Saturday, February 28, 2009

Teaching Creativity

There was a time when I considered teaching English in Japan. One of the warnings I read was to prepare yourself with a completely different kind of student. The student who cares the most will speak the least. They will be silent and observe. And at thought point, I asked myself, is it possible to teach people who are greatly rational and logical how to be creative? And I believe I can.

1. Write down any sentence you want.
If the person is very rational, living in the real world, and doesn't want to be creative, then you will expect a pretty boring sentence.
I ate tuna at lunch.

2. Choose one word and replace it with a word that has nothing to do with the original.
The word should be the same category, like you can't replace a noun with a verb, but other tan that, it is good. In fact, just trying to find two words that have nothing to do with each other is a fun enough game.
I ate televisions at lunch.

3. Make sense of the situation.
In the example, a person eating a TV is pretty crazy. What is actually going on here? Unless there is a way to swallow whole televisions, or if it is a very small set, then maybe I dismantled it and am eating each part separately.
I ate televisions at lunch, piece by piece.

4. Create a past.
What could possibly have happened to create the current situation? There are many strange, absurd, bizarre scenes that happen in the real world, but they all make sense when you know everything that happened before it. Create the history that makes your scene make sense.
I bet the class at recess that I could eat anything. Stacey said, "what about the TV". I ate televisions at lunch, piece by piece.

5. Create a future.
Every action has a consequence. The crazier a scene you have, the more interesting the consequences have to be (unless you are spectacularly good and being spectacularly bad).
I bet the class at recess that I could eat anything. Stacey said, "what about the TV". I ate televisions at lunch, piece by piece. I didn't win the bet, but I did miss the test.

I will not guarantee that everything you write will be gold, but I will guarantee it will be creative. You will have created something that previously did not exist. If that's not creative, I don't know what is.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I think that, within the field of writing, my pettest of peeves would have to be people who say that you can't teach good writing. Why not? Because good writing has a certain inexplicable quality? What makes it inexplicable? If it can't be explained, then how can you know what is or what isn't good? You seem to know enough about it to wield "good", so why can't you define it?

As far as I'm concerned, anything that can be identified can be defined. If I can identify bad writing, then good writing certainly exists. And if bad writing and good writing both exist, then there must be certain, tangible criteria that separate them. Finally, if I have an exhaustive list of criteria that classify writing as good, then any piece of writing that follows these criteria will be good.

Although I have never taken the time to analyze writing so thoroughly and have never put together such a list, I have just laid down the framework to teach good writing. Tomorrow, I will teach creativity.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gifts and Promises

As an artist, especially one who gives their work away for free and on a regular basis, I think the most important and most ignored subject is distinguishing between gifts and promises.

If I have a webcomic, and I say that I update two days a week, then I am promising two updates. When I say it is every Tuesday and Thursday, then I am promising that my updates will happen on those days. Surprisingly, updates are a point of contention among webcomic makers.

Some creators feel that they don't owe the audience anything because they are giving away their work for free to the people. I happen to disagree with them on every point they make. For one thing, the audience gives the creator traffic, fans, support, and occasionally money. For another thing, the moment you say that you update, you are promising to update. You owe it to yourself, even if not to the audience, to update when you say you will because you gave your word.

So if a promise is what you say you will do, then is a gift something you don't say you'll do? Sort of. If I feel like giving people an extra comic on Sunday just because I felt like it or because I wanted to thank people for checking the website on non-update days, then it is certainly a gift. If I tell people people that I will occasionally put up extra comics on my twitter feed, I would still call that a gift because it is on occasion. I promised that some will be there, but with any regularity.

The more important thing to realize is that it is easy to turn a gift into a promise, and that it is very destructive to have that happen. Gifts are fun bonuses. extras are the bare minimum of work. If, instead of having one promise and several occasional gifts, you simply have seven promises and no gifts, the fans may love all of the content, but if you miss any one of those, you are now breaking your promise and the audience is upset that you broke your word.

If people loved my Sunday special strip a lot, they may ask for another. Since I like making my audience happy, I do another one next Sunday. Eventually, I decide that I will start updating my comic every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. My gift is now a promise. If I don't produce a strip on Sunday, I will get emails and other messages from my fan asking what happened and where the Sunday strip is. Even if I leave a message on my website that says that there won't be a trip today, but there will be a make-up strip on Monday, I have broken my promise. Now doing an extra strip on Monday isn't even special; it's just an apology. What a terrible way for people to treat your art, as an apology.

In the Webcomics Weekly Podcast #54, the Halfpixel guys discuss ustream, a website that allows people to stream videos (basically airing their own live TV online). One of them said that he uses it as an apology. The idea is that if one of his strips is going to be late, he will do whatever drawing and inking needs to be done for the comic and the audience will see it live. Although it is a nice bonus to see a strip drawn live, it is sad that it is only done to ask for forgiveness for being late.

They went on to talk about Lar DeSouza of Least I Could Do, saying that his method is the most perfect use of ustream. What Lar does is do a stream showing how inking and coloring a strip from Least I Could Do or Looking For Group, then continues to draw for fun for the people there, taking requests and answering questions. More importantly, he doesn't do it on a regular basis. He announces when he is going to do it and it becomes a special event for the people who get to join in. I believe that this is the perfect example of giving a gift to your audience and keeping it a gift.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First Draft Woes

If your writing feels hollow or empty, the best thing to do is fill it out. But how do you do that? I would like to share the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten (which was in a martial arts class) to answer that: If you fix your mistakes in the beginning, you won’t need to correct them later. For a writer, the beginning is the first draft, so that is where we will work.

The conventional wisdom of writing is to write too much. The idea is that it is far easier to cut out material than it is to add more in. I support this method, but I think it deserves more explanation as to why. Consider what it means to write too much. It means you explained the location too thoroughly. You write about the action too much. You explained the characters too deeply.

The only way you can write too much is if you know your story so well that it is a real experience for you. This is a good thing. When you know a story so intimately that you can tell it the way you tell stories that happened to you, you guarantee that your story is complete and believable. As an audience member, I may not need two pages dedicated to describing the clothes that a man on the subway was wearing, but if you know them that well, then I can be sure that your character will act accordingly.

When you write too much, you have to cut it back. That doesn’t necessarily mean cutting scenes out, though. Sometimes it just means telling your story more efficiently. That’s not too big of a deal. It’s like a puzzle. What sentences add to your story (building the world, generating interest, telling the action)? Which ones take away from your story (unneeded detail, boring sentences, stale scenes)? This is what editing is all about!

