjoy listening to artists Lord Huron, Sigrid, Glass Animals, Frank Ocean, and ODESZA.) I’ll binge podcasts for hours. I especially like the dark narrative ones from Pacific Northwest Stories, Lore, and Limetown. I also like Sawbones, RadioLab, The Memory Palace, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. I have a few favorite YouTubers that I’ll let play in the background too, my all-time favorite is Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting. That particular series has helped me so much with sequential storytelling.
I really like my long phone conversations with my sister, and will set aside hours in a day to talk to her. I like small gatherings with my friends and colleagues. I usually look forward to having lunch a couple times a week with my coworkers, or meeting a colleague for coffee. I think because I spend do many days in the studio, I emerge blinking into the light hungry for conversation. It replenishes me for when I’m ready to get back into that space again. I’m still something of an introvert though, after two days of intensive teaching and advising for about 50 students, I’m ready to retreat back to my burrow. To be a the most effective educator I can be, I have o be 100% present with them in the classroom. The classroom is a great place to be, especially when you can give students meaningful tools that they can implement in their work. When I see a student’s work improve because a concept clicked, or to see their confidence build when they embrace an intimidating challenge, it’s always an exciting moment for me.
On the occasional odd hours, I also like to keep a little succulent garden on my apartment balcony, try a new recipe, and take a stroll around the university campus.
Networking and meeting other creators is an important part of the business. What is your preferred way to network?
Expos, trade shows, and conventions are a lot of fun, though I get overwhelmed by crowds easily. I don’t want to be hemmed in behind a table too long. I get antsy and want to wander around, or trundle back to the hotel for a nap. Small gatherings I enjoy, because I can hear people talk with less distraction, and get to know them a bit better. I would say it’s a strategy that involves multiple approaches, and most of the work is invisible. Attending a trade show, and getting a few galleys under people’s noses has helped me quite a bit. I have Image Comics to thank for that, they have an incredible publicity team and library outreach. Social media has helped me get my work out there. It certainly helps with SEO, so its always worth it even if you don’t get a lot of responses. I would say social networks were important to me as an unknown indie creator even before I had a publisher. My website portfolio has also gotten me my most productive inquiries. Editors and art directors seem to prefer contacting via email as opposed to social media, at least in my experience, so I definitely encourage my young and aspiring artist friends and students to have a professional portfolio site, with a good domain name, and a working contact page.
What comics are you reading right now?
I’m a big fan of SLEEPLESS right now, with Sarah Vaughn and Leila del Duca, it’s a richly illustrated tale of palace intrigues and enchanted knights. I also recently picked u WOMAN WORLD by Aminder Dhaliwal, and its really entertaining and delightful. And I’m getting ready to dive into the collected volume of DESCENDER by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, which is hanging out on my nightstand.
What do you hope to see in the industry in the future?
I always hope to see greater recognition of comics from the publishing community, especially for voices from marginalized and underrepresented groups. I love to see more of that, and it is always heartening when I do, especially in Young Adult lit. One great example is the ELEMENTS Anthology, not specifically YA, but which won both an Eisner and an Ignatz award! I like to go to book stores, comic shops, or a convention and see people of every age and background wander the floor and find a comic that speaks to them. Comics as a medium presents so many interesting challenges and opportunities for telling stories, and it delights me to see a greater reception for all its capabilities and potential. I think there’s a sense that our medium is still niche and it certainly has its struggles and obstacles. There’s still plenty of passion for it going around too. So, I hope the trend of recognition and excitement continues upwards. I’ll still be in my little corner, making pages, mentoring my students, and reading and supporting the work of my peers as much as possible. Thank you for this opportunity to share a bit of that with you today!
Check out Kit’s work here and check back soon for a new #MakeComics interview!