Hello, all you awesome readers, and thanks for your November support! It’s been kind of a nutso month for me… I started a part-time job, moved (AGAIN) for what I hope will be the last time for a while, got about halfway through NaNoWriMo before I had to punt, and of course got Issue Six and the first trade collection done in time for Midwest Furfest. So, yeah, just a little busy there. ^.^’
December is hopefully going to be less frantic, but there will still be some big stuff going on. I’ll be starting work on issue seven, hopefully to begin posting late in the month or in January. I will also keep working on Child of the Tower (and posting it to the writing WIP tier for my Patreon subscribers). Finally, I am looking at creating another Patreon tier for art going in a completely new direction than I have done before, but I don’t want to say too much about that until I’ve got all the kinks worked out.
So tl;dr version, thanks for a great November, and watch for more great stuff coming in December! Thanks, everyone. You rock!
About 2/3 of the way through the opening sequence of Heathcliff/Cats and Company, Riff-Raff and Cleo randomly go zooming off in a bathtub.
It’s not a bathtub on wheels, there are no rockets or other means of propulsion. It’s just a friggin’ bathtub.
I mean, the cats living in a random James Bond-esque transforming Cadillac in a junkyard, didn’t bother me. But flying off in a random hover-bathtub? That bothered me.
Last night, I had a random dream in which I was watching a “behind the scenes” video about this series. I don’t know if this dream was based on a long-lost memory, or if it was my brain making stuff up, but it doesn’t really matter. In the dream, somebody my brain identified as one of the show-runners coined the term “laconipedantism.” “What that means,” he said, “is that our policy was to explain as little as possible, or with as few words as possible, or to just not explain things at all. ‘How does it work?’ We’re not going to tell you! What you see is what you get, deal with it.”
That struck me as a gutsy approach. I don’t know if I would always consider it a good approach, but it was a gutsy one. But as I started to think about it, I realized that lots of storytellers work this way. Sometimes, you even get Lampshaded Laconipedantism.
Obviously, cartoons have the most leeway for this kind of thing. Contemporary shows like The Amazing World of Gumball work entirely on this premise. But heck, the Marvel Cinematic Universe runs on this fuel, as does most fantasy literature. Star Trek and a lot of science fiction does a weird inverse, where it starts with “teleportation exists” and starts playing around with the ramifications of that, but it still can’t tell you how teleportation really works, just that it does.
Not every wild premise actually qualifies as laconipedantism, however. What makes it laconipedantism is the refusal of the artist to explain, address, or even acknowledge that there’s anything weird about it. Riff-Raff and Cleo go zooming off in a bathtub, man. Get over it. Done well, it creates a feeling of confidence in the work, even when it leads to headscratchy moments. Done poorly, it just becomes an incoherent mess, where the world makes no sense and the story falls apart.
Longtime Suburban Jungle fans know that Vince and I are ol’ pals and mutual fanboys. We don’t get to collaborate (or even chat) nearly as often as I would like or as we used to, but we do still keep in touch when we can, and he recently sent me this, which I have been geeking out about for weeks now.
He finally posted it to his FA page, and so it’s time to share it with the world! Enjoy. 😉
In an effort to broaden my reach and find more audience, I have begun doing livestreams of art sessions and of my Overwatch sessions, as well as posting recordings to YouTube. So far I’m still in the earliest stages of figuring it all out, but I’m a pretty quick study and I think I’m getting the hang of it! I will add these feeds to the sidebar links on Gneech.com (which is due for a massive overhaul, actually), but for now here’s a quick list where you can find Gneechy Video Goodness!
These time slots are fairly dependable, although if I’m at a convention or something similar obviously that will have an impact. Besides subscribing for notifications on the respective services, you can also follow me on Twitter for the most reliable updates. I try to Tweet at least an hour before I will start streaming to give people a heads-up.
It was The Secret of NIMH that made me realize men were boring.
I mean, men can have their uses, and a few of us are marginally clever, but it wasn’t until The Secret of NIMH that I began to feebly catch a glimmer of the quantum differences between life as a man and life as a woman, even when dealing with the same things.  And from that point, women began to dominate my writing, and my reading too, when I have the option.
There are exceptions; NeverNever was theoretically about Arthur and Col. Beowulf (although the strip didn’t really come to life until Mopsy showed up, and I don’t think that’s an accident). Greg has sliiiiightly more focus in the Brigid and Greg fictionlets. Michael Macbeth had a long run as a character I kept trying to write about. But compare them to, say, Tiffany Tiger or Verity Anjo, and it’s probably easy to see where my creative interests lie. And as a general rule, in any given group, I gravitate towards and generally feel more kinship with the women.
I have been told that I write women characters well, for which I’m grateful. As much as this is true, beyond the obvious “write about human beings, regardless of their gender,” I suspect comes mostly from simply shutting up and listening to what women say, not just in public discourse, but also (and more importantly) to each other. This latter can be hard to pull off in daily life– women’s behavior changes when there’s a man around just as much as men’s behavior changes when a woman is– so I do it mostly by reading things written by women for a female audience. Doing this took me a long time to get used to, as I had to overcome a lot of social programming designed specifically to prevent it. But it has also taught me many, many things.
At a certain point, however, there are barriers I simply can’t cross. I know what muscle cramps feel like, and I know how changing brain chemistry can send my moods all over the map but I’ll never have a period or PMS. I can use my imagination to picture being shorter, lighter, and more flexible, but at the end of the day I will always be 6’2″ and one of the largest people I know. I know what it’s like to have people randomly dislike you or discount your opinion for no good reason, but I don’t get told I’m “dominating” a conversation when I’ve said one thing for every four things said by someone else.
I think about this sometimes when I’m working on Suburban Jungle. I know I have women readers, but if I had to guess I would assume that my readership skews mostly male. Certainly, there is a tendency among some of my readers to want me to, as the saying goes, “cater to the male gaze.” This isn’t just things like wanting pinup poses or playing up the sexualization of any given situation (although there is certainly that), it’s also pressure to reinforce stereotypical gender roles such as wanting the men come to Charity’s rescue or attacking Langley for being “too bitchy.” It might not be male gaze so much as “want everything to fit into comfortable traditional pigeonholes” gaze, I suppose… but whatever it is, I can tell it’s out there.
I also think about a comment I read online somewhere about K-On! which strikes me as relevant. The comment, left on a review somewhere I have long since lost the link to, was that it was nice to have a show about girls that actually felt like it was about girls, and not just some guy writing his vague idea of the sort of things girls do and repeating all the usual things that sort of scenario usually leads to.
There’s a reason for that, of course. Despite being a show about high school girls, K-On! was originally created by a man for a primarily male audience. What made the K-On! anime a commercial success in Japan, and arguably one of the reasons why it is so much better than most of the other shows of its type, was that it was made by Kyoto Animation, a studio comprised largely of women, who added all that other stuff and gave the show tremendous crossover appeal. In short, K-On! was popular with women too, not just with the stereotypical moe-fan otaku. And when women get behind a thing, they go big. 😉
And really, if I could arrange it, that’s the kind of reaction I’d want people to have to Suburban Jungle. Someone once told me that despite the obvious fantasy elements “When Wally Met Mikey” from the original SJ was the most realistic depiction of a fledgeling gay relationship he’d seen in a comic– which made me very proud. I don’t know if I can hit that level again with Charity and her friends, but it is the target I’m shooting for. And among other things, that means pushing past comfortable traditional pigeonholes, and being as true to the “reality” of the characters as I can.
 See also Scalzi’s discussions of “straight, white male is EZ mode.” Not that it’s all sunshine and roses– being male in our society is a lonesome and painful business, as Norah Vincent so powerfully demonstrated. But on the grand scale of life, not being able to talk about your feelings or wear attractive clothes and constantly having to fight the effects of testosterone poisoning, don’t quite stack up to being in constant (if usually low-level) fear for your life and having to work twice as hard for 2/3 the pay and recognition. And also, any woman over the age of 12 is more badass than most men ever have to be. Ask anyone who draws blood for a living. They’ll tell you.
In 2014, I missed Suburban Jungle so much that I decided it was time to return to it. But I couldn’t just pick up with Tiffany, Leonard and the crew seven years later. Tiffany’s story was finished, and as she was the star that the rest of the comic orbited around, there was nowhere for it to go except to just sort of string along as a zombie franchise. So I decided instead to for a “next generation” idea, and Rough Housing was born.
