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March 2007 Archives

March 2, 2007

No more weekend updates for now.

Sorry folks, I'm cancelling the weekend updates for this weekend and at least the next few. I spent a lot of time working on my comic for Hello You! and don't have enough time and energy left to do the weekend updates properly.

The Crossover Wars run on a fixed schedule of five updates per week anyway, and the weekend updates wouldn't be anything but fillers. Nevertheless, I don't want to cobble just any old rubbish together for the weekends - after all, these updates would stay on the front page for a full day and in the archives until I got around to cleaning them out. Hundreds if not thousands of people would see them. So "any old rubbish" just isn't acceptable.

Five a week is still pretty good, and I'm sure there will be weekend updates again soon enough, especially once I get to sit around with Calvin to discuss what to do with his production sketches. And keeping up with a New Years' resolution for two months probably isn't that bad. So see you on Monday!

Metacalyptic Apostasy returns to your screen

In 2006 I hardly drew any comics being rather preoccupied with making money. I've recently taken it up again with renewed vigor and one of the consequences is todays return of terribly weird sci-fi epic Cap'n.
The stats reveal there still has been a steady flow of visitors taking a peek if perhaps Cap'n hadn't secretly returned. I'm glad to say that it has and will be updating on Fridays for the time being. You may have lost track of the storyline after the one and a half year hiatus: the current storyline starts here.
I hope one day to be recognized for the bold and daring lack of unity in style, lazy artwork and unintelligable storyline. If anyone knows about such an award, please let me know.
In any case: hope you enjoy the return of Cap'n!

March 5, 2007

Quick links for monday

Chris Lightfoot is dead. I liked his weblog. He dropped off my radar a bit when he stopped posting frequently, but had he returned, I would have found out from many other bloggers linking to him enthusiastically. He only wrote when he had something to say, and when he did it was almost always good. I wasn't aware of his many other online roles (he was involved in Pledgebank and mySociety. I can only second mySociety's recommendation to

sift through his blog and marvel at the quantity of primary research and original coding that went into it. Documenting and exploring his work would provide material for many years of research, and yet all this was accomplished by the age of 28.

Chicken Yoghurt finds Britain’s bookworms misanthropic and death-fixated.

Digby on the latest round of bullshit claims that "Teh Left" is uncivil and hateful because, oh my stars and garters, Teh Left uses swears:

I have to admit that I'm even more surprised, however, that the manly warriors of the rightwing blogosphere are so genteel and restrained, which they seem inordinately proud of, as if they've won first prize from the Boston spinsters crochet society or something. There has always been a particular type of prissy conservative male who shares certain characteristics with fluttery Victorian ladies who get all breathless (and aroused) in the presence of muscular, earthy language. I didn't realize that the alleged he-men of the rightwing blogosphere were like this but I suppose I should have. It certainly explains why they haven't joined the military.


And The Poor Man, a few days ago, ran a blogger's style guide to civility and seriousness.

Speaking of civility, read The Greatest Cliché: The Unexamined Propaganda of "Political Correctness" (via)

March 6, 2007

The Problem of Evil

"Mama, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they can't do it by just scolding and whipping, for that won't answer, it is weak and no good -- Providence's way is best, and it is every parent's duty and every person's duty to help discipline everybody, and cripple them and kill them, and starve them, and freeze them, and rot them with diseases, and lead them into murder and theft and dishonor and disgrace; and he says Providence's invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was, and not even an idiot could get up anything shinier. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away: and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and consumption, and -- Dear mamma, have you fainted! I will run and bring help! Now this comes of staying in town this hot weather."
-Mark Twain, Little Bessie Would Assist Providence

Is the "Problem of Evil" really compatible with omniscience and omnipotence? Let's consider the options:

1. The omniscient, omnipotent deity allows evil to happen because he doesn't really care about it, or is, in fact, evil. A possible answer, but not one that's compatible with most religion.
2. It's all for a higher purpose, to punish us. I can't help but think Twain's satire is all the refutation of that needed.
3. It's all to test our faith. This would make said omniscient, omnipotent being a sadist. Anyway, wouldn't he already know the result if he was omniscient under most definitions of the term?
4. It's all unknowable. Why?
5. Free will. There are several sub-possibilities

5a. When combined with the standard "he creates us individually" arguement, this means that the deity is creating people he knows will turn out to be evil. This again hits the problem of the sadist god.
5b. If the deity doesn't create people individually, then we still run into problems: Do diseases have free will? If not, why does the deity allow them? Are accidents important parts of free will? Is it restricting free will to prevent a car hitting an icy patch that sends it careening off the road? There's a lot of suffering out there that has nothing whatsoever to do with free will.
5c. Looking at willful acts, we still hit problems. At the Columbine High School Massacre, several bombs failed to explode, which prevented the massacre being even worse. Isn't this, and any other event that prevents anything being even worse than it is, an implicit restriction on free will? And if it's acceptable, why shouldn't all human-led acts of that sort be similarly restricted? Why shouldn't acts of great evil be blocked at every turn, with, say, passports of the 9/11 hijackers having gone missing, so they couldn't board? Hitler having a sudden heart attack?

6. In the manner of Krishna, the universe is merely the biological processes of a giant being. I'm actually rather enamoured by this option, but it's hard to see why a specific actin fibre, even a single neuron should expect the body to care about it than any other protein or cell.
7. Any higher beings that have any real interaction with us are not omnipotent, and have extremely limited omniscience, if any. I honestly can't see any other option than this, and thus am forced to reject most of the glib assumptions of standard religious faiths.

