SPREY Log #02 – Observations

It’s time to share some observations I have made on the journey recently.

1) Reading…helps.

First of all, having taken up reading as a daily task pays off and keeps paying off every day. You may wonder whether it is worth it sometimes. After all you might have to read a (nonfiction) book for four hours to get to what feels like ten minutes or less of bits that are relevant and actually have the power to change your way of thinking. But sometimes it’s more parts of the book that are like this and you never know beforehand.

2) Accepting Intuition

At the moment, I feel especially inspired by Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. I’m far from finished having read the book, but even the first part had a huge impact on me already. Haidt claims – based on his own research – that we are actually rather driven by our intuitions and feelings in the first place and tend to rationalize afterwards why it was the right thing that we did or chose to feel and think.

In Haidt’s example, imagine yourself as a rider on an elephant. The elephant is subconscious and doesn’t give a damn about your rational opinions. The rider has some ideas where the elephant should go and what is right, but ultimately it’s up to the elephant what happens in actuality. And changing the elephant’s way or the elephant’s environment is hard. The rider can’t ride without the elephant, but without a rider the elephant has no direction, so there is power and merit in the rational rider as well.

Now there are people like me who tend to completely live in their head and constantly train their rational rider, believing he has somehow more impact on the elephant that way. He doesn’t. Example – I will still choose my colors intuitively and afterwards fabricate a lie why this color was the best choice by color psychology or for compositorial reasons. With more training my lies and justifications will get much better and my color choices possibly a much smaller bit, too.

I bet some people like me would absolutely rail against the idea that they are analytical as whatnot but still controlled by intuitions. I don’t. I don’t even view this as battle because I know what involuntary mood swings are, pain and desperation, envy, serenity and so many more emotions we humans tend to feel. No rational thinking can do away with that and that you will lose control sometimes. That is life. The elephant tends to win, and yet you can serve him and yourself well if you are a good rider that suggests him a great course throughout many small decisions, every day.

3) Immediate Reflections

But this also opens up a new questions and perspectives immediately. Are we artists secretly absolutely dominated by our own tastes outside of the realm of what we can rationally explain? There are still visual problems to solve that require knowledge of art fundamentals and that can be very technical and rational. But there will always be several ways to solve a problem and we will choose what our elephant likes most, whether we like our personal elephant or not.

I was complaining I had no identity from time to time. Nah, I’m fine. I’m quite average actually. I was just oblivious about the huge elephant I’m sitting on. It happens. Just turns out neither me nor the world are as complicated as I thought, they’re objectively complex still, but manageable.

My blog so far was oftentimes a rider wondering why some detail things aren’t working or wondering why they do work. I was missing the bigger picture.

4) Conclusions for Comic Work

And what does this all have to do with SPREY? Everything. If you change the person creating it, the comic will change. My prediction is that the story will not change much and also not in parts that you would know already, but the art style will either go through another shaky period or we will find ourselves in another Back to Black phase where heavy black ink will dominate the panels. I feel this is some part of the later Styx cycle where I always always return to that.

I had an interesting idea while browsing through a book on character design yesterday night. Instead of adding even more influences to my art I should reduce the influences I go by, at least for my current workflow. At no time in history could people access all the world’s styles, art instructions and process demonstrations as easily as it is today. Back then they had like…one teacher and were stuck with them and everything they were lucky enough to find on their journeys throughout their lives. Today’s situation on the other hand creates the opportunity for fantastic and bizarre mixtures of influences, but it can also lead to an information overload. How should you know what works best for you? How should you know you aren’t missing out on the best thing for you if you don’t keep digging? When is it time to settle and is settling bad? I’m happy and sad that I’m quite versatile. I can make a lot of things work pretty quickly. But the cost is I’m not particularly good at anything, not in a specialized manner. I have the suspicion that a 2D outline heavy comic and animation workflow could be my thing as I have trained that intensively since a while. Designing in that style is no problem either. But I would have to put more emotions into my lines and risk messing them up here and there for the sake of the raw emotion that must be slumbering somewhere in me.

The best thing is, I don’t have to change much about what I’m doing with SPREY already.

Let’s see where this is going!