The problem with not writing enough is that it generally means the opposite of what I just covered. It means you don’t know your world well enough. You don’t know what is going on. You haven’t told enough story to be a whole story. When you haven’t written enough, it means you have to create more, and that is the hardest part of writing. If you are ever writing and you are just not sure if you have enough or if what you have is good, trust your gut.

People are generally pretty perceptive of the quality of their work – they usually just ignore that voice in their head that tells them when something is wrong. Don’t ignore the voice. When that one sentence just doesn’t sound right, there’s something wrong with it. If some passage or explanation doesn’t sound completely reasonable, you know there’s something wrong with it. More importantly, when something is wrong with your writing, other people will notice it, too.

Whenever I write, I give my first draft to a reader. A good reader is hard to find, but if you can find somebody whose opinion you trust and whose ability is adequate, hold on to that person as long as you can. The interesting I have noticed about having people read my writing is that they catch every part that my mind told me was wrong. A good reader won’t let substandard work slide through the cracks.

These are going to be the most helpful tools in getting over your first draft woes. Aside from that, all I can say is make sure that you have a story that you are dying to tell and that you know it better than anybody else does.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Collections vs Installments

Writing exists in segments. Most writing is small in nature, and so it is naturally segmented. Blog posts, essays, poems, comic strips, and short stories are all so small that you can generally take them all in at one sitting. For larger works like novels, the segmentation is the chapters.

For a writer, the question of distribution revolves around these segments. How do I give my writing to my audience? In the past, and traditionally still, you take a bunch of your segments, throw them together, and get a publisher to sell it as a book. It's still viable, but extremely difficult to get into. More and more, writers are publishing their own work, one installment at a time. In the world of comics, this is old news. Strips have always been distributed one at a time first, with collections coming out long after the originals have been printed. However, the larger implications are largely ignored.

How does a person read a collection? There are a few possible ways. They might sit down and read it front to back. They might take it with them and read bits and pieces during their free moments. They might leave it in the bathroom and read a bit with ever sit. More importantly, when the book is finished, they have nothing else to read. They have to go out and buy a new collection and repeat the process.

If your work gets published in a collection, it might succeed or it might fall flat. If people like your work, you might be asked to make another collection. During that time, you have to think of ideas, flesh them out, create some writing, and repeat the process until you fill up another book, then get it sent to the publisher, printed, and distributed. With all of that time passing, the people who read your work and liked it, who clamored for another installment, have moved on to several other collections and may have even forgotten about you. It's dangerous.

When you post your work in regular installments, you avoid that problem. Webcomics are most famous for doing this, but anybody with a regular blog does the same thing. Essayists like Paul Graham regularly have a new piece every month. Even David Wong's novel John Dies at the End began as a regular installment online. All of these writers have a fan base that continually grows. People who like the writing enough to visit the site more than once generally don't stop returning. They have no reason to stop.

If you produce writing at regular intervals, you should never run out of material. If you never run out of material, then the audience will never move on or forget you. They may read other people's writing since your installments only have so much content, but that is no problem. Just because they are reading other people doesn't mean they stop reading you.

So what are the implications of people reading your work every day (or whatever your update schedule is)? It means that you have people coming to your website every day you update. It means that people are constantly looking at the ads you host (which means more money) and it means that they are constantly reminded that you have merchandice for sale. They become loyal. You have become a part of their lives, as regular and inseparable as putting clothes on and drinking a cup of coffee every morning. Even when you aren't laugh-out-loud funny, they still like seeing your characters and what they are up to.

Having regular installments is beneficial as both a businessman and as an artist. The money that can be generated from constant viewing of ever-increasing viewership is quite pleasant. Having the constant and immediate feedback from your fans (and detractors) will create a deep bond, closer than any other artist has with their audience.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Embellish and Relish

I wish it was a kind of sandwich so that I could sell it. Unfortunately, it is an idea I will share for free.

I, for a very large portion of my life, was focused on facts. When I told people about something that happened, I made absolutely sure that I was giving the most accurate information. If I wasn't sure what was correct, I would stop, try to figure out what was right, and then give up and say that I don't remember and continue on talking. I was a terrible storyteller. I was never interesting, never went anywhere, never got the reaction I wanted, and never told stories worth repeating (you had to be there).

Kelly, on the other hand, is a great storyteller. He will wrap you in, get you interested, make you laugh, and then make you laugh more. When I hang out with him, I'm always amazed at the crazy things that happened that gave him all of the great stories he had. Then I found out they didn't.

As I heard the same story told over again, I heard a new version of it each time. Suddenly the facts were a little different. They got the same point across, but they flowed better and made people laugh (which was their point).

It bothered me at first, seeing inaccuracies just naturally come forth and the speaker being ok with it. Now, I don't mind it at all. I realized the purpose that it serves. It keeps people in the story, not getting lost. It tells them what they need to know and brings them to the punchline. It makes for good, interesting storytelling.

I now advocate the process that I call embellish and relish. When you are telling a story, embellish the facts, especially if you don't know what they are. Make it obvious what you are getting at. Never stop the story. Get your audience to care. Even if you are telling a you-had-to-be-there story, if you tell it well enough, it will feel to the audience like they actually are there. And if you want your audience to care about your story, then you need to relish telling the story. Love it from the beginning to the end and have just as much fun telling it as you did experiencing it.

Writing as Energy

Some days I spend 10 hours sleeping, then wake up, feel tired, and go back to sleep for another 2 hours. When I get up, I'm still tired, but I can't sleep anymore. I turn on my TV, and watch whatever is on, still not getting out of bed. Not long after that, I get tired and sleep for another few hours. Before I know it, the day is over and I did absolutely nothing.

Other days, I get up in the early morning, go to my classes, go into town to do chores, go to a meeting, read chapters from several books, take notes on those books, write 5 pages worth of assorted homework, and I would still have time and energy to do more.

Internal energy is extremely weird to me. The more you use, the more you have. Of course there is a certain amount of recharging needed. The body does need food and sleep. But doing work makes you want to do more work. Doing nothing only makes you want to keep doing nothing. It doesn't balance out the way other things normally do (like gas in your car, the more you use, the less you have).

Writing, or at least thinking, seems to be the same way as energy. I find that once I start thinking, I can't stop. One idea leads into another. But sometimes the logic isn't that direct. Sometimes while writing down an idea I think is funny or interesting, another idea will pop into my head that I think is also very funny.

When I don't write, or even don't think in general very much, it's not so much that I don;t get ideas, but I never investigate them and I certainly don't write them down, which means that I will quickly forget them (the equivalent to them not existing at all).

I am very happy to be keeping this blog. It forces me to think and write every day.

