I’ve got a bunch of ideas whirling about right now. They’re not organized, and I’m blogging them because it’s better to have them out than in. This is going to take into account many of my recent adventures.
For general blog readability, I’m tucking this beneath a fold, but the conclusion came to me the next day.
A couple of years ago I quit my day job for a few months, falsely believing I was going to move home, 1,500 miles away from where I lived at the time. It was a gift from God. I spent more time with my kid. I discovered that our copy of the 3 Pigs was pure left coast propaganda. I made the Adventures of Jump the Shark and Sera Mermaid just to see if I could.
This was not my first attempt to create something. As a child, I told stories about superheroes and fantasy characters of my own devising. In my high school years I made a shooter called Win Dozer and a novel entitled the Seal of Dragonwood which netted me a rejection letter from Baen that was more than just a form letter.
When dating my now-wife, I charmed her with the adventures of Wren Valen, then called the wanderer, now called the flying privateer. These were novellas or novelettes written according to a formula that I remixed from Shakespeare’s 5-act and Jim Butcher’s writing advice, which in turn was drawn from his teacher, Debbie Chester. The Wren stories were probably the first thing I produced of professional quality.
But something clicked which hadn’t clicked before with Jump the Shark. I feel like I had always been meant to produce stories for children, but I couldn’t get over myself and actually aim my stories at children before that moment. After all, I am a cartoonist. I draw cartoon characters. Always have.
Even as a grown man intending to write stories for grown men, caricatures and cartoon animals abounded.
But I’ve never, ever demeaned children’s books. Into my adulthood, I delighted in Narnia, the Hobbit, the Oz books, even Dr. Seuss. I just never thought about producing kids’ books. I assumed as I grew so would the target audience of the media I produced. And in a way it’s true. I have no desire to produce anything that I, a grown-ass man, wouldn’t enjoy reading, even as I write for five or ten year olds.
But my first love was animation.
I fell in love with animated cartoons from the moment I first laid eyes on one, and wanted to make them. So I told all my family members this. Except I didn’t know the word for “animator” because I was four. So I said, “I want to me a cartoonist.”
And my family, bless them, took me at my word and procured for me pencils, pens, paper, and books on the art of cartooning, from tutorials on how to produce a newspaper comic strip, to articles about cartoonists like Johnny Hart, Charles Schultz, and eventually, Bill Watterson.
Bill Watterson gave two reasons why he never allowed Calvin & Hobbes to be animated. One is that different media have different strengths and create different worlds. The world and characters of Calvin & Hobbes the film or TV series would have to be fundamentally different from the world of the strip.
The other was that “Animation is, by nature, a team sport, and I find the fewer people have input into my work, the happier I am.”
I am the same way. I have made video games on teams, and I can grudgingly admit they are better than the games I made by myself, but I still regard the utter lack of control I had over the product as not worth the trade.
I love the art form of the newspaper comic strip, though. And I studied it assiduously as a child, even though my materials for studying it were acquired due to a misunderstanding. I devised several strips over the course of my life, but none of them were quite right.
For one, the era of the newspaper comic strip is dying. The newspapers are dying, and even if they weren’t, it’s been over decades since I, an unapologetic White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male, have been acceptable to them. For pity’s sake, I dropped out of college specifically because I wouldn’t sign off on what is now being called Critical Race Theory in order to become a schoolteacher.
But I love the artform. The misunderstanding that dropped it in my lap was providential.
So I’ve engineered a format that displays well on Twitter, okay on Facebook, and would print well as a KDP 5×8 book. The 3 16×9 panel stack, with optional title panel. First with the intention of making a sprite comic. Then the intention of making a monochrome sprite comic. And then, with just drawing comics.
And then with drawing beans.
The impetus behind the comic was to create a low-effort product that I could crank out, and then if anything caught on, I could create a high-effort product using the comic as the testbed/bones of it. But the conclusion was if I made a project too low effort, I lost faith in it. The beans would not do. And the comic would have to be a real thing.
Right now, the comic as it exists on my hard drive is an anything-goes. After all, it was meant to be the everything prototyper. That’s why I prototyped it as, among other things, “ADHD Unleashed.”
You know, the Mouse is putting out its propaganda.
They’ve got a new show about bisexual teens being themselves in an occult playground called “The Owl House.” I’ve not seen it. Nor do I intend to give money to people who hate me and wish to groom my children.
It’s what people call the “Calarts” or “Beanmouth” style, but it’s not a super lazy or sloppy expression of the style. It actually has a beauty to it.
Beanmouth is abominable in places. Thundercats Roar is intrinsically a celebration of ugliness, a ritual desecration of a once-loved franchise. But the trend is a legitimate branch of western animation, and it can be done beautifully.
After all, the style I’m converging on started out as a throwback further up the stream, to old cartoons and comics, and it’s not entirely unlike beanmouth itself.
I would probably enjoy it but for the knowledge that it’s a poison apple. And what do my friends and internet family put out?
Science fiction and fantasy novels. Aimed mostly at grownups. Maybe a little YA.
Why do I have to be the kids’ book guy? Stand by myself against these production values, this cultural magnitude? It’s basically just me. And I’m dicking around with video games I’ll likely never finish instead of cranking out the kids’ books.
But I can do that. I’m okay at it. And I get better with each book.
It’s a good mission. It’s a mission I love. To be an entertainer for kids in pictures and plots, without the poisoned quill.
I have partially finished and finished drafts of books and comic books. And I’m thinking to myself, maybe I can go back to Bunny Trail Junction and make it into something.
…was the format all along.
I am opposed to divination, but I do believe in Providence. It is a fool’s errand to look around me and try to decide from my circumstances what God’s Super Special Will for my life is. God’s Will shall be done. I pray in the Lord’s prayer that I aid it willingly rather than unwilllingly, not that it will manifest itself to my mortal mind.
But Providence is real. The Lord directs the paths of His own for the good of the Kingdom. 30-odd years ago, when I failed to communicate my desire to be an animator, and was set instead on the path of the cartoonist, that was not for nothing.
Arkhaven has launched its webtoons-like site.
It’s made me want to fix up Hat Trick and produce it for the site.
But you know what?
My widescreen tower format suits it just fine. And Arktoons publishes a comic or two that looks like in a past life it would have been a newspaper strip. Perhaps I am being prepared for such a time as this.
Perhaps I can fuse John Michael Jones and Stardogs into a comic about a family of interdimensional palladins trouble shooting in different worlds. Or just produce Bunny Trail Junction. Or make Jump the Shark and Hat Trick and Wren Valen and all these comics into different days in the same format and launch five comics.
Perhaps this is the way. Perhaps my time has come.
I feel, as I have often felt before, like there is an excellent answer just beyond my fingertips.
You know, Re-Tail has the mass appeal to feed my family. If I could produce that, I could spend the rest of my time working on whatever.
But I don’t want to produce that. I want to produce the paladins to stand against the Owl House’s witches. And I feel like I’m being prepared for that. I feel like I’m on the cusp of figuring it out. The magic secret sauce that will cause everything to fall into place.