this post contains frank discussions of suicide.
one of the premiere rules of webcomics, and life really, is “never give people the ammunition they need to kill you”. which is uhhh a little overdramatic considering the scale of what we’re working with here, but i think it’s just a matter of taking one’s own well-being seriously; those who cannot endure criticism should not open avenues that facilitate it. online communities from 2010-approximately 2014 were much more open and heavy handed with their criticisms, a fact which i think really impressed itself on me as i watched people in art communities, especially webcomics, flame out painfully because of a constant stream of negative feedback. in spite of my little edgy, (and frankly pathetic) needlessly cruel and nihilistic-through-narcissism exterior, i was and still am pretty terrified of other people and what they think. to add to this, i get perspective from webcomic readers who do not have an appreciation for the wilder and stranger examples in the community (which i think is a shame). this makes me very self-conscious; what will they say if that target ever gets turned on me? it’s harrowing to put yourself out there, and when i was basically a shambling corpse from 2009-2014 i was a little too cavalier about that fact. corpses don’t have to care about what people think of them because they’re dead. now i’m at least 1% human being and it’s a problem.
however, i really like comics. and i really want other people to make comics. the ability for literally anyone (yes, especially the common lunatics) to be able to publish their art, no matter what the quality, to an eager audience with little effort is one of the few great changes that the internet has brought to the lives of both hobbyists and professionals. art is wonderful, but comics offer some interesting challenges that inexplicably have always called me to the field. the constraints of the same sized canvas every update, the decisions as to what information you need or want to convey to the audience, being extremely specific with dialog and word choices to make sure them talk in a way that’s informed by who they are…this is all the stuff that both drives me insane and that i live for. i’m not under any delusion that i’m not the only person in the world who notices or cares about this stuff, but more than anything i just want to be understood, like all people. the entire time i’ve been making comics i get the notion that i’m doing them “wrong” and no one has bothered to correct me. so with this post, hopefully either i will accidentally create good advice or create something contentious enough in its audacity that it starts a conversation about this exact topic.
i do not like to position myself as an authority and go through great means not to do so: doing this is like handing people a heat seeking ballistic missile. but i am dying to see new, less practiced voices enter the field now that it’s not as blisteringly hostile as it once was. it’s a great time to legitimize comic making as a hobby and i sincerely hope more people get into it.
i forgot where i was going with this from paragraph one. oh right. so, in order to hopefully dismiss any preconceived notions about how webcomics are made, i will reveal my writing process for the most recent chunk in my webcomic in the hopes that others will be inspired in one way or another. that took a long time to get here. lol.
i will be using my own comic as an example. you can read it here.
Step one: what
ok so what am i doing here.
i’m going to use the very specific chunk i just worked on, a flashback between jack and maxine, as the example. if you don’t know who they are, well, i guess you’ll just have to read literally all of my comic and get back to me. sorry, but them’s the breaks. anyway, i already knew where i was going with this flashback in general, so now its time to get down to specifics.
things i knew ahead of time i needed to cover and put on the page:
- establish that jack and maxine met enough at college to recognize each other again in the future
- that jack is at the lowest low of his life when he met maxine
- establish that maxine has always been maxine. maybe more maxine than she is without jack to restrain her impulses
- make sure they leave together. lol. can you imagine if maxine had to come back a second time and jack had time to process and think about his first encounter with her. there’s no way
STEP two: the first part
the first part of the flashback, the college meet-up, was the least difficult. i’ve always known how this was supposed to go. they certainly met more than once during college, but were not friends (but not unfriendly). jack at this point in his life would have been the kind of insufferable 90’s guy who would bring his guitar to a party. maxine would be so depressed she would be oblivious to it; spending most of her time sleeping or in bed. the hardest part of this whole thing was figuring out what jack would have looked like in the 90s. i think i did a good job lol
left: the man of the past, right: the man of the future! the biggest change is his hair rotated
i got in and out in 2 pages. hell yeah. you see, a thing about webcomics is that they update page by page, typically on a regular schedule. unlike a comic book, which you can read through all in one go, a webcomic is something you get in drops. piecemeal. which means the pacing is always going to be glacial. this is simply a feature of the medium and i guess i see it as an additional challenge.
it’s a delicate balancing act: you have to think about timing not only on a micro scale when working per page but also on a macro scale by considering how it will read when read all in one go. it’s trickier than it sounds! consider: when updating only 2 pages a week, i only have those two opportunities to convince people to keep reading so i need to give them SOMETHING on that page to keep them coming back. on the other hand, i’m trying to tell a well paced story for archive readers someday. it’s entertaining two different audiences at the same time.
it’s vital to his character to know he was also once a “sport jacket with tennis shoes” guy. just detestable.
my early pages are unreadable for a lot of reasons, but as a whole the story is also difficult to read because i, in a desperate attempt to make every page “mean something” put a joke or a plot beat on every page at the end of the page. it was like the reading equivalent getting pelted with a baseball every 7 seconds. like at that point you know a joke or something is coming so you’re already primed for it to happen, right? anyway.
the truth is your audience probably isn’t reading your stuff with the intent to hate on it, so whoever is reading it will be willing to endure the updates that are not packed to the brim with heart-pounding excitement. thank god for that, because jack and maxine truly meeting was something i assumed would take me like 5 pages. it wound up taking me like 15. 15 pages of these two sidestepping each other. fuck! it sure as shit didn’t look like 15 pages! that’s 7 weeks of this! you see what i mean!
step three: THE FIRST DRAFT
while sitting on the couch watching some dumb shit, i hammered out the first draft of this sequence. it is incomplete, it is erratic and it sucks. that’s fine. as long as no one picks up my notebook and reads it without the context of knowing everything in there is supposed to suck, i’m in the clear. i’ve provided a transcript below. this appears to take place after the part where maxine initially recognizes him after 8 years. this is a part i’ve been thinking about for years, so i knew exactly how it would go. easy.
the not easy part was extracting myself, and these characters, out of this flashback. here’s where we’re at: jack has been successfully recognized, not as a horrible bastard who is currently at the hands of internet and real life mockery and scorn, but as someone she met a few times in college. this is the turning point event in his life, unfortunately.
i. ignore the fingerprints.
(J: Jack, M: Maxine, b: me commentating)
J: I’d rather hear more about what you’ve been up to…ugh. (b: apparently i already knew he was going to dump ice cream on himself, hence the “ugh”. he’s wiping it off.)
M: Still exterminating.
J: Oh you’re an exterminator? Which company?
M: I’m independent.
J: No kidding? You own your own business?
M: Yeah, I’m a, what do you call it? Entrepreneur. (b: would she be able to successfully pull this word? on the one hand she is business minded and would know it to throw it around. on the other, french?)
Okay, now you have to answer my question.
J: Is that how it works?
M: Yeah, let’s trade information! (b: oh i remember why i set this up this way. maxine has this relationship with victoria. she trades errands and lunch orders for information and money)
J: I don’t think I…have information.
M: Sure you do, everyone knows something worth knowing.
J: If you say so.
M: I’ll start with an easy one. Didn’t you used to sound different? (b: this is one of those ‘things no one cares about or notices but me’ things. jack in the modernest day drops his “g”s and has a few more linguistic quirks. being a newscaster meant he had to stomp that out in favor of a general american english accent. right now, jack is in a weird transitional state where he’s both newscast-voicing and reverting back to his feral texan form. so until maxine makes him go nuts with stress, his “g”s stay on)
J: Is it…? Oh my god, its that noticeable, huh?
M: Weren’t you southern? You sound like… (b: …joke pending)
J: How do you remember all of this? I can barely remember my first name most days. (b: he would never say this. jack henderson would never forget anything about jack henderson).
M: Is that your question?
M: …You have a face that’s hard to forget.
M: My turn. Uh, this one’s awkward. You sleeping rough? Not to put you on the spot but you look…you have the look. (b: maxine has almost certainly slept in public before. she has probably seen the look in a mirror.)
and that’s what i managed. it sucks dog shit but its some kind of bridge to somewhere. beats nothing.
step four: second pass
now, while staring at my notebook with disdain, i retype everything into a notepad document, but good this time.
this one is much longer and i was further in the flashback. it was at this point i was realizing my little flashback was going to be much longer than i anticipated it would be. i needed an exit strategy, but the problem was it needed to be natural feeling. or. as natural feeling as the cartoon universe of A Ghost Story can be. what possible fucking reason would anyone willingly walk away with maxine gottwin? i still hadn’t solved that and its evident in the script, which i will now give the same treatment as the previous one.
[maxine looks down at him, putting her knife away]
m: sleeping rough?
[jack looks back up at her trying to scramble for change]
m: if you need somewhere to stay, i know some people who can put you up. (b: lie)
j: no! no, no! i’m fine. i’m…my apartment’s being remodeled, so I’m staying at a hotel. (b: lie)
m: which one? i do work for a lot of the owners. i might be able to get you some money knocked off your tab.
j: …there’s a motel 6 off the highway.
m: oh, yeah.
j: i wanted something- i’m trying to save money for-
m: well, this is awkward but…if you kill yourself, can you do it at a different motel?
[page] (b: lol this indicates to me when a good time to cut a page would be. i had to veto most of these in the creation process because they just didn’t fit the way i thought they would)
m: maybe the motor-lodge?
m: like, i don’t think keith will care as much as nancy, but nancy’s mom just died and she doesn’t need any more stress in her life.
j: excuse me?? what the hell?
m: isn’t that what you were saying just now? you /just/ said you were thinking about dying!! (b: i mean, he did. this just wasn’t even remotely the reaction he or anyone probably expected another human being to throw at them)
j: n- i- what’s wrong with you?!
m: me? you’re the one jerking me around!
j: /wow/, this conversation is bad in a new way.
m: you’re really annoying. i see why people are mean to you now.
j: what’s your problem? why are you /soooo/ interested in where i die?
[maxine takes out her business card and hands it to him]
[jack stares at the card while maxine rambles]
m: didn’t you use to talk different? you were southern…it’s been cutting in and out this whole time. now you sound like someone from a commercial for a class action lawsuit. (b: joke pending)
j: how do you remember all this?
m: you’re a hard guy to forget.
[jack starts sobbing]
m: shit, okay, uh.
m: ah, listen. i’m in no position to judge, alright? what’d you do?
j: P-PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME S-SAY IT
m: okay! okay!
m: you on the lam?
[j shakes his head]
j: [weakly] no…
m: well what-? was it a crime?
j: [sniff] t-they’re still figurin’ t-that out.
m: alright. okay.
j: i’m sorry. i’m so embarrassed. this whole thing is embarrassin’. (b: embarrassed has 2 “r”s??? great now i have to go fix my speech bubbles)
j: no one’s been nice to me in months so i thought-
j: i thought…
j: I’m worth more dead than alive.
j: …where do you want me to do it?
m: wh- n…no. no, forget it. never mind. I was being stupid. I kinda, my brain…doesn’t.
m: you know.
m: if you wanna do it thats your business but…don’t do it on account of me.
j: [small font] i don’t- i’m a c-coward.
m: wait, you DON’T want to?
j: i want to but i…can’t.
m: oh, jesus christ. what the hell, man!
j: i j-just want to be u-useful. i’m s-sorry.
m: je-sus! that’s no way to die! if you want to be useful stay alive and- and-…be useful!
if you die, i make like, what, 150 bucks? once? that’s really the amount of useful you deem acceptable to die for?
j: are you tryin’ to make me feel better?
m: y- n- uh, is it working?
j: …I don’t know.
(b: this whole section got cut for time constraints. it just would have taken like 2 more pages and i just didnt have it in me when it came to actually drawing it and decided it could be excised. fwiw i think i was able to get across that jack is in that paradoxical state of mind where you both do not want to participate in life but are afraid to die. like you want to burrow underground like a cicada for a huge chunk of time. experiencing nothingness like you’re vacationing…)
m: hell of a reunion.
[a customer is laying on their horn] (b: a trickle of an idea to get me the fuck of of the past arrives. what if they had a third party to gang up on, or that maxine could field for jack, giving him a taste of the delicious high of companionship and its perks)
m: let’s get outta here.
j: [sniff] what?
m: I’m hungry, aren’t you? It’s late.
j: i…guess. i don’t k-know.
m: i live above a chinese place, you like chinese? the old lady’ll feed you
j: oh no, p-please. i can’t. no more people-
m: c’mon, i won’t let her do anything to you.
m: trust me, she’s way more mad at me than she ever could be at you.
