Project Spotlight: Strange Company

It’s been over a month since the webcomic host Smackjeeves shut down for good. For the last 12 or so years, it was home to my very first (and very abandoned webcomic). That webcomic was the spiritual predecessor to Strange Company.

It’s got the same characters, the same world, the same settings. It even has some holdovers from the old plot. But I’d like to think it’s evolved enough that it’s something wholly new.

The original comic is lost to time now, which I can’t say I’m all that torn up about. It was an embarrassing effort. Still, it’s a shame that we’ve lost so many other first effort comics along with Smackjeeves.

You can still find them through the Wayback Machine, if you know what you’re looking for (which is why I‘m not going to name my long abandoned comic). Still, it represents the end of an era.

I stopped updating my very first webcomic roughly halfway through the third chapter. I’d managed to keep updating sort of regularly for over a year, but it became a slog in the face of college and work. That, and I plain old wasn’t happy with it. I wasn’t confident that I could get it to the quality that I thought it deserved. So I left it behind.

But I wasn’t finished trying to tell that story. It’s been with me a long time, after all.

I first came up with the idea for the story now known as Strange Company when I was a sophomore or junior in high school. So, a while back. Like, close to two decades worth of a while back. Ugh.

The first story seed came from a song that gave me the image of someone walking alone in the desert. I had an obsession with angels, so that turned into “An angel walks alone in the desert.” But that angel needed a destination.

Bring in another obsession with Greek Mythology, and we have the underground city. Enter more characters—named after Hermes, Charon, and Cerberus (of course)—whose job it was to guard the entrance of the Necropolis.

The very first version of the plot was something like: “There’s an underground city where the angels live for some reason. A wild west showdown results in the main character’s death, and he’s carried down the river into the City of the Dead.”

This was not the version that made it into the comic.

Over the next few years, I added characters and did a bit of world building that I thought clarified things. The Necropolis became ruins the characters explore because there’s Something in There. The main character was a kid who claimed he was a guardian angel, and he’s found wandering the desert. That’s the stuff that formed the basis of the story.

I never finished that comic. I’d barely made it past the beginning before giving up on it. But I was not done telling this story.

The new and (I hope) improved version of Strange Company has been in development ever since I quit the comic. It’s spent most of its time on the back burner because I couldn’t find the time or energy to work on such a long comic again. I was hesitant to start it anew without scripting it in full beforehand. I worried that my art skills would never be up to snuff.

It wasn’t until very recently (like in the past couple of years) that I accepted that doing this as a comic wasn’t viable. I’m not a fast artist, and after doing the math, it’d probably take over a decade for me to finish this one story as a comic. Time’s ticking, and I have other stories I want to tell. If I want to get all my other projects done, too, spending that much time on a single project doesn’t work for me.

Over the past year, I’ve played with converting the newest script into prose. And you know what? It’s working! I’m much faster at writing than drawing, and the story works well as prose. Still, I didn’t want to lose that visual element. Illustrated fiction was the way to go for me. Illustrations, but also some comic-like panels, like I’ve seen used in some visual novels. It’s still a work in progress.

Which is where the serial element comes in.

I figured posting this thing chapter by chapter as I work on it (keeping a sizable buffer, of course) is the best way to kick myself into gear. I want to finish it, and the best course of action I see right now is to go full steam ahead. Once I start posting those chapters, the hope is that I’ll have the motivation to keep them coming.

Do I have the entire story written out? No. Is it the smartest approach to start posting chapters before I do? Probably not. I have (most of) an outline, at least. Things can always change, of course. All the more reason to jump in.

Strange Company follows a few different viewpoints. The main ones are those of Raye, Helmi, Uriel, and Gabriel, with Sam as something of a pivot point to all the story’s events.

More on all that next post.

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