Pj's Playground of Terror, er, Worklog

edited August 2011 in Work Logs
I know I've been terrible about keeping up worklogs in the past, but this I'm doing for myself to keep track of things and to maybe get some feedback when I get stuck. I tend to work in a vacuum, especially on this particular series, so I'm going to try and change that somewhat. Be gentle. :)

Here's the basic deal: I finished the Utopian webcomic after 18 months and 109 pages last fall. While I was pretty "over it" by the end of the run, I also left a wide open window to continue the story if I so desired, minus one hurdle: (if you didn't read it, SPOILER ALERT!!) The main character, the TITLE character, died at the end. Apparently.

After the trade paperback release, a lot of people asked if I was doing a sequel. And I guess if it made sense to them that there would be more, it made sense to me. Plus, I went through all the trouble of asking Image to change the title of it's "Utopian" series, so I didn't want that to fall by the wayside either. It didn't take much thought to realize I'd created a world with all these supporting characters, but they never really got a chance to be fully developed, because James/The Utopian told almost the entire story from his POV.

The approach for the "sequel" is to tell a series of interconnected story lines building around the central conceit: that, following James' death, a nonprofit social justice organization is founded in his honor, called (shockingly) The Utopian Foundation. The new story picks up about nine months after the end of the TPB, and we see the impact of James' life/death on his supporting cast: gang member T-Rex has left behind crime and become a volunteer at the Foundation. Football star Nate has gone off to college to play ball, but his little brother is now restrained to a wheelchair due to unspecified damage done as a result of his drug overdose. Michelle and Sean are finding their own ways at Valley University, while bonding over their shared experience with different aspects of James' personality. And then new characters are introduced to make their lives interesting/difficult, including Danielle, a high school senior who blames James for the death of her little brother, Danny. This all builds to a conflict centered around the opening gala for the Foundation's center on campus.

I'm concurrently writing the script (something, honestly, I rarely did in advance during the original run of the Utopian, instead scripting on the fly) and doing large thumbnails, and though I'm not setting any deadlines, I'm trying to stay on relative course to finish it this year. This will be the only comic I am both writing and drawing (as I've mentioned before in P&P, I'm only going to do one or the other for new projects), and I want to spend the time to make it a leap above the first series, while still maintaining the same feel.

Now, here's where the first bit of trusted feedback comes in: I'm not sure whether I want to serialize this for free online like I did with the first volume, or just wait and release it as a graphic novel entire. But if I DO go the webcomic route (I'm about 60/40 on this right now), I sort-of feel like I want to take down the archive of the first series and start fresh posting the new one. A few reasons why:

1. The first few chapters of the Utopian (vol. 1) are ROUGH. I was just getting back into comics and art when it started two years ago, and while in collected form, the progress shows, I fear that when people go to "the beginning" to read it, they might be turned off by the change in style/pacing/quality.
2. Perhaps more importantly, I could use the telling of the NEW volume FREE as a webcomic as incentive for new readers to BUY the collected print edition of the first volume. The way I'm writing the sequel, you don't need to have read the first volume -- not at all, actually -- but if you're into it, and you want to, I figure that's a good way to generate sales. And adds some mystery.

Any thoughts, SWers?


  • Normally. I'd say that sounds bass-ackwards, but given your comments about the rough nature of the early art, it makes sense to me. But its five in the morning and I'm heading out for work so anything makes sense :)
  • @marvinmann - Early morning notwithstanding, it IS a little backwards, but here's my thought: If people catch on to the NEW series and really like it, they may want to delve into the previous volume, and can only do so by buying it. But on the flip side, if they hear good things about the new series, come to the website and then click the "start here" button, they may be put off by reading something that isn't what they came for. Don't read this reply until early tomorrow morning, and maybe it will make sense. ;)
  • edited June 2011
    It'll be early morning soon enough, and it does make sense. Of course lots of things make sense and don't pan out in reality. But you don't know until you try. "Why do we fall, Master Bruce?"

    BTW: got back on the horse with Bluetick and Redbone. I'm getting pressured to work over time so its slow going... but as long as its steady we get there.
  • Good to hear on B&R, Marv. As I told Alex, no rush. I know you tend to work quickly anyway, but I'm much more concerned with a great product than a fast one. :)
  • I now have about 15 pages of script done and 20 pages plotted, plus nine pages of layouts done. My process varies. The first six or seven pages of the story were plotted as I drew the layouts -- which are really just oversized thumbnails. Here's page one:

    I don't know where I got the idea to introduce a character bound to a wheelchair, but it just kind-of happened. That's how the rest of this unfolded. I did two pages setting up Luis (in the wheelchair) and Terrence (who we see on the next page), then two pages setting up Michelle at university with her now-estranged best friend, then a few pages each introducing the other major players and conflicts. That was the easy part.

    But as I've taken these characters a bit further and moved from loosely tossing out separate storylines to trying to weave them into a cohesive, interconnected plot, it strikes me that I need to decide what is my goal here: Am I looking to create another finite, 100-odd-page story that has a relative beginning, middle and end to package it into a graphic novel? Or do I want to leave it open-ended, and continue writing this like a soap opera, with all these individual stories playing out, overlapping when necessary, but not forced into a contrived connectivity?

    I can easily see this going either direction. One would be a true sequel to "The Utopian." The other, however, feels like it would be a new entity unto its own, a spin-off more than a sequel. And that would require an entirely different approach, I think.
  • Wrote some more dialog. Realizing I might need to do a trick where I write general timelines/outlines for each character/plotline in order to more easily weave between them all.
  • I sat out in the sun and tried mapping out the character arcs for the major players of the Utopian sequel. Made me realize that some characters I have more interest in (or they are "talking to me" the loudest), and others kind of dead-end, so the exercise helped define who will be protagonists and who will be relegated to the sidelines. But I did make progress furthering/deepening some plot lines and fleshing out new characters. This is going to hard work, but really fun.

  • It is taking a lot longer to get back into the swing of drawing pages on the regular, especially without a schedule. Not that I haven't been drawing in the 9 months since the Utopian winded down; just that that daily reflex of pumping out work is a little weak. Gah.
  • Seriously considering finding an artist to draw this. I want to see this happen, but I don't know if I'm up for drawing it.
  • I sometimes draw first pages 4-5 times. Hang in there.
  • Thanks for the encouragement, Marv. I think I just need to approach it differently. However that may be.
  • So ... I changed the name of this thread so I can open this up to logging the work I am doing on any project, not just The Utopian. It seems to be a better idea than keeping open/maintaining threads for multiple projects (and I hate clutter. Except on my desk. Well, even then, I don't LIKE it, I just have it). So I'll be posting about some other stuff in-works ... very soon.
  • Can you tell us what stories will be in OCP Greatest Hits, so that those of us with work in it can order/promote appropriately?
  • @RussellLissau: One should expect one of those fancy infodump emails in the next 24 hours.
  • I figured out my problem with moving from the writing to the drawing phases of The Utopian Foundation: I hadn't done prep work. A lot of what I've written involves complicated (and consistently re-used) set pieces, including coffee shops and classrooms. It stars a paraplegic who is always in a wheelchair. It has scenes of people playing sports and driving cars. Basically, I (unknowingly) wrote it in a way that force me not to be a lazy artist. Well, mostly.

    So I stepped back, let it cool, and then re-approached it after about a month, tossing 95 percent of the work I'd done out the window and tackling the project, now at least about 20 pages written, purely as an illustration gig. For me, that means researching photo reference I need for each scene - college campuses, dorm rooms, portable classrooms, handicap ramps, etc. - and getting high-tech, building 3-D models of recurring sets. Building those models take extra time on the front end (though not more than scouring the web for photo reference, really), but once they're done, they make rendering different, interesting angles for the same sets much easier. It's almost more like "directing" a comic, except I also have to write it, wardrobe it, act it, set-build it, etc.

    But having put in the prep work before actually touching the final art pages, I was able to begin penciling (digitally) the first four pages this weekend with confidence and excitement. They're already looking and feeling much better than before. Now I just have to decide: Digital or traditional inks? Hmm ...
  • Now considering promoting the Utopian/Foundation as an "illustrated soap opera." Because that's where it's going. #hellofemaledemographic
  • Quick status update: You all might recall "Electric," which I was developing originally as a pitch for Zuda (yes, it's been that long) and then when that went away (the site, not the project), I started to reformat it as a standard comic, but I was wavering on me handling the art chores (something I've been moving away from save for personal projects such as The Utopian).

