< Piro >
Sunday - February 3, 2008
I also tend to not blog or rant when I am when I am busy or trying to get things done. I am not the type that can quickly tap out a 10 minute post when I am in the middle of things. I need to be able to sit back and comfortably reflect and collect my thoughts to write decent rants. I usually have a lot to talk about when I’m in the midst of things. The problem is that by the time I finish, I’m off working on something else and that rant never gets written. My hard drives are strewn with the wreckage of so many unfinished rants it’s not funny. ^^;;
Based on my rants and blogs from November and December, most readers are probably under the impression that the lightness of updates and comic postings here is because fatherhood is taking up most of my time. For November and December, that was indeed true - the first few months for new parents can be rather trying. For January, this impression is not accurate - Jack is old enough that he’s settled into various routines and he has not really been hampering my work as much as you might think. I took a while to learn how to balance his needs with work, but I’ve been managing it fairly well. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when he rises up and decides that it’s gonna be an “All Jack, All Day” kinda day, but for the most part he’s been a really good kid.
So what the hell is up with all the dead air here?
A lot, actually. All of it overdue, and all of it behind the scenes up till now. I have successfully revamped and changed the way I work.
“I though he did that already? Hasn’t he’s done that a dozen times over the past few years?”
No, not as much as I did this time around. In fact, you might even call it real progress.
Once things started to settle down with Jack, I found it hard to get things rolling again on the comic. Not so much because I was coming back to the project after a two month hiatus, but because I was facing the same creative productivity issues I’ve been struggling with ever since I started Megatokyo, and I was trying to move them from the atrophy of a dead stop. When things are clicking along along in Fred-land, life is good. Comics flow, the story clicks, pages get posted at an reasonable rate and readers are happy. When things don’t click, the entire process falters, and I find myself sitting here trying to work out major story problems at the ‘next comic’ level.
My rather loose way of writing (having it all happily floating and churning in my head rather than worked out ahead of time) is part of how I have always worked, scary as that sounds. Keeping things loose right up to when you start production may seem like the a great way to allow for inspiration and creativity, but the truth is that it is really a disoriented quagmire that makes it very difficult to create effectively. It is a difficult, time consuming, inefficient, unreliable and often mind numbing way to work. My average page count over the years is proof of that. It’s a lot like not having any plans when you build a house — the likelihood of building an awesome house on time and on budget is not something you’d want to bet the farm on.
I’ve been struggling with this rather unprofessional way of working for over seven years now. Yes, I’ve done some pretty good work - still not really sure HOW it all stands together as well as it does, but I’m really not happy with how much time is wasted wrestling comics through production.
Honestly, I’m tired of it.
When I sat down to ‘get back to work’ in early January, I found myself reluctant to engage in this rather indulgent and frustrating way of working. It was time to re-start on a more professional footing, if possible. I’ve tried to do this before (more times than I can count) but nothing has really stuck. I think it’s a lot like quitting smoking, you can have the determination to quit or to change, but it’s when you are tired and under pressure that your success or failure is determined. Maybe it’s fatherhood that has helped me persevere with this initiative, but I believe I’ve finally managed to change some core things about the way I work, and don’t plan on going back.
What are these changes? It started with a simple thing re-organizing my workspace. My drawing table and computer were in separate rooms. I did a lot of thinking about how I produced comics, about ways that I could eliminate things that wasted time (for instance, I used to lay out the frames in pencil on a 11x17 sheet of paper using two triangles) and re-thought the entire process. The idea of doing the entire comic on one sheet of paper was supposed eliminate all the time that was wasted drawing stuff was always cropped away in the finished comic. I started laying the comic out in illustrator BEFORE I drew, as part of the planning process, printing out sheets with the frames (very lightly) on them. Drawing on a 11x17 sheet made no sense when I realized that I always had to make multiple scans and stitch them together anyway - it made more sense to draw on sheets that would fit in the scanner anyway, just print the frames out so they fit on the sheets. It also made it easier to replace a frame, I could just re-print a framing sheet and redraw that panel... You get the idea.
The biggest change however was getting the horse squarely before the cart and finishing writing BEFORE I started the drawings. While there is nothing wrong with tweaking and adjusting dialogue when you are finishing a comic, what I tend to call ‘dialogue tweaking’ is more often than not the complete re-writing of the vague dialogue I started with. In fact, its not unusual for there to be no real dialogue at all, just a vague sense of ‘kimiko talks about X’, which gets hashed out and dialogued when I’m finishing up. I can hear anyone who does this sort of thing professionally cringing already. :)
Truth is, I’ve probably made more progress with my artwork over the past seven years than my writing. It’s not that I don’t have inspired ideas and a real sense of where I want the story to go, it’s getting from the vague ideas to a final script that has always been the cavernous leap. I almost never work from a finished script, and even when I do the final comic is often quite different than the script I started with. I have actually hit upon major story concepts and changes in direction this way (I detect another cringe).
This is not because I don’t respect the script, it’s because the ideas in the scripts and in my writing are often not fully worked out, not fully realized. I’m in too big a hurry to get to the drawings, and I get frustrated with trying to organize it and write effectively. In the end, I usually turn to drawing to get things to coalesce. I used to think that it was because drawing was the main way I communicated ideas, but really I think it is because I have never taken the time to learn more effective ways to write. Having a vague overall idea, a sense of key scenes, and then plodding thru to produce it at a page by page level leaves out a lot of key steps to writing effectively. I’ve tried to find ways to do this so many times that my hard drive is full of the abandoned wrecks of writing structures. More often than not, I turning to drawing out of frustration, usually later in the day and woefully behind.
Finding a way to write that helps and doesn’t hinder a person’s creative process is a very personal thing. I did a lot of reading and researching on how other people write, from comic writers to novel writers to bloggers, to get a better sense of how others have made it work. I learned a few things that I was able to apply to my efforts, and as a result, I think I might actually have a working method that is actually working for me.
There has been a lot of trial and error in all of this, and as always not everything I tried really seemed to work. But rather than giving up and reverting to old ways, I kept pushing at it till I started to get somewhere. Honestly, It’s been very hard, but the fact that I feel I have a much better sense of what im doing and where my story is going than I’ve had in a long time... It’s a nice feeling.
For those that are interested, I’ll try to cover more detail about some of the things that I’ve changed in future rants. Yes, I know you’ve all heard that before, but lets face it, when you feel insecure about your work, it’s hard to sit back and reflect on it and write about it. That probably says as much about how I have felt about my work as the blah filled angst fests I used to write. The fact that I’m happily writing this out is a good sign.
One of the more visible tweaks in my process is experimentation with hatching the comic in photoshop rather than by hand. I just posted a finished version of fridays comic earlier today and posted a bit about it in the forums, if you would like to read more about it.
Before I close this and get back to Monday’s comic, I wanted to point your attention to the Valentines Day products at the MegaGear store. “Ph34r my l33t n3k1d sillz” Boxers, this cute little shirt for the girls, a rather cool new Sad Grrl in Sn0 tshirt design, a stealthy new N1NJ4 thermal long sleeve t-shirt, the long awaited return of t3h “ph33; t3h luv” b34r from years back... Be sure to check em out and order soon if you want ‘em by V-day :P. We should be getting our shipment of these products in time, and we should be able to start shipping everything out on February 8th. This should be plenty of time to make it to you by valentines day. :)
Bleah. That was long winded rant. It was important, and it’s long overdue. The real test will be to see how well it all works in practice, if it helps me get back on to my 3 comic per week schedule. That’s a goal I’ve struggled with for years, and I’m ready to best it. I have other goals I’m ready to start working on.