< Piro >
Sunday - October 28, 2001
Before i start, just want to let you know that Wednesday is the last day to get the Megatokyo Beer Steins so get one if you want one before CafePress pulls the plug ^_^.
There is a part of me that really hates pimping merchandise. New shirts, beer steins, posters, etcetera. When we started Megatokyo, the requests for Megatokyo t-shirts was almost immediate - and the first t-shirt stuff on CafePress went up as much to stop the flood of 'we want shirts!' emails as to bring in any profit. The great thing about Cafe Press is that Largo and I could offer shirts without having to pay for a whole bunch of them up front, since CP stuff is printed on demand. At the time we figured we'd sell a few shirts, people would be happy, perhaps we could get some DVDs or something with the profits. The main reason for providing stuff to buy was simple - people wanted it. I only mention the fact that you only have a few days left to get steins because... well, if you want one, that's all the time you have left. I still have to get one for myself, actually. ^_^
Last weekend I got together with a group of local Megatokyo fans at a local pizza joint to jabber a bit before the local anime club showing (which i couldn't go to ^^;;). I commented that i was just waiting for someone with real talent to come along and blow me out of the water, and that the popularity of Megatokyo was a bit of a fluke. One of the guys made a comment that made me wonder - He said that it was unlikely that someone would be willing to put as much time into it as I do to make something that's basically free. To a certain extent, he may have a point. People have asked about what the process behind making a episode of Megatokyo is, so let me enlighten you (it gets a bit long here, sorry ^^;;):
The overall story, general concepts, ideas, and other junk that make up the Megatokyo universe is something I've been working on since the comic started. Mixed into that are all the unusual takes and bizarre twists that Largo likes to interject ("we need Great Teacher Largo!", for instance). Writings scripts is a odd process, that falls somewhere between sketching loosely on paper or notecards, post-it notes, and typing it out in text on the computer. The absolute best way is to build out a script is right in Illustrator, basically building the final comic before the drawings are done. That's the best way to script - you know that the text will fit, the flow of the text and how the drawings can fit around it, and you know up front what the proportions of your drawings need to be. Doing a script can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours, depending on how much i beat my head on the table. Sometimes, i run a script by Dom, Ed, Seraphim, or a few others just to see if i am off my rocker. Sometimes i even show it to Largo, but mostly i just ignore him. (just kidding :P)
The fun part (and the longest part) is drawing all the frames. I draw everything on 8.5 x 11 sheets of HP Bright White Inkjet paper on which i have printed a large rectangular border. Within this border, i will usually divide it in half, or thirds, depending on the needs of the frame. When drawing a frame which has limited or no background, its a good idea to bound the frame on only two sides - that way the size of the image can be adjusted in the final frame just in case the text doesn't fit right. As far as what i use to draw, all i use is a single 0.5 mm mechanical pencil with HB lead. Nothin else. A typical comic takes anywhere from 6 frames to 9 frames (sometimes as much as 11) - and it usually takes me about 5 hours to draw all of them. There are times it goes very fast, and 3 hours is all it takes, but there are also times it takes as much as 8 hours. I can draw just about anywhere these days (since Seraphim has started grad school, I've found that the local Starbucks is a great place to camp out and draw for several hours) so the need to be home and at my desk is no longer a problem.
Then, its time to scan all the drawings, clean them up as much as possible using photoshop (i scan everything in at 300 dpi - my scanner is an old UMAX Astra 1200S). This process usually takes around an hour and a half. Then, it's time to switch to Illustrator, where i put the rest of the comic together - importing each frame separately, sizing and laying them out on the page, adding frames, clipping where necessary, adding text and then finally adding text bubbles. I've got the layers set up in the blank comics that make it pretty easy to keep the artwork on the bottom, and the text on top, as well as clipping, etc.
Oh, if I have a finished script, this part isn't that hard - usually an hour or so. But if i am still debating lines or changing text (this happens more often than not) this can take anywhere from three to four hours as i sit there whacking my head with a small board while trying to think how to save a terrible comic from itself.
Exporting used to be the biggest hassle. The 'save to web' function is nice, but i find that the quality of the final image is not what i am looking for. What i do instead is export the finished comic to a photoshop file at 300 DPI. On my old computer it would literally take a good 25 minutes to do this. On this newer machine that i upgraded too six months ago, it takes around 5-10 minutes, depending on how much text there is. Once that is done, i'll switch back to Photoshop, clear up any clipping problems, reduce the final comic to 650 x 795, save to a gif file, upload and make the changes in the database to load up the current comic.
So, lessee... on average thats about 1 hour for scripting, 5 hours for drawing, 1.5 hours for scanning and cleaning up, 1.5 hours for illustrator work, and a half hour for exporting and uploading. Thats about 9.5 hours per comic. Three times a week. So, that makes it about 28.5 hours a week on top of my day job to do the comic. Not too bad. :)
There are a lot of other things to add up too, however. Rants take around 1 to 2 hours to write. Things like t-shirt designs and whatnot take time (the MT Stein image took 18 hours to make) dealing with other things (like the Pirogoeth posters, which are now done being printed) and other 'business' stuff here at MT... it easily adds up to another 3 or 4 hours of work a week that most of you never see - sometimes more.