Friday, February 20, 2009


There is nothing like staring at a blank page to make you not fill it up. It's intimidating to most people to put pen on paper or fingers on a keyboard and start writing. A writer intimidated by writing? I swear, it really happens.

But why? A blank page gives a person the freedom to do anything they want; the last thing a writer should be is hesitant. But I believe it is because the blank page is too free that a writer can't write. I can fill a page with a poem, start a short story, or draw random doodles. I could write about family, nature, or make up a new world and write about that. I have infinite possibilities of choices. How can I hope to settle on any one thing?

Writing is much easier to do with restrictions. Ideas form that fit within the restrictions and the mind shapes those ideas to be represented within the restrictions. Think about your days in school. You may be asked to write several pages every single day for several months at a time. And if you weren't a complete flunky, you actually produced all of that writing. So how can you write 50+ pages in four months, but spend three weeks trying to write anything on a blank page? The difference is that the writing for college was restricted.

Write three pages on how smoking can lead to bankruptcy. I'm sure it wouldn't be very hard to do. I bet it also wouldn't be very fun, but at least it gets you writing. Write three pages on religion. This is less easy to do. It is so broad and vague that you can't be sure exactly what to say. It's better than being asked to write three pages on anything, but not much.

My comic has a very strict form. I have four panels of a fixed width and height. I need to fit in both a picture and words and I need to be funny at least once. Again, this is not the easiest thing in the world, but it does get me writing. It also gets me thinking, which is what really matters. The more I try to write in my format, the more it gets me thinking about how to write in that format and the more I end up writing.

On the subject of restrictive forms, I definitely have to point to Ryan North. One of the premises of Dinosaur Comics is that the art never changes from strip to strip. And with the exception of a handful of guest strips, his comic has had the same art from day one, which happened on Feb 1, 2003. His site is extremely popular and extremely funny. Because of having the same art, it forces the words to matter even more, which they do.

Now, I know of many successful and funny comics that do not even have a regular size, like SMBC and C&H (although it is actually made by multiple people), so I don't have the gall to say it is a necessity to force restriction to produce creativity, but I do believe it is a great help. If you ever find yourself frozen, staring at a blank page, give yourself an assignment (or have somebody else give it to you) and do it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Three Problems

I have a theory about people. If a person has three different problems, they will balance each other out. Having one or two can lead to severe problems, but three seems to make for a relatively stable life, like a table and its legs. Let’s use me as an example.

My first problem is that I am extremely picky. There are extremely few things that catch my interest in the first place. My second problem is that I have an addictive personality. So once I find something that I do like, I won’t do anything else. My third problem is that I get bored very easily. After I obsess over one thing for long enough, it stops being interesting, and I have to start the whole process over again.

There are two ways to live with these three problems. One is to jump from obsession to obsession. This could certainly work if done properly, but seeing as how I prefer the security of a steady life, it isn’t good enough for me. That is why I had to find the second way to live, which is to find something that is flexible and malleable enough to take all the beatings of my three problems and still be viable. Writing does exactly that.

I’m very picky. Writing gives me a plethora of options. I could write short stories, flash fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry, plays, and countless other forms. When I pick one of those forms, I can write and write and write and it will always be as original and interesting as I am. When I stop being interesting, I won’t want to write in the field anymore. But writing itself isn’t boring, just the kind of writing I’m doing. I can change from writing poetry to writing flash fiction and rekindle that excitement and obsession. Even if I don’t change the form, I can change my subject material, from super heroes to space exploration or from spelunking to carpentry.

Because writing is a world unto itself, it will never run out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Logical Progression

I was in a discussion about creativity in the writing process. I made the argument that creativity is a small part of the writing process. After the discussion/argument had ended, the day went on, I thought about it further, and I decided I was still right.

I am a scientist at heart. Science is repeatable. The universe is deterministic. If absolutely anything could happen at any place or time, you could never purposely do anything you intend to because you could never be sure of the results. And if you did one thing you liked, you could never know how to do it again. Medicine, technology, even cooking could not exist. The world isn't random, just complex. We can't accurately predict many things that happen because we don't know everything that went into setting up the situation.

Writing functions in exactly the same way. Things cannot happen for no reason. People act because of how they believe and those beliefs come from past experiences. Things happen in the world because something made it happen. Even if the process is long and circuitous, it always has a stimulus. The only difference between the real world and the world a writer creates is that the writer knows absolutely everything that happens in their universe.

The only actual creativity in writing comes from creating the world. Make people who are real and put them in a location or situation. If your characters are fleshed out, with histories and beliefs that come from those experiences, and your locations or situations are interesting (whether they be too close to home or couldn't be further from it), then the story writes itself.

In every book on writing I have ever come across, at some point, the author will talk about times where their characters take on a life of their own and they start doing things that they would naturally do instead of doing what the author wants them to do. This is logical progression. Things happen because they must.

The only other creativity, aside from making the universe, is what I like to call Playing God. It is also known as What If. Stephen King talks about it in On Writing. When your characters are in a situation, you ask yourself, "what if [something] happens?" If it would add to your story, you just make it happen (hopefully you can give some explanation, so it doesn't come off as a Deus ex Machina).

Writing a story is a lot like making a puzzle for laboratory mice. You can set up all the obstacles you want, but in the end, all you are doing is recording what these mice do. A writer makes up the maze and the mice, the rest of it is just the world turning.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Action and Location

I have found that people tend to write in one of two ways. They either describe action or they write about location. I have written about this before, but I have a new slant to bring. I have the gall to choose one style over the other.

I believe that writing in an active style is the better method. Every time that I read, no matter the subject, author, or genre, if the author starts going into heavy description of a place or a person, I instantly lose interest. Eventually, I reach a point where I'm saying "I get it, this place is dark and gloomy" or "I get it, this man is old and pathetic". In short, stop talking so much and get to the point. I never read a piece that had so much action that I was upset at not knowing where I was.

Action is inherently interesting. Because it is always moving, the audience must follow; otherwise they would be lost. But large amounts of description are like a painting. They are a single, unmoving scene. The only way to get something out of them is to wander and explore them, specifically to get lost because there is nothing to follow. Certainly there are people who enjoy that. Sometimes I enjoy it. The problem I have is that once you have action, stopping that action instantly drops the interest of a piece.

I enjoy a good scene, both reading and writing one. Sometimes we all need to stop, explore, and contemplate. But a single scene is like a picture. A picture, from what I hear, is worth a thousand words. A thousand words is about 2 double-spaced pages in a word document. That isn't very much, but it can describe a picture fairly well. If I had a collection of scenes that were a thousand words each, I think it would be lots of fun, very entertaining, and a great book to read a passage from every night before I go to bed.

