Corvus Returns

…and so did a lot of older works. I’m tackling things differently this year. As many other creators do, I have a universe in my head. I do not feel the need to shine a light on any and every single pebble, any and every interesting thing that ever happened there or once might happen. Still, if I want any painting, any short story, any comic out of the source of my stories AND the quality shall be more than a lucky hit or miss, there is a lot of work ahead of me.

I’m taking the time to make one or a couple of lists with older works of mine. Many are what I would consider „dead“ but some I can practise storytelling with, everything in the service of SPREY. The goal is the same as last year, write down a functioning, complete version of SPREY, from start to finish, then draw it out as a comic. The middle part is still a bit too nebulous. But I think my chances of finishing are good this year. I still have a lot of writing and some resulting growing to do though to get there.

Corvus seems like good material to practise structure.

The old story went like this:

Corvus is on the verge of being expelled from the mage academy for bad grades. He is tricked into stealing a secret book on necromancy for one of the professors, then has to stop said professor. A lot of people get hurt or killed before the professor’s rampage is over and Corvus has to live with that guilt, although he was able to stop the professor in the end. A superficial love interest for Corvus exists, their story just isn’t that terribly important for the plot except for a magic McGuffin given to him by the love interest that helps Corvus survive a deadly blow by the professor, when the professor betrays everyone after receiving the book.

The new story that emerged after some exposure to the Schumann writing craft book is this:

Due to a mixture of personal shortcomings, bad luck and academy politics Corvus has just been expelled from the mage academy for bad grades. His magic powers are taken from him permanently. Before he even has time to cope with it, he learns that a group of fellow student mages manipulated him and other people for their own entertainment and is now setting their eyes to new targets of harassment. Corvus takes a job as a gardener to be allowed to stay on the premise and starts working in the shadows to protect the new targets and bring the group down. While Corvus has a positive impact on the lives of many, despite having less tools to do so as a gardener, he is a nuisance to few but powerful political actors at the academy and is pushed out as a troublemaker in the end. He is not winning against the group or the academy. And Corvus is definitely not winning against life, as health problems caused by him forcefully losing his magic powers are increasingly catching up with him. His life after his time at the academy might be very short.

The side arc love story exists, but has quite changed, too: This time around Corvus has a love affair with a freshly arrived foreign lecturer. The lecturer is target of the boldest bet of the student group yet. They want to know whether they can drive even a lecturer into suicide through a buerocratic loop of death and social isolation. While Corvus helps the man to get over the very rocky start at the academy, he must watch how his beloved lecturer slowly transforms into a member of the academy establishment that wants him gone.

The lecturer wakes up to what has happened in the end, immediately quits his position and rushes to make amends to Corvus. Other people are waking up and leaving, too, which forces the academy to change.

I don’t know about you, but as a reader I’d be more interested in the second iteration than in the first one. Now that I’m rereading the text I am still worried that the scope is too big still. How many good deeds to how many people can Corvus really do before he’s out? The middle part does hold some uncertainty here, but not as much as my current version of SPREY. I am at least convinced my structure will dictate enough so that I don’t swim in endless possibilities.

Restructuring IV – The Failed Meta Comic

The 100 days of SPREY (Street Prey) have started already, but the restructuring blog series isn‘t over yet. In fact, finishing this series of blog posts on my thoughts and new knowledge from the 100 days challenge is part of phase 1 of the new challenge. Making room for new things also implies not only finishing old things but also properly reflect on them.

Today it‘s time to look at the failures in my comicmaking challenge. Two big things strike me immediately. The first one was tackling a much too ambitious comic, Corvus, first.

Wishes, will and skill just didn‘t align at all and I was so inexperienced that I had no chance to see that. Unfortunately I did not learn much from working on Corvus that way, as I never actually got into drawing the comic. The blog comics and having to deal with SPREY daily took over that part. But indirectly, being able to dissect it in retrospect, I can see where the problems were and in some areas still are. My desired environments for this comic are crazily complex! This is something a more skilled future me can attack.

My second big blunder is creating thumbnails for a full chapter of a metacomic. This thing will never actually make it outside of my blog or see full production. Why is that so? That meta comic chapter is the epitome of a bad idea!

It‘s about exploring a meta level of narration somewhere between fiction and reality, where my creation gets a chance to talk to me. It contains some good ideas that worked well woven into other blog entries of mine. But it would be a terrible, self-indulgent comic to read for anyone else!

A reader that is not me has no chance to understand that chapter if they don‘t know my blog and the characters in it. And even then I haven‘t ever introduced all the characters properly. So that thing was a good learning experience as it helped me to create something, maybe even to process some thoughts myself, but a thing like this has no business being out there published.

When in hindsight all the meta comics, not only the thumbnailed chapter, seem like a bad idea, why did I do it in the first place? I think I honestly didn‘t know it better – if you start out with something, you can literally start anywhere and with anything, you will not know what it‘s worth on any metric like monetary or progress at your craft. Another factor was that I was under a lot of pressure and for most of the time had not find my calling with SPREY yet. I had to deliver things daily and on some days Mikiko and making meta comics out of my thoughts probably saved me from dropping the ball. It is impossible to not make mistakes. I do not regret them. Thumbnailing that chapter was another sign that showed me I could finish something. I felt horrible about it, but I grew from the experience.

And I guess this is a great lesson in itself. You don‘t have to publish everything you make. Sometimes you will need 3-4 attempts to get one piece right (or many more! Open end!). I have this with my daily panels sometimes, and you only get to see the winner who made it online that day. And in other cases that means to abandon a project before a stage where you could think about publishing it. While you have to make mistakes, you don‘t have to make obvious mistakes you see and identify as mistakes like a rising sun on the horizon already. What you put out there to the public must be more than a self-indulgent artistic piece. It can even be self-indulgent if it must, but it must give the audience something more than just that in exchange for their time and attention. My metacomics have their place on my blog, but you will most likely never see a direct representation of them outside of it – and that is okay.

100 Days – 79

Editing note: Today I had a surprise enlightening moment about Corvus and a flaw in the storytelling I hadn’t noticed before. I tried to force something different onto Corvus the character than what apparently was bound to happen. I overestimated the chemistry between him and Asmund or at least did not take into account that the events change Corvus fundamentally. He is not Asmund’s meek and daydreaming admirer from academy anymore when they meet again. That screams for a good look at the script and possible rewrites into a new direction I could not even imagine before.

100 Days – 16

Like a Machine

I was prepared for the worst today. I sat down willing to wrestle through the worst what my brain could throw at me…

…and then nothing came. In fact, what felt horrifying yesterday went quite well today. I was able to nail Grimm‘s design quite immediately. I tried a couple of different costume compositions on a different sheet, but somehow nothing was better than the very first one. Same goes for the head.

It‘s easier to explain Grimm‘s minimalistic design when looking at him in contrast to one of his yet unnamed competitors. My nickname for this arch mage is „Bully“. As you could guess Bully isn‘t much fun to deal with for colleagues or apprentices.

Both Grimm and Bully are powerhungry in their own ways. While Bully does everything „right“ as for following the clothing standards and intriguing his way up to a candidate for the next chancellor over the years, Grimm has no time to waste on politics. He wants all the power magic can grant him and needs all the knowledge for that, even the forbidden one. Grimm wants simple, practical clothing so that he can get to work as fast as possible after waking up. Also he stains or outright destroys his clothes while working in his laboratory from time to time.

