Welcome to the 3rd Voice Letter Column. Do you know what a Letter Column is? It’s something like that. I miss longer-format and less frantic interaction on the internet, so I’m giving it a try. Letters and responses below are in chronological order of my publishing them here. Some letters were received before 3rd Voice started publication on December 12, 2022, bear in mind.
If you’d like to engage in some possibly-published correspondence, please email 3RDVOICEMAIL@GMAIL.COM. This is mostly a space to talk around the comic, but don’t worry about it too much. If your email sucks I just won’t publish it! No one will ever have to know. Of course also don’t include anything in the body of the email that you don’t want published. How’s that sound to you?.
I invented a time machine just to read 3rd Voice from the beginning. I was born after it finished, and it’s always been my dream to go back to 2022 and be a part of the grandest comic event since Tobey Maguire brought Spiderman to life.
With love from 2072! Vince * November 15, 2022
YOU HEAR THAT EVERYBODY!!!!!
I’ve been a fan of your comics for a long time and I want to be very excited for 3rd Voice, but is it going to continue to have lots of flashy/flickery video stuff? I love the aesthetic but it’s kinda hurting my brain a little, I had to close my eyes for the trailer and I’m worried that if I look at the header images on your website for too long I might get a migraine.
Sorry for being a bummer! Kate * November 18, 2022
HmmMMM terribly sorry for discomfort; I went through a few iterations of that asterisk-header image to try to tone it down but maybe I’ll lower the frame rate a bit. EITHERWAY the gifs will only be a part of the site until the launch on 12/12. RE: the video material -- I’m going to try to tone down the flashier glitch material but I’m not sure exactly where the threshold is for everyone’s comfort. I’ll vet this stuff a little more in advance I think; maybe on the Discord which is recently taking off. thank u for input.
Evan- I think there’s just one thing we’re all dying to know. Is 3V still in the same world as all of your other comics? A "Rice Boy Comic", as it were. Or is this a new venture? Riley * November 19, 2022
Will 3rd Voice be in the world of Overside? Or is it a new world? George WL * November 19, 2022
& many other such questions. I’m inclined to be even weirder and more evasive about answering this, tho maybe I have answered it somewhere before I can’t remember. I’m in the process last coupledays of getting together the "launch material" that will answer this question so I hope you’ll forgive me waiting until then; I think it is the best answer I can manage and god forbid I am ever redundant. (About the branding question though; I dunno what "a Rice Boy Comic" is I guess; it’s the title I’ve happened to stick with for years and it’s the website. The branding utility of having strong intertextual connective tissue between all the media produced by a person or company seems very clear tho doesn’t it. Am I the first person to think of this? I’m not sure if anyone else in comics has ever thought of this.) I am in all honestly thrilled that people are interested and excited about this sort of detail; thank you.
Hey! Just wanted say I’m very excited for 3rd Voice, it looks like it’ll be a good one. No particular question, but for the record, the new site is looking good! I especially appreciate the updated links section, which is my primary method of discovering new online comics. Love it!
Anyways, thanks for all you do, sites like riceboy are islands of bliss in the ocean of chaos that is the internet.
PS - any plans to restart Ambiguity Program? No pressure of course, but watching those weird and fantastic cartoons Sunday nights has been one of my better memories of the past few years. Silly but true! Thanks again! Josh * November 25, 2022
Thank you I’d like to keep up with the links section; I have a few things to add to it. Being in independent-artist spaces on social media I have noticed a pronounced increase in Interest in such things, and in resentment at the inorganic modes of connection & discovery increasingly taking over the most of the internet... I am wondering a lot how much this sort of granular principled reaction is Worth, really, or what it amounts to, in the face of the enormous grinding weight of modern social media... but this is some small thing to do maybe. If anybody has an independent website of their own with interesting independent work on it I’ll always consider adding it do the list. / PS - I liked doing that show a lot and I got a lot out of it too. I guess I’m sort of acclimating to a new life-and-work structure in a few ways lately; I would like to get back into that only at exactly the moment that it seems exciting to me to do so.
Hi there, fan of your comics and excited for the next. One thing that interests me is how each of your projects sort of vary format and style wise: Vattu is very cinematic, Island Book uses a square 3x3 grid, Harrowing of Hell utilizes only black, white and red, etc etc. I don’t think any two works have the same visual language! How do you come upon these ideas for a story’s "style", and how will 3rd voice play into that theme? srowe * December 6, 2022
I really haven’t heard hardly anybody mention the weird paneling constraint for the Island Books, I thought it was cute tho maybe became a little cumbersome later on in the process of that 900-odd page series. did anyone even read those books. I think this is maybe a common problem: I enter into a project with these tight specific notions of what its stylistic constraints are gonna be, and then when the project expands past a certain scale I lose sight of those constraints, or I forget why I’m doing it that way, or something. There is a feeling of struggling to balance the honest, immediate material of the thing with a bunch of nerdy formal things I, at that later point, feel pretty distant from. Anyway I’m not explaining this terribly well but I like thinking about format, I think I get fixated on containers, grammars, organizing logics an awful lot; I often get hit harder by the way a thing is said than what it actually is being said, etc. I have some "interesting formal aspects" in mind for 3V but in general with this project I’m trying to think of this in terms of opening up space instead of nailing down the borders of a perfect, concrete, finished product, as has maybe been my tendency in the past.
3rd Voice launched on December 12, 2022
Greetings and slututations;
Your works have been inspiring and compelling for many years now, and so there is a great deal of curiosity surrounding 3rd Voice and what exactly it will be. To that end, I’m writing to you to pose some questions inspired by your past work, and seeing how sexuality might play a part in this new work of yours.
A dynamic part of the human experience is sexuality, ranging from the simple biological certainties, to the much more robust and intricate complexities of social, cultural, and historic interactions and intersections. The Rice-Boy setting has had very little overt and direct discussions related to how sex affects the people and belief structures in the world of Overside, but there have been hints here and there. From the most recent examples of the Sisterhood and the gender-roles in the strictly organized systems of Sahtan culture in Vattu, to the historic implications of the Bottle Woman in Order of Tales, or the seemingly small thing of the naming of Rice Boy.
Will the upcoming 3rd Voice works explore sexuality in any pointed way? Perhaps as it relates to your works and the setting that has been constructed up to this point? Is there room and interest within your narrative works to further explore this incredibly vast topic? Will you express thoughts as to the oft-marginalized aspects of real world sexuality, such as non-normative identities or rare biological variances? Or is the subject of sex one which feels too risky for you to explore due to our real-world cultural suppression of it?
Whatever the case may be, all three of your major works have been deeply engrossing, and so I look forward to learning more about 3rd Voice, and the depths of your creative mind!
Thank you for all your incredible work, and for sharing it freely with the world!
Kind regards; a-longtime-fan * November 15, 2022
Ok I will answer this one a bit finally now that the Overside Question has been Put to Rest. My focus throughout most fantasy things I’ve made has been, past a certain point, on broad mythic & big-picture-historical ideas, and it’s felt inconsistent within that to drill too far into the sexual or the physical/bodily. It’s felt inconsistent also to get very far into any analytical, literalistic, or scientific framework... The logic has always been "I am not going to explain the situation with Vattu’s mouth" and "It doesn’t really matter that T-O-E is a robot," etc. I am I think broadly resistant to taking any too-biological, too-objective perspective on sexuality or "bodily reality" in general, in my work and frankly in my life also. But the LACK of bodily reality, let’s call it, in my work so far does at this point feel conspicuous to me. It doesn’t feel Risky to explore but it has felt aesthetically at odds with the little context I built for myself over the years. Sexuality is uhh "a thing I think about a lot" and it will be nice to work outside of some of the precedents I set for earlier comics in order to have the opportunity to think about it "out loud," but we will see exactly what that means.
Hey Evan!! Watching the 3rd Voice launch video inspired a couple of questions: (1) You mentioned that you’re trying to devote your entire creative attention to one thing at a time. I’m curious how splitting your attention has shaped your previous works? And how do you think having all of it focused on one thing will affect what you do with 3rd Voice? (2) I’d love to hear more about the animation you made for this video!! What was that process like? I can’t remember if you’ve animated before. You’ve hosted Ambiguity Program for so long, did that experience play into it at all?
Thanks!! So excited for 3rd Voice to start!!!! --Brian * December 11, 2022
Hello Brian thank you. This was I think sent after I’d done the video premiere but before the first pages went up on the 12th.
1) I don’t know exactly how it’s affected previous work, but it has made me acutely aware of rhythms, and the difference between online front-to-back serialization and more formalized & systematic "graphic novel production." The biggest frustrating aspect of balancing these things has been the fact that making a book for a publisher requires huge spans of time just focusing on one aspect of a book, which always eventually becomes a slog, and necessarily removes me from engagement with the "whole picture." Coloring is the most pronounced aspect of this: it’s FUN to do in increments, it’s engaging and very problem-solvey, but it’s so different from the more physical, psychically-engaged, ink-on-paper parts of it that it ends up being pretty deadening if I’m just doing e.g. hundreds of pages of colors on end. And it’s hard, then, to switch between the grinding coloring work to more narratively-involved work in a another project. I don’t know if there’s any way around this, really. Getting back into Vattu towards the end really got me back in the headspace of serialization, and helped me see every part of the process as fully engaged with the big picture... coincident with a concerted effort I was making to understand different serialization modes in comics more generally, and unlearn a little bit my default mindset of "cohesive graphic novel is a more pure expression of the form."
2) I have done little bits of animation with no formal training and little understanding; most recently the bubble letter opener for ambigprog. It is exciting to work on but I am aware it could just suck me in for enormous periods of time if I start taking it too seriously, so I kept it pretty limited for the 3V video. I am uhh "geometrically competent" enough to keep things fairly believable in comics, but past a certain point I can’t imagine animating convincing motion. BUT for the 3V thing it’s just a few frames of Navi turning her head (difficult) and talking (with basically a 3-frame anime mouth flap), 8 frames of Spondule’s nose moving along a simple track, 4 frames of his leg going back and forth, and a 4-frame loop for the bike animation. All of these except the bike were drawn on paper with a lightbox.
Howdy! I’m a big fan of your comics, and Vattu is probably one of my favorite comics ever. Since this setting is in a New World that isn’t Overside (and because I saw your twitter where you’re making a new Lexicon), I was wondering if communication will play a role in this next webcomic. Your story in the extras-- I don’t know the title, but the one about the alien planet and sound and all that, was really intriguing. I’ve always wondered how all the Overside folks can speak the same language.
Also, I was wondering if you had any kind of dictionary or grammar rules or anything in mind when drawing the written language of the Sahtans.
Anyways, I’m rambling, but I’m very excited for 3rd Voice. (also I love the new sound effects. skut) (also very excited for Mansion X/Last Delivery!!) - ellie! * December 24, 2022
I think a lot about language and I don’t think it’s taken seriously very often in secondary-world fiction, and I didn’t take it seriously all that much for the Overside stuff, mostly because I was interested in different things with those stories and it would’ve been an enormous fiddly distraction to pile on plausible language diversity on top of everything else, particularly with Vattu’s concerns. I am still trying to not prioritize any sort of historical or scientific "plausibility" above all else (richness/evocativeness being more the guiding principle I think), but I do at this point have a basically-functional constructed language pretty well concretized for 3rd Voice and I think I can work with that in an interesting & occasionally elegant way. Hopefully please people can bear in mind however that I’m making a comic book in the pulp garbage tradition here, however, and I don’t expect anyone to figure out every bit of background material I’m figuring out. Thank yOU
In your answer to Brian’s letter this week you talked about: the difference between online front-to-back serialization and more formalized & systematic "graphic novel production."
This brings up another aspect of that difference I’m curious about: How do you keep a years-long serialized story coherent? When you’re on page
200 how do you deal with "that thing on page 20 that I really should have done this other way"? In a one-shot you can just revise page 20; with a serial that’s generally frowned upon. Do you have the whole story planned out from the beginning? To what level of detail? How often do you run into this problem? Thanks for all the years of great comics. Dirk * December 30, 2023
Some intertextuality in the letter column, I like to see it. I wonder if I should remind folks of or make more generally visible the letter column email address, as I am a little bit running out of these. Please send whatever you like to firstname.lastname@example.org, thank you.
I have thought about this a lot, can you believe it. I think there is a tendency within popculture to look at stories that are tightly-controlled, internally-consistent, and to-the-point as the best sorts of stories. An aspect of this, if I can go out on a limb, seems to be a kind of generalized discomfort with seeing media as a part of history, as an active thing in the culture, and as a thing made by people, using various processes, compromising in various ways, etc. There is a tendency towards technologization, which dictates that art is necessarily better if it is tightened up, made higher-fidelity, made more polished and less improvisational… Basically all of the ways in which technique IS a present force for good become knobs to just CRANK UP as much as possible until we arrive at the most perfect art ever. Technologization. I don’t mean to say that you are doing this, in asking these questions! But I’m trying to unpack some ideological shit here in my own head, at least.
Got off track. Comics by the nature of their making & their various industries seem to deeply rebel against this in a lot of ways. I have aimed at making “novelesque” planned-out stories, and to an extent I still am. But working through Vattu in particular got me very much in a headspace that’s more open to balancing that with improvisation. I am trying now to categorically shift the nature of my planning, in order to work better with serialized improvisation. You can get a feel for this if you read a lot of longform serialized manga or superhero comics I think (particularly from decades past when the latter could be a little more beholden to the particular interests of their writers & drawers). I will certainly run into things that I could’ve done differently a hundred pages back! But I feel comfortable with and pretty excited by a mode of planning that emphasizes making space for possible future connections, and opening up potentials without nailing down trajectories too firmly. I have done an enormous, REALLY ENORMOUS amount of preliminary writing for 3V, there is a way in which I know the end, but crucially I am trying to not box myself into too rigid a structure. It helps also to be overridingly driven by theme and big loose ideas that can be connected with at length as a sort of subliminal layer of continuity. Long rambling answer; thank you for writing.
Hi Evan, Thanks for your comics! I love them and it’s exciting to have a new one starting. My question is about motivation and I guess to some extent about inspiration. Creative energy. You seem to have a LOT of creative energy and a schedule that works for you and at least from the outside you seem like a person who has a lot of ideas about your work, all the time, more than be contained probably. I am an artist also (mostly musician) and I’ve really struggled with motivation and having any ideas, especially over the last 3 years. The well has just been DRY. I know partially motivation comes from doing, instead of some thing that happens to a person out of thin air, and I know about putting in the time to make space for things to come up/out, daily pages etc to get the brain trash taken out, and also that taking a break can be part of the process, etc. but it’s rough missing that outlet. I guess partially I am curious about any tips you have, but more so I’m just interested in hearing about this aspect of your work/process because it seems so very different to how I am currently (in a positive way!). I really admire your work ethic and your passion for what you do. Okay thanks bye! Holly * January 9, 2023
To start with a lot of this comes down to material conditions honestly; this having been my job for some years has made it of course somewhat easier to stick to it and keep working on it. Let’s not forget that!! But yes I often operate as if it’s something driven entirely by my own interest; I fluctuate between different degrees of “feeling inspired” in a distinctly flighty & unprofessional manner sometimes, etc. MOTIVATION COMES FROM DOING is a good way of putting this; this is something that I think musicians have more habitually understood than people in other media. It is important to have raw unselfconscious improvisatory space and to mess around without holding a finished object too firmly in your head. Fuck Around And Find Out. Everything spins out of improvisation I think.
I feel a lot of the time like I don’t have a lot of ideas or like I am faking it; implying too much potential energy behind the things I make. But it is helpful and I think more human & honest to not look at it as a “well” that runs dry--switching metaphors--ideas/creative potential energy aren’t dry goods that you keep on shelves in your head. They are ways of working through ideas that distinctly belong to You, and they don’t get finished or packaged or concretized. You don’t get a perfect idea; you don’t arrive at a conclusion. It is deadening to think you can arrive at a conclusion. It is helpful to me to move through creative work with this in mind tho I’m not sure this qualifies as a “tip.”
Hey Evan, I read Vattu for years. It’s incredible to me that you could follow it up so quickly with another long-form comic, to fill for me the Vattu-shaped hole. I have a question of much narrower scope than the ones people have been asking so far: how is Navichet pronounced? French-style silent T or no? Thanks for everything! Jeff * January 12, 2023
Breaking emergency glass to invoke Word of God Privileges and telling you that the T is pronounced, stress is on the first syllable, "a" as in "bat." Pronounced in the launch video. Hadn’t occurred to me it looks kind of French until I started hearing this from people ha
Hi, riffing off of Dirks question, how did you get started developing characters and stories? And do you have any good suggestions for controlling the scope of a "first time" creative project, balancing perfectionism vs. putting in enough effort while learning? I just turned thirty and am thinking about starting to write short stories or small brechtian video essays to scratch a creative edge I neglected throughout my life so far and impostor syndrome is hitting me hard. Best, J.K. * January 9, 2023
Rice Boy was the first real comic I made that felt like I was onto something, and that was mostly an attempt to build a rambling narrative structure out of a bunch of disjointed visual ideas. I was I think working in a pretty open-ended improvised way with it that precluded a lot of worrying about perfectionism, which was helpful. If you’re an individual making something like that then it doesn’t make sense to hold yourself to the standards of bigger, more expensive, more technically "perfect" media. It does a disservice to what you can do as an individual. Impostor syndrome is a real feeling but it isn’t telling you anything real about the quality of what you’re making, or what you want to make, or the significance of what you Have To Say or whatever. If you want to make the stuff and if you’re excited about making it that is the only feeling you should take seriously I think. Also I used to think 30 was Old but now I think it is Young it is funny how that works huh
Dear Evan, This isn’t really a 3rd Voice thing, but I’d like to get a message to fans of your work so I’m hoping that you’ll publish this in your letter column, which I’m sure many of your fans read. The message: I’m starting a group (probably on Discord) for close-reading the first Island Book. The idea is for people who are passionate about it to collaboratively explore it as a microcosm for ourselves and our world. Probably going to dig into identity, worldview, beliefs. Note that I have virtually no idea how to run something like this but am very excited to figure it how.
Some of my inspirations for this work: Molly Bang’s “Picture This” in terms of how images relate to the body, Maria Mison’s “HOW TO MAKE YOUR RPG/STORY GAME MORE HEALING/ THERAPEUTIC” and Vanessa Zoltan’s “Praying with Jane Eyre” in terms of how stories relate to identity and spirit. If you’ve got cool ideas about how to engage with stories, especially comics, bring them.
If you’re reading this and think it sounds cool, then I hope to see you there! Email me at email@example.com —Jay * January 20, 2023
Previously in your letter column you wrote, "the LACK of bodily reality, let’s call it, in my work so far does at this point feel conspicuous to me." While I do follow your meaning, I think you need to give yourself more credit, because you made T-O-E very sexy. I had a big crush on him when I was a teenager reading Rice Boy for the first time. My question for you is, was this intentional? Do you put hotties in your stories on purpose? In a broader sense, when you’re thinking about character design, do you think about how visually appealing you want characters to be (erotically or non-erotically)? Or does it just sort of "happen", as an unconscious process? I know I’m not the only one who had (has?? [puzzled face emoji]) a thing for the TV head guy. Signed, Focused On the Big Picture * January 25, 2023
Have heard this about him a lot; I would say it’s a different thing from the sort of "bodily reality" I was trying to talk about in that previous letter, though. I wrote T-O-E as a very stereotyped cool self-possessed Guy; he is I think one of the most straightforward & least ironic main characters I’ve worked with, he has that standard stoic masculinity-underwritten-by-threat-of-violence thing which can be compelling or hot even, but that doesn’t seem in any way to deal with the actually Sexual or bodily. Does that distinction make sense? I do think about visual appeal for characters and it’s a fun challenge sometimes to balance that with a tendency to work with nonhuman characters. There is something interesting in working with "attractiveness" in conspicuously nonhuman characters but I haven’t thought too hard about it, as a fairly basic person who is mostly attracted to human people. I dunno; much to think about. I like that there are dimensions to things that I’ve made that I didn’t think to put in there but that other people see.
Tēnā koe e Evan, In your prior comics I have often felt alongside the characters, not necessarily privy to their inner monologues but the next best thing. In 3rd Voice however I feel like an outside observer, not always able to read the motives or moods of the main characters. I get the impression that this same disconnect happens between the main characters at times too. It’s really cool. Has anyone else mentioned this? Is this intentional? Kā mihi, Giles * January 31, 2023
Interesting; I don’t know how much I can understand this exactly but certainly I’m writing this one differently. Characters are I think somewhat more modernist and Psychological than in previous comics, where they’ve often been broad epic-poem or fairy-tale sorts of characters. Also I’m definitely playing up the sense of disorientation that can be built into secondary-world fiction; I think there is a lot of possible utility and interest to that. I don’t know really but I’m trying to take character seriously more than I have in the past and they feel more psychologically real to me than I’m used to; maybe that’s something.
Hi Evan, First off I wanted to respond to your rhetorical question from a previous letter column. "Did anyone even read those books (Island Book)?" And the answer is yes! They are very popular with the kids at the library where I work. Sorry this does not translate to more book sales, our copies are holding up pretty well. I think these books do a wonderful job exploring ideas around colonialism and alternatives to violent conflict resolution, while also being a fun read for fans of non-human centric fantasy like Bone.
Anyway, on to my question! In past books you have done a lot of in universe world building. For instance, Vattu had artwork and maps, that were supposed to be artifacts from that world and Order of Tales has pages from Koark’s book if I recall correctly. In contrast, 3rd Voice has the voice of an "editor" to reveal the meaning of certain symbols or indicate setting. For instance on the first page we get a dialogue box that says "At the edge of things. - ed." In some ways this seems to tie the comic to tropes of older traditionally published comics, much like this letter column. Could you talk a little about your decision to "narrate" the story this way? Loving the comic so far! Thank you, Mark * January 18, 2023
Thank you. I still think that embedding that sort of how-the-world-works stuff is done most elegantly when it’s IN the story and seen through the perspectives of characters, and I’m still prioritizing that. I have been thinking a lot about the way people are using the word "lore" lately, to refer to worldbuildy background material, world-internal history, etc. I of course have an obnoxious opinion about this. I think it ties into the tendency to separate these setting details from the story itself, to the detriment of the story and the believability & resonance of characters’ experience of the world.
The cardinal TENSION this implies to me is something that’s been at the heart of secondary-world genre fiction for decades (I think because the nerds did not read Tolkien smart enough), and which is probably more stark now than ever (what with videogames and all). The tension is between 1) the Story as an objective perspective, or a fully transparent window, through which we see an invented setting, or 2) the Story as a contingent cultural object, with its own ideological angles and arguments, and the setting, however Real it is implied to be, is a tool in the unrolling of that object. Analogous to the way we think about JOURNALISM: is journalism ideally OBJECTIVE? What political arguments are we making when we say that something is OBJECTIVE? It seems important to be aware that objectivity is basically a rhetorical cover for hegemonic ideology. RIGHT?? Something like that is what I’m thinking about. I am not going to unpack the --ed notes at this time but I appreciate you thinking about them.
Hi Evan! I’ve been reading your work since around the end of Rice Boy or beginning of Order of Tales. I was very impressed with where Vattu went specifically and think about those last few pages often. I’m excited to see a new work from you from the beginning again! This new world is already very exciting and full of the kinds of fantasy works I am attracted to. Especially the concept of picking over old decayed infrastructure to pull out what’s useful (more and more a reality here on earth).
Granted, all of this is largely preamble to hide the fact this is mostly a technical issue letter to let you know the rss feed seems to be broken. Maybe having to do with the SSL cert not working as well? I love that you still produce an rss feed and find it the best way to keep up with comics, blogs, etc.
