The other day I remembered an old bit from my aborted webcomic that, well, I'm going to share. To set the scene it was born out of the doldrums of waiting for Guild Wars to be released and the need for more content to shovel into the ever hungry maw of one sight or another. I called it “Guild Woes” and it was going to be about a bunch of testers who'd play the game and allow me to comment on it and the community and could, hopefully, last well past release on the strength of those characters and the game's ongoing issues. Those characters eventually became the basis for my NaNo novel Development Cycle. The rules for that little contest were that you weren't to write any prose beforehand but you could do any amount of prep work and I grabbed that abandoned project to get a headstart. Even recycled some of the bits into the story but as things went on the book became less about comedy with a dash of drama thrown in and took a much more serious turn as it explored communications and community in virtual spaces. The quirky things that made for good comedy beats went by the wayside as the players became more well-rounded people.
But, initially, I was looking to do the opposite and the characters were going to be pretty one-note stereotypes. So I studied webcomics and comics in general – looked at how they were done and so on. Did a lot of sketches. Tried to figure out how to draw the various armors and the like. Wasn't going to stick to just what was available in game all the time, mind, as some of those models are annoyingly detailed to draw quickly but I wanted things to feel authentic to people playing the game. In the end I just didn't have the time to devote to doing it right. And my inability to, you know, write and draw was a problem. But I've always had a soft spot for the project, obviously, because I thought it had potential.
I wanted make something a lot like Sluggy Freelance where there's both long-term, moving stories and daily humor to keep things from getting stale – mostly four panel dailies with the occasional longer weekend strip but I could play with the format whenever I needed room to breathe or get all artsy. I populated things with a diverse cast of characters and set up a lot of dynamics between them. You had your roleplayer, your forumite, your clueless scrub, your grizzled video game veteran, your token chick, and they'd be just cardboard to prop up the plot. I was even going to use the classes people would play as a quick shorthand – Elemenatlists, for example, would be the really geeky and stat obsessed who thought they knew everything about the game. While the Necromancers would be the real strat masters but constantly bitching and moaning because of how bad their class was. The guild the main characters were in (With, of course, the tag [WoE].) would have a Team Rocket like nemesis that would constantly thwart them despite their own incompetence. Man, I had plans but I just couldn't get it off the ground.
Now, when transitioning this idea from the realm of Guild Wars into my fictional game of Clans of the Highborn for the novel, I obviously had to make some changes. The classes, for one, got a bit scrambled. And not having any real world landmarks or sites to rely on meant I had to invent my own. So the profiles I linked to earlier are somewhat misleading. Roth was a Warrior and, of course, my grizzled vet of a thousand online games (What I didn't know was that he was going to turn into the story's heart and soul. I'd pegged Heidi for that in the comic.) and my exposition fairy but he was much more of a know-it-all jerk. Chris was a ele who's big shtick was that people mistook him for a girl because of the effeminate Elementalist models and his androgynous name. So he was much more frazzled and easily upset in the comic. Land Ho (I know, I know, the name sucks. But I wanted he and his girlfriend Heidi to have annoyingly cutesy names like those couples who wear the same clothing when they go out. And that was the best I could think of at the time and it, unfortunately, stuck.) was the overeager scrub who was wrong about everything. My big idea with him was that he'd be a Warrior who'd constantly switch his secondary based on whatever the flavor of the month was so he'd always be rerolling (At the time you couldn't switch secondaries.) and have different visual elements to his outfit based on whichever secondary he had at the moment – ankhs if he was a monk, little dangling skulls if he was a W/N, that sort of thing. Roth and Chris were old friend and the “cool” kids who'd always hang out together. Land was a hanger on who really rubbed Roth the wrong way although he was, of course, completely oblivious to how unwanted he was by the other two. All those elements show up in my manuscript to some degree or another but they were played for dramatic tension rather than laughs the way they would have been in the strip.
So, anyways, as setup for this gag I would have been building towards a PvP arc. At some point after introducing all the characters and having fun with the game's basics I'd introduce the team's big rival (I never really could settle on what I wanted them to be which is probably why they don't show up in the novel. Although the idea of a heated rivalry with another guild sure does.) a bunch of players with all black dyed high-end armor who tried to look as homogeneous as possible but were just only slightly more competent than my rag-tag bunch of misfits. And the comics leading up to their first GvG battle – probably during an all-call because this would be a big, major storyarc with a lot of room to talk about that scene as well – I'd have the guild talking about PvP and getting ready and so on. This scene would take place early on in that process. I could never get this joke right – just had it in my notes that it would be nice to do at this point so I hope you don't mind if I give it one last whirl.
SCENE: Roth and Chris are hanging around in town. They're waiting for Land to show up so they can head to the Arena to get some PvP practice in. Roth is getting impatient as usual.
ROTH: What the hell's keeping him?
CHRIS: Hold on, I'm sending him a whisper. (Different colored text) Hey Land, where are you? We're waiting to do some PvP, you want to come or what?
PANEL TWO: (Close up on Chris looking exasperated.)
LAND: (Words appear as disembodied speech bubbles with the same color text as Chris's) PvP? whuts taht?
CHRIS: It stands for Player vs Player.
CHRIS: Yes, really. Now are you ready or what?
LAND: b rite thar.
PANEL FOUR: (Back to a shot of Roth and Chris.)
ROTH: Is he ready yet?
CHRIS: He said he'll be... (Chris trails off as he looks off-panel.)
PANEL FIVE: (Scene shifts to elsewhere in town. An elegant cane strikes the pavement and there's a sound effect straight out of 70s blacksploitation films.)
PANEL SIX: (The random stander-bys turn their heads and gasp in wonder.)
PANEL SEVEN: (A shot of some fancy leather boots walking over the cobblestones. More onlookers in the background are stunned and shocked.)
PANEL EIGHT: (Land stands revealed. He's dressed in the finest of pimp accoutrement. Flashy purple suit with animal skin print on the lapels and cuffs. Large, over-sized fur coat hanging off his shoulders and clasped with a golden chain. A glittering pimp chalice held lazily in his hand, his pinky finger – with, of course, a gleaming pinky ring – extended. A cane with a sparkling diamond at the top in his other hand. He's wearing a big floppy hat with a long drooping feather. Jewlry and necklaces hang everywhere. Obscuring his face is a large pair of sunglasses.)
LAND: Oh...I'm ready.
PANEL NINE: (Land takes the sunglasses off and holds them in his cane hand.)
LAND: (Emphasized) Playa.
Yeah, obvious joke.
I think it's funny, anyway. But I have this amazing sense of humor that makes things funny to me and no one else. You know, a bad one.
Really, I think this is just me gearing up for Script Frenzy, the NaNo spin-off (Did you know their corporation is called by the awesome name of the Office of Letters and Light? I didn't either until I got my sweet little recognition of the donation I had made in my name as a holiday present. Just a little nicely made card but it came in an envelope marked as originating from the Offices of Letters and Light and, let me tell you, that had me pretty puzzled until I opened it. But that really says it all doesn't it? Script Frenzy's this June, I'll be participating if I have the time and you should, too.). I'm not sure if comic strip scripts are going to be kosher but I've never really written anything like a movie script before. Still, I'm excited by the prospect.
And, anyway, the next time I'm doubled over with laughter when someone asks me to PvP, well, now you know why.