When writing, do you ever have a hard time reconciling the finer details you create as you go with the broader strokes you've had laid out from the start? If so, how do you resolve these? And on a (sort of) related note, how do you feel about retconning? If you're writing stories for Kim 25 years from now, do you think you might engage in that sort of retelling? And lastly, are the people and things belonging to or originating from Nephilopolis, Nephilopolitan? Sorry for asking so much!
Sort of, but generally I leave a lot of room for improvisation. I have a comics hierarchy, in descending order of importance:
The Story - basically the ending and overall themes of Dark Science
The Plot - event timeline and individual character arcs
The Chapters - what scenes should happen in what order, how many pages should be devoted to a scene, etc.
The Pages - what dialog goes on a particular page, what details should or shouldn’t be there, blocking of the scene, etc.
Each descending element is less planned. The Dark Science “story” is basically set in stone, the plot may change a little bit here and there, but is mostly finished. The chapters and scenes are something I usually plan a month or two in advance, while the pages are something I don’t generally plan at all until I’m actually drawing them. There are exceptions, of course (sometimes I’ll thumbnail several pages in a row to make sure everything flows), but not planning any details ahead of time makes making the comic much more intuitive and natural.
I do write a script, but I only use it to get all of the bad dialogue out of my system.What I actually script is never used in the comic, because by the time I get to drawing, I find more visual or more effective ways to convey it.
As for writing stories 25 years from now, I have no idea. I’ve already retconned tiny things from Hob (like Kaito’s beard), so I figure it’ll be a case by case sort of thing.
Regarding Nephilopolis residents, they are indeed Nephilopolitan. Someone please make that an ice cream flavor.
like tbh i feel like my problem with the “dark and gritty!!” trend in modern stories is this
there’s this idea in our culture that cynicism is realistic? that only children believe in happy endings, that people are ultimately selfish and greedy and seeing with clear eyes means seeing the world as an awful place
that idealism is— easy, i guess. butterflies and sunshine and love are easy things to have in your head.
but i’ve known since i was fifteen that idealism— faith in humanity— optimism— is the most difficult thing in the entire world.
i constantly struggle to have faith in humanity, because it’s really, really easy to lose it. it’s easy to look at the news and go “what were you expecting? of course humans behave this way.” it’s easy to see the world and go “ugh, there’s no hope there.” and the years when i believed that were easy. miserable— but easy.
it is hard work to see the good in people. it is hard work to hope. it is hard work to keep faith and love and joy and appreciation for beauty in my daily life.
and when moviemakers and tv producers and writers go “omg!!! all characters are selfish and act poorly and don’t love each other, nothing ever happens that is happy or good, that’s so much more realistic, that’s so much more adult”
Did Kaito make Kim's eye? Balthazar points it out as being of higher quality than her arm, which got me thinking about where it came from. Also, Leviathan's mask seems to change shape somewhat, particularly the eyes, from panel to panel. Is this just artistic liberty to show expressions, or is it actually made to change shape somehow (with dark science or otherwise)?
Kim made all of her own prostheses. Balthazar only comments on the quality of the eye, he doesn’t ever actually see any of her other parts. His inference that her limbs must be less human-looking ended up being correct, but just because something isn’t human-looking doesn’t mean it’s of a lower quality.
Since the new (and absolutely beautiful) page of Dark Science was published, I went back and read the entire storyline, paying extra attention to all the little details I'd missed before, when I hit #32. The figure in the bottom panels of the vision/dream; is it some version of Kim? I assumed so, but if it's a future version, how did she grow her upper left arm back? Or is this some sort of cyclical event that's happened before, and she's seeing the past version?
It certainly looks like Kim, but who knows? As for when it’s occurring, it’s definitely the past, not the future.
Is Alisa Caspar aware that her son is a Dark Scientist? Also, did Dark Science originate from the Nephilim?
Good question! It’s a shame she was taken away before he was unmasked.
As for the origins of Dark Science, from what we’ve seen so far, the Dark Scientists themselves do seem to date as far back as the time of the Old War and the Nephilim. I’d say it’s not unreasonable to connect the two.
Assuming that Balthazar Melchior and Caspar are named after the three Kings from the Nativity, why did you decide to make them all white? Obviously Dark Science isn't going to be a 1 for 1 retelling of the story of Christ but I'm wondering what your thought process was.
Caspar is based on Ayn Rand and Melchior is based on Fritz Rasp, both for very specific reasons. The naming convention of the three magi isn’t the only thing informing the character decisions. There are people of color in DS, but those three just happen to not be among them.
I actually had initially intended to make Balthazar brown, but at the time worried that people might confuse him with Coffee Shop Guy from Hob. In retrospect, that was pretty stupid of me.
Do you get frustrated, after working on the same storyline for so long, that this part of the story isn't finished yet? Have you started planning/writing the next chapter in Kim's life? How far in advance do you plan these things out? Do you know how/where her story ends yet?
It can be incredibly frustrating. I wrote Dark Science years ago at this point. It’s specifically frustrating when I’m excited to talk about one point in the story, but I know it’s not going to be revealed for months. I haven’t explicitly planned out Kim’s “next chapter,” partly because the way Dark Science ends, the status quo is shaken a lot more severely than what happened at the end of Hob.
All that aside, once I get the Patreon up and can afford a site restructuring, I’d like to update smaller one-shot comics while Dark Science is still going on. I think that would basically be the ultimate, invincible Final Form of Dresden Codak.
How important do you find building colour palettes to be in your work? Do you build pre set ranges for spaces/characters/places/moods or do you find it easier to paint entirely in the moment?
Oh I plan the hell out of my colors. 80% of my painting time is just me stressing over whether I picked the right colors. I have tons of pre-set palettes for different locations and types of pages. Every scene, interaction, and character is color-coded. I’m incredibly anal about why someone’s shirt has to be blue or why two locations must have complementary color schemes, even if they don’t intersect.
I’ve learned that this type of attention to detail isn’t all that important to readers, but it’s one of those things that I just *have* to do because I’m me.
When you’ve caught up to the latest page of Dark Science, then I’d recommend going and starting at the beginning of the archives. I’ve found this is currently pretty much the best way to introduce new readers to the comic!
I always have fun trying to imagine what your dialogue would sound like spoken aloud. How it would be delivered and what the characters sound like. Do you imagine voices for the characters in your mind?
Absolutely. The “accent” of Nephilopolis is that 1930s transatlantic accent.
Vonnie in particular sounds like Katharine Hepburn in my head.
Melchior has a German accent, for obvious reasons.
Due to her upbringing, Kim has a faint English accent smothered by a Pacific Northwest one.
Balthazar sounds like some scrub from the Midwest.
Unless I'm horribly mistaken in art influences, a lot of Dark Science seems Art Deco-inspired. Are there any resources you use as reference for Dark Science, or would recommend to people interested in finding stuff from that era they may not have encountered before?
Most of the designs for Nephilopolis are inspired by different World’s Fairs, as well as art books like “The Metropolis of Tomorrow” and “The World of Art Deco.” I have a fairly extensive reference library of clothing from the 1930s as well. Comes in handy.
For Kaito’s home and some of the aesthetics revolving around his segments, I pull exclusively from Frank Lloyd Wright’s actual houses, as well as some of his illustrations.
In regards to the watch featured in the most recent comic; is it an amplifier of sorts for the use dark science? Or is that something to be revealed down the road?
It’s definitely related to Dark Science, and it will be explored fairly soon. But because I like to tease everyone, I’ll also say that the purpose/function of the locket has similar to a concept that’s found in Fullmetal Alchemist.
This may be an odd question to ask (and it isn't specifically about Dark Science), but as someone with PTSD I was wondering if you've ever thought about the after-effects Kim would have felt after her incident in Hob. Being able to build her own limbs would certainly be a cathartic experience, but in general not much is said explicitly about her accident and how she coped.
While I have suggested that Kim’s recovery/rehabilitation after Hob was pretty gruesome, you’re right in that I haven’t gone into much detail regarding her emotional and mental state following that kind of trauma.
