Comic Insights Part 3: Five Helpful Research Links

If being a “gifted and talented” honors student for 16.5 years has taught me anything, it’s that I hate research projects with a burning passion. However, I have no trouble looking up topics of my interest, because then it seems like mere “fun” and not official “research.” The research required for my graphic novel was a strange mix of both. Here are five of the most helpful links I found while working on my seven comics.

1. “The Path of Needles and Pins”

In this critical article by Terry Windling, a seemingly nonsense line in the fairy tale “The Story of Grandmother” is analyzed more carefully. Because I kept this line but edited it slightly in my adaptation, I wanted to make sure my version did not change any important cultural meaning. The little girl in the story encounters a man/wolf, who asks her if she will take the path of needles or the path of pins. What I learned was that the “path of pins” symbolizes girlhood while the “path of needles” symbolizes womanhood. In my adaptation, the man asks Little Fay what path she’ll take home, to which she answers “the path of needles and pins.” My initial meaning was a slightly snide remark, since Little Fay was quite leisurely and not on “needles and pins” at all on her journey. After reading the article, I was happy with the double meaning of the line, because through the story Little Fay travels the path of pins (girlhood) but must leave it against her will, then sets off on the path of needles (womanhood) on her own.

Concept art for “Little Fay.”

2. Family Conflicts and Emancipation in Fairy Tales

In this scholarly article by Walter Scherf, the Grimm tale “The Almond Tree” (also called “The Juniper Tree”) is discussed, among other tales surrounding family quarrels and violence against children in fairy tales. (Though the full article was once available for free access, it does not seem to be that way for me anymore.) My adaptation, “Juniper’s Tree,” deals specifically with the child abuse aspect of the story, so I was able to learn about important historical details as well as significance to child agency in the story.

My woodblock print concept art for “Juniper’s Tree.”

3. Medieval European Peasant Clothing

This article on how medieval people dressed helped me figure out how to design the costumes in “Little Fay,” which I kept with the original medieval time period. Artwork of commoners earlier than the 1400s is difficult to find, and also to decipher since drawings back then were more iconographic than realistic. This article helped me sort through the visual search results to decide what was a believable medieval outfit and what was just a modern historically inaccurate costume. Clothing was especially important to this story, as there is a scene where Little Fay names each article of clothing she is wearing.

Another clothing article that helped a little for a different story was this article on Pre-hispanic Visayan noble costumes. In “Ibong Adarna,” I wanted the Engkangtada (fairy enchantress) to wear a traditional Filipino gown, so the attire shown here was a helpful bit of inspiration.

Costume study for “Little Fay”

4. 10 Hairstyles From the ’90s Every Black Man Rocked Back in the Day

This article on Black hairstyles in the 1990s was immensely helpful for figuring out what style to give my protagonist Fox in “The Snowgirl.” In a last minute change, I switched the setting of that story from modern day to the ’90s, which meant I had to redesign his hair to fit his social class and personal style. The article mentioned athlete Allen Iverson, whose cornrows were the main inspiration for Fox’s final design.

Sketches of Fox based on two different hairsyles of Allen Iverson.

5. How to Describe Color to the Blind

These sources were not for the graphic novel itself, but for the audiobook adaptations I started for a class project. Most of the top search results for “How to describe color to the blind” are clickbait type articles that all recycle the same couple of poetic descriptions made by one blind person about a few colors. These two articles were from sources actually intended for sighted people to understand blind experiences and learn about accessibility. Joyce Adams explains why she describes color in video descriptions, and Deborah Kent writes from her point of view as a blind person about why and how parents should explain colors to their blind children. Though neither article was specifically about adapting comics to audiobooks, the information about what in a visual was important to describe and how to describe it helped so much when making my audiobooks.

“Juniper’s Tree” is almost entirely told through pictures, so I had to figure out how to best describe those images so that people who can’t see could still imagine the story.

These are just some of the many resources I used when fact-checking, referencing, and finding inspiration for my seven fairy tale comics.

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