It’s Official

It’s official. Schlock Mercenary is not representative of the best work I can do.

(Okay, okay… my definition of “official” is admittedly lax. I don’t have a certificate or anything, but I suppose I could print one up.)

I’ve been reviewing my recent non-Schlock artwork, and carefully examining the line-art. I’ve been working to “draw something every day” for the last few weeks, and my ability to show volume and shape has improved dramatically.

That ability, however, is not getting reflected in the strips I draw. There’s just no time for it. If I had more time, I’d spend more of it on the artwork I put into the strip, but these days time is tight, and I’m consciously (CONSCIOUSLY!) cutting back on the amount of time I put into each strip.

That’s not to say I’m spending LESS time than I used to. No, I’m spending the SAME AMOUNT of time, by opting to NOT USE techniques that would make the line-art much better.

I’m still wondering how I feel about this. Does the old saw “anything worth doing is worth doing well” have corollaries like “you can’t do something well without doing your best?” Or are there valid antitheses to be found in phrases like “leave ’em wanting more” or “good enough for government work?”

Ponder, ponder, ponder.

24 thoughts on “It’s Official”

  1. To put it into perspective, look at Penny-arcade. Gabe’s everyotherdaily comics have improved as he’s gotten better, but they’re no where near as good as the stuff he posts as his art stuff.

    You’re not emulating Rembrant, you’re drawing a comic strip.
    It’s stylized, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

    plus you have a full time job, and wife/kids. come on. You obviously do a ridiculously good job of time management, and no one faults you for not shading as voluminously as you might be able to.

  2. There are comics that everyone stands around in slack jawwed amazement at the sheer quality of the artwork. And maybe – MAYBE – enjoy the story.

    There are comics that are nothing but plot – such as Balder’s Partially Clips (which I encourage you to google and enjoy if you haven’t).

    Schlock seems – to me – to be just fine with its focus on plot, and humor. The graphics are quite sufficient to convey whatever cues are needed.

    That old saw is a difficult one to get around at times. After all, from my perspective, you’re doing great in terms of what I come back for. So in that light, you’re doing quite well.

    (as an aside, after 30 years of trying I can’t even draw a hand right so no matter how you feel about the current artwork, be assured some of us are extremely envious of even that)

    Having said that, it’s your muse. Pesky things they are, you won’t be happy until she is.

  3. Speaking for Shlock fans everywhere (who are likely to “disavow” me with an angry mob of pitchfork-carrying, torch-wielding Schlock-ites), I think that the artwork you do for the comic is pretty outstanding as it is. Anyone can do better at anything if they try, granted, but I’ve spent the past several years getting addicted to the comic because it is the way it is. No, it may not be “perfect” Howard Tayler work, but it’s good and awesome all the same and I wouldn’t ask or want you to change anything.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Chime in

      I am going to ditto the storm chaser here. Your comic is one of the best out there. When I read over the archives I could see the large plot arcs that form the comic. It does a great job of balance, I’d rather have your humor with more basic artwork, then grandoise beutiful artwork and no punchline. Everything compliments each other. It’s not art for arts sake, its art for storytelling.

  4. Howard, we’re ALL in that boat. I found that with SCV quite a bit and it’s DEFINATELY true with FL. (Although FL is simplistic for a reason.) Trying to put out your best artwork possible must be balanced with the amount of time needed to write well and the ability to keep your update schedule going and still keep your job.

    Even if you could live off your comic alone, you could realisically only dedicate 6-10 hours per strip. And after that amount of time, you’d STILL think you could do it a little better. It’s the need to keep updating and keep making new strips that will kill any attempt at perfection.

    The best way to deal with feeling a little bummed about not putting your best work forward, in my opinion, is to plan a short arc of storyline where you’ll really crank up the juice. Too long and you’ll burn out trying to do everything, but say a week long story mini-arc where the characters are in an unusual situation might let you stretch your drawing chops.

    The fact that you have an incredibly solid update schedule is worth MORE than busting out the best art possible. Remember, we’re making entertainment, not Art. It’s the same thing with TV vs. Movies. You gotta keep cranking out episodes on TV whereas you can spend time reshooting and polishing movies until you’ve got just what you want.

    For my money, what you’re doing, you DO do well. Everything that’s worth doing doesn’t have to be done PERFECTLY.

    1. Remember, we’re making entertainment, not Art. It’s the same thing with TV vs. Movies. You gotta keep cranking out episodes on TV whereas you can spend time reshooting and polishing movies until you’ve got just what you want.

      I just got this same talk yesterday from some folks working with me on a segment for Jimmy Kimmel Live when I bemoaned my lack of skills. The idea is to be funny, not perfect. If you’re funny, people overlook the fact that you’re not Rembrandt (or, in my case, Carson). They think I’m funny, so they keep asking me to do work for them.

      Similarly, your strip is, first and foremost, entertaining. You may not be satisfied with the art, but we all are. The strip is very good, and it’s funny. If you can improve the art without getting in the way of being funny, or (and I’m being openly selfish here) getting in the way of getting it done, that’s great, but don’t punish yourself if you can’t.

    2. I’d like to second the motion that the solid update schedule is worth more of my attention than perfect or even better artwork.

      For example, I read Penny Arcade regularly, have donated, and have a couple t-shirts. I almost made it to one of their lan parties (scheduling conflicts).

      I read Megatokyo … once a month at best, because I am tired of Piro’s complete lack of reliability in terms of updates.

      I cannot imagine there is a valid arguement over which of those comics has better art. But PA has good enough art, excellent humor, and is very reliable. I’m not sure why that matters so much to me, but it does.

      From the perspective of a fan, I’d say that you’re doing fine, and that Scrubbo’s seems an excellent one if you absolutely MUST do your best work.

      Or maybe just do it for the Sunday strips or something. You’ve always seeemed to like doing a little more for the Sunday strips anyway, so that would fit, maybe.

  5. A college professor of mine countered the “anything worth doing is worth doing well” with “anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” meaning that if you find something worth doing, then do it, regardless of how well you do it. You have valid reasons for doing what you’re doing, even if you don’t necessarily like them.

    I know I can produce much better non-strip art than I can in the strip; I’ve got more room and time to work with, and can concentrate on a single scene rather than a series of panels. Perhaps posting some formal Schlock-related non-strip art will allow you to showcase your refined abilities for your paying customers, but ease your guilt of not using said techniques in the strip?

  6. Well, I like the style of the art in Schlock. Like some other commenter said, it conveys the mood and characters in the panels to support the dialogue. Your art is easily good enough to convey mood and story without the speech bubbles (did you do a strip in hard vacuum since the F’Sherl-Ganni showed up?).
    If you feel an urge to showcase your uber-art throw together a Universe Gazetteer of Alien stuff.

    PS – thanks for the Schlock art via UNEP Rod.

    1. Your username is the same word I stumbled across when I was looking up “scion” in the dictionary for my little sister.

      Small world, innit?

  7. I’d certainly rather have the daily strip than breathtaking depth-in-art. The story line is exceptionally fun; the art is simple and conveys the fun very well.

    If you really, really, really wanted, perhaps you could try doing “deep art” every … wednesday, say. But that could be a slippery slope.

    Perhaps give it a year and see. 😉 We’ll still be here, avidly reading.

  8. Actually, I’m not surprised…

    I always assumed your non-strip art was “better”…

    Part of the reason I like schlock as much as I do is the art…

    It’s a style I know instantly upon looking at it…

    It’s yer mark…

    And it’s a damn good mark at that…

    Don’t feel you need to change how you draw the strip on account of the art. Don’t you dare.

    We love it as it stands.

  9. In the footsteps of…

    I subscribed to Sluggy’s Defenders of the Nifty program, and one of the things I got to read there was a short tretise on how Pete Abrams made the same tradeoff. He’s a graduate of an art school and can do some pretty neat stuff, but if you compare that to the artwork he put in his strip, it’s obvious he’s cutting some serious corners. But that’s ok. As he pointed out, the readers would much rather have an enjoyable daily story than your very best work.