It’s something that I’ve gradually suggested in different parts of Dark Science and will continue to slowly explore. Right now, the most overt thing is Kim’s almost manic need to be self-reliant. She’s always been an independent character, but I think her physical trauma definitely amped up the idea that she needs to be complete self-possessed and reliant at all times.
On Kim's back, where the (for lack of a better word) lines are is that still skin? or something else?
The lines on Kim’s body are essentially subcutaneous wires that connect her ports and prostheses. So basically, yes, that’s still her skin, they’re basically just covered with the equivalent of metallic tattoos.
Have you made any major narrative revisions since beginning Dark Science?
The main story of Dark Science hasn’t changed much since I wrote it four years ago, but the “script” has gone through probably hundreds of revisions since then. The major elements have always been in place, but how to get from A to B with each Act and scene is something that I’m usually determining as I go.
What kind of a story do you want to tell with Dark Science, and how does it differ from the kind of story you wanted to tell with Hob?
Hob was a very simple story, but it was about differing viewpoints regarding how to approach the future. Through that, it was basically telling an “origin” story for Kim.
Dark Science is a more complicated story, but it’s primarily about different philosophies regarding the purpose of science and knowledge. It’s also partly a story about personal identity and its fragility within a society that quantizes every element of human life.
Hi! Just a quick note to say that I recently started following your twitter, and I was... quite surprised that you, just like the rest of us peasants, are displeased with your own art at times. I know everyone does it, so I shouldn't've been surprised, but I thought you'd like to know that I have always really looked up to your work in comics as having the coolest designs, plots, and characters. Even if you are discouraged sometimes, just know that many of us are awed by your work anyway!
Thanks so much. I’ve been told by a lot of friends that I’m disproportionately hard on myself (and it’s very likely a factor in my slow drawing speeds), and it can be a tough hurdle to overcome for any artist. As is the case with a lot of people, I am by far my own harshest critic, and it can be difficult to tune out that negativity.
The best remedy I’ve found is to just focus on what you’re making and what the end result will be like. Often hard for me to take my own advice, though.
What are your thoughts on the new Thor design, and, while we are at it, Falcon's tenure as Captain America's design? Also, what is your favorite Issac Asimov story and why is it The Last Question?
I love Thor’s Zechs Marquis mask, and most of the outfit in general. I’m just not crazy about the molded chest piece or the stray bit of armor on the arm. Those parts look neither Nordic nor Kirby Fake Nordic- they just feel slapped on.
I’m totally into Falcon being the new Cap, but I’m really not into the design. It’s kind of a weird mashup between Captain America and his Falcon costume, as if they really need to remind you that he’s now pulling double superhero duty. He looks like one of those Amalgam Comics characters.
There are ways to incorporate Falcon’s persona into Captain America without making it look like a 90s mashup. Heck, you could just go the USAgent route and fiddle with the patterns while keeping the same silhouette. I don’t know, I just think it’s a sloppy design.
I like the story driven stuff like Dark Science and Hob, but any chance we'll ever see a return to something more like (Advanced) Dungeons and Discourse, Lantern Season, or just the older stuff in general? The D&D stuff, Summer Dream Job, and pretty much anything involving Tiny Carl Jung were always my favorites.
Similar to when Hob ended, once Dark Science is over, I’ll go back to one-shot comics for a while. Definitely!
You regularly display a fairly impressive knowledge of natural history and paleontology (notably in warm-up sketches and "The Sleepwalkers"). Is this something you went about researching in order to incorporate into your stories, or is it something you've always had a casual interest in and wanted to use since you already knew a lot about it?
I’ve always been a massive paleontology nut and The Sleepwalkers was me finally giving in to the temptation to make a comic about it. I held off for years because I didn’t want it to devolve into something that was just self-indulgent. Thankfully the premise of The Sleepwalkers kind of let me have it both ways, indulging and poking fun at it at the same time.
Honestly curious. With as little modesty as possible, how big of a celebrity would you say you are? Do random people ever recognize you on the streets or anything similar?
I get recognized maybe once a month in Portland, and a little less than that when I lived in New York. If I’m actually at any kind of comics or other nerdly event, though, I’m picked out pretty regularly.
