Cartoonist Howard Tayler recently wrote a series of tweets about the challenges he’s faced since completing his 20-year cycle of the Web comic “Schlock Mercenary“, and how new technology has disrupted his productivity. As writers, I thought we might all learn something from what he’s experienced – and how his wife has experienced and responded to it as his “creative partner” and “emotional support person”.
Here’s an excerpt from Howard’s string of tweets, stripped of extraneous material courtesy of Threadreader.
Some people step out of the gate so incredibly self-aware, so “procedurally woke,” that they are perfectly justified in holding things up while they define and refine all the processes.
In my case, I made a daily comic strip for TWENTY YEARS using a process I defined, refined, and streamlined over the first decade or so.
But I’m not making comics that way anymore. I’ve introduced completely new tools at EVERY STAGE. And until very recently, they weren’t right.
Script in MS Word
Layout panels/gutters/dialog in MS Word
Pencil and ink directly on laser-printed MS Word output
Scan at 600dpi b/w
Send to colorist, with notes on what I’m expecting
Crop and webbify the colorist’s work in Photoshop
It may seem like madness, but it was *fast*. There were days when I penciled and inked THREE WEEKS OF COMICS. In one day, yes. The process had flaws, especially w/re to dialog bubbles and the paper I was using, but it was too fast to let go of.
The new process:
Script in Scrivener
Layout panels and dialog in Clip Studio Paint.
Illustrate digitally, with raster colors and vector inks.
(↑ this step is still a mess of other steps ↑)
Export flattened TIFF
Use Photoshop for CMYK conversion for print
One of the things I realized very recently, is that even if I create a document with a given dimension in pixels (say, 1600×1200), the resolution (72dpi, 300dpi, etc) makes a HUGE difference with regard to all the brushes, because those are measured in millimeters … Ironing out this thing about pixel density and brush size is CRITICAL, because few things will kill my workflow faster than an ongoing feeling that I’m just a hamfisted hack who can’t correctly shape a simple line.
. . .
… the fastest way to arrive at the point where you’re not just aware of your processes, but aware of where they’re broken, and how to fix them, is to WRITE STUFF DOWN.
Time yourself on common tasks. Allow yourself to have periodic “contextual inquiry” sessions with yourself, where you pause after every task to scribble a note about how it went, and why you think it went that way.
When your industry, your creative domain, your niche space suddenly gets invaded by disruptive and wonderful new tools, you’ll be one of the first to see how they’ll fit what you’re doing, and whether or not it’s worth it for you to change to fit the new tool.
And maybe the disruptive new tool is as simple as a new studio space with room to roll your chair around. Maybe it’s a larger table. Or a bigger hard drive.
I dunno. And neither will you unless you’re paying a little bit of attention (like “dues”) to how you make stuff.
There’s more at the link.
As a creative partner whose livelihood depends on Howard producing work, I want to talk about this thread of Howard’s and how to support a creative person who has become stuck. First read Howard’s thread.
From my perspective, all of Howard’s tooling and fiddling looks like Nothing Happening. It looks like Howard being down. It looks like lots of video game hours. This is where communication is important.
Through years of practice Howard and I have developed nuanced communication skills where I can ask him what is going on in his head, share what is in mine, and then we can be frustrated *together* with the lack of progress.
Him and me vs. The Thing is much better than Me frustrated with Him. It saves tension and upset in our marriage, and it prevents relationship tension from adding additional layers of stuck to the creative process.
. . .
As a support person it is really easy to lose track of which things I’m dealing with are symptoms. It is easy for me to get bogged down in imagining “What if this is just the way things are now?” which means fatigue has created some depression in me too.
When I’m tired, I get unkind and unhelpful thoughts in my head. It is easy to accidentally become the person who says “just get over it” when I KNOW that isn’t helpful. I’m just so depleted that I want to push back on any emotional support task.
So a major feature of being an emotional support person is knowing when to step back, step away, leave the person to muddle with their own struggle and do something else for a while.
So while Howard was doing his weeks of staring at blank pages, I would check in every week or two to assuage my anxiety that he was just constantly distracted instead of mulling. Then go back to the work I can control without waiting on him.
And I would rejoice in ANY creative effort that happened. Even things completely unrelated, because any creative flow has a chance to break the large block free.
Again, more at the link.
I’m willing to bet that all writers can learn from Howard Tayler’s experiences. If we get stuck while creating new work, is it worth trying new technology or approaches to “unstick” the process? Or is the fact that we’ve already done so part of the problem? As for writers’ partners, they may well be able to learn from Sandra Tayler’s observations.