March 7, 2007

Life drawing while drunk

Yesterday afternoon, I met with my friends Kim, Danny and Steve in the pub to quickly celebrate Kim's birthday before she had to go back to Plauen in eastern Germany. That was at five o'clock. Three hours, three Belgian beers and a quick meal later, I had a life drawing session with the VOIC.
So, how unsteady was my hand? I won't claim that the life drawings below are my best ever, but they're not nearly my worst either. I sat down at a table for the first time since I started taking part in those sessions (I normally prefer to either sit with the sketchbook in my hands, or stand at an easel). That helped, and what also helped was that the model was very good at sitting still. So was her identical twin. The pink elephant, on the other hand, was a constant nuisance.

drunk life drawing with wrap.
For the first few drawings, the model kept her wraparound towel on, so I tried to work on draperies and feet. There's a girl in the class I teach who can draw feet amazingly well, so I need to improve to keep up with my student.

drunk life drawing - sitting nude
Nice hands. Terrible legs.

drunk life drawing -sitting nude
Cartoonish face, proportions all wrong. Must have been that pink elephant trumpeting in my ears.

drunk life drawing -standing nude against minimalist painting
I had to cheat a bit with this one. When I was drawing this one, I liked how the abstract, minimalist painting in the background framed her skin and hair against a square red area. However, I didn't have any colour tools on me so I tried, and failed, to replicated the effect with my grey pencils. That wasn't the same because the red square was the same brightness as the hair, causing the hair to disappear. Photoshop to the rescue... this is actually a good approximation of what it would have looked like if I'd had my colour pencils with me.

drunk life drawing - standing nude
This one turned out all right in the end, though as I was working on it, I had no idea how to make the way the model's body was turned unambiguously clear. Older, fatter models usually have some folds that can be used to indicate how the twist works, but this model lacked them. In the end, I don't think it was necessary to emphasize the mechanics. She's turned. This was how it looked.

Captain Occam

Adam pointed me to Jonathan Kane's comics on DeviantArt. They're rather poorly drawn, but funny as hell. His superhero, Captain Occam, fights creationists wielding PRATT lists (meaning Points Refuted A Thousand Times) with his mighty razor. It's got lovely quotable lines like Bill was training the Tyrannosaurus to eat plants, but he didn't do a good enough job and generally mocks fraudsters like Kent Hovind, as well as their deluded fellow travelers. I especially liked his Deinonychos telling a Deinonychan myth about bird flight to help out the Captain, who had commandeered a vehicle that ran on bullshit.
DeviantARt isn't an ideal interface for serialising comics, so I'll list the episodes so far here.
Captain Occam versus the Prattmasters
The Prattmaster, ep. 2
The Prattmaster, ep.3
Dinosaur Adventure Land
Reverend Zedekiah EDIT: Replaced it with a better link, as the old one didn't work. -Adam
The Origin of Flight.
You'll need to click on the images to enlarge them, and in one or two cases that won't work and you'll have to click on "Download" instead. And there are people who say Livejournal is a poor comic hosting choice...

Of course, Captain Occam can't really compete with Dresden Codak, but honestly, what can?

March 9, 2007

Why Web BBSes suck

First, a question I've been meaning to ask: does anyone reading this know of a web bbs that
1) runs on PHPBB; and
2) has some version of Bad Behavior, such as this mod as its only defense against spam? In other words, no CAPCHAs, no other mods or plugins aimed at preventing the board from being overrun with spam?

If so, I very much want to hear from it. Bad Behaviour has done really well at stopping the endless flood of spam on Talk About Comics that I've been wondering if the time has come to stop making new members jump through hoops to get activated, or even open the forum to guest posters again. You know, make it a more inviting place. I'm not the guy who gets to decide this, by the way, but if there's evidence that Bad Behavior can do the job on its own, I can put in a word. Let me know in email or comments under this post.

I was prompted to bring this up by reading Matt Skala's recent post Why Web BBSes Suck. It's a great post that really opened my eyes to the extent to which I was taking bad functionality for granted for no other reason than that they've always been designed that way. I could quibble about some things, but I think the general thrust of his argument, that Web BBSes have terrible usability and don't serve the needs of their users well, is correct.

There is good news on some issues. Project Wonderful Talk, whose CAPTCHA I've finally been able to defeat, allows the use of Livejournal accounts for identification, which I hope many more boards will adopt (as well as other, similar, multi-site identification methods); PHPBB isn't as ubiquitous as it was a year ago even if it's still very dominant, and BBcode is more standardised than Matt claims it is. I also think the dominance of PHPBB could end very quickly if something truly better came along. Five years ago, when Ultimate Bulletin Board was as ubiquitous as PHPBB is now, it was quickly superceded by PHPBB because PHPBB was less crash-prone and easier to set up. The spambots have since made PHPBB at least as big a nightmare to work with as UBB was then.

So what I'd like to see is a project in which skilled designers and coders who have read Matt's rant build a new Web BBS from the ground up so it has the features the users actually need instead of the ones that Ultimate Bulletin Board happened to have in 1998 and which all other Web BBS systems have copied. And integrated spambot protection that actually works. Those two ingredients together would, I think, make most forum owners drop PHPBB like a hot potato.

March 10, 2007

Advertise on ROCR.net!

I've got some ad spots up on my websites that have been going cheap. They're served by Project Wonderful, so they go to the highest bidder, and recently, the price on them has gone down to a few pennies.

Small ad buttons, about 10,000 pageviews a day, going for $ 0.05.
Square ad on the front page only, about 900 pageviews a day, going for $ 0.08.
Archive-only leaderboard ad, currently going for $1.10 but likely to drop deeply as the second-highest bid is expiring in a few days. About 10,000 pageviews a day, give or take the odd dip.
Square ad on this very blog! A couple of hundred pageviews a day, which surprised me when I saw it. Currently going at a whopping $ 0.30 a day.
Skyscraper ad on Chronicles of the Witch Queen. Currently going for free! Not exactly a pageview magnet, but as you can see from the graph, it goes up and down, so if you're the gambling kind, you might want to consider it.

Other sites with the same reach, such as Websnark, have much higher bids on them. One difference is that Websnark does have more unique visitors; another is that the Project Wonderful ads on Websnark are brand spanking new. Somehow, Project Wonderful ads perform best in their first few weeks and then begin to sag. Jin Wicked of Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break, a site whose reach is much greater than mine, noticed the same thing. Project Wonderful encourages novelty-chasing. There's an automated notifier that you can set up to send you email when there are new ads meeting your criteria, but I don't think there's one that tells you when an ad that's been around for a few months has become a bargain. And because many of Project Wonderful's ad publishers are, like myself, penniless web comic artists and enthusiasts who are thrilled at the opportunity to make some money from what are, on the whole, tasteful, discrete, even hip ads that can actually make a webcomics site somewhat more appealing, they tend to make a big noise about having shiny new Project Wonderful ads on their sites. Very few people make a big noise about the ads they've had on there for three months.

There is, then, a strong argument for occasionally replacing ones ad blocks with new ones. Unfortunately, the system works best if bidders lock in bids for months or even years, so while replacing ad blocks might deliver some short-term benefits for the individual doing it, it degrades the system as a whole in the long term if everyone does it. Especially with the vast majority of bids everywhere being very low; canceling ads doesn't save anyone any real money, but does waste the work people have done in setting them up.

But when I see start seeing "Your ad here" on any of my ad blocks, it goes down. If no one's bidding anyway, there's no harm done.

Submitted without comment

If job interviews worked like Wikipedia.

OK. One comment: Bwa ha ha!

Edit: Link fixed. Matt's so smart, yet he creates front page URLs that look like archive links. Boo!

March 12, 2007

Develomental stages

If a zygote, created, we allow to divide,
And is animal, a blastula
(Or ball of cells) is soon espied.
Before it moves on to the gastrula.

The gastrula takes the ball
And puts in it a dent
Which deepens to the other wall,
And punctures there a vent

If the dent's the mouth, then mouth is first
(In Greek that's protostomes:
A group of invertebrates dispersed
Throughout all the biomes.)

I'd speak on invertebrates more, but well,
It's really tricky goin's
When detail forces you to spell

Otherwise chordates, echinoderms
Or hemichordates seek asylum.
Second the mouth - in proper terms
Deuterostomia (a superphylum)

But, in the developmental timing,
One stage in each phylum is singular
(But causes abuse of rhyming)
The phylotypic stage, pharyngula

Though creationists it will rile 'em,
It's the same in every thing-you'll-a
llow into the phylum,
The phylotypic stage, pharyngula

Animals all have a blastula
You can divide them up by gastrula
Pharyngula the phylum ensnares
All according to von Baer's
Principle of developmental creation
By means of increasing specialisation.

Aye, 'tis doggerel, but happy 50'th birthday, PZ Myers!

Errant Story fundraiser

Creator Michael Poe of the webcomic Errant Story has been hit with some unexpected bills totaling $ 10,000, so he's having a fundraiser involving auctions, a donation drive and sponsored wallpapers. Errant Story has a reputation for being a very popular webcomic, and its Advertising page bears that out - 115,000 uniques a month is not to be sneezed at. So it's sobering to think that such a widely-read webcomic still has to do that sort of thing. Clearly, the revolution hasn't quite run its course yet.

In the forum thread, Poe's partner Hillary Hatch gives a breakdown of both the couple's immediate expenses and their more long-term needs. I like that they do that - transparency is important. Webcomics artists have for the most part been unsuccesful at setting up solid businesses, so we've had to become good at emergency fundraising, and telling people what the real situation is and where the money goes is a major part of that.

I'm afraid, though, that this post will be my only contribution. I've been falling far short of my own needs over the past six months, and can't afford to donate or buy stuff. I expect that this blog reaches a handful of people outside the webcomics community, though, and these people are invited to at least give reading Errant Story a try.

Download Headsmen now!

Modern Tales is now offering downloadable comic books in Comic Book Reader format. I've put their press release below the cut.

One of the downloadables is Headsmen (note: 23 Megabytes), a comic-book in progress containing the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan stories Headsmen and Devil. The book serves as a preview of what the Headsmen comic book will look like when it's done and I've raised the funds to print it. This version stands on its own, though. It's got large, full-colour pages that look great in a Comic Book Reader program (see the ROCR downloadables page for more info on Comic Book Reader software). Download it and tell me what you think.