Looking forward to seeing where this story goes! Especially with the last few updates giving the impression that Navichet is more impulsive than initially let on! Thanks! Travis * February 8, 2023
thank you. WE’LL SEE. SO the RSS-generation website I was using for years developed some SSL issue several months ago, so apparently people haven’t been receiving updates since 3V started. I have SET UP A NEW RSS FEED, PLEASE FOLLOW THIS ONE IT SHOULD WORK.
I have never used RSS myself, but a lot of readers seem to still depend on it. It seems like one of those lightweight and humane organizing tools of the sort that most of the internet seems to be moving away from, but it still works!! I’ll be manually updating the XML file for it, so this one will keep running for as long as I’m able to do that. The big Lesson over uhh 16 years of having this website is "if you depend on an outside infrastructure for anything, it will collapse, so do it yourself." I regret leaving everybody who followed the old feed behind but hopefully they’ll remember to look for the new one. I figured out how to do this mostly from Everest Pipkin, whose approach generally to handbuilding websites has been helpful and I would almost say cathartic to learn about lately.
Hey, Evan - You’ve talked about this in your response to Dirk’s letter, but I wanted to ask in more detail about what kind/degree of planning you’ve done for 3rd Voice. I guess I’m thinking about a lot of different types of planning. There’s story planning: it sounds like you’ve got a solid concept of the world and its inhabitants, but do you have more of a rough outline of the whole story you’re looking to tell (with relatively few scenes written out in full), or is it more a more-or-less complete "screenplay" with a lot of dialogue and character actions already written? There’s also the design, structure, and vocabulary of the language systems as well; it’s obviously taken a lot of thought to get to what we’re seeing now in the pages, but do you have the majority of the vocabulary and mechanics already established, or are you happy adding onto the systems you have as needed?
There’s also the art-design side of things: do you get characters and scenes fully-designed long before we see them "on screen", or do you design them as needed (maybe to keep things more spontaneous, or to keep yourself from being locked into a design from an outdated headspace or something like that)? Also, for stuff like the Secrets and other little bits of ancillary / "world detail" art - were you planning on making those the entire time, or was that a kind of thing where in the process of working on a page, you detoured to explore what something would look like in more detail, and decided to include it as bonus material?
I guess in general, what stuff do you feel like you need to have done and ready up front, and what stuff do you feel more comfortable doing (or redesigning / fixing) on the fly? Having a ton of fun reading, discovering, theorizing, and learning. Thank you for Making Cool Stuff! Jackson * February 3, 2023
This is interesting to talk about because 1) it’s a thing I spend a lot of time thinking about and it’s complicated and fun, and 2) because there is always some implication that there should be some kayfabe element-- that readers of particularly this type of fiction should Expect a greater degree of planning than I have ever been able to do, a more crystallized and fully-formed primordial image of the project than I at any phase actually have. I feel the need sometimes to almost perform a kind of MYSTERY about it, to kind of encourage (or kayfabely act out) the idea that it really is all nailed-down and I know exactly what I’m doing-- because the alternative is somewhat more complicated, less grandiose and intelligible, harder to have faith in, maybe. That alternative is, broadly: I have done an enormous amount of planning, but having done longform incremental projects like this in the past I’ve gotten a sense about what sorts of planning are "brittle" and what sorts allow for growth and modulation. I’m taking seriously more than I have before the possibility for improvising in different directions, while being guided by signal thematic ideas and Big Picture stuff. And I’m taking it as some sort of good sign that the central characters are very clear to me, and I should trust that taking them seriously and keeping them at the center will help.
(Sorry I’m not exactly point-by-pointing this response) I feel nervous even saying all this!! What if people feel like I don’t know what I’m DOING! What if people think the only way to know what you’re doing is if you’ve planned it all out in advance! I used to think that! But I think now that that doesn’t--can’t--apply to projects of this sort. That is, projects made by one person, front-to-back over a long period of time. Anyway I have tremendous & frantic faith in this story.
The world-internal language was broadly worked out before it appeared, and there’s enough space in it to develop it further at need. Likewise for character design-- I did a lot in advance, but most importantly I worked out a bunch of generalizable design "premises" that I can bounce off of in the future. What do I feel the need to have ready up front vs. working through on the fly: Some things are systemic and need some attention in advance. Many, many things depend on a broad aesthetic/thematic logic that should be reasonably clear up front. But having that aesthetic/thematic logic can help make the "working thru on the fly" part feel more contiguous & "planned" than it would. thank u for writing
Dear 3rd Voice Letter Column, 3rd Voice (which is wonderful) gets published on a couple different platforms, where people are reading in a lot of different ways. Do you make considerations for the different platforms’ ways of displaying images when drawing pages? Like level of detail, size of lettering, colors, that sort of thing? Maybe even page aspect ratios or panel layouts? I’ve been posting a little comic on tumblr and lemme tell you I’m encountering a lot of those questions for the first time. Feels like a lot! Beautifully and uselessly, Gabo * January 19, 2023
Short answer "not really," though I’ve definitely tried to lean into a kind of clarity and visual simplicity that tends to scale pretty well and be readable in different formats. I think I do lettering at the size I do so that it can have that versatility. I think I’ve sort of gotten a sense of what density of detail is useful and can scale the best in that way. Hard to say. My paneling & storytelling is so blunt and straightforward that I don’t think it’s messed up by the webtoon scrolling thing. I do habitually make a lot of concessions for reproduction in print: I figured out a lot about scale and detail when seeing my stuff in print in the past. And whatever the trajectory for 3V in print in future, holding to those standards helps it feel more cohesive and readable and "professional" if u like. Also I try to not have things too saturated, and to not rely too much on blues and greens, which physical reproduction just can’t do nearly as well as screen displays.
Hello Mr. Dahm, I have to say I have just read page 78 and it may be my single favorite page of any of your projects so far. I have admired your work for many years and consider you to be one of the greatest storytellers out there right now. I appreciate you making this world a little weirder, page by page.
To give you something to talk about in the column: One of the many things I appreciate about 3rd Voice is the update schedule. One scene a week feels perfect for the pacing of the story so far, and as a reader it keeps me much more in the flow of the story rather than the classic one page a day MWF that you and many others have traditionally done. I have tended to lose the thread of the narrative and often found myself rereading the past few pages in order to keep up, so this came as a welcome change. Was this the primary motivation for that update schedule change (i.e. the reader’s experience in real time) or were there more practical concerns about workflow, etc.? Have there been any considerations, either consciously at the time or now looking in retrospect, about how the experience differs between readers in real time versus readers of the complete work some years down the line? Yours, Derek W * March 7, 2023
Thank you. I like this update schedule too a lot; I like approaching scenes as cohesive objects, penciling and inking the whole thing in passes. There are a lot of technical aspects on my end that this approach helps with, but that isn’t the main part of it really. I talked about this in the intro videos a little-- I wanted to re-approach as much as possible about how I’ve been doing this, and in particular try to make the thing easier to engage with as a live, updating thing. Just seemed like it would make it easier to post multiple places, easier for people to drop into and get a sense that something is Happening... I dunno around the latter bit of Vattu I was feeling like I had hit some sort of wall, like I had connected with an audience that was Engaged but was not particularly likely to do much Growing, and I was locked into such a Way of Doing Things after 12 years of Vattu that it felt like maybe I was closing myself off or painting myself into a corner. That is the engine behind a lot of what I’m trying to do differently but the main thing is I want to just make really the best thing I can, really pay attention to the ways in which I Wasn’t making the best thing I can in the past, and take seriously that most people will encounter it in online serialization.
