Alum funds graphic novel on Kickstarter in five days
Amélie Hutt opens a blank canvas in Photoshop and starts lashing together the outline of the fallen angel Azazel. She sketches in black at first, deftly angling wiry limbs around a sharply tilted torso, snaking strands of hair that swirl away from his head as he growls over a microphone like a metal concert front man.
Even in this raw outlined form, Hutt’s vision for her dark, rocking angel is starkly evident. And, as she’s proven in the past, what follows will be remarkable.
Hutt (Attended, 2016–17) attracts 53 live viewers on her Kickstarter page as she presents this live digital painting to her project’s funders. After she set her $10,000 funding goal, she surpassed it in just five days. And by the time her campaign ended earlier this month, it had raised $24,271 from 508 donors.
It’s clear why they have chosen to back her digital graphic novel, Angels Power Vol. 1: Authorities That Be: She has a striking skillset and imagination, and a visually arresting product to show them off.
“I’ve been an artist since I was a toddler, and I’ve been creating this universe for years, just as a place for me and my friends to interact,” says Hutt, who moved to the United States from her home in Belgium over 10 years ago and attended Saint Mary’s College of California, graduating with a BA in fine arts. “I always loved telling stories, and I enjoy creating images, and it took some time before I could put those two passions together in my head.”
Kickstarter is saturated with similarly ambitious webcomics and digital volumes; Hutt’s stands apart with 320 pages of jaw-dropping, high-resolution digital paintings, a story in a world she’s crafted for a decade, and a tangible product that promises to impress when it ships in February.
She learned how she could transform her passion into her profession during two semesters working toward an MFA at Chico State. As she realized the time commitment for her master’s wouldn’t allow her to go all-in on Angels Power, Hutt decided she needed to change gears. In 2016, she knocked on the door at the College of Business’s Center for Entrepreneurship and enrolled in Peter Straus’ “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course. Toss in an online class from comic publisher Tyler James that focused on how to crowdfund graphic novels, and Hutt was ready.
“She knew she had something as a great artist, but not how to get it to people,” says Straus, the center’s director. “Seeing her make that change, basically all by herself, is one of the great joys we get from students here. The realization dawns on them that they have personal power to change their lives, change the world. It’s the most gratifying part of this job as a professor.”
Hutt began working as a professional illustrator in 2012, contributing to Living Card Games projects including Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars, among others. She’d always been told she should do comics, and in 2013 she attempted to introduce Angels Power in that medium.
It didn’t work. Hutt’s preference has always been to tell stories with single images, and the sequential style of comics didn’t fit her story or technique.
“It hit me that I don’t have to fit into a mold or a certain structure,” she said. “Once I could tell my story the way I wanted to, I just started making pages.”
For Hutt, the digital art production process is both dramatically less arduous and more technically demanding than physical mediums, like oil or acrylic paintings. Having always worked on paper with pens, markers, and ink, she became frustrated with their limitations as her skills outgrew their capabilities. She had always been most interested in replicating epic battle scenes and stories told in classic and romantic paintings, but when she took classes to learn to oil paint, the frustration grew. It was just too slow.
And then, a revelation: A friend let Hutt borrow a graphics tablet—a Wacom Intuos—and she never looked back.
“It was like he handed me the Bible,” Hutt says with a laugh. “It was exactly what I needed. I could paint and not have to wait to change things. I could create as fast as I could imagine.”
She still uses familiar painting techniques, feathering brushstrokes or a palette knife across a canvas as a painter would. But it’s all digital, and she’s since upgraded to a Cintiq tablet with a much larger surface. She selects brushes or pens with a tap on her screen, painting or shading with varied pressures and strokes of her stylus. The major upshot is rapid turnaround. The immediacy of the digital process allows her to be much more prolific in much less time.
She made a page a day for Angels from that point on, her graphics tablet and stylus constant companions. A page requires conceptualization, scripting, storyboarding, and scenery and lighting development before figures and dialogue make their way to the screen. Sometimes a painting session will last three or four hours; Hutt could also spend 14 hours straight on the same project.
“It takes a lot of energy and brainpower. I have to be extremely present while doing it, and it’s a very intense time,” she says. “But I need it. . . . I can’t just not create art—I’d lose my mind. And I cannot invest myself in a project anything less than 100 percent.”
Her readers and backers already see the results of her dedication, but they might never have gotten that opportunity had Hutt not taken it upon herself to learn how to market her work through those two critical courses.
“Artists are not typically entrepreneurs. It’s very uncomfortable for many of us to try to make money, or ask for it,” Hutt points out. “We’re not salespeople and it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s absolutely crucial for me if I want to make a living from this. It’s such a needed skillset for artists—I wish they taught it in art school.”
One of the more remarkable aspects of Hutt’s rapid success isn’t just that she was able to fund her Kickstarter. According to Straus, she is among the first Chico State students to do so. That she happened to do it as a self-described introvert with next to no business experience is a testament to the nature of today’s online marketplace, Hutt’s tremendous talent, and what the entrepreneurship class can offer.
“When she came in here, she was like a voice in the wilderness,” Straus says with a laugh. “She thought, ‘Nobody knows who I am, nobody knows what I can do, how do I get my idea to them?’ What we emphasized was giving her the confidence and, more importantly, the toolbox, to figure out how to make a business plan successfully.”
The first pages of her next projects are already underway. She knows she’s in demand, and more importantly, she’s learned how to meet it.
“One of the things that helped me from Peter’s class was to gain more confidence in my project and learn how to pitch it,” she says. “That really helped build me up as an artist in some ways. I can trust that I have a credible product that people want.”