Joey Manley's full press release:

Continue reading "Download Headsmen now!" »

March 13, 2007

Chronicles of the Witch Queen gets a write-up, er, talk-up

Fesworks has reviewed Chronicles of the Witch Queen in his regular mini-webcasts of reviews, and given it a very favourable rating. I can't cut and paste from an MP3 here, but the review itself is only sixty seconds long so there isn't anything stopping you from listening to it.

I'm sort of amused that he avoided trying to pronounce our names though...

I'm also very pleased by the readership Invasion is getting on the COTWQ site. It's a modest number compared to what the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan main site pulls, but considering that the COTWQ version is merely a mirror, it's doing very well and is likely to hit the Webcomicsnation network's daily top 25 pretty soon. Evidently some people prefer to read it within Webcomicsnation, because it's a system they already know, it has lots of reminders to people telling them the comic has updated, and doesn't have the intimidatingly large archives that ROCR.net has. I may have to rethink my strategy for the COTWQ site in response to that, and mirror more of my work there.

Aargh, ow, ow

Yesterday, I went running again after a month's sick leave due to 'flu and bronchitis. Before that, I'd been training only sporadically, due to a series of injuries, including one case where I spilled boiling water on my foot. Burns on the foot, I can now tell you, are proportionally more painful than similar burns elsewhere, and heal very slowly.

There are currently three subgroups in my running class. I was going to join the light subgroup again, as I had during the period when I was only training sporadically, and queued up with the trainer who handles that group. There were some new faces, but that didn't mean much. People switch groups all the time. Little did I know that it was the trainer who had switched groups and was now training the medium group... but once I realised, I decided to see how well I did.

And I made it through the training all right. I could really give it some welly and keep up with the rest of the group. For a guy with such a bad attendence record, and someone who was still recovering from bronchitis, I was in pretty good shape.

Or so I thought when I came back from the training. A day later, not so much. It turns out that not only can't I hold my liquour anymore, I can't hold my lactic acid either. Ow. Also aargh, moan, groan and woe is me.

Not Safe For Prudes.

Reminder to self and others to read Susie Bright on NSFW warnings. Also, read comments. But first, bed.
(Via Pharyngula)

Update: What you really need to read is this earlier post in which Bright brings up the classism involved in deciding what does and does not get branded NSFW. Again, the comments are good.

March 14, 2007

The things you do...

Being in a Crossover means you get to draw things you wouldn't normally. Like computer interfaces if you're doing a medieval-based fantasy comic:
SMOG2MAC interface

To be precise, this is the SMOG2MAC interface - SMOG for "Semi-Mystical Otherworldly Gates", MAC for "BSD on a high-quality PC with an Intel Chip, formerly BSD on a PowerPC, formerly a once innovative but aging GUI on a PowerPC.". This SMOG2MAC program is a hacked/pirated version running in a virtual machine in a more conventional laptop PC, though, which is why the Apple logo has a worm in it.
The comic universes SMOG2MAC is streaming video from can just about be recognised at this stage of the drawing.


This YouTube video was posted on the ComicGenesis boards:

It's a humane way of keeping squirrels out of your bird feeder, but...
While one of the commenters on YouTube refers to squirrels as "stupid tree rats", the American Grey Squirrel is better thought of as a clever, crafty little tree rat. There will inevitably be a sequel to this video entitled "Twirl-a-squirrel defeated, hordes of squirrels plunder trapped bird feeders."

Years ago, the BBC broadcast two documentaries in which Grey Squirrels were presented with obstacle courses that they had to defeat in order to get to food that was laid out at the end of the course. It never took them long to get there, and once one had made it through the course, others would soon follow because they'd all observe how the first one did it. I looked for footage from those documentaries on YouTube but couldn't find any yet. I recall it being very impressive.

The Grey Squirrel is an introduced species in Britain, and is considered a pest there. It drives out the native red squirrels, partly as a result of being more intelligent and agressive. Red squirrels are cuter to look at but, while in a human-dominated environment, there's a survival advantage to being cute, it hasn't helped them enough.

On the continent, though, Red Squirrels are still going strong, and I'm happy to say there's a nice little population near the studio where I work. From time to time, one of us spots one - Calvin saw a bunch of them fighting a few weeks ago, and days later, I could observe one climbing a tree for about a minute before I lost sight of it. That always makes me feel good.


One of the benefits of living in a green neighbourhood: plenty of signs that spring is upon us...

March 15, 2007

Quick links for Thursday

Noteworthy things I've read today:
Digby on religious literacy in the US.
Amanda Marcotte on guns, bad faith arguments and pleasure as a positive good.

March 18, 2007

Project Wonderful to cease to be wonderful?

In the blog under his comic, Matthew Skala has been thinking about the same concerns I have with Project Wonderful, and thought them to their logical conclusion:

In Project Wonderful news, I started scaling back my bids because my account with them was running low, and I've already sunk what feels like more than enough money into it. I decided to shoot for breaking even - spending no more money buying ads on other people's sites than my own ad boxes bring in. So I've been looking at my bids, figuring out which are most expensive per click, and lowering those until they're no longer winners - the idea being to reduce my total expenses while keeping the bids that produce the best performance of clicks per unit money. Thing is, though, pretty often when I lower a bid to the point where it starts losing the auction, it only loses the auction for a short time. Other people are lowering their bids too. I wonder if I've started some kind of a thing. Unfortunately, it's happening on my own boxes, too. The vertical box went from 0.10 and 0.20 bids, to 0.02, in the last couple of days. Of course that reduces my budget and means (if I'm going to be serious about the break-even thing) that I have to lower my own bids even more.

