Posts Tagged ‘Suburban Jungle’
Source: K-On! Wiki
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.
Source: K-On! Wiki
So what do you do when your little four-panel comedy manga gets picked up as an anime series and blows away all expectations, becoming a huge hit– even if that success has more to do with the anime studio than with your own talent?
…You cash in, of course! Which is what the creator of K-On! attempted to do with K-On: College and K-On: High School. Spoiler alert: it didn’t really work, but you can’t blame the guy for trying. But what I’m really interested in here is the attempt, because I’ve found a lot of interesting applicability to my work on Suburban Jungle.
I won’t go quite as far as Digibro and say that “the K-On! manga suuuuuuucks” because I don’t think it does. I mean, everything in the manga is also in the anime. It’s just that the anime is also so much more. Reading the K-On! manga feels like an outline, or a very rough draft storyboard of the anime series.
To fault the manga for this is kinda pointless. K-On! the manga never professed to be anything more than what it was: a disposable four-panel comedy strip. Imagine if Zootopia was a licensed version of a Garfield-style comic, and you might see what I’m getting at.
To that end, I don’t envy the position Kakifly (the creator of K-On!) found himself in. The story of K-On! had a definite end, and there were only two real ways you could carry on: either you follow the older four off to college, or you stick with Azusa and do the next year of high school. I don’t know if he was unable to decide which, or he wanted to hedge his bets, or what, but he went with “do both,” running two different series simultaneously with alternating chapters… effectively dooming himself to not doing either one well.
More of the Same, But Differently
Of the two branches, the High School storyline works better, if only because the characterization is stronger. Azusa, Ui, and Jun were already established by the original series, and Nao is an interesting new addition in her own gothy way. Sumire… eh… the less said about Sumire the better. But the storyline, as far as it goes, focusing on Azusa’s quest to create her own Light Music Club rather than living in the shadow of the previous one, does at least have a spark.
The College storyline, by contrast, just falls flat. The only new character who makes an impression at all is Akira, the lead guitarist of “rival band” Only Girlz– but even she was clearly created to merge the roles of Yui’s caretaker and tsundere glomp-target into a single character. It’s as if Kakifly tossed Ui, Nodoka, and Azusa into a blender to create Akira… and then had no more ideas for the rest of the cast. As for storyline, there isn’t any to speak of beyond a vague “battle of the bands” one-sided rivalry on Akira’s part that even the members of Hokagou Tea Time barely even notice.
In short, the follow-up manga series disappoint for two major reasons: the first being that the manga was never as good as the anime in the first place, and the second being that the follow-ups needed to be more removed from the original series and allowed to be their own thing. (The fact that a big Yui/Azusa reunion moment keeps being hinted at, but never appears, doesn’t help either. I’m guessing this was being set up to be the highlight of some future chapter that never materialized.)
When You Come to the End, Stop
As I say, I don’t envy Kakifly’s position… because I was in a similar one myself. When I decided I wanted to return to The Suburban Jungle, there was a lot of pressure from people wanting me to just pick up where it left off and basically do more of the same, with variations. Some people wanted Leona to become the new star, some people wanted Drezzer, many people just wanted it to keep on going the way it had.
And Suburban Jungle was a mid-tier webcomic! I can’t imagine the kind of pressure I would have felt if it had been made into hugely successful TV series.
But at the same time, I have studied enough sequels, spin-offs, and reboots to know that just tacking on more chapters after “the end” just feels anti-climactic. It didn’t work for Babylon 5 (twice!), it didn’t work for M*A*S*H or Are You Being Served? or even The Three Musketeers and it wasn’t going to work for me.
That’s why I took such pains to separate Rough Housing from Starring Tiffany Tiger. There is some of that “combine characters from the previous cast to make a new character” thing going on… Charity, besides being the combination of Dover and Comfort one would expect from their child, also has elements of Tiffany, for instance. But it was important to me from the beginning that there not be any absolute corollaries, and not simply repeating the same story or gags with a different skin.
In the case of K-On!, my armchair advice would have been first to let a few years pass in the real world in order to gain some distance from the work, and then to have made a stronger break. If you absolutely wanted to continue with those five characters, which I think could have worked, then fast forward past college and reunite them as adults. My suggestion: make them the stars of a TV show about a band, a la The Monkees, and having to deal with wanting to be For Realz Serious Musicians in a world that just thinks of them as being a corporate cash-in. That could open whole new avenues of humor and would crank up the recurring theme from the original of serious musicianship vs. fluffling off in new and interesting ways. Just imagine Ritsu trying to manipulate studio execs, or Mio finding a website full of fanfiction about herself, for starters…
Dammit, now I want to develop this show. ¬.¬ Anybody got the phone number for Kyoto Animation?
PS: There’s still more I have to say about K-On! and in particular what effect it’s had on how I think about and approach Suburban Jungle, but that will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, the rest of the series is here: Zen, Music, and So. Much. Tea. (My K-On! Obsession, Part One) and K-On! the Anime v. the Manga, Part One.
So, Suburban Jungle launched 18 years ago today. Thanks to the strange time-dilation effect of comics, that puts Rough Housing as due to start happening around 2019 to put Charity at the right age. XD
It’s been a long strange trip and I’m very grateful for all the friends, fans, and extended family I’ve made along the way. Thank you very much!
There was a kerfluffle, back in the dim dark past, during which some self-important pedant at Wikipedia decided that webcomics were not “worthy of note” and systematically went through and deleted them all. What I said at the time, and it’s still true, was that I was actually a lot prouder and happier that Suburban Jungle had a TVTropes.org page, because as far as audience engagement in the modern world goes, that’s a lot more significant.
I haven’t looked at it in a while, but last night on a whim I decided to check it and was chuffed to discover that it’s still being updated, in particular making a note of a page in the current issue, posted in November, where Charity runs so fast she breaks the panel border. So, while Suburban Jungle‘s TV Tropes page isn’t the huge lots-of-subpages juggernaut that something like Firefly is, it is still current and alive.
This makes me happy. XD And I want to build on it. As with the Community Welcome Thread, I want to create a “third place” for people within Suburban Jungle, where people can bring their own creativity and energy to bear rather than just passively reading the comic and then moving on to the next link in their bookmarks. We’ve been there before, thanks to the networking powerhouse that was Mammallamadevil, but also because the word was being spread by folks like Hikaru, the Dirt Den Inn crew, HBar98, TK, and dozens of others.
Rekindling the fandom is one of my big goals for 2017. The semi-regular streaming (generally Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday nights at 7:30 EST) is the first part of that. It’s up and running at full tilt, and either this week or next I’ll be adding a new camera so that I can record doing real media commissions as well. An even bigger piece is under construction right now with the help of several collaborators— but that probably won’t really take shape until March or April.
In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep on keeping on, and I hope you’ll do the same. Get interested, and get involved! If there are ways we can build the fandom, I’d love to hear about them. But I can’t do it alone!
As mentioned last week, I’m in the midst of something of a “brand overhaul,” which includes everything from my comics and art, to my novel writing career, to my business writing and graphic design efforts. Each of these categories need a slightly different approach, and I’m still banging out a strategy for that, but today I’m concentrating on the art end of things. Because this past week I set up a TigerDile streaming page, for which I needed some graphics to spruce up the place. To that end, I tossed together this banner image:
Honestly? I like it. I like it a lot, in fact, except there’s one big problem, and that’s using “Three Lions and an Otter” as the central motif. It’s a handy model and I think there’s value in it as a touchstone for myself, but it’s not what I want to use for my “brand identity.”
As I took pains to point out when I first started using it, the idea was
shamelessly stolen from inspired by M.C.A. Hogarth’s Three Jaguars. This is not a secret. In fact, it’s kinda the whole point. It was intended as a respectful nod towards a brilliant conceit. But what do I immediately get every time I reference “Three Lions and an Otter”?
“Say, are you familiar with Maggie Hogarth?”
“Y’know, M.C.A. Hogarth did something similar. You should check it out.”
“Have you seen Three Jaguars?”
Okay, world. I get it. Message received. XD
So I’m still casting about for a proper umbrella term to use for my “personal brand.” Don’t be surprised to see me “trying on” a few different ideas in the upcoming weeks! Some great ones I’ve seen over the years besides “Three Jaguars” include Michele Light’s Light Bright Studios, the OzFoxes, and so on.
I thought about simply broadening “Suburban Jungle” to reference the body of my work, with the original comic and Rough Housing simply being two projects flying under that banner, but I worry that might be too confusing. Those two projects share a history and a continuity, which random bits of furry art or whatever might not.
So… still chewing on it. I’m open to suggestions if you have any!