Tuesday, April 29, 2008

BONUS UPDATE - #76 up! (Oh, and Would You Kindly...)

So something's up, all right...

While I plan on having plenty of time to work on the comic, I want to make sure that everyone who reads the comic gets something worthwhile for their efforts... Thus, I'm asking you outright what you'd like to see.

You're welcome to suggest anything you can think of (no guarantees that it's doable, though...) but here are some ideas I've been kicking around lately;
  • A "Encyclopedia Galactica" section of the site to help fill in some of the story gaps and little details that it'll just take too dang long to get to if I wait around to get them written in.
  • New wallpapers (as donation incentives or otherwise)
  • New Last Resort merchandise / commissionable items (Difficulty level - No t-shirts!)
  • Faster Updates (this is my default, but be warned, I'd rather be on time once a week than falling behind with twice a week, so this won't be happening for a while if it's even possible.)
Comment below with suggestions. Oh, and worth note; this isn't a vote, but if enough people speak up... well, I know when to take a hint!

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

TWO Bonus Updates You Won't Want to Miss!

Looks like someone decided to donate after all... enough to make it a pair of bonus updates, in fact. Check back this upcoming Wednesday (as well as next week's Wednesday!) to see the new pages.

... And I hope that you all enjoy them because that'll just about wipe out my buffer until I have a chance to draw more actual pages. Oy.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

#75 Up!

One more week for me to go before I jump back into "Comic Time" (and not a moment too soon, because I enjoy seeing the comic pages in advance almost as much as you do!), but it looks like we've got a cliffhanger going into this next week.

Wish me luck, folks; things are about to get interesting around here.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Creating Comic Characters: A Primer

" . . . Oh dear God, it's a Mary Sue."

Sometime yesterday after 1:00 PM I said these words, upon the realization that a new character of mine (whose details I won't get into right now if only because one, it'll ruin the suspense, and two, if I actually SAY anything about Character X it'll be taken as the Word of God) was just . . . built up too much. Safe to say, Character X is being rebuilt as we speak.

Creating characters may be one thing -- and the details of which are covered in so many other tutorials online -- that it's worth detailing how a comic character differs from, say, a character you might come up for a written story of yours, or a role-playing game. The differences?
  • Ease of Illustration - If you plan on drawing this character over and over (and OVER) again, it ought to be something that is easily-enough drawn if you expect to be able to keep drawing at a particular speed. Granted, the more you draw a character the easier it gets, but it's still a problem if your character happens to have several features that are not easily drawn -- elaborate masks and tattoos, large wings... if it take too long to draw, you've got a problem.
  • Visual Originality - Okay, great backstory aside, how do they LOOK? A common sin of most video games who think just altering the faces of their characters is originality enough, the easiest way to check if you're doing it right is the silhouette test. If your bodies are too similar or the hairstyles are too confusing, this will highlight most problems. If you don't do this, you get posters like this one where the only reason I can tell one blonde from another is by the clothes. And even that doesn't get me too far.
(Yes, Adam Hughes, I know it's not your fault you get stuck with trying to make DC's intellectual properties look unique, but come on, man . . .)
  • Visual Appeal - This should NOT be confused with sex appeal lest you draw all your women with the exact same size breasts. Visual Appeal, rather, focuses on the aesthetics of drawing the character; regardless of how attractive or "disgusting" a character is intended to be, they should still have a general degree of characterization that makes the character appealing somehow. A good example of "ugly" creatures with great visual appeal are the movie-monster archtypes; the mummy and Frankenstein's monster might not be the type of creature you want to run into in a dark alleyway, but they still retain a certain level of charm about them.
A lot of this comes down to the artistic skills available as much as everything else -- if you spend huge levels of time drawing all your characters, ones with actual tricky parts might not be that much of a stretch -- but in a comic story, not hitting all three of these points results in lots of problems.
  • Not remembering that a character should be easy to draw will only slow down your ability to draw pages, leading to burnout.
  • Not designing visually unique characters means that readers will confuse them for each other way too often. (In recent pages, for example, Nate and Vince have been getting confused for each other -- familial relations aside, it's a sign that I need to tweak them a little further to prevent future issues.)
  • Not designing characters with a certain visual appeal in mind means that readers don't get the characters at all... and thus your efforts end up in vain.
At the heart of all of this is that you still have to create great characterization, but comic characters need that little bit of extra effort. What sort of character details do you think are important?

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

#74 Up! (oh, and a Possible Bonus Update soon...)

I am SO glad I have a buffer when I feel sick and icky and just want to go to sleep... like right now. Enjoy the update while I'm unconscious.

Oh, and not to encourage anyone into actually depleting my buffer before the school semester is over (even if I do have enough pages now to last at least that long), but someone was generous last night with $30. If you're looking for a cheap way to force a bonus update soon by donating a little more, there's your opportunity.

No pressure. Donations don't go moldy, after all.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

The One Lesson Every Webcomic Creator Must Learn

First off, a confession: Webcomics make me sick.

Actually, let me rephrase that. I like having a webcomic, drawing a webcomic, starting a fandom for it, bringing my characters to life . . . so in actuality, my webcomic keeps me healthy. It's the way other people treat their webcomics that makes me sick, makes me want to stop reading, makes me furious for ever liking their comic to begin with... and believe it or not, it makes me even MORE upset than the average reader of such a comic, because it makes my job that much more difficult.

So, please, if you have a comic . . . for my sake and everyone else's, learn this:


This is not optional. If you want to stand ANY chance of going anywhere in webcomics -- and I don't care if anywhere is becoming DC/Marvel's lapdog, or printing your book, or even just making a little money on the side -- you need to learn this.

Ask any fan of webcomics, and they all have a story about how they were "burned" by less scrupulous artists: either their idols were a little too rude to a fan or three at a convention, online drama erupted that somehow managed to become part of the folklore of the site, they slowed down to the point nobody knew when the story was going to pick up again, or even (God Forbid!) they stopped working on the comic just before the story was about to end.

Yes, creating content about your stories, crafting beautiful panels and imagery, organizing your website for appropriate content . . . this is all important, perhaps even necessary. In spite of this, so many people seem to forget that starting a comic (especially one that contains a story) is supposed to be a general contract between an artist that they will do what they can to tell the story, and in turn readers will reward the artist for this with patronage and profits. Stop the story before it's done (or before you can at least bring it to a satisfying conclusion), you break the contract. Give people what they wanted all along, and you'll be a hero for it.

Difficult? Sure . . . but at the same time, for every person who makes a great-looking comic they can't continue, there's an artist struggling against this stereotype that webcomics are not "serious" ventures -- that they're made to be abandoned as soon as the artist lands a real job / turns sixteen / loses their virginity. I can't tell you how many times people have told me they're so shocked that a once-a-week comic could actually captivate and keep them panting for the next page just like a daily comic . . .

. . . and this is without including the fact my father told me over lunch at MomoCon how impressed he was with what I was doing, since most comics that fail tend to crap out around the hundred-strip point.

Yes, I know I'm only up to 80 pages right now, but it only underscores how ridiculously low the bar is set for webcomics.

(EDIT: As of July 8, 2008, I'm about to reach the hundred-strip point, and I'm starting to see WHY folks crap out. Yeesh.)

It's not my fault that people have these expectations about webcomics and are shocked to find a comic where, somehow, it manages to do simple things like help the reader find all the information they want, updates when it says it does, and god forbid, doesn't insult the reader's intelligence. And as much as I would be justified naming a few especially bad examples of this, even among popular, "successful" webcomics . . . if there's one thing I actually find relevant from reading about people like Judith Butler in class, it's that expectations like this come from only one thing: sedimentation.

(And yes, I'm as shocked as you are that I somehow managed to relate a feminist philosopher to a rant about webcomics. My apologies. I'll try harder in the future not to drag my schoolwork into the blog.)

One thing stacks on top of everything else and continues ad infinitum until it becomes accepted. Every Dead Piro Day, every Guest Comic, every Filler update, every "I swear I'll update in a few weeks!" post . . . it all adds up to this expectation that webcomics are unreliable, and damn it, sooner or later everyone decides this is just how webcomics work.

The only way to fix it is to start becoming reliable, and realizing that if you expect to survive off the generosity of others, you damn well better give them something for it. Maybe not necessarily what they want (though it helps), but at least what you say you'll give 'em. Of course, there's more than reliability involved, but it's far and away the most obvious show of respect. The next trick, of course, is how to make it clear to new readers that you have their best interests at heart too.

If you're willing to do what you can to help, I don't have all the answers up yet (though here are some steps in the right direction), but that's easily fixed with a little bit of time... and a subscription to the RSS feed, if you're not already on it.

You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your readers. You don't have to put them before your own health or anything crazy; but you do have to remember that they're here for you because you offer them something special.

Don't blow it.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eight Things to do with an RSS Feed... Mine in Particular.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: RSS Feeds are freaking useful (and you should subscribe to mine as soon as possible, if you haven't already!)! However, since you're still reading this, you're probably not convinced yet about how useful they actually are. Heck, you might even already be a subscriber, in which case: Good on you, but nothing says you necessarily know how useful they are!
What is RSS? It's an old technology of the internet made new because now enough people are publishing with them to make aggregation useful again. You sign up for a site (or two, three, five, eighteen...) with an RSS reader, and the reader checks them all for you and lets you know ASAP when a new article comes out. It's all the benefit of being able to check each of those sites at once, without the hassle of actually having to remember to check each site.
The best way to explain why you should use them is to let you know what you can do with an RSS feed once you're subscribed to one, and rest assured, there's plenty of things you can do with my blog's RSS feed:
  1. Save Time and Energy!
    Why run around to 16 different websites when you can just go to your RSS reader of choice and see which ones in the list have updated? Including this blog into your list means that you can keep up with me without having to actually visit the website unless you want to!
  2. Catch the Weekly Update (or any Bonus Update I happen to do) as Soon as it Appears!
    This is a gimme; I like to have an update up when I post a new page, which means you get your fix as good as immediately. As a plus, it makes sure you don't forget to read the comic, and if you're one of the forum folks, it gives you a chance to be the first to post the thread for the new page. (Go on, admit it, you want to be THAT guy at least once.)
  3. Steal Sneak Peaks at the Cool Stuff I'm Reading!
    I have del.icio.us set up to leave my bookmarks in the RSS feed. Sometimes it's just random stuff I want to keep track of (like, say, research for an important paper for a class), other times it's good articles by other people, sometimes its hints at what I'll be trying next, whether it's for a new blog article or some nifty product idea . . . either way, you can't lose!
  4. Snag Every Single New Blog Post!
    RSS keeps up with all the updates, period. It couldn't be simpler to make sure you don't miss something important posted here.
  5. Show your Support for the Comic / Blog!
    The counter keeps track of the # of subscribers to the blog. When the number goes up, not only does it make me happy, you're showing other people that you think the comic (or at least this RSS feed) is useful and worth something. Keeping the artist happy means more posts of better quality, and the bigger the # in the counter gets, the more likely other people are to subscribe to the feed. This isn't a ploy; since subscriber counts are one of the easier-to-measure indicators of quality, when my numbers jump, everyone knows I've done a good job.
  6. Track my Convention Appearances!
    I always mention when I'm going to a new convention, whether it's for business or pleasure, and so if you're going there too, this is your chance to say hello! Whether it's a convention for Furry Fandom, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Anime, or even Computers / Web 2.0, if I'm going to it, you're going to hear about it! And sooner or later you might even be interested in meeting me there.
  7. Discover My Latest Offers!
    Hey, I have plenty of crackpot ideas and attempts at experimentation in the name of the comic... why not be the first to see what I'll come up with next? Who knows, maybe you'll actually like it enough to want to buy something!
  8. Win Contests Announced in the Blog!
    There was a contest not too long ago where I gave away two full-body commissions to a pair of observant readers who were the first to answer correctly. It's not likely any future contests will be so easy or so dependent on being the first to send in the right answer, but why risk it?
There's lots of ways to view RSS feeds, but I recommend Bloglines or Google Reader because they're web-based RSS readers (and so you can access them from any computer).

