Aug 31 2010

The Narrative Minefield of Race

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Okay, I’m having a bit of a quandary, and I’d like to hear various folks’ opinions on it — but it’s about the potentially-loaded topic of race, so I respectfully ask that people keep their heads about it. 🙂

I’m working on the main cast of my new comic; it’s a lighthearted fantasy adventure story following a trio of troublemaking heroes-for-hire. The leader is a suave trickster type, the second is a cute and perky gal who has a propensity to blow things up, and the third is a big and scary-looking strongman who covers up horrible scars with a Phantom-Of-the-Opera-esque hooded mask, who actually has a squooshy nougat center and loves to pet kittens. (Anybody remember the phase-through-walls guy on Buck Rogers In the 25th Century? He’s sorta like that, but more brawny and less brooding.)

The trickster isn’t human at all; in point of fact, he’s a white-and-black-furred fox-morph. The bomber-gal has red hair and freckles. The big scary strongman is an imported character from an earlier project I worked on, in which he was a big ol’ cueball — think “Mr. Clean” meets “Two-Face.” However, when I was importing him into this story, I thought that in an effort to keep the cast from being too monochromatic, I’d make him black instead.

John Dunn development sketches

This is where I run into a catch-22 … now instead of an “all-white” cast (if you take a white-furred fox thing as being “white” in the same sense), I’ve potentially got “black man = big, ugly, and scary.” That’s not the intended message by any stretch — this character is a doll and the scariness of his exterior is intended to be a subject of pathos rather than revulsion — but it is something I worry about people taking away from it.

So rather than just bat this one around with my beta readers, I’ve decided to toss this issue out for more general discussion. Am I just overthinking the whole thing? The comic is not about race in any sense, and is not a defining aspect of this character. I don’t want what was basically an aesthetic choice causing anybody grief.

What do you think, folks?

-The Gneech

Aug 29 2010

Status Report — Another Productive Weekend!

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I do so love being productive! I don’t know what it was that broke the creative logjam I’ve been suffering from for the past several months, but it’s made me a much happier Gneech in any case. And I’ve gotten a lot done this weekend!

The strip conversion for Childproof the Unicorns is at almost exactly the 50% mark. It would have been farther along, but some of my decade-plus old files were not readily accessible and I had not only to find the CDs they were on, then use IsoBuster to make the CD readable again, but then discovered they’d been saved as flattened .tifs (for some reason knowable only to 10-years-ago me) and had to have the text typed in again. Fortunately, it only seems to have been a few of them, so it won’t throw a giant spanner in the works.

That’s not all, tho. This weekend I also did up roughs for the cover of Attack of the War-Cats and sent that off to Sue, decided on the title for my new comic, registered some website URLs and did some major character development sketches, and of course did a lot of the prep work for going to Dragon*Con next weekend. I’m all energized now — if it weren’t for the fact that I have to be at work in the a.m., I could happily keep chugging away for at least another couple of hours. But that would mean a Monday of dragging at work, which would in turn leave me totally unproductive tomorrow night, so I have to break it off and go get some sleep for the greater good.

So! Lots of cool stuff. 🙂 I said back in January that 2010 was going to be an exciting year, and tho it’s taken a little longer to get rolling than I expected, it’s still turning out to be true!

-The Gneech

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Aug 26 2010

The Hard Stuff Rules

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On the Dubious Merits of Being “Gifted” and Learning to Do Things the Hard Way…

To get things on the table right up front: going by standardized IQ tests of the ’70s (which is when I last took one), I was listed as being almost, but not quite, a “genius.” Which is to say, I’m not krellborn, but I am smart enough that everything thrown at me by public school was in the “no brainer” category. (Well, except for P.E., but hopefully the reasons for that will become apparent.)

As is often the case with kids in that situation, I learned exactly the wrong lesson from it, which is: “Work is bad. If something requires work, it’s probably not worth doing.” I also learned that if I don’t pick up something immediately, it must be because I’m useless at that thing. Like any kind of sports, for instance.

This really came back to bite me in college, where a lifetime of being smart had left me totally unprepared for having to do things like “study” or “pay attention in class”. I had huge SAT scores and coasted through my pre-college education, but being smart very nearly caused me to flunk out of college. Because I didn’t know how to work, because if something required work, it probably wasn’t worth doing. This is a common problem among people within my band of “not-quite-genius”-ness.

See, “normal” kids don’t have this problem, because they learn “work or fail” early on. By the time they get to college, they’re used to stuff sometimes being hard, and are not afraid of that. Not that they like it, of course, but they are at least trained for it. (I don’t have direct evidence of this, other than observation, but it seems like a pretty reasonable deduction based on what I’ve seen and read.)

Well, after dropping out for a semester, discovering what work was like, and having the fear of God put into me (so to speak), I sucked it up and went back to college and more or less aced it the second time around. Not because I wanted to do well in college, but mostly because I didn’t want to have to get a job. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so it was that eventually it was time to work or starve, and I’m not a man who tolerates starvation well.

But the general pattern of “if it’s like work, avoid it” continued through my adult life. I did over time become more willing to work at something, but it takes a lot to justify it. Drawing something over and over until I get it right: worth it. Learning to drive a stick shift: not worth it. Dragging myself out of bed in the morning to go to a job in order to keep from losing my house: Worth it. Barely. Mastering the “hard mode” of a video game: not even close.

Recently, however, as I have become more aware of this pattern, I’ve been trying to subvert it. In point of fact, I’ve started seeking out the “hard mode” on things. Because I have found that if I stick with it, and if it’s something that really does matter to me, I will rise to the occasion. And the more “hard stuff” I do, the easier the “easy stuff” gets.

