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My wishes for your 2015

December 31, 2014 at 10:59 pm

2015

It’s that time of year once again when the blogosphere turns into one big Commencement Address, with all us laymen attempting to say inspirational, reflective things as you go about your introspective reflection. We look back on the year gone past as we look forward to the year to come. The occasion is just too rich with emotion and possibility for those of us who love commenting on things not to comment.

So, if you’ll indulge me:

There is a person you’ve been intending to be. This person is a better looking, better organized, probably fitter, maybe wealthier version of you. Yes, the you that you know is already pretty fine as is. But every year, you make resolutions. Oh, you’re going to do better at the following, you’re going to do less of such and so, you’re going to do more of thus and such. I am not here to talk about your wealth, health and fitness. Lord knows there are blogs a-plenty for that.

No, I want to address that last bit. You’re going to do more of thus and such. Particularly if the thus-and-such is something creative you’ve been promising yourself you’re going to work on one day, but One Day never arrives. Oh, you’ve gotten started several times. But you just. Can’t. Seem. To finish.

This is the year, folks. This is the year. If you’ve been waiting for permission, I hereby grant it. Go work on that thing you’ve been promising yourself you’ll work on. It’ll be hard. It’ll be time-consuming. There will be dark times you doubt yourself, doubt your idea, consider the whole thing a waste of time and want to throw it all away.

But don’t do it. Because the difference between a finished project and one that sits unfinished is your resolve. Know going into it that it’s going to be hard, and expect yourself to plunge on ahead. From the other side, this seemingly insurmountable obstacle will be a glorious accomplishment.

If you’re thinking it’s going to take a while, yes, I suppose it will. But forget overnight success. Concentrate on the long haul. When my wife and I were in our twenties, I was a young artist just starting out and my wife was a newly-minted lawyer. A woman in her late forties came to talk to my wife and said, “I want to be a lawyer, but I’m so old, I think it’s too late to start. By the time I finish law school in three years, I’ll be 52!” And my wife, a paragon of wisdom at only 25 or so, said one of the wisest things I think anyone could say in that situation: “In three years, aren’t you going to be 52 anyway?” It really put the situation into perspective.

Whatever it is you’re putting off for fear of how old you’ll be when you’re done – won’t you be that old in that amount of time anyway? Take one road, and you’ll be that old still talking about this great thing you’re going to do one day. Take the other road, and you’ll already have done it.

If you’re thinking the idea has been done before, let me tell you that you’re probably right, and then follow it up with a big ole, “BUT WHO CARES!?” What, you think George Lucas was the first person to use The Hero’s Journey as a framework for his writing when he scribbled out his ideas for Star Wars? How far back in history do you need to go? What hackneyed hero’s journey framework story is early enough to show you that particular story framework has been in use for a very, very long time, yet it is still effective? Take my word for it, it goes back a ways. Better yet, take your own word for it. If you’re talking seriously about writing a story, you’ve already done the research. You know it’s true that there’s Nothing New Under the Sun.

Here’s the thing: the thing that makes your creation worth it is YOU. What do you bring to it?  What twist comes from the way you see the world? What unique light do you shine on the human condition? You’ve been on this planet for a couple decades at least, and probably more if you’re reading this. You want to tell me you’ve picked up nothing of interest in all that time? Come ON.

So long as you’re not shamelessly ripping off another work – and make no mistake, the phrase “Nothing New Under the Sun” can be used as a crutch to justify laziness and non-creative imitation, and you know whether or not you’re doing it – then you owe it to the world to get your thing out there. Add your unique voice to the chorus. Tell the stories that only you can tell, draw the pictures that only you would draw, do that thing that you have been promising yourself and everyone else that one day you will do.

On the cusp of the new year, I wish you happiness, strength, and courage. I wish you discipline. I wish you wisdom to know the serious artistic crises from the trivial (and trust me, they are mostly trivial.) I wish you wealth, and health and love. But most of all, I wish you the joy that comes from Finally Doing That Thing.

2015 is your year. If you’ve been waiting, wait no more. I look forward to hearing about what you do!

The Past, Present and Future of Moon Town

December 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm

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…or, New Years Resolution, 2015.

Moon Town has gathered a decent group of fans over the years. Yes, I know several of you have become disillusioned waiting for the story to continue, but that doesn’t mean you are any less important to me. You deserve an update. So, here you go:

First, some background. Once upon a time, I worked for a computer game company. We’d been fighting with a game we were developing, and it was obvious to everyone involved that, although we were doing good work and doing exactly what had been expected of us, it wasn’t going well creatively. One day, our boss came in and said, “What if what you thought you were working on wasn’t what you were working on?” and proceeded over the next half hour to lay out what he actually wanted us to be working on instead of the thing he’d had us working on. It involved a creative pivot, a bit of risk, and it required us to throw out a lot of what we’d been working on for years. In the end, we wound up with a better product than what we’d been making, but, boy, we grumbled that day. But the fact of the matter is that our lead creative wasn’t satisfied with what he’d had us spending our time on, and needed to make a change.

I have thought about that a lot when I’ve thought about the past, present and future of Moon Town. Moon Town is a project that is very important to me, but has been through a ton of changes over the past ten years. In 2004, it began life as a series of little animated films that eventually I realized I could never complete. By 2009, it had found life as this online comic you’ve read. I got 60 pages done and realized my story had gone off course, and had to stop. Plus, I had never been satisified with the look and feel of the project. Briefly, I tried doing a version of the comic that was much more serious along the lines of Duncan Jones’ Moon – but ultimately, it was too serious, and creatively, I felt it had failed as well.

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After ten years of off-and-on development, and 5 years of off-and-on graphic novel experimentation, I can look back and reflect on what I’ve created, both the positive and the negative. Moon Town won some awards back in 2009 and 2010. It got some recognition and a decent audience. But at the same time, something has always bothered me about the thing. I could never find the right tone. Was this a silly little kids story about octopi on the moon? Or was this a more serious story about corporate greed and the value of the Little Guy? Nope. It was trying to be both, like a mainstream animated kid’s film that has all the edges shaved off of it to make it Family Friendly, but still wants teens and twenty-somethings to think it’s cool so they’ll buy vinyl figurines of the characters and put all over their monitors and shelves at work. That is a tricky balance that takes teams of people to get it right. I am not a team. I don’t have a team. I’m just me, trying to figure this thing out. I’m trying to develop something that will appeal to me, and hopefully, that means that it will appeal to others as well. But what exactly do I want it to look like?

There was a time I wanted Moon Town to look like this:

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I’ve always loved those drawings. They would be perfectly at home in a kid’s illustrated book. They are fun, simple, and quick for me to draw, but ultimately, I think they are impossible to take seriously. Cassie01If I want to tell a story with some meat on its bones, how can I expect the audience to buy into it? It’s a problem. It is, in fact, the problem that has made me stop working on Moon Town again and again, and it’s why I’ve left the story on that cliffhanger for the past year.

As to that, I’ve had fans ask aloud whether this is a dead strip. If your definition of a dead strip is one that hasn’t updated in a year, then I guess you consider Moon Town dead and I’m not going to try to argue with you. But as the guy creating it, I do not consider it dead. I intend to return to it, but I leave you to figure out whether you want to wait for it.

So, it comes back to that initial thought: what if this thing I was working on wasn’t what I thought I was working on? What if it is a bigger story, a stranger story? What if it had some of its edges left on? What if I put my shoulder into the art and tried to make something not just appealing, but beautiful? I think that’s what I want to do, what I need to do in order to continue. The drawings during the ending credits of Big Hero 6 are particularly appealing (see below), and I am now thinking that flavor is just about right for Moon Town. It’s fun, it’s appealing. Sure, it takes longer for me to draw than something super simple, but the flavor, like this new drawing of Cassie over there, above left, is something I am interested to explore.

Some of you will love this idea. You’ll love the thought that I’ll return to telling this story that engrossed you. But people hate change, so there will be a lot of you who hate this idea. Just like when my boss outlined how we were throwing things out and restarting our game development, there will be grumbling. Most of you will be indifferent, and a good amount of you will just nod and say, “Yeah, yeah… wake me when you actually draw something.” All those reactions are valid. I deserve every bit of your cynicism, but I’ll take every bit of your encouragement because this will be a long, hard road. We’ll see if something stops me again. If so, I suspect it will stop me for good.

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A couple of things for certain, though: the look and feel must change, and the story will not be the same one I’ve been beating to death over the past 10 years.  It’ll have the same characters, same environments, and the bones of the story – Simon and Cassie fighting for their lives against a heartless bureacracy – but it will be stranger. Bigger. More Guardians of the Galaxy than The Dark Knight Rises or Duncan Jones’ Moon, but also more Big Hero 6 than Zathura. Tone matters so much, and I’m only now figuring it out.

I will return to this in 2015 and see where it goes.

There’s your update. Happy New Year!

-Og

Doctor Magnifico – What Have I Learned?

December 26, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Part of my mission here at Doctor Magnifico is to share my creative process with you. Things I discover, reasons I do things. In that spirit – and not in the spirit of soliciting advice from anyone, which I am not doing here – I present the following: an essay on what I have learned from my first year of development on Doctor Magnifico.

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PLAY THAT FUNKY COMIC

I create comics partially because I like to draw, but more than that, as a professional artist who has never drawn comics professionally, I do it to learn. What do I hope to learn? I hope to learn what material resonates with people, what characters are likable, what jokes are funny. Honestly, there is a treasure trove of information available to an artist who puts his work out in a public forum. Everyone has an opinion.

In that, this is like playing music live. It’s all well and good to hole up in your basement recording perfect little pop tunes and only sharing them with 5 or 10 close friends who will tell you everything you do is perfect. But when you take that act on the road, put those songs out and see what people think, it is an education. You find out what works, yeah, but moreover, you find out what doesn’t work. In the case of Doctor Magnifico, I have a host of analytics that tell me exactly which strips are popular, and which ones are not. And one of the main reasons I take these occasional hiatuses (hiatii?) is to reflect on my work, think about what I’m doing compared to what I set out to do.

I set out to entertain people. Have I done that? Yes.

I set out to create likable characters. Have I done that? Yes.

I set out to see if I could make a consistently funny comic strip. Have I done that? Absolutely.

I set out to create a popular comic. Have I done that? Partially. The numbers have not been impressive. Most of the time, Doctor Magnifico’s readership hovers around 100 people. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my 100 dedicated readers, but 100 readers isn’t what I set out to capture. I was hoping for thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Yes, I know that if I wanted to consider this thing a SMASH, I’d be looking for millions, but let’s just be realistic. I’m after thousands, and I’m getting hundreds. Why? For that, we can look to the analytics.

POPULAR ≠ GOOD but POPULAR > OBSCURE

This is the most popular strip I ever drew here at Doctor Magnifico:

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7000 people came to look at that one. Why? I think it’s because it had the word “Zombie” in the title. Also, it hit some “cute” button with people. I had someone accuse me of stealing the joke from Calvin and Hobbes (I didn’t, but there was one that dealt with trying to gross Calvin out to make him eat stuff. Common theme, I guess.)

This was the second-most popular strip from the site:

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In fact, if you look at the peaks of visitation and fan engagement, it’s almost always one of the strips dealing with the cats. Conversely, if you look at the dips in visitation, and the lack of fan engagement, you find strips that are centered around Max, the human, Max the artist, talking about his career, or trying to get a date.

This is the least popular strip here at the site:

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And, in fact, I think that strip is a great metaphor for this strip’s relationship to the audience. The blonde girl represents the thousands of readers I’d like to have. The artist blathering on obliviously about things she doesn’t want to hear is, well, me. Or the strip. The audience sees what you’re about, doesn’t like it, and walks away without saying a word. If there is a better metaphor for the way Doctor Magnifico has performed in the marketplace, I don’t know what it is. Even the book I just released? I sold only 10 copies. And I was ecstatic for every single sale, but a book that sells 10 copies is trying to tell you something.

THAT LITTLE ITCH SHOULD BE TELLING YOU SOMETHING

The problem with taking a lesson from The Most Unpopular Strip at Doctor Magnifico is this: that strip was one of my all-time favorite strips, and I was thinking I wouldn’t be alone in that. Turns out, I was alone in that. That shows you how you can misjudge the audience for your own work. But beyond the analytics, the unsolicited feedback I’ve received about the strip and its characters has been from people asking to see more of the cats, and, curiously, someone close to me telling me they didn’t care much for strips featuring “that guy”. I think I know enough to draw a conclusion: most people don’t want to come here and see Max wrestle with his career, or see him failing to get the pretty girl to notice him. They like the cats doing funny things. Duh.

And it would be one thing if I actively disagreed. But aside from disagreeing about the least popular strip at the site, I think the analytics and feedback I’ve received is spot on. The internet do love it some cats. The thing is, I don’t want to do Yet Another Cat Comic. There are too many out there, and the most popular ones are not funny to me. But that’s OK. I don’t have to do Yet Another Cat Strip. The heart of this strip is a conversation about the usefulness of art in light of the ubiquity of science and technology in our society. It’s about imagination in the midst of the mundane. I can have that conversation and flights of imagination without Max. In fact, in some strips, I have inexplicably turned Sam into an artist and had the artist/non-artist dynamic entirely without Max. This really shows that the strip works at its core:

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I see that strip and I think, “Yes. Like that. That is the strip.” The conflict between the round, happy, naive, artistic cat and the pointy, sarcastic, skeptical, non-artistic cat is natural and I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Well, I guess I did, but subconsciously. Sometimes I think you only see these things after you get 50 strips under your belt and then get some distance from what you’ve created. A pity, because 50 strips doesn’t come easy or quickly.

