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On extended hiatuses

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but because it's the sort of thing I expect to get either a bit of flack or a lot of unnecessarily concerned responses for, I kept putting it off. Now that this award nomination is on, I have a reason to post this sooner rather than later, which is fundamentally similar to my previous reason for putting it off: people on the internet tend to be quick to jump to conclusions, and I don't want the wider webcomics-reading world to think that the concerns raised below were sparked off by me not winning a Clickie or something.

Aanyway. A few weeks ago I channeled Robert Fripp and posted this on my Livejournal. Since then, I have come to a decision, which I will reveal tomorrow. But first, if you're a Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan or Courtly Manners fan, read this from beginning to end - and don't worry.

Things I haven't got done during what I laughingly refer to as my two-week "break":

  1. Update the collection for the Webcomics exhibit at the Stripmuseum Groningen
  2. Do significant writing work on future Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan stories
  3. Get far enough ahead on Courtly Manners to sustain an update schedule of five episodes a week (the last episode took me eight straight hours to make, which would mean I should be able to crank them out fast enough if no other work turned up)

To avoid getting into renewed update trouble or a situation where I find myself stuck on a webcomics conveyor belt again, I need a much longer break.

One thing I did do was rescan a large part of the "Guðrún" storyline, which I started drawing in early 1998, and publishing online in July of 2000. I don't know why I found that more urgent than doing new creative work... but I suspect that subconsciously, I needed to remind myself of how I used to do things, of formats that were open to me at the time and that I've had to left behind in the past 2 1/2 years of grinding out "The Rite of Serfdom".
When I looked at my art from 7 years ago, I was naturally embarrased at the crudeness of it and wondered how I could ever consider such sucky art for publication, right?
While I do think my art skill has improved considerably, it doesn't follow from there that the quality of the finished product was worse overall. It's undeniable that I did things wrong in "Guðrún" that I do right now. The inking is faaaar too loose, heads are often amorphous and there are some really incompetent attempts at drawing Krakatoa's face in particular. But the old stuff has something that has got lost over the years. Looking at them now, I can see much greater variation in page layout, a much more daring use of the cartoonist's expressive tools,and generally, a greater thoughtfulness in the writing and composition at the panel to panel level. I can tell that, for the first half of the story at least, I took my time to draw it, working on it only when I wanted to, and allowing myself to edit things that weren't working. With the automatic updater breathing down my neck, that eventually became impossible to do although I managed it for a surprisingly long time.

Why do I update regularly? Do I do it because it's an achievement to be proud of? Or is it because I fear that if I abandon my audience for more than a few days, they will forget about me and move on to other things?

Some comics have long gaps between updates and are still popular. Some, like Melonpool, pop in and out of existence. The recent experience with Capn indicates that luck and timing are also involved. If I update regularly out of fear of losing my audience, then my reason for updating regularly is irrational and probably harmful. If my updating habits exist to give me a feeling of accomplishment, I may be better off getting that sense of accomplishment some other way. A way that pays the bills would be nice.

Last Christmas, I wrote 12 synopsises for future short ROCR stories. I wanted to draw some of them myself, send others off to other artists to draw, and in the end asked Adam to write one that needed to be written but had trouble with. Three months on, the only one that is almost completely written (it's not finished per se, but I could work with it if I had to) is the one that Adam wrote. Most of the story ideas are, I think, quite good, but that hasn't translated into any urgent motivation for writing.
The artists involved, of course, have busy schedules themselves, so they need to have the scripts months in advance to be able to deliver finished art on time. Webcomics don't pay well (I'm fortunate to get paid at all), so anyone who isn't, like me, a bit nuts will put them at the bottom of the priority pile.

Despite all the above, I still really like and enjoy being the artist/writer for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. But looking over my old stuff as I've done lately (there's demand for one of my old stories to be used in a book, and there is some non ROCR work that I really want to re-scan for online publication), I would like to have some time to do something else. The current Courtly Manners isn't the only thing Geir has written for me that I haven't had the time to draw, and given some peace of mind I'm sure to get some other ideas as well. And there is the lure of getting into illustration...

To keep the websites interesting to new readers, reruns may be an option. Re-scanned, re-mastered editions of the old comics are what got me onto this musing - might they be a solution as well? Many among the current readership of my websites won't ever have seen "Guðrún", which has been behind the Modern Tales subscription wall since late 2003 but was never on the Modern Tales front page. So I could re-run the early stuff some time. "The Faerie and the Earth Pig", followed by "Guðrún" in shiny new files that won't cost me more than an hour each to prepare from fresh scans (apart from a few pages that were colored in the original version, that is). I've even considered taking the idea further: taking down the existing archive and re-running everything at a breakneck pace, but that would result in a very long break. My publisher wouldn't stand for it. "The Rite of Serfdom" alone would take almost a year at 7 updates a week, and it would be unavailable for 2 years before that.
But I think re-doing the first two long stories that I put online in 2000 and 2001, and maybe adding something from the comic's pre-web incarnation, may be a good idea. That would buy me the time I need to get the next few stories going at my own pace, so I wouldn't have to choose between story quality and my sanity.

If you've read this far, what do you think? Don't worry if you don't like all this talk of taking a long break. I'm not in any deep existential or artistic crisis - merely trying to avert one!


That's it. Tomorrow I'll summarize some of the responses I got in the mail and on the LJ, and tell you what my plans for the months of May to August are. There's already a forum thread about this post, which I didn't even have to make myself. There's a change!


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 13, 2005 1:46 PM.

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