Sunday, May 28, 2023

Moar Monsters

I'm working on something of an update for Hack'D & Slash'D, and figured I'd layer in the bestiary I've been working on into the core rules. I'd like to have an illustration each page (so every fourth monster or so would be illustrated). I just started doodling and quickly had three monsters done... I like working in this style. With the Eye Tyrant, I actually did this really, really loose first drawing, and it ended up being really organic looking. I made a copy of the line drawings of the minotaur and eye before I finished them, but for the skelly I just kept drawing. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Freedom's Four

I had to take a sick day today, because I could not talk this morning my throat was so sore. I'm feeling a bit better now, but it gave me some time to just sit and play with some Doc Stalwart stuff... and boy did I make some progress. I've solved the problem with how to release supplements - I'm going to go in 25-issue arcs (I think), focusing on the key characters and concepts that emerged (so there will ultimately be about eleven of these). The first volume of this series covers the Golden Age of Doc Stalwart's comics. I came up with his allies today, and drew them up. This is a classic looking Golden Age team if I've ever seen one... from the left, we have Heartland, Doc Stalwart, Condorian, and the Bronze Beacon.

Stalwart Kid Designs

Since I went back and revised Doc's Golden Age costume, I also had to modify the Stalwart Kid's Golden Age costume... so, I present to you Stalwart Kid I (the Golden Age version, Chet Stalwart) and Stalwart Kid II (a young Nate Stalwart before he became the Silver Age Doc Stalwart). I hope that's confusing - becuase comics history is confusing as all get out.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Golden Age Doc Stalwart

I decided to retrofit my retrofit, and gave Doc a new color scheme for his 'Golden Age' variation - and I freaking LOVE it. This feels like so classic, and I love the idea that it spawned a 'get off my lawn' sort of split among the fandom about the 'best' Doc Stalwart costume design. This feels more old school, but also slightly more iconic, than the version I've been using. I love everything about this.

THIS is a guy that punches Nazis. Right in the face.


Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Complicated History of the Stalwart Kid

The Complicated History of the Stalwart Kid

By Dr. Mike Desing

Originally published in the Comics Inquirer #317, August 1997

(“The Doc Stalwart Issue”)

Throughout the history of Doc Stalwart’s comic adventures, many characters have seen sudden changes, revisions, or outright retcons in the chase for a unified continuity. For no character has this process been more jarring, or more problematic at times, than that of the original Golden Age Stalwart Kid, Chesterfield “Chet” Stalwart. 

First of all, it is important to distinguish this Stalwart Kid (the Stalwart Kid of Alter Earth 1 - often called Stalwart Kid I) from the Silver Age Stalwart Kid (the younger version of Nathaniel Stalwart, who grew up to later become Doc Stalwart - often referred to as Stalwart Kid II - and a backstory mainstay throughout the Silver Age), or from the later clone of Doc Stalwart who became a hero on his own (Stalwart Kid III). 

The original “Chet Stalwart” version of the Stalwart Kid first appeared in the Astounding Doc Stalwart #4 in April, 1937. The nephew of Doc Stalwart, he accidentally found a piece of Meteor X (the same meteor that had given Doc his powers), and quickly assumed a place at his uncle’s side, fighting crime. He appeared in almost every issue thereafter, as Doc’s faithful sidekick.

The end of Doc’s Golden Age series appeared to be the end of this character. However, Lord Synchronous, the Master of Time (who first appeared in Mighty Doc Stalwart #111, the beginning of the “Doc of Two Worlds” storyline) revealed that there was another Doc Stalwart (Doc Stalwart I), who had a sidekick named the Stalwart Kid, but that this Stalwart Kid had “died at the hands of Lord Synchronous the Time Master”. This appeared to finalize the fate of the original Golden Age Stalwart Kid.   

However, it was later revealed (Mighty Doc Stalwart #163) that the Stalwart Kid I of the Golden Age world of Doc Stalwart (referred for the first time here as “Alter Earth 1”), had actually survived. It was soon revealed that Lord Synchronous the Time Master, who was attempting to merge alternate timelines into one, was actually the original Stalwart Kid, Chesterfield Stalwart. This was one of the biggest surprises in Doc Stalwart history, and ended up being a very divisive choice among the fandom. The letters column for the next year contained letters from outraged fans that Doc’s own nephew would have been the one to turn on him in such a way. Lord Synchronous went on to become one of Doc’s most persistent villains, and the fact that this was a nephew of his own from an alternate timeline only increased the stakes in their various battles.

