Archive for the ‘Webcomics’ Category

Stuff I do

Thursday, 30 May, 2013

I tend to have quite a few projects going all the time. I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to list them all in a note-taking program. I was somewhat surprised with how long the list turned out to be. So I thought I’d share, so you have some idea of what sort of stuff I do in my “spare” time.

  • Webcomics
    • Irregular Webcomic! – I did this as a daily comic strip from 2002-2011. I’m no longer making daily comics, but am rerunning strips with additional writer commentary.
    • Darths & Droids – This strip started in 2007, and is ongoing, three times a week. I write it with a group of friends at work. We usually spend one lunchtime a week writing new strips and reviewing upcoming ones just before they are published.
    • mezzacotta – This is a combination webcomic and irregular blog of odd stuff. The comic actually needs no writing or maintenance, so it’s just the occasional blog post here.
    • Square Root of Minus Garfield – A Garfield parody webcomic, started in 2008, updating daily. Most of the strips are submitted by readers – my role is mostly selecting submissions to publish and adding them to the database.
    • Lightning Made of Owls – An original comic which readers contribute strips for. Started in 2008, updated three times a week for a long time but now subsisting on a trickle of submissions.
    • Comments on a Postcard – A “high concept” webcomic, again generated by reader submissions. Started in 2008, updated daily.
    • There are also two old webcomics which have petered out, so I’m not counting them as active projects.
  • Learning
    • Drumming – I’ve been taking weekly drumming lessons at Big Music since April last year.
    • Forming a band – With the friends from work who write Darths & Droids. We’ve only had a couple of practice sessions, but we plan more.
    • Italian – Learning on Duolingo.
  • Writing
    • Irregular Webcomic! essays – Since the daily new comics ended, I’ve been writing a weekly essay about some topic, often scientific, which appears on Sunday’s update instead of a rerun strip.
    • Travel diaries – Whenever I take a trip, I keep a daily travel diary. I stick them on my website when I get home.
    • Secret project – I have a secret writing project I’ve started and hope to finish some day.
  • Creative
    • Photography – I love taking photos. I take them on trips. I take walks and short drives around where I live to visit places just to take photos. I get up an hour before sunrise to go to the beach and photograph the sunrise. I post some of my photos on Flickr.
    • 365 Days Photography – This is a specific photography project. I’m aiming to take a photo every day during 2013. There’s a special set on Flickr for these.
    • Travel photo books – After an overseas trip, I like to assemble some of the best photos into a print-on-demand book, to give a copy to family members and keep a nice printed copy myself.
    • Puzzle solving – My work friends and I enter the annual MUMS and SUMS puzzle competitions. Our team is the CiSRA Puzzlers, and we have won a few prizes, including first place in MUMS in 2007.
    • Puzzle creating – My work friends and I run the annual CiSRA Puzzle Competition. We create our puzzles in our own time and test solve them during lunchtimes at work.
    • Sketching – I occasionally doodle and sketch things using Paper by 53 on my iPad.
  • Gaming
    • Roleplaying games – I haven’t actually run one for a while, but I always have roleplaying campaigns and adventures bubbling away in the back of my mind. I plan to run my friends through Tomb of Horrors (on the understanding that many characters will die and we shouldn’t treat it too seriously). I also plan to run a campaign based in the giant city of Ravnica, borrowed from Magic: The Gathering.
    • Magic: The Gathering booster drafts – My friends and I play semi-regular Magic booster draft tournaments, using the latest sets published by Wizards of the Coast. We also have a stash of old unopened booster packs going as far back as the original Ravnica block, which we occasionally mix and match to create weird hybrid draft formats. We do this sometimes during lunch breaks, and sometimes on Friday evenings.
    • Magic: The Gathering cube drafts – We create custom cubes for drafting Magic as well. So far, most of my playing group have created a cube which we have used. We’ve done powerful cubes full of high-powered cards, and quirky cubes, such as the off-colour cube (cards whose abilities violate the modern colour pie).
    • Magic: The Gathering invented sets – Not satisfied with what Wizards prints, we create our own entire sets and draft those. We’ve done a total of six different invented sets (from memory, it may be one or two more), and at least one of us is always working on another entire new set.
    • Board games – Sometimes we play board games at lunch. Favourites change over time, but have included Settlers of Catan, Formula De, Modern Art, Ra, Citadels, Poison, Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid, Dominion, Blokus, Ingenious, Puerto Rico, Goa, Alhambra, Seven Wonders, Notre Dame. (I won’t link them all, look them up on BoardGameGeek.)
    • Invent board games – Not content with existing board games, we invent our own. Some are actually card games. Collectively we’ve invented something like a dozen games.
  • Physical activities
    • Walking project – I share this project with my wife. We have a map of North Sydney Council, in which we we live. We are in the process of walking the full length of every street and every walking track in the council area. We began two years ago, and might complete it this year. (The rule is: for a walk to count, we must do it together, and start and end the walk at our home – no car or public transport allowed.)
    • Stretching – Every weekday I do a short series of stretching exercises to strengthen my lower back muscles and keep my limbs flexible.
    • Swimming – From about October to April I swim. Usually 1200 metres, three times a week.
    • Tennis – I play tennis once a week. Well, up until a few months ago when my opponent had an injury. We should start again soon.

