Tag Archives: Comics Biz

The Peanuts Movie

PeanutsMovieThe Peanuts Movie is weird, and I’m conflicted about it. I’ll lead with this: it enters my list at #16, just a hair shy of the Threshold of Awesome.

I doubt very many of you will feel the same way I do.

I was ready to walk out of the film 20 minutes in. We were getting perfectly executed Peanuts jokes in 3D, and I found that so incredibly boring it was almost physically painful. But I stuck around, and at the 40-ish minute mark something different happened, and I was interested again.

By the end of the film I was quite happy with it. I’ve never had that happen before. I’ve never gone from “I may walk out” to “I am SO GLAD I STAYED.”

Let’s get technical for a bit.

I love Charles Schultz’s work ethic, and his economy of line. I can stare at his line work for hours studying the way a nonsense squiggle becomes, in context, the delivery mechanism for a content-rich payload.  I was very concerned that this film would lose that.

I was happy to be wrong. The animators used the computer graphics to provide the context (heads, shoulders, doghouses, kites) and then used what I swear are digitized versions of actual Schultz-squiggles as mouths, eyebrows, and worry-lines. It was a brilliant melding of line-art and computer animation. I was mesmerized.

Most people won’t be. Lines aren’t really all that interesting unless they’re at the beating heart of your career.

Charlie Brown’s try-fail cycle is always kind of depressing. His best efforts are either wrong for the problem, or will be rendered irrelevant by something outside his control. The best kite-flyer in the world cannot compete with a kite-eating tree. Hours of practice kicking footballs mean nothing if the person holding the ball plans to betray you.

A story in which the protagonist continues to try in spite of this has power, and is worth telling. But Charlie Brown is always the punchline. Even his successes are ironic, and outside his control. I can only take so much of this. It’s depressing.

Well, The Peanuts Movie gives us an Act II Twist in which Charlie Brown gets the success he always wanted. This was surprising, and fresh, and even though I knew it couldn’t last, I was interested to see how a triumphant ending could be delivered.

Most folks don’t watch movies this way, deconstructing them on the fly. Again, this was something I really enjoyed doing, but that experience might not be there for you. Especially not now that I’ve told you it’s there. Umm… spoiler alert? Sorry.

The Peanuts Movie is a film for children under the age of ten, and it seeks to keep adults happy with nostalgia. Based on the reactions of the young children in the audience, it worked just fine. I heard a tiny voice exclaim “OH NO CHARLIE BROWN” in dismay, and you know what? That was kind of awesome.

How My Project Budget Works

In 2014 I created a spreadsheet for project management that allowed me to be a little more realistic about what I can and cannot do. The result was that I had a very productive year in spite of losing four full work-weeks to influenza, and we went on to deliver two books, two slipcases, and a calendar in time for the holiday shopping season. And that last bit? That’s kind of a big deal when it comes to the bottom line here.

I’m doing it again in 2015. Here’s how it works:

  1. I carve my time up into twenty-hour blocks called, intuitively enough, “half-weeks” of work.
  2. I make a list of projects, and I guess how many half-weeks each of them will take. A convention weekend is a half-week. A big convention like GenCon Indy is a full week. The Writing Excuses retreat was 3 half-weeks, and I budgeted exactly right that time. Each project becomes a row in the spreadsheet. Each is assigned a priority based on the month in which it needs to be complete.
  3.  I include the comic, 52 weeks of which will take 52 half-weeks of work (This assumes that I’m able to bang out a week of strips in 20 hours. This is increasingly an unsafe assumption.) This got a priority of 9, because I needed it at the bottom of the list. I know that one has to get done each and every week. Duh.
  4. Oh Magog, the math. The spreadsheet balances my projected half-weeks of work, and subtracts it from the pool of 104 half-weeks in a year. The spreadsheet then tells me that I have too much on my plate, so I revise the estimates or prune projects. This happened in January of 2014, and after careful revision I had a year’s worth of work that fit inside a year, except that 8 months of work needed to fit inside of 5 months. But I could SEE this, and knuckle down accordingly.
  5. Each week I update the amount of work remaining in the tracking column for each project, and I input which week of the year it is in a cell that determines the size of the pool of remaining half-weeks. The spreadsheet then automatically calculates the balance, and usually it tells me that I need to cough up 60 hours or 80 hours of work during an upcoming week in order to catch up.
  6. I color-code the projects based on whether they’re scheduled items (Conventions or vacations that chop time out of my schedule), and whether they’re complete (lime green, with grey text — these are items I don’t need to look at or be distracted by, because DONE!)
  7. The spreadsheet sits in my Dropbox where I share it with Sandra. She can review it and see how I’m doing. She can also update it, though she never actually did that.

I know there are other tools for project management, but when I looked into them I realized that the amount of time I would spend learning how to work something I paid for was about equal to the amount of time I would spend building a spreadsheet I knew innately how to use, and could quickly reshape to fit the way I want to plan things. I don’t have a sanitized version of the spreadsheet to share, but maybe at some point I will.

The Massively Parallel Shipping Schedule (Alternatively: “Why We’re Not Doing NaNoWriMo”)

The calendars are arriving here at Chez Tayler tomorrow (Wednesday, November 19th.) I have a few hundred sketches to do, and those will be queued up on my game table so I have stuff to do when I want to take a break from working on the comic itself.

(Yes, I take a break from work by doing different work. No, I do not have a workaholism problem. I work, I fall down, no problem.)

The books and slipcases will be arriving at the Hypernode Media warehouse sometime the following week, hopefully on a day where they do not collide head-on with Thanksgiving plans. Regardless, as soon as they’re in hand, the hundreds of to-be-sketched books will get queued up on my game table, and I’ll go straight through on those as quickly as possible.

This sequence of events, which features me as the prominent bottleneck (which in turn means that no, this operation does not feature enough processes running in parallel [and certainly not massively so]), means that the contents of the box you ordered will dictate when that box ships.

Here’s the schedule: 

Unsketched calendars (but no Massively Parallel books or slipcases) will go out starting on Wednesday, November 19th.

Orders with sketched calendars (but no Massively Parallel books or slipcases) will go out starting on Thursday, November 20th. The last of them should be out by Monday, November 24th.

Unsketched Massively Parallel orders (including those with slipcases, calendars, and book bundles) will start shipping sometime between November 25th and December 1st, depending on when the merchandise arrives. All non-sketched orders should be out the door by December 2nd.

Orders that include Massively Parallel sketch editions (including those with slipcases, book bundles, and sketched and unsketched calendars) will go out as soon as there are sketched books to go in them. They should start shipping by December 2nd, and the last of them should be out the door by December 9th. 

What does this mean for delivery in time for Christmas?

Per the USPS site, Domestic Priority-Mail orders will all arrive in time. We plan to ship them by the 9th, and USPS says we need to have them out the door by the 20th. No problem. The 11-book bundles will ship in two packages, though, so don’t panic if only half the books arrive. The rest are probably right behind them.

International Priority Mail: We’re going to attempt to fill these orders first, and according to USPS we should hit the delivery-by-Christmas dates for all packages except those going to Central and South America, and Africa. We’ll do what we can to move those to the very top of my sketch pile, but they have to be out the door by December 2nd.

This will be our biggest and most complex shipping event ever. The amount of material arriving at the warehouse, if stacked precariously upon a single, indestructible pallet, would be about 10cm lower than an Olympic high-dive (10 meters [forty-ish feet.]). Most orders contain at least two things, and across all orders there are exactly 80 separate inventory items to be queued up for inclusion.

We’ll get pictures. Also, we’re not going to build an Olympic high-dive in our warehouse.

Are we two weeks behind our original schedule? Yes. Yes we are. Funny story…

Both the calendars and the books were delayed by errors we caught and fixed in the proofs. The calendar error wasn’t that big a deal. The printer’s software munged four pages of the file, and they fixed it. It only cost us four days.

The book error, however, was a hair’s breadth away from disaster. One of the page images slid down during a copy-edit (totally our fault) and we didn’t catch it until after the pages were printed. Fortunately, we caught it before they’d glued bindings on any of the 5,000 bundles of pages, and we were able to have them reprint the final signature (16-page section) of Massively Parallel. It cost us about $1000, plus two weeks and three anxiety attacks.

We caught that one on the Friday night (Eastern Time) before the Monday morning (Hong Kong time) when 5,000 covers were scheduled to be attached. Which means the breadth of a hair is about 44 hours, or zero business days, and please please pick up the phone before you pick up the glue.

“Funny story” indeed.

And speaking of stories, as much as Sandra and I both love to write, NaNoWriMo hasn’t worked out for us in the past, so we didn’t even consider it this year. Those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo can lord it up over us all you want.