< Piro >
Thursday - November 20, 2003
As i've said before, the hardest part of doing Megatokyo is the writing. People ask me all the time how far in advance I have Megatokyo planned out. The answer is yes and no. Do i know generally where Megatokyo is going? Yes. Do i have a word document that has the next 20 comics scripted out, complete with comments, scene descriptions and comic layouts?
Hah, right. Excuse me while i laugh myself silly.
If you must know, I'd LOVE to have such a document, but the sad truth is that it will probably never exist, not the way I work. Writing a story is a lot like focusing in on a picture. You start with a general idea of what the story is, where it is going and the general concepts you are trying to get across. After this, there are several degrees of 'focusing in'. You get more detailed about what happens within the story, adding more levels of details as you connect the dots and weave the threads together. This is all a nebulous process - it's a lot like pulling things out of thin air and trying to make something solid. It can be very frustrating sometimes.
The final step is actually one of the most unpredictable: pulling together the specifics of what actually happens in the story. You have to pull the actual moments into sharp focus - The scenes, the events, what the characters say, etc. I think if i were any sort of professional comic writer and artist, I'd finish this part of the comic writing process before i started drawing the actual comic itself. This is actually pretty rare. I usually have a vague idea of what the comic is going to be, a few scribbles on paper, some loose setup in my head, and then i start drawing.
The nice thing about this approach is that it lets the dialogue and the art bounce off of each other, and i can take advantage of the flexibility to make an ok comic better on the fly. There is an ad lib quality to it that i'm not really sure how to match in a development phase without drawing the final frames. I've been doing MT this way since it started but I keep saying to myself i have to change, start writing ahead further, finalizing strips sooner, doing more development at this last 'focusing in' level... It's a lot harder than it sounds.
When i started working on 'warmth' last year - trying to take it from that nebulous idea phase to the production of actual, real, panels for it - I learned something about the comic creation process. With MT, each page stands more or less on its own, and the story stumbles along one page at a time. I bring each page into focus one at a time, and following pages are in many ways solidified by what happens in the page before it. With 'warmth', i was trying to pull together 15-30 pages of material all at once. What startled me was how hard it was for me to do this. I found myself not able to move very far forward without actually finishing bits and pieces of the comic first.
That's why the initial release of 'warmth' wasn't very good. The first 3 pages, then the three after that, came out really well. The remaining pages fell apart and I ended up cutting it short because, well... i felt stuck, and that things weren't coming together quite right. Sobering, really, to see a concept you are so keen for not living up to your expectations.
Since that time, i've been able to step away from that first bungled attempt to bring 'warmth' to life, and i've had a chance to rethink some things. There were vast gray areas in the story that needed resolution, stretches of flatness that was devoid of the kind of character and life that it should have had. It doesn't matter how strong a story feels to you, if the mechanics that hold it together are, well, mechanical and lifeless, then the story is not going to communicate well to others. Thankfully, i'm pretty thick headed about not drawing things that i don't have a feel for. In recent months I've spent a lot of spare time trying to reduce the mechanical structures holding the story up and replace them with living structures - giving the story the soul it's supposed to have..
Much of what i've been experimenting with can be applied to Megatokyo as well. While its bit-by-bit nature makes it easier to create comics with ad lib life to it, I do think that getting deeper into the story development process for MT will only improve things. Honestly, Chapter 4 isn't bad, but there are a lot of things wrong with it. There are so many story threads that they are overpowering the little segways that can add spice and humor to it. Hopefully i can do a better job with the next chapter. We'll see.
Originally, i was going to cut back on convention appearances and other travel next year to give myself more time to work on things like development, but... well... things didn't work out that way. ^^;; From the look of things, it's going to be another busy year of traveling, and it starts with a bang for me - thanks to the good folks at Anime Expo Tokyo, i'll be visiting Japan this January. :)
It's been nine years since my initial visit to the place where all of my stories seem to take place, and i'm looking forward to having a chance to recharge a bit of that inspiration that helped form them. Anime Expo Tokyo is a con where they are attempting to combine the best elements of American and Japanese style conventions into one, and they have invited me as an American guest. Anime Expo Tokyo takes place this January 16-18, 2004 at the Sunshine City Convention center in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan. There are quite a few Japanese guests, from Kikuko Inoue (Beldandy in AMG, etc) to Akamatsu Ken (Love Hina) and many others (a full list is on the website). I know that there are some MT readers in Japan - not as many as here, but it should be fun. One thing they really hope to do is attract fans from outside of Japan, and the con is set up to take care of english speaking fans, and I very much welcome the universality of the fandom that surrounds the things we like. [oops, seems like its too late for the travel packages ^^;; - piro] Its worth checking out if you feel like doing something crazy like, fly to japan on a whim... wait, where have i heard that before...
I've also managed to set up and start to organize the rest of my convention / travel schedule for the year. Don't fret if you can't fly out to Japan to see me at AX Tokyo, Seraphim and I ended up planning to travel as much, if not more, than we did last year. ^^;; Here are some of the conventions that we are confirmed for, so you can plan ahead a little if one is in your area:
There are more, but for now that's what's been confirmed. It's looking like I might be going to Anime Central, Fanime, A-kon, San Diego Comic Con, Otakon, and a few others this year. Ugh. I think i need my head examined...
Quick notes to be added here - be sure to read Seraphim's recent rant where it talks about Operation Comix Releif if you haven't yet - its a good cause.