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Making the Quality Engineering comic

About a year ago I decided to make a comic with rvr about Quality Engineering/Quality Assurance, explaining what it is and why it is important. There were a couple of breaks in between, partly because of this virus you might have heard of, but it was finally published recently. This post explains a bit the creative process behind it.

High-level concepts

As soon as we decided we were going to make the comic, we started brainstorming to figure out how exactly we were going to explain it. We were mostly thinking of metaphors to describe QE people, but also added some associations and aesthetic ideas to the list:

  • Wizards, detectives
  • Team players, drummers
  • Mad scientists making robot helpers
  • Creativity, more freedom to build what is needed and adapt
  • Build for developer, build for yourself
  • James Bond’s Q / Q branch
  • Proactive Mr. Wolf
  • Rick and Morty
  • Something like ​Mouse Guard? See also paper crafts.
  • “Continuous disintegration”.
  • SDETs are the real 10x engineers

Script ideas

One of the ideas for the script was to use some kind of Starship Troopers metaphor (“people killing bugs”, or “people making the weapons/tools needed for the soldiers to kill bugs”). We had a certain tension between being serious and in-depth, and being “fun” and grabbing the potential reader’s eye, and we ended up with the idea that we could open with a Starship Troopers scene, but then reveal that it’s just someone’s imagination, and let the rest of the comic be “serious” and more on the explanatory side.

Storyboard iterations

At first we were discussing how to iterate with the storyboard: we were looking for some online collaboration tool that allowed us to build the storyboards, comment on them, and modify them. However, we didn’t find anything I was happy with, and I prefer working on paper for those things, so I decided to just draw a very crude storyboard and take a picture of it. The initial storyboard was like this (click to enlarge):

First storyboard, first page First storyboard, second page

We discussed it a bit, and after the feedback I create new panels to replace some of the initial ones, and stitched them together in a Frankenstein monster fashion, like so (again, click to enlarge):

Second storyboard

If you want to know more about the rationale behind the panels, notice a few things:

  1. Each line has a meaning, like a sentence in written language. Namely, the first line is opening/attention grabbing (“what happens when there is no QE”), the second expands a bit on the first one but from a serious perspective, the third explains why a development team needs QE, and the last explains the details of how QE achieves what they do and closes.
  2. Every line ends with a “cliffhanger” to make the reader want to read the next line, and introduce what it is going to be about.

At this point we decided that the storyboard was stable enough to start figuring out how the art would be.

Art

Now that we had a stable storyboard we could look into the final art. We figured that we would still have to iterate, partly because once we used the final art, final font, and final sizes for things… we would probably see things differently: some panel might have too much text, some idea that seems to work in the abstract doesn’t work that well with the final art, etc. So from there we iterated further, but mostly on the language and on details that were relatively easy to change.

The first version with the kind of art we were going to use was this, in black and white:

First "final art" version

This gave us a good sense of scale and available space, both for text and for illustrations, so it was much easier to tweak and improve. After a few iterations, we reached the first version with colour! You can see here that the art here has improved, and is at the level we would use in the final version.

First version with colour

Then we kept iterating and, after all the tweaks, reached the final, published version. Notice the difference in the last two panels, and also the text in 3-3:

Final version

Conclusions

There you have it! I don’t claim to know what I’m doing, but I love reading about (and writing about) creative processes, and I thought some of you might share my passion for that.

Now the idea is to make at least one more comic related to QE, expanding on more specific problems QE helps solve, or on specific facets on Quality Engineering. We’ll see what we come up with…