Originality, the dreaded magnum opus and you

Rereading my pile of notes for past and upcoming blog entries – harshly disagreeing with you from weeks ago is a hilarious thing and it is a thing indeed! What has happened? As mentioned in the last blogpost, the lasting pressure to succeed is gone like a migraine. There is no need to beat myself up over things, insecurities are at bay. There is no need to become so dense about achieving that you start making stupid mistakes because you can’t even see what’s right before you anymore.

What happened? Amongst other things, I made an important discovery. I learned that everything I could hope to do in and with my creations has been done in one form or the other already. After all, works and ideas that inspire me, already exist and will also inspire others! And more works will be created with the potential to inspire future creators. Of course, there aren’t ever 1:1 matches that would make you creating your own version obsolete. There is always room for your version in your voice. But if I die tomorrow, nothing is truly lost. In the most optimistic case, one or two good original ideas I could have in my lifetime would die with me, and a creator voice vanishes in the big choir that doesn’t even sing together. But mostly, it would not affect culture in any way. I’d still feel sorry for my characters who can’t write their stories themselves, but the ideas underlying the characters do not die. They can return in other forms.

This is not self-defeating, on the contrary. Imagine the pressure you are under if you believe you are the chosen one and your future creations are so important that your premature death means the death of something new, that never was before and never will be if you – and only you – aren’t there to create it. In a way, there is some truth in that. You cannot be replicated. But creating something on a cosmic level of originality… these are expectations you cannot possibly fulfill, even if you are objectively good at your craft. At least you can’t force it.

I felt huge relief when I saw everything is safe. I still intend of having a lifetime full of creative endeavors, telling my stories and living life. Even if I fail, I cannot fail so hard an idea or a whole culture dies. I’m free. I am free to create whatever pleases me and I’m free to enjoy it no matter what I believe it’s value is. I had the looming shadow of an anticipated magnum opus over me that kept me from fully enjoying doing the smaller things. A magnum opus is a defining creative work a successful creator is mostly known for. Of course, if you yourself would know what that work is, why would you want to work on anything else? Most decide to wait to work on it for a couple of years, get good first or worse, wait until they feel ready which will never happen. The thing is, you as the creator do not get to decide what work of yours is the most popular one. Your audience and your audience alone makes that decision. So don’t worry about it and create your things, treating them equal and allowing yourself to enjoy them equally. What the dream of a magnum opus is good for on the other hand is bringing you through the difficult years in the beginning where you have to build up your skills from zero. Having a big dream definitely helps to deal with the frustrations of skill and ambitions never matching. You just have to be ready to let go off of the dream later when it doesn’t serve you anymore. And I’m not talking about giving it up. Imagine a situation where you as a child decide what you want to make and how you want to make it and how it is supposed to be. Later, as an adult, you have learned that things actually don’t work this way in reality, you know your craft and your personal limitations and your flawless work from back then actually has some brutal flaws that would keep it from becoming an enjoyable experience for people that aren’t you. Wouldn’t you want to adapt it? Wouldn’t it be an act of love to undo the magnum opus status of your own creation so that you can properly challenge and improve all aspects of it? And what if you have created things that are clearly better in the meantime? How would you deal with that emotionally?

I am lucky Street Prey(SPREY) was never meant as my magnum opus. Actually, it was a quick idea from a subway ride somewhere in 2011. SPREY just ended up as the thing that made it through and that I’m making right now. And I can take the unhealthy pressure out of that, too. There is no need to rush anymore. I have been and I am deeply in love with SPREY, every day, every working session I spend with it. I guess I will look back on this time and say SPREY was the project I figured a lot of things out with. SPREY that killed my future and gave me one.

100 Days of SPREY – 60

The struggle continues!

I have this theory that no long term project actually wants to get made. Otherwise most dreams wouldn’t just stay dreams and we would swim in awesome creations! Your long term project will throw any problem, challenge and distraction it can at you to keep you from finishing it, but at some point it will give up resistance.

I have good news today about the future of Street Prey(SPREY). I found a surprising solution for it that honestly sounds like I could have known earlier…but I couldn’t. I needed to fall off a cliff, go on a new path pushing my design skills and draw and 3D model many pages of unrelated concept art to realize something. And I hope sharing this serves as a shortcut for you so that you don’t have to go through that, too.

Like all of my stories so far, SPREY has been conceived in a vacuum. A version of Styxcolor was at work that had no understanding of how expensive time is and that designing a world properly costs a lot of this as does a huge and cool ensemble of characters. You will never catch me saying a single creator cannot do a thing. But some projects would require you to sacrifice your life to one of them alone and work on nothing else ever. This seems to be an unreasonable project scope to me. I found out, what hinders me from just continuing to make SPREY like before is this: I cannot afford to create a comic of SPREY’s original scope by working hours and pay I don’t get for it and also release it for free, at least not right now. People will understand. Concept art pays. But I don’t have to let you hanging. I am downscaling SPREY. I will try to tell the essence of it, close all arcs I opened and deliver a satisfying ending building on what I already established. And I will ideally do so within the next six months. That is my self declared goal.

I started off today already by writing a skeleton script. It’s pretty exciting as most things fell into place without much resistance. I am still a bit critical about the scope. That might still be a bit too many scenes and places to design. You will probably not see much movement with the characters on the other hand. So tomorrow I’ll trim fat or if I’m still clueless I’ll start to thumbnailing around. Maye that will influence and correct a moments or two as well. But hey, at least the script will most likely not get bigger than it is now!

And no, I feel no pain about SPREY. I’m surprised myself. Instead, I feel enthusiasm. As if that thing can overpower me, now that I found a way to break it down into something present me can do. I’m not sorry for everything we will not see in this run of SPREY. It was formless potential so far, so nothing is really lost if it does not come through. It never “existed” in the first place. Who knows what the future will bring. I have learned yet another valuable lesson from SPREY. And after all, it’s not about me. I’m worried about my readers first and foremost and that they have a satisfying finished comic that was worth their time in the end. I might have been so inexperienced that I didn’t even know how to start small and how to operate small. My new definition of that is: If I’m capable of pulling it off with my current skills and ressources (including time). And how do I know what I can do? The script will tell me. The design sheets will tell me. If I literally can’t do it, can’t write down a coherent version of the script, can’t draw the scene, vehicle or environment for the love of everything, it is too big right now.

And this leads me to the spectacular conclusion of this blog entry. Today I realized that a good chunk of my problems came from inexperience, from the faint hope I would pick up all the skills necessary on the road to become someone who can actually pull off what I imagined SPREY should be. I was dealing in I should bes and I should dos. When the truth was before my nose all the time. If I could pull off the script that classic SPREY would need…I would have done it! It is okay! So I didn’t fall out of the sky as a master. I have a much better grip on what current Styxcolor can actually do and move within a week of unrelated fulltime work. And I can and must go from that. I cannot base my works on someone I am not (yet), on skillsets I do not (yet) have. Imagine trying to buy something with money you will maybe make in the future (outside of the stockmarket). I must stay with what I have right now. Just wildly imagining an epic story without any constraints is easy I would say. It is much harder to bring it into a form that you or you and a team can actually make come true. Keep it real. Less is more. Start small. Your personal “small” might grow over time.

I hope the readers of SPREY do not have to wait for too long anymore. I will still do my best not to rush anymore ever and take the time it needs. See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 20

Alright! Is a week of 100 days of making Street Prey(SPREY) actually over before I reviewed it and filled in the repord card? No! So here we go.

Overall, I had a really good week. I did everything and beyond but the manul zine. Adaptation is very important and apparently me spending my weekend building up my Twitch was a very good move in that regard. I already connected to a lot of fascinating people and their content this way and accelerated my own growth and speaking skills!

And the zine? Well, after three weeks my official phase 1 for the SPREY challenge is over already. I’m supposed to increase the amount I’m working on SPREY now. The infrastructure and materials for that have landed already, as we have seen in the blogpost before. The mountain is ready to climb, bit by bit. Would it be detrimental to my plans if I kept working at the zine and everything else on the side in small doses instead of hoping to make it in the future or even worse, waiting for a “good” day to do it all at once? Such days unfortunately do not come. You have a sea of average days instead where diverting 10-20 minutes seems to be more realistic. And even that compounds over time.