To close this post, I’d just like to say one thing. If your reaction to my list is to think, “Man, you have too much spare time,” then you are wrong. Please read this essay I wrote about creativity and spare time. I don’t think I can say it any better than that here. :-)

Monster of the Week

Thursday, 14 March, 2013

Oh my. How had I not heard of Monster of the Week before?!? A webcomic rendition of every episode of The X-Files? And it’s by Shaenon Garrity!! So you know (1) it’ll be good and (2) this isn’t a project that the writer will quit after a dozen strips.

Sign me up!

Lightning Made of Owls

Saturday, 14 July, 2012

Lightning Made of Owls castThis is the main cast of the webcomic Lightning Made of Owls, which I run. It’s different from normal webcomics in that I don’t make (most of) the comics. Instead, readers contribute them. Since 2008, collectively all of the contributors have managed to produce over 450 strips.

The concept is fairly simple. If anyone has an idea for a comic, they can draw it up and send it in. “Draw” can be interpreted loosely. The art can be made in any way that tickles the contributor’s fancy. Most are drawn, either by hand and then scanned, or on a computer. Several people have illustrated their comics with photo art. You can also use clip art, or re-use art from previously submitted comics.

Comics are submitted and published under a Creative Commons licence, so all of the art of previous comics is available for remixing and turning into new submissions. Another rule is that comics are approximately PG-rated. No words or images you wouldn’t want a 12-year-old exposed to.

The only other condition on submissions is that they use one or more of the characters from the main cast list. Each of the six primary characters has several distinctive, defining characteristics:

Holly wears big round glasses. You can see her green eyes through them, and she has messy, wavy, auburn hair of medium length. Her colour is green, which she tends to wear a lot, mixing it with floral or other plant-related prints. She’s young, bright, vivacious, and cheerful.

Delkin has long, unkempt black hair. Sometimes he wears it in dreadlocks. Sometimes it covers his eyes. The funny thing is, even when his hair isn’t in his eyes, something else covers them up – dark glasses, goggles, a mask. You never see his eyes. He wears purple and likes diamond check patterns. He’s a bit of a geek, and a joker, always poking fun and seeing the funny side.

Meridien is the mother figure. She is spiritual and mystical and caring. She has long blonde hair and hazel eyes. Her colour is yellow, and her patterns tend to be stars, planets, or mystical symbols. She always wears an accessory made of cloth – be it a scarf, a bow, a scrunchie, a ribbon.

Oliver is bald and has brown eyes. He is strong and noble, which leads him to careers like law enforcement, charity work, or being a superhero. Which is probably why he sports an obvious L-shaped scar, somewhere in his face. He tends to dress in orange and eschews patterns for solid colours.

Samantha is a firebrand. She lives fast and parties hard; she likes being the centre of attention and has a strong will and ambition. She wears red, matching her short, neat hair, and likes stripes (because everyone knows red stripes make stuff go faster). She also loves earrings, and is never seen without a large pair. Her eyes are grey.

Ambrose is the old man of the group. He wears patched clothing, predominantly blue in colour. He has grey hair, bright blue eyes, and a bushy moustache. He’s bright, but eccentric and unpredictable.

The faces of HollyThese characters form a sort of Commedia dell’Arte, or in more modern terms, a universal adaptor cast. They change jobs frequently. They change species. Sometimes they’re not even living creatures. They also exist in all time periods, from prehistory to the far future, and all places, from downtown Earth to the far corners of the universe. They’ve been microbes, and dinosaurs.

As an example, here are just a few of the ways in which contributors have portrayed Holly.

Now why am I writing all of this, in such detail? Because, my friends, even though we’ve managed to publish 460+ comic strips in this project, the contributions are starting to thin out. I’d very much like to keep it going for as long as possible, and to do so I need to rustle up some more contributors.

