I’ve talked about the process that goes into making The Utopian webcomic, and how sometimes I script a chunk of pages in advance, and sometimes I just work from a loose plot and script it after the fact. I’ve been using the latter approach lately, essentially creating a one-man “Marvel” method of comic book storytelling, where, as an artist, I move forward the action of the strip, and then the writer side of me interprets the action to write the words that match it. Basically, I’m doing this stuff on the fly now, which has allowed me to come up with certain plot points and twists even I didn’t see coming, which keeps the thing fresh for me. Which is good, because I had the realization this week that I am six months into this comic, and probably have six more months ahead of me. That’s a long time to dedicate to just one story.
An example of one such instance is the reveal about Michelle’s reasons for pursuing journalism from pages 39 to 42. Originally, that was supposed to be a two-page scene. Here’s what the original plot notes read:
Page 039-040: Michelle in school paper office, alone (think Chloe style from “Smallville”). She’s considering mock-up of paper w/Utopian reveal. James enters. They talk and stuff.
“They talk and stuff.” Wow, real nice piece of work there, Peej. Of course, when I provide a full script to another artist, it includes scene direction, full dialog, sound effects, etc. But since I’m the only one who has to figure out what I’m doing here, that kind of vagueness is usually fine. But when I started drawing the pages, I realized there was no sound way for me to get James to talk her out of publishing a story about his dual life. And I just let the characters tell me what was going to happen. So instead of having James talk her down, we see that Michelle already made the decision to can the story. And then Michelle needed more layers, more motivation for what she’s doing. And an inherent way of maybe coming around to James’ cause (also, she was pretty unlikeable up to that point).
The case is the same for Nate in today’s comic, though this I really didn’t see happening until after I drew the page. I’ll let you actually read it for yourself so as not to ruin the surprise (though, OK, I did give it away in the title of this blog post, I guess), but once I realized what was happening in the panels, a light bulb went on in my head. I think what eventually came out in the script gives Nate more depth and definition, moving him away from generic bully/jock status and into a character who may be somewhat more sympathetic.