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!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013

2012 was a hard, heartbreaking year.

But here comes 2013. Sounds like a good year to finish a comic book. 

Here's page 2 (lots more coloring to do on this one):



I've got about 3.5 pages to finish inking, and there's still quite a lot of coloring to do. And the clock is definitely ticking louder now due to the mid-May arrival of this little fellow:


I don't know how I will continue Nonplayer after he arrives, but I can't imagine that quitting will set a very good example for him. So that leaves "not quitting," which means it's time to search for some new tricks.

Step one: start having fun again. It's amazing how different it feels to work on something because you can, rather than because you feel you have to. And in comics, as with most things, the amount of fun you're having correlates directly with the amount of radness that shows up in the final product. So how do I find the fun? I don't really know the answer to this one (your suggestions are welcome), but for me, part of the solution lies in letting go of my guilt about the book's slowness. 

Okay, this is a slow comic. Funnily, my first impulse is still to apologize. Like, I just started a sentence with "I'm sorry, but..." Well, darn it. I don't think it's healthy for me to be sorry. I'm bringing a new thing into the world, and it'll be born in its own time. If you think I owe you something, may I suggest you subscribe to Netflix? There's plenty of stuff there to keep you entertained until the rest of Nonplayer is done. 

So let's assume it's fun to work on the book again. The next step is to find time to work on it. Right now I'm putting in an hour every morning before work and another three to four hours before bed. That, and all day every Sunday. As long as the day job persists (I'll address this in a bit), the book has to happen in these in-between hours. It doesn't really pay to rob myself of sleep, especially when I need my brain fully online to do good work. I also think it's pretty important to give myself one day off per week. There are times when I feel like sprinting, but committing to insane hours is a one-way ticket to Burnoutville. Plus, that's a surefire way to kill the fun.

That said, I've had to learn to say "no" to stuff. I can't go out for a beer every time my friends invite me. I don't get to watch too many movies. Games, especially, are a humongous time-sucker. I try to cram as much goofing-off as I can into my free day, because the only other fun I get to have is comic-making fun.

Next, there's the challenge of working efficiently within the time I've got. This has been the hardest and most counter-intuitive lesson for me so far. The more I try to get done in the allotted time, the less quality work I do. For me, rushing has been absolute poison to creativity. All I can do is assure myself that I'll keep setting aside the time, and that I won't allow myself to get distracted or side-tracked during that time. If I end up sitting and staring at a blank page for three hours, that counts as work. I can't shout a seed into sprouting. All I can do is plant it and keep it watered.

It has also been helpful to bring some friends in on the project to provide feedback and hold me accountable when I stray. I've got two people to whom I send a PDF of the entire unfinished comic once a week. Sometimes I just need to hear someone say "good job." It can be hard to keep moving forward when the attaboys are months (or years) away. Van Gogh had Theo, right?

Now, if we're talking life-goals, we need to address this day job thing. I'm aware that becoming a father means taking a step further out into that quicksand, but let's proceed from the assumption that living a happy life means continuing to believe that your goals can be achieved, even if I can't completely see the path that leads from here to there. 

I have a simple goal: I want the freedom to create cool things without subjecting my loved ones to undue hardship.

That means that I need to make as much money doing what I love as I can make working for somebody else. So how might that theoretically happen?

My friend Coop says "Kickstarter." His proposal is simple: estimate the amount of time I need to finish the entire series, calculate how much money I'd have made at my current job over that amount of time, and set that as my goal. And since I live in the United States, add the cost of the health benefits I'd have been receiving over that period, as well. We're talking about a 6-year delivery time and a fairly astronomical funding goal (something equivalent to the cost of a really nice house). I don't know, but unless some rich dude comes along and just throws half a million dollars at me, I'm not really sure this is a workable model.

There may be a more piecemeal solution, however. Perhaps a two-year project to fund a large-format, hardback collection of every two issues. Maybe with some sort of making-of chapter at the end that collects concept sketches and pages-in-progress, so that the volume comes out to 60-70 pages. This is where I could really use your advice. What would you like to see, and at what price? Would a finished book be enough, or would you expect some frills? Posters? Original artwork?

The other path is the one I'm already taking: spend my days at the office, make my nightly offering, and release each issue when it's finished. If that takes decades, so be it. 

Happy New Year, everybody.

Edit: A few readers have interpreted this post as an announcement of my intention to stop releasing individual floppy issues of Nonplayer. This is not the case. Nonplayer will be released as an Image comic as long as Image has the patience for it. In addition, any theoretical Kickstarter-funded album push would also have to be published by Image, and since I have not discussed any such project with them, this whole notion is completely speculative. I suspect they'd be happy if I found a way to work full-time on the book, and if a Kickstarter helped them move more copies, that would be a win for everybody. But none of the above blog post should be construed as an official announcement of anything. Thanks.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Nonplayer is still progressing, I'm still alive, it'll get done soon. I'll start posting some images here in a bit.

But the main reason for this post is that my buddy Steve Snoey is making a documentary about a Tyrannosaurus who fought in World War II. You know what? I don't think I can make that sound any cooler, so I'll just repeat it.  He's making a documentary about a Tyrannosaurus who fought in World War II.

Here's the Kickstarter page for America's Fighting Dinosaur. I really hope this gets made, because the few test shots included in the intro video are rad, rad, rad. 


Steve's all about attention to detail -- I love this ID card:


Man, I hope this gets funded. 

More later!