The magical key seems to be to not work on more than two different things per day with one slot always being Street Prey. My time is precious suddenly or at least more obviously precious. Becoming a pro is a process, not a decision or singular point, I guess.

I‘m looking forward to the upcoming week. See you next blogpost!

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!

Announcement – 100 Days of STREET PREY

edit: I have just decided to change the working title of my webcomic from just “PREY” to “STREET PREY” to distance it better from the awesome videogame series it has nothing to do with. The new nickname of the project is SPREY, a word that apparently doesn’t exist. Well, now it does.

I have an announcement to make! I will embark on a new 100 days challenge tomorrow! One of my favorite options was simply adding another 100 days of making comics on top of the previous ones. If something seems to work, why change it? But then I found a way to slightly pivot this into a more personal direction. Fellow artists Grant Roberts (his IG: grantrobertsart) suggested I could focus on my webcomic. First I was surprised…how to focus more on it? I was doing SPREY since weeks already!

But then it dawned upon me – was I really doing everything I could do in my power? No! Not in the slightest! Other friends keep calling me out on that, too, (and I‘m endlessly grateful for it, thank you all), but what kept me from acting differently in the past was that I simply didn‘t have more time and energy that I could invest into SPREY. I already did what I could.

And why was that?

SPREY had to share my attention with other projects such as the Manul Project and constant worries and confusion about where to go, what to do, what to commit to as a creator. The confusion was so bad that I was barely moving forward at times. I must have been quite unfocussed in the past and sneakily changed during the 100 days challenge. Working on SPREY daily has become my nature enough that I find it harder and harder to divert myself into working on more than a maximum of one thing on the side per day. I must have done that in the past a lot! A lot of hopping all over the place. And then being unhappy that I wasn‘t getting exceptionally good at anything or even…finishing things. And now I couldn‘t imagine being like that. I will admit, I still feel the echo of it though, whenever I turn another opportunity or new challenge down. I cannot do everything that sparks my curiosity for SPREY‘s sake. I feel, with this project I finally have the chance to go my personal path and I should not risk losing it again.

RULES

The 100 Days of SPREY is my very personal continuation of the original 100 days of making comics challenge and not connected to the challenge or it‘s official rules anymore.

But in order for it to be a challenge or a similar vehicle for transformation over time like the original 100 days, it must have rules.

1. I will continue updating SPREY daily, one panel at a time.

One panel a day seems like a working formula that I should not disturb.

2. I will blogpost at least once a week about it, Sundays, with a filled out report card.

While I love to blog and hold myself accountable over it, I might not have exciting things to say every day. So I will not blog and ramble just for blogging‘s sake. I also feel that sharing my daily panel is not that newsworthy anymore after it‘s working since more than two months now. My daily warm-ups are even less interesting unless I make a big technical discovery. They happen like a force of nature.

I have created a report card for the challenge using my experience from the first 100 days, where I can tick off the daily comic panel and other tasks related to my journey every day. You will meet it for the first time this Sunday and I will also share a blank with you so you can use the report card for your own projects if you like it.

3. Sunday itself is a compulsory rest day where the only art related work allowed is a single panel update on the SPREY comic.

This might sound like a stupid rule to you, but makes a lot of sense for me. I am a workaholic and no, that is not a cute quirk, that leads to long term problems, if left untreated. My sleep problems of recent might be a result of working seven days a week and never resting, not a bit. It is very important to relax and practise relaxation. You need breaks and that is not only for having new ideas when you allow yourself to disengange with work. I want to create all my life, so I need to stay as healthy and balanced as I can. In my opinion, a rest day like this is a great idea for a start.

4. The first phase of my challenge is to continue narrowing my focus on SPREY – „breathing out“ (approx. 30 days)

I will finish still running unrelated projects such as the Manul Project and not start or continue things on the side. Only exceptions are continuing the work and support on „Your Land“ and my freelance gigs. I hope to take no longer than a month (30 days) for this phase.

5. The second phase of my challenge is to actively grow SPREY – „breathing in“

I have a wishlist of things to try, look at, build and develop here, but this comes into play once I have created the room for it after working through phase 1.

See you tomorrow!