Starting a new arc

The timeline in very short: after finishing chapter two of my webcomic I decided to take a week off – and then never came back, ended up doing an online design course to fill the most glaring holes in my drawing skills. That succeeded. I learned a lot of things, improved my design and perspective drawing game as well as how to harness the power of 3D, research, and learn my drawing programs faster in the future to use their juiciest features. The price was that I completely lost sight of my comic. It is not as if the wish to continue it wouldn’t have been there. I just couldn’t. I was so strained, stressed out, probably anything could have made me tear apart. That happened in the end, and after some confusion and recovery time, and also listening to the life and business advice of many voices on Youtube and in books, I yesterday returned to drawing SPREY. Chapter 2A is now chapter 3 and has a cover. It is not as if I didn’t do anything about it ever in the meantime, I have some notes and storyboards as well as partly reorganized folders with references. Also the comic haunted me in my dreams. We’re good. I am continuing in the system that worked, at least one panel a day, square format, updating it on my site, on the discords, and eventually on Instagram again, too. I just want to work consistently for a couple of days before I make big announcements, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and I’m still super dead.

I guess the past months were a good lesson in failing and why you would prefer a sharp cut end to something over slowly dragging along and bleeding out any time. I didn’t bleed out on my comic though, I snapped back in the end. My vast insecurities got the better of me and led me astray. I hope I am not taking all of them back as were into SPREY Chapter 3.

I have humble goals. I really want to make this comic and finish it. I owe it to the readers and to the comic, and to myself. I am standing a 100% behind Street Prey and will do my best. A chapter takes me around 3 months so far and I suppose we will at least have 12 of them (but the number is everything but exact), so that’s some time working on it ahead. I do think that I will become faster as time passes and with more work I have done. My planning skills might become better, too, but only with the experience of hindsight on having substantial amounts of work done already, so everything I make in the future after it profits from SPREY.

I am also eyeing at a day job in concept art or videogame making in general. I have fun designing or just creating games in general. But it takes time to cross over. I am also not a big fan of crunch culture. During the design course I have found out that I can crunch if needed, but that it is not a sustainable way of working, at least not for prolonged periods of time. What do you do with your fast big gains if you lie exhausted on the wayside after the rush? But I will not allow anything to get into the way of me making SPREY. It is too important.

Please call me out if I slip again.

It might happen that I miss a day from time to time when things get very rough or rougher than now, but I don’t want to. I never want to. It is a panel a day or not being me. And why would I not want to be myself? In that sense, see you after the next work session on SPREY later today. A blog can’t be a distraction when it documents action, not dreams about things that never become action.

Annotations to the cover (hey, you should have something exclusive if you read my blog):

If you know the backstory laid out in this blogpost, you can see how the chapter cover is less of a literal depiction of a sad Rich, but the manifestation of the devastating shame and guilt of being a failed creative, a failed creator. I have failed in creating. I have failed everyone, I have fallen. I have a hole of three months in my comic work. And yet here I am, I’m back. SPREY is back. Just taking action again and continue sounds like an easy thing to do from the outside, but do you know about the abyss of strong emotion on the inside? If we didn’t have that, everyone would just do what they knew was right and they should do. Anxiety is a big one here and it will never go away. But apparently you can learn to live with it and not get lured into comfortable inaction that makes you feel even worse afterwards.

100 Days of SPREY – 16, 17

Today is a great day to remind myself why change and being open and willing to adapt is so very very important. Change is something that happens. Nobody can ignore or rectract the invention of the internet or the smartphone for example. Both has permeated our lives. And then it is the question in what ways we want or can adapt to that. But you as a creator, you can also change from within.

I‘m having a great time studying Yoji Shinkawa‘s works the past days. I hope they help me to free myself up from the tyranny of mindless (out)lines. I‘m telling myself to think about the form first like Robert Henri suggested in his book – and light, color and everything else such as wisely chosen important lines are means to define and show the form. This takes a lot of uncertainty away from my process, because the goal is clearer and the priorities are, too. So far I really like this new „game“ of art. Colors and light aren‘t that beast of a thousand hydra heads anymore, when you treat form as more important than nailing a certain color or making the values perfect. You will still want to nail everything in the process of showing form well, but you might make your decisions faster and with more confidence, when everything is a means to a different, possibly higher yet simpler end.

There‘s trouble on the horizon with Street Prey (SPREY) on Instagram. There was a vote yesterday and Instagram amassed to only 3 votes cast in total. That is incedibly low. I am speaking to my readers there and don‘t think they are tired of the comic. I am rather shadowbanned or otherwise not treated favorably by Instagram‘s current algorithm. Even people who would have wanted to vote did not see the new post. Instagram is not to blame for my luck of success, though. Assuming thousands of people would be exposed to my work…can I really know they will love it? I can‘t. I can‘t control the reception of my work apart from doing my best to create it well and otherwise make it pallatable. But failures with big marketing budgets show us that you just can‘t buy something becoming a hit.