When showing Grimm‘s preferred look next to apprentices Corvus and Asmund it becomes clear why many members of the academy leadership abhorr it. Grimm looks so down to earth that he almost looks like an apprentice himself to those who don‘t know him! And people like Bully are not having it. They haven‘t written the clothing standards for them to be ignored. But in Grimm he has found someone who is a worthy opponent. Grimm absolutely does not care. He cannot be intimidated or excluded as he doesn‘t want to be a part of Bully‘s club anyways. It might be Bully‘s downfall that he assumes deep down everyone is like Bully himself. Friends will eventually betray each other climbing the social ladder together, so Bully is always looking out for a knife in the back. But he has no idea about dangers that come from a place that knows no order and hierarchies.

Asmund (the blonde one) would probably give Grimm a stern look, if he wasn‘t distracted by his friend Corvus. Asmund mistrusts Grimm for the beginning. He mistrusts Grimm‘s repeated rule breaking and occasional statements of questionable mage ethics. Yet Asmund is blind for Bully‘s schemes as he hasn‘t yet learned that not everyone is friends at the academy just because they are all part of the academy.

Technical note: I have started to slightly improved yesterday‘s sketches of our two apprentices here. Now my Grimm looks so undeservedly rough, which makes me cringe a bit.

Looks like I have all main characters down that will appear in the scene! At least I feel confident that I know enough to work with it. So tomorrow…the environments. I count them as three: I need a general overview of the academy as a whole for the establishing shot. Then the bulk of my scene is in the peaceful academy garden, only intersected by a short glimpse into Grimm‘s office. Exciting!!

See you tomorrow!

100 Days – 15

Nightmarish

The week started terribly, but I‘m all excited for it.

I had a plate of everything that you don‘t while creating today.

I felt so strong anxiety that I spent a couple of hours just being nervous and miserable, even procrastination wasn‘t fun. Then I did go to work, but quickly realized my brain wasn‘t working properly. You know that when the brain thinks you‘re in mortal danger, you shut places like the frontal cortex off – who needs speech and reason when you have to run or fight. That‘s really bad when you are reviewing a script!

But you know what happenend next? Calm and in a way amused I made a tactical retreat, meditated a bit, crocheted a bit, then got to work again.

Stephen Pressfield and other smart writers are warning their fellow creatives about days like these – they are part of the game. And no, the anxiety will never go away. But the job is to make the art, not beat the anxiety. So I looked for ways to not be anxiety‘s punching bag anymore. Then I had that flipped switch moment where you don‘t feel great, but you keep working, because you dissolve. Nothing is important anymore, there is only the work to do, even if best you can do is do it badly.

I would have been ready to make as many attempts at getting into this flow as I could stomach for today. I only needed this one.

  • I really carefully rescripted the very first scene of my comic that I‘m going to draw this week. I know my material now.
  • I made an updated to do list what has to be done the next days.
  • I decided for a simple 6 panel page layout that I‘m going to use. It might not be the most elegant thing to do, but at least I can’t get overwhelmed with making decisions on this front now.
  • And then I designed the costumes for Asmund and Corvus.

I apologize for the reduced quality of the pieces to what you are used from me, but I really needed to get this out and had to make…compromises. Read these from general deliberations to a clearer and clearer picture of what I want the costumes to look like. Absolutely no polish of the artworks to be found.

But, hey, tangible results! The character designs for my two main characters are mostly fixed now. It‘s okay for Asmund to look generic – as funny as it sounds, that fits his personality. His mage robe might turn into the more elegant darker red that the arch mage design currently has, but I already like tthe core of what I‘m seeing. The arch mages have the right to wear lush overcoats, so that they really stand out and look even more imposing. Lecturers who are full fledged mages, but not arch mages yet, have a right to wear an overcoat at all.The chancellor of the mage academy will have the privilege to wear purple and…will probably do not have a speaking role in this comic, but he surely is a nice person with a lot of great stories to tell.

Tomorrow it‘s Magister Grimm time again. Grimm hates the regular robes, the insignia, the politics, and colorful things in general I suppose. Let‘s see what he does to not look like an arch mage/lecturer within the boundaries that he has. And he can‘t wait to strip this from himself as soon as possible.

See you tomorrow!