Friday, October 21, 2011

STS-20: Some Thoughts on Our Short Comic, The End

First, an apology. This is the second post here with no art. It won't happen much, but hey, you get to read me ramble on and that's just as good, right? Okay, it really isn't, but this could be just as insightful, especially for others wanting to make some comics or just learn about how Caroline and I work.

Everything here refers to the mini comic we did about a year ago now, which we just recently finished showing off here on the internet, an 8-page story called The End. You can see it all right here if you haven't already.

First, the genesis of the story. A while ago, a competition for new comic creators appeared called the Eagle Initiative. They wanted a max of ten pages for an original story, and if one was picked as the top three by a panel of jurors, the story would be published. Now, sadly, the Eagle Initiative didn't happen due to a lack of entries. Seems that not enough people had the, excuse the pun, initiative to actually finish a short project for the competition. But we did, and while disappointed that the competition fell through, we were glad we could finally release this thing into the wild.

I spent a couple of days brainstorming ideas of what we could do in a short story. It's a struggle, as I tend towards longer, more complicated ideas, so I really had to take the time to figure out a plot that could be interesting and yet worked out in, at most, 10 pages. Somehow, in my looking for inspiration, I found myself doing what I tend to do when I want to think: casually trolling through wikipedia articles and learning. The subject I had somehow gotten myself on began with just generally looking at the structure of the universe and what we know, then lead to black holes and physics behind them, and eventually into the possible futures for the universe itself.

The concept that really grabbed me was the heat death of the universe. It's something that has always fascinated me, so it was easy to latch onto again. The concept is complicated, but here it is in brief: The universe is expanding. At some point, far, far in the future (trillions and trillions of years), the expansion of the universe coupled with stars and black holes and similar stellar masses use up all the available energy. Stars die, but no more are created. The universe literally goes dark, and over time, black holes eventually disappear, too. Everything gets cold as matter slows down, atoms themselves even stop moving over time. After all of that, there's just nothing left. Real nothing. In some ways, it can be a terrifying idea.

But I knew I'd read something about this before, so did some research into stories that might hit on the idea so as not to copy something without meaning to. That's when I found the story I was looking for, Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question", which you can read for free here: It's a short story and a wonderful read. After reading it, I realized I had, indeed, read it years before, but the ideas that Asimov's expertly tackled were a bit different than where my mind was going with the concept. Incidently, our main character is named Isaac as a tribute to the inspiration for the story. So I figured we were safe, and ran it by Caroline who absolutely loved it.

When it came to the script itself, the idea had gelled solidly around my own question: If humans lived long enough to see the head death of the universe, how could they survive? The idea of a computer simulation, similar to what was done in the movie The Matrix, immediately sprung to mind, but that alone wasn't enough. So more research went into the nature of time and, again, black holes. This led to the key concept of The End: relative time. If time ran at a different rate inside a digital universe than the real universe, humans could experience an infinite amount of lifetimes before the real universe died.

So we set to it, and somehow the story ended up not needing to even be 10 pages. After writing the script and having Caroline give it a look, I threw down the page layouts in light pencil. This is basically me blocking out shapes of the panels, where the figures will go, the camera angle, etc. After that, Caroline came in and did the finished pencils. She then inked it by hand, we scanned it in, and she colored all the pages digitally. Really, this is where the brunt of the work happened and Caroline definitely nailed it. The last step was me again, lettering the pages, which simply amounts to placing the word balloons and all the other text.

Bam. Finished comic.

It was the first full story we'd done, and altogether, those 8 pages took us close to five months to do, in between work and us planning our wedding. We had good reasons for the slowness, obviously.

So with that long-winded look at where this all came from, it's time for a look at what I think we did well and what we (mainly me) stumbled on.

First, what I think we did well. Overall, I am insanely proud of this simple story. I'd like to think that we told a short, compelling story in comic form that works very well in the medium, even without the need for action. As stiff as the script was at times, I feel that it fit the piece and the character. The panel layout is, overall, solid and the lettering leads one through most of the panels well. The art isn't our best, but for where we were then, it was our best. I firmly believe that, for us diving in headfirst on this, everything came together shockingly well. The coloring, especially, makes this. The brightness of the first pages contrasted with the greys and softer glows of the last pages does exactly what we'd hoped it would.


But. Always that with us artists. Art wise, the only real problem I can see is that we just didn't have a handle on things just yet. The stiffness of some of the poses bothers me, as today they would have so much more life to them.

The panel layout works overall, but somehow I don't think they served the emotional concept they should have. As it was scripted and worked on, the first three pages were all within the digital universe. Thus, I wanted the panels to hint at that structure by forcing the pages into a solid, 9-panel grid without any variation. After that, with the latter pages, the panels would go wilder, with bleeds and odd shapes to imply the real world. Yet, I think this being shown in digital loses this emotional transition as the pages aren't seen next to each other. A page turn really would have made the Page 3 to 4 transition perfect in my mind, with the last panel of Page 3 and the first of Page 4 retaining the same shape and size.

The rest, visually, I'm fine with. That leaves the last, and definitely largest, problem. As I posted these weekly, I reread them one at a time as everyone else did. I found that, upon rereading them, the story wasn't nearly as clear as I'd hoped. There are quite a lot of very heavy concepts being played with here in just 8 pages, so there was rarely more than enough space for a sentence or two to explain things. Sadly, my inexperience at writing such things caught up to me there. Chiefly, I just don't think the idea that time flows slower inside the simulation than in real life, and the implications of that, were clear.

It's kind of a vital point to the story, and I feel like I missed that one. But we live and learn, and if anyone really wants to see me continue on like this, ask me what it should have said and I'll make a post even longer than this one just about how time works in the digital universe!

But that's it! There's nothing else to say, from me at least, on The End, other than hoping you enjoyed the read despite the flaws. We definitely learned a lot from those 8 pages alone, and hopefully anyone that follows our work will see that as we our next projects continue forward. So thanks for reading this long post, and hey, if Caroline wants to add anything to make it longer, she is perfectly free to!

No comments:

Post a Comment