Monday, December 15, 2014

Halley's Comic Returns


You didn't hear it here first, folks: Nonplayer #2 is done and in the can.

There's a lot to write about, but I'll start with answers to the FATQ (Frequently Asked Twitter Questions):

When will it be on the stands? Looks like I juuuuust missed the Previews deadline for April, so probably May. Yes, it feels like a long time from now. It's after Emerald City, where I would very much have liked to debut the comic, which makes me sad. My best convention option right now is San Diego in July, but obviously I've completely missed the window for reserving a table. So if anybody has a table at SDCC that they'd like to share with me, please drop me a line. I swear I don't smell that much worse than the usual convention-goer. I am happy to pay for my portion of the table.

Will there be a reprint of issue 1? I have asked for this but have not yet received an answer in the affirmative (which isn't to say the answer is "no" -- Image is pretty busy these days). If you want to help this cause, feel free to tweet @ImageComics to remind them that you'd like to have access to the first issue. This is especially important because A) it turns out lots more people buy Image comics these days, and low supply is making copies of issue 1 ridiculously expensive and B) the second issue is pretty dense, and though I don't believe it's completely incomprehensible on its own, it's a much better experience if you know what happened in #1.

Are you going to do any signings? Yes, I think so. As long as it's a reasonable driving distance from Seattle. I'm already talking to Arcane Comics in Ballard (they're my home shop). If you run or work at a comic shop in the area and you'd like to put together a signing, please contact me!

Are the other media rights for Nonplayer available? Why yes, it turns out that Warner has decided to let their option lapse, so Nonplayer is back in my hands. And no, nobody has actually asked this. I'm pretty shameless.

Why the heck did it take so long to make issue 2? I think the answer to this one is going to comprise the remainder of this post, so let's move down from the oppressive confines of this Q and A format. See you in a second.

Hi. Ah, that's better.

Okay, so here's what happened.

The first issue took just a hair longer than a full year to complete. That was me working without a deadline, without any scrutiny from any kind of publisher or press, using Photoshop (a program with which I was very comfortable). So that's our baseline. A year. A very long time by comics standards, but within an order of magnitude of the amount of time detailed comics have taken, historically (see Darrow, Geof or French Comics, all). Future issues of Nonplayer needed to be at least as handsome as that first one, so it was destined to be a slow ride from the start. But exactly how slow, I had no idea.

When Nonplayer #1 was released, a few things happened. As I have detailed here in the past, there was quite a bit of distracting hoopla (at least by my standards). Between promoting the book, fulfilling poster and comic orders, Googling myself, hanging out with all my new comics friends, talking to Hollywood big shot types, and trying to answer every comment on DeviantArt in a meaningful way (man, that was cray), the amount of time left in a day turned out to be quite small. So regret #1 is not having made more hay while the sun was out, because I had a finite window of full-time access to the comic, and a lot of that time was spent on things other than drawing.

On top of that, life took a turn for the lame almost immediately after issue 1 hit the stands. I have debated the wisdom of sharing this aspect of my experience with the public because it might feel like a play for sympathy, but since it was such a major feature of my life at the time (and now), I feel that there's no reason to conceal it anymore. On the same week that issue 1 was released, I got a call from my stepdad in Ohio about my mom being ill. It turned out that she had Pick's Disease, a rare form of early-onset dementia, the symptoms of which had been manifesting for a couple of years prior to her diagnosis. We'd had a couple of weird Christmases in Ohio, but somehow we'd managed to convince ourselves that she was just developing hearing problems.

One thing about mom's illness that is particularly beautiful and heartbreaking is that her coworkers and boss apparently loved her so much that they covered for her for almost two years before finally letting her go. Her work performance had deteriorated to the point that her presence had become actively harmful, and everybody just worked around it, which is a big part of why her family never suspected that anything was going seriously wrong. So to the good people of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, thank you so much for taking care of her (and by extension, her whole family) for so long. 

Anyway, once the diagnosis was official, Mom and Mike moved straight to Seattle so that we could be together while she was still herself. I wish I could have spent more time with her. But I saw her at least once or twice a week, and she got to meet her grandson a few months before the end. She passed away last year.

No, Nonplayer 2 isn't late because my mom got sick. But her decline formed the backdrop for a couple of very unpleasant years. I crashed my bike a few months into the project and broke my collarbone, which put me out of action for a couple of months. Then the money ran out, and despite my best efforts to get a second title going, things just didn't click.