However, the smaller controversy of this reveal paled in comparison to what would happen in 1992. In Mighty Doc Stalwart #307, during “The Great Time Conundrum” storyline, it was revealed that Lord Synchronous had been gay the entire time, and his attraction to Doc Stalwart was what had caused him to turn to evil. This decision was met with immediate, and universal, derision. 

To much of the mainstream, that a gay character appeared in comics was still largely unfathomable. This caused Doc Stalwart to receive national attention, much of it negative. In some states, his comic series was temporarily banned. However, those who supported gay rights were even more outraged. The National Foundation of Gay Rights issued the following statement: “while we are heartened by efforts to bring gay characters into the mainstream of our culture, we are shocked and saddened by the thoughtless way this has been done in this instance. To suggest that a gay character would be motivated by being gay to commit atrocities does significant harm to our work for acceptance. Furthermore, to have this character be the nephew to the character he is attracted to is a level of inferred incest that is difficult to fathom. That anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond the pale”.

While New Stalwart Press issued an immediate apology, and made significant financial contributions to the NFGR, the damage was done. This ultimately became one of the darkest marks on the history of the series, and one of the greatest mis-steps in comics publishing history. While Lord Synchronous continued to appear thereafter, all references to his sexuality were notable by their absence.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Formatting Options

As I work on the Official Handbook of the Stalwart Age, I have several options for how to organize and publish this resource. My three options at present are the 'big book', the 'supplements', and the 'newsletter'.

In all cases, this will have character stat blocks, some new rules, overviews of Doc Stalwart comics and stories, and extra world-building stuff (for example, more information on various locations). 

The big-book approach would (attempt to) be comprehensive. I'm thinking maybe 32 pages, with 50+ character profiles, several Doc issue overviews, and every major location. This one would end up being my summer project (which I'm fine with).

The supplement approach would be maybe 12 pages each... and I'd do maybe 3 of these over time. These are more manageable in the short term (I could have the first one done in a few weeks), but I'm not sure how they'd be themed... I was thinking in terms of points in the story (the first hundred issues of Doc Stalwart, then issues 101-200, then issues 201-250...) I kind of like this approach (maybe the most of my three options) because it's sizeable releases, but could also include different versions of a variety of characters. There could be different 'versions' of Doc depending on where we are in the story. This might be the most fun to tinker with. I could even break it out further into 50-issue arcs, giving me 5 total books to do (so far)... if it's a comprehensive book, I'd have to know what happened in every issue of the series for all time. That's a bit much, but chewing on it 50 issues at a time might be doable. Plus, it's a one-sentence summary of each one, so I can leave plenty of options for later coming back and adding more layers.

The newsletter approach would be maybe 4-6 pages, with ten characters and a few add-ons each issue. This gives me more time and space to develop things, although it would be much more scattershot. I'm thinking of this as the Marvel Phile approach: maybe take one character or storyline and really focus on it, fleshing out the main characters, supporting characters, and key issues. This might mean I have an issue on Simian Prime, which would include his major appearances, his Simian Seven Apes, an overview of Simian City, and maybe some of his inventions. The Stalwart Phile? Alternately, I could use the supplement idea, but handle this in 10-issue chunks... but comics don't always neatly break into ten-issue chunks of story, but I could always bend the real world rules to fit my comic narrative reality. Hmmm.

I am no closer to a solution.


Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Elusive Improved Stat Block

Creating the perfect stat block is something that continues to elude me. I worked a bit on stat blocks for Stalwart Age when I first released it, and then made some modifications when I did Shards. In general, the Shards block looks cleaner. Throughout, I had replaced semicolons with vertical slashes (not sure if those have a specific name), and they gave the whole thing a sleeker look. I also re-formatted from columns to across the page, so a wider rather than taller stat block. Finally, in this example, I went back to the original drawing and added a few bolder lines that make the image pop better. Below are my before and after stat blocks for Bronze Beacon. It's still in progress, and might see more adjustments, but it's coming along... Edit: After getting some feedback from Mary, I came up with option #3, which might be a bit stronger...

Convergence Event

I had a whole bunch of random superhero ideas at 5 in the morning, and then my subconscious worked on them as I slept for another hour or so, and then I got up and blogged about them after half a leftover donut and coffee... take this as you will:

I was thinking about the 2023 Annual I'm working on, and iconic versions of characters, and the messy real history of comics, and it lead down some strange rabbit trails. It reminded me of an interview with Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie where he said that fans of bands have favorite 'eras' of the band, and that artists have to keep evolving, even though fans pick a point in time that is their favorite. For many superheroes, we end up with the same dilemma, although it is often easier to see which version of a character is most 'iconic'. Spiderman works best as an insecure teenager who is a little ignorant of what's happening around him, is trying to manage all of this, and fails more often than he succeeds. However, after a while we get impatient with Peter - dude, you've learned this lesson ten times already. How many times do we have to tell you that with great power comes great responsibility? Grow UP already. But then he does, and we miss the iconic version of that character, and then we find a way to do a hard reset. The Spiderman movies just did that - they realized that we'd taken Peter through this solid character arc, but now there's nowhere to go - blip him back to being a lonely teenager with no friends. With MAGIC. Maybe they'll even find a way to bring in a new Aunt May, because he kind of needs her, too. Unfortunately (as I think they will soon discover, if they haven't already), you can only tell that story with that character. The reason it's the most iconic story is because it's the best one. Spiderman should have had a happy ending, and then we all accept that he's now a background character who pops into other character's movies from time to time, but he's no longer on the big character journey. He's now something of a 'fixed' character. Captain America and Iron Man (and to a point Black Widow, although hers was not as carefully crafted) had those arcs. We want back the iconic versions of those characters from when we first met them in Avengers 1 because we saw how much they changed, and we liked watching that so much we want to watch it again (at least I do), but the story's been told. Leave them retired. No good comes of bringing them back. It's easy for me to say, since I'm sitting here just caring about the best story and not figuring out how to make another billion dollars, so I get that these are cross purposes. There is money to be made, so at some point Robert Downey Jr. is going to play Iron Man again. That billion dollars isn't going to print itself, story be damned.

As I was working, I was thinking about which 'version' of a character for my own game to put in. Do I put in Monument II, or Monument III? Is this Mikah before he learns that he's the next Chronicle, or after? I realized that throughout the 1980s, as I was hardcore collecting these things (especially on the Marvel side), there were constant updates with changes. You had the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but within a year or two, they had to release updates, because Thor now had some new powers, and Galactus had a new herald, and the Hulk was no longer green and had lost of lot of his mojo. My world so far has layered in the messiness of the real business of comics into some of its narrative reality; maybe I should work this kind of stuff in as well. Rather than trying to minimize the messiness of it, lean into it.

This lead to another thing - I have some characters and setting material in Sentinels of Echo City that I like, but which I had projected as 'twenty years later' (or something) for Stalwart Age. In effect, Sentinels of Echo City was published first, and I decided to update those rules, but also back the world up a generation into the 1980s. I took a few characters and just re-used them, but I also intentionally backed some characters up into their younger forms... or just decided that they haven't been born yet. I wanted to use those characters, but it's kind of awkward since there are parallels that exist, and some that don't, and I wasn't sure how to fix that.

Then I realized that problem one and problem two sort of go together. What if Sentinel Press had published comics for a bit and then folded, and New Stalwart Press purchased the rights to those characters? And what if this took place in 1986? And what if Byron John was asked to write a 12-part storyline that would bring many of the old Sentinel Press characters into the world of Doc Stalwart? And what if Byron John had met at a convention with Romita Johns Jr. (the son of the artist who had created the Sentinel Press characters), and they had sat up at three in the morning plotting a story that would pull the two universes together... AND since Romita Johns Jr. was between contracts with two major companies, he'd spend the next six months drawing this, and they pitched the idea to New Stalwart Press, who was all in? So, in 1986, New Stalwart Press published the 12-part Convergence of Two Worlds limited series that saw Doc Stalwart undertake a mission to merge two worlds together, and bring several new characters into his world from another?

