#48 Melodrama, Part 1

By Shamus Posted Sunday Aug 11, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 15 comments

The dice may get you. The GM might get you. The other players might get you. All of this becomes far more likely if you’re not around keeping an eye on your charcter.

Shamus Says:


Where was I? The comic, right.

I believe this strip was mostly written by Shawn. I feel it important to mention this because at this point I was doing the comic layouts, and the deal was that I wouldn’t ask for more than three new images per comic. And here we have a ton of new images. I just felt the need to point out that I didn’t demand this much art. I imagine Shawn was trying to recapture some of the job satisfaction he lost when I started doing the layouts.

Shawn Says:

Basically I was feeling fairly confined and burnt out on the strip by this point, and really wanted a chance to stretch out and experiment a bit. Looking back, the art shift seems fairly unnecessary now. Playing around with the art style is something I’ve had a bit more success at in Clockworks. That said, I do really dig the Chuck closeup in panel 7. Also, I love that Chuck only knows the words to the chorus of Free Falling.

But yeah, aside from the fact I was growing increasingly unhappy with doing the strip, this comic has no real reason to exist. Ah well.

As to why I was growing increasingly unhappy with drawing Chainmail Bikini, I think it’s pretty easy to look at the comics Shamus and I have done before and after CB, and see that the two of us have some pretty fundamental differences in what drives us to create stuff. I’m really much more story driven, and Shamus is a man with an almost biological desire to mock and lampoon that which he loves. We had a lot of fun together, and despite the bumps along the way I think we made a few damn funny comics together, but in the end I think we both want fairly different things out of making the funny comics.

This also goes in to why a full on continuation has a roughly 0% chance of happening. I’m pretty happy unfolding the multi-year adventure Clockworks, complete with romance and drama and world building; and I’m pretty sure Shamus is enjoying making fun of new video games every week. (And getting paid for it, jerk.) (insert smiley here.) There’s really very little incentive for the two of us to go back to CB long term. I’m happy that it’s returning to a permanent home online, but we’ve both largely moved on to other stuff.

(As an aside, I’d love to collaborate with Shamus on a one off project again. I think the ideal way would be if we came up with some very loose story together. “Daring scientist travels in to the future, fights the evil Space Overlord and attempts to win the girl.” or something. I’d then draw out the whole thing, probably black and white as time is limited. Then I’d hand it over to Shamus and let him do whatever the hell he wants to with the words. I think it would be fun to see what sort of absurdities he’d come up with given a shell of a story already drawn out.)

EDIT 2019: I’m 60% sure that this comic is titled “Part 1” because people were getting pissed about what was happening to Chuck and I wanted to signal that this wasn’t the end of it. I knew things would turn out okay (by the standards of these misfits) in the end, but the audience was worried that this was going to be another crime that went unanswered. In the end, I don’t think naming it “Part 1” made any difference.

But let’s talk about collaboration:

I’ve done both technicalCoding, scripting, configuring, etc. work and artistic workWriting, making textures, making 3D models, etc. in my career. I’ve collaborated in both domains, and I’ve found that collaborating on art is much more difficult than technical collaboration. In the technical world, there’s usually a nice clean line between my work and the other person’s. This is my code, this is your code. I’ll do the user-facing stuff, you handle the backend. It was always clear what was expected of me and I usually had very clear ways of telling if I was doing a good job.

In art, the line between contributors can get pretty blurry and if there’s a problem with the product it’s hard to identify the cause. I’ve run into this problem everywhere from 3D worlds to writing,

If I’m writing a comic, I can’t just write dialog in a vacuum. I need to think about things like pacing and composition. Is this scene going to fit into the available space? Is there going to be room for all of this dialog? Which character should be the focal point of the shot? How do the characters need to be posed to make this punchline work?

The problem is that if I dictate everything from page layout to panel composition, then I’m putting a lot of constraints on the artist. Not only am I making the job less interesting for them, but I’m letting half their skills go to waste. Maybe this layout works for the scene I’m trying to create, but maybe if I slightly altered the scene I could get across the same idea in fewer panels with a more interesting layout.

In a technical project, it’s easy to critique the other person’s work and point out flaws:

Programming: “You’re not going to have enough memory if you try to load all those assets at the same time.”

But it’s not so easy on the other side:

Art: “This isn’t quite what I was thinking of and maybe my design is better somehow. I think?”

I’m not saying this is an unsolvable problem or anything. You can hammer this sort of stuff out by talking about it and knocking ideas back and forth. It just takes patience and good social skills. It just seems to take longer and be a little trickier when you’re working on artistic things.

But maybe that’s just me. I think I’m like ~75% technical and ~25% artistic. Maybe artistic collaboration gets easier as that balance tips more towards artistry. I’d be interested to hear other people’s views and experiences with collaboration.

Oh, what? Roleplaying games? Sorry. I forgot this was supposed to be tabletop commentary.

Uh… don’t play other people’s characters without their permission, okay?



[1] Coding, scripting, configuring, etc.

[2] Writing, making textures, making 3D models, etc.

From The Archives:

15 thoughts on “#48 Melodrama, Part 1

  1. Mattias42 says:

    Still like that art-shift myself. It’s a clever way of showing a ‘night shot’ without the entire page being a great big smudge of shadows & blacks.

    Haven’t seen it myself, (yet) but I believe Fury Road did something similar. Having the night parts in this cobalt blue filter with sources of light this harsh, contrasting red. Looks really cool, while also being more immersive then the old-school ‘Hollywood Darkness’ stuff.

    1. Nessus says:

      Nah, the night scenes in Fury Road are bog-standard day-for-night stuff, just with modern digital grading. The fact that the film as a whole is so highly stylized helps it not feel out of place, and it is technically better handled than lot of day-for-night, but it’s still very of that look.

  2. Dev Null says:

    Shawn says:

    I’m really much more story driven, and Shamus is a man with an almost biological desire to mock and lampoon that which he loves.

    I think Shamus is pretty story-driven too. I might speculate – in hopes of not offending – that Shamus might have felt the need to mock his own stories, perhaps out of a bit of insecurity about them? I say this essentially because Witch Watch was – while I enjoyed it – let down a bit in my opinion by its self-deprecating humor, while The Other Kind of Life felt like he’d allowed himself to trust his writing to carry itself (which I thought it did nicely.) Of course, this wouldn’t be the only reason he reached for humor in CB – most of his previous comics had been deliberately belly-laugh stuff, so it was familiar ground, but I wonder if it might have influenced things a bit.

    (I’m finding it very weird writing something approaching critique, speculating on the motives of an author, on that author’s own blog. I hope you don’t find that presumptuous Shamus. But the thought occurred to me in response to what Shawn wrote, and I thought it might be interesting enough to share.)

    ((Side Note: Shamus, in writing this I noticed that the links to your books were a bit hard to find on the current site, and the links in the About Me section seem to be broken. Damn man! You wrote books, multiple! Let the people know!))

    1. Shamus says:

      “I’m finding it very weird writing something approaching critique, speculating on the motives of an author, on that author’s own blog. I hope you don’t find that presumptuous Shamus”

      It’s all good.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the books. It’s on the TODO List™.

  3. Olivier FAURE says:

    I wonder if your view of programmer collaboration might have been skewed by your background. The way you described it, your job was mostly “just do the thing so that it works and looks good”.

    As someone who just finished studying in a group-project-heavy school, there’s a lot of conflict, subjectiveness and imprecise task division to be found.

    1. Kathryn says:

      Yeah, I’ve got 15 years and counting of working on engineering teams, and there can definitely be confusion about whose job is whose. Sometimes it’s benign (poor communication results in a task getting missed) and sometimes it’s ego-driven.

      And, of course, contracts also make things interesting when you have an engineer or team who would be perfectly happy to work on X, but it’s out of the scope of their contract, so they can’t. Then that gets elevated to management to argue about whether to live without X, handle X ourselves, or submit a change request. Or, of course, construct an argument that the contract DOES include X. Those meetings are ever so fun.

  4. Douglas Sundseth says:

    I’ve done both technical collaboration and artistic collaboration. IME, many of the problems are driven by the quality of the specifications. On the technical side, when these kinds of underspecified jobs show up, it’s usually pretty easy for everyone to point to the problem area and understand the part that needs to be fixed. (This doesn’t mean that agreement on method is necessarily easy, of course.)

    Artistic collaboration seems much more beset by “That’s not quite what I was looking for. Give me a few more choices.” “Ok, sure. What kind of changes would you like?” “Well, maybe a bit more glow. Like these” Then the art director hands over several sample “inspiration” images that show nothing that any sighted person would refer to as a “glow”.

    If you have people using the same language on both sides of the collaboration (which can be hard with art), art collaboration isn’t really much different than technical collaboration. But that requires that both sides be able to understand what they actually want and talk about those desires in clear and understandable terms. Good luck!

    1. Hector says:

      My work is in a very different, but moderately technical, field. I find myself constantly asking people, “What do *you* mean by *that* specifically?”

      I tend to use language like a scalpel, saying precisely what I mean. Most people I know seem to use it like a water-logged pool noodle.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Not just that, but a quantum water-logged pool noodle.

        ‘No, I didn’t mean that, I meant the other thing. Possibly because I changed my mind, but usually after the first thing I meant turned out to be wrong. I meant something else all along so it’s not my fault.’

        Remember, the truth is always up for grabs and open to interpretation, kids!

        1. Abnaxis says:

          This is why I ALWAYS send follow up email after these sorts of discussions/meetings. Get that shit in writing.

          Also because I’m acutely aware of my own selective memory, and have been taken advantage of because I always default to “well I guess I’m just remembering wrong this time,” when I shouldn’t

      2. Dreadjaws says:

        I tend to use language like a scalpel, saying precisely what I mean. Most people I know seem to use it like a water-logged pool noodle.

        This, right here.

        I don’t believe technical collaboration is any easier than artistic, it really all depends on communication. I think Shamus simply must have had more luck in his technical endeavors, and running with people who communicate in a similar way. Nothing against Shawn or Shamus here, people are sometimes just used to communicate their ideas in a different way due to their backgrounds, and it might only apply to certain areas (like, maybe, if Shamus and Shawn discusse pottery they both understand each other perfectly).

        Personally, I run into the same issue as you. People give me crap all the time because I understand things precisely as said instead of reading their minds to guess what they actually meant. It gets more than a bit annoying for both sides.

        1. Duoae says:

          Yeah, my experience is that, if you work with someone who communicates in the same manner as you do and with the same level of honesty/expectation then the collaboration will be easier/a success. If you work with someone who communicates in a different manner and/or with different levels of honesty/expectation then you’re going to butting heads from time to time on the lighter end of the scale and actively having arguments on the heavier end of the scale!

    2. Dev Null says:

      I _totally_ get what you’re talking about with bad specs… but I will grudgingly admit that – down underneath all the “standing meeting” “hot desk” BS the MBAs have bolted on top to keep themselves employed – there is actually some truth at the core of agile. (I refuse to capitalize, lest I be mistaken for one of those consultants.) That core is essentially; the customer does not necessarily _know_ what they want the first time round, and neither do the Business Analysts. The initial spec will _never_ look like the end product. Get used to it, and don’t wait too long before you go back to get the inevitable mid-flight course corrections. If I get a spec, and I hand a finished product that matches that spec to the customer, and it isn’t what they want? That’s at least as much my fault as anyone else’s.

      Of course, every time they change the spec, I’m going to update my estimates on delivery…

  5. Art: “This isn’t quite what I was thinking of and maybe my design is better somehow. I think?”

    Rule #1 of artistic collaboration is to actually learn how to articulate what you’re trying to accomplish.

    Most of art IS technical stuff. “This scene establishes this setting detail, characterizes X about Y, and sets up for the train scene”. All of that kind of thing can be hashed out technically.

    What remains is style, which is highly personal. You’re never going to agree 100% with someone else as to style in an artistic collaboration, so what you do is basically you . . . swap. I get this bit I really like, you get that bit you really like. Any bits we both like obviously go in (unless they’re creating a technical problem). Any bits we both dislike get cut. Exactly how you negotiate this part depends on the people involved and the exact nature of the project.

    I do this a lot with my tabletop games because of the way I write up and post session logs. I also very frequently write up background stuff that happens between sessions or that wouldn’t involve the entire party, although I do often use NPC’s or even the other PC’s. The basic sessions get a lot of changes to streamline them and improve the flow, too.

    The vast majority of the nitpickery that people indulge in has no effect whatsoever on the end product. It’s been my experience that the people most likely to nitpick irrelevant garbage are the people least likely to even recognize MAJOR structural problems that can torpedo an entire work. So if your working relationship with someone is devolving into nitpicking, it’s time to break up that collaboration, it probably has huge problems that you’re not even noticing.

  6. Fon says:

    I think in this particular case (Shamus and Shawn collaborating), Shamus can give the layout and whatever to Shawn, but leave to final execution to Shawn. So if Shawn wants to make changes, he can. I’d even suggest letting Shawn make the changes without needing to tell Shamus in order to speed things up. (Going back and forth is going to eat a lot of time, and I’m just going to prioritize efficiency if it’s something with a deadline.)

    Of course, this might not work out perfectly either, especially if one of Shawn’s changes actually affects the script. My suggestion will make the artist’s life easier at the expense of the script-writer, perhaps to the point that Shamus will be the unhappy one instead of Shawn. Also this suggestion is made with hindsight– I could not have possibly detected the problem back then if I was in Shamus’ shoes.

    I do wonder if this could have helped with Chainmail Bikini though, since it seems like this was what Shawn needed and wanted– freedom and actual artistic expression. But between you and me, I think I might actually preferred Shamus’ direction anyway, but that’s a matter of taste in humor.

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