This is the big one. This is the biggest project I have ever worked on, let alone the biggest project since SARGASSO. It will be years before it is completed and it is years since it was started. However, I take comfort that Art Spiegelman took 12 years to create his landmark graphic novel MAUS, and other writers and artists have laboured over many years to complete their most famous pieces. If anything it to be learned from this, it is that it’s better to do something like this ‘right and slow’ than it is to do it ‘quick and dirty’. The latter results in a product that cannot come close to respecting its subject and one who cannot respect topics like the Second World War, the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust, fighting in the war or struggling to survive in an occupied country during the war shouldn’t ever cross my radar, let alone my path.
You can tell I feel strongly about this. You would understand why if you sifted through the thousands of pages of reading I have undertaken since I began to research the book. I defy you to do so and not be moved as I have been throughout this process. It has been a powerful force in my life since I came up with the idea on Christmas Day, back in 2014, and has only grown more so as I meet people who were there and listen to their stories.
FLASHBACK TO THE ORIGINS OF ‘MANNA’
With the completion of the Cartooning certificate program at George Brown College, work in cartooning and illustration did not end. A new program, focusing on the graphic novel, was created at the college and now all work was to be dedicated to ongoing efforts in that area.
The primary assignment we were given was to create a six to eight page story to show we could set up a plot, establish characters, apply skills we had learned in previous courses and somehow put it all together in a short narrative in the media of our choice. Because of some fun I enjoyed working on a recreation of a panel of artwork by Milt Caniff for another course, I wanted to continue with a period theme in my story and relate something to the reader about the Second World War. On Christmas Day, while relaxing after a huge lunch by sitting and reading Edward Jablonski’s massive work, THE AIR WAR, I came across the story of the relief missions flown by bomber crews in the R.A.F., R.C.A.F., R.A.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F., among others, to deliver food to millions of Dutch civilians still living under enemy occupation at the end of the war.
The text and images below illustrate some of what has been accomplished already. Like SARGASSO, this is a substantial undertaking, more in the fact that unlike the former piece, where the illustrations supported the text, the illustrations here dominate the text.
‘MANNA’ CHARACTER DESIGNS
MANNA is a coming of age story set in the Netherlands mostly during the Second World War. It features two central characters- Pauli, a riches to rags girl who befriends Hilde, from an artistically and financially richer background and almost two years her junior, in the last few years before the outbreak of war in 1939. Together, as they mature, they endure the Nazi invasion and occupation and struggle to survive in a world that becomes darker and more hostile with each passing day. It is a macro to micro kind of story, with the events in the lives of our protagonists set against the massive events reshaping the world around them. For anyone who had relatives who lived in Holland during the Second World War or anyone who has read or known the story of Anne Frank, it is not hard to imagine the kinds of things that will be dealt with in this narrative. Originally designed as a short, (six to eight), page story, it has grown- through the encouragement of several people who have seen the plan of the thing- into a massive undertaking that will easily breach 100 plus pages. Like SARGASSO, it has required a lot of research, filling my shelves with many new books on all aspects of issues related to it or the war in general.
Below is the character sheet for the two leads. Pauli is in yellow ochre, and her palette will be consistently made of warm, sometimes bright colours. Hilde will be wearing greens, blues and cooler or pastel related colours. Her red hair is a factor in this. They are presented here as they appear at the beginning of the story, which is in late August, 1938, before the events of Munich and Chamberlain’s ‘peace in our time.’
SELECTED IMAGES AND PROCESS WORK ON THE MAIN CHARACTERS & SETTINGS
MANNA- EARLY TITLE PAGE SPREAD
A full colour title page spread was planned for the book, according to the script I wrote in the winter/spring of 2015. It was not going to be completed at the time, as I was planning to concentrate on the pages afterwards for the course work. When I was asked to participate in Big Art Buzz’s presentation at the Canadian Pavilion in July, 2015 as a guest artist, that changed. I was to do a demo and said, with everything else going on, I wasn’t interested in creating something just for the exhibition. I went to the instructor of the course and said I was going to include the spread now as a part of the final project and as the demo piece for the show.
The individual pages were to be 10″ wide and 15″ high, which when reduced would be compatible with traditional graphic novel formats. Thus, a two page spread would be 20″ wide by 15″ high, or twice the width. Based on the research done on clothes, bikes and aircraft, the final composition was designed first in Poser, and then drawn onto sketch paper at full scale. I only applied shading to the girls in the original drawing, and thus, that is the only part I’ve shown below.
Here are shots of the girls in progress, showing watercolour washes and layers of coloured pencil applied on top. You may notice Pauli’s legs were very skinny in the pencil drawing. They were beefed up a little in the final, but not too much, though, because she would have been thin anyway. At that point in the story, the average food intake for the Dutch was equal to 250 calories a day. We average over 2,000.
SOME NOTABLE DETAILS
In case you are wondering about the bike, it is a construct based on a Hungarian design, modified with wooden wedges shoved into the metal rims of the wheels to replace the rubber tires which would have been likely confiscated by the Germans during the war. Packages of food from a ‘hunger trek’ into the country fill the basket and rear pannier. Neither Hilde or Pauli are wearing socks, but Pauli is wearing some cut down boots, likely from a Dutch worker. How Pauli got them is a matter for speculation. Hilde’s shoes are improvised sandals cut from worn out saddle shoes popular at the end of the 1930s. Both coats are period accurate. Hilde’s hair is short, typical of her style anyway, but also practical in the later months of the war, when water, soap and shampoo were all in short supply because of the occupation forces’ closing of the borders around the Netherlands not liberated in Operation Market Garden, (September, 1944). In this image, Pauli’s hair is long. However, in more recent art, I have made it shorter as well for the reasons stated above.
As you can see the composition was designed to have nothing of importance to the right, as that would have been where the gutter between the pages would be. I still had to make it interesting enough not to make this design choice obvious, however. The final piece had to hang together and hang apart.
The sky was finished with coloured pencil. A tip: Prismacolour’s Light Cerulean Blue is a perfect match for Winsor & Newton’s Cerulean Blue! Blending was achieved with colourless blenders by Prismacolour and Derwent, the latter being better for covering the illustration board, which was Canson watercolour paper based on an acid free board support. The problem when working with this material is that little white spots where the paint or coloured pencil don’t reach really stand out when the work is scanned. The Lancaster bomber below, dark in colour, was problematic in this area, looking sparkly when scanned later. A solvent like Turpentine applied with a brush ‘solved’ the problem, filling the gaps nicely. Another tip: get the orange scented solvent. It’s a lot easier to work with in the studio.
Other problem areas included the tree line at the edge of the field. More grey and even pink went into that area than green. A little green goes a long way. Green is very difficult to work with in art, often being far too intense when applied out of the tube. In the distance, make it as blue grey as possible, and if warmth is needed, a soft pink from Derwent will tone down the problem spots. The amount of paint on the board caused mild warping, which is slowly levelling out after months of touring about in flat-pack portfolios. Applying primer to the back did not help straighten the board. I will have to deal with this again as at least three more pieces are planned in this format for each section in the book.
In historic details, this whole scene was a bit of a construct fantasy. A cordon would likely have been put around the field. Guards would be standing by organized piles of food. The danger of overshoots and missed drops was very real during Operation Manna/Chowhound in 1945. Looting was also a concern at the time, although incidents of it seem to have been very few. For the sake of providing a way of setting up the title in an homage to Will Eisner, who used creative ways to introduce his graphic stories to readers, I did what I did to make it work. The characters just happen to be excited speactators like their real-life counterparts from the war, enthusiastically waving at the aircraft with their last bit of energy. The more recent version includes more historically accurate details.
The decorated sacks- assuming the armed guards I mentioned earlier are off-screen (^_^)- sit on the ground after having been organized by workers on site, who had to dash out onto the field and grab what they could between drops. Piles of uncollected sacks lie in the distance. You can see I have started building layers of colour here, combining washes with coloured pencil to fill in areas of detail. Note the grey of the buildings in the background. The intense green you see here was virtually gone by the time the piece was done.
The Lancaster itself is a real aircraft, but the squadron markings are not. 642 Squadron never existed. TZ was never used. I have not seen tails painted in bold orange and blue patterns. (Can you guess the symbolism?) I created them all after doing research and deciding with the instructor of the course it was better to create a fictitious unit for equally fictitious characters than use a set real squadron numbers and unknowingly make an OTU into a Bomber Command Squadron and have someone from a society in the UK point it out nicely or otherwise. I have explained to some who feel such research and detail is overdoing it in art, that those interested in this kind of material take such things very seriously. In short, if you are not interested in trying to make it real enough, don’t try historic themes in your graphic novels.
The Lancaster was painted black underside. Canadian-built Lancasters had shiner finishes than British-built machines. Whatever the finish, the effect of reflected light from the ground would have meant anyone creating this subject in art would be using little black in the colour. Greys, blues and earth tones dominate. Even white, in places. Solvent was used to blend the colours. Grey is used for the sacks falling from the bomb bay. Most of the food was dropped in cases or bags that once contained cement mix, chosen to withstand the impact of being dropped from 150-1,000 feet in the air.
THE FINAL PIECE
A FORMAT REVISION AND NEW ART
In 2017, I was confronted with the reality that the illustration boards I’d been using for pages in the book were no longer being produced. I switched over to Canson’s comic art paper and found the format was different enough from the sizing used in the boards to make redoing the early pages necessary. I took the opportunity to re-imagine some of the stylizing of the book at the same time and explore media that would allow me to create soft painterly effects without actually painting on the Canson paper, which would buckle if washes were applied to the surface. Eventually, I found powdered pastels did the job well and even blended with the Copic markers, conte and charcoal.
As before, using the models of the characters created in Poser, I made sets and ‘shot’ scenes based on sketches done on mock layout pages. Poser gives me the opportunity to move the camera and search for better angles before committing scenes to paper. From there, I drew out the page in full size and transferred it to the board for inking. What follows are some revised pieces and drawings for pages not yet completed. Click on them for enlargements.
All materials related to MANNA are copyright C.A. Seaman, 2015-2020. Nothing of what you see here may be reproduced in any manner without written permission from the author/artist.
LIKE MANNA FROM HEAVEN, MORE TO COME…
A final note here. Please check the rest of the website for further articles related to MANNA. In the section on HOBBIES/MODEL BUILDING there are articles on building some of the cars, ships and armour used in the book. This will grow on both the website and social media as both become available. Also, in the section on WRITINGS there will be articles about the extensive research that went into the book to do what is possible to fact check and keep errors to a minimum- as it will be impossible to eliminate them entirely. Finally, in PHOTOGRAPHY there will be entries related to the photo research I’ve done in museums and exhibitions. Credit to related institutions will be given with each entry. If you find links or information of your own, please contact me through the Comments section and I will happily follow up with you.