    If putting your best into your daily strip means not getting a daily strip, nobody here will want that. Personally, I think the quality of your story and the reliability of your strip ARE your best work.

    And if anyone wants to complain, then just compare (June 12, 2000 vs. 2004):

  10. In case you don’t have enough defenders …

    To paraphrase a friend, “Every human on the planet could be doing more and better than he or she currently is. I’m in that group.”

    Of course you could do better art. You could also refine each gag further, update Schlock twice a day, put more effort into your day job, spend more time with your children, volunteer for charities, bring your wife flowers every day …. you get the idea. The point is, you can’t do all those things simultaneously. You have to pick and choose: what’s most important to you?

    Out of the 30-odd strips I currently read, Schlock is hands-down my favorite. I love the stories, the humor, and yes, even the art. Your artwork has improved tremendously over the years, going from the “Wow, that’s painful” (sorry) of the early strips to the current ones that are a pleasure to look at.

    All that said — I think stretching your artistic muscles in the strip would be a good thing. But I wouldn’t suggest “spend more time on each and every strip”. Rather, pick those strips which would benefit most from your best art. The “Lion King” shot back in Novemeber benefited tremendously from the sophisticated coloring, and I’m sure your spent a lot of time drawing in all those individual figures, too. But most gags work well in the framework of clean, simple art. Spending an extra hour on each one would make ’em look better, sure, but it wouldn’t add much to the overall impact.

    I wouldn’t suggest making, say, every Sunday be an “art day”. But when you have a gag or a panel that relies heavily on visuals, that’d be a good time to drag out the big drawing cannons. I know that when I was scripting comics, one of the first things I noticed was that some of my strip concepts really needed special effects and to look good in order to work, while others were fine as talking heads. Maybe you’ve observed the same thing in your own writing — I don’t know. Have you ever decided not to do a strip, or not do it in a certain way, because you didn’t think your art was strong enough to carry the moment?

  11. I once refered a friend of mine to Schlock because he was suffering from a lack of good webcomics to read. His first comment upon reading it was “Ack. Bad art! Evil bad art!” I assured him it got better as the strip went along and before too long he got into and still reads the strip.

    The point being, your work now is vastly better than the work you were doing when the strip first was posted. Don’t be too upset that it’s not the best work you could possibly do. It’s not painful to look at, and it easily supports the words that you use to describe what’s going on in the comic. Yay! A winner is you!

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dead horse to beat…

  12. I was going to post a “look at your first strip; now look at your last strip” argument, but somebody beat me to it.
    You are a good artist, Howard. Unless someone is, say, Winsor McKay, they aren’t going to generate the kind of art for a daily comic that they can for a one-off piece. It doesn’t work.
    I think the problem here is that you’re experiencing those mood swings and stuff you talked about the other day. You’re starting to feel like your work is letting you down (or vice versa).
    Maybe you should round up a trio of elders and have them pray for you, if you feel that your mental/emotional state is a real, long-running problem, or go see a doctor, as it could be sparked by a physical situation.
    WE all like your art.

  13. Others have already said it better than me, so I’m going to skip the justifications and say that Schlock is still on the list of comics I read every day when others who clearly spend a lot of time on their artwork aren’t.

    I’m one of the many who think it’s more important to be entertaining every day than to look great every day. Plot-driven is the way to go.

  14. Yup, Schlock’s a daily must for me too.
    The strip seems OK to me (being a artistic talent free circuit basher) but there’s a point that seems to be overlooked here. The plots you come up with, the dialogue, storyboarding and even the occasional one-shot are consistently funny.
    It’s all very well wanting to do a Tenniel, or Ravenhill, Thomas or even Fougasse….but those artists never produced a strip…..
    Schlock is good in all its parts; that’s a considerable achievement; trouble is darned if I know how to convince you of that.

  15. Okay, okay, okay…

    Okay, I get the point. All this positive feedback has me feeling like I was out fishing for a compliment or something. Fie on you people and your milk of human kindness!

    And now, back to the humor mines.


    1. Re: Okay, okay, okay…

      You weren’t fishing? We all talked about it and decided that since you were fishing, we’d better pony up.

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