On another note it is absolutely normal that interest for a longer comic vanes. If you cannot enjoy it in only one sitting in full, there will always be a slight and growing resistance to look into it again on a different day. It is the same with books. Reading doesn‘t give you the fastest dopamine for your engagement and there are many other worthwhile activities to compete with it. But can you blame the reader for not trying hard enough to work through your creation no matter what? Wouldn‘t you equally have to blame the creator for not captivating the reader enough with superb craft, and hardly measurable qualities like heart and soul and subjective entertainment value in the work? In the end it would be blaming each other for being flawed and shaking fists at entropy.

I have been learning and am learning so many valuable lessons while making „Street Prey“. I would still be making that comic, even if nobody was watching except my two eyes. It is flawed like every first of it‘s kind is, but it is also fresh and has already seen a couple of transformations already alongside with me.

I could whine about Instagram, my misunderstood genius and insist on my current way of working and sharing the comic. I could choose to ignore it completely as a non-problem. Or I could stop for a moment, think, and wonder whether I can improve in any direction. In my understanding, Instagram, Twitter and alternative platforms aren‘t meant or optimized to share a long form comic on. Gone are the times where people had the leisure to check out a whole account. They might take a glimpse on recent works and then move on again. Places like Webtoons have become the go-to for reading and sharing webcomics. People will not expect them in other places except for personal or dedicated websites maybe. At least in theory sharing a comic in other places is not the dumbest idea though, as you can get drowned out by other comics easily if everyone jumps on few platforms like Webtoons. I don‘t worry too much about that at the moment, as I‘m a comic beginner. My work is not at risk to compete with that of seasoned creators yet, but I‘m learning. A beginner has the freedom to start anywhere with anything and I have taken a lot of advantage of this. But there comes the moment when anything anywhere stops working and it‘s time to specialize, focus or otherwise adapt, either to changes from within or those of the environment.

I would not do myself a favor if I threw SPREY as it is onto Webtoons. Something like medium shifts cannot be explained or sold to an audience that is used to a wholly different level of consistency. Also, SPREY operates in a fringe area where you can almost call it a prototype for a simple RPG or visual novel rather than a comic. I have a UI instead of speech bubbles. I have one panel per page which you can read as single screenshots. I have choices the reader has to make and that influence the story and it‘s outcome. Was/am I a gamedev all along? I should mention that I‘m pumping hours and design work like crazy right now into the„Your Land“ videogame towards our next update and having a blast.

I will need more time to think about what to do next. Things are in a flow in a very interesting way right now.

See you next blogpost!

Restructuring III – Launch Week

I found myself in a quite surprising situation the past week.

The week I declared to be my relaxation and restructuring week became the week my husband and I released our first videogame, „Your Land“ and I prepared and opened my first digital solo art show in that same digital space.

Your Land Release

I‘d carefully say both my husband and I are rather daydreamy creative types, although I clearly and sadly beat him in anxiety by miles. So it might seem like a miracle we actually finished the game. We have been working on it since a year and as it‘s our first game, so the development cycle was rather shaky and a sandbox fantasy RPG probably too big for a team of originally two people. But luckily for us we met a lot of great people along on the way who in one way or the other contributed to „Your Land“ while we grew and learned. We hope that we in turn could either contribute to their visions, too, or at least give the best game back that we could make at the moment. Also, I am very grateful for the small but creative community that has formed around „Your Land“ already. They help to shape the world more than in a classical development model. In the classical model there is a clear distinction between devs and players and devs throw content out and get feedback in return. In „Your Land“ everyone can contribute content, build own places within the world or otherwise get involved while we as head developers oversee the creative vision and consistency and provide the framework of a game lore and a general direction in which the world is heading. My husband loves interactivity even more than me. In his ideal vision the players write the world‘s further history all by their actions. The future will show whether we can achieve that.

Above: testing the “whirl technique” for gesture drawings stressing volume control. A huge thank you to comic artist Stinch Wackbacker who introduced me to it!

Manul Art Show

And the art show? Oh, the art show. I can best describe it as a tale of blind passion and redemption that absolutely does not show in the end result. That is nothing special if you think about it. Every piece of art tells a story in itself and there is a whole different story of how the artwork got made. So the creation of an exhibition as an art event in itself can have a story of itself, too. I had nightmares about middle school and my dreamy forgetfulness that tends to bring me into trouble sometimes. But it‘s just a price I have to pay for an otherwise very creative brain. My nightmares circled around past failures. Of course they would do that in an important launch week and when I would work on an art show, something that I know as a big source of disappointment. But still powered up from the completed 100 days challenge I just accepted what I felt, the past, and let it not influence my work in any way. I just pushed through scaling down and editing some of the best of my manul pictures to exhibit them on 128pixel squares in „Your Land“. It is funny how my experiences from real world art shows translated into that. Yes, we even had to prepare the ingame digital space and make sure interested visitors would find the exhibition rooms, had snacks available and would not get lost in the other parts of the exhibition site, an airship airport. I met several versions of past me while working through the pieces, a lot of past confusion that luckily got resolved. I was very content but also very tired, when everything was finished. And I‘m working on a manul zine with at least two volumes to bring this project to a final conclusion.

