On Deceased Comics
March 22nd, 2016

On Deceased Comics

The drawing above is a sketch of a monster for my graphic novel series with Victor Hao, King of RPGs! Although King of RPGs was canceled by Random House after 2 volumes, before that happened, I drew a ton of character sketches and outlines of stories for future books. I’ll be posting many of these on my twitter and Facebook accounts in the coming weeks — please check ‘em out! (And if you find King of RPGs in a used bookstore or on alibris, please check it out too! Each of the 2 volumes is a complete story, so it doesn’t end abruptly.)

While I’m looking back at King of RPGs, I have to look at another long-in-the-works comic project: The Stiff. It’s my sad duty to announce that the webcomic The Stiff is now canceled. This decision wasn’t an easy one, and I apologize to all the many readers and fans who were looking forward to seeing it drawn to its conclusion.

“The Stiff” is an important and personal story to me. Like my favorite long-running comics, it’s proven malleable to fit my changing interests and styles, from a simple story I conceived in college in 1994 (it was almost my first comics project before Dream-Quest!), to a new take on that same story in 1999, to the (sort of) final version I pitched to Joey Manley & Lea Hernandez’s now-defunct Girlamatic webcomics site in 2001. When I got frustrated with Viz and cut back on my job, I poured all my energy into drawing “The Stiff” from 2002 to 2006, 3 days a week (later 2 days, then ultimately 1 day). Through Girlamatic I met close friends, fellow artists who inspired me and many of whom I still I know. And the time I spent sitting at my drawing desk working on “The Stiff” — at its peak 12 hours a day, 3 days a week, plus miscellaneous storyboarding and plotting — level-upped my art & writing abilities many times.

But unfortunately I set it aside, and despite working on roughs and storyboards over the last two years, I haven’t been able to pick it up again. I envisioned “The Stiff” as a webcomic of leisurely pacing and tremendous length, in imitation of such creators as Dave Sim, Carla Speed McNeil and (pick-a-mangaka-any-mangaka). But like Sean Michael Robinson, who wrote for The Hooded Utilitarian about how he set aside his unfinished graphic novel Discards, I set myself up with an artstyle too detailed and a plot too long to finish in the format I chose. All this may sound a bit like a cheap excuse for not finishing it (“The film I want to make is a $200 million epic!! I couldn’t possibly make anything with a lesser budget, that’s why I’m never finishing my home movie”). I’ll try to compress a long and boring list of excuses into this: I bit off more than I could chew.

Years ago, I once scoffed at something Warren Ellis wrote in an essay, where he talked about how he had a dream story but he didn’t have time to work on it because of all the other things he was working on. “Whatever, Warren Ellis! If you really cared, you’d find time to do it!” I thought. Well, now I’m the one saying the exact same thing Ellis said. It’s not that I don’t still *like* “The Stiff”, or that I’m such a different person ten years later that it’s alien to me now. Like I said, a good long-running story grows & ages along with its creator. But, thinking of the tremendous time investment it would take to draw those 750+ remaining pages, I think of the dozens of other, newer projects I’d rather do with that time. And when I think of leaving the sad, dangling possibility that *someday* I’ll finish drawing it, I think of other unfinished-but-never-officially-canceled comics that have bugged me and my friends over the years: Rick Veitch’s Maximortal. Patrick Farley’s Apocamon. Martin Wagner’s Hepcats (I’m not a fan, but my friend was), whose creator has spent 20 years flaking out on finishing the same storyline, with two publishers and as a webcomic. Or in prose, David Gerrold’s The War Against the Chtorr—aaargggh! I’m sure there are many other examples. Inasmuch as possible, I’d rather not be part of such company, and have The Stiff be a dead webcomic rather than an eternally-waiting-to-be-finished comic.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the end, because I’m going to finish The Stiff as a prose novel. Prose has vastly different requirements than comics and the resulting work will surely be different than a graphic novel would have been, but at least in prose I can honestly say that it *will* get done. I hope people (including perhaps you, O blog reader) will find it and enjoy it in that format.

In the meantime I’d like to thank many people who were instrumental in making or writing about The Stiff: Joey Manley, Lea Hernandez, Shaenon Garrity, Derek Kim, Lauren Davis, Jason Shiga, Hope Larson, Alvin Lu. All of you encouraged me, and many other folk whose names I don’t remember, encouraged me and gave me the desire to keep going. I’m sorry I didn’t finish The Stiff as a webcomic, but I hope someday soon I’ll be able to tell you the complete story, albeit with less pictures and more words. The clock is ticking. The bell tolls. I’ll be with you soon.


My Homemade Dungeons & Dragons Class: The Priest

As you probably know, I love Dungeons & Dragons, and my favorite settings are historical (or, frankly, pseudo-historical) ones. Inspired by Scott Bennie’s amazing “Testament: Roleplaying in the Biblical Era” and by my current Ancient Mesopotamia D&D campaign, I hereby present a homebrew D&D class I’ve been working on for several months: the Priest, keeper of secrets, shepherd of the community, worshipper of idols!

The Priest is a totally unofficial, fan-created, no-relation-to-the-good-folks-at-Wizards-of-the-Coast D&D class which I’ve statted out up to 20th level, with several variant builds (chiefly the Idol Aspects through which the priest worships their god: Praisehungry, Resplendent, Mortifying, Ecstatic and Bloodthirsty). As I explain briefly in the PDF, the Priest is an attempt to transform the D&D Cleric class back into something like the archetype of the ‘mysterious high priest’ as seen in an earlier type of fantasy fiction. The Cleric is basically a crusader/undead-buster class at heart, a holy warrior, but there’s plenty of precedent in fantasy for a different type of holy character… one who’s mysterious, a master of illusion and enchantment as well as of healing, more like a wizard than a cleric. This, plus much inspiration and flavor from real-world iconodulic religions, equals the Priest!

This is something I’ve been working on for awhile, and it probably still needs more tinkering and playtesting (many thanks to Shanti, the awesomest playtester ever!). But it’s the kind of thing where you’ve got to just throw it out there and see if it sinks or swims and what people think. The Priest’s special spell focus — the idol — makes an interesting roleplaying challenge, and some campaigns might prefer to have priests as NPCs (antagonists perhaps?) rather than player characters. Do whatever you like with it, but let me know what you think! This has been a fun vanity project inspired by my love of D&D, and if you get some enjoyment out of it, and best of all can use it in your own game, I’ll be super happy. You can download it by clicking the image or clicking here.

If you like it, please also check out my Mangaka: The Fast & Furious Game of Drawing Comics Kickstarter!