Thursday, August 15, 2019

Our Road to Being a Comic Creator .. and the Future.

Our road to being a Comic Creator (Mangaka)  has been long and on going for over 30 years. It is just one of the things we have spent our time on though. The usual format has been the single panel, such as this one from 2004.

Our longer format "Sequential Art"  has so far involved creating 5 different Webcomics since 2014. Unlike all other Webcomics, these have not been done for advertisement driven income, but as a method of self publishing and learning the craft.  I should mention that none of these are superhero comics, so not American mainstream works.  Have had some interesting email discussions with people I have "met" through these and this is some notes from those, looking at the approach I have taken to them.

The comics have been:

Heavy Metal Garage - A car related strip with 50 so far.
Terraform  16 page SF color work.
Terraform - Earlier In the Steroid Belt... 5 page color
Terraform - The Sales Call 7 page black only manga style.
This is Where the Smoke Comes Out - 36 page Autobiographical/History of the last 60 years.

All can be accessed from our ArtandTechnology website.  All free.

They have all involve different ways of story telling, just to see how they go.

Heavy Metal Garage was done like a daily newspaper strip and is inspired by Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller.  It uses his format in fact. I am a fan. Apart from the car theme and style that changed a bit over the 50 strip run, each is an individual standalone thing. A single panel with a Narrative Caption, maybe a speech balloon and a single illustration.

This had scratchy rough pen work, that become less scratchy as it went on. Note that Miller's comic is always scratchy pen work.
Site logs show me these strips have been read some 300 times. Promotion the issue? You tell me.

Terraform came about after being inspired after reading all of  the French Valerian and Laureline.  This combines the authors take on politics with SF and was a real revelation to me, in the same way  reading Ghost In The Shell was.  This story is more like a future documentary, or the way Arthur C. Clarke, wrote.  Involves Climate Change too but more about a good use of Data mining and surveillance technology.
In the mid 1990s I was involved with Desktop Sc-Fi Production using models, puppets and animation and this work takes all that into a simpler comic format that I can actually do in a reasonable amount of time.

Terraform - Earlier In the Asteroid Belt.  A character piece with a robot having an existential crisis. This is more the way Issac Asimov wrote. It uses my robot puppet from the 1990s, with backgrounds drawn in Clip Studio Paint.  This is a really fast to do format and I think the way it came out is great. Only let down by my writing, but I have seen far more bad TV with worse endings!

Terraform - The Sales Call.  This has the style I would like to continue with. Using black only and manga tone is a way to do longer stories by a single person. This was done in Clip Studio Paint.  What this story is missing here though, is the introduction of the characters, especially Miki.  Without some feeling for who the characters are, it doesn't make much sense.   ALEC is introduced in the main Terraform story, but that too needs more depth.  This story  is following one of the many SHONEN MANGA formats that allow a story and characters to go on for a very long time. They don't have a 3 act play structure. I would also like it to be a bit educational, but we will see.

This is Where the Smoke Comes Out  - A Collection Of Memories  uses the format from Shigeru Mizuki's SHOWA, A History Of Japan.  That work is as much autobiographical as it is historical and I found the autobiographical sections the most interesting with the history sections providing a time frame of reference for the reader.  Mizuki had converted photographs to line drawings for the manga production process, but I have mostly used back and white photos. Early feedback I received on some draft pages said that gave a validity to the work that comic images wouldn't.

Now this is only 37 pages long, and not the 250 pages a proper graphic autobiography would need to be, so it is very brief.  It also only took about 2 weeks to do so it is more of a framework for a much larger work. It does cover one aspect of our story though so it is complete in that regard.  You will note each page is complete with a title, as if it was to be published 1 page at a time.  So far this last work has been the most positively received in that I have actually received comments about it, but that I have lived and worked in Australia and Japan in the Electronic Musical Instrument production Industry gives it an interesting hook for people already interested in that field in the first place.

That seems to be the key. Unless the possible readers know you, and what makes you interesting, no matter how regularly you update a webcomic or put a link to it somewhere, the readership will not grow. Readers need to know you or know enough about you before they will bother to read or listen to your work.  The "I'm that Australian Sampler designer guy that lived in Japan a long time now making jokes doing comics and metal music" comes first.

Some quotes on this last have been:
I really like this
I really enjoyed your short comic
love your comic
This is really interesting
Fascinating stuff and great fun to read! 
Thoroughly enjoyed it
This is fascinating !!!
Great read, thanks for sharing!
It's an incredible insight as to how technology develops

The advantage of doing webcomics, compared to any other type of "vanity publishing" is I have complete control and can monitor promotion vs accesses, and make changes at any time. They have been built around a PHP system, that by default, will display the latest comic.