BE SIMPLE, BE WHAT YOU ARE AND SAY IT FROM THE START

Here’s the other thing: I don’t think people knew exactly what to make of this strip. As an artist, it appealed to me to be able to tell all sorts of stories, all sorts of jokes, and that meant letting my world be as big as the universe. An artist with lofty aspirations, with dating woes, with insecurities about his work. Cats who give him advice and can discuss the values and drawbacks of art and science, who can comment on all aspects of pop culture. It was wide open, and I knew I would never get bored with it because there was more than enough to chew on. But as a reader, I think it made it hard to understand and impossible to categorize. This wasn’t a cat strip per se, so that classification felt too narrow. So, how do you sum it up to your friends? There’s this artist, and he’s got these two cats who talk to him, and sometimes he pretends to be a superhero, and… ah, you’ve already lost ‘em. Who is Doctor Magnifico? Oh, he’s an artist? Yikes, what I had done. If I don’t make it easy to explain to your friends, you won’t. And people didn’t. I need to fix that.

I’m not sure exactly what changes I’ll make to this strip going forward but in the renewal, I guarantee the first thing out of a character’s mouth in Strip #1 will be the words, “I’m Doctor Magnifico” and we will understand who they are and why the strip is named like this. It’s a step forward.

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When I set out do draw this comic, I wanted to see if I could get 25 strips done. And when I got there, I thought, let’s go for 50, and when I got there, I set my goal at 100. But I don’t think I need to get to 100 to learn what I needed to learn. I think I got the point right here. So, armed with the lessons I’ve learned from my first 62 strips, I am going to go back into the strip and see what I can do to make it better. God willing and the creek don’t rise, and I like what I come up with, I will show a new, improved Doctor Magnifico here in spring 2015.

Stay tuned, and thanks for all the support!

A Quiet Solstice Moment

December 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm

My gift to you this holiday season:

Doctor Magnifico mini-collection

November 26, 2014 at 1:50 pm

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I’m happy to announce that the Doctor Magnifico mini-collection “Like No One is Watching” is available! You can get them signed or unsigned, directly from my Etsy store (I’ll be able to ship them beginning DEC 10, 2014) or you can get them more quickly – but unsigned – from Amazon if you prefer. Enjoy!

Veterans Day

November 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

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To all who serve and have served: thank you.

Shining up Flakes

October 13, 2014 at 11:37 am

 

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In 2006, I made an animated film called “Flakes” (with a little help from my friends).  We rendered it at 720 pixels wide, which in those days seemed like a nice, reasonable resolution. These days, 720 wide looks like a postage stamp. So, I’m re-rendering it at 1920×1080 (“HD” resolution currently). While I’m at it, I decided to mess with the lighting, the shadows, and I decided to add some details to the mountains and clouds in the background. Although I liked their devil-may-care simplicity when we first made the short, they looked hilariously unfinished to me in the new HD rendering. So I made the change.

So, a Work in Progress, above. 2006, top; 2014, bottom. Spent the weekend getting shot 1 to look good. Soon, I’ll show you the whole short.

Dr. Magnifico – now in color!

August 29, 2014 at 2:14 pm

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Oh – should have mentioned – the comics are in color at Doctor Magnifico now. I’m going through and coloring the archive, and all the new strips are color going forward. Cuz, it’s a colorful world, baby, and so should the comics be!

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What’s that? You’re not reading Doctor Magnifico!? Get over there and read, already! It’s free. And you will like it.

Oh, did I mention it’s free?

Kao Jai Coffee, Round 2

August 28, 2014 at 11:57 pm

 

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Kao Jai Coffee, Round Two: my friends at Kao Jai will soon be carrying a dark roast. Here is a glimpse of the new label we made together.

The new Kao Jai label features one of the Thai farmers that grow and harvest the coffee. You may have seen this drawing under construction at my Facebook page, (if you haven’t already done so, you should “LIKE” the page so you can keep up with the latest and greatest Steve Ogden Art) and you can see the drawing pretty far along, above.

Below, this is how it came out, and how I used it in the design.

 

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Medium label for the Medium roast, dark label for the dark roast. The client REALLY wanted black in this one, and I so didn’t, because I know there’s an even darker roast coming eventually, and where do you go after this? But I’m glad they pushed for black, because I think it says “Dark Roast” in a way that my deep browns weren’t cutting it. And as for what to do for the next, darker roast? Meh. We shall set fire to that span once we reach it!

 

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This whole project has been – and continues to be – a great collaboration with some very fine people.

More info: http://www.kaojaicoffee.com/

Bikes, Planes and Rocket Ships

July 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

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InfoGraphicSMYou know that old movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Well, this is like that, except… yeah, different. Fun little illustrations I got to do for Bully! Entertainment. We recently used them in an infographic about Augmented Reality, a pretty neat-o technology we work with. Want to learn more about it, click the icon to the left (or this LINK)…