All posts by Howard Tayler

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.

Saying Goodbye to Mike Byers

I met Mike Byers in 2009, and I only knew him for about one week each year. He passed away suddenly this weekend, and I wish I had known him better. I wish all of you could have known him better. 

Mike was part of a crew that called themselves “The Kokomo Irregulars.” Back in the early aughts his group descended upon GenCon Indy each year to help Tracy Hickman with events like Killer Breakfast and X-Treme Dungeon Mastery panels, and in 2009 Mike was part of the core group of Kokomo Irregulars who put together Tracy’s first-ever actual booth at GenCon. 

I got to be there for that. I didn’t know who these volunteers were, but they were getting the job DONE. Well and truly done. Anyway, that was the year I met Mike, and it’s also when my favorite Mike Byers story takes place.

Tracy was headed to a panel, and was schlepping a forty-pound backpack full of books and electronics away from our booth. I tapped Mike on his enormous shoulder and said “Tracy needs help. Carry his backpack for him, would you?”

Mike said “I’ve tried. Tracy won’t let me.”

“Ah. That’s just Tracy being Tracy,” I said. “When he tells you ‘no,’ you stop him and point back at this booth and say ‘Howard told me you have to let me do this.’”

Mike smiled, and hustled after Tracy. They were far enough away that I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I saw Tracy shake his head, and then Mike pointed back at me. When Tracy turned to look my way I scowled at him, pointed at Mike, then put my hands on my hips. Tracy shrugged, resignedly relinquished his burden, and Mike grinned like a happy fool the whole time.

Ninety minutes later Tracy returned to the booth and thanked me. “I had no idea how much I needed that,” he said, and yes, I felt kind of smug, but this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about Mike, and it’s just the beginning. 

See, he became part of our GenCon crew for the next decade, and he was always throwing other people’s burdens on those big shoulders of his. More than once he told me that I needed to learn what Tracy had learned, that I needed to just step aside and let Mike carry it all, carry on, carry over, and care for me. For all of us. 

Mike wasn’t paid for this. We covered badges and hotel rooms for our crew, but Mike and the others insisted that they were volunteers, and were helping out because they liked helping. And they liked us. 

This isn’t the behavior of someone who likes you. This is love. 

I only knew Mike for one week a year, and only for about ten of those years. I am poorer for not having spent more time with him, and I’m sorry to say that you’re all poorer for not having met him. Or maybe you did get to meet him at GenCon Indy, sometime between 2009 and 2019, when he was part of my favorite found family ever, my GenCon family. 

L-to-R: Mike Byers, Jim Zub, Sandra Tayler, Howard Tayler, and Robin Byers

We’ll miss you Mike. If Heaven is a place where there are no more burdens to be borne, well… maybe God will let you run day-trips to Hell, because I can’t imagine you being truly happy without having someone else to help. 

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—especially 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.)