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NC ComiCon 2014: Realizing Epic Worlds on Paper and the Screen

Three writers and artists joined forces Saturday at the 2014 NC ComiCon to share their experiences in building fictional worlds with an audience of fans and aspiring creators.

Ben Caldwell, a cartoonist whose credits include “Action! Cartooning,” “Fantasy! Cartooning,”
and artwork for Star Wars: The Clone Wars comics, got the panel started. He advised would-be writers and artists to develop their fictional world with a “concrete” story in mind. Having an “endgame” gives the creator a clear idea of how the world can best serve the story and also demonstrates to publishers and producers that the project has a tangible goal.

Ben CaldwellScott Allie

Ben Caldwell and Scott Allie at NC ComiCon 2014.


Scott Allie, writer and editor of BPRD and Hellboy, added how he often received project pitches while working at Dark Horse Comics that consisted only of world concepts without stories attached to them. He pointed out that the Hellboy mythos grew out of a simple four-issue haunted house story. In this way, the layers of the Hellboy mythology serve the stories and not vice-versa.

Both Caldwell and Allie agreed that the creator will not use all of the details of his or her world building in the story—only those points relevant to the plot. Caldwell explained that he had thought out technology for a World War III setting but made it accessible to the reader by making a more relatable character—a journalist—the point-of-view character. He called this device an “entry point character.” Allie argued that all characters should be entry points, citing Luke Skywalker as an example. One way Caldwell compiles his information is by approaching his world building like an archaeologist. He makes sketches of fashion to alphabets and includes cultural changes over time, using concept art like “an exhibit.” He establishes not only the present state of his world but also “what they [the inhabitants] remember, what they forget.”

“The Book of Eli” and “Harry Potter” concept artist Tommy Lee Edwards shared his world building experience from the perspective of creating a visual setting based on a movie script. Part of his job as a concept artist is selling projects to studio execs—a very important step in the filmmaking process, as projects progress or die in this phase. For those concepts given the green light for production, concept artists like Edwards work out ideas for costumes, sets, and story boards. The idea on paper does not always work out; Denzel Washington, for example, wanted changes made to his costume in “The Book of Eli.” When a concept does become realized, it is “really bizarre but super cool.” Edwards related how he stepped onto a film set for “The Book of Eli” after having painted the scene nearly a year before and found a real-life recreation of his vision with only minor changes.

Edwards also shared with audience members how he went to a port in Wilmington, NC to research an action scene for an upcoming animated film. He took hundreds of photos as he imagined how the action might play out in such a setting.

After each artist had contributed to the panel, they held an audience Q&A session.

Stay tuned for more NC ComiCon coverage, including an exclusive interview with Ben Caldwell!


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