Meanwhile, I ended up having to throw out the original first six pages of #2. They felt like they had been drawn by somebody whose eye was not on the ball, which they were. When I finally shook off the brain-fog and gave the first pages an honest read, it was clear they'd have to be redone. Super bummer. On top of all that, I had contrived to switch from Photoshop to IllustStudio to streamline my pipeline. Not only did it take me a while to get comfortable with the new interface, the work I did with the program felt lifeless because of the way the linework was automatically stabilized. I finally found the right settings to replicate the feel of the first issue, but that took time. And then time ran out.

I went and got a job at another game company. And while the people I worked with were lovely and talented (and many of whom are still close friends), it was a very demoralizing time for me. I remember sitting at my desk at work a couple weeks into the job and just wallowing in self-hate and resentment. I fantasized about walking out the door and roaming the land like Caine, with nothing but my Cintiq strapped to my back, drawing Nonplayer at diners and coffee shops across our great land. I'd just spent a couple of years working on the Thing I Loved, and now I was drawing gems and elves for a freemium mobile game. They gave me money and were really nice to me, but every minute I spent there was a minute not spent on Nonplayer, and a minute I'd never get back. It felt like slow death. And then after two years there, they canceled my project. So that whole period is just kind of a weird pause in my life, career-wise.

It was during that time that I started working on Nonplayer in the very early morning hours. I joined the Holy Order of Viking Draftspeople, a group of other artists who were also working on personal projects in the wee hours of the morning (see #HOVD on Twitter -- lots of people there still working on rad stuff). Progress was excruciatingly slow for me. An hour or two every morning, just adding a few more lines, a little bit of color, and then off to work. With time at such a premium, my blogging stopped almost completely. Every once in a while, folks would poke at me or wonder where Nonplayer had gone, and there wasn't really anything I could show or tell them. I was half-done with the book and was literally getting a face drawn one day, a hand the next day, a telephone the day after that. It was like crossing a desert on all fours with no oasis in sight.

The whole point of Nonplayer had been to work on something that I loved, but under these circumstances, it was no longer fun. The end was nowhere in sight, and I was getting a lot of disappointment and hate from fans, retailers, and even friends. I felt like a total failure. My office was a couple of blocks from Zanadu Comics, and I had to walk past that shop on occasion. The embarrassment I felt was so great that I sometimes crossed to the other side of the street to avoid having to face what had come to symbolize my total failure at life. My coworkers would sometimes go inside on their lunch breaks and when I tagged along I felt what seemed like a physical weight on my shoulders. They had a signed poster from issue 1 on the wall, which made me feel bad until they took it down, which felt even worse.

I was in a bad place!

I really thought about quitting. My work on the book slowed even more. I played Kerbal Space Program. I got super into SpaceX and rocketry in general. I doubled down on cycling, bought a fancy road bike, and started going after Strava records. I got a little happiness wherever I could. Especially in winter, it was hard to find reasons to be happy. My wife carried me through this time, and I'll be grateful for that forever. When I bogged down completely, she offered to help the process move forward by helping me out with flatting. Just having that vote of confidence was a huge help. A few other folks still gave me encouragement online, but without Jiyoung's support, I would have thrown in the towel (I'd like to add that I also received enthusiastic flatting assistance from Matt Harding, who did an amazing job -- you should buy his book PopApocalypse right now).

And then in May 2013, my son was born!

For all the extra lost time that his arrival entailed, it also forced me to focus. Yes, on many mornings he would (and still does) choose to wake up at 4 AM, completely disrupting my work. But his arrival also got me to stop playing video games (haven't touched one in more than a year), and to be more pragmatic about my goals. He got me thinking long-term again, and I wanted to show him that there was value in making progress on something, even if that progress came in small increments.

That, and he just makes me happy. You work better when you have happy chemicals in your head.

So that brings us to now, I suppose. Honestly, the end caught me by surprise. I'd concentrated so much on just putting one foot in front of the other that when I finally looked up and noticed I was standing in daylight on the other end of the tunnel, I couldn't believe it. I had a funny exchange with my agent after I sent him the final PDF where I just kept repeating "am I done? Oh man, is this thing done? I can't be done. Is it really done?"

