Character Dive: Snakeheart & Co.

In this short series, I'm going to be looking at not only how my art has changed and improved over the course of each featured character's (or group of characters) existence, but also how their personalities and my conceptions of them have changed and grown.

Character Dive: Snakeheart & Co.
Gornorath and Snakeheart (from Death to the Door, my contribution to the Immortals SpiderForest Anthology)

In this short series, I'm going to be looking at not only how my art has changed and improved over the course of each featured character's (or group of characters) existence, but also how their personalities and my conceptions of them have changed and grown.

The earliest image I have of Snakeheart and Gornorath, probably from 2002-3 (with Snakeheart's old first name here also)

The characters which I'm going to be talking about in this edition of the series are those in the universe I've referred to (mostly privately) as the 'Price of a Bargain' group, after the first short story I wrote with them way back in 2001 or so. As you might imagine, given that I was roughly eleven years old at the time, that was quite bad, but the core idea and some of the character involved never went away. (Snakeheart has remained the most consistent throughout; the characters who would become Meinrad and Kacey went through several name changes.)

Snakeheart from ~2005

Gornorath, first spawned of the demon-lords of N'g'lerat, has remained entirely consistent from the first story, aside from that at some point it acquired another set of arms in its character design. Snakeheart, in transformed shape, has also been very consistent, although at some point he lost the pipe and the smoking jacket has come and gone. I was initially not worried about him having a reasonable, time-and-place appropriate human name, so it's shifted from his name actually being Brool Snakeheart to him having been a human named Burchard Hintzen (nicknamed Snakeheart, who then took that name after his transformation).

Cover for the first planned sequel to what would later become Mortal No Longer

I started nailing these things down when I made my first attempt at expanding the original story into book form, in 2006-2007 (I started, as has become my first-draft tradition, during National Novel Writing Month for the extra kick to actually get it done). I went through several full re-writes that changed very basic things such as setting and characters, but Snakeheart and the nature of his bargain with Gornorath remained the same at the core.

'Cameron Marlowe' from ~2007

A character who interacted with Snakeheart somehow, was accidentally drawn into his bargain for the Never-death, and then appeared later in modern times was also always present, but what form that character took changed considerably. At the time of the first novel draft, that character was Cameron Marlowe, and the current character – Meinrad Blankschmied/Schmidt – does retain some similarities (mostly in appearance).

'Cameron Marlowe' with the sword, from ~2007

The presence of some manner of demon-killing sword was also consistent, but what form that took and how useful or pivotal it was changed considerably. Generally, the sword's importance went down with each draft. (There was one where it was intelligent and spoke, but there was really no good reason for that; that's where the above picture comes from.)

'Cameron Marlowe', from 2008

There were also a few drafts where magic was much more powerful, and those generally coincided with the ones that followed a single character ('Cameron Marlowe') the whole time. It wasn't necessary an awful idea, but it wasn't right for the story I was trying to tell.

'Cameron Marlowe' in his cave, 2010

There was also a completely-scrapped intermitent book following Cameron Marlowe in the 1700s, which relied completely on the high-magic elements which I realized just weren't working at all. The above drawing is about all that remains of that concept. (Cameron is also starting to look more like Meinrad will here.)

'Kelsey Marlowe', ~2010

Somewhere around 2010 I realized that the best answer to my 'which character' dilemma was to split the two out, so there was one character (who would become Meinrad) who was the original protagonist and got caught up in Snakeheart's bargain, and another character in the modern day (who would become Kacey) who had to dela with the mess later. The above is the earliest drawing I have of the second character, called Kelsey at the time. (Originally she was supposed to be a direct descendant of the first character, but that didn't work with his character at all, so she wound up instead a direct descendant of one of his siblings.)

Price of a Bargain comic page one, 2009 or 2010

I also revisited the concept of a comic set in that universe several times. The first one has no surviving pages and didn't deal directly with any character other than Gornorath, but I do have all three pages of the second attempt, from 2009 or 2010. This one was going with the long-term enemies battling directly idea that I later dropped (because it really didn't work with the nature of the planes as I'd set them forth, or any other idea I had).

Price of a Bargain comic page two, 2009 or 2010

These were just done on sketchbook paper with a mechanical pencil, and is a really good example of why I never considered hand-lettering for Corner the Maze... (also the first appearance of Ed Marlowe, whose importance shifted depending on the draft in question.)

Price of a Bargain comic page three, 2009 or 2010

I'm not sure why I went straight from a very formulaic six panel layout for the first two pages of this to a complete experiment for the last, but I did that. This also shows a lot of problems I had with pencil shading at the time which would probably have been solved by going away from the mechanical pencil, but I wasn't considering that.

'Kelsey Marlowe', 2012

I had more or less abandoned the whole idea until I broke my leg in 2012, at which point I had a lot of time to think and sketch, and started to consider that maybe I would be able to actually write this thing. I'd come a long way in terms of campaign planning for roleplaying games, and I thought perhaps I could apply that to writing as well, and not just get stuck on my plot halfway through. This drawing was done while I was running all that through my mind, and is a little closer to how she'd end up than the first one, at least.

Cast of the modern sequel, first draft edition (2012? 2013?)

I started with the modern sequel to the original events, oddly enough; I guess I thought that would be easier, without so much research needed. I helpfully labelled the characters in the cast sketch above; Snakeheart was there, of course, Kelsey would become Kacey (and this version was closer to the character who emerged), Meinrad was now more-or-less himself (but he'd get one more name change), Emily is a character who I dropped completely, Ed Marlowe was still Kelsey's grandfather instead of great-grandfather here because the timing hadn't quite sunk in on me, and I recall in this draft that Sylvia Marlowe had the role of basically opposing the whole demon-hunting mission, which was a bit one-dimensional.

Meinrad and Kacey ('Kelsey') knock on doors, ~2013

There was a plot line in that draft where Meinrad and Kelsey did a lot of investigative reporting by knocking on doors to find a rampaging demon that didn't quite make it into the final version, but the drawing above is from that. Some aspects of that plot line did make it into Life's Curse, though, and that too-rambling-originally plot line was where I really hammered out the relationship between the two.

Snakeheart, 2014 or so

Snakeheart watching Meinrad constantly from N'g'lerat was a much bigger part of the plot originally, including his invading Kelsey's dreams with some frequency, but aside from being fun to write, most of that was effectively filler and I abandoned it. I did draw a lot of sketches of Snakeheart from that, though...

Burchard Hintzen, preparing for the fateful bargain (2014)

In 2014, I was beginning to get more into inks, and trying to freelance as an illustrator. I started doing more full-scene drawings for that, and also around that time I decided to rework the original Price of a Bargain idea into what would end up as the first actual draft of Mortal No Longer. This one features Burchard studying, now in his late 1300s setting.

Meinrad in the monastery (2014)

The monastery plotline in Mortal No Longer was much longer at one point, taking up almost a third of the book, but it never really ended up going anywhere useful, so it got significantly chopped down. This drawing is from when Meinrad was more of a warrior (much more; that aspect of his role and character ended up eventually getting split off into Elke's character).

This was the drawing that convinced me I was on to something with the inks and could do a comic, so it was important for that.

Meinrad and Kacey ('Kelsey') facing down a demon in the cemetary (2014)

Chasing a particular demon all over town and into a graveyard was also a plot that originally had more space than it deserved, and culminated in this cemetary showdown. (The showdown got moved to the library later, which was more appropriate.)

Kacey ('Kelsey') contemplating the sword (2014)

In a lot of ways this is more like Kacey ended up, albeit without her glasses. In this version she got the sword from her grandfather, and before him her great-grandfather (the portrait on the wall).

I have no idea how I managed to get a decent pose with the sword but also screw up the geometry of the chair that she's sitting in so completely. It's a mystery.

Snakeheart sipping his tea (2014)

Snakeheart, chilling at his desk in the great library of Dorogon in N'g'lerat. I didn't end up using this location much in writing, aside from the end of Life's Curse, but this drawing did serve as the location inspiration for Death to the Door ten years later... and it still captures Snakeheart's essence well.

Kacey ('Kelsey') and Meinrad converse over dinner (2014)

Now that I was sure I wanted to make something of these ideas, and as illustration practice, I did a lot of drawings while I was working out the outline in 2014. The one above comes from a cut scene where Meinrad takes Kelsey to a nice restaurant old enough for him to remember it from last time he was in England as a reward for the demon-killing and then lays all the problems of the family curse on her. It was a good scene for character development, in the sense that it helped me figure things out, but it was cut for good reason.

Meinrad is looking accurate to his final form here, and Kelsey (although still not with her final name) is getting close.

Meinrad and Kacey ('Kelsey') find evidence of the demon in the road near her house (2014)

I think this might be one of the first full drawings I used reference for, and it shows in that their poses work out better than in the last few drawings. I clearly didn't bother with it for much of the background, though, and I probably should have... but for a long time this was one of my favorite drawings, and it still looks more like Meinrad than some I've done since.

Burchard Hintzen at his desk (2015)

Burchard working on his research which would lead him tot he bargain. This was while I was working out the outline for what would finally become Mortal No Longer.

Reminder to myself to work on my goals featuring Snakeheart (2015)

This was printed out and taped up on the wall next to my computer desk for a long time, and has since moed to my art desk; a reminder to keep working at my goals, featuring Snakeheart (who hasn't lost the pipe just yet) and in the style I was going to use for Corner the Maze.

Translation: EVERY DAY you must - market a bit - draw a bit - write a bit - DON'T FORGET

(I still don't do a bit of marketing every day. Failing you there, Snakeheart.)

Alfons and Meinrad (2015)

I was trying a lot of cover-illustration style pieces around this time, although they never worked out particularly well for that, and this one I was considering a watercolour painting from. I never did that, though. It's a pivotal scene in Mortal No Longer involving Meinrad and his mentor.

Chimalli and his car (2015)

Around the same time, I did the above drawing, and decided that would be the basis for my comic. Chimalli didn't have a name at this point; he was referred to in the script as 'Driver' for the first several chapters while I worked on that, which was an odd choice in retrospect, but I was concerned if I didn't get on with the comic writing I'd never start. A valid concern, considering how long I've been waffling about my next comic.

This was my first attempt at drawing a racing helmet or a formula car. There are some issues.

Corner the Maze prologue cover (2015)

I later went back and did pen-and-marker color covers for Corner the Maze, but this was the original prologue cover, featuring Chimalli, before he ends up in the Maze.

Chimalli meets Elke (2015)

The original cover for Corner the Maze chapter two, wherein Chimalli meets Elke and the Order of the Gate. Elke also features in Mortal No Longer (more strongly), but her appearance in Corner the Maze ended up codifying some things about her character.

Chimalli Ramirez and Meinrad Schmidt (2016)

I drew this for Asexual Awareness Week in 2016, although I don't remember if I actually ended up using it for anything, featuring Chimalli (protagonist of Corner the Maze) and Meinrad (protagonist of Mortal No Longer) holding up the Ace of Spades which is often used to represent aromantic asexuals (which includes both of these characters and also, as I had recently realized that year, me).

Looking back at this, even though he's standing somewhat behind Meinrad, Chimalli ought to be taller here. Meinrad is something like 5'1", and Chimalli is more like 5'7".

'Kelsey Marlowe' (2016)

Above, Kacey (Kelsey at the time) smuggling the sword back home. This was not a reasonable way for it to be accomplished and that changed, but a lot of the time doing drawings like these helps me work out things about characters or plot.

Elke (2016)

While working on Corner the Maze I had to get Elke's appearance more consistent than it had been. My main regret with Elke, and what I would change if I were to re-write Mortal No Longer and Corner the Maze, is that I wish I'd had the courage to go beyond "wants to be a knight" and more into "not a woman" with her character (sticking with female pronouns because that's what I did write). Especially since the particular blend of being afraid that if I did that I'd be removing the most prominent female character in both stories and reasoning that the character wasn't a man either was exactly the same blend that kept me evading my own nonbinary gender for so long, which I'm sure was part of why I didn't do that while writing back in 2015/16... but I did at least leave some ambiguity in both stories, so there's that. (Getting things correct historically would also have added a bunch of research to my plate, but then, 'not enough research' is another thing I'd do differently if re-writing.)

Chimalli listens to Elke in the cave (2016)

I wanted to make sure that Corner the Maze stood alone, because I hadn't even finished Mortal No Longer when I started it and didn't want people to need more background than I was giving them in the comic, and I'm glad I made that decision – both because it was the correct one for the comic, but also because I left only very vague references to the events I was writing about in the novels, which left me a lot more leeway to change things I wasn't satisfied with at the time.