So, if you have ever wanted to make a webcomic, but haven’t been able to find the time or energy or web skills to do so, here’s your chance. We have ready-made characters for you to use. All you need to do is come up with a single comic strip, make it, and send it in (my e-mail address is at the bottom of the Lightning Made of Owls home page). There are no ongoing commitments or update deadlines that you need to keep. You can send in one strip, or a dozen. Or become a regular contributor. If you have even an inkling of a desire to make a funny piece of artwork, please give it a go.

And what would also be cool: If any of you reading this are actually established webcomic artists – how about making a guest comic for Lightning Made of Owls? It’ll be a nice change of pace for you, and it’ll give you a chance to plug your own comic. I’m happy to include links to your other work. I’d love to hear from you.

Being creative is fun, but I know it’s hard work. Contribute a comic – be creative for just a day, for fun. See how you like it. Thank you.

Webcomics stolen for Android app

Tuesday, 13 March, 2012

An Android app developer is using Darths & Droids, plus the work of many other webcomic creators, without permission or even prior knowledge, and making money off it with advertising. I’ve contacted the developer and asked him to remove Darths & Droids from the app. You may want to spread the word to other webcomic communities.

The Order of the Stick

Monday, 5 July, 2010

So I’m finally reading The Order of the Stick. I know, I know… I really should have read it ages ago, and be totally up to date, and read each new strip as it comes out. In fact I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, but could never get over the archive panic it stirred in me each time I tried to start on it. So I never got further than about half a dozen strips into it.

Until recently when I linked two things which I really always knew but had for some reason never put into close proximity with one another: (1) the comic is available in collected book form, and (2) I have enough disposable income to afford the books. So I ordered every book I could – which unfortunately excludes the currently out-of-print Book 3: War and XPs. Nonetheless, the remainder of the collection arrived last week and I’ve been devouring them as bedtime reading. I’ve just finished Book 2, and will now read the prequels (Book 0 and Book -1) before resorting to the online format to work my way through the strips of the missing Book 3. (I’ll buy Book 3 as soon as it comes back into print – in case Rich Burlew needs any more justification for another print run.)

So let me say, it’s much easier to digest a webcomic with an ongoing plot and text-heavy strips and a 500+ strip archive when it’s presented in a book than it is to click through it online. At least for me, anyway.

No doubt many of you are avid followers of The Order of the Stick already. You know how good it is, so I don’t need to go into that. Despite not having read it until just this last week, I had absorbed enough of the opinion and general aura around it to know that it must be good, so I knew I wasn’t plunking down good money for something I’d regret later. Deep down I already knew this was a good webcomic, and I still couldn’t get over the entry barrier of that archive of a few hundred strips until I could get my hands on them in book format. Which naturally makes me think about things.

Tacking to port slightly, the books come with introductions written by Rich Burlew, both at the beginning of the book, and before each chapter of action. Unfortunately for people like me, as I discovered, these introductions are written based on the assumption that you have already read the strips that they are introducing. They actually give away plot elements in the upcoming chapter, and in some cases for several chapters in advance. And I’m pretty sure one of them gave away something that is in a future book that I haven’t read yet. So I’ve taken to ignoring the introductions entirely for now.

Which is a shame, because Rich has very interesting things to say about the creative process and the planning that goes into his comics. Being a comic creator myself, it gives me a good indication that this guy really knows what he’s doing – he’s not just throwing stuff together every week with no forethought. And I can understand the tiny detailed things that he must be thinking for every strip that he puts together – things that most readers will never consciously notice, but which add to the immersiveness and quality of his work.

I just wish that this stuff could have been written without referring to events in the comic that haven’t occurred yet, from the perspective of a first-time reader. Sure, most people reading the books will have already read everything online – but not all of them. I think some thought needs to be given to constructing the books in a way that doesn’t spoil things for new readers. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

But overall, I’m very impressed by what I’ve read so far. What obviously began as a gag-a-day comic strip evolved very quickly into something with clear plans for a grand plot. It’s easy to see why Rich Burlew has grown such a large fan base. +1.

Fan vitriol

Tuesday, 1 June, 2010

Being one of the creators of Darths & Droids, I take some time every now and then to trawl forums and blogs for new comments and reviews of the comic. The comments are generally good, although there are the odd few people who say, “I looked at it, it sucks.” But we can live with those.

One interesting trend I’ve noticed is just how much people seem to hate the Star Wars prequels. I mean not just dislike but actively hate. As in they think George Lucas went back in time and raped their childhood and shot their dog and the prequel films should be burnt, stabbed through the heart with a stake, and buried at a crossroads.

