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January 2006 Archives

January 1, 2006

Everything new is old again

New Year's Eve, 2005 or rather, the small hours of New Year's Day, 2006. I'm at Vera's New Year's Eve party, grooving to the beats. I like the beats - the discjockey is playing popular alternative rock, punk and dance music with the occasional classic dance track tossed in. At one point, I hear something with subdued synth bass over which a rock guitar is heard, and I ask Jeroen "What's this? Sounds like New Order" only I know that it isn't New Order; it's how used to wish New Order would sound. Jeroen answers "Oh, I don't know. One of those interchangeable new bands"

I like those interchangeable new bands. So much stuff sounded like it was recorded in 1984. I felt right at home with that. I resolve to seek out a lot of those interchangeable new bands in the new year, and buy their records.

Plans and resolutions

2005 was a mixed year for me. Work-wise I continued working on my existing projects, but didn't win any new ones. I got an award nomination whose fall-out, in the end, was mostly negative (through no fault of the people involved in the award, I must add), got a bit burned out on webcomics, and produced very little new work on the web compared to the years before. Instead, I spent the better part of the year on an archaeological mission to bring my work of the past back to light.
I liked doing that. It was easy and fun to prepare The Lives of X!Gloop for the web even though the art dating from 1989-1992 was horrendously bad. It was less easy, but more fun, to show people two early Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan stories and find out that this didn't chase away the loyal readership. On the other hand, it made it hard for me, again, to promote the comic to new readers, because the work from 1991-1995 isn't exactly a showcase for my art skills. Nevertheless, the benefits of rerunning the old work outweigh the disadvantages: my workload was down for much of the year (and when I did start drawing new work for the web again in December, it was murder again), I am slowly filling the big gaps that exist in the ROCR archives and I'm rediscovering the work of that naive young writer/artist who tried to update the classic Goscinnyan approach to comics for the 1990s. Talk about my reach exceeding my grasp!

I left Modern Tales and republished my comics on a new free website in October, regained control over the reinderdijkhuis.com domain in November and started reposting my late-1990s work in December. There seems to be a bit more of a buzz around ROCR again now, with the readership trending up, more people trawling my archives and the comic getting mentioned in online conversations more... although a recent reference by a Websnark commenter to that "Swedish Elf-Life" strip (as I am calling it, I am not going to attempt to type out the proper name on the account I know I am going to misspell it badly) that the writer thinks he or she might read on Modern Tales may or may not count, and is probably a sign that I haven't publicized my move from Modern Tales well enough if it does. There's reason to be optimistic.

A picture is emerging of what my goals should be for 2006, and of how I could give myself a better chance at accomplishing them.

The overarching goal is the same as every year: to make a living — a good living — from cartooning, so I won't have to go back to working for a boss. It doesn't have to be with online cartooning; indeed it would be a bad idea to pin myself down to just that. However, I'll focus on that aspect of my plans because I'm posting to my online readership here.
Here's what I need to accomplish in 2006 to make the online work stable enough to keep doing it in 2007:

1. Increase the number of readers, and the readers' involvement in the comics. Counting readers is surprisingly hard, but in the past week, 1500 individual visitors looked at the site, including both people who came back repeatedly every day of the week and people who accidentally dropped in once, went "Yuck!" and fled. I need to get that up to 15,000 to be able to sell merchandise or make significant money from advertising on the website. Getting there from here will be difficult, but I don't think it's undoable, if I do the other things on the list. Naturally, I have other reasons than money to want as many people as possible to read my comics, but money at this point is the make-or-break reason. I also like it if readers come back and getting feedback from you motivates me a lot. Thanks to all of you who posted comments to the archived comics: you are helping me a lot with that.

To get more readers, there are some things that I'm happy to do (I'm already doing those: I buy advertising on webcomics sites and will buy more on sites outside the webcomics community in the new year), some things that I'm willing to do if I must (I dislike link exchanges and topsite lists, but they can work, so if my other strategies fail I will use them), and some that I am not willing to do. I will not pander to any demographic or change the work itself to make it more commercial. I've made a few baby steps in that direction in the past, but it's always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. My online comics are what they are and if I have to change them to suit the audience I might as well work for a boss. For well-paid work outside of webcomics, it will be a different story, but what you see here will have artistic integrity.

2. Showcase a much wider artistic range than I have been doing in the recent past. Someone who doesn't like humorous fantasy may still like to read autobiographical comics, experimental work, a kids' comic set at a school... I've done all of these things and more. Getting my other stuff online (as I've been doing with my wordless Pin Drop comics) will help me accomplish goal number 1, but also make it easier for me to get work published in print or get new projects from paying customers. In the process, I may have to start thinking about the website as reinderdijkhuis.com instead of rocr.net...

3. Create new work of much higher quality. To be able to stick to my self-imposed deadlines for ROCR, I've often allowed the quality to suffer. Never again. I will use the fact that I have old material to give myself time to work on new material including new ROCRcomics, and make them as good as I'm able to. I'm doing that already: I drew Headsmen, which will run in January, while the old story The Green Knight's Belt was running. After Headsmen, I will run old material again for a while and use the time that buys me to work on another new story at a very steady pace. I will also work on new sidecomics whenever the urge strikes me.

4. Have fun. Because what I'm doing is an uphill struggle at the best of time, and goal number 1) is one that has eluded many artists more talented than I. Whenever it stops being fun, I should take a breather, look at what I'm doing, and change things so they become fun again.

Is that it? I think that's it. Happy new year, all!

January 8, 2006

Mainstream media recognition at last, mua ha ha!

Geir mentions in the forums that the Norwegian tabloid VG has quoted my Post on Rowling denialism in its weekend edition, as part of an article on conspiracy theories and the "Paul is dead/J. K. Rowling doesn't exist"-syndrome.
If you live in Norway, you can still pick it up on Sunday as it's in the weekend edition. The article is by Anders Giæver. No web version of the article exists, but Geir's report has the quote in Norwegian.

January 9, 2006

Colour? How did that happen?

Headsmen, page 1a

The Green Knight's Belt has ended and, as promised, the follow-up is a new story that I've been working on since the end of November. Headsmen has started today. I hope people like it - it's very unlike a typical webcomic in that I've really worked hard to give it some production value.
One thing I've been telling people I wouldn't be able to do is release it in colour. For a while I considered asking a volunteer colorist, DFG, to color the story for me, but I decided against it because I couldn't offer her a decent deadline.

Then I got some Photoshop tips that helped me cut the time to colour a page in half - tips that will also come in handy when I'm working for print. And suddenly, adding colours — simple ones at least — changed from something that I'd have to set aside large blocks of time for into something I could do in stolen moments. So I decided to put in the effort and add flood fill colors to the high-res files. I may even be able to print the comic in colour when the time comes. Each comic now takes less than an hour to colour, unless there's a new setting or character that I've got to pick a colour scheme for.

I expect to be able to simplify my workflow further in the future. Right now I letter in a different program than I colour in, but between Headsmen and the next new story I'll start doing that in Photoshop as well.

Meanwhile, enjoy Headsmen! It's set just days after the events in The Green Knight's Belt, with Kel taking a different role from the one we've seen so far. In the stories from the 1990s, we saw Kel as a surly, put-upon character, but considering what we learned about her background in stories like The Rite of Serfdom, she must have initially considered being with the Gang as a step up from working for the Green Knight. Also, she can't have had much of a notion how the human world worked in those initial weeks in the forests near Dungil Fens. This story, then, is intended as a bridging chapter between The Green Knight's Belt and the stories that follow it.

Photoshop linkblog

Pete Ashton has put up a tutorial describing the tricks he uses to enhance photos.
Meanwhile, DeviantARt user augustc4 has put up a tutorial describing how to use channels to control line art fully.

Neither of these will be news to seasoned Photoshoppers, but the rest of us, including myself, may want to look at them again in the near or not so near future.

January 10, 2006

Bloggers the new punk movement?

My arse. Political bloggers are the new hippies. They think they're going to change everything, stick it to the man, put the world right. In twenty years, they'll be playing golf and boasting about all the dope they smoked even though they'll know by then that it was all oregano anyway.


January 11, 2006


Unbelievably useful although too many pages are still labeled "Under Construction": Website of De Liebaart, a Flemish foundation for historical reconstruction, with plenty of information and reference pictures on historical dress including peasant dress. The photo section is a bit disorganised but does a good job at showing what outfits and tents looked like in 14th-Century Flanders. The site is bilingual.

January 14, 2006

Going slightly hard of hearing for a couple of hours this weekend

Just like every year, I forgot to buy tickets for the multi-day, city-wide festival Eurosonic or its sister festival Noorderslag. This year, however, I did find the time to pick up some of these twin festivals' table scraps by going to the instore performances at the record store Plato, featuring many of the same artists. I like instores. The sound may not be ideal, the stages may be cramped and the auditorium too small to fit the crowds easily, but you get to sample artists' live abilities for free in short, focused performances. Also, you get to see them browse the CD racks. Not to mention that the audiences are relatively sober and almost clean.
On Thursday I saw Cuban-born pop singer Liset Alea, whose song "Dame la Cuenta" was a surprise favorite of mine on Plato's autumn sampler disk, and local freak-rockers Planet Orange. Unfortunately, she was a bit ill so she started late and cut her acoustic set down to three songs. I'm not sure if her music works that well in an acoustic setting. On the record, I liked the electronic beats in combination with her writing. The set was pleasant enough though. Planet Orange's Beefheartesque rock with Fender organ, trumpets and noisemakers was a lot more exciting. I'd seen them before, 5 years ago, and until recently I was under the impression that they'd split up. Not so, fortunately. It was strange to see how keyboardist Harm Wierd had changed; the first time I saw him, with Friction (Freakrock Foundation) in the mid-1990s, he had long hair, a beard and a very authentic hippie dress style. By the time Planet Orange became a going concern, the long hair had already gone, but now he looks like a professor in some obscure subject that doesn't require its practitioners to ever leave the library, like pre-Columbian Finno-Ugric philology or something like that. It's not just the tie, the dusty brown jacket or the mushroom haircut, but the combination of the tie, the jacket and the haircut that creates the impression. Still plays the organ like a madman though. Singer Dickie Visser still looks like a giant ape, even though I could tell as he walked past me in the store that he isn't all that tall. It's his burly build, wild hair and lumbering movements that make him look that way. He's quite a wonderful performer, with his gruff voice and rudimentary trombone skills. I bought their new record, Drip Drop Dripping, on the strength of the band's show.

On Saturday, I wanted to see Audiotransparent, a local band whose music I'd heard on Plato's PA system before. They've been getting some good reviews and I've seen references to them pop up on the livejournals of people outside the Netherlands, so I was really curious about them. But when I walked into Plato at the scheduled time of 2 o'clock, it was immediately clear that the band getting ready to perform weren't them. Audiotransparent are a self-identified shoegazer group, and I don't associate that style of music with lumberjack shirts, five-o-clock shadow, traditional instruments and beer bottles on stage. It turned out that Audiotransparent had also caught a bug and had to bow out of the instore performance; I don't know if they did any of their other scheduled gigs this weekend. What I got to see instead of them was very good though. El Pino and the Volunteers played raw alt.country/Americana and did a bang-up job at it. I prefered their faster, upbeat pieces to their slower singer-songwritery stuff. Fun to see that style of music tackled by such young guys too. I bought their mini-CD as well.
I decided not to wait for the next band, GEM, but pay for the CDs I'd been piling up in my hands and visit some other stores for some regular shopping. More on the CDs I've bought later. I returned to Plato after 4, in time for a band called T99 to start their show. I wasn't too taken with this trio, for some reason; their music didn't connect to me much until their final number, which was an energetic surf instrumental. If they'd done their whole set with that kind of material, I'd have loved them.
Next on the setlist were LPG, a local band who have got quite a lot of media attention because a recording by them is to be used worldwide in a Nokia commercial, even though they didn't have a record contract when they made that deal. I've got mixed feelings about them and think the media buzz happened too early for them. They've got some exciting musical ideas but at this mini-gig, they performed them rather hesitantly. A couple of dozen more gigs would have put them in a better position to present themselves to the world.
The first song of their set was fronted by a guest, home-recording songwriter Spinvis singing the title song of his new album Dagen van Gras, Dagen van Stro. He was easily the most charismatic person on stage at that moment, but his own performance half an hour later, an "outstore" mini-gig on the street in front of the store, with video projection, didn't work that well for me. I'm not going to stand out in the cold while some guy on a stepladder reads lyrics from paper to a taped backing track, and so I was on my way back home 5 minutes in.
A mixed bag it was then. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on El Pino's fresh-faced if rather unkempt young lads, will be enjoying Spinvis' music on the radio and on record, and hope to catch Audiotransparent some other time.

January 18, 2006

Strips in Stereo

Poepoe is showing previews of Strips in Stereo a forthcoming project in which Dutch hit songs are adapted into comics. The first one by Barbara Stok, based on the Doe Maar hit "Is Dit Alles" is making me very very interested in the result:

Continue reading "Strips in Stereo" »

January 20, 2006

French military victories

Your history lesson for today: A thousand years' worth of French military history. Since right-wing hate-mongerers still keep trotting out the "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" lie from time to time, and many others are gullible enough to buy it, having this article to refer to will come in handy.

Let's take the toughest case first: the German invasion, 1940, when the French Army supposedly disgraced itself against the Wehrmacht. This is the only real evidence you'll find to call the French cowards, and the more you know about it, the less it proves. Yeah, the French were scared of Hitler. Who wasn't? Chamberlain, the British prime minister, all but licked the Fuhrer's goosesteppers, basically let him have all of Central Europe, because Britain was terrified of war with Germany. Hell, Stalin signed a sweetheart deal with Hitler out of sheer terror, and Stalin wasn't a man who scared easy.

The French were scared, all right. But they had reason to be. For starters, they'd barely begun to recover from their last little scrap with the Germans: a little squabble you might've heard of, called WW I.

WW I was the worst war in history to be a soldier in. WW II was worse if you were a civilian, but the trenches of WW I were five years of Hell like General Sherman never dreamed of. At the end of it a big chunk of northern France looked like the surface of the moon, only bloodier, nothing but craters and rats and entrails.

Verdun. Just that name was enough to make Frenchmen and Germans, the few who survived it, wake up yelling for years afterward. The French lost 1.5 million men out of a total population of 40 million fighting the Germans from 1914-1918. A lot of those guys died charging German machine-gun nests with bayonets. I'd really like to see one of you office smartasses joke about "surrender monkeys" with a French soldier, 1914 vintage. You'd piss your dockers.

Shit, we strut around like we're so tough and we can't even handle a few uppity Iraqi villages. These guys faced the Germans head on for five years, and we call them cowards? And at the end, it was the Germans, not the French, who said "calf rope."

When the sequel war came, the French relied on their frontier fortifications and used their tanks (which were better than the Germans', one on one) defensively. The Germans had a newer, better offensive strategy. So they won. And the French surrendered. Which was damn sensible of them.

This was the WEHRMACHT. In two years, they conquered all of Western Europe and lost only 30,000 troops in the process. That's less than the casualties of Gettysburg. You get the picture? Nobody, no army on earth, could've held off the Germans under the conditions that the French faced them.

(Found as a result of a Google search suggested in an A Fistful of Euros comment)

January 24, 2006

Life and work update

I've been quiet on this here blog lately, haven't I? Apart from not wanting to blog for the sake of blogging anymore (eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I've trimmed off the "blogospheric" stuff like my Ecosystem details), I've been very immersed in Headsmen which has turned out to be a very work-intensive project. Especially my late decision to colour it kept me very busy. Even with the new approach to colouring in layers, it still took at least 20 hours a week out of my schedule for two weeks, and left me feeling rather sore in the arms at the end of the day. By the way, I haven't forgotten my promise to describe my new coloring procedure.

Headsmen has been worth it, though. Although there are one or two things that I found very difficult to draw, most of the pages have turned out better than anything I've ever drawn before. I will want to fix some of the colorings before attempting to get it printed, but that will be easy with the new layer organisation.

It's turned out to be pretty popular as well: since the start of the storyline, the number of readers has been up consistently, and readers have been browsing the archives more thoroughly than ever. Of course, the new readers didn't appear by magic: I announced the new story in many places and paid for advertising on some prominent sites. Most noticeably, I advertised on DeviantArt and the webcomic Something Positive. The two ads I posted at DeviantArt were my first attempt at paid promotion outside the webcomics world. They worked reasonably well at getting many people to take a look at my website, but most of them didn't follow up much. The advertising on Something Positive, though, was wildly succesful with over 2000 people visiting and quite a few of them absolutely devouring the archives. The only downside to the ad was that it didn't run nearly as long as promised, which I should remember to talk to the sales rep about.
For those of you who are interested in these things: during the first week Headsmen was running, my visitor numbers climbed to over 700 a day on several days of the week, with pageviews reaching over 8000 on the same days - the highest numbers I'd had since August of 2001. The Som*Pos ad on Thursday, Jan. 19 pushed those numbers up to new records of 2067 visitors on Thursday and 65000 pageviews on Friday. I'm still getting over 15000 pageviews a day although the numbers of visitors has dropped back to only a little over that for the days just before the ad.
I believe that for the health of webcomics as a whole, it is important that they are promoted outside of the webcomics fanbase. However, promotion to people who already know about webcomics is much more likely to be immediately effective. A combination of the two is best, but if you're on a low budget, as all of us are, you should concentrate on bang-for-the-buck spots like Something Positive. I'll be on the lookout for similar but unrelated sites to advertise on.
So, I got a bit sore in the arms from all that work, so I've been away from the computer more outside of work. I did a lot of reading: I finished several Simon R. Green novels which on the whole I liked, and am now reading Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell which I like a lot.
To be less dependent on Instant Messaging for contact with my bandmates and friends while working in the studio, I've finally broken down and bought a cheap cell phone. As I don't want to become one of those people who yak into their cells on the street, it's usually switched off unless I'm actually at the workplace, but the fact remains that I've let myself be dragged kicking and screaming into the 1990s. Not that it's an unwieldy 1990s model; while not exactly the latest pimped-up model it's small enough for me to have already mislaid it and been unable to find it for almost a whole day.
What else? Didn't see any concerts or movies, hardly found time to do essential chores such as taking my bikes to the repair shop - they're all in a terrible state. Work, work, work, has been all that filled my days these past four weeks.
That's going to change for now, but I'll still be busy. I have finished Headsmen and uploaded its follow-up, Alchemists from 1992, which I prepared for the web earlier. In all, that gives me five weeks to prepare the story after that, The Death Warrant from 1993, and do the promised work on Alcydia over on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen website. Today, though, I'll be off to the library to read magazines and work on the next Gang of Four script, which is due soon. Er, that is, the artwork is due soon, the script was due two weeks ago. But I'll catch up.
The Death Warrant will take until June to complete so I won't be spending such long weeks in the studio after this week.

Transcription difficulties.

I am transcribing Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan episodes from early 2004 for the Oh No Robot comics transcription database. It turns out that these particular comics with their interlocking panel layouts and multiple conversation threads are very difficult to transcribe properly. Conventional divisions between panels in ONR are rendered simply by two carriage returns in the transcription. But on many of the comics from late 2004 to early 2004, these divisions broke down or were ignored by the dialogue. Here's a transcription for the comic page for February 2, 2004:

[[Ottar's flashback. Ottar and Abúi are running along a tree branch. Abúi is holding a book in her arms - the Wythllewe Boke.]]

[[Arthur's flashback. Arthur is talking to the older raven.]]
Arthur: We need more numbers!

Elder Raven: More numbers?
Arthur: Yeah. If we had a number meaning "Many-and-one", we could count to Many-and-one. Maybe even beyond!

[[Jake's flashback. Jake is drinking ale with Tamlin.]]
Tamlin: Whoa there buddy! You're going fast tonight.
Jake: It's that tree, Tamlin. It gives me the willies.

[[Arthur's flashback. The Elder Raven's dialogue is half-hidden. The ravens are positioned on a tree branch so it looks like they're on the same branch as Ottar and Abúi in their flashback, and Arthur appears to be looking down at Norla in her flashback.]]
Elder raven: Fledg There's no/left for/teach you, save this: never let on that you're smart/than a mon-
[[Ottar's flashback. Ottar and Abúi are reading the book.]]
[[Norla's flasback. Norla is reading a book. P'Séaigg is talking to her.]]
P'Séaigg: Are you ever going to tear yourself away from those books?
[[The flashbacks are interrupted by Atra's cackling loudly in the present time.]]
Atra: Haaa-ha ha ha!

And that's not nearly the most complex layout in the sequence.

On the one hand, I could use some help. But I can see why readers aren't exactly lining up to help with the transcription and I can't blame them. There are many opportunities to go wrong with these. The placement of the final word balloon in the flashback is particularly awkward although it does read correctly - or rather, it doesn't matter much if it isn't read fully until after the interruption is taken in; the visual interpretation of the sequence works. In the transcription, a judgment call has to be made to place it unambiguously before the interruption.

I have asked the ONR people for more ways to indicate panel and word balloon flow. I'm not sure if they'll be able to invent any that will work with some of the things I've done in that particular sequence of comics. Which in a way is gratifying.

January 25, 2006

How To Be Invisible

Tristero at Digby's place has some tips on guarding your online privacy on an OSX computer. Could be useful, I wouldn't know, although I do rather believe I should know.

January 31, 2006

Running clinic

Long term readers of the blog will know that I like to run but have a problem with my knee preventing me from running for any lenght of time. Between my last post on the subject and yesterday evening, I went running less than half a dozen times and never for longer than 15 minutes in one go. I knew that if I built it up I would be able to expand that, but running for such short periods turned out to be frustrating - the muscles and lungs have only just warmed up and I have to quit again to prevent buggering up the knee.
On New Years'Eve, though, I noticed that I could dance (not well, but energetically) for hours on end without it affecting the knee. So obviously the energy and muscle are still there and with the right kind of movement I should be able to train without damage and build this up to much longer training sessions reasonably quickly.
It just so happened that the newsletter from my old running club arrived a few days later with a yellow note attached inviting me to a runninc clinic they were organising. So I signed up, bought some clothes for winter running on Thursday, tested them with another short run that same night, and yesterday evening, I took the first class.
And lo and behold! With a coach telling me how to structure a training session, when to hold back and when to go fast, it turns out I can complete an hour-long training without the knee objecting, and it also turns out that I'm actually pretty fit still. I can run pretty fast, and I'm not even all that sore the next day (not to give the impression that I'm completely free from the after-effects, but I had expected much worse). Actually, the only real complaints (apart from a slight soreness in that knee to remind me that I'm not completely out of the woods yet) come from the muscles in my stomach and sides, which clearly need building up and whipping into shape. As if I didn't know that from looking at my skeleton-with-a-potbelly shape in the mirror.
So now I'm feeling very motivated to bite the bullet and just do those 10-minute runs every other day during the week, in the hope that in two or three weeks I can last longer even when I'm running on my own.

Holy grail of web design found, or so they tell me

Reader Danny (AKA Awake98 on the forums) points me to an A List Apart article on the holy grail of web design

Three columns. One fixed-width sidebar for your navigation, another for, say, your Google Ads or your Flickr photos—and, as in a fancy truffle, a liquid center for the real substance. Its wide applicability in this golden age of blogging, along with its considerable difficulty, is what has earned the layout the title of Holy Grail.
with, as the writer doesn't even feel the need to spell out, lean, standards-compliant layout.
I have too much on my plate right now to fiddle with my website design, but when I do have time to fiddle, I'll want to experiment with this.

About January 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Waffle in January 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2005 is the previous archive.

February 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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