I wonder if this is going to stabilize in some kind of steady state, or if it's a basic problem with the market. Money leaves the system for Ryan's 25% cut, and presumably some of the big-time ad venues (the ones that get bids of dollars per slot per day) are taking out profits as well. I'm not taking out profits. If too many of the small-timers like me decide they want to break even, there's going to be very little actual money entering the system, and the stable state is going to be basically a free banner-swap network. For it to work as designed, there need to be more buyers bidding more real money, and I don't know where they're going to come from.

I'd add that that projected steady state would be a free banner-swap network that is much smaller than PW's current network because people would start taking down their PW ads and returning to the warm, heaving bosom of Google Adsense and other large advertising networks. If I was Ryan North, I'd worry about this a bit.

I'm definitely experiencing the same phenomenon that Matt is talking about, partly because I'm one of the people he's inflicting it on, the cheap, cheap bastard. It's extra painful for me because I spent rather a lot of money on Project Wonderful in the final months of 2006, and once I take that into account, it's very unlikely I'll break even over the full period I've been buying and selling ads through it. I'm running in budget-neutral mode now and I'll be able to claim the late-2006 advertising binge on my taxes, but with hindsight, I'd have done better to keep it in my pocket.

Note that this is the third time I've linked to Matt since he started putting his ads on my site. I'm normally against doing that. It's a conflict of interest even though the amounts of money involved are infinitesimal. But every time I click on Matt's ad I find, if not necessarily a great episode of The Bonobo Conspiracy, then at least a well-written and/or thought-provoking article about one of his many geeky interests. Besides, there's actually a perverse incentive for him to take down his ad, because the permalinks to this blog are free and are arguably a lot more effective than the tiny button ads he's currently paying a penny for (the cheap, cheap bastard).

Another effect that may be coming into play with Project Wonderful if not enough new buyers enter the network is bid monopolies. I think one of my ads may be in a bid monopoly situation: One bidder is willing to lock in a bid over and above the likely real value of the ad for a long period, so that people willing to bid the real value and not a lot more end up giving up, leaving the overbidder to snap up the ad spot for pennies.

I hope Matt is wrong about the direction PW is heading in, and I hope someone will prove me wrong about that other thing as well. But right now, I'm a bit bearish about it, as they say.

Oddly, the one place where my PW ads still do well is this blog, which you wouldn't think of as an ideal place to put (mostly) webcomics-related ads.

March 19, 2007

Running in parking lots

In the weeks before I got my last bout of 'flu, I didn't do much running. I told people that it was because I disliked running in dark, wet conditions, which was partly true; one evening, I got rather badly spooked running up a slope into pitch darkness. But a bigger part of the reason was that the joy had gone out of running for me.
Well, the joy is back. But conditions did have something to do with the lack of joy: it turns out that I enjoy running in Zernike Science Park a lot more than running in the Noorderplantsoen. This may seem strange, because the Noorderplantsoen is quite a nice park whereas the ZSP is a collection of parking lots encircled by streets that lead through a rather ghastly post-industrial business waste land. But for me as a runner, those mostly-flat, paved streets allow me to get a decent tempo going, and the trainer isn't tempted to make me do Fartlek-style interval training*) (up a slope, down another, 10 meters of running at top speed over gravel, and up another slope). While running uphill can be fun, I don't think Fartlek is on the whole my thing. Let me get some mileage under my feet and I'm happy as a pig in shit. So the next few trainings, I'm going to pick my group based on where they're going.
Of course, this only applies to running in the evening, with my club. It's different when I'm running alone, in the day - then, a quick dash into the Noorderplantsoen is convenient and fun.

*) What we do on those occasions isn't technically Fartlek, which as I read in the Wikipedia article actually does contain quite a bit of steady running. Maybe I should refer to those in-park interval exercises as Mini-Fartleks?

March 21, 2007

Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan visit small Somerset Village

Spot the significant drunk in today's (and the previous - oops!) Dangerous and Fluffy: The Sheep of Doom

March 22, 2007

Works in progress, plus sketches@Wielaart's

First, a cover drawing for a forthcoming ebook:

Guðrún and Alcydia

The e-book version of Guðrún will be launched real soon now. Headsmen (link goes directly to downloadable file) was downloaded more than 900 times, so there are clearly plenty of people who want Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan ebooks. As with Headsmen, the e-book will be a stepping-stone towards a print book, but some raising of funds will also be involved in its publication.

I spent yesterday evening at the monthly sketching party at Erik Wielaart's. Most of the sketches came out fairly raw and low-contrast, so I've had to adjust them to the hilt and keep most of them small. Pictures below may or may not enlarge if you click on them.

Continue reading "Works in progress, plus sketches@Wielaart's" »

March 26, 2007

Feeling the strain...

Two weeks ago, Adam told me he thought the recent work on Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan was "gorgeous -- just for once nothing is rushed". I thanked him for that but had to admit that I didn't think the next few weeks would be quite as good. And two weeks on, I do think the pressure of keeping up is showing in all aspects of the work.

