How I illustrated Postman’s API-First vision as a graphic novel

I illustrated and helped market Postman’s vision of an API-First world as a graphic novel. A story envisioned by Abhinav Asthana, founder and CEO of Postman.

Postman is an API platform for building and using APIs. What is an API? API stands for Application Programming Interface, think of it as the waiter taking your order to the kitchen and bringing you the food. APIs enable software components to communicate with each other. If the kitchen, and you, the customer were different software components, the waiter acts as the API. The world is increasingly becoming API-first and the graphic novel explains what API-first means.

The process – visualizing an API-First world

Visualizing this world was a challenging process since the API-first world looks into the future, and explains technical constructs, so it had to represent progress while being relatable. Here is how I went about the process of creating this graphic novel.


1) Understanding Comics

I started by looking into science fiction for references. From Star wars to The Jetsons, I found a treasure trove of information for how artists visualized futuristics concepts. Heres one artist who I discovered in the process, Arthur Radebaugh represented ideas beyond his time and it was inspiring to see his work. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/closerthanwethink

Arthur Radebaugh predicted the future in 1959!


While Arthur’s work provided inspiration for ideas, I looked to Scott Mcloud for storytelling tips.
Understanding Comics by Scott Mccloud is the holy grail for creating comics and visual storytelling. I keep this on my desk at all times now.

Key Takeaways from the book ‘Understanding Comics by Scott Mccloud’
1) A simple art style doesn’t indicate a simple story.
2) The reader becomes a participant in the story, filling in “missing” details between panels.
3) By altering or removing panels, storytellers can create any desired impression of the passage of time
4) Comic art has a better chance at breaking down communication barriers than most media.

My favorite panel from the book ‘Understanding Comics by Scott Mccloud’

2) Finding the narrator

After reading Understanding Comics, I felt like we needed a narrator in the API-first world since this was a story about a new world and it felt easier to enter with a guide. The best narrator came in the form of, founder and CEO, Abhinav Asthana. It really helped that Abhinav was excited about how powerful comics can be as a medium and the idea for an API-first world is afterall his brainchild. Ideation came easy with him, he suggested the perfect references and set a stage for the story through his script. As an illustrator I strongly believe that for a narrative to work you need two to tango! words and visuals. Abhinav provided the words and I weaved him into the story along with everything he had to say.

3) ORGANIZING IDEAS

I organized the story in parts. I started illustrating the parts of the script that Abhinav was sure about. This helped us see how the story was looking as sections and tighten loose ends slowly.

I broke down this process

  • With every page I was working on I would think of the scene before and/or after.
  • I memorized elements I used on a page to reuse them as connectors in other pages.
  • One idea leads to another, expect it! but don’t depend on it. I needed to discuss the story and it concepts many times to feel motivated and unblocked.
The initial content for the graphic novel
Early roughs for concepts

4) NORTH STARS FOR ILLUSTRATIONS in the GRAPHIC NOVEL

Relatability: This makes any topic instantly recognizable. For eg: To represent version control, I used a Dr Who reference of the phone booth that is popular even among those who don’t watch the famous british TV show. I made sure to add versions of API in the background to keep it contextual to time traveling within the world of software building, for folks who may not know the reference.

Details: Details enrich the artwork and I tried to add as much thought to the illustrations as I could. For eg: with search optimization, I wanted to think of something other than the magnifying glass and decided to represent the character searching through APIs like we do channels on a television. The white and black sides create a distinction of two worlds, the producer and the consumer of APIs.

Discovery: I also enjoyed adding moments of discovery in illustrations. For example the hip girl chewing gum in the waiting line or the silhouette of tiny people in the globe, or the Weather change API that shows changing temperatures across the globe. I wanted to fill each panel with moments of ‘haha’ or ‘aha’. Small details that a reader could spot every time they read the book.

5) BUILDING the story

The most important aspect of bringing the story together was creating connector pages that moved the story.

Connector pages are crucial to a graphic novel. It is what a scene is to a screenplay. This transition has to be meaningful and move the narration.

Below, is a connector page from the graphic novel. The narrator moving into a lit doorway signifying the new world he’s walking into. The new world is an opposite of the world he walked away from.
These connector pages are easier to create once all the sections of your story have been visualized.

Entering the new world – a connector

6) INKING AND STYLING

Once the whole story was roughly sketched out, I moved onto Inking. Inking is a time consuming process and it is harder to make changes to the story once inked so I made sure all the roughs were finalized before I moved to this bit. I chose to keep the artwork black and white since the story mattered most and colors felt distracting in this context. I used just the brand color (orange) to highlight parts of the illustration in a subtle way. The style in the graphic novel is simple line art with dark fills.

Scribbles in progress

I created the inked frames on procreate and imported them as hi-res images into Adobe Illustrator, this made the frames easier to be rearranged as blocks in the software as needed. I added the text in Adobe Illustrator as well since I wanted it to be editable. Once the pages were complete. I assembled each one in Indesign and added page numbers and a cover that could then be sent to the printers.

Sketching and Inking was a cumulative 80 hours in this project.

this is 80 hours right here, yes!

7) MARKETING

I had the opportunity to play an important role in marketing the graphic novel

  • The completed graphic novel can be read online here in the form of an e-book.
    https://api-first-world.com/ . It included setting up the website with the help of engineering, formatting design for an e-book, favicons, and all that shazam.
  • Additionally we announced the book’s launch with the Postman Series D funding. This was a great asset in helping convey what postman intends to do in the coming years giving the company vision a good momentum.
  • The physical book is a great onboarding asset at Postman and within the community. Students and API leaders refer to concepts discussed in the graphic novel through the lovely hard bound book.
  • We also made the ‘API-first World’ available for anyone to purchase, this is more than a postman story, this vision is a new way of software development and we want anyone interacting with APIs to be able to use it.
https://api-first-world.com/

RECEPTION

We launched on August 18, 2021 and the book has been receiving good feedback.
April Dunford, who is an expert in product positioning mentioned our graphic novel on Twitter and to me that was a “Yay!” moment. The graphic novel also received a whole lot of love and appreciation on social.

The best compliment of them all was when I heard that children were reading this book. A school teacher even suggested they include this in their school library as reading material. If I’ve been able to successfully get kids to ask “What is an API?” through this graphic novel, that, to me is a significant achievement.

This project taught me a lot, and gave me a a chance to ideate, create, launch and market the vision from start to finish. Not a feat I could have achieved alone, I had a lot of help from the Postman team and could not have done this without Abhinav Asthana. This vision is just the beginning and the postman team is working towards a lot of exciting goals as I write this.
Onwards and upwards!

Thank you for reading ✨

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