This is a fateful date. You are probably already aware that it is Pi Day (especially so at 1:59) but it is also, coincidentally, the day that the Zarks were born. For it was on Pi Day in 2002 that I happened to create, almost absent-mindedly, a creature called a Zark to serve as a bit enemy in the embarrassingly-titled comic Space Kid. I’ve related this story a million times before, so I’ll just give the synopsis:
- Zarks turn out to be cooler than Space Kid
- Zarks gradually take over comic
- Zarks go on to star in video games and stuff
And so, to celebrate the first ten years of Zarkdom, I present the following show of rare and/or unseen images from their storied lineage. And if that’s not enough, I also offer you a digital copy of the complete Zirconius comics, a guide to the Easter Eggs of Into the Titan, and some old backstory: Maz’s journal. (Links are below the fold.) Share and enjoy.
Quick, what’s the difference between Calvin and Hobbes and Star Wars? Naturally, the two have so little in common that the question hardly makes sense. The comparison which I’m trying to draw, though, is this: Bill Watterson ended his series early, when it was still in its prime, while George Lucas’s epic continues staggering along, soiling its legacy a little more with each installment. While I’d like to see more Calvin and Hobbes as much as the next guy, I have to admit that I’m glad Watterson ended it before it turned sour.
You can probably see where this is going. I am going to be ending Sunrise following the completion of Issue 10. This was not an easy decision for me to make, and I’ve given it a lot of thought. Sunrise has served me well. When I started it in 2008, the only long-format comics I’d drawn were my Zark stories. I hadn’t taken any figure drawing or illustration classes yet. I wasn’t yet reading graphic novels(!). Now, ten issues later, my artwork has improved dramatically and my writing has followed suit. (How strange to think that the most recent issue was more than twice as long as the first!) Sunrise has always been primarily a learning experience for me, and I’d like to think I’ve learned its lessons well. It’s time for me to graduate.
But why graduate now, when it’s only just becoming strong? Well, to be honest, I’m getting tired of it. The episodic format doesn’t interest me as it once did. I want to move toward working with long-form stories (e.g., graphic novels) and Sunrise does not lend itself to that. Secondly, I’m interested in moving away from genre fiction. While I do have some ideas for a sprawling space opera (and Realm of course) I think it might be fun to do something about the real world for a change. Finally, Sunrise has some inherent limitations that become more pronounced to me with every issue. It too often tends to have very long passages of dialogue, and in many cases there are no opportunities for interesting visuals. As I’ve said previously, Sunrise is based pretty closely on Star Trek, and Star Trek is not a comic. This kind of storytelling works much better on TV. In short, Sunrise is wearing thin, and I’m ready to try something new.
Which is, of course, what this really comes down to. While Sunrise is ending, I have numerous other projects, at least one of which will move up to take the spotlight that Sunrise is currently occupying. Realm is one possibility. I’m also planning a graphic novel which might be well-timed to start soon. And, dare I mention it, a silly science-fiction gag strip which I may run in the interim. Suffice it to say (and this cannot be stressed enough) I am not leaving webcomics. Sunrise or no, I will be making something, so do stop by and see what it is. Naturally there will be further announcements as the time grows near.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Issue 10 is going to be awesome. It’s got airships. It’s got action. It’s got drama. It’s got over 70 pages. It’s also the most Tintinesque issue yet, so some of you will appreciate that I’m sure. So don’t be glum. Buckle up and thanks for coming along for the ride.
Jonah Robinson, Raven, Albee… how can I ever forget them?
It’s time for me to say a few words about Realm. Realm has been the longest and most complex project I’ve ever worked on, bar none. Even the Zark comics and games, despite the fact that I worked on them for long periods of time, don’t approach the scope and complexity of this.