    I've spent the last few months reworking and expanding on the premise, which at this point, is essentially the TV series "Angel" meets "Harry Potter." (Yes - a supernatural crime series with heroic undertones). It takes place in London's East End, so I've been doing loads of research on the area, its demographics, its politics, dialect, crime rates, architecture, etc., but one of the things that's been bugging me is I may have been focusing too much on trying to ground this story into the "real world."

    I finally realized it's a ridiculous proposition to make the story of a man who controls electrical currents waging war against a crime lord who controls chemical bonds "realistic," so I finally decided to just focus on making it BELIEVABLE instead within its own INTERNAL LOGIC. To that end, I'm setting most of the action in the fictional East End district of "Blackcross," a not-so-subtle take on Whitechapel, which, along with Hackney, will serve as the loose model for the area.

    Well, the other thing that's been bugging me is the name -- or lack thereof -- of the proposed series, "Electric." While, shockingly, it's never been used as a comic title before (that I could find), it is a bit generic and doesn't speak to the overall tone/scope of the proposed series. I wanted to rename it East Enders, which I thought would be terrific, but then I realized that's the name of a BBC soap opera.

    So when the Blackcross development came up, I realized, damn, that's actually a pretty decent name. Doesn't say much while saying a lot, you know? It's about the PLACE, and the PLACE will be as much a character as the detectives, hookers, drug dealers and central protagonist.

    (Also, "Black Cross" is the closest usage in comics ever, a forgotten Dark Horse character from the 1980s last seen in 1997, and no trademarks exist for ANYTHING close to "Blackcross." Crazy how it only took me 10 minutes of web research to find that out AHEM.)

    Further, an artist I originally approach two years ago to work on another pitch is on board to draw this thing, and will begin working on the eight-page sample story (which actually draws from a few issues in) this month. So I'm pretty excited and ready to re-focus on the writing while that's being handled.

    I'm terribly nervous discussing so much about a pre-pitch, in-development project as I am, but that's what this community (and these worklogs) is for, right?

    Right? *crickets* ;)
  • Black Cross was featured on the first cover of Dark Horse Presents.
    So not entirely forgotten, but yes... the title is available. :)
  • Black Cross was featured on the first cover of Dark Horse Presents.
    I know. When I looked up the term, I was like ... THIS was the cover to the first DHP? It was ... terrible.

  • I think I may rename "The Utopian: Foundation" (which was only ever a working title) to simply, "The Utopian: Season Two."

    Hmm. Or not.
  • OKAY. So I had a bathroom epiphany today. Well, it wan't so much an epiphany as an action-provoking thought. Even though "Blackcross" is technically available, I would prefer to distance myself from the 1990s DHP "Black Cross," and ... well, that's pretty much it. So now I have a few new names I'm considering. Any feedback would be appreciated:

    - "Eastsiders"
    - "Chapel's Crossing" / "Chapel Crossing"
    - "Blackshire"
    - "South Temple"
    - "Blacktemple"

  • Is Black Crossing still too close to DHP's title? Seems like a good blend of the titles otherwise. I like Blackshire and Eastsiders from your list.
  • @Owen_Jones - I don't think "Black Crossing" would be (also: bear in mind "Black Cross" has only appeared in two comics EVER, and that was in the 1990s). But I'm particularly leaning toward "Eastsiders," because it's about as close as I get to my original choice, "East Enders," which I don't want to use because it's the name of a popular British TV drama.
  • I like Eastsiders as a title. It rolls off the tongue and gives you a sense of place and character... Like "Southie," "the North Side," "the West Side," "the Village," etc.

  • @RussellLissau I agree, and thank you. I should probably reserve it just in case. :)
  • And the nice thing is, I can still have the story take place in "Blackcross." YEAH!
  • The artist I tapped for Eastsiders, Damian Couceiro, finally had time to start work on our eight-page sample. He sent me character designs, and it's freaky how dead-on they are to what's in my head. A few examples:



    Inspired by HIS work, I promptly scratched out plots for five issues of the series, three of which literally came out of nowhere. Love when that happens. Of course, now the series is coming together a little less like "Angel" meets "Harry Potter" and a little more like "The Wire" meets "Hellblazer," but eff it, that's where my head's at.
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