This solves my first problem. The core rules for the Stalwart Age are as of the publication of Doc Stalwart #250. I might create the first Annual to then add more characters to this 'fixed point' in history. The next annual might be set after the end of issue 260, the non-graphic, mini-novel of Doc's adventures that I published last year. Then, the third annual (1986) would cover things that happened in Doc's comics through the 260s (which would be the search for his daughter Skye), but also during the Convergence of Two Worlds series. My annuals would not be for our timeline, but for Doc's. 

It also creates a whole bunch of wonderful opportunities for cool storytelling stuff that is both messy and kind of neat. I've already got the mechanism to make this work - parallel worlds exist, and the only true 'commonality' is the presence of Twilight Archer and Vesper. Vesper's growth determines the fate of that world - so in one world (the Sentinels of Echo City one), she went bad, bad goddess Vesper, and is on the verge of throwing the entire universe into the Shadow Lands. She's already killed their Chronicle, but he managed to send a folder across the boundaries between worlds, and it ends up with Mikah. This folder contains the identities of heroes who are, for one reason or another, vital to the future, and Doc goes on a mission to save these characters. I'm thinking that Dominic Wallace (who I introduced as a background character in the Doc stories, but who I know 'grows up' to be become Lord Null) would meet his 'future' self, and the two would work together in some way. And Null the Vanquisher would throw down with Ro the Ravager in a cosmic steel cage match.  And I could introduce Synchronos the Time Lord, who I have had notes for for years but have not had a way to use yet (Spoiler Alert: He's the final Chronicle).

It also solves one more problem - I have two versions of Skye Stalwart I am working on. One is a supergirl character, and one is a non-powered version that gets sent 800 years into the future and to the other side of the universe. I like them both. I was going to 'Legion of Superheroes' her and have the version that jetted to the future, and then eventually came back and got superpowers and 'grew up' in Doc Stalwart's world, but then I realized that these could be two Skyes from two worlds. I'm thinking that there has to be some kind of rule that only one version of a person can exist at a time... Lord Null is going to solve this through manipulating the Null Zone so that two versions of himself exist, but there is always one in the Null Zone, and the other is here... but Doc could never let any version of his daughter die. He'd use all of his smarts to realize he could keep one here with him, but could send the other one far enough beyond time and space that she survives, but also that she is far enough 'outside' of this reality's story that she could no longer impact it, and therefore gets around the rules of two versions of a character existing simultaneously. Convergence event would set up the 'thing' that causes the events leading into the Skye Stalwart novel I'm writing set in the world of Shards of Tomorrow. And maybe Doc doesn't even know which version of his daughter stays here - is it the one from his world, or the one from the Convergence world? Maybe he doesn't want to know... because they are both his daughter, right? Not sure on this, but I like it.

I'm ALSO thinking that Convergence allows Doc to meet his father, the original Sky Stalwart from the comic strips, which brings this character into the fold as well. Because why not? It would be messy as all get out, but that's part of what I always loved about comics. They have always been very, very messy from a narrative perspective. Just when you solved one narrative thread, you had a play whack a mole with the ten new ones that started to come undone as a result.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Trash Talker

Every comic book universe needs that generic team of muscle. Here's the first member of Team Trash, Trash Talker.

I've never been accused of being highly original. 

By the way, I like how my style has evolved - it keeps getting simpler and cleaner, but more 'iconic' as a result. My characters look like they belong in the same animated universe, which I'm happy about.

Matter the Grey

Here is a villain for Doc Stalwart to match mindpower with... because he's only got mindpower. Because he's a brain. In a jar.

I present to you... Matter the Grey. 

I have no idea what I'm going to do to make this different than all the other brain in a jar villains, but I'll think of something. For now, I'm just knocking out some illustrations, and I'll worry about how this all fits together at some point soon :)

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Sudoku and Supers

Here's Sudoku, the first 'new' supers character for Stalwart Age I've worked on in the last year. I've had his name and schtick in my notes for years, but this is the first time I've drawn him. He's a pastiche of Ra's Al Ghul and the Riddler, if the Riddler worked with numbers instead of words. He is a shadowy mastermind who also can kick your butt with his mad martial arts skills - or kick your mind with his math skills. Or something.

