Making new samurai

I spent most of my time since Christmas writing the next comic – graphic novel, whatever people care to call it anymore.

But this one is going to take a while – even though I have most it outlined, mostly scripted, and I have roughs for the first chapter.

┬áSo most of the work I have done on the book has been writing – I always save certain bits of dialogue for the last phase before the book is done and sometimes that has caused a few typos to slip through the cracks. But when working on the more tedious parts of production, little bits of lines here and there get tweaked as I spend more time with the work.

 

This book is going to have a lot of internal monologues – thoughts and information presented in a style a little different than I am accustomed. I wanted to experiment with storytelling that comes across almost completely as data – with meaning and weight that makes sense only when attached to the events portrayed in the imagery.

One of the general weaknesses of mainstream comics, one of the biggest things that bothers me about the medium as a whole, is the level of dialogue. Basically, I just don’t feel like the adults in comics sound like adults. While comics aren’t the best medium for drawing out conversations, no pun intended, the vocabulary, meter and weight of some of the actions depicted never seems to have a matching weight in words.

I get it though, for the most part. You write for the audience in mainstream comics or any medium. Some people say you have to write for yourself, or some version of that axiom. I prefer to say that I write to explore ideas and the world that supports those ideas.

Some writers are great at this. The characters get written with a careful attention to personality and education. But one thing is obvious, and it’s that when a writer who is not as smart as they want their characters to be tries to write those characters doing something very difficult, personal or remotely interesting.

If it’s out of your experience as a writer, it’s your job to seek out a similar experience, someone who has that experience or anything to get you closer to it to have a genuine response for your characters. Short of anything illegal, dangerous or impossible – you have to find something analogous. Then you have to be honest about it.

Is graphic novel still a dirty word?

So I don’t really care, arguing about whether graphic novel is still a novel is pointless mental masturbation. Call it a first world problem. Call it anything but an argument.

If you bemoan the idea of someone trying to dignify a really long comic book with a word like graphic novel it kind of ignores the impact that medium has had.

And that’s really what I enjoy – the medium of comics. I lost my taste for mainstream comics and even many less than mainstream comics a long time ago. But I always appreciate seeing something being done with the medium that in the mainstream that shows appreciation for the craft and medium.

I had a long talk a few nights ago with a friend who used to work in comics retail about how mainstream comics and fans have struggled lately – in my opinion they have always struggled. Struggled to be taken seriously, to be accepted, to reach new readers without losing old ones. It’s a publishing dynamic that hasn’t changed since the first time someone held out a floppy issue and said “Hey, wanna buy this?”

My friend and I then started to argue about something that IS actually important. Knowing your audience is something that is key to making anything get off the ground in business and publishing. I always hate listening to other comics creators muse about making something, then “Not caring about whether or not anyone likes it.”

That’s almost suicidal. You’re going to need to care about how much people like something eventually, because that often determines what you do NEXT. If they hate it, do you quit? If they love it do you make more? Pretty simple right? But so many creators miss a beat – everyone knows what they want to make. What most people miss is whether or not an audience exists for that thing you want to make.

My friend Vince argued that if I was making something, that I could assume there were other people out there like me who would be interested in it. With that, I agree, but what eludes many comics creators is reaching those people in enough numbers to make something financially worthwhile.

A long time ago, I concocted a model of making comics that has near zero costs until they actually get printed. Open source software, no material costs, only the sweat equity and meager cost of (more often than not) someone else’s electrical bill (thank you Starbucks – that’s not a plug, but a fact).

Time, of course, has enormous costs, and approaching convention time I rack up some bills – adding everything to a nice spreadsheet, looking at profits and losses – and weighed against the more intangible and sometimes more important metric of emotional success.

But I always weigh the results of small shows appropriately – when you have a small following you have to weigh things properly. I never took statistics, but I know that to weigh the results of something too heavily can spell really just make you spin your wheels. But at the level of a mainstream title, you can really (as a British friend puts it) “cock” things up.

All that said, I grit my teeth when someone talks about their followers and likes – especially when I see that they don’t have particularly large numbers. That constant social media drug that creators listen and get lost in is too often am irrelevant blip that creators mistake for the arrow on a map.

The only thing that moves me to action when the sample is so small is unanimity – to total lack of deviation, the uniformity of the signal. I’ve only seen that once in any of my work and to my regret it was for something I did not own. A piece of fan art, which I will not link to, has become the most popular thing I have ever created.

A lot of people would say I should chase that IP theft train, because why not? Everyone else is doing it – it gets you noticed and blah blah blah. I can’t help but feel it’s a dishonest way to make things – and while some companies consider it flattery until the courtship (translation: do fan art until you get noticed), I want to spend my time making MY work. I don’t care about making Disney shareholders richer.

I have made fan art mostly as an exercise in media studies – I have sold some of it. Enough to keep my website fees paid for a few months here and there, but I table at conventions where people who have never worked for a mainstream publisher in any capacity sell nothing but other people’s intellectual property.

I had a nickname for it – Popularity piggyback, but that’s too un-meme worthy for the general public these days. And even as legal counsel for Deviantart once pointed out, even if you did a mash up or self styled version of a property, the phrasing of copyright’s gives the original owners a wide range of tools to come after that work. Mash ups – another word for “expose me to more than one lawsuit.”

And yeah, go ahead and lecture me about fair use. When you’re broke all the time, doing mostly but fan art, aren’t very talented to begin with, yes – of course you’ll make a fair use argument. I’ll give you a more accurate term – small use. As in your work is too insignificant to merit the attention of an intellectual property holder.

Before I descend into nothing but ranting – too late – when I DO go to shows where this stuff happens (i.e. ALL of them), well, I just kind of shake my head. People make a lot of money at shows doing their IP dance, I make enough to get through the show with my own work.

So, I just keep working. On my graphic novel.

Another Pencase update

So the latest version is looking very clean – I made some serious print setting modifications which make it a little more durable. It’s not bulletproof and it was never really meant to be – but I am confident that with the right materials, the current version will suit people well if they fit a certain customer profile.

And that’s the big rub – one of the things I gleaned from a very small (and thus not dependable) customer sample was that people who got the first version were – uh – on a continuum of clumsiness.

I am REALLY trying to be politically correct about that because everyone who tried out the first version was without a doubt SUPER. But there was an obvious continuum on which they fell when it came to the amount of use and wear they put on the pencase. It ranged from carrying it carefully in some other case, protected from most of the elements to being wielded full bore while riding a Harley (really not kidding about that last one).

Now, there is no way ANYTHING I print using PLA (Polylactic Acid Thermoplastic for printing) will survive a full speed crash off of a Harley on the freeway. I didn’t create it for that. But I am pretty sure if I printed one of these in the current range of Nylons from some of the higher end service bureaus, I would get seriously close to that survivability.

Anyway, I had put this project on hold for a LONG time because of some other interesting and time dependent projects. And the Fuse 1, Formlab’s new SLS standalone solution is nearing market release. Now there is a longshot at being able to afford that full system – which when figured might clear 20K – but it is an ideal way to actually, personally, and repeatedly manufacture the Pencase for real on my own.

If there was enough of a market for them, I would love to go that route. But then again, an SLS Machine of my own? Avoiding the desire, distraction and capability of creating things in that format would be like Ulysses resisting the Sirens. As the meme goes, I would MAKE ALL THE THINGS.

So the next step on this round of the Pencase isn’t really clear.

Gawk or GTFO

I hate to use such a loaded acronym but to be honest – it is just a weird observations to make while sketching this weekend. The odd docent or two at a certain facility (if you know me, you already know which one I am talking about) can be just this side of hostile when I spend time in a museum.

I get it – I know full well the value of the stuff on the walls – probably in ways more meaningful as an artist than to many who walk around aimlessly gawping at the walls.

But I’m ranting. Places like museums have become entertainment complexes and profit centers as well as serving legitimate educational goals. And one of the sweet spots they hit psychologically is that of a “luxury good.”

In one of my favorite movies, “The Art of the Steal” forces aligned to acquire the famous Barnes collection of artwork. The wishes of the man who amassed these works was very different from the goals of the political forces that eventually wrested control of them. And I admit, I am deeply conflicted sometimes about the nature and purpose of many museums these days.

But most of the time, I am incredibly grateful that I get to visit these works of art that I only used to read about. Nearly every time I visit the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, I visit the mausoleum, pay my respects and say than you.