The slightly disturbing thing about this (besides that these people should try directing their passion into something positive for a change) is that it’s instantly leapt to when Darths & Droids is mentioned. A typical mention goes something like this:

Hey, check out this webcomic. It’s hilarious and it actually makes the prequels entertaining. This is the only possible justification for the existence of the prequels. Ha ha! look at the fun they’re poking of the stupid prequels! Hilarious!

Now, while it’s nice to have a reason why people like our comic, this actually worries me a bit. Because another thing that many of these posts seem to do is assume that we’re making fun of the prequels. As in just the prequels. I fear that many people haven’t read the FAQ, in which we state that we have a storyline plotted for all six movies.

What’s going to happen when we reach the end of Episode III, and start on Episode IV? Are people suddenly going to think we’ve stopped poking fun at the hated prequels and are now desecrating the original classics? I don’t know.

I’m not poking fun at the prequels because I hate them. They’re not masterpieces, and there are certainly groanworthy moments that are difficult to watch, but they’re still fun if you don’t treat them like they’re supposed to be the ultimate expression of cinema. I prefer the original trilogy, but I wonder how much of that is just nostalgia. There are also cringeworthy moments in those films.

As a resource for making the comics, we drew up a list of “Stupid things we need to explain” for each movie. People seem to think it’s hilarious when we point out how stupid something is in one of the prequels. Plot holes, bizarre character actions, ridiculous technology that defies physics and/or common sense, and so on. But you know what? We have lists of pretty much the same length of things just as stupid in each of the original trilogy films. When we use these to point out something silly in the original films and make jokes about it, what are the readers going to think?

Honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if our readership dropped by half or more when we move from the prequels to the original trilogy. I hope it doesn’t, and that the story we are telling keeps readers hooked, and that the majority of people approach it with the same view of affectionate parody that we’re actually aiming for in the prequels, and stay to enjoy it. But I’m not sure that will happen. We’ll just have to wait and see.

100 ideas in 100 days

Wednesday, 28 April, 2010

I’ve said before that not everyone can make a webcomic. Oh, plenty of people say they could make one if they wanted to. They say they’ve got loads of ideas, and all they have to do is put them together and post them. Only they don’t actually put them together and post them. Because that’s the hard part – actually doing the work. Coming up with the ideas is the easy bit.

This is not to denigrate the generation of ideas. That can be tricky if you’re not used to how your own creative juices flow and to capturing those fleeting thoughts we all have dozens of times a day. There is a skill involved in that. But the point is that if you’re tuned in to your idea generation engine (i.e. your imagination), then you can generate lots of ideas pretty easily.

Olaf Solstrand is in the middle of posting 100 ideas in 100 days on his blog. Not any old ideas. Ideas for webcomics. A hundred different ideas for webcomics. Some of them are so good that I want to run out and do them. Except I don’t have the time.

If you’re sitting there thinking you could do a webcomic, grab one of Olaf’s ideas and run with it. No, seriously. I’d like to see some of those turned into comics. There are ideas in abundance. What we lack is the time and resources needed to make them into finished products.

This is the lament of creative people.

Getting excited about Star Wars again

Wednesday, 3 March, 2010

Over at Darths & Droids my friends and I are approaching the end of our treatment of Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Which means it’s time for us to sit down together and watch Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, so we can prepare for the writing ahead.

When we announced this on our Facebook page, we suggested that readers might like to join us in watching the movie at the same time, making it into a global event of sorts. Someone responded that we should host an IRC chat during the movie and, not being people to shy away from an intriguing idea, we decided to do so. (Not that this was intended to be an ad, but it’s at 09:00am GMT, Friday 5 March, on the Freenode IRC network, channel #darths, because I know someone will ask.)

It’s hard to say how many people we’ll actually get, but there are some fans making very excited posts about it. Now I’m stopping to consider what this really means.

We may have a significant number of people excited about being up at times like 1am (West Coast USA) or 4am (East Coast USA), on a Friday morning what’s more, to watch a Star Wars prequel movie. I’m not sure if that’s happened since 1999.

If you put your mind to something and share it with the world, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. Darths & Droids began as just something we do in our lunchtimes. We do it because we like creating something new and hopefully interesting out of the cultural legacy of Star Wars. We genuinely like Star Wars, and want to be able to say we did something positive for the community of fans out there, whether they be loyal and as enthusiastic as ever, or somewhat jaded and disappointed by recent(ish) additions to the canon.

Getting people excited about Episode III, either again, or perhaps even for the first time. That’s just cool.