Above: avatar of my husband admiring the Moonul during preparations for the show.

Also, I was very lucky. A streamer was present at the grand opening and later uploaded a clip of his adventure at the Manul Exhibition. You can see it through his eyes here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0OkYfSkMEc

And was it good?

The release of „Your Land“ was a huge success for our means and set a new record of 10+ players being online on the server at the same time. There was only one small bug and that got identified and fixed by my husband in what felt like under two minutes. He, the experienced coder of us, said himself the launch went almost too good. A couple more plots in the digital city of Haven were claimed, new houses in the merchant area were and are getting built, filling „Your Land“ with more life. The opening of my art show was a modest success. I cannot pour my life story and all background stories of the manul drawings onto the viewers, so I practised myself in smaller talk than that. And the visitors seemed to be entertained by the manuls, too. I could not ask for anything more and am also grateful that this simple, small event probably helped me to get over past wounds and made thus made me a better artist again. The world of anxiety is boundless and has no solid floor( that is the beauty of it, isn‘t it?), but I feel like I‘m standing on solid floor right now. So if I could do the 100 days challenge, and I could do that, too, what else can I do? The future will show.

100 Days – FINALE

Above: to the left – original first post-it for the challenge, drawn in colored pencil. To the right – redraw done today with same medium reflecting the current state of creator and blog comic team of fictitious characters.

It is done! Today is day 100 of my 100 days of making comics.

Unfortunately I haven‘t gained superpowers or completed a whole graphic novel. Even worse, some of my problems as a comic creator persist while other new problems joined.

But on the other hand there is this:

1. I have stopped doubting whether I CAN make comics at all. Yes, I can do that.

2. I failed at what I originally set out to do. Of course I did. But I was lucky enough to understand the reasons for it after spending weeks on other, smaller projects. So I learned a lot out of it.

3. I have learned how to „start small“ by doing a series of „Mikiko“ shortcomics in this very blog, focussing on the adventures and comments of my virtual assistant Mikiko.

4. I have started an interactive webcomic with a story that means a lot to me. I am more than a chapter in by now – so it‘s past the first bump already.

5. I have a much more grounded, realistic view of my actual skills and means and what to work on. Constantly working on one long term project like a webcomic is A LOT already.

6. I met a lot of great people on the road and appreciate those that were with me already, looking at them through new eyes. Although I can behave quite reclusive, I have learned that even I am not an island. We are connected and help each other and influence each other all the time. Thank you, everyone, and a special thanks to my husband, whose patience had no end.

edit: 7. Editing is important.

Above: I’m currently doing my best to improve my environment drawing skills. I usually fill in a row of 5 thumbnails a day with studies. The first reevaluation is at 200.

Accountability

The blogposts instead of videos worked out fine for me as means to keep myself accountable. They were especially effective in the beginning. Having to make a blog post about the day later might have saved one or two days. In the last days of the challenge I combined a couple of days into one single entry. The daily work got done either way by then. I will most likely not stop the webcomic anytime soon.

And what is next?

I will continue working on my comic with the same schedule as now (at least one panel a day), but other than support my husband with his „Your Land“ videogame as much as I can. It soon will be ready to publish! I hope I have built enough endurance during these 100 days to keep my humor and get things done, no matter what.

Will I ever do this or a similar 100 day challenge again?

Actually yes! If it was not for constraints such as time and other responsibilities, I‘d simply add 100 more days of making comics right away. But it‘s part of the artist‘s toolkit to know when you better take breaks, even if you don‘t feel like it at the first moment. I have some other things to build and maintain right now. I‘ll be back in time with new announcements. It depends on how the game launch will go, honestly. If there is a lot of bugfixing and changes to do within the next weeks that might be my project for the rest of the year.

For now, thanks to all of you. Your company has made my journey even more worthwhile and I hope my documented stumbling through 100 days has given you something, too. See you back on the road soon!

Above: what better way to end this than with an interactive choice in the comic? Quick, go to the respective discords I’m sharing that post with vote buttons or to instagram and cast your vote until tomorrow(23.11.2020). For more context – you can read the whole comic on this website. Check out “PREY”.