< Piro >
Sunday - December 16, 2001
Well, its Sunday morning, and it's been almost a week since I did a real Megatokyo strip. After spending most of the week apologizing, agonizing over the delays, excuses, and the inability to really write anything decent, I had to face it: with the exception of Monday's comic, last week was a total write-off. I decided that rather than try to catch up from behind, it was more important to concentrate on getting back on my feet for the following week. In working on this rant, which has been floating around in my head for days, I think I learned a little bit about myself from the problems that caused the catastrophic failure in my ability to produce this comic for the past several days.
Whenever I hit snags, overreact to criticism, get sick, or am just in some incurable petulant funk, the readers and fans of Megatokyo hear about it, know about it, and deal with it almost as much as the people who are around me in real life. I think that this annoys some people (as evidenced by a few rather delightful emails this week) but in concept, that's part of what makes Megatokyo tick. Part of the 'entertainment' factor of this site, IMHO, is the fact that we (well, me mostly) are pretty open and communicative about what is going on in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, because of the time intensive nature of the comic itself, when things knock me around, the comic usually suffers. I like to believe that things like the forums, the IRC channel, as well as just the archives of comics themselves keep this site at least mildly interesting when things do go to hell around here for short periods of time. Granted, there is usually some hiccup every month (much to the chagrin of one particular reader) but hey - so sue me. :P
I think that one of the 'value added' features of this site, is that I try to convey what the experience has been like to go from just another anime fan who worked hard to learn how to draw, to being the artist and main author behind what is arguably a very successful and popular webcomic (even I can't deny the numbers these days - we had well over 7.5 million page views last month, and we guestimate that our audience hovers around 200,000.) If you read my rants, its because you like to hear about and perhaps learn from my experiences doing this. I remember hearing from some people that they found MT annoying because it spawned so many 'knockoff' comics that tried to be just like it. Peh. To me, the fact that I get several emails a week that basically say 'you inspired me to start drawing again'... that makes me feel really good. Megatokyo isn't perfect, and neither am I, but maybe that's what attracts people to it - if that doofus piro can do this, maybe I can too...
I have a theory that most people out there are frustrated creators - you WANT to draw, you would LOVE to be able to make the things you enjoy, but due to what you consider lack of skills or ability, you are stuck in a 'consumer' mode. Sadly, that's exactly where the entertainment industry wants you - they don't WANT you making your own music. They don't WANT you making your own stories. They want you to buy them from people who can 'do it better than you can' because you only have so much attention span, and they want to own all of it. A few hundred years ago, before you could buy all your entertainment pre-packaged on nice shiny little disks or whatnot, people had to pretty much entertain themselves. Sure, there was always the traveling bard or musician that really could perform, but people would entertain themselves in the gaps. Over the years, the entertainment industry has done a very good job of convincing us that 'entertainment' isn't worth listening to, reading or watching unless it comes from them, in much the same way that we have a skewed idea of what 'beauty' is because girls compare themselves to what they see on TV and in magazines (leading to a lot of self worth problems and depression). Webcomics, as well as other things you find on the web, represent a challege to these schools of thought.
I can also argue that Anime and Games themselves challenge these concepts - games allow you to interact with them in ways that can be incredibly immersive, and becoming skillful at gaming is a feat that many people work very hard at and are proud of. Anime inspires a lot of things, both here and in Japan. Here in the states, fans work very hard to do everything from translate anime series, work hard at putting conventions together, anime showings, clubs, cosplaying, drawing and whatnot - building communities around such activities become virtual 'neighborhoods' for many people (Megatokyo is an example of this). In japan, the main way anime fans work to show appreciation for a series is thru the creation of 'doujinshi' (quite literally, 'fan works') - and doujinshi conventions are major events these days, where fans strive to create works that express their feelings and love for the genere. Megatokyo itself is considered a Doujinshi, and 'original' work. People love to create, and the the activities that we are involved with are just a few that inspire creative work from 'ordinary people'
Being what I consider an 'ordinary person', you have to look a little deeper to find out just what the motivation is for me to devote 36 hours of time a week, outside of the 40 hrs on my day job, doing this comic. I notice that whenever I have a glitch, or I whine that I'm not gonna have a comic done, or someone disses me in an email, I tend to get a lot of email replies and direct replies from folks that almost all follow the same lines: "dude, it's your comic, do whatever the hell you want" "how can they complain, it's free!" etc, etc etc. I think I want to explain a few things about how I look at the reasons why I do this comic, and why I react the way I do sometimes.
