There were times during the "sketch hiatus" which ended yesterday when I
wasn't certain proper AKOTAS would be returning.
No doubt due partially if not largely to a stressor in my personal life which coincidentally turned out to take place almost exactly through the same dates as those planned for the hiatus, I entertained a lot of doubt that I have the stamina to complete the AKOTAS project. I entertained a lot of doubt that I have the interest to complete the AKOTAS project. It wasn't just about moving away from AKOTAS, it was also about moving toward something else: I made a format change at The Hero of Three Faces that I'm very enthusiastic about. This caused me to entertain the notion that I'd rather go back exclusively to my first love in webcartooning, fanfiction. In addition to other factors, though it takes a lot of criticism that I don't agree with, the cartooning style in use there is much easier to execute.
(It's a higher challenge-to-effort ratio. With pen or pencil drawing, it doesn't take a lot of brainpower to put together a drawing of a figure in a given position or making use of a particular object. Fellow webcartoonists on my Twitter feed sometimes gripe about hands or foreshortening, which are things that don't cause me a lot of concern. It takes much more time and effort, once the line drawing is done, to do the simple mechanical work of scanning and coloring, than the drawing itself. That's a factor in AKOTAS's burnouts, both the longterm hiatuses and the filler days during the proper run. Contrariwise, with the MSPaint triangle figures used in The Hero of Three Faces [or in Arthur's webcomic in the contemporary timezone here in AKOTAS], it was a milestone when I figured out how to render a seated figure or a paunch stomach or a Klingon forehead, and I'm still trying to figure out walking and running figures. But, once the figure's rendered, it's done. ...And the reason I go on about this here instead of there is there've never been newsposts there.)
At the same time, the hiatus gave me a breather that was needed for me to realize anew that fanfiction cartooning is my first love. I believe that if I'm remembered after I'm gone, for anything but being someone else's friend or relation, it will be for AKOTAS. But I wondered whether that may any longer be enough for my hindbrain to prioritize AKOTAS over fanfiction, if it ever was.
Then I happened across the popular quotation from John F. Kennedy, from the context of the moon mission, "We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard." And I concluded that my ambivalence about continuing AKOTAS past this hiatus is not because I'm getting more subject to stress as I get older, or less interested in the project as I get older, but because I'm getting lazier as I get older.
I also happened to realize that both the burnout hiatus/timeskips in AKOTAS's history to date were conceived while I had different call center jobs. The revelation was occasioned on my getting an offer for a position for which I left the second of those call center jobs, so hopefully AKOTAS's planned future will have no more such roadbumps.
Finally, about six weeks ago I began browsing randomly in the archive in a conscious effort to revive the enthusiasm I once had for the project, and it helped a lot.
(Though the jury's still out as to whether I'm getting less able to come up with a new gag on a daily basis as I get older. Can't draw anything, even a filler, without an idea. There's the real challenge. Of course there's only one way to find out.
(Also my scanner, that sometimes will have to be unplugged for half an hour to reset, went overnight without resetting one day last week. I thought it was dead, but I tried it again Monday night and it's behaving again. I've been working a buffer lately, and as a result of the scanner trouble today's cartoon and the two successive ones had to be drawn by mouse rather than by pen and then scanned. I disliked it so much that by the time I was working on next Sunday's cartoon I was ready to see if maybe the scanner was working again [which it thankfully was], and thinking about working in triangles till I could replace the scanner. If the scanner craps out for a considerable amount of time again before it can be replaced, I may linedraw with the mouse till I can't stand it again, or I may go straight to triangles.)
So. In 2004 AKOTAS was planned to last twenty-five years of retelling King Arthur's story in real time. In 2009 and 2011 there've been two six-month hiatuses, each of which incorporating some skipping of time in the characters' lives, totaling twelve years, so that now the story is projected to reach its conclusion after only thirteen years in 2017. But, barring serious accidents outside my cartooning life, or serious difficulties writing daily gags inside my cartooning life, AKOTAS will wrap up with the end of the story. And the plan remains never to miss a daily update, because that's AKOTAS's one true claim to non-dayjob webcomics fame.
Meanwhile, today's cartoon is one of the ones I scripted during the first year of the project, perhaps even before the first update debuted. I've had no indication that anyone has seen this development coming. Everyone seems to have believed that running Excalicorp is meant to have been the contemporary timezone equivalent to the British High Throne of the other two primary timezones. But things called Excalibur aren't ends, they're means.
Now, to some things I could've mentioned before now but haven't. I fell out of the habit of posting in this space during the hiatus. By the time I had something I wanted to mention, I was afraid everyone was out of the habit of looking and would miss these if I didn't wait to mention them till there were real strips here again.
First, in regard to the stressor linked in the second paragraph above, the PayPal donation button on the front page became an indefinite feature as of September 27. At that time sketches started being colored regularly, since I felt bad about asking for donations for uncolored sketches.
Next, in regards to a stressor that may have causal links with the other stressor, the webcomics watch blog Fleen wrote me up for having a heart attack over Thanksgiving and still not missing an update (even if it was during a sketch hiatus).
Then, I first noticed in August's site stats that AKOTAS has achieved a landmark I'd been watching for: it's been linked from the front page of the webcomic of a major webcartoonist, one "notable" enough to have a Wikipedia entry. Thanks, Chris.
Plus, during the hiatus I was solicited for a guest strip for the second time. David Morgan-Mar of Irregular Webcomic asked me. I was going to write a fantastic crossover gag between his comic and mine, on the hook that both umbrella multiple timezones, his with different characters in each and mine with the same characters in each; and how the recent time traveling plot in his comic allowed his characters to realize that about mine when my characters don't. But I couldn't think of a premise for a punchline to hang it on. So instead I called on another artistic preference we share and and drew a pun.
Then I volunteered for a guest strip at LitBrick, where John Troutman
of divers previous webcomic experience riffs
Finally, pursuant to the subject of the paragraphs immediately above, I added these strips and the previous instance of having been solicited for a guest strip to the AKOTAS Extras page.
I've previously noted in dialog that
Gawaine becomes a secondary antagonist for the final years of Camelot, and yet
I had no real success before (or during) the sketch hiatus in even initiating
a transition to that from the loyal Gawaine of AKOTAS-to-date who
believes in Arthur's ways despite
being brought up with the values of the
previous generation (though he never
really comprehends what Arthur's reforms are about). AKOTAS'
Gawaine for years bucked his brothers'
demands to make Pellinore pay for their father's death and even (as in the
sources) stood by the true Guenevere
during the episode of the False Guenevere. These aren't the actions of
someone whom Guenevere would be suspected of trying to kill, or who shall
divide Arthur's table so Mordred can conquer it.
So, since I couldn't pull off a smooth transition, I had to think of an abrupt one.
For those of you who follow me at LiveJournal and/or Twitter or saw when I was written up at Fleen, and may be wondering, I wrote this before my Thanksgiving eve heart attack. In fact it is because I made myself familiar with the symptoms of stroke and heart attack that I got treatment quickly and suffered very little damage. Lesson to be learned.
Recording the creative process
For some time - years - I wondered what ought be the contemporary arc analog of the Roman war. Since in Malory the Roman war comes early in Arthur's reign (and so it did in the AKOTAS fairy tale/baseline and space arcs), I imagined it ought to come into the contemporary arc near the beginning of Arthur's stewardship of Excalicorp. Correspondence with a reader on the subject offered (several times) the suggestion that Emperor Lucius' Roman empire could be stood in for by the WTO.
Meanwhile, I planned from the beginning for contemporary Arthur to run for president when he reached the age of 35 and was eligible. I planned for him to run on the contemporary issues of the actual election during the run of the storyline, and to deal with contemporary issues during his presidency.
(Anyone who complains that it's a spoiler for me to give away here that he's going to win can go jump in the Lake.)
But originally I planned for his opposition in the election to be an amalgamation of the two actual candidates running in the actual election. Though Arthur is obviously a liberal and his opposition would naturally be a conservative, and though I still intend to deal with the issues of the current day, I didn't want him or his opponent to be explicitly identified with either of the two actual political parties, for the same reason Clark Kent works for an invented newspaper in an invented city. (That the election in AKOTAS is one with a conservative-party incumbent, as is stressed in today's cartoon, hopefully does point up that this is a different world than ours, similar as it may be.)
My resolve wavered a little bit as the years went by. I don't feel educated sufficiently in economics to use the WTO as analog to the Romans, good as that suggestion was (and loyal as the reader offering the suggestion is). Though I've been trying more and more to incorporate the issues of the day into contemporary AKOTAS, making Arthur's political awareness grow, the fact is I'm not all that politically aware and not interested in being so. I watch Jon Stewart and I follow The Economist on Twitter; and with Yarbro's Michael, Abraham Lincoln, and Gene Roddenberry I believe things are going to get a lot worse before they get better; and that's about it. I never did work in an analog to the Roman war into Arthur's early days at Excalicorp, and I'd about decided it wasn't going to happen at all - even though I knew, in Malory's sources, the Roman war comes at the end of Arthur's reign.
Then in early 2011 this idea occurred to me (the concept, not the joke, which obviously I didn't write before last week), and everything was suddenly all better.
If you follow me on Twitter or LJ, you may know that I've been particularly
frustrated by my scanner recently. Readers of this space will already know
that through the years of AKOTAS the scanner has developed the
idiosyncracy of occasionally failing, requiring it to be reset by being left
unplugged for half an hour. Well, early this month there was an instance when
it didn't reset even overnight. This was the last days of the sketch hiatus.
But I'd worked up a buffer: As a result of the failure, the last sketch update
and the first two or three regular updates were drawn by mouse, days ahead of
time. But when I started on the first regular Sunday update for after the
hiatus, I grew so unsatisfied with mousedrawn art that I tried the scanner
again and it worked. The last sketch update's original pen-drawn version did
run, barely scanned and colored on time, but the first three regular updates
ran in their mousedrawn form. Nevertheless, I resolved to replace the scanner
as soon as possible, with a new scanner or a drawing tablet for my computer or
A generous reader has sent me a Tiger Direct gift card as a birthday gift and a new scanner/printer is picked out at this time.
Meanwhile my wife got me a drawing tablet for Christmas. The second panel of yesterday's AKOTAS was the first thing I drew with it, and today's was the first AKOTAS to be entirely drawn with it. Now, I had a tablet once about ten or twelve years ago, which I didn't stick with because I didn't feel it gave me that much more control than a mouse. But that was probably an early, rudimentary, inexpensive one.
This one is taking a little getting used to. It seems to take longer to draw a panel with the tablet and stylus than it does to draw the same panel with a pen or pencil; but part of that is because I do things at the same time as drawing on the screen that I can't or don't do while drawing with a pen - like coloring as I go, or closing shapes so they can be colored with the fill tool. The art itself isn't as spontaneous as pen drawing yet, but it's better than mouse drawing; that'll take some new reflexes or just to learn to relax. But I'm confident that I'll be much happier and faster drawing electronically with something the size and shape of a pen than with something the size and shape of a pack of cigarettes.
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