Cover idea for Mortal No Longer (2017)

While I was finishing up the first volume of Corner the Maze, I also did some experiments with cover at for Mortal No Longer. At first I was thinking of self-publishing, then I thought I should at least try the traditional route, and now I'm looping back around to considering self-publishing... but if I do, I'll definitely do another cover design! I like some things about this one, and it particularly still stands out from 2017, but it's also a bit muddy and busy.

Ed Marlowe (2017)

I also wrote about Ed Marlowe and his time with the sword as one of my earlier experiments in short story writing, but that story has a lot of references to things that I've changed in the plot of Mortal No Longer and supports some plot points that I've removed from Life's Curse, so it's not seeing the light of day again unless I re-work it. This was the cover piece when I sent it out on Patreon.

Elke, for the Corner the Maze cast page (2017)

Elke, in spirit form for my 2017 revamp of the Corner the Maze cast page. This is also the same sword that has been featured, in its final design form.

Chimalli, for the Corner the Maze cast page (2017)

Chimalli holding his helmet, also for the cast page update. His face is really a bit too long in this one.

Shoxoth, for the Corner the Maze cast page (2017)

Fun fact: Shoxoth was at one point the demon that Meinrad and Kacey tracked into the cemetary, and then it reported back to Snakeheart. Its role in Corner the Maze makes a lot more sense, but I do still somewhat question my judgment in choosing a feathered demon-lord for the primary antagonist of the first volume. I believe I left a reference to Shoxoth's bungling in Life's Curse (but I also might've edited that out in the last round of edits, I'm not 100% sure).

Garlathax, for the Corner the Maze cast page (2017)

Garlathax was originally intended as a bit player, but when I realized that the entire script for volume two of Corner the Maze needed to be rewritten before I started working on it, I realized Garlathax made a much better primary antagonist than who I had used before, and quickly switched things around so that it worked. Garlathax has never shown up in the novels, unlike Shoxoth.

Last Sentinel (2018)

I also mocked up a cover for what would become Life's Curse (then tentatively titled 'The Last Sentinel'), which features a character who's filling Kacey's role but is a lot more like what Ember turned out to be in all other ways.

'Kelsey' with the sword (2018)

Not long after that I split those two characters off, and this one is Kacey (still called Kelsey) with the sword, which looks more ordinary like its final form, and I think that was Gornorath's hand in the background.

Mortal No Longer cover idea (2019)

While I was wrapping up Corner the Maze, I did another cover experiment for Mortal No Longer, this time in watercolour. There are some things to be said about this one as opposed to the last, but it's got some serious issues, too. (Especially that bloody hand.)

Chimalli watching Etalpalli over the desert (2019)

Once Corner the Maze concluded, I planned to turn my attention to the novels, but got a little sidetracked with the pandemic and everything that went on in the next couple of years (I did the above image at the very end of 2019, to go up when Corner the Maze ended; one of my first digital pieces in a long time).

But I had by then realized that I unintentionally created a great excuse for some of the plot events I'd been worrying around in Life's Curse through the events of Corner the Maze, so I scribbled some notes down about that before I got stuck into Mortal No Longer again. Those notes formed the basis for a substantial rewrite when I got back to Life's Curse (then still titled 'The Last Sentinel' and with a very different conclusion).

Death to the Door preview, featuring Snakeheart in Dorogon (2024)

I have still been polishing the two novels, but aside from that, I thought I was done writing in this universe – until the Immortals anthology came up, because Snakeheart was the obvious character to focus a story on. I had a lot of trouble working on this short comic (first tablet solution didn't work, had to switch programs and use Painter instead of CSP, had to redo the whole thing once), but I think it came out well!

Meinrad, Elke, Adalbert and Adalbert's children as seen in Death to the Door (2024)

This was the first time that I drew Adalbert (Meinrad and Elke's brother) in color, or Elke in color but alive, so that was interesting.

Gornorath and Snakeheart argue in Death to the Door (2024)

Gornorath and Snakeheart in Death to the Door are still directly comparable to that three page comic I did back in 2009 or 10, so it's nice to look back on that and see how far I've come, both in terms of comic making and developing their characters.

That ended up being a long one, but there was a lot to go over! The next entry in this series will concern one of my longer-running D&D characters, Vexielzethix.