Normally, this would be my cue to say, "hold on, I can do better if I give myself more time", but as I'm in the thick of a crossover, I can't do that. The work has to stay on schedule even if I'm exhausted and also have taxes, Gang of Four and several other urgent matters to deal with (several of which involve a mad scramble to get paperwork done so that money from my client starts flowing into my bank account. I'm not doing well on that score). And while these pages won't go down as the best in the archives, the heroic work done by DFG, Calvin Bexfield and Mravac Kid saves them from being the worst. Though I did draw the line at letting the computer interface lettering on the version of today's comic that originally went up this morning stay unfixed.

Blogging will be light until I have some more time and energy again.

What my workday was like (and is like far, far too often)

(Boring, journal-type post below, but sort of important to my ability to do my job)

At the start of the workday, I was pretty on the ball. I arrived at ten-ish (which is normal - early rising disagrees with me, as does hurrying my breakfast), fixed an already-published comic, finished and set up two more, so that the website is all set until Friday. So far so good, except that by the time I was done, it was noon. I wrote the previous blog entry, which was about my workload, then went on with my next task which was printing out some paperwork (a copy of my Verklaring Arbeidsrelatie for magazine clients that hire me as a freelancer to draw comics) and sticking that in an envelope. Then work on next Monday's ROCR comic, which I really should have finished yesterday. I sat outside in the stairwell of the building at Papiermolenlaan 3 with my penciled art on my knees, on an improvised backing board, so I could catch some rays, popping back inside occasionally to check my email or pour myself a cup of tea. For the first time ever, I took my ink jar outside and inked the page, except for one panel that needs light table work. Done by two - not bad. Mind you, that's just the character art, because I'm still hoping Calvin will be able to find the time to do the backgrounds. Still, I'll go on working like this for as long as the weather remains sunny. There are drawbacks: the posture is bad for the back and bad for control over arm movements, the ink tends to congeal in the ink jar while outside, and it will be a while before I can work as well outside as inside; but on the positive side, there are fewer distractions and I get some fresh air.
Half past two and I've corrected the page. Time for a grocery break. Back at three. Lunch. Half-hearted attempts at developing additional characters and costumes that I'll need in Gang of Four. I get a bit sleepy. Suddenly, Jelena is making moves to call it a day, I look up and it's nearly five o'clock. Since I have some errands to run and am planning to be back after running group training this evening, I leave early.

If you've kept count, after my break, two hours pretty much disappeared, with nothing to show for them but some bad sketches in my sketchbook. What did I do? Some of that time was spent reading The War Nerd, but that doesn't take two hours.

I think the important bit is where I mention I got sleepy. Coffee after lunch might have helped. Or a smaller lunch. That sandwich toaster Jelena brought in just might turn out to be a tool of the devil.

Or it might be the result of daylight savings time, which started the night between Saturday and Sunday. I'd been looking forward to the switch (running practice in daylight! Yay!) but when it happened, it took my by surprise. I'd been up late on Saturday, working. On Sunday, I was in a bad mood for most of the day, all the way into the evening, when I practiced with my band for the first time in many months. I enjoyed it, despite the marked decline in my already limited playing chops, but I was more than a bit moody and not entirely with it. And I definitely didn't get enough sleep last night - effectively having to get up an hour early.

If it's DST, the problem should go away soon enough. But if it's something else, I need to hunt it down and kill it. Expect a few more boring, journal-type posts over the next few days while I sort it out.


Meet the parents?

While a large portion of the Western world is worried about the nuclear threat Iran supposedly poses, personally I'm more spooked by a different development. Dr. Esmail Zanjani, an Iranian scientist working in Nevada, has now reached new levels spooky science. A sheep whose organs are half human, making it a 85% sheep 15 % human hybrid.
Really, I don't have to bring up a list of sheep diseases to tell you what kind of a baaaaad idea this is?

Maybe I've been frightened by science-fiction writers, perhaps I've been warned. I don't believe in acceptable risks, not when the stakes are this high.
What is our Christian leader doing looking overseas once again while this threat to the human race is being harbored in America's bosom?

News story here. First read on Boingboing.

March 27, 2007

Tuesday Workday (so far)

Today was the opposite of yesterday: I spent the day feeling sleepy and out of it, but ended up at six with a difficult half of a page mostly tight-penciled. It's likely that I'll get it inked tonight.

I went to bed at 11-ish yesterday, which taking into account the switch to Daylight Savings Time is three hours earlier than my bedtime last Saturday evening. Didn't stop me from feeling sleepy well into the day. Got up at 8, made it to work before 10, didn't properly get started until noon. Luckily for me, part of the work for today involved looking up pictures of objects on Google Images, because I didn't have a folding beach chair on me, and the work crew fixing up the outdoor pool below the studio for the summer haven't started on the pool ladders yet, the bastards. Then I sketched panel actions in my sketchbook, so I knew how much space everything would take. Then I went outside with the Improvised Backing Board to rough-pencil the page itself. At some point while working on that I lost track of time again, because when I came back in to have another look at those pool ladders, it was three PM. Well, better for that to happen while I'm doing actual work, I guess.

After all that ground work, tightening up the pencils and filling in the details was actually easy, and most of that was done in an hour and a half, while still feeling sleepy.

It's now ten minutes to eight in the evening, it's getting dark, and I'm waking up. Slowly, but surely, I'm becoming more alert. I think this goes a little beyond adjusting to Daylight Savings Time, though Jeroen did mention that he and people he knew were affected by that.

March 28, 2007

Quick webcomics links

We're finally getting to the point in the crossover where we're actually crossing over with more than one comic. For those of you keeping score, we've so far been to:
Evil Overlords Online
Dog and Pony
Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic (in-comic visit only)

Bar Dork
(Drawing by Calvin Bexfield of the character in the background from Tuesday's Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comic.)

Calvin drew this character in the background of Tuesday's comic, because he thought a nude woman appearing out of nowhere would raise some eyebrows. Caitlin Woods of Dog and Pony (and CameoComic) decided to keep him around for another strip. Cool. Dog and Pony, by the way, is usually a better showcase for Caitlin's art than CameoComic has been, though I've taken a liking to the looseness of Cameocomic in the past few days.

Other things I've been reading: the recent Butchless Book storyline in Liliane, Bi-Dyke has been one of the best in a long time. The tale of a dream job turning into a nightmare should be recognisable to many illustrators and cartoonists.
Sharing A Universe doesn't have much in the way of originality or characterisation, but it is a fun comic that grows on you. It's also noteworthy in that it's stayed true to its roots as a humour comic for four years now. Good call - no Cerebus Syndrome for Lynette and Alison, thank you very much.

Oh, yeah, and I keep forgetting this: The Bare-Pit has completed its Enchanted storyline and sent off my character Abúi, who had been on loan. Abúi's journey through various webcomics worlds continues in the Crossover Wars, but I don't think she'll be spending as much time in any single world as she did in that of The Bare-Pit. That comic's creator has declared a six-month hiatus to recharge his artistic batteries, so now's a good time to get all caught up and stay caught up until he returns in October.

Wednesday Workday

Wednesday was like Tuesday only slightly less so.
Went to bed at midnight-ish on Tuesday, after inking most of the top half of my Gang of Four page. Was good and tired, slept well, but woke up before the alarm. Stayed in bed until after the alarm anyway.
I arrived at work later than usual, close to 11 AM, after doing a bunch of things that I can't even remember right now. Oh yeah, posting a blog post and writing a long forum post somewhere that I then threw away because my argument sucked. I scanned Monday's character-art-only ROCR comic, cleaned it up and sent it to DFG for colouring. The backgrounds will be drawn separately; I don't quite know how we'll handle that, but I'll probably ask Calvin to draw them on a separate sheet of paper, with smaller gutters between the panels so there is some wiggle room for splicing them together. I may ask Mravac to colour the backgrounds so we have one page that the entire team has worked on.
Then, drawing the bottom half of the Gang of Four page, which started slowly but got well underway once I took up my spot in the stairwell outside. I'm getting used to working there, and even the posture aspect is getting better. Let's hope the sunny weather goes on for a little while - I just might get back on track.

I got started on the inking at a little past 4, left at 6, came back to work at nine-ish to do more inking and light table work. Most of it is done now. Tomorrow, I need to finish up the inks, add a few more backgrounds, clean up, scan, letter and colour. I don't think I'll be done at five, but I'm pretty confident I can send the material to the magazine by Friday morning. It'll be my last of the series, possibly my last ever, so I'm trying hard to make it a good one.

March 30, 2007

Thursday Workday

Thursday was bad. Of all the things I wanted to get done, I only got as far as post-scan cleanup. In the afternoon, I developed a headache and the bad temper that usually goes with it.
Calvin returned from self-imposed study retreat a day early, having decided that it'd be better for him to take his Friday exam some other time. One reason he's such a powerhouse is that he picks his battles carefully. I asked him to work on the ROCR background, using the procedure I described yesterday. Didn't go well - once his work was scanned, it didn't match up at all well to the character art. In the evening, Jelena and I looked over the originals and found they matched up slightly better, but he definitely did allow the paper to slip on the light table. Also, he was still pretty frazzled from burying himself in his studies. Shouldn't have put him on the spot like that.

Looking back over the past few days, I think I should change the way I work. I don't mean cutting down on the procrastination, though that would definitely be beneficial. I'm now looking at the amount of busy-work in the process. I particularly spend far too much time on cleanup, when it would be much better not to let the materials get dirty in the first place, e.g. by working in non-repro blue pencil, and/or inking on the light table. There are reasons I don't do those things now, but ... they're not very good reasons. They all boil down to "I don't like to work that way" or "I'm afraid to work that way".

For a long time, I had a serious tactile loathing of kneaded erasers. I found them extremely unpleasant to the touch, and refused to work with them for that reason. I've managed to overcome that and now use kneaded erasers a lot, albeit merely as part of an arsenal of erasers for cleaning up my heavy-handed pencils lines. I have some formative bad experiences with non-repro blue, which amount to "this feels all wrong and shitty" but I should be able to overcome these too. As for inking on the light table, that's a bit trickier, because I like to rotate my paper a lot while inking, and, as you can see from the bit about Calvin's backgrounds above, you need to tape down or otherwise fixate your work while working on a light table. Hmmm... Calvin has a set of peg bars that I might be able to use...

The headache subsided in the evening after a cup of Darjeeling Gold Tea. Might be coincidence, might be a sign that I need to watch my fluid intake. I thought I already did that, though.

Today, I hope to get the Gang of Four comic finished, preferably before five. Though I guess it won't make much of a difference whether it arrives at 16:30 today or early on Monday morning. Not practically, anyway. It would be good for my morale if it was done today.