I've got a draft going for the Stalwart Age Yearbook 2023, which I suppose kind of commits me to a yearbook every year, which I don't know if that will happen, but it might happen this year!

Thanks to Max T. for kicking me in the butt a little to get working on this :)

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Another Month, Another Round of Data Analysis

During April, I tried to be intentional about doing a few things to generate sales and see what I could learn. I did those things. I have data. I have no idea what I can learn from it... here are screen shots of my sales for the month of April, and an overview of the four banners I have run during April. The bottom two ran first; I added the Stalwart Age banner a week or so later, and I added the banner for Shards a week after that. The Stalwart Age and Shards banners are still running (since they have not hit the 20K appearances that I purchased) but the other two have run their course. I also dropped prices on all of my products pretty significantly, and I think that (more than anything) drove some sales in the last half of the month.

- Oh irony. The Shards of Tomorrow banner has generated the most interest (via clicks) at .59% and a total number of clicks that surpasses any of the other banners already. However, that + the release of Dispatches from the Pale #1 only resulted in a total of three sales of the core rules. Since Shards is among my lower-selling games in total sales, the potential audience is greater (I tend to think of it as the same 100-200 people who tend to buy my things, so I assume if I've already sold 70 books to this group, the potential audience is smaller than if I've sold 30 books to this group).

- People like free stuff. I see lots of downloads of my things that are either free or pay what you want. 

- The banners and free downloads don't lead to many direct sales on the related books - but they do lead to a greater awareness of my entire catalog, and generate 'secondary' sales in that way... I sold copies of books that I have not supported in years. I have to assume that people click the link, browse my offerings, and then grab something that looks interesting. If that's the book I'm pushing right now or my fantasy rules from seven years ago is irrelevant. I mean, I sold 2 copies of the superhero game I am advertising, and 5 copies of the superhero game I'm not advertising. Make it make sense.

- Lowering cover prices did cause a spike in sales. I don't assume that this is permanent in any way, and I expect that sales will level off.

- Within the things that I already access, I 'pushed' my games as much as I could reasonably expect myself to. I ran several banners, released a few free products that were staggered, posted to social media with some regularity, and stayed relatively focused. My reach is what my reach is. I don't think I will see any significant spike in sales until someone other than me says nice things about my games. I don't have much experience with this sort of thing in gaming, but I do in webcomics - I had an episode of my Teaching Ted webomic that went somewhat viral a few years ago - a major education blogger posted one of my strips on her blog, and over a weekend I had a few thousand visitors suddenly access my comic page. I saw a bell curve across the strips - some people read that one and left, one standard deviation read about 6-10 strips, another deviation stuck around for maybe 10-15, and a handful read the entire catalog. Within a few weeks, my numbers were back where they had been before the sudden influx of traffic - that entire event didn't net any new, regular readers that I could tell.

None of this is complaining in any way, mind you. I'm fine with it. I did this 'study' during April primarily so I could get rid of that nagging voice that tells me that "if only I did ___" I'd reach a wider audience. I don't think that it's within my power to reach a wider audience. If someone with a huge social media following became a die-hard player, it would probably turn the tide. No one review or viral moment is going to matter - it's going to have to be a regular presence that I cannot generate.

What I'm saying is give Wil Wheaton a call and ask him to start playing my game every week and posting the live feed. Or you can text him. I'm sure you have his number somewhere.

Dispatches from the Pale Issue 2

The second issue of Dispatches from the Pale is now live. It's got revised and streamlined character creation rules that I really like, and an introduction to Sky Stalwart's world. I know that I posted a few days ago about the importance of sidekicks, and I kept fiddling with using Kirby in this role. 

But I kept thinking of PeeWee Herman - "I'm a loner, Dottie... a rebel".

Sky Stalwart is (very) loosely based on The Odyssey, and the Odyssey is all about how one guy ends up all by himself trying to get home. Having a sidekick makes him 'not on his own' so much. Furthermore, the dynamic of Kirby's personality doesn't create as strong of a contrast with Sky as it does in my drafting with Skye - he simply works better with her. I figure I'll keep that on the back burner for another time. Instead, I gave him a clockwork dragon sidekick. This makes more sense - it is a toy that he made for his son, and he keeps it with him as a reminder of his family. This is more on brand for the character. So, Clockwork the Dragon it is.