In my head, that title is totally pronounced in the same voice as Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: “Aaaaand the FLOWERS are STILL standing!”
I think I’m starting to forget what cheese tasted like.
That’s right, it’s been over 6 weeks since I last had any dairy, soy, or gluten on purpose. I’m sure there’s been slips here and there (and last weekend in New Orleans we TOTALLY splurged on some bread), but my dietary life has been pretty awfully regulated. And although sometimes it makes me want to cry (why do they stick soy in EVERYTHING??), some positives have come out of it.
Recipes! I’m actually cooking now! Before it was only whenever we didn’t order pizza, and now it’s basically every day. Here are some successes I’ve had:
Weight loss - Okay, so I wasn’t trying to lose weight necessarily, but it was kind of nice to see some pounds of pure cheese and bread melt away. Mmm … melllltttt ….
Attitude adjustment - Although I can’t claim that I’ve been happier these last couple of weeks (i.e. see cheese post), it has been nice to not be so obsessed with food. I’m a big gorger. Going out to eat, parties of any kind, Thursday nights, etc. were all reasons for me to binge. And it’s true, I did have an awfully depressing soy/gluten/dairy free birthday cake, but there are better things in life than food, right? Right??
Better Sleep - Not eating bread or cheese means no more late night cheese n’ cracker fests, which I’m sure we could all agree on as a bad idea anyway. So take that stuff away and what do I have to Midnight Snack on? Just wine. Mmmm …. wine ….
So I’m not out of the woods yet - in a couple more weeks I have a follow-up with my nutritionist and she has some more stuff to test out on me. A happy little beaker of experimentation, I am. But this has been an interesting trial overall, and boy has it made me realize life from the other side of the fence. The most difficult thing by far seems to be traveling. I’ve resigned myself to mainly salads and chicken when we go out to eat, but when you can’t cook your own meals and are thrown to the wolves of the chain restaurants of the world, it can get a little panic-inducing. I can’t count how many “Say what now?” responses we’ve gotten for asking for something gluten-free. I’m just going to keep my head down these next few weeks and forget that my nutritionist gave me a look when I told her I was surviving on a lot of packets of Fruit Snacks. (y’know, artificial flavoring and coloring and all that nonsense)
How about anyone else out there? Have your dietary experimentations/restrictions paid off?
Okay, here we go. Let’s do this. Let’s talk about the areas that I really hate drawing, therefore suck the most when I draw them - aka my weak spots.
Horrifying to behold!
As you can tell from this picture, my weak spots are most definitely backgrounds. A lot of artists have areas they particularly dread drawing. Some are hand-phobes, other face-phobes, I am a background-phobe. Filling backgrounds with people and objects and *shudder* perspective never ceases to paralyze me. As you can tell from these next few shots, the beginning of Gods & Undergrads was chock full of poorly planned, horribly executed backgrounds that I really gave a crap about and boy does the sloppiness show …
No, that building angle is not physically possible.
She must’ve bent that door coming out of it …
Everything I drew seemed like it’s own little lesson in What Not To Do as an artist. If there was a comic equivalent of Stacey & Clinton, they would haul me off to New York and give me an illustration renovation STAT. Actually … who would the comic makeover king and queen of the comics world be? I already have a list going of the hottest comickers. But the ones with the ability to makeover others? Hmm. I smell an industry need, waiting to be filled …
Anyway. So why am I showing you multiple examples of horrible drawing in my own book? Because when you create any comic, or webcomic, or story, or art, or what have you, it’s important to face your fears. Sure, I did a lot of terrible backgrounds (and still do sometimes), but like with the writing, I kept doing them until they gradually got better. Look, at the end of the first book the backgrounds had already improved:
And by the second book? LIGHTYEARS better.
Hey! Is that PERSPECTIVE I see??
I’m not saying I don’t still have loads of work ahead of me in the Backgrounds Arena. But once I realized that backgrounds were just as much an important part of the story as the facial expressions, the color, the dialogue, the outfits, etc. the comic started to evolve just from being an amateur mish-mash into an actual evolving style. One I didn’t plan on, but one that was slowly becoming more cohesive.
Last year, when I started illustrating my first graphic novel for a publisher, my editor gave me some notes on how all of my panel compositions were starting to look the same - headshots, waist up shots, ALL people, all the time. My old nemesis was creeping up on me and not only making me steer clear from drawing backgrounds, but skewing the page layouts of the book too. So was I going to take that shit from backgrounds? Oh hell no. Sure, perspective still boggles my mind and dressing a scene can cause me to break out into cold sweats, but with a little patience, a lot of stress coffee drinking, and this book:
Yep, it’s not really Day 4, since Webcomic Week started last week … oh well, continuity blows! … Aaaand also happens to be the topic of this post.
I’ve been writing terrible stories since I was little. Luckily I didn’t let that deter me. I had a screenwriting teacher in college who told us flat out:
Everything you write will be shit.
And she was spot on. But luckily she added:
If you keep writing, it will become less shitty.
That’s the motto I’ve clung to over my years of writing several short comic stories and one looooooong comic story. If I keep writing, in theory the writing gets better. Or, rather, it gets less shitty. I used to think when you wrote out a story, you had to plan everything in advance before you started drawing. This thought managed to paralyze me and prevent me from ever writing fully fleshed out stories. When I started Gods & Undergrads, my detailed plot points looked like this:
There is a girl.
She is the off-spring of some gods and stuff.
She’s going to be at college doing college-y things.
Now and again a god will come in and mess everything up.
The inbetweens I wasn’t able to quite figure out until I started writing the story. Occasionally I’d randomly decide upon bigger events I wanted to happen (she breaks her arm, Furies are called, etc.) and then would be able tosteer the story in those specific directions. Sometimes I worried that all I was doing was spinning my wheels and putting in filler between big, random events. I kept thinking my job as a writer was to keep the reader occupied and unassuming until BAM! The next plot point came around.
Unfortunately, this resulted in a lot of my earlier (okay, truthfully, and current) work occasionally slogging through some slow parts. In these slogs, nothing much happens plot-wise, but at least the characters do take the opportunity to become more developed and separate their personalities from one another. Intially created out of laziness, over time I realized this truly was a storytelling preference of mine. I gravitate towards stories with asloooowwww burn, all build up and pretense and atmosphere. And most of the time I don’t even care if there’s a BAM ending (or hell, even an ending at all), I just like to sit and immerse myself in that world for a little while. To me, it adds to the experience of getting into a story. Mm, maybe half that and half laziness.
Over the years my haphazard storytelling method has had to evolve, and I’ve developed a system I’m pretty comfortable with.
The story idea arrives (usually in the car, or during a meeting, or some other time when I’m generally supposed to be otherwise engaged)
I jot down notes, sketches, snippets of dialogue - whatever keeps me thinking of the idea
I start to storyboard (I go into this process in further detail here), and depending on whether or not I have a deadline, I’ll do this right away or take my time
I back WAY the hell off
I return to storyboarding
Repeat steps four and five
Step 4 is what saves me from getting stuck in a story rut or getting bored or throwing shit in the story just to fill it out. I find that if I just physically leave my work, my mind kicks into gear and comes up with way better stuff than if I’d still been sitting there, staring at the paper. The same theory works for me when I draw my pages - if I’m getting bogged down, feeling uninspired, have no clue how to draw this next thing - LEAVE THE DESK. I go get some coffee or candy or let my cat attack me. As the Ghost Hunters say (that’s right, I referenced them): When in doubt, get the hell out.