Yep, it's done.

Is it a Pyrrhic victory? Will the book be overlooked now that so much time has passed? I don't know. I hope not, obviously, but I certainly don't expect a repeat of the buzz that surrounded the first issue. Which is probably a good thing, because it'll be a lot easier to concentrate on #3.

There's a lot of other stuff to talk about (plans for Nonplayer and the future in general), but I'll stop here for now.

I'm happy right now, guys. Thanks for waiting.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

It has been nearly a year since I posted here. Holy canolis. It feels like it's been about three weeks. Fatherhood, amirite?

So, you are maybe wondering (or maybe not wondering) where things stand with Nonplayer right now. Shockingly, the second issue is not yet complete. I have continued to wake up between the hours of 3 and 4 in the morning to place art-pebbles on the pile, and that pile is now looking very much like a complete book. There is some polish yet to do, but I'm far enough along that an untrained, partially-blind observer might think it was done.

It has seemed at times like my toddler is not a fan of this book, because the closer I get to finishing it, the more he plays Old Harry with my scant sleep allotment. Drawing your dream comic is a wonderful gift, but it turns out that drawing your dream comic on zero sleep is kind of burdensome. That said, I have decided not to give myself too much leeway in this matter, as I fear that a prolonged recess may result in the extinguishment of my creative pilot light.

But it's almost done, so that's good. A couple more months, maybe? See, that wasn't so bad. It only took eight thousand years. Who's ready for #3?

Oh, I know something new I can talk about! I got a job with a company called Uber Entertainment, and they let me pitch a new game on my first day there. And now we're making it! Well, we're Kickstarting it, so it's probably premature to use the present tense there. But I'm very happy with the way the pitch came out -- I'm surrounded by people who are amazing and talented and boundlessly enthusiastic about making games. I really hope this game gets funded. I think you will like it. Here is the video:



The pitch is pretty simple: the Singularity happens, robots are running amok destroying the world, and human scientists try to head off the machine apocalypse by using the Necronomicon to invoke Lovecraftian squid monsters from another dimension. I guess the reasoning is that the two adversaries will sort of cancel each other out. But of course shit goes sideways and now we've got two apocalypses instead of one.

The twist is that you play as one of the apocalyptic factions. The humans only exist as a consumable resource (and the name of the game, which still makes me giggle, is "Human Resources"). So you get to enjoy destroying whole cities and eating lots of folks. It's cheerier than it sounds, partly because we've figured out a way to render the game in a clear-line style redolent of my French comics heroes.

Concepting the factions has been a treat. Once again, I have weaseled my way into drawing noodly organic stuff and giant robots in the same project. Here are some samples:





Anyway, if games are your thing, please pay a visit to the Human Resources (hehe) Kickstarter page and look at all the cool stuff you can get. Who knows, if this game becomes some sort of runaway success, maybe I can retire to a life of full-time comic making! Which would reduce the time it takes to draw an issue of Nonplayer to a mere decade or two!

Okay, back to drawing. Have a nice day!

PS. A special hello to my compatriots in the Holy Order of Viking Draftspeople. I am surprised how many of you are still in the trenches every day before dawn. I know a guy who built a whole video game in the wee morning hours. And lots of awesome comics getting drawn. It's an exciting time to be not sleeping. Catch the fever!




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Irons in the Fire

Nonplayer #2 has passed another milestone -- both linework and first-pass color are now in place, and I'm doing the polish pass now (adding shadows, gradients, highlights, and other atmospheric stuff). It's far enough along that I've been able to show it to a few compatriots, and the response so far has been a unanimous "it's better than the first one." Assuming they're not just telling me what I want to hear (and there are quite a few really mean people in the bunch, so I think I'm getting good data), all this toil may not have been in vain after all.

Building cathedrals over a span of centuries is all well and good, and I look forward to jumping right into bricklaying for #3. That said, I have been nurturing a second story in my spare (ha!) time, and it looks like all the pieces are in place to launch a new web comic around the end of the year. This one is going to be a lot faster than Nonplayer, chiefly because I'm not drawing it! I've found someone much better than myself to handle the art duties so that I can focus on improving my writing (with a tiny bit of concepting on the side). And this artist -- I can't wait for you to see his stuff. He's amazing.

