Adding Art to the Ghost Book

When I decided I wanted to release I’m (Sort of) an Expert on Ghosts as an online light novel, I knew an important part of creating that “light novel experience” would be to make sure there were manga-style illustrations to go along with the story. If you’re going to claim to write an English light novel, you really ought to go all-out with it, right? I am not an artist though, so this wasn’t a project I was going to accomplish on my own.

My first choice for illustrating this book was hachikuro, who I knew online via Twitter and anime blogs, so I was really happy when I managed to work out a plan to create this book with her. Her art style seemed like it would be a perfect fit for the tone I was working for in my story–and just as I hoped, all the illustrations turned out magnificently. (If you haven’t seen them all yet, be sure to give them a nice long look! [Preferably over the course of reading the novel!])

For this blog post, I thought it would be fun to share a little bit about the process involved when working with an artist to add illustrations for an online novel project.

I had been working a bit on I’m (Sort of) an Expert on Ghosts for a couple months before I spoke with hachikuro about the prospect of drawing some pictures for the story. I decided that for this project, I could give her a few drawings at a time to work on while I continued writing the story, and simply make sure I had the pertinent scenes written and their related plot points finalized before having hachikuro work on their accompanying illustrations. Fortunately I never had to change my mind about any of the scenes that were drawn, but I was pretty cautious on this matter–I had a general outline worked out in advance, and knew which of the critical scenes the story couldn’t do without. (The storyline and its sequence of events actually changed quite a bit from draft to draft, but I at least had its key events set in stone.)

How do you choose which scenes should get pictures in a light novel? How many illustrations should there be in all? What kinds of drawings would work best in general? I had to put some thought into these matters. Going off of published light novels I owned (and my personal budget), I decided on ten illustrations total–nine black and white drawings, and a color cover. I wanted the B/W illustrations to be distributed at least somewhat evenly throughout the story (i.e. to not have them all “clumped together”), so that played a role in deciding what scenes would get illustrations.

But there was more to consider: I didn’t want the illustrations to include big “spoilers” that would readily give away plot twists, I wanted the illustrations to showcase interesting things (i.e. have the characters actually doing something), and I hoped that in the end there would be good variety to the pictures (in mood, in character placement and interaction, in types of events being portrayed, etc). Luckily hachikuro was a big help in the decision-making process for much of this (as she understands art much more than I ever could!), and communicating with her regularly via email as she worked on each illustration proved greatly beneficial in the long run.

illustration refs 1

illustration refs 2

To assist in the illustration process, I took the time to find as many reference pictures as I could for each drawing. Though I’m (Sort of) an Expert on Ghosts isn’t a work of historical fiction, I did put in an effort to give the story a setting that could feel reminiscent of a traditional Japanese era. I wanted some degree of authenticity to come off in both the prose and the artwork, so a lot of the small details had to be researched. Where are the nine black go pieces placed when giving a beginner’s handicap? What sort of grave markers would be used in a cemetery? How big is the ball that children would play with? What should be written on the ofuda talismans? How would this type of tree look in winter? Should there be steps leading up to the front door of the mansion? How would this room be lit, and what would be on the wall behind these characters? Lots of little things to take into consideration, and lots of little things to look up. It was also important (to me at least) to make sure the pictures would closely match what was being described in the prose itself. I always find if disheartening when published novels (chapter books, children’s literature, etc) have illustrations that greatly differ from what is actually happening in the story, and I wanted to avoid that sort of confusion in my own work.

Below are some pictures showing the process hachikuro took for the omake illustration. I’ll let her explain the steps she took to draw it:

Hi, hachikuro here! I’ll be taking you through the normal process I go through when doing an illustration. Before I start working on the actual size of the piece, I do small thumbnails to determine the general placement of each element within the piece. Since Cho was very helpful with looking up references, it was easy to visualize the kind of illustrations I’d go on to do. Afterwards, I proceed to work on a rough sketch on Paint tool SAI. It’s a very loose sketch.

Art Process_0

This is followed by a more refined sketch. The refined sketch serves as the groundwork for the final illustration.

Art Process_1

I then import the sketch to Manga Studio, where I proceed to ink over it.

Art Process_2

Normally, I ink over my drawings and pay special attention to the lines’ thickness. When I’m done with that I go on to fill in the areas that need to be black.

Art Process_3

Buildings are very tricky for me, so I usually leave them for last. The school building in this illustration takes up a substantial amount of space. It also ties in the whole thing together, so it’s just as important as the characters in the foreground!

Art Process_4

Finally, I start putting on the screentones. I tried to use the screentones to add dimension to the characters and the whole illustration itself.

Art Process_5

And that’s it! In the end I was very happy with the final illustrations. I hope this was somewhat helpful and informative!

Thanks, hachikuro! I’ll wrap up by taking a look at the cover a bit:

The cover perhaps took the most work out of all the illustrations, namely since it was colored and required some typeface for the title and credits. There was a lot of brainstorming that took place before this setup was decided on for the cover. My hope was to have something a little more interesting than what is too often done for light novel covers (i.e. a character “posing for the camera” in front of a white background), and to get across the general atmosphere of the book. Though it’s a story that deals with ghosts, it’s not a horror–and the title of the book should make it clear this isn’t serious business. The way the two characters are situated should promise some hint of a relationship that the story will delve into, and perhaps readers can even infer some meaning behind the go board, the talisman, and the snowflake imagery. At the very least, it will hopefully catch people’s attention and pique their curiosity enough to give the book a try.

All in all this was a very interesting endeavor, and the first time a “group project” for one of my creative works actually managed to pull through. Cooperating with an artist for this book certainly added more challenges to deal with, but the effort was definitely worth it in the end. It was a lot of fun to get art updates from hachikuro as I worked on the book–in fact, it was my favorite part of working on this whole project! It was certainly a great motivator, and a nice way to force me to release my story online once I finished. Thanks for being such a great artist to work with, hachikuro!

I’m not certain what the next year will entail for my writing efforts, but it’s certainly possible I will be working with artists again on other creative works. Another light novel, perhaps? Or maybe even a game or visual novel? I’m always willing to experiment!

5 thoughts on “Adding Art to the Ghost Book

  1. Pingback: News: Light Novel Articles (December 2014) | English Light Novels

  2. Nice post there! I’ve never really thought about how much effort it takes to illustrate a light novel; the references, the spacing, the communication between author and illustrator… it’s a lot of work! But it also shows your dedication to your story, and your desire to give the most enjoyable experience possible to the readers.
    The overall process was very interesting to read and made me appreciate the effort people put into their works. The illustrations look so pretty too; definitely an eye-catcher. Amazing job!


    • Thanks for the nice comment, myangiemagic! There’s a lot to keep in mind when incorporating artwork into a book, but I think I was really fortunate that I got to work with hachikuro on this one.


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