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Travels and journeys

27 Jan

titlecard_travel

If you don’t travel a lot, there are things you just won’t think to pack, or you’ll try to cram your bags full of lots of things you don’t need. But while you can make some educated guesses (an umbrella is a good thing to pack for Seattle and it’s much easier to get to Hawaii by air than it is by train) there’s no conclusively right way to do it, because every trip is different from place to place and person to person.

Finding your style as a storyteller or artist/designer is exactly the same. Among the things that affect your trip:

  • Where and when you’re staying: You can go to the exact same place twice and have two very different experiences from the weather, whether it’s night or day, if other events are happening at the same time. While you can guess that Florida might be warm and sunny, hurricane season can change all that. Do your research about what’s going on NOW and you’ll run into fewer surprises at your destination.
  • Your method of travel: Maybe because of the medium you’re using to travel, you have limitations. You can’t bring animation to a book just like you can’t bring a jug of Kool-Aid through the TSA checkpoints. Instead of cramming what you want to do into a bag that won’t fit it, choose the medium that best fits your content. If you find yourself writing very wordy comic pages, you might want to make a novel instead. If you design better freehand, find a tablet setup that compliments what you do.
  • What you can carry: Some of us have amazing muscles and carry very heavy loads all the time. Most of us need those little luggage wheelies. But lifting heavy loads on a regular basis increases your strength. Do lots of projects, even if they’re small, on a regular basis. It’ll increase your capacity for projects in the future and give you an idea of how to estimate your workload for other people.
  • How much you’ve traveled in the past: It’s the act of packing over and over again and seeing what happens on the trip that makes you remember the things that came in handy, and weed out the things that are just a waste of space. Experience will not only help you do more, but become more efficient at knowing what tools and techniques fit where.

Tell me about your journey!

What have you learned on your travels as an artist/writer/designer? Where do you go, and what do you pack?

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Quantity leads to quality

16 Dec

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

http://kottke.org/09/02/art-and-fear

The internet shoves a lot of junk in front of us, and those of us who were on it before Google had a heck of a time trying to find art and stories of quality. We developed search systems, review systems, traffic statistic analysis, to really hone in on finding good stuff and make the useless stuff invisible. But ignoring the invisible role of quantity can make the thought of creating great art seem more complicated than it really is.

There was a recent discussion on the Spider Forest forums about first chapters of webcomics, which unlike other kinds of stories, tend to be written in the order they’re read. So no matter what you do, that first chapter’s probably going to be the worst until you revise it later.

sdamned

Seven years of making comics later, Chu, the creator of Slightly Damned comes back to an older page at a fan’s request. Read her comic at sdamned.com!

The true value of quantity

This is why a lot of artists seem hard on themselves and say their art is junk. We all make junk. The trick is to understand the very important things that junk is doing for us.

  • It’s getting our work out of theory and into practice. Seeing your ideas outside your head will give them a whole new aspect that you cannot predict.
  • It’s making us accountable for goals and intentions and setting the tone for work to come.
  • It’s giving us the practice we need to see which tools work for us and which do not. And sometimes, these tools come in the form of classes and other side projects to teach us what we need to know.
  • It’s teaching us what we really love doing and what we just THOUGHT sounded fun. This one’s huge for me, because when you start a new project, EVERYTHING sounds exciting and fun. But when you do enough stuff, you start to learn what you really have the follow-through to do something great with.
  • It’s giving us the opportunity to iterate. Even if you don’t pick up the same exact project and make edits to it, we tend to work with the same concepts again and again in our crafts. Practicing with those will let you build a little more onto each concept or work a little more into our art to give it the tone/message we want.

So if you do a lot of work and look back on it and don’t like it, be proud, not ashamed. Quantity is doing its job.

(cover photo by Nagy Zoltán Csongor. Check out his photography here!)

Making your dream job a reality, pragmatically

3 Sep

I worked as an in-house graphic designer at various places from September 2004 until March 2012, when I quit my job and went entirely full-time freelance. It’s been a great opportunity to work on my dream jobs: making my comic Sombulus and making board games with my husband Mark. But I’ve come to realize a few things about making your dream jobs your full-time jobs, and how to go about it in a (relatively) stress-free way.

The Day Job is not evil.

Making money off your dream project is not going to happen overnight, and that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or you should stop trying. What it means is you absolutely need some other way of supporting yourself while you improve your craft and grow your audience to that point, or you will be so worried about being able to pay the rent that your creativity will suffer (been there, not fun).

Plumber at work, by Yves B.

Plumber at work, by Yves B.

The good thing is that jobs and fun stuff are not a binary choice: you don’t have to give up on making money on what you love if you get a job doing something completely different. There’s always a way to make it work.

Stability makes growth possible

Once you’re supporting yourself, you have the mental room you need to experiment. Let’s take the example of comics. Try to figure out how to make a quality comic book that you can crowdfund and/or sell at local conventions. If this is your first time making a comic, practice with small stories and other pieces, put them out for people to read, and get good feedback on what your strengths and weaknesses are as a storyteller and an artist. Use that feedback to find education and new tools to improve your work.

Having a day job allowed my artistic skills to grow into something more marketable

Having a day job allowed my artistic skills to grow into something more marketable

The more freedom you have to afford the tools and take the time to improve your craft, two things will happen: the more your audience will grow, and the more your skills will grow.

Bringing money into the equation

Once you have something that people are consistently responding positively to, make your way to a convention or start a Indiegogo/Kickstarter for it. Start your goals small: if you're at a convention, try to make enough money to break even with the cost of the table first. If you're a musician, try to score a regular gig somewhere. Set one small goal at a time, and you'll find yourself moving forward.

Kris Sheppard: graphic designer by day, tableside magician by night!

Kris Sheppard: graphic designer by day, tableside magician by night! Check him out at krissheppardmagic.com

Many paths to financial stability

Sombulus has been online since 2010 and Whirling Derby launched a year ago. Both Sombulus volume 1 and our first published game should be coming out next spring, which is exciting and will finally start the ball rolling on those streams of income. But am I ever going to live off of any one of those? Probably not.

And that’s okay! Many of us have been raised to believe that we’ll grow up to only have one occupation, and performing that one task will solve all our financial problems. But in a lot of situations, it's a combination and rotation of many completely different things that pays the bills. Keep making and trying new things to bring in money and see what works for your audience!

Have you been pursuing your goal? What are you working toward, and how is it going? Let me know in the comments!


Read my webcomic:


What webcomic authors get wrong about pacing

23 Jul

One thing that’s different and interesting is pacing in long-form webcomics. They’re this continuous, seemingly never-ending story.  You might compare their pacing to a long-running series like Harry Potter, and there were always those parts in the middle where you were stuck reading about the Ministry of Magic characters and feeling really terrible.

Yes, we know, you're awful.  Can we get back to the magic duels now?

Yes, we know, you’re awful. Can we get back to the magic duels now?

As a reader of a physical book, what do you do?

  1. Turn your head, look at the side of the book. (100 more pages?  Okay, I can survive that.)
  2. Read faster.  Skip pages if necessary.  Just get through it.
  3. Press on through because you don’t want to leave a book unfinished.
  4. Remember the previous books ended okay.

Pacing in webcomics is harder. Especially when the story’s getting dark.

In webcomics, we don’t have physical copies to skim or reviews to trust.  We don’t know where the end is. All we know is that our heroes are outclassed and everything’s getting worse.

This was a comment that the creators of Namesake received from a reader, and a frustration that’s easy to encounter when you read a story that only updates a page at a time.

Another defeat for Calliope at the hands of the Rippers (www.namesakecomic.com)

Another defeat for Calliope at the hands of the Rippers (from Namesake)

As a reader of a webcomic, what do you do?

  1. Skim the pages until the story gets back on track (which might take years)
  2. Stop reading now and come back later (if you remember)
  3. Wait for the print version (again, requiring good memory and possibly physically meeting the author)
  4. Give up.  There’s lots of other webcomics out there, and it’s not like you paid money to read this one.

But the true fans will stick around, right?

As webcomic authors, we might ignore these reader reaction and say “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out”, so long as future readers can buzz through the archives or buy the print volume and be satisfied. We might devalue slow-release story satisfaction.

This is short-sighted, in my opinion.  I don’t think any of us want to make a reader who once loved our work start to hate it.  Plus, time and again, we’re reminded that your long-term relationship with an audience is what sells your stories and brand.  If your story is wearing your readers down instead of building them up, that’s going to affect your relationship with them, to the point where they might not want one at all.

So what, I can only tell stories about sunshine and kittens now?

No, but we can borrow techniques from the world of physical books.  We can build our readers up, even when the story is depressing. We can make our readers trust us. How?

Make your chapters a consistent length and have satisfying resolutions: To see this in action, look at the archive page of  Gunnerkrigg Court.  Even though Tom seems to introduce a lot of confusing mysteries, I will get a satisfying answer in each 20-30 page chapter, and at three pages a week, that’ll take a max of 10 weeks. Easy.

Snow-By-Night’s archives tell a similar story.  You could set a watch to the page count, and as I read, I learn something that feels important each chapter.  This goes a long way to building my confidence in the author.

Gunnerkrigg Court and Snow-By-Night, respectively.  (Read them both!)

Gunnerkrigg Court and Snow-By-Night, respectively. (Read them both!)

Establish yourself as an author with short stories first:  Similar to above, but easier to implement if your long stories don’t suit the webcomic slow-release format.  By giving readers confidence that you can end things as well as you start them, they establish trust in your abilities.  Plus, there are the added benefits of giving yourself a larger body of work and all that good stuff.

Write with the mindset that discovery is a happier feeling than confusion: I’ve started writing with the specific goal of making my readers say “So that’s how that works…” and “I know what the characters can do about this!” at the end of most pages, more often than “Why did that happen?”.  Does it make my story more predictable?  Some parts, yeah.  But I do it to build up my readers, and I find I still have quite a few secrets no matter what.

The takeaway

Not everyone’s going to like your story and your ultimate direction, and that’s okay.  But we face a different pacing challenge than writers of physical books, and we should be aware of it.  Do what you can to prevent the readers who love your work from disengaging.  Build trust that you can and will deliver a satisfying ending.  Help them get to the conclusion.


Read my webcomic: