Three by three by three

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’ve done enough work in any given day.

I know, I know… for somebody who’s never missed a day of updating, and for whom updating the comic is now a full-time job, it should be pretty EASY to tell. I mean, as long as the updates are on time and there’s room in the buffer for me to get sick, I’m doing enough, right?

Well, right now there ISN’T enough room in the buffer for me to get sick. It’s down to 12 days, and has dropped to single digits several times in the last month. I’ve been hovering between 8 and 12 for what seems like an eternity, but is really more like “ever since Linucon.”

Thus, I need a system whereby I can tell myself that only after such-and-such is complete can I be done working for the day. Said system must support the concept of “weekend,” too.

Here’s the system I conjured up while driving home from Boise:

Three times every weekday I must take three rows of Schlock Mercenary through one of the three major stages of completion.


Stage one is scripting.
Stage two is pencil-and-ink.
Stage three is coloring.

Today I succeeded in my goal. I scripted a three row Sunday (three rows through the scripting stage), pencilled and inked the preceding Thursday-through-Saturday (three rows through the pencil-and-ink stage), and scripted three weekdays (three rows through the scripting stage.)

Tomorrow I have the following on the work-a-la-carte menu:
1) 9 rows await coloring.
2) 6 rows await pencil-and-ink.
3) Scripting… there’s not much limit on that.

This system prevents me from getting bored, helps me keep the various queues full of things to do, and (assuming I stick with it) forces me to add 2/3rds of a week to the buffer with every work week that passes. More importantly, it helps prevent burnout. If I keep the time-consuming pencil-and-ink down to three rows a day, I can have my 9 rows worth of work done in three hours or less.

So… what do I do with the REST of the day? Right now it’s commercial work and the odd commission. Oh, and managing the business, monitoring the forums, and reading, reading, reading so that this strip stays smart and fresh.

I think this system can work. I really, REALLY need to get the buffer back up above 21. If I stick with this systemt for all the November weekdays (except Thanksgiving!) I’ll have cranked out 5 weeks of Schlock in just over three weeks. That’ll add 12 to the current buffer, which brings me back over 21. And I’ll have done it without burning out or going crazy.

–Howard “arguably, I already AM crazy” Tayler

16 thoughts on “Three by three by three”

    1. Re: Yay for Not Crazy!

      Isn’t that ‘Yay for not burning out!’? 😀

      Still, between the commercial projects, I’m surprised he has time to crank out three or more strips a day, especially between sketching, inking, and then coloring…

  1. My system is usually: Crank up 5 strips -the drawing stuff- during the weekend. I usually fail and end up taking Monday as well. I dedicate a whole day of the week to writing CRFH and the extra stuff. I have three days left for whatever commercial project I have going on/resting (HAHA).

    1. Oh, also… jumping between projects really breaks my concentration, especially when I’m working hard on achieving a mood for certain scenes. I prefer to work uninterruptedly through scenes. Then I can put them aside completely for the next project.

      So I prefer to work in bulk, but only during scenes.

      1. That’s why I needed the flexibility of this system. I usually script 9 rows all at once, so that the writing flows better. On days I can do that, that’s cool… I can be done, and can move on to something else.

        Coloring an entire week is another example. Sometimes I have to do them all in one go, so that the feel is the same. Other times I just can’t keep going, and have to move on.


  2. Now with 20% more Warp-Guides!

    That’s perfect. I’m stealing your idea, if that okay with you.

    I’ve been at the “drop-a-duce or get off the pot” stage of my comic for six months, but I think your “get comics fast” scheme might just work!

    Oh, yeah. I meant to ask; by reading you mean science related articles, right? Could you point me to a site where I can finally find plans that I can use to build my spaceship from? I’ve already got an old VW rabbit; I just need to figure out a drive system. *no I’m not insane why do you ask?*

  3. Hey… A curious question from someone about to start up a webcomic with some friends and not really sure on how to go about it: What do your scripts look like? Would it be possible to get to see a script from an already published comic? 🙂

  4. The important thing is…

    … that you KEEP a buffer at all. As a writer, I have the same challenge — crank out some amount to meet a deadline — but there’s no multiple stages to writing, so I can’t shift around the approach like you do. I can write fast, but I also have to get into the groove, and THAT can take a long time for me.

    And thanks for the art! I posted about it on my own LJ. Can I put it up somewhere for people to admire?

  5. Not burning out

    See, that’s the problem with people who make webcomics their ‘day job’. They start treating it like a day job i.e. slacking, surfing the web when they should be working, getting annoyed at your boss etc etc. I honestly believe that’s what happened to Sluggy and PvP, and the resulting decline in updates and quality. Even those things that you love to do can become tedious and unfun if you let the “nose to the grindstone unappreciated cog in the wheel of the industry” mentality hit you.

    So keep it fun, Howard. May your buffer-fu always be strong.

    1. Re: Not burning out

      Hrm. I’d call it more a “day job that isn’t enjoyable anymore” for those people; or simply a lack of real work ethic.

      When you aren’t REQUIRED to do it continually for any particular reason, you can often do massive amounts of work. (I wrote 2,000 rooms for a mud in 10 days, just because I felt like it. Then I got burned out. Gee, I wonder why)

      Once it becomes a requirement that you have to do it every day, then it can be.. difficult. Howard has an advantage there – he’s tended to always have a reasonable work ethic; he just had to juggle his family and the day job that took his main attention around it. Now he just has to adjust himself to the comic being the main work ethic, rather than the sideline/hobby work ethic.

      I think he can do it. I’m betting on it 🙂


      1. Re: Not burning out

        I think he can do it. I’m betting on it 🙂

        I’m not saying he can’t…far far from it. What I am saying is that it happens to some, and I can understand why. When the 9 to 5 grind gets to a “full-time” cartoonist, they tend to slack like everyone else (much like I’m doing now. 😉 ). I have faith and complete confidence in Howard that he knows what he needs to do to keep himself and his buffer-fu strong, and not fall into the deadly rut of late updates and filler comics that “full-time” cartoonists can fall into.

    1. I’m enjoying re-learning the coloring process. You’ve probably noticed a few more gradient fills in the comic of late. Eventually I aspire to color like Jean did… but I’m going to have to work at it.

      If I subcontract the coloring (and I don’t have the budget to do that anymore) I won’t practice coloring, and I’ll never be any good at it.


  6. What’s changed

    So, Howard, why all of a sudden when you have all this ‘free’ time because you quit your day job, do you suddenly not have enough time with your new day job? Is this just an adjustment to new projects, new ideas, and new things? You are an extremely dedicated, focused, hardworking person, so whhy the challenge all of a sudden?

    1. Re: What’s changed

      I can sum it up in four words:
      “More time for family.”

      I do have plenty of time to do the work that needs to be done. I just don’t have time to do it all at once at the expense of the other people who live in this house. 🙂

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