Mare Internum: A Thrippin’ Process

I read a stupid amount of webcomics, and I have to say without a doubt Der-Shing Helmer is one of the best creators out there. She never compromises on quality in her writing or art (always find it mind-blowing when the creator does both). She’s currently working on the aftermath and rewards for her second super-successful book Kickstater for Mare Internum, one of her current (but close-to-complete) webcomic projects. I can’t wait to have the final book in my hands. Not to mention she’s started her own publishing company! She’s and incredibly hard worker and I see her as a huge inspiration.

I created this piece to enter in a small contest she was running during the Kickstarter campaign, but it was also a way of saying “thank you” for sharing her wonderful work online. I really do recommend you check the webcomic out.

I’m gonna pick apart some process and a little simple symbolism below. Trying to stay spoiler-free is going to be impossible, so fair warning!

First things first, some sketches to get a basic idea down (I had a pretty concrete layout in mind as you can see).


LEVi, the character depicted, is an AI-enabled subterranean exploratory-robot-turned-extraterrestrial crustacean. I wanted to create a piece that depicted both of these forms layered on top of each other, since the author had their forms be similar in some regards.

Left-hand illustrations credit to Der-Shing Helmer

So as an exploratory robot, it has a headlight of sorts. When their “consciousness” is somehow… transferred into to a Martian crustacean, LEVi’s speech is then depicted in “thrips” in most contexts (also what these little guys are referred by readers and the author of the comic).

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 2.46.16 AM

Credit to Der-Shing Helmer

I stayed faithful to the way the author did the hand-written look of SFX for LEVi’s speech, actually tracing over some panels from the comic to get it just right.

I went absolutely nuts-o on the back pattern. I am a HUGE fan of over-embellishment and ornamentation in design and illustration, and this was the perfect opportunity to try something new. It’s meant to be reminiscent of circuitry boards, but leaning organic.

There’s a couple of things hidden in the pattern, the more obvious being a power-up icon near the top. Near the bottom of the third plate, there’s an abstract fish symbol, representing the main character Michael Fisher (sometimes referred to as “Fish” in the comic), who has a close working relationship, friendship, and history with LEVi.

I isolated the patterns above. As I mentioned in my original blog post, I definitely was inspired by and thinking of Carl Sutton’s work when working on these patterns.

Towards the bottom I included the astronomical symbols of Mars (well, kinda) and Earth, with their respective moons in orbit. And around the entire illustration, sonar waves, which seemed thematically appropriate and houses the illustration. The outline of LEVi’s Martian form slightly pulses as well.

Last but not least, I wanted to include the character’s name someplace, but not just straight-up write it, so it’s hidden in the pink ring.

After drawing everything in Illustrator, I went ahead and pulled the pieces over to Photoshop for the animation. I’ve created looping GIFs before, but overall this was more complicated than anything I’d done previously. And even though I kept the color palette limited, the gradual gradients in the background really racked up the colors once the GIF was saved-for-web. Not to mention the wavy-gradient done over the top of the circuitry pattern. Speaking of…

This was a technique I’ve been wanting to try for some time now. I read about it as a good way to do embers in a fire. Basically mask out the areas you’d like to be fading and rolling through different colors, and using a layer of Difference Clouds (!!! who woulda thunk it actually has a practical use) behind the mask to make the gradual changes in value.

The final GIF is in a previous post below, but here’s a quick link. Thanks for reading! I hope it was interesting.

Here’s one final Thrip sketch. Go read Mare Internum!



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