Evolution of a scene: the rough sketches for ‘Big Trouble’

final rough on the left, finished version on the right

There’s a scene in The Last Viking Returns called ‘Big Trouble’ where Fafnir the dragon is finally revealed in all his terrible glory. The scene went through a lot of changes during development, so I thought I’d share them here.

It’s a lot of pics though so I’ll share them in two parts. This post will show you the roughs, and next week’s post will show how the final illustration was put together.

(And if you haven’t read the book yet, there’s a few SPOILERS below.)

You can see a tiny sample of the final illustration above on the right. The earliest sketch is very scrappy in comparison 🙂 It’s from the first dummy book, which was an opportunity for me to map out the basic beats of the story.

First dummy book


Once Norm and I started developing the story a bit more and figuring out the pagination, we realised we needed to condense Fafnir’s reveal onto one page so that we could show the twins on the boat on the left page.
(In the final book, these two moments ended up getting their own double-page spreads).

Twins in peril on the left page, Norse gods in peril on the right page


Here’s basically the same page but with Norm’s most recent version of the text pasted in. I rejigged the order of the panels on the left.

Norm’s text pasted in


After meeting with our awesome editor Cate, she suggested I simplify the page on the left and only use one panel. I shrunk it to about a quarter of the spread, allowing me to spread out with the dragon. I was really happy with this version of the scene; Freya and Sigurd got their epic hero pose moment, and Fafnir’s slithering body did a great job of leading your eye through the image.

twins in the boat in the left, Norse gods on the right


I did a colour rough of this too. I was pretty convinced I had the final version of this knuckled down (famous last words).  3rd-dummy-pg22-23-colour

After a later meeting with Cate, we realised we needed to shuffle a few pages around. The small illustration on the left with the twins ended up getting its own double-page spread, which meant that the illustration with the dragon now needed to take up a full two pages as well.

First I tried going back to my original idea from the very first dummy book – put Odin in his own panel on the left, then have the dragon contained in 3/4s of the spread. But because Odin took the first paragraph of text with him, it meant that Freya’s text on the next panel looked really lonely. Fafnir needed to take up more of the space. 4th-dummy-pg22-23-colour-v3

I tried making it all one illustration and making Fafnir longer, but he lost that wonderful slinkiness that he previously had.

not an improvement 🙂


It wasn’t working. I went back to the drawing board and tried some alternate angles.  Here’s some of those rough sketches.


It started to take shape; Odin got his own panel on the left with a shadow of Fafnir appearing in clouds behind him, and Fafnir dominated the right hand panel. Putting him in the foreground made him much bigger on the page compared to the Norse gods, emphasising the threat.

Fafnir’s wings always get in the way


His wings were a little hard to read when folded up, so I tried a second version with at least one wing open and visible.

the almost-final rough


So, this is how the rough developed. Next week I’ll show you how I did the linework and colours on the final version.

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at www.jamesfoley.com.au .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: