< Piro >
Thursday - February 2, 2006
Friday's comic will actually be posted Saturday morning - i have some things that have come up that will prevent me from working on the comic today, so i'll have to work on it tomorrow. Hopefully this rant will tide you over till then. (thankfully i pretty much finished this yesterday...)
After posting Wednesday's comic, I bristled a bit the next morning when i started to see feedback from the strip. Of course, getting only two and a half hours of sleep didn't help my mood, but i did my usual snippy snipeback at people for ganging up on me about what are perceived to be story 'problems' or 'things fred is about to do wrong'. Later in the day, i felt kinda bad about snapping at people, so I stared to reply apologizing for my snippy early morning comments. It turned into something at least vaguely interesting with some insight into my writing methods, so i figured what the heck, i am in need of a new rant anyway. :P
Not everyone follows the MT story as closely as some people do (cough) and most readers don't really analyze things too deeply. The fact that many do and that what i write has been able to support these kinds of discussions over the years is something i'm actually proud of. To me, a good story has many layers to it - it can be understood and enjoyed on a casual level, but there is enough there to make re-reading and re-experiencing the story a worthy experience. There are a lot of undercurrents and little things i noogle into it, and i'm happy when people stumble over them and grapple with trying to work them out. Quite often people surprise me by 'getting' it. Other times, i ashamedly admit, i am amused where the errant trains of thought go. Sometimes they crash, some just switch tracks and keep going, swallowing up the new information. Looking at other people's analysis of your own work is kinda fascinating, really. Its also a good way to gage if you're doing a decent job or not.
Feedback of any sort is a collective process. I pretty much ignore what any one person or group might say as far as critique and comments go. Ascertaining how MT is weathering in the reading public is part art, part science. It's like trying to gauge the weather by sniffing the wind and looking at the horizon because the only weather forecasts available are those written by bloggers. :) If i see something pop up in different feedback streams, i take note. You never really get a whole picture of what people really think, just the vague edges, and that's usually enough. If from this i get the impression that something isn't working, i try to figure out better ways to do it. MT is an experiment, and a fairly decent one - with all its catastrophic failures and blunders, it's an interesting testbed for me to learn how to write. Or to go mad. Not sure which yet.
From Wednesday's comic, the most common gripe was "oh no, not another character! MT has too many characters already!". The second snark was the oh so common "this character is gonna do (this) and that is so cliche"
(sigh) not those two again. There are a lot of times when i finish up a comic that i know exactly what the reactions are going to be. I'll admit that there are times that i've written things that have made me almost scared to do a certain story arc based on fear of how readers will react. Thankfully i am pretty stubborn, so i often just steam ahead and put on some flak gear and take the shots. I'm tired of putting on flak gear for these two gripes, so i figured that i'd elaborate on why i think they are unfair and unwarranted. I may be totally wrong with my opinions and attitudes here, but they are right in there with all those other horrible attitudes with which i write and produce this comic. Many people still think Bumblebees cant fly, but somehow they manage it. I think if they did try to think about it they'd just fall out of the air. I suffer from the same problem.
Now, lets look at the "too many characters" gripe. When Megatokyo was just getting started, the ideas were very loose and were not formed cohesively. Rodney and I had not by any means laid out really where this thing was going, and the story element was my thing and i hardly knew what i was doing back then. Many of the characters and storylines that make up MT today were the result of a few thematic ideas as well as the occasional expediency in attempts to figure out just where the hell this story was going. Doing a story based webcomic is a lot like writing a term paper one page at a time and having to post your rough drafts as you go - with no ability to go back and change the drafts. It took a while, but i more or less got the characters under control as the story solidified.
It's true that there are a lot of characters and storylines to keep track of in MT, i have problems with it myself sometimes ^^;; I do try hard not to introduce random characters - but face it, this is Tokyo, not Fourcornersandatrafficlight, Michigan. Few of the characters suffer from hikikomori, we are dealing with a lot of powerful forces, characters with past or the potential future of immense popularity, two different schools with lots of students, the entire anime/gaming Industry that Kimiko might just be causing shock waves in, Ninjas, Magical Grrls, the Otaku wave... the only thing i don't delve into is Japanese politics :P ... how can you people seriously expect me to never introduce any new characters? Get over it.
What was that? A character guide? That would help?
(cough) One of these days. Maybe, if i ever feel like it (and no, i don't need help, i'll do it myself. Thank you :)
I have some odd attitudes towards characters, and they kinda goes against good writing principles - there are no 'minor' characters in Megatokyo. I firmly believe that all characters are important, and each is a 'main' character in their own life. I could give a twonk less about 'story' structure and defining the importance of characters based on how they exist in the story - a story is just a window view on lives of these characters. It is by necessity selective and linear in what it shows, thus giving the illusion that some characters are more 'main' than others.
If you look back at the story, you can see that this attitude of mine has led to lots of problems with the telling of the 'story'. I used to get easily sidetracked, following "minor" characters and focusing on them rather than what most would consider the "main" story. There's nothing wrong with this, except the reality is that there just isn't time to tell everyone's story. Over time I've learned how to balance things better, understanding that i cant follow every rabbit down every hole. Haven't you ever watched an anime or read a story where some subplot was more interesting to you than the main focus of the story? A prime example of this was Ruri from Nadesico - she wasn't the main character of the series, but you'd hardly know that by looking at fanworks. :P
Labeling anyone as 'minor' or 'main' to me is unrealistic and derogatory to that character. Who says you wont see the two guys from the computer store again, or the stewardess from the plane? And just who is the boy in Wednesday's comic? If you've been paying attention, you've seen him a number of times before.
I suppose yet again i'm not following the rules of good writing. Hell, i don't even know what the rules are. The last english or lit class i took was in High School (and i've never taken any art or drawing classes, just Photography in college). Yes, yes, it's lame and a real cop out to claim ignorance or to dismiss the value of a better literary education - i'm just pointing out the fact that i don't have it. I'm not going to get into any arguments about 'if Fred tried to apply proven methods of good writing to MT, I would be much better'. Ya, fine, it'd be better, but it might just send everything crashing to the ground too. That and it wouldn't be me.
Now, onto the "Cliche" gripe.
If you haven't figured it out already, i play a lot with cliche's in MT. Some cliche's are established and are part of the story. Some are very specific and exist as part of my commentary on them. Some are deliberate and unchanged, some are unintentional, some are deliberate and then turned on their ear, some are set up then dodged. I am constantly irritated by people who read a comic, then pre-determine where they think i am going, and proceed to rag on me about my probability of doing something so horribly 'cliche' It's like getting shot by a cop for reaching into your pocket for a stick of gum. Some people are really trigger happy with the cliche tag.
What causes this problem has to do with the nature of a comic that is released one page at a time. All the reader has is the comics leading up to the current point, and anything beyond that they won't know till it is released. I get a lot of flack for 'where things are going' in the middle of arcs, but surprisingly little after the arcs are done. Sure, not everything works the way i hoped, and many arcs eventually turn out merely ok. Some people seem to live in some kind of abject terror that i'm going to stop writing things that they enjoy and sink into terrible cliches and boring storylines. Shoot me when i do that, not when you are afraid i might.
Stories are about experiencing things. Running through a sequence of two characters falling in love is about as unoriginal as you can get, but for some reason we all still enjoy experiencing them. Emotions are not things you can solidify, stick in a frame and hang on the wall to gather dust - they are experiential things. There's a sample quote in a DJ Cam track... underground vibes, i think, that sums up how i think emotion exists for people. Lemme find it... ah, here:
"when you hear music, and after its over, its gone, in the air, you can never capture it again"
Thanks to the magic of recording and whatnot, You can play it again, but you can't just quantify it and put it in a drawer - you have to experience it to feel it. A lot of 'cliches' are really variations on things that human beings just love to experience over and over again. I can put up a page with the words 'smile!' on it, or i can do a small sequence of the story that makes you smile. Guess which works better?
I think people get a lot of comfort out of dealing with cliches. Just because you've eaten pizza before doesn't mean you wont order it again next week. Someone pointed out to me once that the japanese are particularly good at taking something that is popular and redoing it over and over again, refining the idea and just taking simple pleasure in experiencing something they like again. Anime is full of that, thats where 'genres' come from. For all the griping and demands for 'originality' its amazing how much people like their comfort zones and 'cliches'. Thats what i poke fun at, and unabashedly use.
Are there Cliches in Megatokyo? Of course there are. Dealing with them is a major theme. Get over it.
Now, it can be dangerous to deal with cliches sometimes, and over the years i've learned how to better handle them. There is a real danger that if you don't pull it off right, or worse, you don't finish them, you end up stuck in the cliche, and that's worse than anything. The biggest example of this that i have really yet to fully resolve is the Conscience subplot in Chapter 5.
I get a lot of ragging for that, and i'm going to be quite blunt and tell people to just fuck off about it. Why? Because it is a gaff that i am not happy about, and remains a problem because i never finished the arc. Where was it going? Did it have a point? Yes, it did. A very specific one. But i had to make a decision with a flagging story with too much weight at the time that i needed to refocus and put aside this subplot in favor of moving the story along. There was nothing wrong with the sub plot, it was just too complex and lengthy to have threaded in with the other story threads. It was a mistake of implementation.
I'm actually quite bitter about the fact that i know i'll never be able to finish it because if i try, i'll get nothing but bitching and screaming and vitriolic bullshit from critics about revisiting a subplot that many readers were highly critical of as i try to proceed through it. I'm honestly quite sad about this because that particular arc because it will forever be judged on where it stopped. It's kinda personal, too, because Seraphim is representation of my wife, remember? Of all the storylines in MT, it was one that involved her that i had to screw up the most. :( When i think too much about it, it really makes me want to completely abandon Megatokyo. In fact, that feeling is what let me to decide to wrap things up.
Before you panic, that was a decision i made well over a year ago. :) In a really funny, odd way, its the best thing that happened to the story. This desire to move things forward towards a conclusion forced me to stop meandering and focus on where i wanted things to go. Funny, isnt it? This desire to wrap up the story made me dive into the story with more fervor, and get to all those thing i've been planning 'somewhere down the road'. Life is odd, isn't it? God only knows how long it's gonna take me to wrap this thing up - i wouldn't worry about it yet, it will probably still take a few years. :P
A long time ago i realized that art is not about doing things perfect the first time and never making mistakes. It is about knowing how to fix your errors as you go and move on towards a finished piece. I think its the same with writing. I may be able to fix the conscience arc properly someday, and if i do i dont think it will change the progression of the story, i just need to toughen myself up a bit so i can deal with the critics and bull my way through it.
For a rambling sequence of stumbling errors and corrections, i think people still for the most part seem to like what i'm doing, The day people don't have enough emotional investment in it to give me all those common gripes about characters and cliche storylines ...
that will be will be the day i realize they don't anymore. :)