Sentient 39 or How To Rule The World.
A. Get a website.
I signed up for Keenspace, a free web hosting service specializing in comics. It’s a volunteer run, most DIY set-up. The servers crash every few weeks. There are hundreds of strips hosted on Keenspace. I haven’t looked at more than a fraction of them. I’ve found a few gems, a few “interesting” ones and a lot of … other stuff. I’m not going to criticize any of the other stuff. Have I been posting regularly for a couple of years? Have I posted anything besides a couple of “coming soon” pages? Nope. When the time comes I’ll link to the sites that impress me.
Browsing Keenspace sites requires a time commitment even over DSL and seems unrelated to the complexity of any of the sites I visited – Keenspace sites just load slowly. But free is good right now. Free is important. So Keenspace it is.
B. Forget about the website for a year.
Brilliant! All the illustration work I’ve done over the last year has allowed me to get familiar with my graphics programs, get a feel for what sort of rendering techniques I prefer and get back into the habit of constantly drawing. I think I’ve done more art in the last year than any time since doing Misspent Youths in 1991.
C. Determine content of website or “What’s your comic about Dave?”.
Originally Sentient 39 was going run as an illustration site. Once a week I was going to post an illustration of character, some event, some creature, something from the Sentient 39 “universe”. Some of the pieces I did ended up being used for the 2003 Labor of Love calendar. Other pieces can be found at my Epilogue.net gallery. And while I’d still enjoy doing random illustrations I feel like drawing comics. But what sort of comics?
Massive epic adventure featuring multiple characters, interweaving subplots and action told in a decompressed style that will play out over hundreds of pages?
Bad idea. Unfortunately, many of my favorite ideas are multi-character epics. But I’d prefer not to stick anyone with reading an epic at a page a week. I also know that my style is still evolving. It will always do that but it’s going to be changing the most in the early stages. In drawing an epic I’d like it if the style of page 201 were consistent with page two. Better to start small.
Daily humor strip?
Bad idea number two. I’m not funny. Not gag a day funny. I can draw better blind-folded, left-handed and drunk than Scott Adam’s can on his best day but I’ll never write anything as funny as Dilbert. And maybe not even as funny as the Family Circus.
Single character continuing series?
A better idea. I played around with a few protagonists – some new, some old friends and none of them seemed ready for this stage.
Unrelated short stories?
Also a good idea. I do have a few short stories that it would be fun to do. But I’d like the site to have a theme, a setting and characters that I can play with over the long term.
A series of short stories featuring re-occurring characters?
The best idea so far.
I thought of using the Mandate of Heaven RPG setting and telling stories featuring some of the characters from my illustrations for that project. Derek might get a kick out the idea. Trouble is – Mandate of Heaven hasn’t seen print yet. We’re still working on the premiere book. I’d rather get that finished before I start thinking of spin offs.
Maybe a Delta Green series? As long as I’m playing small and applying the proper “this work is not intended as challenge to such and such copyrights and trademarks” to the work I doubt that there would be any objections from either Chaosium or the Delta Green Partnership. But you don’t rule the world if you’re working with someone else’s copyrighted concepts. That’s why I decided not to pursue an Epic series with Marvel. In the unlikely event that they accepted one of my miniseries ideas, Marvel would still own everything I did. While Lovecraft’s work is basically public domain, the Delta Green setting isn’t. Perhaps something could be worked out in the future but for now, I think it’s best to stick with something that I don’t have to run by anyone else for rights and approval.
This does remind me of a series concept I’d pitched to Icebox.com in’00. Icebox was looking for ideas for short episode flash animation series that they could test out on their website. They were gambling on developing concepts that could be resold as television series similar to the manner that The Simpsons had been developed (originally short animations on the Tracy Ullman Show that proved popular enough that Fox was willing to try out half hour versions). Nizzibet, the Kipster and I had all sent ideas their way and Icebox passed on every one of them.
I pitched two series – Sargasso (inspired by a William Hope Hodgson novel) and The Cauldron. Sargasso is too much the multi-character epic for my current purposes. The Cauldron, however, fits just fine. It was designed as a series of self contained episodes featuring continuing characters.
The version of The Cauldron that I’ll be running on Keenspace has evolved since ’00. It’s still a mystery/detective series and features the same characters but the background has evolved. After there have been a few stories published I might go into the differences between what was conceived and what has resulted but I’d rather wait on any further discussion of that.
D. Determine the format of the comic –
How do I present the story? As a comic strip? As a comic book page? In infinite canvas?
Ultimately I’d like to see The Cauldron in print. As cool as webcomics are, they’re still ephemeral things. They require some sort of computer to read them. I’m a book geek and I’d like my work to end up in some sort of dead tree edition. So it makes sense to design the storytelling; the art, with the goal of eventually collecting it in print. That eliminates the infinite canvas idea. (We won’t go into what a chunk of dullness loading an infinite canvas comic through Keenspace would be.)
Comic strip or comic book page? The narrow horizontal format of the comic strip doesn’t work for this series. And while I’m okay with other webcomics using a comic book page layout I’d rather not do it myself. Using the comic book proportions on a webpage generally means that the whole page can’t be looked at or read on screen all at once. The most that can usually be seen is 2/3 of a page. A half comic page layout would give me greater room for action and allow the reader to feel like they’re seeing the whole page. I’ve also worked out cropping and stretching ideas that will mean that the ultimate layout of the print edition has more variety than 2 half pages combined to make a full page. I’ll be designing for a full page and then reformatting for half pages on the web.
E. Write the comic
F. Draw the comic