by otterdisaster

The Accidental Cartoonist: Comica Discordia

Comica Discordia
Discordianism is the worship of Eris, the Greek Goddess of Discord. It suggests order and disorder are illusions of human perception. That the escalation of one results in an escalation of the other. It has been called ‘zen for roundeyes’ and I don’t profess to fully understand it, but it fascinates me. Its founding document is the Principia Discordia, and I came to know it through my favorite novel, the sci-fi-conspiracy classic Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. It is a copyleft document, in the public domain and freely available online.  
It has inspired all kinds of strange people to do strange, creative things and it is at the root of one of my favorite websites, That site serves up random quotes, often out of context of their original sources with hilarious results.  I like to read it when I need some silly inspiration or a non-sequitur jolt to the noggin for whatever reason.
What does this have to do with my comics? Quite a bit actually.
While working on Major Spoilers Adventures, I’d begun drawing again, exploring comics art with my own hand.  I began to dream of someday doing a hand drawn web comic using my own art, and not the computer generated Bitstrips figures and tools.  I felt I needed regular exercise to build up those drawing muscles, and so I set a goal. I would do one gag panel, released every Wednesday, for a year. This would force me to draw. I wanted to focus on the art, and didn’t necessarily want to worry a whole lot about writing gags. I was doing that on Major Spoilers Adventures already. 
I decided I would simply find quotes on that planted an image in my mind, and draw to that.  It was a nice solution, giving a framework and theme for my exercise. Sometimes the art would ‘fit’ the quote too well, so on occasion, I would go back after the art was complete, and use a different, funnier quote that still worked with the art. 
I started drawing and ended up doing 51 black and white installments and a final, 52nd full color installment, to celebrate the project’s successful conclusion. I never missed a release day, and sometimes even maintained a buffer.  In honor of the source quotes, I called the project Discordian Quote Comix
One thing about the comic I wanted to mention is that I released it with a Copyleft notice on each strip. The notice reads: by Otter Disaster (K) All Rites Reversed - Reprint What You Like. The Principia Discordia and many Discordian writings are released this way, including I figured it was right and in keeping with all things Discordian. You are still welcome to copy, print, distribute or modify those particular comics in any way you want to.
Looking at them now, much of the art is crude and cringeworthy, but I was proud of the achievement and what I learned over that year. I went from using simple fine point markers and ball point pens to experimenting with brush markers, halftone patterns in Photoshop, and more complex and interesting layouts. I improved my figures and perspective. I developed and refined a certain cartooning style that is still core to a lot of my work, and I laid the foundations for what Brain Teaser Comics became.  
The self imposed release schedule and deadline was important in that it forced me to produce. Was I always happy with the results? No, but that was a good thing. I learned that sometimes it is better to finish a piece and move on to the next one, take what dissatisfied me and improve on it for the next week. Those lines are too stiff? Hold your pen differently this time. Too much cleanup needed in Photoshop? Pencil your work more lightly so it can be erased without leaving artifacts behind. 
Discordian Quote Comix was extremely important in how my work developed. I thought it was inconsequential at the time I was making it.  It was a project that developed my comics ‘voice’ even though I didn’t realize it. It built the not-quite-right world of Brain Teaser Comics of weird creatures, weirder people, a universe gone wrong.  It allowed me to experiment without fear because nobody was reading it. Without fear, I did what I wanted, and what I NEEDED, never worrying about what anyone would think of any of it. I did it to amuse myself. I did it to learn. 
When I created my Doomed Strip it was with other people in mind. I constantly worried about what ‘the audience’ would think was funny. I worried if it was ‘accessible’. I tried to make it universally appealing, whatever that means. And I ended up hating it. Reading them now, they aren’t that bad, and I think some of them are pretty funny but at the time I grew to despise the whole thing.
When I started doing Brain Teaser Comics on the side, what I was really doing, (and without realizing it) was carrying on Discordian Quote Comix. The single panel approach, the weird humor, the oddball characters, and the skewed worldview carried straight through. There are even a few characters that made the leap between projects, namely the pair of nameless alien greys. Every Brain Teaser Comic I do amuses me first and foremost. I make sure I have fun doing it, I hope that carries through, and when you like it too, that’s a huge bonus! 
Discordian Quote Comix was almost the comic I wanted to do, I just didn’t know it. I had to remake it with a different name and a new coat of paint. Even then, I only figured it out after a time consuming detour in the wrong direction. 
Sometimes we have something figured out, but can’t see the forest for the trees. We have to pause, look back and see we were on a path the whole time. 
by otterdisaster

