Looking at endless arrays of pretty rocks. Picking the pretty rocks you want to work with. Designing the characters, and then coming up with cool ways to blend the designs together, and going through another array of rocks (and their mineral types! and their properties! and their crystalline structures!) to figure out what rock would be the best mix of the two.
It’s so soothing. I could spend all day just working out new multi-Quartz fusion designs.
At this point there are Gem versions of a ridiculous number of Leif & Thorn characters. Gems for characters who haven’t been introduced yet. Fusions for pairs of characters who haven’t met yet. I once had tabs open for every article on naturally-formed glass that Wikipedia could offer, in order to fuse Leaf Green Pearl with a character he has no idea even exists.
(…and I still don’t know what to do with Juniper, though they not only have been introduced, they’re one of the major characters. How do you cast a fighter-type who’s too tall to be a Ruby, but not buff enough to be a Quartz?)
I don’t even know how much crossover there is between the fandom audiences. It’s totally possible I’m the only one who cares, here.
And yet it’s still weirdly fulfilling to spend an hour, say, resizing and rearranging the figures on a height chart. They’re so neat. So organized. As relaxation techniques go, I’ll take that over meditating, any time.
All the fills for the OTP Sexy Art Challenge are complete!
I thought about queueing them up between serious storylines, to make an omake week (or two, or three…). Finally decided that, no, it would go too far out of the m.o. of the site to have such graphic hanky-panky all over the front page.
The cool thing is, the Webcomic plugin can juggle multiple comics on a single site.
So: readers who want your NSFW fix, check out Leif & Thorn After Dark. There’s no single “front page” that shows you the latest After Dark strip — but you can follow it on ComicRocket to get notified when it updates.
Right now it’s all Sexy Art Challenge, including a final character/pairing breakdown. Other posts will show up sporadically, so keep an eye on it. Maybe some racy art, maybe some strips about characters’ fantasies that get, uh, more explicit than the main comic.
(I may or may not have drawn some of these already. Leif has an active imagination, okay.)
In response to a Tumblr ask, some thoughts on webcomic magic.
(1) Don’t feel the need to start from scratch, or get overly stressed about coming up with things that Nobody Else Has Done Before. Everything has been done before. Frozen wasn’t a hit because “powers controlled based on your emotions” or “ice magic” were new ideas, it was a hit because the characters were lovable and the songs were catchy.
BICP combines shapeshifter battles, monsters bonded to human Masters, cool power sigils, a special magic language, and animating sculptures by engraving them with the right words. Every one of those is a cliche in some way; every one has a TVTropes page. If they seem fresh, it’s because they’re being handled in new ways, or put together in new configurations.
(2) Be inspired by real-world things. That’ll help with the consistency. And the familiarity gives your readers a point of reference, which is useful. Galavant gives the characters magical communication crystals – an old, old trope – but then has them glitch like a smartphone on a Skype call. It’s hilarious and engaging because the viewer knows exactly how they’re feeling.
The magitech communications in Leif & Thorn work like IRL digital communications. Different underlying process, but since human psychology is still the same, you get the same dynamics as our world has with cellphones, texting, social media.
And readers can accept it without needing a detailed list of Rules Of Smartcrystal Spell Encoding. Same way I accept that my smartphone works (or freezes, as the case may be) without knowing all the fine points of the Java or C++ that explain why.
(3) It’s okay to be guided by what works for the story. The “battles take place in a separate realm” trope is a blatant author convenience – it saves you from dealing with the ramifications of real-world destruction, and it’s an easy excuse for why the muggles don’t get involved.
X had just-like-the-real-world-but-with-no-civilians battle realms. Puella Magi Madoka Magica goes to the other extreme, having the characters fight in symbolism-laden psychedelic acid trips. BICP goes with “pretty nature scenes” – in part because it’s easy to find references for a wide variety of them.
(4) Think, in detail, about the implications of your magical mechanics. This is something you get a lot in deconstructions or parodies, oddly enough. (”Why don’t we just attack while she’s transforming?”) When that kind of stuff doesn’t get followed up in-series, fans will often step in and reverse-engineer a rationale. (”The transformations must take place in a flash in realtime – the extended flashy sequence is just a device to show it off to the audience.”)
BICP battles take place in a flash in realtime, but for the participants it’s like an extended detour into another dimension. Why just use that for magical battles? Why not use it to have secure, absolutely-not-bugged conversations – or just to hang out and relax, knowing it can’t possibly make you late for your next appointment?
So that’s exactly what some of the characters do.
I think this is the biggest one, honestly. Unless you’re playing to a very young or very broad and non-geeky audience, your readers will already have put some thought into magical tropes and how they could work. If you anticipate them having a question like “Why doesn’t–?” “But shouldn’t it–?” “Why would they–?” – and then answer it – that’s all kinds of fulfilling.
(Caveat: know which things don’t need more explanation. The Force worked just fine as a spiritual thing; viewers didn’t need or want a pseudoscience biological mechanism involved.)
(5) Think about the historical implications, too. That’ll help make things feel serious. Steven Universe is really thoughtful about working the presence of Gems on Earth into the fabric of human history and mythology. You see Gem-inspired bits of culture everywhere, from totem poles to how-our-town-was-founded legends to trashy romance novels.
BICP also has thousands of years’ worth of history involving strangely-powered immortal nonhumans. Some of the restrictions on Beings’ powers were conceived of largely to keep them from becoming overwhelming historical game-changers. What we do see is Being-based mythology, and…well, technically also Being-based mythology.
(6) You can work things out as you go. It’s not like you have to spell out everything for your audience right away. And if you commit yourself to an idea behind-the-scenes, and then the story develops in a way that makes the idea awkward or unsatisfying or inconsistent, it’s going to suck if you refuse to adapt. (See: How I Met Your Mother.)
Figure out enough of the basics to get started, then fill in the details as you write. I’ve only specified a few of the magical domains in Leif & Thorn. Partly because there are some whose existence I don’t want to spoil…but partly because I want the freedom to make up new ones on-the-spot if necessary.
(7) It’s okay to relax and just go with Rule of Cool. I put magic sigils in BICP because I loved them in Hellsing. There’s no intrinsic meaning to the lines and shapes in the Beings’ sigils – they just look neat.
(The humans-casting-spells sigils, meanwhile, are from real-world hermetics.)
The mages in Leif & Thorn (of all ages and genders) have magical-girl transformations, the kind I first saw in Sailor Moon and in plenty of other mahou shoujo series since. Necessary? Nope. Pretty? Oh yes.
And, listen, some people love coming up with intricate systems of fictional rules, with tons of detail for readers to analyze. If that’s you, embrace it! Worked out great for Tolkien. But if not, don’t feel bound to it just on principle.
If something feels exciting and inspiring to you, that’s going to energize your writing, and it’ll show through to your readers. It’s hard to fake that. Don’t worry and second-guess so much that you cheat yourself out of it.
Me: Hey, this is a pretty funny standalone joke idea. I’ll draw it up as a Sunday strip, and just add it to the queue once I’ve drawn enough dailies to go that far.
The strip: Good news, you have a wonderful backlog of Sundays! Now you just need to draw 70 daily strips in a row to catch up.
Me: Think I’ll do a little mini-arc in connected Sunday strips. With only a week from one to the next, readers should be able to follow it pretty well.
The strip: Ahahahaha, I can’t hear you over the sound of the main arc churning up three plot-heavy Sundays in a row.
Me: If I make this character too femme it’ll play into a nasty stereotype, and if I draw this one too butch it’ll play into a different one, and if I have this particular guy wear skirts it’ll have Unfortunate Implications, and if that other woman never gets to wear them it’ll be problematic, and…
Also me: Wait, frell, now every single character is falling neatly into gender norms that their society isn’t even supposed to have.
Google: Guess how many pictures I can find of hot butch lesbian haircuts.
Me: I’ll take one of everything.
Me: Wow, it is super hot out. Giving me lots of ideas for a storyline about a summer festival.
The strip: Yeah, uh, you just made it late autumn in-universe.
The queue: And don’t forget, whatever arc you plot out next will be going live in February! So think snow.
Awesome, Leif & Thorn has a tropes page.
Slipped in and added some of the language stuff. Now I get to sit on my hands and resist the urge to add tropes that would be spoilery for not-yet-posted strips.
Other misc notes from the artist’s desk: