Behind the scenes 1: from idea to synopsis and scene breakdown
Note: you can see an audio slideshow of how I make a comics page right here.

Everyone has their own way of creating a comic strip, but this, generally speaking, is how The Rainbow Orchid takes shape...

Before I start drawing, I need a script, but before I write the script, I need a plot. Story ideas are seldom delivered fully-formed. The rough shape will come first, perhaps as a result of several months' worth of disparate ideas coming together while I'm in the shower, or perhaps because I sit down in front of a notebook with just a single scene in my head, and start conjuring up characters for it to see what they get up to. Often a bit of both.

Even then it will only be a prototype. I find my stories need a few weeks (or months) of slow cooking and problem solving before I can start outlining the plot in any detail. And that's what happens next. By now I'll have accumulated quite a few pages of notes. Handwritten jottings tend to be the work of white flashes of inspiration or some dedicated free-form thinking, but there'll also be an assortment of pages typed up on the computer featuring more solidified ideas in various stages of progress. Gradually, problems are solved and the story takes shape.


These are my first jottings for the story that would become The Rainbow Orchid, not dated but from sometime in 1996. It was to be set in the Victorian era, and probably sprang from a much earlier idea about a Victorian vampire hunter sent to India. It says "Man sets up expedition to find and collect the rare Rainbow Orchid that grows in secret valley in India. A rival group hears of it and sets out to beat him."

2) Here I've typed up a synopsis for how the adventure should begin. In this version William Pickle is called William Buckle, and Julius Chancer is Lord Lawrence's personal assistant, not Sir Alfred's. Lord Lawrence owns a diamond mine. At the bottom of the page are a host of handwriten after-thoughts, including the fact that I need to make Julius more of a central character, and that I should ditch the diamond mine, an undesirable source of wealth.
3) This sheet, dated 24 January 1997, is a scene-by-scene breakdown of what I need to accomplish within each of those scenes. A lot of it is in the form of questions that the story must answer, with bits of key dialogue jotted down. It opens with Julius (still Lawrence's assistant) picking up Lily and Nathaniel from the station. Nathaniel mistakes Julius for the chauffeur, an idea that later morphed into Pickle baiting Julius by calling him Sir Alfred's butler, and pushing him to blurt out about the Rainbow Orchid.
4) A typed scene breakdown. Now the story starts with the musicologist James Palfrey visiting Sir Alfred and his young assistant, Julius Chancer. The characters have found their roles, and Buckle is now Pickle. Having said that, Sir Alfred's maid, Charlotte, at this point is a butler called Lewis. I've included more snatches of dialogue as I think of them.
5) And this is the first page of the script. With Lewis crossed out and "maid" handwritten in, it's pretty much what has ended up drawn on the page. When the maid shows Palfrey through the house she says "Sir Alfred's private collection", to which Palfrey replies "Why, it puts the British Museum to shame." In pencil I've crossed his line out and changed it to "Fascinating." Dialogue is constantly changed and reassessed, even until the book goes off to print.

Throughout all this plotting and writing, sketchbook pages are being scribbled in with ideas for how the characters will look. Go to the next page to learn more about that.

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Julius Chancer, The Rainbow Orchid, story, artwork, characters and website © 1997 and 2021 Garen Ewing & inkytales