Back in December, local artist and musician, John Robbins, released his novel Echo of Sight. The book is loosely based on his journey dealing with visual impairment. Recently, Robbins began work on creating a graphic novel version of the book.

John Robbins is originally from San Francisco and has been living in the Coachella Valley since 2001. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and can play guitar, ukulele, piano, and drums. Robbins didn’t have vision problems until he was about 22, when he noticed that his vision was starting to decline. He’s completely blind in one eye and only has a small amount of vision left in the other.

During a recent interview, Robbins explained the details of the graphic novel of Echo of Sight

“Basically, it’s a comic adaptation of the book. I think it’s working well in my favor because I can include certain things I wanted to put in the book, but things didn’t fit in because originally, I wanted to do more of a character spotlight on my character named Alex. But since it’s told in first person perspective from my character named Roland, I didn’t have those kinds of liberties. With the comic, I can take those liberties and be more creative with them than written format.”

He explained what led him to drawing and how he’s drawn his work over the years.

“I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid back in kindergarten and give you a piece of paper and crayons saying, ‘Ok, draw!’ I didn’t start taking illustrating and comics seriously until my freshman year of high school. I forget which web comic I started reading back then, but I thought, ‘If someone can do this, I can too.’ So this was when drawing tablets were in their infancy. I had this tablet at the time that was so frustrating because it was so hard to get it at the correct angle to work with. What I ended up doing is using the pen tool in photoshop to create everything and went from there. I tried my hardest to do everything I could and bought myself a scanner because it took up too much time, and I tried to work with the tablet I had but it still wasn’t as comfortable. I kept a sketchbook with me and sketched to my heart’s content.”

The drawings for the graphic novel version of Echo of Sight are a cross between Japanese anime and American style cartoons.

“I grew watching cartoons and when I was in high school, it was when I started watching anime like Dragon Ball-Z and all that stuff. Of course, when you watch anime, the main thing ‘I want to draw anime.’ My style is kind of a cross between the 2 because I love American style cartoons and Japanese animation. I’m trying to going back to drawing everything as simple as possible, like that cartoony syndicated newspaper kind of stuff. That’s why the comic is in a 3-panel format, because not only does it remind me of all the newspaper comics I grew up reading, but it’s way less stressful.”

Robbins said that while he knows the story and the script, there are stresses to writing a graphic novel that can be difficult to deal with. He says he’s confident that he’s found his methods in writing the graphic novel to be effective in its storytelling.

“I think to an extent, writing a script or a story is one thing, but actually having to draw what’s happening is another. What angles should I draw the characters in? What needs to be in the background? I think it’s really frustrating for me given I chose this 3 panel set up. I have to condense certain parts of the story so everything will link together. At the same time, I can start wherever in the comic and on that specific page you’re reading, it’ll make sense and contribute to the story as a whole. I think it’s very difficult, but in the long run, it’ll be worth it. What I’m trying to do with all these pages is to make them stand alone.”

The tools that he’s currently using are a MacBook Pro and a Cintiq tablet through Photoshop.

“The Cintiq tablet cost me every penny I have… No, I’m kidding. I draw on a Cintiq 13HD. It’s great because not only do I have this wide surface to work with, but the resolution is crisp and clear. It feels exactly like drawing on paper to me, even though there’s a tiny bit of lag. I love the fact that it feels so natural. I used to do things with those tablets that sit on your desk and you have to look at your computer screen. I used to think, ‘Man, I don’t have that eye hand coordination anymore.’”

Using technology has helped Robbins in creating his art and he says that technology has been able to provide him with the outlet to continue to draw and create art.

“I think it’s easier drawing on an iPad or using a Cintiq for the purposes that I won’t be looking through my magnifying glass to see where I drew a line. Especially with graphite pencils, I won’t be able to see those lines I drew. Having all this technology really helps in the sense that I can see what I’m doing. I learned a cheating method through YouTube videos for simple shading. I’m still learning how lights hit an object and how to shade. You don’t see much shading in my work, because I’m still learning how.”

Now A MUSIC Break

Still, Robbins loves music. He’s involved with music production at Braille Institute in Rancho Mirage and he’s been looking for a band to perform with.

“I’ve been trying to get a band together for the last couple of months, but it’s not going as well as I thought it would. I have to keep my hopes up and I’m hoping there might be a few possibilities out there. I just need to keep pushing and keep asking. I’m still playing my ukulele at home and I’m doing some sound engineering and recording at Braille Institute, which helps with the itch to play music. I get to be surrounded by it twice a week. Ideally, I would love to be in a band again.”