I used to love the official wiki you hosted at wiki.rice-boy.com cause there was so much details of your process and the fan deciphering of your works on there. I know it got hacked a few years ago, were any of the files recoverable? And would you be up for making a new official wiki? GeorgeWL * March 13, 2023
Man I remember I had my friend Clark help me set that up when I was in college or only just out of it, LONG LONG ago... And it got overrun with automated nonsense posts pretty quick that I couldn’t figure out how to deal with. I don’t remember much about it, BUT I liked the community-oriented little spaces that would orbit the comics back then, on the old "koalawallop" forum and what have you. The Discord I set up for 3rd Voice feels like an almost too-good-to-be-true return to that sort of space. I have no intentions of putting up any Official reference materials for what that’s worth... (maybe a very simple character-reference page or something like that though, at most) ... I am trying to be really intentional with how "facts" about the setting are being conveyed in the text and I don’t intend to metatextually reveal things if I can help it. What readers do however is their business and it’s fun to see of course. thank u
Hi Evan! I really liked Mickey Zacchilli’s voiceover work for Navichet in the 3rd Voice trailer- it sounds so slidey but rough, like sheets of paper over each other- and I’ve been enjoying imagining her voice for Navi’s lines as I’m reading the comic. I was wondering if you had ideas about voices you’d choose for other major characters (Spondule, Noc, ones we haven’t met yet...!). Thanks a bunch! Ghost * March 30, 2023
I don’t often have clear audible voices in my head! I struggle to clearly imagine sound things, tho I think I can get a clear image of a person’s verbal rhythm at least. Mickey had been talking about wanting to do more voice acting some years before and I thought her voice could be in line with how Navi seems to me. Navichet is extremely clear to me, like she is the one I think of as most a Person instead of riffing on an archetype or something. Other than that though nobody’s voice is very clear. Spondule I think I’d know it if I heard it; it would be easy for a voice to him to stray too far into performative bounciness... I would like to make more audio-video material for the comic soon but I have currently not enough time to do it. Lewis is working on another song however... I should put up those first two tracks he made for 3V somewhere probably also huh.
There hasn’t been a letter column for a while maybe because we are all so engrossed in the comic that we forgot it existed. Very much enjoying 3rd Voice so far. With Yorel and Kanner we now have five named characters, I think. Maybe more, don’t remember. Do you have an approach for naming characters? Naming characters seems hard; do you find it challenging? Do names come first and then designs, or vice versa? Do you have any OPINIONS about the tendency for fantasy names to be A LITTLE TOO MUCH SOMETIMES?
Relatedly: do you have thoughts about the idea of a CAST or CHARACTERS page on webcomics sites? I know Vattu had one. I find them helpful sometimes to remind me of character names, especially when a comic runs for many years and characters may reappear after a long time. But also I imagine they are hard to keep up to date! All the best, Alex * May 12, 2023
Hello Alex thank you. Yes the lettercol inbox is a little dry lately; this is a weird little nostalgic experiment of the sort that probably isn’t too sustainable but happy to just leave it open. // Naming characters can be hard; lately I’m really trying to keep a similar approach to naming as I do to visual design-- overriding faith in the raw "impression" of the thing, like trusting my initial semiconscious idea of what something should be like and working to nail it down while keeping that loose image in mind. Explained that clumsily. Anyway I had impressions of Spondule and Navichet as two names with a certain rhythm between them, and certain contrasting languidness and choppiness, and just played around with the sounds until it felt like something suitably specific and plausible. I now have the supportive structure of "an invented language," but building names solely from that premise probably won’t result in names that have the same raw suggestive vibe so I’ll probably generally avoid that (however "Ransallet" in today’s update...)(Oh and an etymology for Spondule’s name has been thought of, though I dunno if it’ll ever be textualized)
A characters overview page was particularly helpful for the sort of story that Vattu is but somewhat less so for 3V. But maybe; it would be neat to design one. I am very extremely cagey however about how things get revealed-- imagine someone looking at the characters overview BEFORE reading the comic, for example... or imagine details about the characters being confirmed within the characters overview iNSTEAD of within the text itself... Simply distasteful.
Hello, hope all is well. I have 2 questions for you: 1) 3rd Voice is fairly different in tone from Vattu; I think you once described Vattu as cinematic and it had a very serious, straightforward atmosphere, while 3V has a bit more playfulness and camp. Was this an intentional choice, and what has the transition been like from two very different stories? 2) Where does Navichet get her tiny little shoes? Best, SR * May 29, 2023
It was feeling pretty claustrophobic to be working within such a straight-faced Fantasy mindset for so long. I think when I started Vattu I had a lot more self-consciousness about working in a pulp medium... I have interests that are a little outside of what comics have mostly been used for, and I think I understood that as a kind of at-odds-ness to the medium and its habits themselves. So nothing too flashy, dialogue all very restrained and fantasy-serious, no sound effects, etc. It is what it is and that’s how that comic works, I would not and could not change it. BUT I am thirty five years old now and I’ve been doing this stuff for a while and I’ve distanced myself from a lot of old introspective anxieties-- it feels useless and exhausting to keep that stuff up after a while. And those anxieties were keeping me from a full understanding of my medium and its history! I am fortunate to have the dramatic "clean break" of finishing Vattu to allow me to reconfigure my thinking about this stuff. BUT ANYWAY on the back end 3V is about OPENING UP SPACE for myself to work in, and that includes tonal space too. I do not know where Navichet’s shoes come from. Probably somewhere East.
Howdy! I’ve noticed a sort of slapstickiness in 3rd Voice, often centered around Spondule but in other spots as well. Your comics have always had funny-awkward moments* but this seems a little different to me, often with the characters put in painful, pitiable, ridiculous positions. How intentionally-written-in is this, or is more of an emergent thing as you’re drawing scenes? Have you noticed it?
*dreaming of the world where I can load up THIRD VOICE FUNNY MOMENTS COMPILATION on youtube
(Also, wrt previous letters, I think you’re already ’exploring the body’ more in 3rd Voice. Readers should note all of the soft cloth clothing, physical comedy-tragedy, and especially the iconic scene where Spondule gets asked what else he can do with his trunk)--for28 * June 18, 2023
All this is as intentional as I can manage; another thing in the category of ways in which I’ve been trying to loosen up and rebuild my approach after years within one fairly limited narrative register. I have always struggled with "trying to be funny" in storytelling; like it is something that some people seem so intensely good at in ways I don’t understand. But I am enjoying having it be more tonally possible for this comic to some extent!! The danger is getting too sucked in to momentous fantasy-metaphysics stuff and it helps me keep that in perspective I think. Also it’s kind of a more relatable and automatically funny framework for these characters I think-- just maladapted young people with fraught relationships to everything around them in the midst of an enormous world that hates them (Ransallet sequence qualifiedly notwithstanding). This is hilarious to me. Also I read all of Dragon Ball a couple years ago and it has permanently changed my understanding of the medium. (& I appreciate the embodiment note; I am thinking about this a lot idk) thankyou.
Hello Evan. How long do you expect 3rd voice to be/take? I ask as someone who, probably 7 years ago, first read rice boy and loved it, but never started Vattu because it was not finished. Well I just read it all in the previous hours to this and I absolutely loved it (of course), but feel a similar way. I apologize if you answered this, I didn’t read the other voicemails because I didn’t want spoilers (which makes me think that I’ll probably just read it like tomorrow anyways). Thank you for making such interesting, enthralling, wonderful art. Have a wonderful time when possible! Nick * July 24, 2023
This probably isn’t exactly what you mean, but I’m putting no spoilers for unpublished parts of the comic anywhere; I’m trying to be careful about not revealing things extratextually. I don’t think I’ve said much publicly about the possible length of this comic; I know the first "passage" will take probably around a year (that is, I loosely and unaccountably estimate, it could be done late 2023). And there is going to be a somewhat more segmented, book-by-book structure to it than Vattu. The whole thing is very large; I don’t know exactly how large. I appreciate you reading it in any way you like of course, but I’m trying to take it more seriously as a live serialized thing, and putting it together with that framework very much in mind. Articulated that somewhat more in the 2nd launch video last year. I dunno I just feel excited and extremely fortunate to be able to have some Career trajectory doing this stuff, so I want to do it really big and loudly; I want to like fully and enormously occupy the space of online serialization. I really appreciate the kind words thank you.