Most you probably remember that on Monday, I received an email where I was told that Kimiko reacting moodily to the rail card she still carried in her purse was 'presumptuous' and 'contrived' and that he hoped that it didn't represent a trend in the comic. Now, being at work, struggling under the pressure to get a bunch of stuff done there, I admit - I over-reacted. I had a friend on the IRC channel make a blank page that read 'this comic has been pulled until further notice', replaced the Monday strip, and went back to work in a huff. Last time I pulled a stunt like that, the comic wasn't anywhere near as widely read as it is these days, so I wasn?ft really prepared for the snowballing effect that little stunt caused ^^;;;; It didn't help that in the forum, and in talking to friends, I basically said 'fine, they don't want story stuff, screw it, I'll just pull all the story stuff out and just do joke comics.'
I don't know why I get into snits like that. What I do know is that when you create something, you often feel that one of the perks of being the creator of a creative work is the right and the ability to destroy it at will to prove a point or to reinforce a sense of ownership. Doing this, however, is not right, and is beneath me. It's just like someone pointed out to me in the forums: 'stop jerking your fans around and acting like a petulant child'. Indeed, I couldn't agree more. So, WHY did this upset me? "It's your comic dude, your site, do whatever the hell you want. We don't pay anything for it."
ah. but that's not really true.
People invest something far more important than money in Megatokyo and the works that Largo and I have created - they have invested their attention, their loyalty, their time, and a piece of their grey matter to Megatokyo. These are things that money can't buy. Sure, money usually follows fandom - fans of a series they are emotionally attached to will almost always spend money they don't even have for bits and pieces of things related to it. To me, the entertainment industry spends more time chasing money rather than hearts. Remember the buzzword 'capturing eyeballs'? No wonder the net economy fell apart. It's not about capturing eyeballs - eyes don't have brains, they see whatever you put in front of them. Getting thru to people's souls is what you really want to do. Remember my comments on 'emotional attachment' way back when? Never would I have figured that such a phrase could even be loosely applied to my work - but I think that recently, to an extent, it can be. You have no idea how proud I am of that fact.
And this is why I have such a deep sense of responsibility towards doing the best I possibly can on Megatokyo. And this is also why, when I feel like I let even one person down - I take it to heart. Now, I don't feel the need to start changing things or doing things according to what people think I should do - I said when I started this, "give people a little of what they want, and a whole lot of what they don't know they want." - which is why every time I try something a little different, or pursue things the way I think they should go, I get nervous. I don't want to disappoint people, but at the same time, I have a vision, and largo does too, of where things need to go.
Comics are a form of communication. I'm a pretty emotive person (this is part of what makes me such a friggin drama queen :P) and conveying emotions, whether it is humor, sadness, joy, annoyance, frustration, fear - whatever - feeling emotions is part of being human. We love to feel things. Stories enable us to feel emotions without actually going thru the experiences. Some feelings we never really want to feel, some we dream about feeling. Either way, a good story serves all parts of our soul, and I think that's why so many people are attracted to anime and manga. Unlike the commercially driven crud that the American entertainment industry tends to feed us (don't get me wrong, some of it is awesome, I'm talking as a whole) did you ever wonder why so many people go to such great lengths to collect stories and whatnot that are in a language they don't even understand? That's why I feel that this is such a great medium to reach people with - and so far, I think my theories on the matter have pretty much held true.
On Monday, I felt that I had a failure in that communication. Remember the comic where kimiko was in color and she had just received the rail card? I call em 'no punchline comics' I remember getting 'what's the joke?' emails. (sigh) It was very depressing. But I stuck to my guns, and didn't back down. Why I reacted the way I did Monday, I don?ft know. I'm tougher than that. If someone doesn't feel what I was trying to communicate in a strip, then it?fs a small failure, and I can learn from it, but it's no reason to back down. Most people, I think, got the message.
As for missing comics - I get upset about missing comics, having to use filler, or not having anything up at all not because some people whine about it, or even because I feel that I let people down when they expect to find something there (well, I do feel that a little) - it frustrates me because I want to tell the story, make people laugh for feel sad or whatever, and each missed comic is a missed opportunity. When I started MT, something about the concept that Largo was pushing on me made sense - figure out what the maximum amount of time between 'episodes' can be - what was the maximum span between comics you could have and still hold people's attention. It's not one a week, its not two a week. Three a week, I believe, is what people need to follow a story. I miss one day, I break the flow. It upsets me more than it could possibly upset anyone else. Doing three a week is a VERY tight schedule for me. Sure, if I could do this full time it'd be easy. I figure another year of hard work, I might just be able to do that. But for now, I gotta do the extra push to keep things going. Since its so tight, when I fall, or have a bad week, everyone sees it. It's embarrassing, its depressing, and... well, it's part of what MT is. This is my comic, this is my life. Please don't throw tomatoes at me. :) But if I am going to do what I want to do here, I have to stick to 3 a week - it?fs a worthy struggle.
Most fans of Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbs) have probably read his comments in his '10th anniversary book'. It's sad reading - he sounds as if he was frustrated and beset upon for much of the time he was producing Calvin and Hobbs. Yet, in ways I can SO totally respect, he was stubborn about it to the end, even though you get the feeling that he was pretty hurt in the process. You have no idea how much respect I have for this man. Considering what I've learned about the creative process and myself, it's sad reading. What is most sad is that while we were all laughing and enjoying his strips, none of us knew what was going on in his mind. The nature of syndicated comics being what they are, we were isolated from the very person who made the strip we love so much. We had to wait 10 years to find out what was on his mind.
While there is no comparison between the genius that is Calvin and Hobbs, and this pathetic excuse for a 'comic', I do feel a little kinship to the struggles that anyone who does this has. The benefit that I have is that not only do you get to see the chunk of my soul that goes into the comic, but the rest of it as well, down here in the rants, in my posts on the forums, little newsbits about the ongoing disaster I call 'my life' - and hell, you can even talk to me one on one if you like (I hang out pretty regularly in the #megatokyo channel on irc - tho you sort of have to catch me when I am not too busy, which isn?ft that often ^^;;;). Perhaps it?fs a little bit of a burden for fans to get this - but then, you don?ft have to read the rants. But if you don?ft, you are missing out on part of what makes MT what it is.
The screenshot above is from 'Comic Party', a game and anime from Leaf that is the story about a guy named Kazuki who 'accentually' falls into becoming a doujinshi artist. When I first watched this series, it kinda freaked me out. It's like a mini-history of Megatokyo, from the crazy friend Taishi who cajoles you into drawing a doujinshi, to the 'girlfriend' Mizuki who doesn?ft like anime, the crazy people and the quiet people who spur you on... very scary. Anyway, Taishi is the know-all source of all things doujinshi, and in the course of training Kazuki in the ways of Doujinshi, he lists several rules - 'convention rules', but lets call them 'doujinshi rules', because that?fs basically what they are. The little girl shown above is the first one to buy one of his books - and in his flustered reaction to actually having someone WANT to buy his work, he forgets to thank her. Taishi then tells the audience what doujinshi convention rule number five is - it is the most important rule...
"Always be grateful."
Indeed, I think this is one area where I fall short sometimes. After all, without fans and people who invest their time, attention and loyalty to Megatokyo, I wouldn?ft be able to communicate things to anyone. People tell me 'do it for yourself' - the truth is, I do - but the joy comes from being able to communicate to people, to make people feel something. Just drawing pictures for myself to hang on my wall has no meaning. As long as people enjoy what I do, I'll keep doing things like MT, and will always, always be grateful - because that, in the end, is the exchange that matters. Not money for product, but attention, loyalty and feedback from fans, in exchange for respect, hard work, and the best comics I can possibly produce. It's a fair trade, I think. :)
I'll end this very long winded rant with a quote from the forums that really made me smile yesterday. Hansagan wrote:
Personally I find the little dramas of the forums, the occasional delays and other hiccups almost as entertaining as the comic itself. This thread is a good example of that, and probably something you would never find in a 'professional' strip.Heheh. Indeed. I don't want to be a pro - just someone who does the best strips he can and can someone earn a living doing it. That?fs my goal. I'm afraid you folks are always gonna be stuck with PiroDrama, no matter where this all ends up. :P
Oh, and I'd like to extend a quick word of thanks to mirvje, who was patient enough to help me out with something last weekend, and I want him to know I appreciate it ^_^ And yet another poor fellow finds out just how annoying I am to work with :P
You can support Megatokyo by getting yourself some cool YakPak swag using the link below. Piro has been carrying a black Medium Flapdoozy since the comic started (because that's what i really use ^_^). Also, the YakPak people are cool folk: