Monday, June 23, 2008

World Premiere!

NOTE : This post ends with the first strip from my own comic that’s I’m putting up for opinions on its art style. If you’ve got no interest in my opinions and views on webcomics, I’d still appreciate your opinion on my work, so feel free to skip to the end and take a look!

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a pretty huge webcomic fan.

As I’ve briefly touched on in previous posts, I think that I ‘appreciate’ things for a totally different reason than most people. Most people are more interested in the ‘end product’, whether a movie made them laugh or cry, whether a painting caught their eye or whether that book pulled them in.

I’ve always been more interested in the artistry and skill behind creating that experience. It’s why I appreciate a magic trick more when I know how it’s done and know the amount of skill and preparation that went into pulling off the illusion.

It’s also why I downright despise ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’. There’s just no artistry there. I usually love it if a book can make me cry, but ‘Chicken Soup’ is just stories like “There’s a kid with terminal cancer, and he gets a puppy and is really happy and forgets about his illness…but then the puppy gets run over by a car…isn’t that sad?”

No. It isn’t. It’s a hack writer trying to force emotion out of me for no good reason.

Anyway…that was a hell of a tangent.

This is my roundabout way of saying that I love webcomics because it honestly amazes me how these people can create deep, interesting stories and make me honestly care about these characters in just three or four strips a week, using only five panels each.

As regular readers know, I’m a very wordy person and find it extremely hard to be thrifty with words. Because of that I’ve become painfully aware of just how tough writing an effective comic is, because ‘wordy’ simply is not an option. Your writing has to be almost haiku-like.

Think about it. You’re writing a daily strip. You might have a story that’s going to take place over a couple weeks or months, but each strip has to stand alone.

Put simply, if you need to be intimate with the previous hundred strips for the current one to make any sense or be funny, you’re not going to get any new readers. If I stumble across a new strip I’ve never seen before, the creator has that one strip to capture my attention. Even if the overall story arc is a work of genius, I’m not going to stick around if the one strip I read is two characters eating pizza while saying “Whew! What a day!”

So think about all this for a second. Every day you have about four pictures and three sentences to work with…and with those very limited materials you have to move your story forward in a satisfying way, while also telling a joke or showing an event that makes that strip an enjoyable experience outside the context of the overall story.

That’s about as tough as it gets, and very few people can do it right.

It’s a big problem I ran into while drawing my own strip. I sat at the computer and came up with an overall concept then wrote a basic outline of what was going to happen in the first fifty strips.

Then I drew the first five and thought they turned out really well. Then I showed them to someone…and while they got the jokes and thought they were funny there was a basic fundamental concept I needed people to grasp …and they didn’t get it.

“Well, that’s an easy enough fix.” I thought. So I ‘inserted’ a new strip into the story. “I’ll just have the main character walking around, thinking about what’s going on and I can get some good exposition that way!”

You know what? It worked. It explained everything I needed the reader to know in order to grasp that main concept.

Then I was hit by some ‘bad’ luck that turned out to be good luck in disguise. The stylus for my tablet bit the dust, which put the whole thing on hiatus for a while. Then this morning, after a two week break from even thinking about the strip, I read the ones I’d already made.

Know what I discovered? That ‘extra’ strip did indeed give me all the exposition I needed …but looking at it with fresh eyes I noticed something new about it.

It was downright boring. It wasn’t funny, and above all, nothing happened. I’d given the audience info I needed them to have, but at the expense of entertainment.

I think with any new webcomic the first fifty strips are the equivalent of a TV show’s pilot. The pilot has to grab people’s attention. While the audience will need a lot of extra info if the show gets picked up… people sitting and talking about seemingly irrelevant details isn’t exactly riveting.

Imagine if the pilot to Battlestar Galactica had been five people sitting around a table explaining where the Cylons came from. Bor-ing!

Anyway, I thought in today’s post I’d actually include the very first strip, just to get some opinions on the actual art.

I personally quite like the direction I’ve gone in and will call my artwork ‘competent’. It’s not great, but let me give you an insight into why I decided to start working on the strip now, rather than waiting until I felt I was really ‘good enough’.

I was reading Penny Arcade (the most popular webcomic on the net).

I love Mike Krahulik’s art style and I wouldn’t be lying if I said his work is professional quality that wouldn’t look out of place on the Cartoon Network.

However, I looked at his very first strip (published ten years ago) and the difference is like night and day. While his work starting out wasn’t terrible, it was definitely ‘amateur’. I’d go so far to say that my artwork today may even be a shade better than his was back when he started. (Although he’s literally light-years ahead of me today).

Anyway, I had the realization that when it comes to any creative project, if everyone waited until we felt we were really ‘ready’ and ‘good enough’ we’d just never start.

What it boils down to is that today I look at my artwork and I’m never happy with it and wish it was a lot better. However, if I went back in time and showed something I drew today to my 16 year old self, the 16 year old me would say “Damn! I wish I could draw that well!”

In other words, we all think we could do better, no matter how good we get. I know that if I was waiting for the day I could look at something I’ve drawn and say “Yes! Now I’m ready.”…I’d be waiting forever.

Anyway, I’ve talked long enough, so here’s the historic first strip of ‘Obsolete’. Take a look and tell me what you think about the artwork.

Click for full view!

(Just as a disclaimer, I know this strip isn’t very funny, but this strip’s main purpose is to set up the next one. I needed the main character to get fired in this strip…but as I said above, each strip needs to stand somewhat on its own…and this is the best thing I could think of.)

PS. The female superhero doesn’t have a name yet. If anyone can think of one, I’d appreciate it J

1 comment:

amanda said...

Biggie McTits