Why comic, why now?

You know, I first wanted to do Ninefox comic nonsense around 2012, which was when I was writing Ninefox and Suicide Hawk, which is what would become Ninefox Gambit after the seventh draft. I did some terribad cartooning exercises and doodles. But I sucked at drawing. I told myself I couldn’t do this until I learned to draw.

It’s ten-plus years later, and I started the comic. I do draw (I hope) a little better than I did in 2012. Most of what I drew last year makes me cringe, although one hopes for slow incremental progress.

Why now, after so much procrastinating? It really was procrastinating. You would think a published writer would know that the beautiful vision in my head would never live up to the fumbling learning-curve efforts, but without the fumbling learning-curve efforts, there’s nothing to share at all (if sharing is something one cares about, which I do). You would think! And yet I was too afraid to start.

Partly it’s that my health cratered; I spent two years barely able to walk, among other things. It’s a really bad sign when you go to see the doctor and she sends you for an emergency CT scan and FIVE MINUTES LATER you’re being prepped and afterward you’re told not to eat or drink until she clears you, in case emergency surgery is necessary, because ironically, it’s a really bad sign when the US medical system is that efficient. Emergency surgery was not necessary, but my health is still not great. (Not interested in discussing further medical details, thanks!) It’s always true that one might die in the next five minutes, but there’s nothing like having one’s health crash to make one realize that, hey, no time like the present.

Partly it’s that I finally realized that the only way to learn how to do something is to do it. There are probably areas of endeavor, and types of people, who can learn how to do a thing by reading about it. I’m rarely able to get more than five pages into an instructional text going straight through on my own, as opposed to referencing interesting bits at need.

Partly it’s that I kept listening to people telling me about “ideal” or “efficient” methods for doing a comic. Most of them had to do with digital art. I don’t hate digital art, but I love traditional media. I love the feel of them. I tried for AGES to get a watercolor look in digital painting because I love watercolor. Even when the results were prettier than anything I could paint with actual watercolors, I hated how they FELT.

Everyone told me not to do watercolor for a comic, how inefficient, what a pain, DON’T DO IT. They were honestly trying to help! And yet.

One of the most insightful things I ever read re: creating a project of your own was in Matt Hackett’s How to Make a Video Game by Yourself: 10 Steps, Just You and a Computer. There’s zero about programming languages or IDEs or polygon counts or garbage collection or whatever; it’s about high-level stuff like accountability and design and project management.

But the other thing it talks about is game engines, not in the sense of recommending a specific one, but this: use the game engine that feels good to you. You’re not an AAA studio if you’re a DIY indie. You’re you. If you hate the way the game engine feels to use, you won’t keep using it. This was in fact why I kept stalling out; for whatever reason, I just couldn’t vibe with Unity despite multiple attempts. It turned out that I loved GameMaker Studio 2.

I finally realized that the “ideal, efficient” digital inking/coloring process that I hated so much that I literally set the comic aside for SIX MONTHS at a time was not ideal or efficient for me. The process you hate so much you can’t make yourself use it is not efficient if you’re DIY! I mean, look. I’m not a professional comic artist. I don’t have to deliver to the Marvels and DCs of the world. This is a personal project. It’s the project of my heart. It’s a vanity project.

You know what I love, even though it’s non-ideal and inefficient? Ink (dip pen or fountain pen) and watercolor. So fine. We’ll do ink and wash comics.

(That said – I’m not a complete masochist. Lettering I do in Clip Studio EX because I’m lazy and my handwriting is shit.)

Finally, on a storytelling front, it’s a reboot (AU from the books) because…the books already exist, why the hell rehash them? I run on weaponized boredom. I want to do something different, and in a vanity personal project of my heart, what I want to do is what matters.

Plus, I spent YEARS grappling with “Why is Cheris a gaping black hole of nothingness in my head?” Some people liked book!Cheris, and that’s great! But unfortunately, if I don’t understand her, I can’t write her. At the end of Ninefox Gambit, I hit the limit of my understanding of what made her tick.

I had to throw out multiple scenes/chapters in the first draft of Revenant Gun because I kept trying to go to Cheris’s POV to show what the hell she was up to, and something was not clicking, and then we were flooded out (2016) and I had bigger fish to fry LIKE FAMILY SURVIVAL than solving the characterization problem, so I cut those scenes in favor of adding Hemiola and turned in the manuscript after the original deadline. (Solaris was very understanding and gave me an extension due to NATURAL DISASTER!) But the black hole of nothingness problem kept bothering me.

I had all sorts of hypotheses, most of which were not right or not entirely right. Female POV? But I’ve never had that problem with any other female POV I’ve written. I loved writing Min in Dragon Pearl, plus a bunch of female characters in short stories or juvenilia. Was it that Cheris is my personality anti-particle? She’s dutiful, logical, systematic, responsible. I am none of these things. (Sorry.) Also I have a B.A. in math but I am grudgingly competent in math, not a genius in anything except, possibly, losing my smartphone. (Ask my husband.) Yet I’ve written other characters who had anti-particle traits to mine and enjoyed them.

I found the answer to the question in a completely unexpected place, a screenwriting workshop by Jen Grisanti. And the answer was family. Cheris’s family was a giant gaping black hole that I kept avoiding. It shows up peripherally at best in Raven Stratagem and then I punted. It turns out that once you give Cheris family backstory problems and/or feelings of her own, I understand what motivates her well enough to write her in more depth! So changing that in the comic nonsense is fun in that I finally see the solution to a problem that has bothered me for over a decade, and have fun DRAWING it as well.

Also I have plans for backstory revisions to Jedao and Kujen, and plot changes going forward. :3 I’m so excited!

Sure. If I’d started Ninefox comic nonsense in 2012, it would have sucked. I know what kind of art I was producing in 2012. It sucked. But you know what? It’s 2024 now, and if I’d kept at it, I would be twelve years better at comics/art.

I can’t travel in time, but I can start now and see how far I get, even if the art is janky. I can do the project of my heart that makes me happy. I realize this has an audience of about six people and four of them are members of my family, but it’s okitty!

If I last another twelve years, maybe in 2036 I’ll be twelve years better at this, and I’ll have twelve years of calendrical heresy extremely intermittent comic to show for it. Who knows?

Alex de Campi said something to me once in a different context: “Sooner or later, you just gotta do the thing.” And I should have listened then. Thank you, Alex. (Her comics are terrific – my daughter made off with the copy of Alex’s Parasocial, with artist Erica Henderson, that Alex so generously sent me, OH NOES I guess I will just have to buy my own. 😀 )

Sooner or later, you just gotta do the thing.

So here I am, however slowly, doing the thing.

Meanwhile, for lagniappe, I’ve settled on Art Toolkit‘s Demi Palette for my current needs!

a small Art Toolkit watercolor palette and some paint color and mixture swatches

And of course, have a friendly catten, who “helps” by stepping on my wet paints and threatening to chew on my watercolor paper when she’s not thoughtfully gnawing on ME because I’m not feeding her promptly enough. :3

a cat crouches on top of a sketchbook next to an art instruction book

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