Yo, chevsky here.
It has been a while. Werk/School is happening and progressing nicely. Dental issues have been dealt with for the most part. Things are going well, all in all.
So! In an act of madness Scribbler and I have decided to take another shot at this whole “making a webcomic” thing. I want us to have a look back at our past experiences beforehand though, to give you an idea how we got here and to make more sense of the direction we’re gonna take. This might even be useful as a history lesson for those among you who haven’t been around since the beginning.
Originally we started with something called GenGame. We were still on the GitP forum and AgentPaper approached me because he needed an artist for this MSPA-like thing he wanted to do. I wanted a project of sorts to practice arting with, so we agreed to get together with this.
GenGame was a CYOA, featuring 3 characters, in the back then typical naming scheme of BH (BlueHat), MG (MechaGoddess) and SM (SwordMaiden), playing a… um. Strategy/Tactics/MOBA/RPG/Whatever sort of game, created and ran by GenCo.
Every update was typically one panel, followed by an open “What do?” command prompt ( >_ ) waiting for player input. We had it under “Gaming (Other)”, making it effectively a Let’s Play. Genious, really. ;P
We updated about once per day, sometimes even more often, setting a sort of standard in my mind of what a proper update schedule is. This would come to bite me multiple times in the years to come, messing with my expectations of what our output rate should look like.
Naturally GenGame has expanded over time, meaning more panels, more effort per panel and so on, until we decided to move it to its own site, namely this one here. By then AgentPaper had decided that he wasn’t feeling up to it anymore and AverageJoe (then a mod on GitP) jumped in for him instead. I imagine this has caused somewhat of tone change and overall direction consistency, since he had to build on what we already created.
During the run of GenGame on this site both me and AJ started to get this desire to do something of our own, to explore various ideas or stretch our legs for something that wasn’t GenGame.
AJ did a purely written story in parallel, sporting an open command prompt, same as GenGame. It was called “Showdown At The Generic Place!” and I liked it quite a bit in its convoluted madness. It featured a GenGame session of different characters. It was big, it was chaotic, and it was madness to keep track of for everyone involved, including the characters. Plus, it was nice for me to be a reader for a change, being able to participate and enjoy things from that side of the trench. The story started on the 7th of August in 2011 and stopped on the 23rd of April in 2012. It was abandoned by him for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I suspect he lost interest, though.
I meanwhile started GenCrawl, a rogue-like dungeon crawler. It began on the 21st of January in 2012. It also featured an open command prompt, and was based on the idea of perma-death and turn-based combat. A party of hapless adventurers was sent into a series of dungeons, solving quests. Or dying horribly, being replaced with a different party step by step. Back then I was pretty into LPs of Stone Soup and similar Roguelikes on the GitP forum, so this shaped my experiences somewhat. I never liked playing that sort of game myself, but “DMing” it was pretty appealing.
The game was balls hard and featured a player-proxy in the form of someone named “OP”. He was a stand-in of sorts for the players, providing commentary and playing the game so to speak. It was a means to abstract the act of pressing buttons and messing with the interface and such. In hindsight, that was a bit convoluted. The players were commanding the player to command the characters to act.
GenCrawl was an experiment in presentation and style, with me trying to figure out how to make Fast Art. That had been an obsession of mine for quite a few years. Making templates, simple representations, reusable assets… all in the name of making increasingly better art in a stable timeframe (“once a day”). That was also where the silhouetted art style started to come in high and heavy, since it meant no time wasted on details. Plus, it looked pretty good for the amount of effort invested. I also used it heavily during the Iron Avatarist competitions that were running on GitP during that time.
Somewhere in the middle of that I ran into a dead end and subsequent burnout, trying to make art in perspective, custom panels depicting individual actions… it became too cumbersome. Again I tried to make it bigger than necessary to improve my craft. As a result I did an artistic reboot and the isometric art style was introduced. That way I could make art once and then move them around as needed, only having to modify it and make the occasional room to be in and provide opportunity and encounters. GenCrawl ended on the 22nd of July in 2013. I abandoned it, again having been burnt out by the act of making it. Bigger, more elaborate, more panels, stats, mechanics, lots and lots of damage types, updating char sheets… it became too much bureaucracy once more. Especially as my update goal was still “at least once per day”, a thing to which I still clung like static charge to a cat running over a carpet. That was not a good thing.
Oh yeah, remember GenGame? It was abandoned on the 9th of October in 2012. So about 10 months after I started GenCrawl. Somewhere in the middle of that AJ disappeared without a trace, making this a case of me being abandoned by him. I’ve never seen him again since then. Just one day he was gone. I was searching once more for a replacement writer. For a short while I settled on Jindra, but while he tried, he didn’t have the writing chops or creativity required to do the madness that was GenGame by that point justice.
As last ditch attempt to keep GenGame going I brought Maven onboard, but while she had the writing chops necessary (and some to spare) she wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea of just continuing something someone else had started long ago, trying to salvage this wreck.
So ultimately it was laid to rest and done with.
By that time Maven and me got it into our heads to start a new thing. Fresh and unrelated to anything Gen. So we started The Vermillion Academy on the 27th of February in 2013, about 3 months after the end of GenGame. It, too, was a CYOA with an open command prompt. Lots of preparation work was done beforehand. The characters were good, the world was vibrant and the art was dynamic. We settled at first on a greyscale style with two colors per character, as a way to keep it manageable for me art-wise. Doing fixed panels and pages was a new thing to try at that point and was pretty interesting.
Unfortunately it was once more marred by the idea of having to go bigger and better, but always keep a tight schedule. Which immediately slipped. Near the end I was regularly doing full color pages with 40 panels each. The lack of appreciation by Maven I felt at the time didn’t help either. Instead it was just more demands, poorly explained.
Behind the scenes this was another case of severe burnout, caused by what I felt at the time was Maven riding my back relentlessly. It seemed like she was making demand after demand, often with endless changes to what I saw as minor details. We clashed constantly on what we wanted out of a comic, accusing each other of a lot of things we shouldn’t have. As a result I (and as I understand now, she as well) eventually spiraled into depression before I finally realized what the fuck was going on here. I gradually cut ties and Vermillion Academy was abandoned on the 31st of July in 2015. About 5 updates were made in 2014 and 3 more in the 7 months of 2015.
A few attempts inbetween were made to make it palatable, trying things out, but they were ultimately fruitless with the underlying problems present. We’ve talked about it over time, figuring out where it all went wrong.
Here’s Maven’s perspective on the whole thing:
I first met Domo as an artist who I commissioned things from. I had dreams of my own webcomic at that point, but I didn’t end up working with Domo because of that, I started working with him because he already had a project and his original writer(s) bailed. I tried to right that ship but it quickly became apparent that would be impossible. These characters already had tons of baggage that I understood very little about and had no plans for.
Metaphorically speaking, it was a bit like trying to put together a table when the instruction manuals were all in a foreign language. So that plan quickly went away and we decided to do Vermillion Academy together.
Ultimately, I was looking to distinguish myself from what had come before and make good on a promise to Domo to be an author that wouldn’t just abandon him out of the blue. I was young and full of pep, with a brand-spankin’ new Film degree and years of practice in creative writing, and I was throwing in all my emotion and energy into the comic. I thought about it all the time, whether Domo was around or not. I took it perhaps too seriously.
So when all that thought and feeling and restlessness ran up against Domo’s limitations, it felt – even if I now know the feeling to be untrue – as if I was taking it way more seriously. I wanted to get more done, to do more, to create these great new things for people to enjoy. But to Domo, who was the one doing the physical lifting and as such wore down more quickly than me, I seemed like an outrageous taskmaster.
On top of that, we had very different ideas about how to approach things from a production standpoint, which I suppose I can elaborate on a tad. From my perspective this was a comic, so it was better to let the art and – if the term can really be applied to a comic – cinematography speak wherever it could, only using words to convey dialogue and as a reinforcement for the art assets. To Domo, the benefit of having a prose-capable writer on board was being able to skip non-essential art. I was very dead set on liberal application of color to set tone and mood, where-as Domo didn’t feel ready yet to make a commitment to full color. That’s obviously changed, but I still remember having to argue with him to depict Delphi’s skin tone in color rather than gray-scale, with all the messy implications THAT would have entailed.
Another issue was the input heavy format and how we dealt with it. We started the comic essentially winging it, with neither of us certain how the readers would react. Once we’d gotten started, I wanted to quickly plan as much of the plot structure as possible ahead of time, designing and planning for the characters and events/plotlines that would have appeared no matter what because they were sparked by circumstances outside Julius’ sphere of control. Domo was more interested in the day-to-day expectations of the readers and the results of their input, which led to more arguments over what constituted better use of our time.
In the end, the friction and eventual dissolution between us wasn’t because we were bad people. It was that we put ourselves in a different, challenging situation with unrealistic expectations and no real desire or the understanding necessary to budge to accomodate one other’s work styles. The stress that this put on us – in addition to real life drama – led to mutual depression that only made things worse, and then that led to anger at each other, with each of us feeling that neither of us really understood or appreciated what the other was doing or trying to do.
I’ve written this mostly because Domo asked me to, as part of a post-mortem that goes over the general history of the site. I don’t bear any grudges about what happened; both of us share some fault. I would, of course, be pleased to work with him again if the opportunity presented itself; both of us have become more relaxed people over the years and I don’t feel as much of a burning need to prove myself. Until then, though, I’m content to fiddle with my solo projects, even if admittedly they have all stalled in equal measure. We’ll talk more about that later though. For now, it’s Domo’s turn to talk again.
I still like those characters, incidentally. Julius and co were goooood.
We’ve both grown. We’re still aquaintances. My mental health recovered considerably, but it would take a few years until I was fully ready to trust an author again.
Speaking of: During the run of VA GenCrawl Gaiden was started, on the 20th of November in 2013. It was a continuation of GenCrawl and what I had learned from it. It immediately featured isometric scenes, easy to make templates, silhouetted styles… I even had a plan for the mechanics now and how they’d work. Lessons were learned and enthusiasm had. I even made a plugin for this site to easily keep track of inventories and character sheets, so I wouldn’t get bogged down by bureaucracy and busywork. Like everything before it, it also featured an open command prompt, ready to take whatever you’d throw at it.
Initially it was only done by me, but as things went along Spectral Scribbler quickly came onboard to steer the enemies. It was powered by his general …um, hatred of the reader-base and his constant disappointment that not the smarter options were chosen and made. So I wouldn’t have to worry about him or me pulling punches. It sure was a fair fight. Scribbler was already around during the run of VA, often acting as a mediator between me and Maven. I don’t envy him for that job.
As GC Gaiden developed he slowly overtook the story and characters as well, making them the excellence that they ended up being. I had a fixed timeframe in mind for the story, requiring the reader base to acomplish things within X days. That was to ensure that I could actually finish a story for once, instead of it running endlessly and being abandoned eventually. By that time the fact that we kept abandoning stories started to weight on me. He meanwhile wanted to do a cliche ingame story that was slowly subverted and replaced by his meta. That didn’t gel with me well at the time. It felt like he was slowly taking this away from me. During that time I still had massive author trust issues due to working so long with Maven, so in hindsight I didn’t give him the reign he deserved.
Instead I introduced mechanics in various parts of the story that sometimes messed with what he was doing (social mechanics for example, or character traits like “Vindictive”). I upgraded the art, changed visuals and in general just made mechanical changes without really consulting him. He did an admirable job of working with those limitations and changes, all things considered.
The problem ultimately was that we both were still crap at talking to each other and so… he didn’t tell me that he didn’t like that. He didn’t tell me that this or that mechanic didn’t work. Or that this character was too weak. Or that this stat existing was intruding on the story in general. So I was assuming everything was peachy while over time he became decreasingly available (“I’ve got this other stuff to do first…”) and increasingly irritable. I just kinda shrugged it off, not knowing what to do with those reactions. (“Oh, you~“)
This was not helped by the lack of appreciation by the reader base for …well, everything we did, all in all. The readers/commenters were cultivated on GenGame and GenCrawl and subsequently reflected their thinking accordingly. The site was frequented by people who liked to play CYOA games. They (you, if we’re being honest here) were about creating mechanics and thinking along those lines. Treating it all like a game to be played with little appreciation for the story and its twists. I was ok with not feeling appreciated back then (messed up, I know. Remember the timeframe this happened in) but he clearly wasn’t.
And then things exploded. He finally went “Ok, y’know what? Fuck this shit. This can’t go on like that.” So it didn’t. We talked this out over many hours and days, going over the many points of failure. Where did it go wrong. What did I mess up. What did he mess up. How we got here. Why. How. What to do to fix it. What couldn’t be fixed.
Ultimately we decided to not fix it. It hurt. I felt betrayed and lied to, too.
GenCrawl Gaiden was abandoned on the 13th December of 2015.
On the side Scribbler also for a while had a purely written story going with “Tourney at the GenOffice“. It, similar to AJ’s story, featured a GenGame session and an open command prompt at times. It focused more on the real life characters however, and their actions. It started on the 16th November of 2014 and was abandoned on 22nd of June of 2015.
He also did various posts fleshing out the world of Gen, which I found fascinating.
This brings us closer to today. Him and me kept talking about stuff while doing other things. We both developed as people, gaining experience. We still liked to work with each other. We still wanted to give this whole “webcomic” thing another shot. So we got back together and started Gallows Humor on the 31st of December at the very end of 2015. We had learned from past failures and advantages and decided to not go with an open command prompt this time around. He never liked it and I wasn’t that tied to it anymore either.
So we went with premade options as reader input, like a proper CYOA (Chose Your Own Adventure) with occasional write-ins being allowed. It featured proper pages, colors, dynamic camera angles… it looked like a comic! Felt nice to work on it too, as we have come to understand each other’s creative desires and made room for them. For me that meant I could experiment with the art instead of falling into something stale. It had a frame I could work on. It also allowed me to discover my artistic speed and finally let go of the holy grail of “update once a day”. I knew how fast I could draw comfortably without breaking myself. For Scribbler this was an opportunity to try out a more structured story and …well. It started out well and good. But there were some unexpected complications.
Scribbler’s perspective on these events follows:
I’m going to be wholly and, quite possibly excessively, honest here – at least part of this whole communication megapost is airing out some of our old demons and old problems, and I’ve got my share of those to let loose here.
I first encountered Domo as the artist for GenGame. Back then I was just a player, offering input and debate like everyone else. I like GenGame and enjoyed it, but I saw the writing on the wall about its death; I wasn’t surprised when the sword got put in it to end what was left of its life, even if I was still a little saddened. Domo described my progression of involvement above pretty handily, and I won’t repeat it here, but the ongoing theme of that involvement was, and this is the part that is probably going to be too honest, a growing lack of respect for the audience.
Now, this is the part in the creator confession where I explain all the dark-ass shit that was happening in my life at the time, but I’m not gonna do that, because honestly? It doesn’t matter. To head off the inevitable questions about it, my life from the end of GenGame to the end of Gaiden was an endless and varied study on the theme of, “Overworked, Overstressed, And Experiencing Ongoing Misery And Abuse,” but the fact of the matter is that starting in about mid GenGame I began to seriously hate you guys. At first it was just frustration, disagreement, the things one member of an audience has for other members of the same audience that they dislike – y’know, like when you’re trying to enjoy a movie and some jackass two rows down won’t shut up about bits of the expanded universe it takes place in.
Playing peacekeeper between Maven and Domo during their tumultuous relationship didn’t really help this matter. Maven had frustrations that I ultimately would end up echoing, which Domo would pass off or ignore, which is not to imply that either was wrong or right. By the end of about a year and a half of trying to make Vermillion Academy and Circle of the Force work I was strung out and operating almost entirely on contempt and stimulants. Domochevsky asked me aboard Gaiden to help “pilot” and design the enemy creatures you would be facing, under the fairly clever theory that my anger would make me play them to the fullest extent of the rules I was given.
Things, obviously, did not stay that way.
Early on, Domo expressed a lack of confidence in writing dialogue. This was the start, though neither of us really knew it at the time, of me coming aboard as Gaiden’s author. George’s conversation with Emily at the breakfast table, on her phone, was me, and at first I was essentially entrusted to deal with characterization and little else. Helping Domochevsky out with the enemy design segued into plot design, and our first fights. Other things contributed to this, like cultural misunderstandings (one that stands out in my mind was attempting to explain to the man what a sack lunch is, which remains one of my most surreal life experiences), translation issues, and the lack of trust he mentioned above. I chafed at having my work edited or added to without warning; Domo, rightly, bristled at how much I wanted to do and how fast. Neither of us really knew how to communicate about it other than knowing intimately that we did not want a repeat of his relationship with Maven, but that created issues of its own.
Still, I was having a lot of fun with Gaiden, and for a while the specter of the past receded somewhat – only to rise again. All of the old frustrations and anger came crashing back during the whole MechaEnt fiasco which, yes, I am still angry about. The readership seemed to have this aggravating, infuriating, even insulting combination of complete incuriosity, emphasis on the “mechanics” – such as they even were considering that I was expected to stay within “rules” I wasn’t told, that weren’t defined, and that could change under my feet because of a fucking write-in prompt – and an inexplicable ability to latch onto ideas I despised and ride them into the grave until I lost my goddamn mind about them. It didn’t help that I felt like Domo dismissed my frustrations and concerns out of hand or, worse, sided against me and my work in favor of defending the things I disliked. Then the whole Persona thing started, with chunks of the audience accusing me of stealing from a series that I’ve never played and had not, in fact, previously heard of, and that – well, it didn’t help matters, and like the MechaEnt, I am still rather extraordinarily angry about it.
When Gaiden’s (now) final update hit and the only real response I got to the character revelations I’d been lovingly building towards for two years was people babbling about what tandem attack they wanted to write in, it was the last straw. After a few weeks of silence, I finally uncorked everything to Domo, and we put the sword in Gaiden. I was done, and even now the leftover bitterness and rage would taint any attempt to start it over again.
Now, this is the part in the creator rant where, generally speaking, I proceed to loftily declare my absolute moral correctness and expect you to continue to read my work as if I hadn’t just insulted you for daring to enjoy it, as if this is any way for a professional to behave.
But the truth is, I was wrong.
There were a lot of things that went wrong with Gaiden. Some of them are the things Domo and I discussed in-depth about the format, the creative process, and how we can work together as creators instead of working past each other or against each others. But some of it, maybe even a lot of it, was my attitude. The thing is, Domo and I, explicitly and implicitly, promised you a game. And sure, that promise was a bad idea to begin with (something we discussed with each other at length) but we still made it and I was, and am, ultimately angry at you for treating it exactly like we told you to treat it – and that’s not right. As a creator and as the master of that game I had an obligation to show you respect and courtesy, and obligation which I failed entirely to fulfill. Shit like this was and is not acceptable behavior, no matter what my frustrations were, and I knew better too, which only makes it worse. I’ve been an author before. I’ve been a gamemaster before. I had no right to treat my audience in this fashion and to be frank I remain, in hindsight, incredibly shocked that I didn’t lose most of you in that moment of absolute pettiness and spite.
So here we are, with time to cool off and to heal, and we’re looking to start something new. Gallows Humor kinda petered out because, after making peace with how you treated the Gen products and realizing that my behavior was wrong, I’d kinda expected you guys to treat it the same way, with theorizing and chatter that I could loot for inspiration and worldbuilding. But as Neil Gaiman put it, the price of getting what you want is getting what once you wanted; after spending two years wishing my audience would take shit seriously and pay attention to the characterization and world actually presented to you, you finally did and I got left high and dry, having fired from the hip way too early without anything even remotely resembling proper preparation, planning, or even plot. That’s on me, not you, and I can only apologize for how that went down.
And so another project gets the sword put in it, but D and I, we don’t wanna be done. All writers and artists have a learning curve. That ours has been more public than others is both a blessing and a curse. I won’t lie, the dead projects do feel kinda bad, but at the same time they let us interact with you, our audience, in a real-time format that makes it easier to take feedback and adjust our approaches in response to it.
One of the things Domochevsky and I realized in the aftermath of Gallows Humor is that we’ve both been so caught up in trying experimental new formats, or formats in the vein of web fiction we like, that we never actually sat down and made a comic at any point, and we both would like to give that a try. Learn it from this side, get feedback from our audience, see how it goes, y’know?
I want to express my full and sincere gratitude for you folks sticking with us this long. Things have often been rocky, and sometimes been antagonistic in ways I regret. Here’s to a fresh start and an exciting new journey.
I’ma turn the floor back over to D to get this wrapped up.
Ok, so… I think that about brings us to the end of this look back.
There were other projects started here and abandoned, including Deep Forest, which was entirely unrelated to anything Gen and ran from the 18th of February in 2015 to the 7th of September of the same year. I don’t think it got much of shake, all in all, and seems to have chafed under the “Allow limited reader input” format as well; judging by its origin.
Lastly, the “maybe”s: There is The Camera Obscura, a purely written story by Fsteak, featuring multiple/choice reader interaction. It started on the 11th of Januar 2016 and was last seen on the 24th of March of the same year. I personally liked that story quite a bit, and it was quite open in its revery of Persona as a thing, which I enjoy (putting me at odds with Scribbler in that regard). I have been informed that Fsteak was soon after starting it swamped with university, work and life, making this quite possibly another case of an abandoned project. He didn’t quite make a formal decision yet, though. Who knows.
And, finally, there’s Children of the Force, a non-interactive fanfiction story written by Maven in the Star Wars EU. It was started on the first of January 2016 and then gradually made its way to the 20th of May in 2016 where it was …well, abandoned, really. There are reasons for it that Maven can go into more detail with if she desires to. I was told however, that she is working on it again. I am certainly in favour of it.
Lots of uses of the word “abandoned” by this point, hm? Yeah. I know.
In all though, as we’ve said repeatedly above, we’re going to keep learning and keep producing content. Our new project will mark our return to the Geniverse and our first attempt to make an actual comic, with such basic and yet, on our end, untried features as planning, a regular schedule, and a buffer to post from. Anything else will be revealed as it happens or teased at.
I think that’s about it now. See ya on the other side, if you’re still willing to come along for the ride! o/