If I'm reading a novel, it means I'm reading a story. A story is about things that happen. The scenery only matters when it affects the action. Reading several paragraphs describing the clothes and smell of an old man on a train really don't do anything for me. If the protagonist finds himself shifting uncomfortably or leaving his seat because the old man across from him smells like raw cat feces and rancid veal, then that description matters. But even in such a situation, the description can be given as part of the action. "He left his seat, choking on the smell of raw cat feces and rancid veal coming form the old man's beard." It doesn't matter what kind of coat he was wearing, what color it was, or the state of his shoes. Every relevant description is already given, as well as why it is relevant.

Be active. Be interesting. If you want me to read your stuff, make me want to read your stuff.

Why Do I Do It?

Whatever you do with your life, if it comes up in conversation, somebody will ask you why you chose it. It's an inevitable question, so the most useful thing to do would be to find a good answer to it.

I've found that I write comics for all of the classic reasons people will give. I enjoy the process of writing. I love making people laugh. I love creating characters, giving them life, and watching them live. Overall, it's not too impressive or inspirational.

What I found far more interesting than why I write is why I don't do anything else. It's not as though I've never done anything but comics. I've done math, various sciences, linguistics, music, and a whole host of other kinds of writing. I have both ability and interest in all of those subjects, yet I chose comics. Why not any of the others?

Math I am good at. I can add, subtract, divide, multiply in my head and I manipulate numbers for fun. But for every higher level of math I go into, I get less good at it. Math is a field I could not pursue indefinitely. I would reach a point where I couldn't learn what I was expected to and would have to leave. The best I could hope to do is teach high school or freshmen in college (which is the same thing).

Most of the sciences fascinate me. Psychology has been an interest of mine since middle school. I've always wanted to learn how the human mind works. The problem is that I could never do all of the papers in the exact, perfect APA style, nor could I ever remember all of the anatomy and physiology needed, let alone all of the psychology vocabulary.

Chemistry is also interesting, seeing the world in the smallest whole structures and finding out how they interact. Next to chemistry is astronomy, seeing the super massive objects of the universe, what they're made of, and how they act. The problem with the two sciences is dealing with all the math involved. It eventually becomes overwhelming and it eliminates my interest in the subjects. I have found that with the sciences, I will always learn what I can about them, but it is not enough to make a life out of it.

I have had music in my life longer than anything else (even air). I've always been making music and always been listening to it. In high school, when it came time to figure out what I wanted to pursue, my first thought was music. The problem was that I didn't have the drive for it. I didn't go home and practice for hours on end. I didn't push myself to be better; others pushed me toward a goal and I rose to the challenge. I saw my peers, some of whom knew exactly that they were going to pursue music, and I knew that I wouldn't stand a chance compared to them. Music was nice, but not a passion. Writing was my passion.

But why comic writing? Why not novels, short stories, newspapers, or any of the other multitude of writing possibilities? And the reason is that half of them I hate and the other half I suck at. Journalism infuriates me. The style is stale, uninteresting, and often painful to read (and write). Journalism isn't about writing; it's about finding the story. I don't want to go find stories; I want to tell great ones. As much as I enjoy the essay, the short story, and the novel, I find myself not particularly great at them, and I don't have the desire to put forth the effort to reach that level. I also don't have the desire to claw my way through the tribulations of becoming a successful novelist, essayist, or short story writer.

Comic writing fits my style perfectly. My writing, which tends to be short and to the point, allows the pictures to describe the scenery so my words don't have to. It allows me to present my ideas in any form that I desire. I have a constant drive to write them and to get better at writing them. I love learning about them, what makes them work and not work, how a person monetizes them, what has been done and what has not been done yet. This is something I think I will only get better at with age and time and I look forward to finding out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I would have to say that vocabulary is the single most important tool to a writer, regardless of what they write. It seems pretty obvious that a writer needs words in order to write, but there is much more than that skin-deep observation.

A writer needs to have basic, functional words. There are tens of thousands of words that people with no formal education know. Since everybody knows these, they don't need to be learned, but one should understand that basic words are universal and can explain everything in daily life.

A writer needs to have technical words. If you are writing about a field outside of basic, universal experiences, you will need to be able to use the terms that are part of that field. Are you in an office building? Make sure you call ink "toner". Few people have an answering machine, but everybody has "voice mail". However, if you aren't a technical writer, you will need to make sure that somebody outside of that field will still understand what you're talking about.

A writer needs to have rhythm and melody. If a sentence is awkward to say, the reader will have difficulty understanding it. A sentence that has a beat to it will be easy to read and packs a stronger punch. Similarly, sentences with the same sounds seem smoother.

A writer needs to have excitement. Why should I "draw nice pictures" when I could "craft exquisite beauties"? Why should I "walk really quickly" when I could simply "run", "sprint", or even "dash"? Are my clothes in a "fancy closet" or are they in the "armoire"? If you have descriptive nouns, you will never need adjectives. If you have exciting verbs, you won't need adverbs. You will also have strong writing.

What this all comes down is having a mastery of your language. It's very easy to be vague and it's easy to use a whole lot of boring words to describe complex ideas or images, but it just doesn't have much power to it. When you use the perfect word, you save a lot of energy on your part and you save the audience the same energy. When you put words together so they flow and produce a sound to match your intent, the audience experiences your writing on a whole new level. It makes people not simply read what you wrote but feel it.

When words are all you have to express yourself, make every word count.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Comics and Poetry

I am the harshest critic I've ever met when it comes to poetry. It's not because I'm avant-garde or because I think poetry has to be in a very specific form to be acceptable. My main problem is that I don't think people understand that poetry is condensed language.

In a poem, every single line has to be necessary. Every word in that line has to be necessary. They all have to convey meaning. There's no reason to say "I was going to go the store" when I could drastically shorten it up by saying "Walking to market". If you can say something in a simpler way, do it. If you can cut out words or lines or even whole stanzas and still retain the same meaning, cut them out.

The efficiency from poetry lends itself to denseness. Once you start thinking about making very word count, the next step is to make every word count twice. Words can not only say what you want them to say for surface meaning, they can use sounds for melody, words that fit in a theme for subtext, shorter or longer words for rhythm, etc.

Comics are just like poetry. They are efficient, condensed language. A single panel has to show the audience location, action, characters, and emotion just with pictures. And since the pictures need to show so much, the text needs to be just as powerful. Anything that can be cut needs to be cut. Having the right words to say just what you mean helps tremendously to do that.

