A year of progress
Today’s my birthday, and while I didn’t want to skip writing a blog post entirely just because of that, I wanted to write it about something fun and easy. So, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect how the past year’s gone, and to project a little about my hopes for the next 365 days.
I’ll start with the Seeds page uploaded the day after my birthday. What I love about this is that it was two pages off from the ending of Seeds, and… in the current arc, that’s about where I am right now. Two updates out from the end of Try, Try Again, which is the third arc after Seeds. The latter half of Seeds was the first time I’d worked so much with traditional inks combined with digital color, which really trained me for the latter half of Try, Try Again.
I think that last year, around my birthday, was when I finally decided to immerse myself in my work fully. Well, I’d started near the beginning of March, which is when I designed Biff, Andre, and white Beleth. It was when we’d started to formulate the Itchy Itchy prompt story, and when I’d realized what I wanted to happen to Beleth in the arc after that. Before March, I’d been battling severe depression and anxiety for half a year for a variety of reasons. But as March approached, I had to get really serious about getting the Kickstarter ready for the printing of the book. I started to get so busy working on the ending pages (while maintaining my adult comic) that I didn’t have time to feel so bad over things, nor did I have time to worry. I had to keep working.
So that was the start. I look at my last birthday in a really good light because it’s when I finally let myself think, “it’s fine if I just work really hard and ignore people who are trying to make my life worse. I don’t have time for that.” Because I didn’t! I was suddenly super happy just trying new things and learning and doing my best to create as much as I could. If you knew me back then, you knew that I was getting very little sleep as I worked my ass off to collaborate with Marl on Itchy Itchy and getting VN updates out every 2-3 days. That was so rough! But it was exceedingly fun, and people liked it!
I got to learn a little more about my pace and what I was capable of because of that huge work spree. While I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea for everyone to get 4-5 hours of sleep per night for like 2 weeks (please don’t do that), I got to see that I was able to pull off 12-16 hour work days consistently… and I really enjoyed it! It felt so good to produce a bunch of stuff!
I had to tone it back during Broken Toy, so that VN updates only happened every week instead of every other day. I would do roughly 40 illustrations, sometimes more depending, and they took several days on top of getting the other 5 updates done in the week (for both Floraverse and Forbidden Flora). So basically, I had to learn a little about a realistic and manageable schedule while still working at my limit! I know that, now, I’m going to have to go back and overhaul the story and art for both of those arcs because of how quickly it was done the first time… but that’s fine with me. It was just important for me to rush in head first, to not overthink it, and to just go with my instinct. That’s the important bit.
Finishing Itchy Itchy and Broken Toy was rough, because we had ideas on how to proceed, but… but at the time, I was still approaching the updates from the perspective of “I want to put out a VN update every week” which was not the right decision to make anymore, for me. Doing the weekly VNs was great, to start, just to learn from -- but now it was important to make sure the output was quality work from the start, because I didn’t want to overhaul the new story in the same ways that Itchy Itchy and Broken Toy are going to need it. Marl and I had a false start with Curiosity Killed the Rat, which we terminated after one video update. I was so frustrated with myself by that point, and so impatient! I wanted to just get something out, because I missed the feeling of working hard on a large update, and so I didn’t think about it hard enough and we went into something that would have derailed the story for several months. No good.
So we scrapped it and tried again. Our working process, in the idea phase, involves a lot of heated discussion. It sounds like I’m yelling, but it’s not at him. It’s my frustration leaking out, betraying my annoyance at myself for not knowing what the right idea is. We have all the pieces, but we don’t know how to put them together. Until…
And that was our first real confrontation with the difficult part about collaborating. Neither of us work the same way, at all, and we hadn’t done much joint writing until Try, Try Again. I wrote some in Itchy Itchy and Broken Toy, but it was very little compared to Marl. I did a lot of the storytelling with my illustrations, and I’d edit text to make the images funnier. That’s what I was used to.
Well, with the new arc, that wasn’t going to fly. His first attempt at Try, Try Again was… it was really not at all written how it needed to be, but he had the right idea. And that was actually exciting! He was trying to write about something he had little experience with: anger. And here I was, someone with (regrettably?) a lot of experience there. I was thrilled! If only because I’d finally have a good use for an emotion I’d been grappling with my whole life. Finally! This negative emotion had a place in creating something constructive!
So I scrapped everything he wrote and I just took the base idea and wrote it, myself. It made more sense to do it that way, anyway: I’d been the one to write the ending of Broken Toy, and this was very much a continuation of that. The writing style needed to match, or it’d feel too awkward as a transition.
I started to feel a lot more confident after that. It was a really weird beginning, but suddenly I had a lot of ideas for where we could go. Well, kind of. I still wasn’t entirely sure, and TTA has been a struggle to write since the very beginning. It hasn’t been unfun, by any means, but it has not been nearly as easy an experience as the previous two arcs. I think my standards for us and our work went way up.
But you know, the most important thing was that I learned from the arc we trashed. I didn’t come to fully appreciate the feeling of “this isn’t correct” until it got extremely heightened by having started off with that dead-end of a story. This made it so that all throughout TTA, I’d have that sensor beep at me if any story started to approach “this is wrong” territory. If anything felt off, it was there in the back of my mind to remind me to address it. This led to Marl scrapping something like 200 pages of writing, and me scrapping something like 70+ pages of sketchbook concepts and writing drafts... since December. It’s been hell and a half, but they were all necessary to have learned from.
That kind of thing is rough to talk about. We’ve poured dozens of hours into concepts that were just not very good, but we knew we needed to do it, because from each of those concepts we’d get a sliver of the correct idea, the correct “big picture”. We’d have conversations where we learned more about the characters or the situations or ideas for their backstories and hobbies and whatever, but those couldn’t happen without our unusable drafts. How do you even explain that to someone? How do you explain “yeah, you really can write a good story, but you’re going to have to go through hundreds of pages of bad ones to find the really good one”? That sort of thing tends to drive people away. People get so scared they’ll never come up with anything past their first idea, that it limits them severely. No good!
I don’t know. Life feels a lot like just an extension of that idea. Having been through a lot of bad experiences with a lot of people doing a lot of bad things, I’ve come to be able to recognize certain patterns and certain feelings when I see new people and new situations. I guess that’s just “life experience” accumulating, but… I can appreciate how much happier I am working hard at things I love, partially because I went through that stuff! It’s that whole thing about contrast, I guess. It’s hard to figure out what you really like without going through a bunch of stuff you don’t like. Not always necessary, but definitely puts things in perspective if you let it.
I’m happy I got to learn how to collaborate with Marl, truly, during TTA. Our writing blends together for a lot of it, because I finally got comfortable just making huge changes that needed to be made, and I was happy to start splicing in ideas and going with my intuition even more than I had before. I let myself explore the surreal nature of the mind, of art, because that was fun and interesting to me.
And that’s been my past 5-6 months, TTA and collaborating -- it’s been exceedingly fun, but man… I’ve been working ~70h weeks on average since my last birthday, no joke. I don’t want any free time to be taken up by anything unimportant, and I get bored if I’m not working. I just want to create and make things. I’m also so happy that in the past year I also discovered what made me happy as far as making adult comics goes! Seriously. I’m delighted that every single project I work on right now is something I’m 110% into. There’s not really a good word for that kind of feeling, but it’s what I live for.
Needless to say, I’m super stoked for the next year. I’m going to Japan next month to meet with friends and sell at a convention, and then the month after, I’m doing the same in Canada. I’ll be selling at Kemoket, and then attending TCAF, and then selling at VanCAF. It’s a lot of international traveling to be doing over the course of a month, but I cannot wait to get to see everyone. I’m also nervous, but excited, to sell my books for the first time in person! And then there are the Kickstarters.
I thought Itchy Itchy’s Kickstarter would 1) come sooner and 2) be a part of the Broken Toy story package.
Marl and I want to overhaul Itchy Itchy almost entirely. It was too full of exposition presented in a boring way, and also it’s missing some scenes that we didn’t include the first time because it wasn’t relevant to the prompt part. Also it’s missing the full Prologue II story, which I’m super excited about including. I’ve learned quite a bit about working on comic pieces of an arc while preparing a video or VN update simultaneously -- now I know more about my workflow, which means I’m a thousand percent more equipped to handle making the arc all over again over the course of a few months. It’s going to be a ridiculous workload, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and doing happily, for the past year. As long as I take care of my body at the same time, I think it’s going to be fine. The biggest issue is trying to get it done in time for being able to order the books so they can be mailed out before next January -- I don’t want to pay taxes on a bunch of money we need to spend on shipping! So that’s the biggest and most important deadline to meet. I think finishing by September will make that possible.
Anyway. I should be finished with my adult comic, Imagine That, by August or September, as well. I think. I’ll be able to get those three Forbidden Flora chapters ready for a Kickstarter to print it! I’m most excited thinking about how many books I’ll start accumulating over the next few years. We’ll have Itchy Itchy by December, and then I imagine Broken Toy’s KS will be next Feb or March, with the books ready to be sent out a few weeks after that. (Maybe sooner? Broken Toy requires a lot less work to make the art and story print-ready, but it’s still getting the complete “Comic Book” treatment.) And then Try, Try Again, which I’m sure I’ll have some edits for by next year, but not nearly as many as these past two.
It feels weird knowing that I’ll be spending the entire next year “fixing” those two arcs so they can go to print, and maybe that’d be upsetting for a lot of people… but not me! Because there is just absolutely so much more story to be injected into them both, and so many things I wanted to do but didn’t because of time constraints. This time, each arc gets several months to really be polished as the updates come out. I get to go back and let my mind wander through these ideas and urges I had before, and I get to fully inject myself into it. And they’ll feel a lot more like a complete collaboration with Marl this time, instead of just me illustrating things he writes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s totally fun -- but I love writing, too. I love mixing our work, because we get something wholly unique and wholly us.
I’m 26 now. I spent so much of that time having no real idea what I wanted to do, aside from drawing. I fumbled a lot and struggled and made stuff I didn’t like a lot, but it’s all been for this moment. It’s all been for going forward, for feeling happiness that I know I can now make whatever art I want to make, and that it’s okay to tell the kinds of stories that are in me. All of those awful mistakes and embarrassing moments and ugly drawings are the steps on my stairs to better art and better stories, and they just fuel this work. Everything I do is a product of what I make of the past 26 years, and I’d like to hope that I’ll enjoy the next 26 (and beyond) as much as I’ve enjoyed working during this past year. I’d like to make stories and art that are true to me. That’s what makes me happy.
I can’t even measure “good” art or “bad” art, in all honesty. It’s all just “art that reflects someone” more or less. It feels important to me to keep making “better” work, in the sense that I keep exploring and learning about what matters to me. Drawing better in the technical sense is fun, sure, but that’s not always what one needs to work at in order to really reveal what they care about. I want how much I care about what I’m doing to always be evident.
I guess it’s mostly weird because it’s only after going through the shittiest time of my life that I ended up going through the best time of my life. Was it the contrast? Was it that I could appreciate it more, as a result? Was it that I could then help other people work through similar emotions? I don’t know, but I’m very much looking forward to the future and seeing what else I can achieve -- by myself, and with my friends.
Happy birthday to me! I’m going to do my best for yet another year!