I freely admit, I had very little idea what I was doing with it at first, so I just tossed in a bunch of things that I liked and figured it would gel. Possibly not the best way to start a new project, but it was also true of the original Suburban Jungle and that seemed to go fine. My initial vision for Rough House was a lot more pure OTT zaniness and parody. Issue two pretty much exemplifies this, with the S.S. Plot Device and “The _______ of Cangrejo Diablo!” being typical of the kind of jokes I had in mind.
But for whatever reason… I just didn’t love it. Scripting was constantly a chore and instead of wacky hijinks I kept wanting to write shippy or emotional moments. By the end of issue three and well into the scripting for issue four it would be fair to say that Rough Housing was having an existential crisis behind the scenes. This resulted in the scripting for issues four and five taking forever as I wrangled with it.
I knew from the beginning of the “Best Bodies Contest” arc that the big payoff moments were Parker getting up on that stage, and Leonard’s final decision. But I also clung to the idea of wacky hijinks, envisioning lots of sabotage at the contest, Charity doing ridiculous things to stall Leonard and Morrison, and so forth. But while the emotional moments flowed quickly and easily, for the hijinks I ended up with whole pages of script that said things like “FUNNY SCENE HERE.” Fortunately I was able to lean on my wit to come up with gags on a page-by-page basis, but it was a frustrating way to run a railroad.
But as I was working on issue five, two important things happened. First, I began streaming my art sessions, enabling me to get real-time feedback from some of my most engaged readers and see what they responded to and why. Second, I was watching and falling in love with K-On! and examining how I responded to that and why. And when I spotted the overlap, everything clicked.
See, here’s the thing: K-On! hits the sweet spot perfectly. At its core, it’s a remarkably subtle, character-driven story about connections, loss, savoring the moments of life, and so much more– but it sneaks all this past you by being adorable and laugh-out-loud funny. But the humor isn’t the GIANT MONSTERS ATTACK humor of Love Hina or Sgt. Frog. The girls spontaneously forming a cheerleading squad for Ritsu as she tries to eat a receipt they don’t want their teacher to see gets me every time, but it’s also a completely realistic moment.
This was the eye-opener for me. The original Suburban Jungle was very comfortable with the GIANT MONSTERS ATTACK style, with its very tenuous fourth wall, aliens hiding in the sun’s corona, and all that jazz, but when people talk to me about it today, what do they talk about? How Tiffany, Drezzer, or Leona impacted them personally. The connection they felt to Mikey and Wally. How they identified with Dover’s codespeak.
The people in my streams, similarly, talk a lot about how adorable Charity is and wanting to give her a hug, being proud of Parker’s overcoming his fears, or how fun it is to see Rufo wanting to make out with anything that moves.
In other words, the parts that were coming the most easily, are the parts that work the best anyway. XD So! Lesson learned.
The influence of K-On! has already worked its way into rewrites and page layouts. This Langley/Rufo moment, for instance, was not in my original script. It was inspired by the chemistry between Ritsu and Mio and tossed in to spruce up an otherwise dull page, but it’s just as great a moment for these two goofballs.
But the lessons I learned from K-On!, and the realizations I made about Rough Housing along the way, are going to have big repercussions moving forward. Issue six will see a shift away from “this issue’s funny premise”-style writing to focus more on the characters’ goals and fleshing out generally. I also hope to move away from being quite so much focus on Charity to being more of a proper ensemble with stories about the rest of the cast. (Who is Bounce? What does he do all day? What’s the deal between Langley and Rufo?)
This may lead to eventually changing up the cast somewhat, if existing characters aren’t working or new characters might work better. We’ll see. Rough Housing is sure to evolve over the next issues, but I finally feel like I understand it now. Giant monster attacks and wacky hijinks are not and were never going to be the strength of this comic, and really aren’t the strength of my writing generally. It’s the characters and connections, and the humor that naturally arises from them, that will make or break it.
Giant monster attacks may still show up from time to time, who knows? But where before I was saying “A giant monster attacks! What do the Rough Housers do?” I’m instead going to start with “The Rough Housers want X. How does that pan out?”
You’d think after being a writer for thirty-mumble years, I’d have learned that lesson by now. I guess I just need periodic reminders.