I am less harsh of a critic of comics (in the sense that I won't go into violent tirades at the sight of bad comics) only because not as many people think they are good at it. However, I am still very critical of it. If a comic has a lot of fluff in image or word or in some other way just doesn't excite me, it is instantly recognizable and I won't continue reading it.

The one nice thing about comics and poetry is that, no matter how much theory that people can make up, no matter how much people will create something and then justify its quality, the fact of the matter is that the work speaks for itself. If the reader doesn't like it, no amount of rhetoric in the world will change that.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Uncertainty Principle

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says, among other things, that the more accurately you can describe the location of a particle, the less accurately you can describe its velocity. The reverse is also true. Being the lover of dualities that I am, I wonder how far I can stretch this principle. Does it work for writing? For comics?

I believe that it does. Consider the last story you read. When characters enter a new location, you may have to read 2 full pages just describing this place. And all of that time, the characters aren't doing anything, either. The same thing happens in comics that have several wordless panels that are simply showing different parts or an area.

Conversely, when the characters are doing things, the scenery is unimportant or ignored. This is especially true in the case of Japanese comics, where the background is replaces by simple patters to accentuate the action.

But why is this the case? Why can't we have deep scenery and exciting action? Why can't we have our cake and eat it too (another great duality)? It's the problem of space. The words that fill your pages can either describe the scenery or the action. A panel in a comic can either show a place and it can show people, but it can't focus on both.

It is a frustrating fact of writing, but it doesn't have to be a detriment. Whichever focus you choose, make sure it is so effective that it does the work of both.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Random Fan Mail

Send it out. Do it now and do it often. Sending fan mail does nothing but good things. If you are an audience member and you really like what the artist makes, then let them know. You will feel great that you got to share your joy with the person that made you joyous. You will also probably get a reply from the writer thanking you for your kind words, which will make you even happier. You will feel special and, quite frankly, you will be special.

If you are the artist and you receive fan mail, it will often make your day (if not week). The fact that your work gets seen regularly may tell you that people enjoy it enough to keep coming back to it, but fan mail is a whole new level. Somebody took the time to tell you personally, in their own words, that your work is special and important. It gives you the drive to do more and work harder and make a product that is even better.

If you are both an artist and an audience member, fan mail can get you in contact with people who know what they are doing in the business. They may just be willing to help you out if they can. And, maybe, just maybe, you can find out that the artist you admire is an admirer of yours. You can start a friendship that can take you places you could never have gone before. Definitely worth a shot.

Fan mail also helps in the war against negativity. Whether the majority or the minority, negativity is always the most vocal group. That kind of weight can drag down an artist to the point of giving up. Hearing that not everybody thinks the way that those haters think sometimes is enough to just keep the artist going.

That's right. Fan mail can keep the thing you love from dying. If you love it, make it live. If you love it a lot, make it thrive. You can do both things with the same action. Just make sure that it is genuine. Don't send fan mail to try to get stuff for free. Don't send fan mail just to advertise your own stuff. Send fan mail because you are a fan of something and care about it that much.

Challenge Yourself

The moment your art stagnates, it is instantly half as effect. Whether you are a writer, painter, or fighter, this is true. Art itself, regardless of its form, is about growing, living, experiencing new things. When you are a beginner in an art, these things are happening constantly and in large quantities. The higher you go, the better you get in your art, the harder it becomes to reach a new level.

If you feel yourself bored or on a plateau or some other form of stagnant, it is because you aren't being challenged. Even if you are doing good work, even if you are putting in hard work, if you aren't growing, that work is only half as effective. So start growing. Start challenging yourself. If you don't know how, then recreate the circumstances you were in when you were a growing beginner.

Beginners either have a teacher or they teach themselves. If you had a teacher, then find a new one. It doesn't need to be somebody who sits over your shoulder and holds your hand, but it does need to be somebody you can learn from. Ask them for advice on where you can go from where you are. If they know more than you do, they should be able to at least guide you in the right direction and give you an idea what to look for.

If you are self-taught, then you either stole your knowledge from others or you experimented until you got it right. When I say stealing, I don't mean it in a malicious way. I just mean that you can see somebody's style and copy it in order to understand through reverse engineering. Experimenting (A.K.A. fake it 'til you make it) is like throwing stuff in a pot until they turn into something edible.

If you stole your knowledge from other people, then find a new person to steal it from. Find somebody better than you, somebody who can do something that you can't do. Find somebody to look up to and try to reach their level. If you experimented, then keep on experimenting. Why stop just because you found one recipe that worked? Find another one, now with the added knowledge of your past experiments.

The most difficult place to be in art is the middle. You either think you know everything or you just don't know what the next thing is. If you cared enough about your art to pursue it this far and care enough about it to get bothered when you're bored of it, then care enough to get past these problems and push yourself above the middle tier.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


My last post naturally led me into this post. The question of reference, of deciding how obscure of a joke I should make, really depends on who my audience is. How do I, as a writer, decide who I should be writing for?

So far, I have found two models that say who to write for. The first one is the business model. Whatever group will pay me the most money is the group I will write for. Now, the common convention is that no more than 10% of your readership will ever pay you any money. It's a law of nature, so there is no use in arguing it. Seeing as how I am part of the 90% that is cheap as hell and just wants the free comic, I can't say that I blame them. However, it does mean that I would need to have a massive readership in order to make livable amounts of money.

In order to get the greatest quantity of people to laugh, though, I need to be writing jokes that are universal to everybody. However, as T-Rex so eloquently points out, "Let's say I have a joke about how cats like to sleep. NOT VERY FUNNY." He also says that, "The more obscure a joke is, the less people there are who'll get it, but the MORE they'll find it correspondingly HILARIOUS!" (He shouts a lot with his words, but I forgive him for being right when he talks.) Now, I don't have the gall to try to write a comic so obscure that only one human being will enjoy it, strictly in the hopes that I will receive large caches of cash out of it.

Ironically enough, though, the second writing model involves writing for exactly one person: me. This is the creative model. It says that as long as you make a comic that you enjoy reading, you will always have an audience of at least one. This also makes for better comics. Good ideas come from interested writers. When your hobby becomes a chore, your work suffers. If you started this for fun, you should have fun while doing it.

People resonate with what they like. As long as you make a quality product and get the word out well enough, people will naturally find you, and the ones who like your style will follow your work. That is why I use the creative model. It guarantees I will make good work, and I know that I can do what is needed to bring the audiences close enough for my work to draw them in.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I learned in one of my college courses that every new technology that comes along will never be accepted by the public unless it can completely replicate the current technology that it will replace. The typewriter (and then the computer word processor) replaced handwriting (at least in large businesses) when it could make all of the symbols used in writing (letters, numbers, punctuation, special characters). It makes sense, though. Why am I going to throw out my typewriter if it can do more than this newfangled computer can?