Some background: The first things I produced related to Realm were two pages of color vector-graphics comics. I made these the day after I first had the idea to do a humorous fantasy comic. Already then the title was Realm (the one factor which has never varied), but nothing else was remotely similar. As you can imagine, there was no planning whatsoever. I had the idea in the evening and I was vectoring (do you have a better verb?) the comics first thing the next morning. There were no developed characters, plot, setting, or anything that you might expect in any kind of quality production. As such, it only lasted for two pages, which is pretty pathetic when you remember that some of the comics I drew as a young teenager, such as The Terrible Troubles of Unlucky Freddy and Robin Hood 2002, got several times that. And Unlucky Freddy even got to go to space! What a gyp, huh, original Realm characters?
I rushed into the original Realm for a number of reasons: 1) that was how I started all my projects at the time, and 2) I wanted to start a webcomic. Sunrise was still a year away (only a year? jeez) and the idea of a fantasy serial I could plug various storylines into appealed to me. I was also reading a lot of old Bloom County comics at the time and I thought that I might be able to make it topical somehow. In retrospect, that was a terrible idea and I’m lucky that I didn’t try that.
So once the first attempt proved to be a disaster, I decided I had better plan ahead a little bit this time. It was then that I developed the first version of these thrilling characters:
D and Harding. Zilch too. Harding was described with phrases like “Always looks like an idiot but doesn’t realize it” and “He thinks he is heroic . . . but he is not.” Beyond that his character was not developed. D was described as “evil, scheming,” “only trusts herself,” “takes advantage of everyone.” Beyond that her character was not developed. Zilch was described as follows: “Wants to be knighted more than anything. However, his cowardice, incompetence, and occasional recklessness prevent him from doing anything noteworthy.” Huh. Is that a motivation I see there? It just may be.
So what do you think happened next? Well, you can probably guess. I vectored two pages of Realm starring D and Harding (Zilch was introduced on page 2) and then stopped. Incidentally, they were practically identical to the original pages with the exception of the revised characters, so it should be no surprise that it worked no better the second time around.
For a while I stopped working on Realm completely, partly because I was working on Sunrise. The idea stuck with me, though, and little by little it began to develop. In 2009 I finally started to go about working on it the right way, with lots of rough sketches and story outlines. I didn’t start drawing again until I was confident that I had the whole storyline established. This was in stark contrast to before, when I was just trying to “wing it” with no storyline at all.
You know what happened from there. I drew the first issue, posted it online, and then this year I posted the second issue, the one with D and Harding in it. As you probably recall, I stated then that I wasn’t going to post any more Realm until I had the entire storyline worked out.
Well, writing is really hard, you can guess what’s been happening since then. I’ve been working on developing the storyline, as promised, but it hit two snags named D and Harding. (Did any of you predict this during my long introduction?) These “characters,” carried over from the earlier DOA attempt, were so vaguely defined that I was having a really hard time writing for them. Their introduction in Issue 2/Chapter 1 was dull and uninteresting (the only highlight being the delightfully insane Captain LaRusse) and highlighted the inherent problem of these characters: namely, that they were not characters at all. They had no motivations, personality quirks, flaws, definition… pretty much devoid of anything that qualifies as “character.” This made them almost impossible to write for, especially in a context of humor. Zilch, however, was still working fine, as he was the only one who actually had definition. He, by contrast, is very easy to write for and is usually pretty funny. So, to cut it short, D and Harding are history.
So yesterday I began approaching these characters the way I should have the first time. I attempted to create characters who were similar enough to D and Harding that they can replace them while minimizing the amount of revision needed. This was challenging, in part because they must also be developed enough that they will, y’know, actually work. I’ve been studying the excellent webcomic Spacetrawler very carefully, because it is doing with science fiction what I am with fantasy. (Both are humorous stories about characters from Earth tasked with solving the problems of other worlds.) Spacetrawler‘s human characters each possess specific traits which define their actions. Pierrot wants to see equal rights extended to every species in the galaxy. Dmitri sees interstellar space as an opportunity to seek out new forms of pleasure. Dustin takes every opportunity to extend his own power and influence. It works quite well, and I’m learning a lot. (I’m also laughing a lot, because, as I’ve established, Spacetrawler works quite well. Full disclosure: I got sidetracked for nearly half an hour reading past pages while writing this essay.) So, in the above image you can see my early attempts at revising these characters. None have names yet (except the one on the far right, Sheila, but she’s actually slightly older, dating back to my embarrassing Bechdel test analysis a while ago). I won’t go into their personalities right now, but suffice to say I won’t be writing any more until I’m certain that they are ready to handle it.
