Interview with Liiga Smilshkalne
News for April
Using Watercolor Pencils in a Finished Piece
Value in Illustration
by Ursula Vernon
So about two weeks ago, I finally ended my uber-long epic webcomic "Digger," a project that went on for over seven years, topped 750 pages, and taught me a great deal, mostly about wombat physiology and the inadvisability of doing uber-long epic webcomics.
I kid, I kid. Mostly. I don't want to underestimate the work involved. It was a labor of love, but the operative part there is "labor," and the days I wanted to get up and Do The Webcomic were few and far between, and the days I sunk my claws into the upholstery of the office chair and whined "But I don't waaaaaaannna do the comic!" were numerous.
But there you are. Being an author or an artist or both at once is not all some joyous romp o'er the dew-drenched Fields of Inspiration. On big projects particularly, the joy is usually front-loaded, when you get all that exciting world-building and you fall in love with your brooding hero (or in my case, burrowing hero) and you gaze before you at how awesome and wonderful this project could be and there are stars in your eyes and all is glorious, glorious, glorious.
Then about a third of the way through, reality sinks in, and it starts to look an awful lot like hard work. This is probably where most epics get abandoned, because the fun is in the planning stage.
Various parties said to me, in the last few months, that they were glad I was ending Digger where the story ended, instead of trying to drag it out forever to no real purpose. It was kind of them to say, and lord knows, there are plenty of examples of the latter, but the fact is, if I wrote the sort of comic that DIDN'T have a defined endpoint, I probably would have ended it years earlier. It took time, it took energy, and after awhile, there was a kind of weird pressure of living under the weight of a story that, even near the end, would still occasionally buck and surprise me.
And the thing is, 'Digger" wasn't hard to write. Actually it was one of those glorious projects where the characters all yammer in your head and you can plot a chapter out in the shower and in any given situation, all you do is point them at it and sit back and take dictation. It was not a dire slog in any sense, except that drawing 750+ pages is murder, and no matter how much you love your characters, seven years is a long time to spend with anybody you're not sleeping with.
But it's done now.
And this is the great thing, because if you can stick out an enormous project, the rewards are also enormous.
I could talk about the usual things -- the fans, the great people I met, the places the comic took me, and they would all be true, but I think the most important benefit is internal.
Digger taught me not to be afraid of a big project. Because of it, I could look at the 150+ illustrations I do twice a year for the Dragonbreath series (my current bread & butter) and shrug and go "Entirely doable." Three months of drawing is nothing. I do it the same way I did Digger -- one page at a time. Three pages a day, five days a week, and then it's done, a couple months later. This was the great lesson in "manageable chunks."
But there's yet another benefit, and this, I think is the most important one of all.
In many of us -- perhaps most of us -- there is a little voice. It is persistent, it is insidious, and you can hear it at any time. And what it says, whenever you pick up the brush or the pencil or sit down at the keyboard, is "Why are you bothering? You never finish anything."
This little voice is not your friend. This little voice does not love you. If you are ever given the option to shoot it in the head at range, take it and do not look back.
Sometimes it is correct, I am sorry to say -- there are those among us who really don't finish anything. Possibly they listen too much to the little voice and stop trying. But in case you are seeking absolution, let me say without hesitation that it really is normal to start projects with joy and delight and find that they have no staying power.
And this is fine. If you don't start them, how will you know? I have the first chapters of twenty or thirty stories scattered around, but I don't know until I'm about a third of the way through whether it's actually alive, which is why my agent gets send a third-of-a-book at semi-regular intervals and has to figure out if somebody out there will pay money to get the other two-thirds written.
But here I am at the end of a stupidly epic project, and I have finally managed to silence that little voice. It opens its mouth, and I staple six volumes of comics to its forehead. I have finished Something, and a big Something to boot, and it never gets to talk to me like that again.
Seven years, 750+ pages, one voice silenced, one small artist's demon driven out. As a cost-benefit analysis goes, that's pretty good.
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