Tuesday September 29, 2020
Schlock Mercenary in Print — Fifteen and Counting

Slowing Down Is Hard to Do

Long COVID has made the last couple of months quite difficult for me. I supposed it’s inaccurate to say that slowing down has been hard for me to do, because I haven’t been given a choice in the matter. What’s been difficult is adapting, adjusting, and ultimately accepting the slow-down.

For those just catching up on the old news, I contracted COVID back in “wave zero,” the community-spread wave in late January of 2020 when none of us thought the virus was here yet. I was the father of the bride at a wedding whose guests included a family who had guests in their home who had recently arrived from Wuhan province in China. I got better, but I never got all the way better, and I’ve been dealing with chronic fatigue ever since.

The salient point: I want to do more than I am doing. I mean, sure, I want to do more than I am *able* to do, which is a pretty common desire among humans of all stripes, but especially among those whose abilities have been, for whatever reason, reduced in scope.

So what *am* I doing? Well, today I’m writing this, and then diving back into the marginalia for Book 18, which we can’t send to the printer until it has all its marginalia. A lot of the pieces are things like this one – concept sketches which I’ve revisited digitally and cleaned up so they look nicer.

Concept sketch of Peri Gugro, a Fobott’r female soldier and (eventual) clan mother

The marginalia is a necessity born of the fact that Schlock Mercenary was not originally formatted for print. Comics should be written and illustrated to the page turn, with attention given to the reveal that occurs as the reader turns the page and uncovers the art and dialog of the next spread. I say “should” be because Schlock Mercenary definitely is NOT written that way.

When we put it into print, we can fit four regular-sized strips on a single page of the book. A week of strips has nine of these rectangular collections of panels, because Sundays have three, and those last three strips in the week need to all be on the same page. Since no amount of fudging the math will make 9 cleanly divisible by 4, a week of Schlock Mercenary takes up three pages of book, and those three pages have some white space.

Hence the marginalia. Sometimes a weekday installment is extra large, sometimes there’s a footnote, and sometimes I broke the pattern in other ways, and so sure, sometimes the white space has taken care of itself, but sometimes my layout shenanigans mean an entire half-page of the book needs a new picture.

So that’s what I’m working on. I wish I could do more, or do it faster, and maybe the booster shot I got two days ago will perk me up the way previous booster shots have, but I’m not going to wait for a cure before I get back to work. I’m just going to accept that I have to slow down.


Origin Story: Maxim 32

Today’s the final day of (the final hours, at this point) of the Seventy Maxims Reprint project. Here, then is a nice origin story for you, the origin of Maxim 32.

I was signing and sketching at GenCon Indy a decade or so ago when some young men approached the table. They were what a friend of mine likes to call “baby sailors”: relatively new members of the US Navy. One of them said “we have a suggestion for a maxim.”

I smiled. “Let’s hear it.”

“Anything is amphibious if you can fit it into an AAV.”

I chuckled. “That’s pretty good, but the term ‘AAV’ is too specific for Schlock Mercenary use.” Then I went silent, stared off into the distance, and I guess this made everyone uncomfortable because our Booth Captain, Darren, spoke next.

“Shhh… don’t interrupt him. The magic is happening.”

It’s true, I’d been wondering how this US Navy aphorism could be repurposed, but I had expected to be able to mull it over all day. Now, however, Darren had turned it into the promise of performance art. Did I curse silently? Maybe. I don’t remember, because I was panicking.

Still staring into space, trying not to show fear, I dove into the “formulae” for the maxims. I knew that many of the maxims were subversions of existing aphorisms. Several of them formed thematic couplets, like Maxims 2 and 3 (“a sergeant in motion” and “an ordnance tech in motion”) are a great example of this. And Maxim 23, “Anything is air-droppable at least once,” seemed like a good candidate for pairing with what the Navy boys had suggested, especially since “Anything is air-droppable” and “Anything is amphibious” were already pretty close.

All I needed to do was break the amphibious-ness in the same way I’d broken the air-droppability… and I think it was that moment, when I contemplated “breaking” amphibious-ness, when the final text arrived in my head.

“Anything is amphibious if you can get it back out of the water.”

A quick note. The United States Navy exists to keep things DRY. Everything except the hulls, really. The very idea of dropping something into the water that is not already a boat, runs counter to Navy thinking.

So it’s no surprise that those Navy boys were visibly horrified by my subversion of their aphorism. “That’s terrible” one of them said. And then they started to laugh.

And then I wrote Maxim 32 in my notebook, because obviously it was perfect.


The Seventy Maxims Project

We’re reprinting the Seventy Maxims “defaced” edition, and the crowdfunding project for that wraps up in just under a week.

Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries (Reprint)

As part of this project I’m designing two posters, both of which will have all seventy maxims on them. Yesterday I spent a few hours tweaking various text attributes like kerning and quote height, and finished up the two-column version of the poster. It’ll be a 16″x20″ thing, and will look something like this…

If you want to get your hands on one of these posters, perhaps for the wall of your office, or maybe the local kindergarten, jump in on the Backerkit project today. We’ll be printing extras, of course, but backing the project is the only way to ensure that we set one aside for you.

And speaking of Backerkit… this project is an experiment, a stress-test of a new soup-to-nuts crowdfunding service, an alternative to Kickstarter. For several projects we’ve used Backerkit in conjunction with Kickstarter, because Backerkit makes fulfilment easier for complex projects. They’ve been around for a while, and we love working with them.

We still like working with Kickstarter, but it’s good to have an alternative‚ÄĒespecially since Kickstarter briefly flirted with adding NFTs to their blockchain infrastructure, sending much of their community scrambling for other options. They’ve backed away from that ledge, at least for now, which makes us happy. Also, we are happy to be trying out a different service. We like having options.

Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of maxims that may apply here:

50: If it only works in exactly the way the manufacturer intended, it is defective.
30: A little trust goes a long way. The less you use, the further you’ll go.

(You, too, can cite maxims as if from memory… all you need is one of these fancy new posters on a wall where you can see it.)