I’d say I’m fairly well known in most comics circles, and occasionally known in the broader nerd-o-sphere.
HI, since updates seem to be a topic of the day, one of you're kick starter goals was daily updates for a year, though it was not reached, was that a realistic goal? what would it have required for you to write/draw that quickly? would the comic have retain its high standard of quality?
The goal was specifically to get assistants, with the end result being faster updates. I think a small version of that is still possible (especially if the upcoming Patreon does well), and if I have even a part-time assistant, it could make a big difference. I wouldn’t change anything regarding how I actually draw DC, I’d just have more time per day to work on it.
Any self-employed artist will tell you that 80% of your daily work isn’t drawing, it’s all the other little things. Having someone to take care of even half of those tasks would speed up the comic immensely.
Trying to come up with something worth asking. I'm sure you have several different ideas of how a story could play out before you settle on one, so do you have any particularly cool ALTERNATE UNIVERSE DRESDEN CODAK moments worth mentioning?
In the first draft of Hob, Kim was supposed to die. It wasn’t terribly interesting after that, so I nixed it. Mind you, the first draft of Hob was different in a LOT of ways. Hob could talk and turn into a bird.
I know you've probably heard this a lot, but your art is seriously great. It's worth the wait for each new page to come out, I think, because you make it look really good and it's obvious a good deal of effort goes into it. It kind of makes me want to get even better, to be honest. Aside from that, I like the plot of the story so far! I don't really know what's going to happen next, so I'm interested to see where it'll go.
Thanks very much! I can drive myself crazy getting excited about some upcoming element of the plot, but then remember that it’ll be months before we get to it. Probably the main reason I’m looking for ways to speed things up. Dark Science is going to get super duper interesting soon, I think, and I just can’t wait!
I never got why some webcomic fans demand and get angry about updates. The creator is giving you a gift of story and art and sometimes humor for free!
Slow updates can harm the momentum of ongoing stories, and I definitely recognize that as a weakness of my comic, but yeah, at the end of the day it’s a free comic with no official update schedule. I want to get them out as quickly as I can, but I also don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.
First: your art is great (I am in love with basically every character design that I've seen of yours), your stories are great, and willingness to both speak out on feminist issues and freely accept your own privileged position is, dare I say it, really great. Second: have any companies, big-name or otherwise, approached you regarding doing anything with Clockwork Empire, or something similar to it? (I would in a heartbeat, if I had such a capability.)
Thanks very much!
Regarding Clockwork Empire, I’ve had some modest interaction with Nintendo, most notably a recent interview for Nintendo Magazine UK. I’m not a game designer though, the whole thing is just a fun proof-of-concept kind of exercise. It’s helped bring up this conversation in the gaming world, and that’s the best I ever hoped for.
Hi! When I was growing up, I was told over and over that comics and graphic novels (AND science) were only for guys. Reading your comics online was my first exposure to a love I hadn't even considered I was allowed to have! I just wanted to say thank you for that!
No problem! That stinks that you had to grow up in an environment like that, but I’m glad that you’ve discovered a new passion!
Hello! I just wanted to say thank you for your art and storytelling, which are always top notch. The internet may be sour and like to take your not receiving hate as a challenge, but I'm glad the majority of your received messages have been positive. Way back when you first started this blog, you made a bunch of posts about comic theory and I found them incredibly helpful and interesting! Is that anything you'd ever consider picking up again?
Thanks! It’s been a couple years since I’ve done any essays/articles on comic theory and design, but it’s something I definitely want to start up again this year. My current non-comic set of priorities are:
Finish sending out the rest of the Kickstarter commissions
Set up a Patreon
Redesign the Dresden Codak website
Write new articles on comics???
So there are a few things I have to do first, but after that? Yeah!
Actually, no, I really haven’t run into any problems with it. The overwhelming majority has been positive feedback. Everyone’s experiences with anons are going to be different, but for me so far, it’s mostly been people who want to anonymously say nice things.
As I mentioned before, I’m a Straight White Man™, the least harrassed people on the planet, so your results may vary.