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Diana Tamblyn | Issue 26
A Girl Walks Into the Woods: Diana Tamblyn shares the process of adapting Cornelia Hoogland’s poetry book Woods Wolf Girl into a comic book
A Girl Walks Into the Woods is a self-published comic book adapted by cartoonist Diana Tamblyn from the poetry book Woods Wolf Girl by Cornelia Hoogland (Wolsak & Wynn, 2011).
The comic made its debut at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in June of 2022. The story is a modern retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.
The Genesis of the Comic
I am not a poetry connoisseur by any means, but I did pick up and read Woods Wolf Girl by Cornelia Hoogland a few years ago, and it completely blew me away. It was so visceral and visual, a powerful interpretation of one of the most popular fairy tales.
Since many are familiar with “Little Red Riding Hood’s” main plot points and visual iconography (red cape, wolf, woods, girl) both Cornelia and I had an incredible amount of artistic freedom to reimagine aspects of the story that are not usually explored.
For instance, in Woods Wolf Girl, Cornelia focused on the relationship between the three female protagonists in the story – Red, her Mother, and her Grandmother. This really appealed to me and was something I wanted to include in my adaptation. I had no interest in the Woodsman as a character or hero. To me Red is the hero of the story.
In addition to centering the female characters from the fairytale, Cornelia disrupts the chronology and setting. At one point the setting is timeless where the time and place could be anywhere from 1950s to present day and then we jump to a shoot on a modern-day film set in Algonquin Park. Cornelia also morphs the wolf into different characters such as a teenage boy playing records for a girl in his bedroom to a businessman trying to ask a young woman out.
Creating the Comic
After reading, Woods Wolf Girl, I visualized many of the scenes in my head immediately and wanted to draw them. I contacted Cornelia and asked if I could adapt the book as a comic. She was enthused and gave me carte blanche to tackle the project however I saw fit. This almost made my job harder because I had no parameters or constraints to work with.
I started by reading through the book multiple times and marking which poems I wanted to adapt. Many of the poems worked perfectly on their own, and if I felt I couldn’t add anything to them graphically, then I chose not to include them.
Once I made my selections, I thumb-nailed the poems, which is the process of breaking down the story panel by panel. This determines the flow, the imagery, and the pacing. With thumbnails you can tell pretty quickly if a page is working or not. Cartooning is a slow and laborious affair, so you really don’t want to spend hours or days on a page only to realize that you have to chuck it.
I struggled for months on how to depict the wolf. I considered alluding to him off panel or portraying him in shadows. To me, the scariest villains/threats are ones you can’t see and that your mind conjures.
Although I wanted the readers to create their own image of the wolf, Red meeting the Wolf in the woods is one of the main storylines in the comic, and I just couldn’t figure out how to do it without showing him. In the end, I chose to portray him as a cool wolf who wears a business suit and smokes in the forest, and I’m pleased with how he came out.
Throughout the process, I shared thumbnails and fully inked pages with Cornelia for her input and feedback. I rarely changed any of the text of the poems; however, if a text needed to be changed to fit the visual, Cornelia updated the text. She was also an invaluable first reader, highlighting anything that wasn’t clear. On the few occasions where we disagreed on a page, we were able to work through a solution that satisfied both of us and improved the comic overall.
After settling on the pacing and breakdowns of the pages, I began searching for visual references. I chose to depict Red in motorcycle boots because I wanted to show right off the bat – from the cover and the very first panel above, that this is not your typical version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. I also wanted it to be clear that the forest is a character in the story, a living, organic thing.
I work traditionally with pencil on Bristol, then use ink with brushes and technical pens. The pages are scanned into the computer where I apply grey tones and colour. It’s a laborious process. Because I have a day job, a teenager, my husband, two animals, and I am slow at drawing, the creation of the book took a few years. For long periods of time, I would be working away drawing and Cornelia would hear nothing from me. Then I would send her an email (I’m sure for her seemingly out of nowhere), with pages to look at.
One of the best ways to move a project forward is to have a tangible deadline, so I applied to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) to give myself one. When I found out I got accepted in the spring of 2022, things started to move at a breakneck pace. The comic now HAD to be completed by a certain date.
Production and Launch
I am a member of a group of cartoonists in London, Ontario called “Comic Time,” we get together and talk comics and egg each other on to draw and work on projects together. Just as I was finishing up the drawing for this comic, one of my friends from the group – Jacqueline Demendeev (a talented artist in their own right), asked me if I needed any help with it. One of the smartest things I did was to say – yes!
The actual production and printing of a comic requires its own set of skills. Jacqueline and I agonized about paper quality, paper colour (a creamy off-white to give a warm, old-timey feel as opposed to a stark white), and what colour red worked the best. Jacquline arranged for samples on different paper stocks, and we compared them. Once a proof was ready, Cornelia, Jacqueline, and I met on a Zoom call and examined each page one by one.
This was one of the best experiences of the whole project – the three of us putting our heads together and talking through the pages. Cornelia would suggest line breaks in some panels and pages for a better visual rhythm. There were instances where the action was confusing, or we all weren’t on board with the wording. Sometimes Cornelia wrote captions on the spot. It was a fun meeting of the minds.
A Girl Walks in the Woods has been out in the world for about nine months now and has had a fantastic reception. The first print run is almost sold out, and Cornelia and I were featured speakers at WordsFest in London, Ontario on November 19, 2022. Jacqueline moderated the discussion which brought this project full circle.
DrawnTogether will be launched in the spring of 2023 and is inspired by the Exquisite Corpse drawing game, where artists start with a folded piece of paper and take turns drawing a head, torso, or feet, not knowing or seeing what the other person has drawn. In the end, you unfold the pages to see the final results of the collaboration. The DrawnTogether app is a fun take on this, where people can download the game and use the built-in drawing tools to create an artwork themselves or collaborate with others. Pop Sandbox has commissioned a number of artists to produce artwork for DrawnTogether to inspire to its users.
Diana Tamblyn is an award-winning artist and graphic novelist who has been actively writing and drawing comics for over 20 years. She’s exhibited her comics at small press fairs and comic book festivals in both Canada and the US and has had artwork displayed in various group and solo shows. In 2005, She was chosen by the Globe and Mail as a “Canadian cartoonist to watch”. She is the recipient of a Canada Council Grant, a London Arts Council Grant, is the founder of the “Ting Comic and Graphic Arts Festival” in London, Ontario, has served on the Ontario Arts Council Jury and recently curated the show “Words and Pictures: Cartoonists from Southwest Ontario” for Museum London. Diana graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a BFA in Film Animation.
A comic adaptation of poet Cornelia Hoogland's book "Woods Wolf Girl". Little Red Riding Hood like you've never encountered her before. A contemporary re-telling of the age old fairy tale.
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Issue #26 of Send My Love to Anyone
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