I can't get into too much detail about the project because I'd like it to be a surprise, but I am at least as excited about it as I am about Nonplayer. It's got alien monsters in it. And muffins, lots of muffins.

Why a web comic? Partly out of curiosity. It's the 21st century and all, and I wonder whether this new story may appeal to readers who might not normally cross paths with a print comic. There are a lot of eyeballs on the internet, and I'd like to see if I'm able to grab a few of them. I like the idea of gathering the content at the end of each year and funding the printed collections through Kickstarter. I like that it feels like we're setting sail in our own little pirate ship, and there's nothing but uncharted water ahead.

More than anything, it feels great to have a second iron in the fire. I know that web comics are rarely a path to riches, but a second book means twice as many chances for me to finagle my way into a career as a full-time comic creator. I have a fantasy that this new comic will help me find more hours to work on Nonplayer, so that the bricklaying can happen at some other time than 3am (yes, I've moved my daily drawing time forward to 3am, which means that I now see dead people).

2014 is shaping up to be a lovely year -- full of robots, swords, monsters and muffins. Life is good.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The last several months have been a blur of diaper changes and burping accidents -- it's weird how early parenthood compresses the flow of time. I last posted here in February? That is a hard pill to swallow.

Well, let's do a quick update.

I am still getting up at 4am every morning to work on Nonplayer #2. It may be more accurate to say that I am just not attempting to go back to sleep when baby Ian has his early-morning spaz-attack. I have so much respect for the HOVD parents now-- it is very, very difficult to maintain productivity when you've got both a kid and a day job vying for bandwidth.

I would be lying if I said that NP #2 was progressing quickly, but you probably already guessed that after waiting two years for it. That said, I am making steady progress and nearing a big milestone, and I hope that things will accelerate a bit after I cross that threshold. I have showed the unfinished book to a few people now, and the reaction seems pretty positive. Hopefully folks won't be too disappointed with the finished product.

As far as what happens after #2 comes out -- to be honest, I have no idea. It is not easy to find time to work on the book. When I think that I've got five more issues to go, and I multiply that number by the number of years I've spent on the current issue, it's hard not to despair. Faced with this yawning abyss, all I can do is focus on getting this issue done in the hopes that its arrival may trigger some miraculous reordering of my work situation. 

The mechanism by which this might occur is unknown to me. I suppose when the hardback European editions come out (collecting issues 1 and 2 in a single volume), it could catch on in France or something. There's at least a theoretical possibility that such an event could bring in enough money to cover a mortgage. Other miracles... well, there's always the Deus ex Hollywood. Maybe Steven Spielberg is browsing the racks at Golden Apple and has a eureka moment when he sees the comic. Bam, I'm in the money.

What else? A revival of the practice of art patronage? Perhaps there's some nerdy billionaire out there who wants to see the series completed so badly that he's willing to pay me a salary to work on it full time? Somebody show the comic to Bill and see if he's interested. I'm happy to commute across the lake to Bellevue if he wants me to work on site. 

Of course, there's always the vague promise of Kickstarter, but I'm still having trouble making the numbers add up there. Kickstarter would have been great if I'd attempted this book two decades ago, back when I could couch-surf for months at a time. But with a kid, in America? Only if your whole family has Wolverine-like healing abilities. At the first sign of a sniffle, you'll be out ten grand.

I'm open to any suggestions you guys may have. In the meantime, I'm keeping my head down, my stylus moving, and holding out hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We Pruned the Hedges of Many Small Villages

Man, this Holy Order of Viking Draftspeople thing is really taking off. There's some beautiful stuff being made by my horn-helmeted brethren and sisteren. Like this, by Gail Buschman:



And this by Zack Pangborn:



And this, by Chad Hindahl (who has excellent taste in paperweights):



Nonplayer #2 is chugging along at full chat now, and I look forward to someday being able to once again walk past my neighborhood comic shop with my head held high. Why, I might even briefly go inside!

Helping things go even faster is my new trusty sidekick, intern Matt Harding! Matt's helping out with flatting right now, and I ask all of you to give him a warm welcome. It is my fervent hope that he not be driven to suicide by my noodliness, or that he is at least kind enough to postpone the deed until after we're finished.

Matt's currently a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Here's a cool thing he made:


Kids these days, with their talent and their baggy pants.

On top of that, I'd like to direct you kind, sympathetic readers to a Kickstarter project being put together by Matt and his classmates. They've made a graphic novel called Ultrasylvania, and this will be the first time these students get to see their work in print. It ain't no charity thang -- the story is about a 19th century Europe that is divided between two kingdoms run by the Frankenstein monster and Dracula, respectively. Which is the long way of saying it's radsauce. See:

Art by Lloyd Hoshide

Art by Valerio Fabbretti

Do Matt a solid and help these guys squeak past their goal. There are three days left and they're almost over the line.

See you #HOVD-ers tomorrow morning. Baroo.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Smitten

Week one of the Holy Order of Viking Draftspeople was a smashing success. Every morning at 4, the Twittersphere rang with the yeolps of mighty Warriors of Pen and Stylus. I especially enjoyed reading the check-in posts of Vikings from other parts of the world (including at least one who, being from Scandinavia, may literally be a Viking). Special props to those who made it all the way through the first week. The first couple of days were a bit of a trial, but I was happy to see so many people make it over the hump, eventually to sing the praises of their new, more productive routine.

It's never too late to join our ranks. #HOVD on Twitter.

I'm not at my home computer right now, so I can't post any images from my week of drawing right now. I'll stick something here later when I get home. In the meantime, it would be lovely if my fellow Vikings could post links to the work they accomplished this week down in the comments. For my part, it was a record-breaking week that saw the completion of another page.

Woe betide our enemy, the Blank Page, for next week we will smite many more!

BAROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cracking the Code

I've had a breakthrough.

I've found a way to make serious progress on my book while holding down a full-time job. My stress levels have dropped dramatically, my productivity has soared, and I have more leisure time to share with my family and friends. Not only that, this technique should be sustainable even through fatherhood! It's nuts!

All I have to do, it turns out, is wake up at 4 a.m. every day!

This is not a joke, though I was half-joking when I first proposed the idea. Just the words "4 o'clock" -- they give you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. I think that's why more of us haven't attempted this. But here's the secret about 4 o'clock: it's not that hard!

The only tricky bit is getting to bed by 9. Not because you won't be sleepy (because you will if you're getting up at 4), but because nobody else in your life will be sleepy. This ties in with what I said last week about learning to say "no." The 9 p.m. bedtime might actually be a bit easier for folks with kids, since that's a pretty common bedtime for the young 'uns already.

So why is this new schedule such a game-changer? The biggest difference is that you're giving your freshest, most creative hours to your project, and you're doing it at a time when there are few distractions. If you postpone your project until the evening hours, it starts to feel like an unwelcome obligation. It's that thing that stands between you and a few minutes of relaxation. But when you've got four hours squared away before you even leave for work, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you've already made your dent for the day.

I've noticed I feel physically lighter since I made the change. When I get home, I may only have three hours before bedtime, but they're three free hours. I can linger over dinner, chat with my wife, read an actual book made out of paper.. it's awesome.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, it seems that this schedule has increased my productivity at work, as well. It turns out that being happier means being a better employee. 

And there's one other bonus: the whole arrangement makes you look like a total badass. You have harnessed the dark power of "4 a.m." and made it yours. You have tamed it, and now it makes you dangerous. Look closely into the eyes of those with whom you share your new time of waking. That slight widening is a sign of fear.

I want to try an experiment. Let's start a thing called the 4 a.m. Club (first order of business, figure out a new name for the club -- the Holy Order of Viking Draftspeople or something). Every morning, before I set to work, I'll give a little holler on Twitter to my fellow morning-folk (#HOVD?). Sort of like Robot Roll Call, but without robots. Then we can all set about our morning's work, safe in the knowledge that there are others out there fighting the good fight. And yes, the honor system is in place: if you live in another area code, you can give your shout out at local 4 a.m. and I'll do my best to believe that you're not a total fibber.

We could even set up a tumblr or sumpin' where the members of the Holy Order can share the work that they're doing. All of us folks with day jobs, actually making cool stuff. How energizing would that be? I promise that if we do something like this, I'll post a little something every week, too.

Really, guys. I highly recommend trying this out for a week. It sounded insane to me the first time I tried it (and the first couple of days were tough going), but now I'm just annoyed that I didn't think of it sooner.

HOLY ORDER OF VIKING DRAFTSPEOPLE, ASSEMBLE!