Hello Evan! I just wanted to write in and tell you how much I love your work. I’ve been reading your comics online since RiceBoy, and followed all through Vattu from the beginning. Your art is some of the most interesting and beautiful I’ve ever seen - you have such a knack for conveying emotion, which really is quite something given how inhuman your characters are in design. I absolutely love the work you’ve done on 3rd Voice so far, I think the writing is some of your best. Not just from a story/lore perspective (you’ve always excelled at this) but from a character perspective as well. Even though we’ve spent relatively little time with Spondule and Navichet, I feel very much like I know them as people, and there have been moments between the two of them that have been heartbreaking. I don’t really have a question for you, I just thought I would take the opportunity to tell you how much your work means to someone considers themself a long-time fan. Thank you for sharing your talent with us, and I look forward to reading more for years to come. Carly * August 15, 2023
Hello thank you for the kind words. I’ve been preoccupied with exactly the dichotomy you identify between Character-Writing and BigPicture-Worldbuilding-Writing (what the kids are calling Lore). I have started, in an automatic like self-evident way, thinking of the former writing mode as Spondule-writing, and the latter as Navichet-writing. One is moment-to-moment; each thing grounded in character and one thing proceeding from the last in character-plausible movements. The other is "what’s going on" outside of the characters, what the big impersonal moving parts are, what the STRUCTURE of the story is. It is something like balancing the two of these approaches... Or incorporating them into each other... Bearing in mind that we only EXPERIENCE the big-picture stuff by means of the small-picture stuff. Anyway the scene (pp 216-221) that went up today is kind of related to what I’m saying here. It just ends up being another little post hoc model I put on the process of writing that may or may not be helpful. // I really appreciate you reading this stuff and I appreciate that I’ve been able to mostly thread the needle of putting so much of it out there for people to read.
Hey Evan! Two important questions:
-We’ve had a few night scenes in 3rd Voice so far, and they all have a really blue, really lit look to them. There’s not a lot of pitch black in the comic! I’m sure the moons feed into this too. What inspired you to choose depict night in this way? It’s got a very 80s anime vibe to it!
-What’s your favorite soup?
Maybe the night sky is the greatest soup of all... All the best, your pal Alex * August 24, 2023
Hey buddy. I posted a little explanatory video on patreon, maybe in fact very shortly after you sent this email, talking about the night coloring. I am really enamored of the color choices in a lot of boom-time anime; I think it’s kind of the central metaphor for my coloring, in my own head at least. There’s a way night is sometimes rendered particularly in TV anime (that is, material designed to be more visible on lower-fidelity screens, importantly) that I like— to work similarly I basically use my normal flat colors for everything but remove the yellow (of Cyan Magenta Yellow, which can represent all colors I use). That’s the starting point anyhow. But the things I wanted for nighttime coloring were: 1) things don’t just “get darker,” I want to avoid any possibility of oversaturation or possible decreased clarity in printing, 2) clearly NIGHTTIME, in a visually self-evident way, 3) color is still present in some capacity. The moons being big and bright is, sure, a textual support for this but that wasn’t a part of my thinking.
I dunno I think I like that sort of white bean and andouille sausage soup a lot; I think that’s a standard one. I like that soup is becoming a real Motif in this comic lol. thanks bye!
I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo of T.O.E, what’s your thoughts on this? And would it be like, pay for a licence? Or more like "just ask me first", or something else? And what’s your thoughts on none-commercial fan reproductions of things from your works, in general? GeorgeWL * September 1, 2023
It is nice to know! But you are welcome to do this sort of thing without my input as far as I am concerned. Incidentally also I think it has turned out to be best for me if people can share what I make however they like noncommercially!!! cool
Hi Evan, Just wanted to say page 237 is beautiful. The color scheme, lighting, ink work look and feel like ligne claire work from Tintin or Moebius. Great work, thank you for making this. G * September 18, 2023
Thank you I really appreciate that. I have raved about this elsewhere at some length I think, but the main thing is that I’m using a "G-nib" dip pen in addition to a brush for inking, and am leaning more and more on the nib for background stuff as I move along. Different types of drawing are better and easier with the two different tools! It’s fun to figure this out and not feel so locked in to one way of doing things, as became the case throughout Vattu. I also used a brush and (worse) nib for Order of Tales (2008-10), but divided up the work less intelligently, and most of the nib work in that comic tends to be overworked liney stuff I think. BUT NOW this approach is helping me treat setting with more detail and attention than I was previously able!! I am having fun.
Good day, You’re revealing the world of 3rd Voice at a fidelity higher than anything else you’ve serialized, specifically in that this Corners is a definable culture. Here is some little questions about that:
1) How much inspiration do you take from real-world societies or history?
2) Will we get a sense of how strange regular people can seem to us? Values and beliefs between different real-world cultures can be so different, so I wonder if us the readers might not be surprised by how some people in this comic see the world.
3) Do you think we might see that sort of tension between different cultures/regions within this world?
Thanks you kindly for making this happen. - speachist * October 1, 2023
Thank you I like "higher fidelity" ha. I take some inspiration from real history but it’s pretty blurred much of the time, especially in a story with a somewhat more loudly foregrounded genre conceit than frinstance Vattu. I am trying to present believable cultures that communicate what I want to communicate clearly-- there’s a balance between "building a plausible thing" and "laying out the details of that thing in such a way that the reader can understand it without it having to be explained too much" basically. The 1st book/passage that we’re in right now is very concerned with laying out some premises fairly clearly and with a grounding in character, so I haven’t approached some of the bigger ideas you mention with much focus yet. BUT yes there are a lot of moving parts; there is a bigger historical picture; there are larger and more complicated societies than the ones so far conveyed. I am just mostly invested in working through this stuff through the perspective of these couple of characters who don’t have any real big-picture view of it.
Hi Evan, I have been reading your work for years–I came in right at the end of Rice Boy and read Order of Tales and Vattu every MWF from beginning to end. And then I got a new phone and didn’t reinstall my feed reader and was dismayed/delighted to find I’d gone for nine dang months and didn’t even know 3rd Voice existed! I’m just now catching up, really enjoying the comic, and appreciating the space you’re creating around it. To my question/pondering: the way the information gets parceled out to readers is both one of the most compelling and frustrating things to me about narrative. I see with 3rd Voice you are leaning heavily on show-don’t-tell, rather than the ponderous info dumps that plague a lot of science fiction and fantasy. The trade-off for making a better story and more believable characters is that there’s a lot we don’t know as readers. Some of what we don’t know is known by the characters (such as what "new person" means in their social context), some is not known by them (such as the existential knowledge that Navichet is seeking), and some is a mix (like Spondule and Navichet’s backgrounds that they don’t disclose to one another—or us).
For you as a storyteller, how important is the revelation of knowledge in the creation of the story? Do you see 3rd Voice relying a lot on the revelation of knowledge as a way of wrapping up the story arc(s), or is there just a lot of stuff that the reader is never going to know and you’re OK with that? I don’t have strong feelings either way; just seeing you work with this in a bit of a different way and I’m curious about your thoughts. Thank you, Emily * October 2, 2023
Firstly thank you for the comment on the “space I’m creating around” 3V; I am not exactly sure what you mean but maybe I do and maybe would like to know exactly what you mean.
This parceling-of-information has become an absolutely central part of how I look at invented-world fiction; I started nailing down certain principles (all extending basically from show-don’t-tell) years ago and am trying to still work with them as smart as possible. Vattu is built with the same approach in mind! A solution in that comic to the problem of avoiding Explaining is to keep things fairly simple, iconic, self-explanatory. 3V can foreground these questions of “what the world is” a little more comfortably I think because of Spondule & Navichet’s relationship to it, and because of it being a kind of Broken place with bigger questions therefore automatically implied.
I guess mostly I want to emphasize that the details of the setting and how everything fits together isn’t necessarily what the Story is About, and the disorientation built into this sort of storytelling is something that I’m aware of and that I think is Fun. So I mean a lot of the bigger stuff has been Figured Out / is being Figured Out on my end, BUuuuut there is a reason that I am telling the story from the point of view of two marginal idiots. This I guess connects to what I was saying in a previous lettercol about “Spondule writing” and “Navichet writing” in my process for this thing…
To your specific questions, “revelation of knowledge” is as important as the knowledge itself-- this is a central principle to me at this point. Storytelling to me is entirely a structure of knowledge-revealing. And there will be unanswered questions forever but I’m not sure how many exactly and that’s life I guess lol. thank u so much for thoughtful thoughts!! I can’t believe you have been reading this stuff since rice boy days!!!
