Category Archives: Journal

This is me rambling about me, mostly. Current stuff: home, family, my head’s on fire… that kind of thing. This also includes everything imported from LiveJournal.

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.

Long Covid And Me

It took way too long for us to figure it out, and that figuring is a story unto itself that is too long for this post, but I have Long Covid. The impact can best be summed up thusly: it is a disability, not a disease.

Disease suggests that I might get better. I wouldn’t mind getting better, of course, but as of this writing there’s not only no cure, there’s no consistent treatment, and many medical professionals will mis-diagnose Long Covid, or even deny that it exists.

So, disability. The “disabled” demographic is perhaps the only marginalized minority group that everyone who lives long enough will eventually join. My own disability presents itself much like chronic fatigue (ME/CFS). On some days I’m fine. On others I may find myself light-headed and struggling for breath as if I’d just run a mile when all I’ve done is stand around in the kitchen talking to to the kids.

Please don’t send us your medical advice. That “too long for this post” story begins with two years of visits to specialists wherein we ruled out all of the usual suspects. You may have heard the old aphorism “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” We’ve ruled out the horses, and looking around at the (metaphorical) scenery, we’re not in Kansas anymore, this is the Serengeti.

But I’m not here to ask for help, or to garner sympathy. I’m here by way of explanation: the things I used to do, the things I still WANT to do? I can’t do all of them anymore. I’d love to be creating a daily comic strip and reviewing 1st-run movies on the day they arrive in my local cinema, but those aren’t options for me anymore. The point of this post, which I’ll admit I’ve taken my time getting around to, is to explain what I can do, and what you can expect.

First and foremost: Schlock books in print! This is taking longer than we wanted it to, but we have a plan and we have the ability, and we hope to get books 18, 19, and 20 in print over the course of the next 12 to 18 months.

Seventy Maxims Reprint! This coming Tuesday we’re launching a Backerkit project to reprint the Seventy Maxims books, and as part of that we’ll be doing an all-on-one-page Seventy Maxims poster. Click either of the links above for the pre-launch page.

Using My Powers for Good: I’ll be posting parts lists and instructions for some of the mobility and workplace aids we’ve custom-built for me. Long Covid affects millions of people worldwide, probably tens of millions, and this little platform of mine can be used to make their lives easier.

Reviews of Movies, Games, and More: I can’t offer reviews of new-release cinematic things because I don’t go to the theater anymore, but I do still consume a lot of media, and it’s quite easy for me to write reviews. In fact, the fancy zero-gravity chair I use to keep my heart rate manageable is the same one I’m sitting in while I write this AND while I watch TV, listen to music, and read.

I’m Not Letting This Stop Me: Yes, I’m disabled. I can’t do all the things I used to do, and I can’t do them as quickly, but I can still do quite a bit. So I shall do quite a bit. And this place is where you’ll always be able to find me doing it.

I hope you’ll come back and find me again soon.