Overtime for charity

A working week isn't enough, not when it comes to worthy causes. To emphasize this, a community of young artists called "De nieuwe garde" (the new guard) has organized a night of voluntary overtime for charity. Webdesigners, copywriters, graphic designers, illustrators and consultants will put their combined talents to work to design advertising campaigns, websites or anything else in their power to help promote a selected number of charities.
I'll be off in a minute to be a part of this and contribute my bit to this event in my hometown of Groningen. You can follow our efforts (in Groningen, Rotterdam, The Hague, Arnhem and Amsterdam) live on www.achtuuroverwerken.nl. We'll be working untill about 2.30 CET tonight.

Friday Workday

If yesterday qualified as a bad day, today was a Symphony in Suck-Flat. From the ominous, discordant opening bars of "Oh my God, Photoshop Crashes on Startup Without Even Making It Past the Splash Screen" to the drawn-out, repetitive and excruciatingly slow coda of "Let Me Upload, Damn It, Xepher.net!", the dominant themes spoke to me of impending doom, anger, irritation, frustration and Man Battling an Uncaring Environment Especially His Computer. Especially noteworthy were the entirity of the middle Movement, Oh, Bugger It, I'm Not Going to Finish This Before Five and a frenzied section within the penultimate Movement, "One More Little Change Before I Can Save For Web And Upload — Oh, Wait, One More, No, Two More". Both were eminently missable.

Oh, and my headache came back, tea didn't cure it, and my concentration was shot through most of the day as a result of the red-eyed rage and panic caused by Photoshop's weird behaviour. And the fact that the cure for the Photoshop problem was to reset my preferences meant that Photoshop was annoying me in a thousand little ways for the rest of the day.

(If you run Photoshop 7 on XP and it starts crashing on startup, don't waste your time looking for the installation files; what you need to do is start it up again, hold down CTRL-SHIFT-ALT, and answer Yes to the prompt to reset your preferences. The file containing the preferences has been corrupted and you have to start anew. All your actions and swatches are in different files and won't be affected, but you'll have the standard scratch space, brushes, fonts and tool options set, so it will behave differently from what you're used to. Starts up a lot faster now, though.)

What I want to do this weekend is sleep until Monday. What I need to do is finish the colour work on Gang of Four so my editors have it on Monday morning, at least; and also to work on the ROCR pages for Tuesday and Wednesday.
What I'm actually going to do is finish my VAT returns. That shouldn't take all weekend, but the way things are going, it's likely that I'll find a way to stretch the process over two days and/or get myself blocked from the electronic submission process.

It's enough to make a guy move to Tahiti to paint nude women.

This may seem like begging, but sometimes you need to point out that they have the option...

The mirror site for the Invasion crossover storyline has two features that the main location doesn't have:

One, as pointed out earlier, is the Cast Section for Invasion only, with the characters from the storyline listed in order of appearance. Much easier to find any of the characters in there than in the main ROCR cast section.

The other is the Fan Art Section. I've not been having a great week, and one thing that always cheers me up is seeing my characters drawn by other people. So if you're feeling inspired, even if you're not a particularly skilled artist (but also if you are! Because there are a lot of people out there who can draw my characters at least as well as me), why not have a go at drawing or painting or photomanipulating one of the characters from Invasion? The "submit" button merely opens an email window, so I might as well make it easy for you and mention that you can send art to reinder.dijkhuis@gmail.com. (I just noticed that it was set up to send mail to an address I haven't used in over a year, so far all I know, people have been trying to send me fan art through my WCN site for months.... but probably not.) I'd especially like to hear from people involved in the Crossover Wars as several of them are or will be drawing my characters anyway.

March 31, 2007

overtime for charity - a long night

I've found a benefit of having done the 24 hour comic day challenge: a deadline at 2 in the morning isn't that bad in comparison. Especially when you're working in a team, as we were last night. And a pretty darn good team we were, if I do say so myself!
The six of us, consisting of copywriters, web designers, graphic designers, marketing consultants and project managers created an identity, a marketing strategy, a house style, wrote and designed a flyer ánd designed and built a website. The whole shebang, on a Friday night, never having worked together before and only meeting our client that evening. I was pretty impressed we pulled it of, but everyone on our team contributed beautifully. Beforehand I was a bit worried there'd be too many captains on the ship, with most people being their own boss, but that wasn't a problem at all. Even with three designers working on the house style at the same time.

The charity we were working for is a small charity dedicated to improving health care on the Kei-islands in Indonesia. There's a large community of people from these islands living in the Netherlands that are dedicated to help their family members living in less fortunate conditions. The clan aspect of their organization makes it possible for them to oversee every part of a transport of materials: they have family or clan members living all over Indonesia, making it possible to rule out corruption and to guarantee the arrival of the materials in the right place.

We decided upon a logo emphasizing the family aspect of the organization. We had the chairman of the foundation, also elder of the clan, writing the name of the foundation (Yam-tel means great-family).
We used warm reds to contrast with the jungle greens (reds also referring to the medical needs as well as being a national color). We came up with a subtitle, the family cares, that being the angle we decided on.

It'll be interesting to see how much our efforts will mean for this organization.
It was a very interesting experience, that's for sure. I've never seen so many creative people working together at the same time (about 40 in a single room), not to mention the number of macbooks (I want that macbook pro!).

I was incredibly tired after the presentations of all the teams (by this time it was 3 a.m.) and pretty much went straight home. Would've been nice to stay and compare notes, and mingle and do some networking, but sleep was just too big a temptress.

About March 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Waffle in March 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2007 is the previous archive.

April 2007 is the next archive.

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

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