But new technology doesn't merely replace the existing one; it adds on to the last version. Typewriters are faster than handwriting (with equal skill), use less energy, and are guaranteed to be legible. Computers beat the type writer by being faster and easier still, plus they add ease of editing - no Wite-Out needed to fix errors and no wasted paper by printing drafts.

The comics world functions in the same way. With the internet being the new technology for delivering comics, there comes the question of what it has added to the repertoire of publishing comics. One of those tools is external reference. If a comic has a joke that people might not understand, the writer can provide a link to an external source of information that explains it. For example, this SMBC comic has a link in the blog update that explains the Delilah joke for those who are unfamiliar with the story. It certainly is nice to not be left scratching your head if you aren't in the know, and I am sure it saves a whole lot of emails from filling up the writer's mailbox. But I wonder, should it be used?

The infinite canvas (another one of the additions of the internet), is a tool that largely doesn't work. The idea is that because the dimensions of a web page are boundless, a comic can be made in absolutely any dimension. The problem with this is that people really don't like horizontal scrolling and they hate even more horizontal and vertical scrolling on the same image. The underlying problem, as I see it, is that people just can't see the whole thing at once, which is a shame. At the moment, the infinite canvas only really works in allowing a tall comic (like one that would be printed in comic book format) to be put on one page without being condensed.

External reference is great in that it frees the writer to make any joke regardless of obscurity, but I have a pretty strong suspicion that it also largely doesn't work. There are two main problems with it: the first is that people hate doing extra work. It has been found time and time again that the more clicks of the mouse it takes to get somewhere, the fewer people will take the time to do it. Making a comic that takes multiple clicks to get means not everybody who reads it will take the time to get it.

The other problem is that it just isn't funny. Sure, it's great to the handful of people that do know the same things that you do, but how many people are deeply familiar with motorcycles and paleontology? And since one of the rules of comedy is that if you have to explain the joke, it's not funny, I wonder if the joke should even be made in the first place.

The internet, despite it's vast size and rapid, continuous growth, is still largely unexplored. I guess the only way to see if external reference works is to try it out and see the results.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Audience Doesn't Know What It Wants

People always know if they like something or not. They don't know what about it they like or why they like it. That's all well and good. These people are the audience. They want to be entertained. If they wanted to create, they would be creators. The relationship between creator and audience is simple and it works: the creator finds what the audience likes and the audience enjoys it when the creator gets it right.

But this isn't the dynamic anymore. Ever since American Idol, people in power have decided that the audience should make the calls (or at least make it look like that). And now the audience feels entitled to have their opinions heard and followed. The problem with this new relationship is that it makes for a good business model, but terrible art. Of course, it isn't quite new in a certain sense. Focus groups have existed for a very long time and they basically do the same thing.

Paul Graham makes an interesting point on this matter, though: "I just got an iPod, and it's not just nice. It's surprisingly nice. For it to surprise me, it must be satisfying expectations I didn't know I had. No focus group is going to discover those. Only a great designer can."

Anybody can take advice and give people what they are told to give, but that can only go so far. A great creator knows great work and will create it when allowed to. I wish the masses could understand that and trust creators to make great work. Of course, I also understand why they don't want to. Too many creators just don't produce. Anybody can create and share it with the world. There are no filters to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Look at the world of fan fiction. The amount of writing in that field that is about random gay sex or Mary Sue characters is a percentage well above 99. However, that percentage is not 100. Amazing, beautifully-written, well-thought-out fan fiction that has no plot holes and doesn't contradict the canon exists. It is rare, but I have seen it with my own eyes. But as an audience member, how can I trust a person who even says that they write fan fiction?

Word of mouth helps, but that is a chain reaction that is not easy to start. Good advertising can get people to look at it, which is the first step, (the quality of the work itself should do the job of keeping an audience). But how do we get those initial people interested? What does good advertising do that draws those first people to even give it a shot?

From what I hear of the real world, it's not what you know, but who you know that matters. Depressing though it is, there is something to be said for it. Who am I? Right now, I am any random nobody who thinks they have the next great comic. Why should you trust me? Because I say so? Does anybody whose opinion matters say so? Maybe if I got an endorsement by some famous people, you would trust that my work is good, or at least try it out. What if I belonged to a production company? Then it would mean I'm good enough to pass that company's quality standards, which is a level you can set your watch to. Unfortunately, those don't really exist, at least not in any particularly functional level in the field of webcomics.

Unfortunately, I am currently left with an uphill battle. I know it is difficult, stressful, and time consuming just to do the work needed for a moderate readership, but it's just another one of those tests of passion. The fact that I am willing to charge into this difficulty head on shows that I care about this enough to deal with whatever gets thrown my way.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Don't Be a Little Funny

I read a lot of webcomics. Some of them I read because I enjoy them and others because I want to learn from them. Of course, I end up learning from all of them. The ones I enjoy reading are the good examples and the ones that I stop reading are the bad examples. The learning comes from figuring out what the difference is.

Although the specific techniques for art and writing are different, the principles that guide them are the same. At the top of the list is being interesting. The bad examples all suffer from a lack of this. An amateur comic has 4 panels with the same picture. The only difference from scene to scene is facial expressions and possibly hand placement. From panel to panel, nothing happens. The entire comic is about the conversation happening. If all that matters is the words, I have to ask why they have the pictures there in the first place? It would be easier to just write a script.

Unfortunately, those same amateur comics have the same problem with their words that they have with their pictures. There is one joke in the comic and it is all the way at the end. Now, comics have been in existence for a long time and the classic set-up, punchline model is a tried and true method. The one problem is that it is painfully predictable. Anybody who spends any amount of time even being an audience member to comedy will naturally internalize this style and it will grow stale.

If you don't believe me, I will direct you to basically every sitcom ever made. Old, classic TV shows were great when they were fresh and new and nobody was familiar with the writing style, but they grew stale very quickly. As early as 1950, laugh tracks were being used to either enhance an audiences natural reaction or to replace them completely. Laugh tracks patronize the audience, telling them when to laugh and how hard. They exist because the show itself couldn't make the audience react the right way.

Now, we have shows that take pride in not having laugh tracks. Shows like Scrubs, and The Office, are funny because the writing and the acting within the show itself are funny. Not having a laugh track isn't a gimmick; it's a testament to the quality of the show and a sign of respect to the members of the audience.

And comics work exactly the same way. The successful comics are the funny ones, and the funny comics break the formula. A comic like Cyanide & Happiness works on the traditional set-up, punchline format, but the punchline is unpredictable. The set-up makes the audience assume that a certain stale joke happens, but either a play on words or a completely random punchline happens instead. Least I Could Do, also works off of the basic format, but the punchline isn't the only joke. There will be two or three funny comments within a mere four panels.

