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On process

I thought it might be interesting to talk about the process that goes into making my weekly webcomic, The Utopian. I know I’ve always enjoyed reading behind-the-scenes tidbits from other creators (such as this recent gem from Cameron Stewart), so I figure you might enjoy a glimpse into the labor that yields the four-colored follies featured here each week.

To start with, I’m approaching The Utopian a little differently than other comic projects I’m working on, because a) it’s all me and b) the nature of its presentation is a little more fluid than printed material. So instead of working from a full plot and script, I’m working with rough outlines that hit the major plot points for each page. This is what the plot for this week’s strip looked like:

Morning, generic high school. Between classes, halls are busy. James narrates.
Establish abusive relationship between girl and football player. Some argument they have – he grabs her kinda hard. James witnesses from behind lockers down the hall. He’s nearly invisible.

This is very general, because I knew it was going to be dialog-heavy, so the specifics came later. However, for other chapters, I worked with a full script. For example, here’s the script for pages 001 and 002 from last week’s episode:

Night. Anytown. Blacktop basketball half-court in an anonymous stucco apartment complex. Our not-quite-hero, James Douglas, sits on the ground, leaning against a cinder block wall. He’s smoking a cigarette. Like all good 17-year-olds should.

JAMES (narration): It’s cold. Dark. Lonely.

JAMES (narration): The cigarette burns. It’s warm. Keeps me company.

JAMES (narration): Holy sh*t. When did I become so emo?

James wanders apartment complex, passing cars, playgrounds, other mundaneness.

JAMES (narration): I’ve spent four years of high school doing f*ck-all.

JAMES (narration): This thing is coming to an end and what do I have to show for it?

JAMES (narration): I’m not a great student. College seems like a waste.

JAMES (narration): I hang out with stoners, read comic books and find new ways to un-make friends every day.

JAMES (narration): Something has to change. Somebody has to change it.

JAMES (small): Ugh, emo!

Next up comes layout sketches. Some artists call these “thumbnails,” often because they’re very small. Mine are done on a full letter-sized page in a sketch book. Here’s the layout for page 005:


Because I’m working almost entirely digitally (with great help from a Wacom Intuos tablet) on The Utopian, I’m not redrawing the layouts on art boards. Instead, I scan the sketch, then begin laying out guidelines in Photoshop for panel borders, background elements, perspective lines, etc. Then I begin working in a layer on background elements, which looks something like this:

process_page005_bgOften, especially for smaller panels after the background has been established, I simply draw in those elements in the foreground art layer. When drawing foreground elements (which usually include the key characters of any scene), I’ll sometimes tighten up the sketch first before digitally “inking” the artwork. But again, because this is a digital medium and I can make changes on the fly, I often dive right in, which gives the strip a more organic feel. Hence, we get this:

process_page005_inksOnce everything is assembled, we get to my least favorite part: Coloring. I tend to almost always work either in pure black & white or grayscale, so coloring is still a new process to me. I basically keep it simple as The Utopian is intended for online delivery, sticking to “web-friendly” colors and doing old-school cel animation-style shading. Here’s the base colors for page 005:

process_page005_colorAnd here’s the final artwork with shading:

process_page005_shadeAfter that, I add lettering (which is more intensive than you’d think — about a half-hour per page, sometimes more!) and WHAMMO: Finished product. All told, each page takes about two to four hours to complete from sketch to shading, which should give you some idea of how much work goes into something that appears so simple.

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes goodies, and thanks as always for your readership and support!

3 thoughts on “On process

  1. Great! Thanks for posting the link on facebook.



  2. […] five people, all specialists in their respective roles. For more insight on that, check out the blog post I wrote on the process back toward the start of The […]

  3. […] talked about the process that goes into making The Utopian webcomic, and how sometimes I script a chunk of pages in advance, […]

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