[the customer is still laying on their horn]
c: HEY!! HOW ABOUT SOME SERVICE? HEY!! (b: this guy was going to be just a common asshole but that was too easy. he wound up being one of those extremely passive types that totally shuts down when presented with adversity)
j: shit. work.
m: oh, yeah. uh, just tell them you had uncontrollable diarrhea.
j: i’m not. i’m not goin’ to do that.
m: okay fine. “medical emergency”. coward. (b: no one listens to me, but this is the most potent and powerful way to get out of literally anything. now you can’t use it bc of the deadly pandemic sweeping the nation, but you know. in the before times lying about having the shits promises no one will ask for follow up questions or demands)
c: hey!! HEYYY!!
m: stay here, wouldya?
[maxine walks over to the car which is in the background they are distant as jack watches]
m: HEY FUCK OFF!! READ THE ROOM. IDIOT.
[there is a pause before the customer slowly drives away] (b: by the time i got to drawing this part i absolutely did not want to draw a car in motion. it would have been mad funny if i had used an entire page to draw him slowly making his way out of the parking lot as they just stare at him uncomfortably)
m: you wanna go?
j: i can’t pay.
m: neither can i. come on!
[maxine runs off, then stops and looks back]
m: what’s your name again?
[back to the modern day]
j: and i never left.
okay! better. as i draw the page, i put some last minute touches and spins on what i’m doing because, unfortunately, coming up with funny ideas doesn’t happen on a schedule.
step five: drawing it and the final revisions
FINALLY let’s get this fucking thing made. i mean i’ve been making it simultaneously this whole time but you know what i mean. webcomics (as i understand it) is that one scene from “the wrong trousers” where gromit is desperately putting down tracks as they go full steam ahead. it makes for some wild and on the fly creative decisions.
for example, i still wasn’t satisfied with my ending. what, they just walk off after maxine epically owns some guy and everyone stands up and claps?? it’s bad. i have no idea why or how i thought of it but thankfully i got a better idea as to how to get them to leave together: have her literally drag him away.
this page dedicated to oregon’s gas pump laws (they do not live in oregon)
he’s not struggling and he’s not really putting up any kind of defense. life is happening to him and he just re-cycled through his grief stages and is back at acceptance. maxine is free to rehome him. how can you have the high ground in an argument while you’re dragging someone on asphalt to an unknown location?
this was the most last-minute change i made. literally the update before oh i remember now. i realized i had written this dialog knowing that maxine was going to touch jack in some way at this point. like, pulling him to his feet, not anything weird. but when the time came i didn’t…have enough space on the page. big problem! and with deadlines coming up i had to compromise. i thought, maybe it would be funny if she just hooked her arms under him so she could take him away like a piece of used furniture back to her hovel.
that’s the “shuff”
thank god i made all my rambling come together. now you know why i was ranting about update schedules and pacing and shit.
additionally, as i use photoshop to put the dialog into the comic…it gets its last re-write I SWEAR. i tend to mouth it under my breath as i type it to try to make sure it sounds like dialog from people and not comic book character dialog. if you scroll back up to the example page in step 4 you’ll see diversions from the script that maintain the spirit but plug up the empty air with small talk and babblings. the purpose of the page and the end result is the same but it adds the additional, explicit reasoning for maxine’s location request: she’s lazy and doesn’t want to travel far.
one pitfall i fall into a lot is that i’ll write “maxine hands him her business card” and then, at the moment of business card conception, realize i have no idea what it would look like. this results in a ton of research into business card templates and standard phrases to make a card that maxine would make herself. same thing with “jack works at a convenience store”. when i go to draw it im like “shit, what does it look like? where in the city is it? is it a gas station too?” etc. there will always be surprises you don’t anticipate lol. half of comics is rolling with those punches.
well, that’s it i think. i made it over the finish line in 2 months, which is 1 more than i wanted which is a bummer but listen: webcomics are unpredictable. 99% of my life is starting to draw something and then going “uh oh!!!!!!!!” as i realize the problems i’ve backed myself into. maybe i will make a post about victoria’s house. i already talked about it on tumblr but i could talk about, in general, how the landscape of A Ghost Story has changed as i’ve changed coasts and finally have first hand experience of the buildings and environments im trying to draw.
thanks for reading. or if you hated this, fuck you sucker! i stole precious minutes of your life you’ll never get back. ppppbbbbt!!