The Way of the Word

15. April 2010

Workblog: The Origin of Made of Fail

As I am embarking on writing and drawing some more Made of Fail, I think it’s just fair to tell you how it originally came to be.

Once upon a time, there was a young writer who wanted to break into the comics business. As, of course, a writer. Because he has no drawing ability, and not even any interest in drawing.

What happened was that over the years, he learned several things.

One being that comics don’t care about writers. Unless they are already famous. Don’t believe me? Check out any publisher’s guidelines. Writers need not apply. If you’re a writer, you have to have a full art team in place. No such thing as, “If we like the story, you’ll have to assemble your own team.” But a clear, “Unless you have an art team, don’t bother.”

The other being that artists are unreliable. I’ve had enough problems with artists over the years that I’ve concluded that a reliable artist is the exception, not the rule.

One day last year, there was the final straw: an artist bowed out of a sci-fi adventure strip we were going to do. I went a bit crazy and decided that I was going to do the damn thing myself.

Remember what I said above? That I can’t draw? Right. Over the years, nothing has changed about that. I still can’t draw.

Which leads me to my one major piece of advice to aspiring comics writers: learn how to draw. It’s an essential skill for comics writers.

I decided to do it as a webcomic. There are several reasons for that. The most important one was that there is no quality control on the internet. Anyone can post any kind of webcomic, regardless of quality. I looked at several of them, and while there is some very good stuff on the internet, the ratio of crap to quality makes Spurgeon’s Revelation seem very liberal. Most webcomics are, well, horrible stuff made by people who do it for the love, as a hobby. Quality is not an issue. I figured I’d fit right in there.

Sure, I could have the comic printed on paper, but there were several unsurmountable obstacles. The first obstacle is that printing the comic would cost money. I was not inclined to waste money on something that would never earn back the investment. Also, there are no markets for that kind of stuff where I am. I’m in Germany, all the cons for anglophone comics are in Britain and the US. If I printed up the comics, the only way to sell them would be by spending even more money to travel to all those cons and hand-sell them. Then there was the final obstacle on the road to monetizing Operation Burning Bridges: I couldn’t (still can’t) in good conscience ask anyone to pay money for, well click on the links at the right-hand side of the screen and you’ll see. On the web, I could offer it up for free, because there would be no expense involved on my side that I would have to recoup. Except for some paper and pencils.

When I decided to draw the strip myself, I settled on a working title. Not for the strip, but for the project. I called it Operation Burning Bridges. From what I had observed in regards to comics editors, I had concluded that if I write and draw the strip myself, even if I got some editors to look at it, they would all be so appalled by the horrible art that none of them would even consider the writing.

In case you wonder why I so freely slag comics artists and editors, the answer is simple: I don’t expect to do any more comics work anyway, so why shouldn’t I? Operation Burning Bridges, you know. I called it that because I figured that it would completely destroy every last shred of hope I might have held of having a career as a comics writer. I fully expected that this project would burn all the bridges to that goal.

So I sat down with my script and started to draw. The result was even worse than I had feared. I not only had any drawing skill, I clearly didn’t have the patience or the talent to do it right. But I was still fueled by anger, so I shifted gears: if I’m too incompetent to draw an adventure strip, I could try a humor strip.

Now, I mentioned before that I am not a funny person. That made it two strikes against this strip: I can’t draw, and it would be a most likely unfunny humor strip. Operation Burning Bridges would completely play to all my weaknesses and none of the things that I consider my strengths. It would be completely made of fail.

And with that, I had my title. I checked if there were any other comics out there with that title. I came up empty. Made of Fail as a comics title was all mine. (Much later, I discovered that there’s a podcast that uses the title.)

When I sat down to draw the first strip, I still attempted something a bit realistic. It didn’t work. So I made it somewhat more cartoony. Don’t let any cartoonists tell you that drawing cartoony is harder than drawing realistic. If it were, I wouldn’t draw cartoony. By the fourth strip, I was hitting my stride. And there were some feelings of accomplishment along the way. You can’t imagine how I felt when I figured out how to draw mouths, for example.

After discussing it with some people, I settled on a routine of three updates per week. That was doable. I needed one evening, two hours, to draw one strip. I produced some in advance, in case anything unforseeable would happen, and after I had 15 or so I started to post them online.

One thing about Made of Fail was that it was based on real life. Each of the four main characters is based on one or more real people whom I know both online and in real life. Most of the situations really happened, or were inspired by something I observed or read about in the newspaper.

After a couple of weeks, my progress slowed. Suddenly, I needed more than just two hours to draw one strip. I never understood why. Practice should have made me faster, right? Someone suggested that I might have, instead, started to demand more of myself. It didn’t look like it to me. Eventually, I fell behind. Also, the readership was declining. Made of Fail had started out with over 200 readers. That had blown my mind. I had not expected nearly that many. After a few months, there were about 20 left. As the work grew harder and required more of my time, I began to question if it was worth my time. Not only that, I was running out of steam. The anger that had made me set out along this road had faded away. Also, I wanted to get back to novel writing, and I definitely didn’t have the time to do both. So I quit just two strips short of 50. I had wanted to reach 50 stripe, but I ran out of ideas and I had no slack left to take my time to think of something.

That last strip of what I came to call Season 1 was me keeping a backdoor open for the (in my opinion) unlikely case I might want to return to Made of Fail.

Now, about a year after my initial run, I find myself in a situation where yes, there will be a Season 2 of Made of Fail. So far, I’ve scripted 16 strips. I’ve started drawing. I’ll start posting them sometime late May. At a slower pace than I did before, only two updates per week instead of three. But Craig and the gang will be back.

So. Now you know the full truth behind Made of Fail. How it came to be. Why I called it that.


1 Comment »

  1. […] artist. Ironically, it served to inspire another project, my webcomic Made of Fail. I wrote about the details of how that happened on my other blog, The Way of the Word, so I won’t repeat that […]

    Pingback by Jetpack Pirates « The Mad Pulper Project — 31. August 2010 @ 08:56

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