Tempted yet? Sign up for the feed, and if you're happy with it, use it. If not, it's no big deal... I just think you'd be cheating yourself not to.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

About the "Orphan Works Bill" (and Why Nobody's About to Steal your Kingdom Hearts Fanart)

Okay, artists, let's recap: Relatively powerful animation guru writes incensed article about how Congress is trying to steal all of your artwork, family photos, and other assorted artwork, by declaring it an "Orphaned Work" unless you go and pay $45 to register its copyright (and do so before anyone else so that they don't get your precious copyright and steal it from you that way).

. . . and if you believe that, I still have lawyers outside my window.

The Truth: While there WAS an "Orphaned Works Bill" back in 2006, it died in committee. There is no bill in congress now with even similar language, and even if there was, it's in violation of the Berne Convention on so many levels that the minute Big Copyright (i.e. Disney) caught wind of the fact it would jeopardize their ability to leverage their copyrights outside of the United States, this thing would die faster than a mafia informant.

Yes, you should exercise due vigilance with your images/copyrights, but you don't need to register every single piece you have (and seeing how that's $45 a pop, you'll go broke trying), and if anyone is found violating your copyright you're still due all the usual damages this incurs. Yes, using your real name (and maybe a URL/email address) to sign your works is a damn good idea in case the image becomes separated from the website.

This said, writing/phoning/foaming rabidly from the mouth at your congressional representatives before this thing even has a bill number is stupid. To Congress, if it doesn't have a bill number, it doesn't exist. If this thing actually DOES gain a number and a chance in hell of passing, then by all means, foam away.

In the meantime, though? Just get back to work. If you really want to write someone, go ask Bill O'Reilly to "investigate" this. At least that way we'll either get the truth, or hilarity will ensue.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

#73 Up, AND new Cast Pages!

We've got a new page, AND four more cast profiles revealed! Those on the forums got a little sneak peek, but now they're here for everybody to see!

Y'all know where to direct commentary by now, and oh, by the way... if anyone has suggestions on who the next cast profiles should feature, feel free to speak up.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

#72 is up!

Special thanks goes out to Stiletto (who those on the forums might recognize pretty quickly) for this little cameo... and really, everyone knows lawyers travel in packs. ;)

Need to update the little buffer counter, but otherwise expect an additional little something within the next week... no bonus points for guessing what it is though. :-p


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Squidoo - One, Two Clicks on You (and that's about it, really)

One of the hardest things you can do when trying to make anything popular - blogs, webcomics, whatever - is promoting it to people who have no clue what your stuff is about. Squidoo (the love child of Seth Godin and . . . his ego, I imagine) claims that by building lenses (single-page websites that are the go-to for whatever it is you want to know) you can not only deliver more traffic to your own pages and sites you love, you can also make money doing it through affiliate programs (ala promoting related books to your topic) and Google ads.

A promising lure, to be sure, or at least it would be if it didn't involve just as much work as trying to promote the blog/webcomic/etc. that you're trying to promote in the first place.

The amazingly ironic thing that needs to be understood is that the idea of inviting folks to build and keep their topic to a single, all-encompassing page is in fact pretty spiffy (and if you're short on ideas for trying to give people reasons to visit your site, it'll certainly help you fluff out whatever your topic is) and the ability to easily make money off the usual avenues certainly doesn't hurt either. The problem isn't that it doesn't deliver as far as allowing you to create a nice one-stop shop goes ('cause, well, if you've got the content, the pages pretty much write themselves), but that all this stuff isn't the great shortcut it's promised to be.

If you're looking for a way to make quick landing pages that do what they're supposed to (i.e. direct traffic to your site), then Squidoo's pretty good. Heck, use the Ever project (a Squidoo sub-section) to help steer you in the right direction and lock in your bragging rights , because if you can claim you've got the Deadliest Webcomic Ever, or even the Cutest Furry Ever, you'll have that much advantage over everything else, and a well-crafted, thoughtful lens is great stumble-bait. If nothing else, you'll have a clue what you need to accentuate and come up with for a page you can actually control the CSS on.

The best way it appears to use Squidoo to your advantage seems to be as follows:
  1. Make as many freaking lenses as possible. Don't make them ALL the same topic, but it helps to have at least a few that're related enough to each other that once you have a person lured in with one, they'll visit the rest. Unrelated lenses help show off your general prowess. Making a Lensography (a lens about your lenses) is basically the Bingo Freebie Square of Squidoo lenses.
  2. Read up on how to make the best lenses - this typically involves all the good things that go into any good website - polls, interactivity, a few book recommendations, and other useful things.
  3. Use StumbleUpon for Quick Traffic Boosts (and hope it sticks)
  4. ?????
  5. Profit!
I can't give a great recommendation one way or the other about Squidoo. If you're just looking for a quick way to make a page that you know is at least good practice, by all means use it and more power to you. If you can go in with a pack of your friends and quickly clobber the system through sheer group effort, it might work out. If you're willing to put in a LOT of effort for a system that may or not pay off, go for it.

I'll say this much though: It's not a magic bullet, it's not that simple to try (no matter how much it claims to be), aside from the possible Newbie Bonus you might get there's typically not enough traffic you'll get there that you couldn't get just from promoting your own site, and there's very little community to speak of.

Try it by all means, but don't bet the farm on it.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We now return you to your Regularly Scheduled Mayhem.


In case you're wondering, the main clue is that Scientologists only go after money, or at least celebrities that lead to money, and everyone knows there's no money or celebrity in webcomics. ;) (oh, and that last link in the entry was to the April Fools' 2008 Squidoo page, but...)

Thanks for following along, and sorry if you got caught up in stuff (I'm lookin' at you, Lazar), but hey, if at least a few people didn't fall for it, it wouldn't be a good joke. Strips will go up on time, as normal, with no interruptions.

See you Sunday, folks.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Is this the Last of Last Resort?

It is with a heavy heart (and a rather intimidating team of lawyers right outside my window) That I must announce the possible end of the Last Resort webcomic.

You see, the operations of Anonymous and their "Project Chanology", with massive worldwide protests staged by over 9000 people worldwide, have caused great distress to the Church of Scientology. The church, in turn, is seeking out any and all information they can find on "suppressive persons", which they consider enemies of Scientology. Apparently this includes the authors of almost all science fiction, which -- at least according to their lawyers -- is copyrighted in its entirely by L. Ron Hubbard. Furthermore, they claim that Last Resort is blasphemous propaganda against the church.

Particular infringements upon Mr. Hubbard's works (and Scientology Scripture) allegedly include:
  • Jigsaw being an alien vampire who sucks blood (as an apparent allegory to the "money-sucking" ways of the church)
  • The unfair representation of L. Ron. Hubbard as Vincent Vaeo, a money-hungry lizard who loves to physically attack and abuse his subordinates.
  • The concept of souls as creative energy to unlock, as this is a direct ripoff of the concept of Thetans and their superhuman powers.
  • Depictions of the Alien Lord Xenu (though they won't seem to tell me which character looks like Xenu the most - I suspect it's Adharia, for what it's worth)
  • Depictions of the Marcab Confederacy, as shown by having multiple species working together.
  • And finally, the Last Resort reality show itself is somehow a damning analogy to the Flag Building in Clearwater Florida, based on the promises of "total freedom" offered by Last Resort despite the fact that the people running the show clearly want everyone to either keep making them money or just die.
There's still hope, though: the lawyers have brought in a Scientology chaplain who says I can continue to work on the comic if I join their church, plus a $50,000 "royalty fee" for using L. Ron. Hubbard's works (the royalty fee gets waived, however, if I also agree to join their Sea Org). In exchange, Last Resort becomes official, legally copyrighted property of the Church of Scientology, exclusively available to members of the church for free. (Non-Scientologists will be expected to pay a nominal fee to continue viewing future pages.)

Further details are here. I'll be issuing a more formal response once I decide on an appropriate course of action.

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