I would note that both LICD and C&H are extremely popular and well-loved comics. That is why I model my own style on that principle: Don't be a little funny. Be very funny. Be thoroughly funny. Be consistently funny (as consistent as a human can be). And the fact of the matter is that it shouldn't be that hard to do. That's how a real-life conversation is. Even if I am leading toward a point, I am going to make stops along the way to crack a joke. Comedy comes from real life and the absurdity within it. If you want to tap the core of people, model your art after reality.


For most of my life (which admittedly isn't too long), I have been the self-deprecating type. If you insult yourself before anybody else does it, they won't have as much fun doing it. If you don't think that your work is any good, then you will never have to worry about getting egotistical or about getting your ego deflated. If your work is junk to you, it also forces you to keep trying harder and harder to do better. It certainly worked for quite a while.

I told this to one of my professors once. He told me that there reaches a point where that ideology becomes a hindrance. If you never think your work is any good, it will only go so far (it occurs to me now that this goes along with the misguided hope of getting discovered). Eventually, you have to start taking pride in your work. You have to know that what you do is worth writing and worth reading. You have to show it to other people with that enthusiasm and let the pride in your work drive you to keep writing and do even better.

That advice really struck me. I had never heard anything like that. If I did, it certainly never resonated before. I never got that conversation out of my head, but it wasn't until now that I really experienced it.

I am extremely proud of my comic. I love writing it. I love reading it. When I go back and read scripts I've made, I laugh out loud. If I can make myself laugh with stuff I've already written that doesn't even have the accompanying pictures, then I am positive other people will love it. And that's how it has been for me. I don't just hope the comic will take off; I am certain of it. I'm being realistic, knowing how extremely hard it will be, but I know that I have an exceptional product in a market supersaturated with crap. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that this pride is doing wonders for the comic itself. I want to advertise it, to share it with everybody, and to do it full-time (and dedicating your life to one thing says a lot about how much you love it).

If I ever came across somebody who had the same ideology that I used to have, I know I would give them the same advice that was given to me.

Working With a Partner

The creative process is a complicated affair in general, but if you ever think you have a handle on it, I highly suggest trying to do it with another person, just to complicate them more. I'm exaggerating here, but only so much. Trying to create with a partner is a completely different process.

Going solo, the hardest part of the process is coming up with ideas. Although inspiration does come from time to time, the dry spells require sheer force of will. This is where a partner is a great asset. Sometimes a writer just needs a sounding board and sometimes they need somebody to think of something we just aren't thinking of. A partner can do both of those things.

But for as easy as it is to come up with ideas, the partner also makes it harder to agree on which ones to use. The most important thing to remember is that it is no longer either person's vision, but the group's vision. Both sides need to compromise, but still fight the good fight to make an excellent piece of work.

One piece of advice I have heard is to separate the tasks. When each person has control over their own domain, they stay out of each other's hair and the pieces will fit together as long as everybody pulls their own weight. Although I know it is a solid piece of advice, I don't always agree with it. There's a lot of nuance that makes it harder to define.

For my comic, I write and my friend does the art. Kels is a far better artist and I'm a far better writer. That doesn't mean that we are incompetant at each other's jobs, just less skilled. As I said earlier, my partner acts as a sounding board and as an idea generator. And I do the same thing for Kelly's art. When I am writing a script, I'm planning out where characters are, what actions occur, and how the panels themselves would show it. However, Kelly has more experience, so he usually has a stronger, clearer idea of how to make those. And at that point, I shut up, sit back, and let him do his job.

But, for as wonderful and perfect as the partnership is, it isn't perfect. Sometimes we disagree on things that we don't see as petty. One of us has to back down, but neither wants to. Othertimes the stress just gets the better of us. As much of a blast as doing a comic is, it is still a labor-intensive process. When you spend 6 hours penciling, inking, coloring, shading, and highlighting a 4-panel strip, then get criticism, it's understandable that you won't want to hear it.

Still, though, partnerships amaze me. Probably the most amazing thing is that they even occur at all. My own experience in the comic world is that there are countless writers who think they can't draw, but I have never once met an artist who thought they couldn't write. So with artists rarely looking to partner with a writer, the pool of availability instantly drops significantly. Of the artists that are willing to work with writers, a good majority of them aren't looking for a partnership, but a business relationship. The artist is basically commissioned to draw a comic, then gets a flat fee, rather than acting as a partner in the comic itself. Of the handful of artists that want to work with a writer and do it as an equal partner, there is then the problem of finding somebody who shares the same vision, has an acceptable artistic style, and equally would enjoy the project. The odds of those two people finding each other are microscopic.

That said, though, I must say that I am ecstatic to have found that magic person that fits all of the guidelines. The fact that there even is such a person makes all of the minor trouble within the relationship completely inconsequential.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pictures and Art

One of the most common pieces of advice I have ever heard about comics is to focus on your writing. "Good writing can make up for bad art, but good art can never make up for good writing." I do agree with this technically, but I always feel like it trivializes an important aspect of comicking.

Before people read your comic, they see your comic. The artistic style alone will say a great deal about your comic. People love to point out xkcd, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and Cyanide & Happiness as examples of good writing surpassing bad art, but you will also notice that all of these are comedic comics and so their crude style explains to the reader that it isn't meant to be taken too seriously. In fact, Zach Weiner, who does SMBC, did a joint comic with Chris Jones called Captain Excelsior, and the much better (though not photorealistic) art showed that the comic was far more serious than his other comic.

I think that even a funny comic should have good art. One of the best examples in the comic world would have to be Least I Could Do, which currently has an amazing artist and a great writer. With the two working together, they make a comic which is great to read and wonderful to look at. I would also point out Starslip, which very recently underwent a major update in artistic style. Although the story was enough to keep me reading from the beginning through every update, Kris Straub (the creator) decided that his artistic ability had gotten so much better over the years that the comic deserved a cosmetic touchup. And the end result is a comic that is now visually and intellectually stimulating.

As much as I would love to be an independent comicker, I simply can't. I have never trained myself to draw and don't plan on investing the time to do so. I have invested my time learning how to be funny and poingant (sometimes at the same time), so I would rather find somebody who shares my vision, and can put it on paper.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


It is commonly defined as "slight of hand" or "magic." In terms of performers, magic is either done by speed or by misdirection. If my hands are moving fast enough, you can't see the subtle movements happening among the gross ones, which allows me to make unrecognizable changes and magic happens. But if I don't want to do gross and fine movements in the same hand, I can do the gross movements in one hand and the fine movements in the other. You will still focus on the gross movements and ignore the fine ones, still allowing magic to occur.