The Accidental Cartoonist: The Bitstrips Factor

In my last post I talked about how I became, at least in my own mind, a ‘real’ cartoonist. 
I even mentioned some comic projects I’d done that led up to those moments of discovery and self identification. One of those projects was Major Spoilers Adventures.
In March 2008, I was reading and stumbled across an article detailing an odd little Web 2.0 startup called Bitstrips. It was a set of simple tools that allowed you to design characters and easily plug them into comic strips.  As someone who’d always liked comics I thought this might be a fun little distraction, and maybe a way to add content to my recently launched Otter Disaster Blog where I commented on comics, pop culture and politics. I was a fairly early adopter of Bitstrips, and enjoyed being a part of the early wave of users, innovating, giving feedback to the developers, and generally having fun making comics. I designed characters based on friends and started doing strips about my misspent youth, and being a husband and father.  I also used Bitstrips to do 24 Hour Comics in 2008, 2009 and 2010 that were immensely satisfying from a creative standpoint. I believe I still stand as the only Bitstripper to ever use it for the 24 Hour Comics Challenge.
I eventually did a strip based on an episode of the Major Spoilers Podcast, hosted by a couple of friends from my college years and posted it in the forums on their site.  It got a really great response, and so I posted a couple more, and the next thing I knew Stephen Schleicher, the owner of Major Spoilers, asked me if I wanted to make it a regular feature, appearing on the main site.  I thought this was a pretty cool opportunity, so almost by accident I was doing a weekly comic strip for a fairly high profile web site.
Bitstrips feature set continued to grow allowing me to do more and more, and I ended up doing 120 episodes of Major Spoilers Adventures for the site for over two years. Major Spoilers Adventures ran from May, 2009 to November 2011. I did a lot of pop culture related gags, inside jokes from the site and its podcasts as well as a few long form continuity stories.
It was a lot of fun for a long time, but Bitstrips began to frustrate me.  New features aside, I grew annoyed with the limitations of the site tools, the homogenous art and the site’s intermittent bugginess. In June of 2011 I started a more personal side project as a secondary creative outlet, drawn by hand without the aid of Bitstrips. I took a lot of joy out of that project, Discordian Quote Comix, designed as an education in doing my own art with self imposed deadlines and release schedule.  That project helped me decide to end Major Spoilers Adventures in November of 2011 and Stephen was kind enough to allow me to spin a hand drawn gag panel strip out of the end of the weekly comic strip. That strip was called ‘SPOILED!’ and ran for another 33 weeks. It didn’t feature any of the main characters (most based on actual people) from Major Spoilers Adventures but it did have similar pop-culture themed gags. It did have a few new recurring characters designed for jabs at superhero and comic book tropes, and pop culture fandom.  SPOILED! did not get as much positive response as Major Spoilers Adventures (and a fair amount of vocal, negative response). Half a year into SPOILED! my work schedule changed, I went back to working swing shifts, and the desire to develop my (doomed) continuity strip converged into a decision to end SPOILED! as well. Stephen was very understanding, and said I was welcome to contribute to the site in any wanted I wanted at any time in the future. 
I have been asked and have considered bringing back Major Spoilers Adventures on a number of occasions and was actually poised to do so, when Bitstrips went viral. They released a mobile app, shifted to a social media strategy and they were everywhere for a while, becoming both extremely popular and equally reviled all at once. The explosion in mobile/social Bitstrips users also took down their servers, screwed up many features on the main site and made it harder to use for an extended period of time. To bring back the strip would also mean the homogenous Bitstrips ‘look’ which was fine before everyone’s Facebook timeline was littered with that style of comic, but now seemed off putting and commonplace.  I’ve tinkered with a few potential solutions outside Bitstrips, but the one thing it offered that my current solutions don’t is time. When it worked, Bitstrips was a pretty fast solution. These days I’m producing two Brain Teaser Comics a week, doing the Media Montage Podcast, and I have returned to Major Spoilers every other week with a second podcast. I am producing, Top 5 Express, a short supplemental show to the longer Top Five Podcast that features the main Major Spoilers Crew.  
What does all this have to do with anything? I guess it is an exploration of how I got deeply involved in making comics largely through a series of happy accidents.  Bitstrips, and similar sites like Pixton and Chogger get slammed as devaluing comic making by many artists, but without it, I might never have explored making comics with my own art.  Every artist has a journey and every journey begins with a single step. Bitstrips was mine. It led me to a regular gig with Major Spoilers which in turn inspired me to rediscover and better my own art, explore my own creations, and find a voice for the work I’m doing.