Remember the last time I wrote here that there were seven pages of the comic SPIRAL HIGHWAY up on Patreon? Did you know that I later uploaded a PDF with the first third of episode one, that’s twenty pages long? Did you know that I dropped the whole thing last minute and decided to start over?
I’m gonna take this opportunity and use this newsletter as a production diary and I hope someone can learn from my mistakes, especially considering that most of you are creators too.
As I noted in the previous newsletter the concept started as a next step for Countdown, one of my previous titles and when I say “next step” it’s more like a substitute for “I didn’t know where I was going with it, I still don’t know and I’m pretty sure I’ll never know”. If you find it confusing, don’t worry, because it is.
Countdown itself started as an evolved piece of media. Back in 2005, when we were kids, while discovering the wonders of digital cameras and editing software, my friends and I would shoot short films, usually involving some sort of fighting, inspired by action comedies and anime. Some would say we were the original Netflix of anime adaptations, and the recent Cowboy Bebop show just proved my point. After doing a bunch of action sketches we started developing a lore that was unfilmable, so I started doing a tie-in comic, drawn traditionally, scanned and printed into a fanzine, that would explain it and tie our shorts into a coherent narrative. Basically, if you were to compare it to the MCU, the live-action shorts would be the Avengers team-up movies and the comic would be the standalone stuff used for setting up various storylines and character development. That didn’t last long, because the crew slowly started to shift towards online gaming, somewhere around 2008, and we disbanded with a whimper. C̶o̶n̶v̶i̶n̶c̶e̶d̶ Deluded that I can still get to them, I remade the comic with a bit of hindsight, but the battle was long lost.
At a certain point I started going bigger and bigger with the story and published it through Facebook for other people to read. It was 2010 and not a lot of people knew the ol’ right click on “open image in new tab” move, so they complained that they can’t read the text. During the following four years I wrote and drew the book, trying to appease the readers and expand the readership itself, but that also proved to be a bad move on my behalf, because no one was there… a recurring theme in my work.
Needless to say I hit a wall and decided to finish the comic by stopping it mid-arc. I did the cliché where the world ended, the heroes lost and that was it. I still felt guilty for not doing it justice, so I started working on a new version right away, but it fell too redundant and I could see myself falling into the same trappings and never went past page two. That’s when I contacted Sova, in 2014, with whom I had spitballed a concept back in 2009 and even drew the main characters. It was all there - I could collaborate with someone, I had interesting designs with peculiar names and off the wall start to the story. At the time, no one thought that Ibrahim Coyle would be anything more than a one shot palate cleanser, and I co-wrote and drew it as such. The only thing I changed mid-production was the ending, when we realized that there are more stories to be told. It was like ending up in a six year relationship with your first attempt at a one night stand.
Of course, even while working on, what would become, book one, I couldn’t stop thinking about fixing Countdown. For the next two years it would shift from a reboot, to a sequel, to a requel. Funny thing is, it started changing so much that it might have been its own thing… and it was!
The concept warranted a new name and so became Spiral Highway. I quickly made a Facebook and a Tumblr page back in 2016, hoping I would get to it by 2017. I was so insane that, even though I came up with a completely new thing, plus I was working on a separate IP, while also working on a one-shot for a third one, I still looked at Countdown as a viable option. I was so in it that I was convinced that it can be saved, right up until recently when I translated it and put it up on Tapas, Webtoons and ComicFury. My rationale was “anything that can’t fit into Spiral Highway can go in Countdown. Either way, it’s a septic tank for my ideas”, a thinking that is telling of most of my shortcomings.
In 2019 I talked with my students at the workshop, deciding to start working on our full fledged full length animated feature, and used that as an opportunity to pitch them some of my concepts. The first one was Spiral Highway and their reaction was “that’s just too much”, which it was. The concept wasn’t bad, but my pitch was. My focus was way off. At a certain point I couldn’t wrap my head around doing another manga inspired work and the only way I could see the project happening was through a series of old-AMV-inspired music videos. The concept and story were just way out there for me to pitch it to anyone with a functional brain, so I’ve put it aside.
Even then, I was still tinkering in my head, polishing the story, sometimes even writing and designing stuff, but it never went beyond that.
That’s the reason I decided to put Ibrahim Coyle up in English and try out the various webcomic hosting platforms. Firstly, I wanted to get acquainted with the behind the scenes stuff of it all, secondly, I’ve gave myself an ultimatum. At the time I had nearly 400 pages of Ibrahim Coyle material, just enough to use it as a test-run for the next year or so - if I’d manage to crack the readership in the ballpark of 100 subs on either of the platforms, I would continue Ibrahim Coyle as an ongoing; if not I would pull the plug and do something else. During year two of publishing I realized that the latter would come true and started revving up the concept and art for the continuation of my previously published one-shot back in 2017, but it had to be postponed.
Ever since summer I’ve been smacking my head against the wall, trying to figure out the best way I could do a new comic title and not let myself suffer through the same mistakes, so I would just write and draw concept art for all of my pitches. At one point I even started thinking about backtracking and continuing Coyle, and then, slowly, Countdown started creeping in again. “Maybe this time…” I would utter to myself in the middle of the night ,while sitting on the floor covered in notebooks and papers around me. The tipping point was me going to my sister and asking her: “Should I go and finish Countdown or start with Spiral Highway?” She looked at me, ready to say something in hopes that it would do less damage and spare me, but before she could say anything I pressed “I ask you as a potential fan, if you saw a book of each one, which one would you pick” and without any hesitation she said “Spiral Highway, because Countdown had a bad start, and you can never recover from it”, and like that I was freed.
I went back to my room, started writing away and everything was there. The cool designs, the story I wanted to tell, the atmosphere, the overall feel. It was great. By the end of October I had the first volume planned out and on the Halloween eve I started drawing the damn thing… that’s when the other problems started. The pacing was off.
It was exactly as I imagined it and I even started using tricks that I learned while working on Coyle, but it simply didn’t had that punch I needed it to have. That’s when I realized that, even though I’ve properly introduced the concept, I haven’t properly introduce the main character. He was just there. A week later I’ve scrapped the rest and redrew the layouts and I was much happier. Even showed it to my sister and a friend and both of them gave me the thumbs up… but that damn pacing again… The first episode didn’t function properly as a pilot, but I waved it off saying to myself that I’ll “fix it on the go”. The thing that started bugging me was that I said to myself the same thing while working on Ibrahim Coyle…
Even though I picked myself up somewhere around The Jaded Town arc, Coyle could never go beyond the bumpy opening that threw off a lot of potential readership. Sova and I went that route because we wanted to do the original pitch justice, not knowing that we were dooming the book in the process. It was funny when we were edgy high school kids, and the title quickly became an acquired taste. It was basically a meme. We did get it published in print based on the first episode, because the publisher has a weird sense of humor as well. The harsh truth was, I could’ve done a new Iliad starting from issue two, but not a lot of people would’ve been there to read it.
I simply couldn’t let it happen again. If I’m about to commit, than I have to go all the way out.
You can guess what happened next - I threw all of the pages on the backburner, retooled the episode and I’m staring anew.
Here’s a little tease of Jean Hurlant, the protagonist. Hope you’ll grow to like him, or even better - hope HE’LL grow for you to like him.
As for other news, I’ve gotten in touch with some of you, both privately and publicly, about showcasing your work in my newsletter-fanzine. Working on the interview questions, page organizing, etc. as we speak, so I’ll hit you up as soon as I’m done with it.
Tweeted this, cuz it looks excellent. Jean's look somehow reminds me of french animation studio Ankama's style. Looking good so far.