That makes a grand total of around 32 extra hours a week that i commit to Megatokyo. Does that make me certifiable? Not really. It's not as bad as you might think. The biggest problem i have has nothing to do with the amount of work, its problems with coordinating it.
You see, i really do love doing this stuff. I'd put even more time into it if i could, but that 32 hrs is really just about all there is. ^^;; Life's little disasters, bouts of laziness, colds, exhaustion, family, cats, laundry, political upheaval... and stuff like that can disrupt the schedule in major ways because schedule is really tight to begin with. For several months i was REALLY having trouble balancing things, but in the past month or so I seem to have finally got a handle on it (something which is very satisfying, i might add). There's only one small problem that i have, and it has to do with managing the limited access to a resource that both Seraphim and I share here at the Piro&Seraphim abode - the computer.
As many of you know, Seraphim just recently started her graduate studies in the field of Information Sciences. One of the great things about this is that now she too has 'other commitments' outside her full time day job (school full time AND day job - hee hee, we are so much a like ^_^). I feel less guilty than ever for all the work i put into MT, because she's putting as much (if not more) into her studies. What's problematic is that we only have one computer in our lives, and given the nature of her studies and her research, we're finding that she has to spend a LOT of time on the computer - like, everything she has to do.
Now, when it comes to Seraphim's school work, to me, it *always* has higher priority than mine. Unfortunately, she doesn't always see it this way. Last week, after i finished drawing everything, she let me hog the computer for the several hours i needed to finish the comic. What i found out the next day is that she skipped finishing several homework things till the next morning so that i could do the comic. :( While this was very noble of her, it bothered me that she had to scramble the next morning at school to finish her research and get done in time. :/
This weekend we face a very similar situation. Yesterday she had a take-home midterm that she had to work on non-stop from friday night to 4pm saturday. Once she was done with that, she had to work her butt off to finish up another huge project that is due tomorrow. There is a distinct possibility that i might not have a chance to put the comic together as a result tonight, which isn't really a big deal, but it speaks to a larger problem - one computer isn't going to satisfy our computing needs around here anymore, and i need to do something about it.
The solution to this is that I need a new laptop computer - a good one, one which i can run Photoshop and Illustrator and has a good enough screen that i can do graphics work. (i have an old toshiba that has a 10 meg HD and won't even run Word anymore ;_;) It has to be portable for several reasons - first off, i don't have room for another desktop station (no joke, you should see this place), and secondly, i need the ability to be able to take my work with me - sometimes Seraphim's schedule is such that we are on campus pretty late in the evening. Having a decent laptop will basically ensure that i can always be sure to have what i need to do MT stuff no matter what is going on. I'm pretty portable, so is the art, my computer stuff isn't.
The first problem is figuring out what i need, and what kind of machine to get. i was going to get a mac TI for seraphim, but in retrospect i think i need to stick with the windows platform for this. Secondly, I can't afford one right now, which is why i have been debating with myself long and hard about whether it would be right to look towards the MT community for help in acquiring one. Most of you know that I am not a big fan of accepting donations for MT - I'd rather you support our efforts by getting t-shirts and stuff. I know from experience that the MT community is very generous, and I feel that it is my responsibility to make sure that we NEVER take advantage of it, or abuse the trust that people have in us. Considering the nature of this problem, and that it could be several months before i can afford a new laptop, i am wondering if this might be an instance where some help might be acceptable, because it effects the production of the comic directly.
So, i'm basically looking for two things (i know i'm going to regret asking this, i can see the flood of emails already ^^;;). First off, what kind of portable computers would you recommend for my needs? What's a good, reliable machine these days? Screen quality is essential, but what's 'good enough' for graphic work? Secondly, is there anyone out there who can help get me a decent laptop at a reasonable price? Finally, would any of you have a problem with a short-term paypal donation system solely for the purpose of purchasing equipment for mt? In case you were wondering, your support via t-shirt sales, etc has helped Largo and I purchase the new server, a new printer, memory, hard drives, art supplies, software, etc, as well as travel related expenses for the various anime cons. A lot of what we earn for MT goes right back into it.
I'm sure i'll catch some flack for this, but I wouldn't be asking the MT community if i didn't feel that this wasn't something the MT community might not mind helping me with. I love doing MT, and a good laptop would make my life a lot easier. Like i said, the biggest problem i have these days is access to some of the tools i need to do MT (for instance, i usually script comics while away from home, and on paper. Being able to do it right in Illustrator would save me a bunch of time on many occasions). I am still thinking about this, but i need to do something, and i figured i'd give you-all a change to let me know what you think. ^^;;
Speaking of the comic, its Sunday around 3:30, and i really need to get cracking on Monday's comic (thank god for the time change ^_^). If you were wondering how i am able to write this while Seraphim is so busy our home computer? I came over to the office to write and upload this rant ^_^;;; I'm about to head over to the library and find a cubicle somewhere and crank for a while.
Thanks, as always, for your support, and i think that you can look forward to MT being as on-track as it has been in the past four weeks or so without any worries. It's taken a little time to find my second wind, but i did finally find it. ^_^
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: