Utopia Blues
By Peter Kisner (2008)

I had this idea for a paper comic (relatively serious, but normally not very intense) called "Utopia Blues" (hence the reason I keep mentioning that phrase on occasion). About a bunch of relatively baseline kids (probably in the 6-12 year old range) who live in a giant, but segmented habitat (probably a giant ring, but nothing orbital sized) in some post-human universe (Orion's Arm would be a good such universe). The tone of the story should be pre-nostalgic, kind of make people remember the days of their childhood, in the woods and fields, among the habitat segments, full of fascinating things waiting to be found. When not everything was explained yet (though open to explaination) and adults (even parents) were partially beyond understanding (like why adults work and hobbies are at once boring and so fascinating to them).

The habitat is pretty much utopic (as the name suggests). There are sweeping concave feilds (ala ringworld, but smaller, maybe "long sun" sized), hills, and forests. Small but ultra-modern villages, a few metrapolitan centers for those who desire city life. Adults often spend part of a cycle in the city and part in the country, doing various enjoyable but work-type activities. Most kids like the cities because there's arcades (virches, social spots, etc.) and similar sorts of things there, only a few have to move with their parents out to the country (for various reasons: parents think it's good for them, kid actually likes the rural areas, kid recovering from some trauma, etc.).

The different segments of the habitat are subdivided along "racial" lines, based on physical appearances similar to those on Earth "races", or so it would appear. At the start of the story it is unclear whether the different segments were forcably settled with these racial characteristics (as if a "game preserve" for original earth baseline sub-clades) or if there was some genetic drift, migration, or sexual selection pressures that produced these characteristics. No one talks about it and it is assume normal.

To make things a little stranger yet, there are almost never people of different races who migrate permenantly between segments or remain in a different segment for very long. This is to such an extent that most people in one segment rarely see what the people in adjoining segments look like and almost never see the people from two or three segments over (not sure what the "segment" layout is exactly, there are at least a few segments that aren't directly exposed to the local "sun"). Again, there is no reason mentioned for this phenomena.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. There are spaceports (though almost everyone is content to live in their cities and villages) and occasionally some folks will leave or join the space patrol that patrols nearer areas of this solar system. Also there are sometimes "wanderers" who show up from time to time in different habitat segments for no particular reason, apparently just passing through. Wanderers usually seem anomalous to the segment and if one were to check carefully they are probably anomalous to most of the nearby segments, if not the entire habitat. All of this is just backdrop to the protagonists of the story.

Kerk and Bradt (might get other names, but short ones, all kids have short names) - sort of the initial main characters. These guys are a couple of kids (one redhaired, one blond) who are thrown out of the house one day by their mom (figuratively) to get some fresh air for a change and play in the woods/fields nearby. They have various small adventures and mis-adventures in the nearby areas of the habitat (just normal kid stuff, but should provide some interesting visuals in a comic, especially in a habitat). Sometimes they find odd things (usually normal parts of the habitat, or random junk) and make up their own stories of what they are or how they work, sometimes they ask their parents or friends and get a real or half answer (more grist for the mill).

They wear typical utopian kid clothes: comfortable tunics (maybe occasionally a vest) and loose fitted pants with highly abrasion resistant (and micro thin smart-cussion?) patches on their knees and elbows, also some sort of foot-hugging moccasins. Patches, tunics, and pants are all different colors with subdued contrast (when standing side by side they seem to form some solution to the "four-color map problem").

They eventually come across some sort of metal well going straight down, or some sort of tunnel. It connects to another habitat and they start interacting with the weird kids from that habitat. (Incidently - kids in this story often come in twos since the "utopic" habitat somehow encourages parents (who knows how) to keep population growth at 0.)

Yin and Chi (open to name suggestions) - A brother and sister who appear to be descended from some part of east asian lineage on old earth (old earth is never mentioned in the stories, at least the first few). They play near the tunnel alot, but on the other side. They seem to have a real knack for water-related building. The sky in their habitat seems yellow and low.

Yin (girl) is younger, maybe around 5-6. She enjoys building mud-clay towns jutting into the water, also altering the course of streams with stick-mud dams etc. Her mother is probably not happy about the muck covered state she returns home in most days. Sue usually dresses in some sort of shapeless (almost billowy looking) smock/dress thing of grey with black toggles, often soaked around the lower edge, and sandals of the toe-grippy kind (occasionally she or her brother show up in those japanese sandals with the support bars in the bottom).

She is really loud and outspoken. Given to semi-randomly yelling instead of "inside voice" talking.

Chi (boy) is maybe in the 6-7 year range. He likes to build boats out of wood and leaves and things. He tends not to get so dirty and probably gets in some small trouble when his sister does get that way. He likes collecting some sort of obscure game cartridges or other apparatus, during several "episodes" he doesn't show up, his sister says something about him liking "underneath" better, or wanting to stay with his friends in "underneath" (they eventually form a sort of creol language). Chi also seems to know something about boating.

He wears some sort of traditional outfit (not too different from some of the outfits from kungfu movies, loosefitting, etc.). Also grey, with black frogs or toggles. Both kids have short hair.

Jass - In the tunnel there are three branches or four (who knows where one leads). Jass lives at one of these branches. She's the oldest of all of the kids (maybe 12). She seems really old to them. She's tall and stick-like by comparison to the rest of them. Her ancestry seems to be of some old earth african liniage.

She doesn't talk much, but they think she knows alot. Her main talents actually appear to be languages, drawing, and running (at least she seems fast to the other kids). The sort of odd thing about her is that she hangs out with them at all. Usually kids of that age start hanging out in the arcades more (but if they thought about it, kids of their own age hang out there alot also).

She usually wears some a t-shirt type thing and shorts. Or, if they end up somewhere cold she wears pants with gathered cuffs and a parka, usually in darker colors: navy blue, brown, dark green, etc.

Others - possibly some other kids show up eventually maybe even some kids with bright orange skin (of no known old earth sub-clade), and of course parents enter the picture occasionally.

Episodes (in no particular order):

  • Beginning - Kerk and Bradt get sent out to play. Tour the nearby forests and waterways for awhile. This might be an entire episode or might meld into the next two. They eventually find the tunnel-tube connecting their habitat segment to the others. But then have to go home for the night. *First meeting - They meet Yin and Chi. Don't know if Yin and Chi come through the tunnel or Kerk and Bradt go to meet them. Probably the meet Yin and Chi near the tunnel somewhere because of Yin and Chi's affinity for water.
  • Second meeting - (might be another episode or two after first meeting). They all meet Jass. Her land is savanna-like in most parts, but with mini-forests breaking up the land. The tube entrance opens into one of these mini-forests.
  • Canals - they navigate the complex, maintained but abandoned canal system that is not currently in fad. Maybe they are looking for something. Many episodes are based on quests for imaginary or real grails (candy bars, "Ultimate power module!", etc.) that are sometimes found, sometimes forgotten, and sometimes longed for even after they have been disillusioned.
  • Wanderer - they meet a wanderer. This one is an old looking man (old looking people are sort of rare in these stories and are usually someone's grandparents, this is never explained, just taken for granted). He has odd glyphic patterns on his skin in red, they appear to be birthmarks, he wears old battered cloths, many of them, perhaps trenchcoat-like, they ape a cloak. He wears a wide brimmed hat of course, seems to carry many magic or otherwise odd trinkets (possibly not functional, he might just be dressy in a odd way). He's sort of a wisdom figure of sorts (so he's got a bushy white beard). He may come back in anothe episode or not, they certainly talk about him a lot.
  • Undertown - There is a habitat segment under that of Chi and Yin (semi-connected, there seems to be some inter-migration between the two sections). It seems to be less a habitat region than some sort of water condensation facility. It has light (about like the light on a day with heavy thunderstorms but no sun apparently. It rains almost constantly. People live there, people like Chi and Yin. Since it rains so much people have adapted to the always wet conditions. Waterspouts and drains are ornate or sometimes Dr. Seus-like (not in direct style, but in unusual convolution), and often makeshift temporary" fixes.
People mostly wear normal robe-like or sari-like clothing, occasionally clothing like Chi and Yin wear. But all wear odd hats, like a cross between those broad brimmed, conical hats stereotypically worn in rice paddies and some sort of oilskin macantosh hat.

The locals live have almost an art of living in the wet. They can tell how deep a puddle is from the ripples alone (only the tourist or ornate dresser wears sandals with extended height to avoid puddles), they don't need raingear, they can lean or move correctly so their hat alone prevents them from getting wet. There's also some odd ettiquite for movement to avoid splashing others in various settings.

  • The robots - Bradt thinks that under his segment there might be a similar city of wet-people. The kids find another pipe down through Bradt and Kerk's section. But there's no similar place there, there is some sort of sub-level with lots of strange machines doing incomprehensible things. Here and there a large robot (vaguely humanoid, sort of a bauhaus or arts-and-crafts style version of robots) takes care of unusual things. Sometimes the robots seem to acknowledge them in some way, but don't appear to speak.
  • The Fair Folk - at some point playing in the fields (at twilight) firefly-like things swirl up out of the grass. They interact with some fairy court, quest, game, etc. in the gathering dusk. (there may be hints that this is some form of nano-tech, but they should be heavily veiled, certainly this is nothing the adults know about, possibly these Fair Folk should not exist for some reason, but do. Are things breaking in the habitat, is there decadance? Invading AIs?). The night seems to stretch on forever as they play, no one seems worried about them being missing. Jass becomes a princess, Kerk a bard, Bradt a squire, Yin a barbarian warrior, Chi an enchanter. But only for this night (which might almost be a year and a day, who knows).
And maybe the Fair Folk return at some point in the future, or a refugee from the Fair Folk (a goblin or ogre perhaps?).

  • The city - the kids go to the city but for some reason don't seem interested in the arcades and virches. Flying scooters and wow-tech toys will get you far in the metropolis of the future, even if you get in trouble with the big kids.

I think that's about all I've mused on the subject. I sort of wanted the drawing style to be like the one used for the fairy kingdoms in the original "Books of Magic" comics (Neil Gaiman ones, available in trade paperback), maybe with a smidgen of manga styles thrown in. Unfortunately it would be alot of work, and my drawing skills, moderate as they are, aren't really up to the challenge (not to mention the arduous task of creating plots and such that are continous and lacking major conceptual holes).

Anyway, this was a case of feeling compelled to get this out of my head. Now that I've thrown it down there like a battered fish, I don't know if the ideas inspire anyone else, but if anyone feels interested or capable of rendering them I'm all for it. I get pictures in my head of some parts of this, I can sketch a couple, but not too well.

Utopia Blues
Comix Layout
John B

Page 1 - splash page. "Utopia Blues" in blue pennant-style lettering w/ white outline. Picture of woodsy scene, lots of green, warm brown, perhaps a small stream ambling across bottom-third line l-to-right w/ slight downslope. Not real woods - too neat, too well ordered, but more like NYC central park or German forestry 'woods' - pruned, maintained, as antiseptic as nature gets. Walking towards viewer in center of pane just above stream two small figures - Kerk & Bradt.

Kerk - short red hair, basic pixie cut gone awry as little kids hair always does. Mid-thigh warm-green tunic w/ crew collar, slightly long in the arms. Loose slightly-baggy ('loose fit') breeches w/ darker-green by a few shades knee patches & brown foot-socks w/ thicker, couple-shade-darker soles. Freckles? Why not. Can't see eye color from here - too far out, but it'll be mildly-bright green - not bottle green, but not dull either. Face shows animation - talking or smiling- seemingly looking at Bradt.

Bradt - blonde w/ similar haircut, also gone awry. Similar cut tunic & pants in same blue as the 'Utopia Blues' panel above. Darker blue knee patches, similar foot-socks, tunic fits arm length properly. Watching stream w/ calm but happy face. Eye color?

In background at approx 2/3 line from bottom, some sort of indication of the city to the LHS of the pane - clearly, that's where the kids are walking from. Sky REALLY sparkles - tinted diamondoid dome to give 'sky' feeling, but it shines more than we're used to. Halo effect around sun, perhaps?

Page 2 - 3 horizontal panes.

Top pane - double size of kids from previous page, loosing all background oddities and leaving only a nicely manicured forest. Small animal(s)? Conversation of some sort - work out wording later. Some child-hood mystery - why parents disappear during the days, why you have to learn your multiplication tables, etc.

Middle pane - re-double kids size, focussing from neck-down. Show them walking on rocky border to stream, Bradt throwing a stone at the water. Conversation continues, mostly Kerk talking & Bradt agreeing, if saying anything. Note - elbow and knee pads do NOT flex as well as the other fabric.

Bottom pane - focus on kids from mid-thigh down. Closeup of water-splash at one side, Other side of frame shows the shoes are literally gripping the rocks, to ensure the kids' footing. Perhaps splaying out to ground for more solid footing? Conversation continues.

Page 3 - 3 vert x 2 horiz panes

Upper left pane - pans up bodies, conversation continues

Upper right pane - zoom out, show from waist up, Kerk gesturing to back up a point middle left - zoom out a little more as both lean forward to pick up a pretty rock (shown in previous panes), 'clonk' noise as they hit heads

middle right - both tumble down, arms & legs in air

bottom left - both sit up, holding heads, looking a little upset

bottom right - look at each other

page 4 - one big pane and two little panes below. Big pane is full width and 2/3 of page

Top pane - kids laughing, small wildlife (subtly wrong if possible, perhaps a gleaming Fair Folk drawn really small) sitting up to pay attention.

Bottom left - both kids talking, "Ouch" "you've got a real hard head!" something like that

Bottom right - Brandt picks up rock


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