So whether your method is of the JK Rowling variety (I can’t even fathom the amount of detail she has in her notebooks) or if you’re like me and have trouble staring at Big Scary Story’s Monster Face all at once, there is a method for you. I find the best way to keep yourself motivated is to lean toward your strengths. Do whatever you need to to keep yourself going and being excited about the idea. If you’re no longer excited, switch gears and try something else. Or go let a cat attack you.
Totally obsessed with re-watching all of Wonderfalls lately. It contained so many qualities I look for in a show - eccentric characters, slapstick, plot twists, and of course, cute boys:
sketch of Lee Pace
I apologize for the abrupt interruption of Webcomic Week last week - it was derailed by the fact that it was my birthday and I decided to stretch out the celebrating as long as I could. But I’ll post the next entry later today!
Characters are my favorite part. I love me some gorgeous backgrounds, and slow-moving storylines, but characters are truly the bees knees. I’ve been watching a lot of Gilmore Girls re-runs lately and there’s something about the combination of every single weirdo in Stars Hollow interacting that just does it for me every time.
Anyway, enough about those Lorelei’s. When I set out to create a cast of characters for my webcomic, I started off with real people influences. My first two years at college I lived at home. When it was finally time for me to move out and be closer to campus, I was dismayed that I was too late to actually live on campus. A friend of mine, who I viewed as glamorous, fearless, beautiful, and punky, had a place on campus with a fellow member of the school swim team. I’d imagined that maybe, somehow, I’d luck into being their third roommate and they would teach me how to be as efforlessly cool and athletic as them.
Thus, I had created two characters. The awkward newcomer and her cool, worldly roommate. I wanted the reader to be introduced to a year living on campus along with the main character, Lelaina, so within the first few pages I rapidly introduced her new social world:
Lelaina - the heroine. I wanted to make sure she stood out in some way that made her both noticeable and self-conscious. She would embody the characteristics most people feel when they’re fresh on a new scene - insecure, naive, and shy.
Anneke - the first person Lelaina meets on campus. Her role for much of the first part of the story, is to introduce Lelaina to her new life. I wanted to make sure Anneke was the opposite of Lelaina - casually confident in a way that Lelaina envied yet couldn’t quite understand.
Anthony - Anneke’s older brother. Being the adopted single child of a single parent, Lelaina has no experience with siblings and Anthony represents the link to an unknown world - family.
Lucy - Anneke’s other roommate. Lucy and Anneke already have an established bond and Lelaina must figure out where she fits into their dynamic.
Neil - the first of the three roommates who live on the lower floor. When Neil is introduced, it’s clear he’s a favorite of Lucy and Anneke, so Lelaina trusts him.
Sloane - the second roommate, who immediately sets herself apart as being bitchy and critical of Lelaina. She’s the first real antagonist we see in the story.
… Aaaand finally, Linden - the third roommate, and our man meat for Lelaina to gaze upon. You need a love interest, right? Like most people who go off to college, Lelaina latches on to the first (okay, third after Anthony and Neil) as her crush-to-be.
So now you have all these characters, then what? When I started writing the story, I didn’t plan out: Okay, I need 1 main character plus 3 girls and 3 guys. I knew I wanted Lelaina to get thrown into a social scene as an outsider, and see what happened from there. Then, as she was finding her way and making new friends and they started trusting her, I would add a Greek God or two into the mix.
This allowed me to really play with the characters - instead of the story following just a slice-of-life thread, I could figure out how each character would react to abnormal circumstances. Say, waking up to a drooling Fury crouched over you in the middle of the night. Y’know, stuff like that. But first I had to get to know them.
The important thing, for me, about character development is that you can only set them up so far. When I planned out my characters, the list above is as far as I got. Once I started writing the scenes, they started to develop and separate from one another on their own. It wasn’t necessary for me to make a smart one, a pretty one, a sarcastic one, a bitchy one (well, okay full disclosure - Sloane’s the bitch). They could all be all things at any time, depending on what situation they ran into.
So I try for a simple set up and then let the personalities roll out from there. I’ve created more extensive character sketches before writing the story, but the result is the same - as the story continues, they all morph into whatever they want to be, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with my intent in creating them. Weird, right? This is why it makes perfect sense to me when Daffy Duck gets into a fight with his animator.
How do you guys go about creating your characters? Any particular philosophies you apply to them before you start, or do you just wing it, like me?
After graduating from college, I lingered in the academic world for a few months, holding desperately onto my receptionist job in my school’s Art Department for as long as I could muster. When there were lulls, in between buying posters of The Royal Tenenbaums or checking out a Lord of the Rings blog (told from the perspective of all the guys competing with Legolas’s prettiness) I explored the wonderful, wide world of webcomics. Each of the ones I regularly checked in on left me with a Format Idea, in one way or another:
I kept pulling little influences from the various things I was reading, trying to piece them all together into a story that I wanted to write. Not just write - but read. And convince myself this was a worthy thing to do. (Note to future webcomickers - never let yourself worry about what’s already out there or everyone who’s better than you is already doing it - just keep going and dig yourself a little niche of your own!)
Apart from webcomics, I was also heavily influenced by Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise, which taught me that a world featuring an angry, beautiful, tiny yet vicious female protagonist was possible.
Terry Moore’s Katchoo, of Strangers in Paradise
Things I knew I wanted to include in the story (overall):
Strong female protagonist
A snapshot of life as an outcast at college
Discovering who you are at the same time you’re expected to map out your life plan
Comparing the similarities between modern life and greek mythology
So once I had my Format Influences, and my Themes to include, I had to think about Structure. I tried a couple of different angles to approach my story:
Start off with a teaser scene - something powerful and random, that could slowly be revealed over the rest of the story.
Start after a major incident had happened, then over the course of the story, refer back to it.
I worked both of them, and ran into the same problems. The story seemed over-dramatic for no reason. Why would you care about big things happening to characters you didn’t know? Why would you cut out something interesting that happened, and work backwards from there if you didn’t even know where you’re going?Once I’d moved on from my Art Department receptionist job, I had started working at a gallery. But not just any gallery - a water sculptures one. The trickling sound was so soothing (so relentlessly tempting to customers who practically lined up to ask me if it made me have to pee), that I soon realized I had to bring books - several books - to avoid dozing off. Before I’d realized this necessity, I noticed the gallery owner’s son had left his copy of Harry Potter lying out. I had COMPLETELY scoffed at the whole Harry Potter craze right from the start, but since I was desperate to stay alert, I put my cynical 21-year-old self away. Shoo shoo. And just reading the beginnings of Harry exploring Hogwarts made me realize a third angle I could try to approach my story:
Start right at the beginning - introduce the main character as she’s being introduced to a new school year and living situation.
After a lot of wasted paper and ink and notes (since I had so foolishly plunged headlong into #1 and #2), I started my 3rd attempt at story telling. I didn’t bother worrying too much about planning out all the details, I just wrote. This was the first inkling I had as to what motivates me, personally, as a writer. If I’m dragging my feet on the story, or the dialogue, or the scene, then I’d better change it. There’s no slogging through a part just to get to the cool ones - if you’re slogging, your readers are giving up on you.
And again - this week is mainly about my process as a writer/comicker, and how I navigated through the process of creating my first webcomic. By no means is this a how-to for budding comickers! … More like a cautionary tale. :)
Altogether, I had my format (utilize the vertical infinite canvas, add color, try to structure the panels as neatly as I could), my themes, and my structure. Next step - character development!
Webcomic Week Day 1: My Obsession With the Subject Matter
I already mentioned in this post how I’ve been obsessed with Greek Mythology for a while now. I believe it started with this book:
And then it grew into an uncontrollable gorging every time I went to a thrift shop with a book section:
And peaked when I tagged along with my college’s Ancient Studies Club to go to a trip to Greece in 2000.
Why was I so obsessed? Here’s the thing. I was raised Catholic. Holy communion, weekly Mass, confirmation, awkward Sunday School taught by my father - the whole bit. And I knew I wanted to believe in some aspect of religion and myth and legend - just not all of it. Some parts were fun and story-tastic and awesome. Others, not so much. What I was really lacking in my religion was variety. All I saw were contradictions - think this way but act another, strive for this even though you’ll never ever get there, hate yourself, love everyone in theory but also judge them, etc. etc.
Then middle school and sixth grade English and Greek Mythology entered my life. Two elements getting it on, twelve titans, twelve Olympians, nine muses, three fates, three graces, three furies … and a plethora of combinations and gods for every possible thing you were into. The more books and epic poems I read, the more I established my own opinion on what each of the gods were like. I kept trying to rationalize their behavior and give them personalities beyond what I’d read, so they’d fit into what I wanted them to be. It wasn’t very difficult, which proves why they’ve stuck around in modern culture for so long.
Zeus- the lecherous dad. All-powerful, but also full of heart. Has a lot of trouble saying no - to women, children, and humans. The stepfather you’d like to have.
Hera - the politician’s wife. Established and wise on her own, but continually forced to react to her husband’s distracting and obvious affairs.
Poseidon - the brother who disowns his family. The stories say Zeus split up the world and gave Poseidon the seas and Hades the Underworld - I say he chose so he could cultivate his own world. He basically packed up and moved to the opposite coast from the rest of his family, so he could use that as an excuse for never visiting.
Hades - the younger brother who wants to do something “different” with his life. Hades is often painted as evil, bitter, and jealous of Zeus and Poseidon. In my mind, he made it seem like he got the short end of the stick when all he really wanted was to explore his dark side and be feared.
Athena - the daughter Zeus is so glad he had. Burdened with being the responsible one all the time, never allowed to cut loose and randomly murder a bunch of people like her siblings.
Ares - the son who’s belligerent and starved for attention. He makes sure everything he does is loud and noticeable.
Hestia - the quiet homebody. She tends the fire, she respects home life. Therefore, no one wants to talk to her.
Demeter - the hippie mom. So distraught by what happens to her daughter Persephone that she’s forced to become the overprotective mom she always had in her.
Apollo - the golden child. Zeus is eternally proud of him and he manages to rock the poet/artist that every woman (and man) lusts after. Chill, bright, his life is golden.
Artemis - Apollo’s realistic twin, she sees shit how it really is, and knew long ago to pull the cord and go live in the forest with a bunch of ladies. Lesbian to the core.
Hermes - the fun-loving gossip. Got to deliver everyone’s news and was clever enough to pull practical jokes on the other gods and not get murdered for it.
Aphrodite - everyone’s favorite. Cynical, business-minded, but also kind of a sap.
So what do you do with all this lovely subject matter, which has already been tackled to death in every possible form wayyyy before you were born? You find some way to express your love and interest in it, using the tools at your disposal.
Tomorrow! Turning ideas and wishful thinking and a love of comics into story.
In order to welcome back regular updates to my webcomic Gods & Undergrads, this week I’m going to have a post-a-day about Why The Heck I Started Gods & Undergrads in the first place oh so many years ago. (Oh so many, I’m afraid I might’ve even officially started it in 2001, YE GASP)
A look back, if you will, on:
What inspired me to do comics in the firstest place
How I went about it
Things I learned
Things I never learned
And just what makes webcomics so wonderful in the first place.
Before I start, though, this is not meant to be some sort of how-to on how you should create a webcomic. I’m definitely going to share the things I’ve learned, but I do feel like over the years I’ve done everything I possibly could to prevent my webcomic from being regularly read and remembered. So I definitely can’t condone my method. But! That’s what processes are all about, right? The screwing up along the way?
We’ll start off tomorrow with Part 1: My Obsession With the Subject Matter. Stay tuned!