So, in conclusion, Realm has been an interesting experience. It’s taken a long time to reach the point that it’s at now, and there’s still a lot to be done. While things like this feel like setbacks, since it takes a lot of time to replace a character with another, at the same time they’re actually just an extension of the writing process. Realm has evolved a lot, and it will continue to evolve until I can finally declare it finished.
Will there be more online soon? I can definitively answer no. I shouldn’t have put it online to the extent I already have, and what you’ve already seen will undoubtedly change significantly in my revision process. In the meantime, watch this space. There will be more about Realm as it develops.
That means three things:
- Realm chapter 1 is now available to be read online.
- The Zarks, which I invented while drawing on a half-hour car trip, are now nine years old.
- The area of a circle is equal to the radius squared times 3.14159265358979323846264 . That is the extent to which I memorized it when I was in my teens. Yes, I know what Toothpaste for Dinner says. I make no apologies for the actions of my teenage self.
Tomorrow a new issue of Sunrise will begin, in honor of the ides of March I guess.
I recently learned of the Bechdel Test, a three-part test used on works of fiction to determine how well its female characters are developed and integrated. It was devised by none less than Alison Bechdel, author of the remarkable graphic memoir Fun Home (which you should read if you haven’t yet). There’s already an entire website devoted to evaluating movies with the test, but of course my immediate concern was how well my own works would fair under scrutiny.
The test is as follows: A work must have (1) two or more female characters (2) who talk to each other (3) about something besides a man. Sounds simple enough! Let’s see how I fare.
Sunrise. (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! There are a few examples, mostly from Issue 4, but some from other issues as well. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try harder, as I do notice that these examples are few and far between.
Realm (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Back to the drawing board for Realm. Luckily, I haven’t plotted out the entire book yet so there’s still plenty of time to revise.
Zirconius. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. This is not an entirely fair application of the test though, as the Zarks are basically genderless. Still, they are referred to with male pronouns so I suppose this still counts as a violation.
Let’s look at some recent short stories (not available online, unfortunately).
“Imagine the Violin.” (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Only one female character, and she’s going insane. Sigh.
“Constance.” (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! A story about two women who talk to each other, and only briefly about a man! As clear a pass as anyone could want.
“Real Space Experience.” (1) Yes. (2) No. Verdict: Fail. Quite a few female characters, but they never speak to each other. Granted, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the story, but it’s still a violation.
Let’s look at a few other things.
Barnacle Bert in “Hands Up, Jellyfish!” Oh, no. You can’t be serious. Ah well, here goes: (1) No. Verdict: Fail. But– but–two of the jellyfish are female, and they’re talking! I think! No, wait, if they are talking they’re probably talking about Bert. Argh. Well, at least the anglerfish is female.
The Violinist. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Having a female protagonist is not enough to pass the test.
Remnants. Some of you may recall this novel from a few years ago, which was available online for a while. Let’s see how it fares: (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! Finally. Flawed as this book may be, my brief foray into it just now yielded three Bechdel-Test-worthy conversations. Yena, the female protagonist, talks to Mrs. Tamila (a grouchy customer), Rimel (an utter imbecile), and Morica (the villain). All loathsome characters, unfortunately.
Just to round out the number to an even ten, we’ll look at “Lander,” my astronaut story that probably a few of you have seen. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Sigh.
So, to summarize:
Works examined: 10
Works passing Bechdel Test: 3