Story telling works the same way. If I tell a story quickly and excitingly enough, you won't notice the subtler aspects. This is especially true in Hollywood blockbusters, where a continuous string of explosions, car chases, shouting, and fast music make the audience forget that the characters have no motivation or acting ability. Even if I am telling an oral story to my friend, enthusiasm in my voice and wild gestures will make people not think about the fact that there is a missing piece of the story to explain why it all happened in the first place.

Unfortunately, written stories do not allow this luxury. Since everything is exposed and the audience can take all of the time it needs to study it, there is no flash that can cover up a flawed story. Because of that, it may be more difficult to write a good story, but I prefer it that way. Since I am a logical fellow and I always want to know the hows and whys of a story and its characters, this is information I will always have before I tell a story.

In the realm of comics, though, we have a blending of these two methods. Because it is still written down, the audience can still take their time and analyze the work, thus making sure that the subtle nuances of the story are covered. However, because of the visual aspect that is involved, it allows me to manipulate people just enough. Since I am not using my words to describe the action, and since I don't have actual motion to show action happening, I need to use the subtle qualities of layout and design to make the audience go where I want and think in a certain way. Ordering the panels in a certain sequence make the reader follow in a certain manner. Vertical panels show upward/downward actions or scale in height. Horizontal panels can show scale in length and action along that plane.

There are whole books written on the tricks that can be done in comics to manipulate the readers, but the point of it all is that I am happy to be in a medium that requires a solidly constructed story, but still allows for manipulating the reader just a little bit.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why vs. Why Not

Among the people I have met, I have generally been able to categorize them into two categories: Why and Why not. Whenever I share my creative thoughts, they will reply with one of those two answers. They come from such different worlds, but both have such strengths.

The Why people are grounded in reality. Creative ideas are ones that are not common, so these people need to know exactly how and these concepts work and why they exist at all. They will make sure that whatever I create is approachable, reachable, understandable, etc. If the audience just doesn't get it, then why are you bothering to share it with them?

The Why Not camp is the exact opposite of grounded. They float freely in the realm of possibility. All ideas are equally valid and should be explored. These people allow the mind to create, to try new things, to find out what is possible, but isn't done. If you are giving the audience what it has already seen countless times, why are they going to care about you over anybody else?

In the debate between these to sides, I find myself firmly planted on the fence. I have to give both sides due respect for having valid points, even though they somewhat contradict each other. This is why I think the middle ground is the best place to take on the issue. If your ideas are too unfocused or disjointed, you can't expect the audience to take the trip with you. If they are too obvious or simple, the audience won't care enough to raise you above the rest of the hundreds of thousands of starving artists.

As for the process itself, I start with the why not, then go to the why. I find it fun for creating and for mental exercise. Try to create the oddest thing you can think of; try to come up with two things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Once you have this abomination of thought, find out why this abomination exists, how it could happen, and what it does. When you can create something that doesn't normally exist and then explain it so thoroughly that we accept its existence, you have an idea worth developing and worth sharing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Good, Evil, and Other

"Good" and "evil" seem like simple enough concepts to understand, and yet I have lately been perplexed by them. What exactly makes something good or evil? Sure, they are opposites, but what are they opposites of?

When I think of good and evil, especially when paired together, I can't help but think of super heroes. Most people will acknowledge Superman as good, so what does he do that deserves the title? One explanation is that he defends truth, justice, and the American Way. Of course, since truth and justice are part of the American Way (in theory), we can just stick with the latter term.

If Superman defends the American Way, then his opponents must be trying to destroy the American Way. In that case, "good" is the American Way and "evil" is anything that isn't the American Way. However, there are super heroes other countries who are considered good by those people, but do not defend the American Way. So what we are left with is that "good" is defending the status quo (or the establishment) and evil is trying to destroy that establishment.

With these rather broad definitions, a number of people can be put into categories we might never think of. Al Capone could be considered a hero because he defended the American establishment of drinking. Martin Luther King Jr. would be evil because he tried to destroy hundreds of years of established racism. In case you couldn't tell at this point, I am not arguing these things. No hate mail, please (at least not for this part).

I find that very few people consider themselves evil. Of those that do, most of them only half-heartedly say it (like people who download pirated music). I'm sure that Dr. King didn't think he was evil. I bet Adolf Hitler didn't think he was evil either. People who want to create a new establishment generally want to do it for a reason. They think they have the best idea ever, and they believe it enough to fight for it.

The only people who call themselves evil and truly mean it tend to be psychopaths and sociopaths. They are the people who commit a crime just to commit a crime. They aren't trying to build a new order, only destroy the current one. They are agents of chaos. I would agree that they are true evil, and yet, I hesitate to use that term, because I think that agents of chaos is far more accurate and descriptive.

Of course, when it comes down to brass tacks, it's all about the gray areas. Defending the status quo is good when it is positive and helps people. Creating a new status quo is good when the current one is destructive and harmful to people. Destroying things just to see them crumble is so wrong that the people who do it are considered more animal than man.

This doesn't have too much to do with the writing process, but it's a decent critique of character attributes. Every dogooder is boring until they get a streak of evil. Every villain is boring until they have a soft spot for something (or someone). Once you find out how your character can have that internal conflict, the story will write itself.


Fame is a strange status to me. I'm sure it is for most people, but I can't read most people's minds, so I will stick with my own thoughts.

I've never really wanted to be famous. I somehow learned early on that fame comes with a very high price (loss of privacy, for one). As a person who likes his anonymity, the prospect of being followed by people I don't even know is disturbing and creepy. However, as a person who loves having his ego stroked, the idea of being praised by large amounts of people for work that I truly care about sounds pretty nice. It's just a very fine line between those two levels, though.

I've always been perfectly happy to do a job, do it well, and live comfortably, whether or not anybody knows who I am. And yet, I chose a field that requires me to be famous in order to be successful at all. Webcomics put writers as close with their audiences as possible. As great as it is to have instant feedback, it also means that we have to build a connection with them. In order to get them coming back, to get them to care about the comic enough to want to visit us at a convention and buy our merchandice, we have to get them to care about us. Since our comics are extensions of ourselves, it is understandable that this connection needs to be made, but the prospect still scares me some.

Overall, I get the impression that the communities (both of crators and fans) are extremely kind and that nobody is so famous that they will make it into supermarket tabloids. I suspect that the fame I can get from comicking will be just the right amount for me. I certainly hope so, but there is only one way to find out.