What's in a name?
Hi! Welcome to the third installment of SUPER TOMAGO, my development blog for "Lancer", a sci-fi mech space opera comic that I'm trying to bring to fruition. When I decided to start this newsletter, I thought it would be interesting to show the creative process of making comics in an open and honest way, problems and all.
Well, last week I certainly ran into one when a reader asked me if "Lancer" was based on the table top mech RPG of the same name.
What? There's already a mech franchise called "Lancer"?
Sigh... apparently there is, and i hate to say it, but it looks pretty cool. (Thanks Noah for turning my world upside down).
I have no idea why this escaped my attention when I was coming up with possible names for the comic. I could have sworn I googled "Lancer" and "Mech" and didn't come up with anything similar or relevant to what I was trying to do. Oh well, it's better to encounter this problem early and I'm sure there will be many more to come.
It's possible that I could keep the name because a Lancer is a historical military unit, specifically a cavalryman with a lance (duh), and I'm doing a comic rather than a tabletop roleplaying game. But since we're dealing with a similar concept in a similar genre with probably alot of the same influences, it's probably best to avoid future headaches and come up with a different name for the title of comic (but perhaps I can still retain "Lancer" as the terminology for the type of mech).
I think I have another name in mind for the comic but I'm going to sit on it for a couple weeks to see if it still works. In the meantime, I will still refer to the project as "Lancer" until I settle on a new name.
It's not gonna look good for a while.
You might have noticed a lack of concept art thus far for "Lancer". There's two reasons for this:
Firstly, I'm a bit embarassed to admit this, but I actually don't know how to draw mechs or sci-fi stuff at all, at least not in the realistic way I want to depict the world of "Lancer". If forced to, I can sort of fake something that might be passable in a sketch but I'm not all that familiar with this genre because it's very different than anything I've ever done. You can't really design anything (well at least) if you don't know much about it but I'll save that topic for another day.
Secondly, I'm deliberately trying to not indulge in the fun stuff like character designs, world building, mock illustrations etc, and doing my best to really focus on the nitty gritty structural stuff of the story and coming up with a really tight outline for the series as a whole as well as it's first story arc.
So what is an outline?
If you were to compare a story to a trip or a journey, then the outline is like an "itinerary" for the story. With the outline, I'm figuring out what the story is probably about, who the main characters are, what their likely character arcs might be, as well as the difficulties they'll need to overcome. It's also where I figure out the a probable ending and theme for the story.
You'll notice I'm being a bit loosey goosey with my language here and I'm doing so deliberately, because the outline (at least for me) isn't meant to be a document that's definitive. It's more like a proposal of problems that I intend to solve, with some likely solutions to those problems.
If you're thinking of your story like a journey, then the outline will provide you with a list of destinations you'd like to hit as well as a timeline of how you'll get to all those places and when you might return.
However, the joy in every adventure are the unexpected twists and turns you'll encounter. When it's time to actually write the script for "Lancer", I won't keep myself beholden to the outline. I'll refer to it once in a while to make sure the story is going in the right direction, but I like to keep things loose and open because sometimes the characters will want to make decisions that you didn't account for.
This is usually a sign that the story is working.
If you do decide to break from the outline later on, that's totally ok because it will be a conscious decision for you to do and you'll probably be able to articulate why you deviated from your original storytelling decisions.
Great, how does one go about writing an outline?
I'm no expert on this but I'm pretty sure you write an outline the way you might play any of From Software's "Souls" games. Failure will both be inevitable and frequent but don't worry, failure is also your ally. Each time you "die" you'll gain experience and wisdom that you'll carry with you the next time you start another "run" at your story.
I'm not even kidding about this. When it's time to write your outline, don't overthink it, just sit down and start writing. You won't know what you're doing and it's probably going to suck. You'll dodge-roll yourself off metaphorical writing cliffs, wander into areas of the story you're not prepared for, and get instantly killed by plot holes you didn't see coming.
The key is to recognize when your outline has defeated you and call it a day. You might be tempted to try to patch something together so you don't waste all that time consuming work but try not to fall into that trap.
The valuable work is what you've puzzled out in your mind, not the words you've written down on paper (or screen). Giving yourself a fresh start (at least in the beginning) is a great way to allow yourself to have a new approach to your story without trying to jerry rig mismatching pieces together.
After a time, you'll probably find yourself needing to restart the outline less often because you'll have understood your story and your characters better until it becomes quite clear what the outline should be.
For me, the outline has always been the most difficult and mentally exhausting part of the process. But the work done at this stage will pay huge dividends later on. Trust me, I know from experience.
For Everyday Hero Machine Boy, Irma and I half-assed our outline and had a grand time making our comic... until we hit the second act and didn't know where the story should go. Progress ground to a halt for many months while we had to work backwards and figure out a tight outline after we had drawn and colored a hundred pages.
By the way, I've never actually sucessfully completed a Souls game because uh... I've always given up in frustration. Don't do that with your outline.
How's the Lancer Outline going?
I think it's going well but I'll only know for sure after it's done. The outline was getting extremely detailed with scene breakdowns per issue until I realized I was crossing over into writing the actual scripts by accident.
I've been tinkering with the outline during my spare time since October. If it all goes according to plan, I should be done the outline by the end of this week and I can finally move onto some fun stuff like coming up with some visuals!
Or uh... coming up with a new name...
That's it for now. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below, I'd love to hear from you.
Have a great week everyone!