Dear Evan, When you did your video ’pitches’ for this project, you asked us to ’trust you a little’. I think I had that trust even before you asked. Even from the first time I saw your concept sketches of Spondule and Navichet on Patreon, maybe even before they had a name - these characters were speaking to you and there was a resonance of some kind. They already had life. It felt electric. It also felt like perfect timing as Vattu wound up. It was comforting to know we’d be going somewhere new after spending a decade with you exploring the world of Sahta & the Fluters & the Surin & the War Men & the Grish &c &c. Spondule and Navichet had life, no question, but The Corners - the world you’ve been building for this project - that remained unclear; not yet feeling like it had a form we readers could understand. This totally makes sense, and it’s really enjoyable to set out on a journey into a world one knows nothing about while its contours get slowly revealed through the keyhole of individuals’ experiences and perspectives - but there was friction too. People asked you, a lot, whether you’d keep telling this story in the context of Overside and I think breaking the news that you were leaving that setting behind for the time being, and moving into something new, created challenging conversations between you and your audience. There was probably, for many, a grieving process at leaving that other world behind when we wanted to know so much more about it. Personally, I trusted you from the start and have consistently felt that trust has been rewarded. I also trusted that you knew what you were doing in choosing to build a new world rather than move forward with the old one. But in terms of ’letting go’ of Overside: I hadn’t got there yet. I still wanted to know more, to explore the place I’d been reading about for so many years - even while I was really enjoying piecing together the fragments of The Corners you were laying out.
I’m feeling different about all that after reading ’scene 34’. In such a short space the bond between Spondule and Navichet had become so visceral, so real. I’m fully attached now, the characters have worked their way into my heart. Meanwhile, Navi’s backstory - and the idea that a God could be tortured and abused - is so unfathomably deep that it’s hard to make sense of. To me this feels richer than anything Overside could have offered, and it feels - now - like The Corners has a life of its own. I suddenly care, very deeply, about this whole world. I also finally feel ready to let Overside go, to accept it as it is, complete and sufficient in the text of what you’ve already written. In this latest scene, it feels like you’re asking your audience some of what Navi is asking Spondule: ’Don’t you want to know what happened? Even if you can never get all the way there? Even if you only ever figure a fraction of it out?’ For my part the answer is yes. I can see this world in my heart now and I need to know whatever I can, need to share this journey you’re laying out.
So one thing is I just wanted share that feeling with you. Another thing is a question I wanted to ask: does any of this resonate? Does it feel as momentous to you as it does to me? Obviously I don’t expect you to spoil anything but I’m curious how releasing this scene has been landing for you: whether there’s a sense of finally seeing the true depth of this thing you’ve been so tirelessly making. How does it feel to take on the uncertain and intensive labour of world-building - with no guarantees - and then, after quite a lot of working and waiting - see that world emerge, start feeling real, and begin its existence as a living thing? How does it feel to reveal all this to us? To share a glimpse of the beating heart of what you’ve been making after being so careful to keep your cards close? Thank you for making the things that you do. You’re one of the most powerful storytellers I’ve read and I can’t wait to come along for this journey, no matter where it leads or how long it takes. All the best! Klara * August 23, 2023
Firstly I apologize for breaking your formatting here—- know, O reader, that this letter was originally broken up with more tasteful linebreaks but I thought that wouldn’t work great with my website formatting. And 2 months to reply is a long time too ha
Thank you for kind words. The anxiety you identify that I and, apparently, some readers felt about working with a new setting is I think Exactly related to this notion of creation / revelation of a fictional setting (that you later identify). To me, the person making the stuff, it seems clear that Overside is not an actual thing to be Revealed. It’s a collection of little habits and ideas, and none of them were developed with much of a big-picture in mind, and none of them were developed with the benefit of Several Years of experience in planning and making stories of this sort. To me, it’s clear that there’s more potential in a new thing, built from smarter premises. BUT to a reader I understand the suspended-disbelief feeling that it’s a PLACE you want to see more of, and the ways in which it feels like “starting over” or abandoning a lot of potential energy, momentum. What I guess this has foregrounded to me is: the literary conceit of an “invented setting” is a really flimsy, post-hoc sort of thing. What we’re CONNECTING with, as readers of this stuff, is the interests, habits, aesthetics of the person or people making the thing!! Probably?!?!? Anyway this creation / revelation divide is in my head a lot in ways that will uh become clearer I think.
SO, to broadly address the questions towards the end of the letter: it is exciting to REVEAL this stuff, but I am (in a more intentional way than before) REVEALING it to myself too, as I’m making it. There’s all the background work that goes into it, and there’s a sort of restraint in trying to not give things away and to build up the gravity of that reveal, BUT the stuff doesn’t exist until the pages exist. I don’t know exactly how it’ll look and feel! It’ll be better and worse than my initial imaginings in a bunch of ways; it’ll feel more and less REAL in a bunch of ways.
I hope that’s interesting. I’m just today posting the “first view of Two-Legs” scene, which has been a pretty intensive example of that worldbuildy process. Many preliminary drawings but no idea if it’ll actually land until I’m committing to the details on the final page. THANKyou Klara for big thoughtful letter.
Hey, Evan - You’ve talked in several places about your process for actually drawing stuff (actually putting marks on paper), but what kind of work environment do you like having set up when you’re working on stuff, outside of the tools necessary for making the drawing itself? Do you typically listen to music, or would you rather have quiet? Do you typically have some kind of drink on hand, or is that dangerous to have near a paper workpiece? Do you tend to be particular about small details in your setup ("the lights in the room need to be just so", for example)?
Oh, and as one other thing, what do you do if you have an interesting idea about something while you’re in the middle of working on something else? I’ve seen some artists say "if you have an idea, drop what you’re doing and write it down, or you’ll lose it forever", but I’ve also seen others say "you need to ignore all distractions while working on something or it won’t be much good", so I was wondering if you had a personal stance on that.
Thanks again for taking questions, and for continuing to make comics in the first place! Big fan, and really excited for Last Delivery, too. - Jackson * October 30, 2023
Hmm I guess I have a pretty simple and unchanging work setup; I only do actual comic-drawing in one place ever so it never changes. Bright light source oriented to not cast shadow from drawing hand, some simple beverage put someplace I will not knock it over, on separate surface from drawing desk. I get bored of whatever I am listening to very easily… i dunno I have my little systems in place.
I think it is important to write down an idea as soon as you have it, or a mnemonic for it or something. Not because the ideas are necessarily precious, but because the mindset that allows you to have the ideas fluently is something that should be accomodated and not obscured by technicalities involved with transcription.
If I’m writing I can have ideas sometimes quicker than I can write them down thoroughly, so I try to skip around to get everything down just clear enough that I remember what it is to fully articulate later. A lot of my development processes are built around trying to open up space for raw unselfconscious brain-work— like not wasting time with polish or overintellectualization until much later. I see this as a part of that! I’m realizing this more consciously only over the last couple years.
This “scrambling to not forget all the ideas” thing only happens in rare moments of in-the-groove writing, though. Drawing is so much more ummm physical, body-involved, less intellectual or something… doesn’t allow for thinking in the same way at the same time. ok thanks!
Hey, loving 3rd voice so far, was really impressed with how many layers of abusive cultism you painted into Xunditriggar’s first brief appearance, and also the little touch of how many hot-sticks he had (flaunting wealth, seems like there’s more for himself, but maybe also a sign that he ’provides’?). In your past comics, most characters are their own type of creature, except when we see big groups like the frogs in Spatch’s swamp, or obviously Vattu’s world. In 3rd voice, characters seem to largely be highly individualized again, aside from the Walkers and potentially the Witch-bands. All this to say : I am endlessly curious about the similarities between Xunditriggar and the emissary from the 11th company. Broadly speaking, am I onto something? Or are there only so many ways to draw post-apocalyptic teeth? I also felt excited to see the face of the witch-bander in Ansporruk who seems similar to a walker, but the bodily proportions are so wildly different I can’t assume a connection. - J * November 8, 2023
Thank you. For a lot of this stuff I am really just trying to emphasize VIBE over much of a big-picture organizational logic. Will eventually get somewhat into the idea of hereditary traits and pseudo-biological things like that, but I’m generally not interested in working with physically different species (fantasy “races”) in too firm or essential a way. Aside of course from the Walkers as you have pointed out.
