Charli Vince Illustration

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Open Day Graphic Novel - An Excuse for Science!

Science? Super cool. Graphic novels? Equally cool. Both combined? Coolest commission ever. 

Some time ago I was approached by the amazing writer Shey Hargreaves about a project Nottingham University were launching. The project is, in short, a way to bring a particular government funded science project into the public eye, one of those ways was in the form of a graphic novel.

Alongside Professor Philip Moriarty, Professor Brigitte Nerlich, and the rest of the team involved in the project at the university, Shey Hargreaves wrote a brilliant script for the graphic novel. Hilarious and scientifically accurate; what more could you want?

Then it was my turn...


The thumbnailing journey began, and I'm pleased to say that the journey is finally finished. Over 60 pages of thumbnail page spreads and mapping out dialogue...


From the beginning I fell totally in love with the characters. Without giving away any spoilers, the two main characters are Radika (a scientist) and Kim (a teenager). The story centres around these two as they inadvertently explain the project, its workings, and why it's important, to the viewer.

So far it's been my job to not only visualise and bring to life the characters and their surroundings, but to also represent what they explain and explore in terms of the science behind the story. The extent of my physics and chemistry knowledge pretty much stops at GCSE level, so Prof. Moriarty and Shey's research have been total life savers!

To help me better understand the ins and outs of the project, I had the pleasure of being invited to the labs at the university in Nottingham by Prof Moriarty. It was pretty amazing... 


Above is a photo I took of the main lab where the story is set! It was so useful and so interesting to see it all in person, and that photo does not do justice to how MASSIVE some of these machines are. 


This beast features in the story quite a bit and thank god I got to see it and photograph it first hand... No way would I be able to work this monster out without a tonne of reference and knowing how big it is in person. 

Prof Moriarty gave me the guided tour of all the equipment, even showing me out some of it works, which was like a childhood nerd dream come true. 

This was one of the sections of that beastly machine that the Professor demonstrated the workings of. I won't embarrass myself by trying to explain exactly what it is he's doing in the video, but in short he was showing me how he used what is (seriously) called a 'Wobble Stick' to manually open and close these tiny doors on this GIANT EXPENSIVE MACHINE. Needless to say... it was tense. 

Without these essential photos and my experience of seeing it all first hand (especially that quick diagram on the blackboard; that thing helped it all make so much sense!) I would've had no idea where to start with trying to visually represent some of these concepts and processes.

The narrative is based around, mostly, a single room. The question of how we're going to create a sense of adventure and intrigue whilst being limited to this single setting was brought up in an audience question during our talk at the Nottingham Does Comics meet-up later that month.

At the time, I wasn't 100% sure how I was going to solve this problem... I knew Shey had written in some amazing direction for adding visual thoughts and abstract elements to the story but I hadn't come round to realising them on paper yet, at the time. 
Since then, with the thumbnails finally finished and the visuals bouncing around in my brain, I now have a much better understanding for how I'm going to tackle this hurdle! 

Ever since my Ugly Bestiary project and dissertation on scientific illustration, I've always had a fascination for how artists and illustrators use their practice and abilities to visualise what is often invisible - or difficult to illustrate - in the scientific world. Some of these subjects, like size and movement, can't be visually translated literally. You can't, for example, draw a to-scale illustration of the solar system on an A4 piece of paper without it looking like tiny dots.

As Josh Worth so rightly said;

“It’s not hard to draw the planets. It’s the empty space that’s a problem-“


And to best represent this, he created the ever amazing interactive diagram 'If the moon were only one pixel'. It perfectly represents my point; some things can't be illustrated literally without it being tedious and ridiculous. 

So with that challenge in mind, I have to visualise a broad range of scientific happenings whilst keeping it accurate, interesting, and relevant to the story. Despite this being tricky sometimes, it's so damn fun and I can't wait to continue with this project. So far it's the thumbnails and a few characters sketches which make up the bulk of the illustrations, but now that the story is mapped out I feel ready to dive straight in and start bringing this amazing story to illustrative life.