To pick a video game example, as the most direct illustration of this: I have a racing game I enjoy (Outrun 2006 for those who are curious). The game has two modes that I most commonly play: basic “zoom down the course from easy part to hard part and try to beat the time limit” mode, and a more free-form “pick a level and race it over and over again” mode. For a long time, I was unable to beat the basic mode (and I still can’t, for the harder courses), so I would just do the easy courses on the pick-a-level mode because those were relaxing and fun. But one day, I decided that dangit, I wanted to beat that basic mode! So I went to the pick-a-level mode, selected the hardest courses, and started running them over and over instead. It wasn’t as relaxing, nor was it as fun, and I never did do very well. But it did dramatically improve my skill with the game. The next time I went back to the basic mode, I beat it easily.

Of course, anybody who grew up getting props for how hard they worked to master something (instead of for how clever they are), this is a no-brainer. But for me, it was an illuminating moment.

Dover and Comfort V-Day KissWhat does all this lead to? Just this: my recently-announced new comic project is gonna be, well, hard. Every page, heck just about every panel, is going to require that I operate on a level comparable to my current best work if it’s going to come off the way I envisage it. I’ve essentially promised myself to do a comic where every page reaches the quality of the “Dover and Comfort V-Day Kiss” pic (or hopefully better, as there are flaws in that piece that still jump out at me every time I look at it). Yes, I can do the work, but great googily-moogily, it’s going to be tough going!

But … on the other hand … if that becomes my daily norm … how much more awesome will my next “level-up” piece be?

That’s not why I chose the look I did for the comic, but if it works, it’ll be a nice perk. 🙂

-The Gneech

PS: Two bonus points to the first person who names where the post title came from.

EDIT: For more on this topic, see this page.

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Aug 23 2010

Awesome + Win = Productive Weekend

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I have officially adopted a new comic project. I spent the balance of the weekend putting in some heavy development work on it, with some assistance from Sirfox and the usual beta-reader team, and have begun scripting out the first issue. There’s not a lot of it that’s ready for the viewing public yet, but I can let out a few teasers:

  • It is a fantasy/adventure comic, not a “comic strip.”
  • It is a “new franchise” of my own creation, not directly related to previous works, although I’m sure a lot of the “standard Gneechian elements,” whatever those might be, will be in evidence.
  • There will be anthropomorphics in it, although it is not strictly a “furry” comic.
  • I will be the primary artist, but I’m hoping to build an “art team” of like-minded folks who can take on sideline stories, bonus items, and so on. I’ve already contacted one or two, but until I have some folks definitely on board, I don’t want to name names. (If you’re interested in getting involved, drop me a line!)
  • It will follow a web + print model, posting one or two pages a week on the web and releasing printed comic books (and trade collections) two or three times a year. It does not have a website yet, as I haven’t firmly nailed down a title yet. I expect there to be one before the end of the year, however, and probably the first issue to start publication late 2010 or early 2011.

What effect will this have on my other projects? It varies. My hope is that it won’t impact NeverNever at all, which should also start running again sometime this fall. (We’re building a buffer before we launch it again.) On the other hand, it will probably put the kibosh on any new Suburban Jungle comics for the forseeable future. There just isn’t time for me to do both and keep a day job — and there’s no way I can afford to do without a day job at the moment.

As for my writing projects (such as B&G), that’s harder to say. I haven’t been making much progress on those, though not for lack of trying! But for whatever reason, all of the book ideas I’ve been noodling around with have languished. However, this new project (assuming it’s a hit) may very well scratch my writerly itch, as it’s a very flexible framework. It’s not the wild and crazy “Throw everything in and see what sticks!” flexibility of Suburban Jungle — you won’t be seeing song-and-dance routines or ninjarazzi here — but it is a setting that will allow for drama, mystery, high adventure, and silly humor, all on an as-needed basis.

In Other News…

The other main thing I achieved this weekend was finally getting some real work done on the second edition of Childproof the Unicorns. The new edition is going to be in a larger format with three strips to the page instead of two, and will be available, barring catastrophe, at Further Confusion. My dream schedule also puts Attack of the War-Cats (the long-anticipated second volume of NeverNever) on the table at FC as well, but I’m not making any promises there. 🙂

Anyway! It was a great weekend, and I’ve gotta say it’s really nice to be excited about a project again. Watch this space for teasers and development pics as time goes on!

-The Gneech

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Aug 19 2010

Bad Haiku! (Or Is That #badhaiku ?)

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According to Borders, yesterday was “Bad Poetry Day.” On their Twitter feed, they asked for people to send in their bad haiku. And as I have an occasional knack [1] for writing bad poetry, I tossed some submissions their way. (I’ve also included a few responses, indicated by username.)

Five syllables and
seven syllables and then
HAIKU! … gesundheit

Who writes a haiku
only to pimp their website
go to gneech.com

(And since traditional haiku usually is about or at least references nature…)

Rain rain rain rain rain
Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain
Rain rain rain rain rain

Twittering haikus
there are so many now, that
Oh no! The Fail Whale!

(Starhound joins in…)

Look there at @the_gneech
Tweeting haikus on the net
He is a bit odd

(Rebelsheart calls me out on Twitterfail…)

just had to tempt fate
posted prose excessively
@the_gneech broke twitter

(JadedFox @ed this one my way…)

Start the day with rock
loud drums and guitars wailing
better than coffee!

(Heatherzundel finishes me off…)

Oh wow – so in love
it’s hard to write bad haikus
rock on tweet fail whale.

A fun time was had by all. 🙂

-The Gneech

[1] Not to be confused with an occasional table.

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Aug 17 2010

Speaking of Steampunk…

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Steampunk Spiritwolf

A bit of random silly fun. 🙂 Click through for full-size image.

-The Gneech

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