Progress on Head Above Water has been going, you should pardon the expression, just swimmingly. I currently have up to page 14 penciled and inked, have 15 penciled, and have penciled and inked half of 16. I'm wondering if I can have the first issue done by Free Comic Book Day, when I do my first official signing.
Today at work, it was apparently "Take Your Kid To Work Day." Kids got lots of cute little things, some people had candy to give out, and so on. I didn't have anything to give away, but thought, Hey, I'm an artist, maybe I can toss off a chibi sketch or two. However, people avoided my desk the way Adrian Monk would avoid Paris Hilton. Ah, well, I was busy anyway.
But I thought about the chibi art. As I am hip deep in working on Head Above Water, it suddenly dawned on me that I sort of had two artistic ways to depict things.
And that temporarily resurrected a spectre I thought I had put down some time last year, PK Hunter.
PK Hunter was a comic series I was trying to develop and self-publish a few years ago. Inspired by the suddenly new trend in MMORPG's, PK Hunter followed a white hat hacker who was tired of griefers and PK (Player Killers) ruining his and other people's online gaming fun. For the uninitiated, these are people who will join your team just to kill your character and force you to start over, steal items, or use hacks to wreck things for you. V2.0 of Phantasy Star Online had a beaut of a bug that could be accessed with the Game Shark disc -- if a player died, the guy with the Game Shark could keep them from being revived until either of them quit the game. Ultima Online was the worst of the lot. When the game went live, they forgot to put monsters in the dungeons for multiplayers to hunt, so they turned on each other, creating the subculture of griefers. Admittedly, griefers and PK's existed before that, as people who played Diablo will attest. But UO pushed it to the forefront, and it continues today.
I found myself writing the stories and having a blast doing it. It took place both in Realtime with the hacker and his buddy, and in the game world, where the action was. However, the action was rather incidental. The series was actually a mystery, a computer crime series with a twist. I felt it was strong enough to run with the big dogs, and started looking into self-publishing. I knew most of the publishers out there weren't looking for creator owned projects, companies at the time like DreamWave were self-publishing their own stuff, so finding a backer for the series seemed like a waste of time.
My point of view was simple -- the series needed a very versatile artist who could do two art styles, one to represent Realtime, and one for the game world. This way, people could tell at a glance just what they were looking at at any given moment. And I love indy comics and indy artists. I put out calls for people to draw the series. Those in the comic publishing biz I had shown the scripts to loved it, saying there was literally nothing else like it on the market. If I could get this out the door, there was a whole untapped audience just waiting for me.
The problem is, I'm a writer, not a real tried and true artist. Trust me, no one is going to be competing for my original drawings on eBay. I needed a penciler and inker bad. I had tried, many years earlier, to get a mystery series called Mania Inc. off the ground. But no one working on it really had any follow-through, and the series died on the vine. So I figured I would flash some cash. I offered a page rate of $10 per page for pencils and inks. For an indy comic book, that is considered a HUGE payday.
Well, try telling that to people who want to work in the industry.
I firmly believe part of the reason the comic industry is so screwed up is the same thing that helps wreck video games. When the gaming industry first started, with Atari and them, it was about ideas and creativity, not joining the jet set. Then the Crash of 84 hit. Nintendo revived games thanks to Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and Metroid. Suddenly, games were about ideas and creativity again. Then it became a huge industry and you had tie-ins and generic games meant to cash in quick again.
People I told my proposed page rate to laughed. One guy even told me that he knew lots of kids graduating art school getting three-figure page rates right out of the gate. I kept my mouth shut, but thought this was bullshit. The comic industry only has so many openings. Not only that, but I knew a guy who worked for the bigs for years and still hadn't hit triple-digit page rates yet. He suggested $50 a page. To review -- the stories (not the issues, the stories themselves) were averaging about 32 pages each. That means I'd be paying someone $1650 for the art for a book that not only might barely hit 3K copies in sales, but that I would get the money from the sales in time to keep the momentum going (I've known too many people that got hosed that way). Not only that, but I didn't want to overextend my debt for something so unlikely to return my investment. I took my first professional writing gig (before the book got canned and took my first credit with it) for $10 a page. That's what I had. So, I would ask them to draw three pages, any three they wanted, and if I liked what I saw, they would be penciling and inking the first issue and the guy or art team would land $300 cash.
Well, finding an artist was plagued with problems. The first round, I found an artist who was open to the idea of the series. I let him come up with the art style so that he would be comfortable. I paid him half up front. He got half done, then decided he didn't like the style he was drawing in and quit (the halfway point was in the middle of a scene, so there was no way I could just create a story break without calling direct attention to the artistic change), but if I ever wanted an artist for another series that didn't require that art style, he'd love to work with me again. Yeah. I got his name at the top of the pile.
The second guy lived in the US (the first guy was from Brazil. I wanted an artist that, if they started dorking me around, I could, as User Friendly would say, show up at their house in a backhoe with the letters LART painted on the side). His stuff was a little underdeveloped, but I loved the vibe and he showed a distinct difference between the video game world and Realtime. I offered him the gig. He then started to renegotiate. First, he wanted double the rate I was offering. Next, he wanted a royalty on each issue sold, plus half of any money taken in from video games, movies, and he wanted a royalty on any issue published with his art style. The initial demands were outrageous enough, but that last one got the, "YOU'RE FUCKING SHITTING ME!" reaction. This is partly the fault of the current publishing environment. Companies aren't looking to publish comics, but to acquire properties to create a stable of IP they can leverage into deals with other media. And this isn't some anti-business conspiracy -- companies like Platinum openly brag about it as their goal. Publishing comic books doesn't really enter into it except to establish a market presence. Not only was I a self-publisher looking to publish a comic and things like movies and video games were a distant pipe dream (I know from my screenwriting experience that options are talked about every day, and only rarely do they work out. You know how long Whiteout was languishing in Development Hell?), but I was putting up my time, my effort, and (most importantly) MY MONEY to make this happen, and this clown who didn't even have a single credit to his name, by dint of association, wanted half of everything. Plus money if anyone drew something he felt looked like how he would draw things (and with him as the only one who could pass that judgement, I think you can see where this would be going). I expressed concern about this, and he said he was open to negotiating -- he would pass on the royalty for books he draws. FUCK YOU!
Another guy did custom jobs for motorcycles and was looking to expand into comics. He got me to raise the page rate to $15. But before I gave him the gig and any money, I asked for the three sample pages. Three months later, he said he was busy at the shop, and was making more money there than he ever would with my page rate (this is something I found myself hearing a lot), so unless I was willing to up my rate to $30 and loosen the deadlines so he could still run his shop (he was going to get THREE MONTHS to draw 30 pages! How much looser did he need things?!?), he wouldn't do it. I hit the gong and sent him off the stage.
Next was an artist that I found at a convention. She was very skilled at manga and anime, and I thought, perfect. She was open to the rate, she did the test pages, everything should be great. She got the first issue done in eight months. Wonderful. I was already looking to add another artist to the stable, so it looked like I'd need another just to make the quarterly production schedule. But when she sent it off, she said that she would begin working on issue #2, but if I didn't get another artist by the time she was done, she'd quit the series, as drawing it was taking up too much time and not as profitable as selling sketches on eBay. Turns out it was a moot point, as she stopped corresponding with me shortly thereafter, and I never heard from her again (so, since #2 obviously isn't done, technically the conditions haven't been met, but, well, you know....) Turns out it was a good thing she split. I had received the artwork, but hadn't opened the package right away. It was several years later when I came across it and decided to take a look at it. The art on those pages looked NOTHING like the art that sold me on her talent. I got rooked.
You know, it's really frustrating to hear people that feel that, even though they have no experience and no credits to their names, they think they should be paid like an A-lister. Even I didn't believe that shit, and I'd been close to breaking into the writing business several times.
Then, there was an artist who actually had some experiece -- she wrote and drew her own online comic. She was open to my proposal, and agreed to do the test pages. However, since this was going to take time, she wanted $15 for each page. I mulled it over, then agreed. She took three months to do the pages. I was already going to give her the thumb when she e-mailed me, apologizing for how long it took, her e-mail had been down and had only just gotten fixed. SHE HAD A HOTMAIL ADDRESS!!! If you are going to try bluffing me on computers, you have to do better than that. No thank you.
There was a guy I met at a convention, aspiring artist in the Marvel mode. Couldn't wait to do the test pages. But all I got from him in e-mails were sample sketches he was working on to show at other conventions. He eventually went Florida Swampland on me and vanished.
My last shot, literally, was a manga/chibi artist I was passing acquaintences with. I had told her about the series before, and as a video game nut herself, thought it sounded great. I finally asked her if she would be interested. She asked to see the first script so she could decide. I gave it to her. After three months of no contact, I e-mailed her, asking if she had read it yet. She responded with a tersely worded e-mail saying she was busy and she'll let me know when she got around to it. Never heard from her again, not even at the conventions we'd run into each other at.
By the way, this is also why I am officially done with providing aspiring folks like myself with a shot at the brass ring. Lots of people with dreams of hitting it big, but absolutely no follow through, no work ethic, nothing. Erik Larsen will still volunteer his expertise to help aspiring comic people like he did with Ant, but that just proves he has far more tolerance and enthusiasm for people than I do. Then again, considering the dark and cynical view of people and the world that I possess, just about anyone has more tolerance and enthusiasm for people than I do.
I decided to put PK Hunter on the shelf as I plotted my next move. It was about this time that I came across Chris Carpenter and Hard Way Studios. I signed up with them, and the rest is history.
For a long itme, it was in the back of my mind to try reviving PK Hunter some day. But last year, I came to some realizations. First, online gaming had come a long way, with actively involved mods keeping the griefers relatively under control -- the online vigilantism of my character just wasn't needed anymore. Plus, my own online gaming vanished. The games started being populated with people who appointed themselves experts, and if you did anything, even just goof around, you were flamed or thrown from the group (and if you needed a group mission to level up, you were out of luck). Elitists, punks...what started as an environment to have fun with fellow heads turned into its own little society with its own pecking order. As I had Holly point out in Stress Puppy, no subculture is real until it becomes its own worst enemy. The socializing was gone in favor of people who make Igor in Dork Tower look calm and collected. Basically, the day when PK Hunter would have been relavent had passed. I officially yanked the plug on the project.
Today, it occured to me that I have two art styles and they could conceivably work in PK Hunter (with so many online RPG's like Maple Story going for chibi art, I could do it no problem). But while it's an interesting idea, I really don't want to do PK Hunter anymore. The way the stories were structured and the way the tech in the plots worked makes the series an anachronism. It might be a quaint reminder, but it is hardly involving stuff anymore. So while it does have a certain "blue skying" appeal, PK Hunter is done. It's toast. It's Casper. It's gone. And it will stay that way, even if I could draw it the way I originally hoped it would look. I find my current projects like Stress Puppy, Head Above Water, my work for Hard Way Studios, my games, the video game reviews...they're more immediate and gratifying to me than PK Hunter now.
May PK Hunter finally rest in peace.