The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn: Lost and Found
I began work on "The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn" between 2013 and 2015 while I was a character designer at an animation studio in Toronto. The exact time is a little hazy because the comic started off as a completely different story about a middle-aged man named Fred who ends up in limbo and has strange encounters, one of them being a funny (and nameless) skeleton concierge at a hotel for the dead.
It was a fun side project dreamt up by a friend and myself while we worked at our day jobs. My friend would handle most of the writing duties while I took care of the art. We had countless "story meetings" (they were just our lunch breaks) and I did a handful of designs and half-finished illustrations. I even drew a couple of panels for this first story (if we ever came up with a name for it, it's been lost to the annals of time).
However, the comic fell by the wayside, as many of my "passion projects" do. But this time, something different happened. Fred the middle-aged accountant never resurfaced, but I kept coming back to the funny skeleton guy. I never came up with a backstory for him, but he needed a name and he looked sort of like an "Oscar". I liked him immediately.
But Oscar needed a last name too, and I liked the initials "O.Z.". I'm pretty sure I Googled "surnames that start with Z" and "Zahn" was one of the first results to come up. I decided to tell the story of "Oscar Zahn" and his many strange adventures.
One year later, I only had one page done: the first page of the comic. I had no script, no plot, no outline, not even rough notes scribbled on a napkin. In truth, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a natural feel for the character, but no idea how to tell a story or even what story to tell. I floundered about, spending my time designing stuff in Oscar's medicine bag or designing characters that would never appear in the story. In retrospect, I was probably afraid to step out of my comfort zone and do "bad work."
That first page might have been the end of "The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn" if a friend had not told me about a website called "Tapastic" (now known as Tapas) that allowed users to upload their own comics and monetize them with ads. Out of curiosity, I uploaded my one finished comic page to test out the platform.
To my great surprise, a few minutes later, I got a notification that someone had subscribed to "The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn" and left a comment saying something like: "Interesting. Curious to see where this goes."
A rush of endorphins hit my brain like a nuclear bomb. Someone was reading my comic!
I wrote and drew the second page in a month (not a impressive feat, but it was still 12 times faster than my previous pace). More readers began to trickle in and I earned 7 cents in ad revenue. I still vividly recall the euphoria I felt during those early days because each trivial victory revealed a truth that changed my life: I could do this. Just keep going.
When I look back at "Lost and Found," it's clear that I had no idea what I was doing and it reads a little clumsily. But I can see that I was sincerely trying to figure it out. In many ways, it's still the same now. I have more tools at my disposable and more experience to draw from but there will always be that moment in the story where I'm completely lost and have no idea where to go. In many ways, the only thing that's changed is that now I'm no longer discouraged when I'm lost. That's the way the process works.
If you're working on your own projects (comic or otherwise) and any of this sounds famliar to you, just remember that it's fine.
You're supposed to be lost. Just keep going and and you'll eventually find your way.