The way this has started to feel to me is that it’s kind of just “cartooning” on a different level of abstraction: instead of characters being drawn with a particular “voice” to emphasize their characteristics, the theoretical “voice” of the drawings is fairly flat and literalistic, and the characters Themselves are understood to have different shapes to do that cartoony emphasis. I dunno I’m still wrapping my head around it but it’s nice to be out of the mode of distinct, essentialized fantasy species that Vattu was so built around.
Hello Evan! I found you through Vattu and I’ve become a huge fan of your comic work and your way of storytelling. 3rd Voice has become one of my favorite webcomics and I’ve been hugely inspired by the way you reveal the world through its characters. I’m really into slow burn comics and 3rd Voice has been so fantastic with its pacing of answering questions and adding more questions so you are just constantly hooked and intrigued with the story. It’s seriously so cool!
I’ve also really enjoyed seeing your sketches/concept work on social media and seeing how Xunditriggar’s went through a few iterations made me curious. Do you ever make last minute decisions when you get to actually inking a page/changing something story wise once you get to it? Or do you usually have everything down pretty solid once you get that far? (In my own webcomic I’ve had instances where once I got to physically drawing a page or starting a scene it’s hit me that “omg, this actually won’t work, this needs something else” and I was wondering if it’s mostly just an issue of me being a novice where that’ll go away with time/experience or if it’s a thing that’s around forever when creating) Thank you for your time and sharing your amazing work, Lexi * November 20, 2023
Thank you! Yes I think I approach it in similar way to you— I try not to have any element of planning be too rigid; everything should be able to shift to work better in the moment. In visual design stuff, I often leave a lot of detaily decisions to the inking stage. I have a pretty good sense of what parts of drawing I need pencil underdrawing to figure out, and what I can figure out in inks— so for this comic a lot of the process of drawing has been figuring out sort of aesthetic logics for that detail. But the big-picture stuff I think is generally worked out before I’m drawing the final pages.
There’s a lot of different axes along which people get better at this stuff! Being able to see that something you planned out isn’t going to work as you planned it IS a part of the skill here. Building your process around awareness of that can be a productive approach I think. With Xunditriggar in particular the big shift designwise was reworking his mask to have the mouth visible— I didn’t put this to myself as “this is a problem with the design that I need to fix;” it was more “having his mouth visible will give me some more tools to use here, why not.” No rules!
I remember a while back somewhere seeing some concept sketches of an early Spondule and Navichet, and at the time you indicated that you were working on a much much shorter version of the comic than what you have now. My question is, was there any specific thing about the short comic that you were working on before that made you want to explore the world more? Or was it more along the lines of lots of really little things that interested you as a whole? Also, did you have to change the characterization of Spondule and Navi? Did you have to remove any characters that would not fit the story as it is now? - Louie * November 22, 2023
Yes I initially had S&N in my head as characters for a series of black-and-white graphic novels that were sort of self-contained. As I was coming up on the end of Vattu, I got together a coherent little pitch for a 200-250 page graphic novel, which overlaps significantly with the material now online as the “1st Passage.” Publisher was not interested in this book! Which was fine and kind of expected. And then I was in a sort of open-ended spot: Vattu would be ending, I was going to have the first Clean Break in years where I wasn’t working on anything at all, and I had to decide how to move forward career-wise !!
So I go back and forth about this a lot, between thinking about THE WORK and THE CAREER, that is, the material conditions that make it possible for me to make the work. I did feel, in developing the early S&N work, that there was potential for it to be a Bigger Thing. But it can only exist in the way that it’s possible for it to exist! It feels like it would’ve been useless to explore the idea of a much larger story if I was aiming to just pitch a self-contained graphic novel. But after the pitch fell through, I got obsessed with this idea of doing a really Maximalist self-published thing. I don’t know what to DO with my career but I know the sort of work I can make, and I figured I could double down on that in the most intense and enormous way possible, and HOPE FOR THE BEST?? So that was the context in which I started thinking about the bigger 3V thing, and I still don’t know if any of this makes sense career-wise, but it does at least feel like I’m making the best thing I can and as I move forward through it I’m building something that amounts to Some further stability for me to keep doing it. I dunno if that makes sense. I am lately just drifting away from the idea of art as the execution of an uncompromising vision. The whole thing is compromise! Would I be doing better work if I was independently wealthy or had a partner who made a lot of money or whatever and didn’t have to worry about fitting what I’m making into “the industry”? I don’t know! But every part of it is some sort of compromise!!
Characterization of S&N themselves has been pretty clear from the start, though they have gotten specified and the vibe has changed a bit as the setting shifted towards something denser and bleaker. Well I guess Navi is somewhat more affectless and inward-looking than she at first seemed. And the dynamic between the two of them has really clarified in ways that I didn’t foresee.
I had originally believed the concept of “scrip” was a fantasy device, but I just learned about coal mining scrip in Appalachia. Your bio states you’re from N.Carolina, was this an intentional connection? Additionally, all of your work has a distinct anarchist philosophy towards it, with stories challenging authority and ownership (similar to The Dispossessed by UKLG). I guess I’m wondering if this background and its history play any part in your work, consciously or unconsciously. Thank you! S * December 4, 2023
I try to keep an eye out for weird words that call attention to themselves and communicate a slightly different-than-expected angle on a particular idea… Like I think I’ve trained into myself an aversion to small-scale dialogue cliches, so I’m always trying to think of unusual ways to say things in this comic. “Scrip” is a cool word and I wanted to use it because it’s unusual AND because it has this implication of a substitute currency for use within a limited context— it foregrounds questions of the rationale for Ansporruk’s authority, and drills a little bit, also, into the bigger ideas of a disorganized, decentralized political system in this setting. I probably am familiar with it because I’m from the South but wasn’t thinking too hard about the coal mining company scrip.
I have spent a lot of time trying to unlearn various systems of authority & objectivity. I am living and thinking outside of some of the reassuring/dominating ordering life-structures I used to live inside. A lot of my convictions are in an anarchist direction (not that I do Enough with those convictions necessarily); as time has passed I feel like some of this has become more deeply integrated into how I think. Le Guin has been a huge inspiration in using genre to articulate these sorts of politics.
Hello, Just wanted to write in to say that I absolutely love Xunditriggar. His buildup, his cult, his design, how he is a sort of dark mirror of Navichet and seems just so reasonable in a twisted sort of way - it’s all perfect. As someone who picked up on your comics while Vattu was starting to end and obsessively binge-read all of them, I have to say that I’m really excited for whatever he is going to do with the "god".
A bit random and not sure if this is the right place for it, but a question that’s always been niggling at me - when Junti tells Vattu that she loves her, does she mean it romantically or otherwise? And as someone who’s working on my own fantasy religion for my world, any general pointers in mind? Is there any relation between the six aspects of Tarrus and the six Grish gods? Sorry for pestering you with all these questions, and once again, really really love your work. MC * January 21, 2024
Hey thank you! I have fun with BUILDUP for things like that. To address 2nd paragraph— I don’t feel like I can say anything about what Junti means! I have things I’m going for but what the text is out there I try to minimize my perspective on it! I figure the way romantic love operates is different in that society than the way we conceive it; this is something I THINK I tried to hit at a few points throughout the comic… I am interested in working more with more straightforward & accountable Love Interest material, in future. About developing a fictional religion: I think we can get distracted by trying to make something too plausible, or too detailed, and lose sight of the framing idea that invented-setting details can be used to support the story and its ideas. Basically: what are the thematic concerns of the story? What motifs could be useful in emphasizing those concerns, and how could they be incorporated into the setting’s cultural or religious ideas? What is the perspective on these big in-setting ideas granted to the reader, or the characters? How can we balance that sort of metatextual angle with an attempt at making something the feels real and rich beyond the bounds of the story itself? These feel like the motivating dynamics to me.
(I am using initials for writers’ names unless they specifically include their name in the body of the email)