In honor of Valentine’s Day and all things Fresh Romance, we’re releasing The Only One, a beautifully illustrated short story that spans decades in the space of 10 pages, on February 14th. The comic was created by a trio of insanely talented women, written by Cecil Castellucci with colors and layout by Sarah Winifred Searle and finishes by Irene Koh.
We recently sat down with Sarah Winifred Searle to talk about her work on The Only One – read the interview here!
Emet: Can you tell us about the inspiration for Gigi and Eugene’s character design? What was your process for bringing these two characters to life?
Sarah: This was a collaboration between Irene and myself–my rough drafts established the characters’ most basic characteristics, and then Irene fleshed them out. One of my favorite things about designing characters is choosing distinct and diverse body shapes, so that’s the main thing you’ll see Irene carry through into the final line art. It was important to me that Gigi appears on the heavier side because you don’t see that often in female leads, especially romantic ones, and I’m proud of how clear and realistic it is that her body changes over time. I couldn’t help but see Eugene as tall, maybe even a little willowy, with glasses–maybe it felt like a natural reflection of his aloof nature?
Emet: There is a softness and verisimilitude to your pencils that comes through most notably in the character’s gestures, posture, and expressions. How do you find the right, most romantic moments to capture in the frame?
Sarah: Thank you! With any visual narrative like this–animation, comics, etc–the artist has to take the role of actor, plus you have to figure out how to play every single character yourself, which is a fun challenge. At this point, it’s just second nature to me, but I do take moments to put myself in a character’s shoes and ask myself “what would Gigi/Eugene/etc do?” For example, it felt right to play young Gigi as the quiet, bashful crushing type, whereas another artist may have drawn her as more forward and outgoing. This worked well because you can see her confidence grow throughout the decades in how she handles her relationship with Eugene, even just through her body language. And it really does come down to body language –– I like to capture moments where the characters’ postures really tell you something about them as people, not just what’s happening in the moment, whether romantic or otherwise.
Emet: Cecil’s script certainly gave you an interesting framing for each story, with each page divided in thirds. There’s some obvious parallelism in your layouts, but what were your artistic goals and challenges in regards to this kind of storytelling?
Sarah: It was a good challenge. The first thing I did was create the grid and decide on three distinct palettes for each timeline so that even just by skimming, the reader could figure out the concept. Between that, solid character designs, and a touch of deja vu in panel compositions, I hope it reads well. And something fun about establishing rules like the grid is how cool it can turn out when you break them!
Emet: In a story that spans so much time, there are bound to be changes to the culture, technology, and fashion. What research did you do when crafting the look of the characters and settings to make each era feel distinct?
Sarah: I went for a timeless feel, avoiding too many obvious markers of technology and era, then referenced from my own life for the rest. Peachy, flat colors and clothing like jeans and tees characterize Teen Gigi’s timeline, hopefully nostalgic for anyone who went to high school in the past 50 years; rosy gradients and stylish fashion upgrades for Middle Gigi; then a bluer, more vibrant palette and sophisticated clothing style for Retired Gigi. (Irene noticed exactly what I was going for and her details made the fashion in this comic so great!) The grid was a blessing here in that the small panels didn’t allow for much setting detail, so you end up with this really intimate-feeling comic that always focuses on the characters.