You might ask " Why are you doing this art stuff and not involved in the Australian Technology Start-Up industry where your experience should be valuable?"   The answer to that is explained in "The Dunning Kruger" principle and that Australia has become a very conservative and a technological backwater, and many of those in it just want investors money, don't consider experience, or actually delivering anything relevant, ... and just like the cartoon at the top of the page.

( update Nov 2019: And months after I wrote that, this article  Australia is rich, dumb and getting dumber  quoting a Harvard University report on Economic Complexity, placed Australia #93 in the world, behind Uganda.  Japan #1, USA #12. This explains a lot... 

"Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran, Mali and Turkmenistan share an unexpected connection to Australia, and it isn't membership of a tourist destination hot list. All are among the economies that are so lacking in complexity, and have such limited natural opportunities to develop new products, that Harvard University recommends they adopt industrial policy straight out of the post-colonial developing world: the "strategic bets" approach."

So now what?  

The autobiography/ history was done as an experiment and is very brief. There are  many stories I could add to it.  Seems to have had some 30 people read most of it in the 2 weeks since I posted it. If that had been hundreds of times more, then spending more time on it could be justified, but not at the moment. It has scratched the creative itch I had.

Pretty sure most of the people that would be interested in these works will never search for or stumble across them. When I stumble across something I find interesting it is usually years old, and the author has given up and moved onto something else.  

Promotion would help, but always problematic for us if it involves more than our website and SEO keywords. Google has manipulated results returned from searches over the years that can completely kill organic results for periods of time that you have no control over. The same has been true of  YouTube, where they changed the definitions of what views were over a number of years and the resulting drop  was obviously algorithmic.  Our YouTube channel had thousands of views but after their changes, the newest videos had just 10s or single digits. YouTube now isn't worth our effort without a change in what we do. Our videos have all been 2~4 minute original instrumental music  with still images, and the current algorithm seems to punish that type of work, preferring 30 minute talking head vbloggers.  And this wonderful Veritasium video explains their change to clickbate titles and long view times! And the curve he has duplicates the obviously algorithmic one I have seen of my own here:

In the last 5~10 years we expect that many now only ever use Facebook for their internet use, and Facebook has over that time built walls between itself and the outside world while at the same time only showing a post to tiny percentage of the people that liked your page, without paying to BOOST the post. We have had an Art and Technology Facebook page for many years, and a post to that is only shown to such a tiny fraction of those that follow the page that always seems like a waste of effort.  The Oatmeal has a cartoon on that called "Reaching people on the Internet".

There are far too many  trolls and self appointed fandom gate keepers in the social media worlds of comics and manga for that to be a viable avenue for promotion for us. Twitter and Reddit are particularly bad, but really they are all the same.  I found it reassuring going thru the brilliant comic artist Jason Brubaker's blog that he as received that treatment as well.  Read and buy his books! Wonderful! 

It is also true that sitting "waiting for the phone to ring" doesn't work either...  

Blogs like this one have also been less popular since 2014. Expect this is the impact of Facebook, but haven't read anything proof of this. With less people actually using a search engine to find things, the chance of anyone finding our work is much reduced. 

UPDATE: SEP 4 2019. Have watched a few more YouTube videos from those in the Webcomic space, that explains a little more to me about the change in Website/Blog use in the last 5 years or so. A major Webcomic advertisement site closed down a few years ago due to the dramatically reduced activity in the private blog/website space. One guy that did have a blog and a website moved to YouTube, Patreon and Webtoons. The feeling is having your own site like xkcd or Dilbert   is something that doesn't work any more for new publishers. Another suggested Patreon and selling eBooks is the way  in the world of Netflix binge watching. In either case, the Internet is a different place now, so people are less likely to search and find works like I have on my site.. they are just watching their Twitter or Facebook streams and that is the extent of their active discovery of material... result is the same, but I now have some evidence as to why. The Vbloggers are all padding their videos though to get their watched times up, probably to win against the YouTube algorithm and be able to get that YouTube advertising right.. Brad Guigar has 3 minutes of info dripped out over at least 30 minutes. 

And I think this is a really well thought out from Jason Brubaker.  It also is more general then just Webcomic creators, but equally applies to Illustrators with traditional websites and blogs.

Am planning to continue with the Terraform - The Sales Call. style of work and have all the back stories in a art diary.  It all comes down to priorities....  paid commissions get priority, which are mostly vector illustrations for manuals, signs, stickers and t-shirts.

UPDATE: FEB 4 2020.  We picked up and moved country again 2 months ago. So I am back in Japan again. This time in Kyoto Japan.  Spent the last 2 months moving and unpacking, and doing illustration commissions as if nothing has changed.
It is all extra material to feedback into a comic in the future.

We can be contacted at Art & Technology.

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