Art Team Change and Hiatus

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By balder Comments (82)

I haven’t done a gigantic news post in over a year, but news has been piling up. Get some snacks and settle in for another...

 

 

 

 

We are losing Lauri

 

First of the news is the worst of the news. Lauri Ahonen let us know about two months ago that, after a stellar run as Erfworld’s inker/colorist, he needs to move on. His last update will be page 275, which will post on July 4.

 

We knew right from the start that Lauri could only firmly commit to about a year or so of drawing Erfworld, because it would fit with his wanting to work from home and care for his toddler daughter before she starts school. I figured we could wrap up Book 3 in that span, nooo problem. After that, we’d see if Book 4 was something Lauri wanted to take on, or if we needed to find someone else to fill the role.

 

Well, you can read below about how that worked out (and what we’re going to do about it), but the fact is that Lauri extended his tenure to 90 weeks to try and get to the ending, and we’re just not there yet. So he needs to change his focus to the next phase of his career as an artist.

 

Lauri, we wish you the absolute best with everything your future holds, and thank you for everything you’ve contributed to the story. I think the fans and the team would agree that your tenure here has been the high-water mark for Erfworld’s art.

 

Xin still penciling, please welcome Lillian on inks/colors/shading!

 

Stepping into Lauri’s big shoes will be somebody you might remember. Lillian “Honey Badger” Chen almost nabbed the role two years ago. Her audition work back then genuinely wowed us. It was tough to tell her she didn’t get the gig, so it’s nice to be able to hand her the reins now.

 

Lillian has committed to take over the role, and Lauri’s been generously spending his time working with her on technique and workflow for more than a month. He has also made his illustration files available, so she can refer to them as a learning tool.

 

That’s not to say that Lillian is going to try and faithfully imitate Lauri’s style. She brings her own tremendous skills and eye to the project, and we want to take full advantage of what she brings to the creative equation. With Xin remaining as lead artist and penciler, I do think this will be a much smoother visual transition than we’ve had with artist changes in the past. Here’s a taste of Lillian’s practice line-work:

 

 

 

 

Both artists have expressed an open-ended time commitment to the project, so I really hope and believe that we’ll have the team of Xin and Lillian doing Erfworld for the rest of Book 4 and way beyond.

 

Book 3 splits - is now Books 3 & 4

 

Did I say “Book 4?” Yes, yes I did. We are in Book 4 now. In fact, we’re much closer to the end of Book 4 than the beginning of it. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

 

A few people who were at the fan gathering at Gencon last year heard me mention this possibility, that Book 3 might need to split and count as two books. When Page 141 went up, a lot of people commented that it felt like an end-of-book page. It definitely does, but I wasn’t ready to call Book 3 done yet. I had more stuff (such as the Bunny arc) that I really wanted to include. But I said that if the story went on at least another 141 pages, then I would call the second half Book 4.

 

So “Erfworld Book 3: Hamsterdance vs. the Charlie Foxtrot” ended on page 141. We are now in “Erfworld Book 4: Lies and Dolls.” We’ll tweak the archives and probably figure out a script to update the wiki soon. For reasons of spoiling, I will not say how close we are to the end of this book, but it certainly will go past page 282 (page 141 of Book 4).

 

July and August hiatus for main story

 

Okay, so some of you might argue that this is actually the worst news in the post, but we need to take a big long break with the main story arc. After Lauri’s final page on the 4th, we don’t expect to return to our normal update schedule until Friday, September 1st.

 

There are a ton of reasons we need to do this. At the top of the list is giving Lillian all the time she needs to get comfortable in the role. But there are also some lessons to be learned from the past 2+ years of doing the Toolshed, and especially from 2017.

 

We posted an average of 65 updates per year (not counting Backer Stories) in the eight years before we rolled out the Toolshed. I always thought we could do better than that if we just got some additional firepower on the art team and developed the right workflow. But that was always sort of hypothetical.

 

Now we have some results to look at. We’ve been on an on-time update pledge system for a little over 2 years, and we have posted 228 updates in that span of time. It’s around 100 a year.

 

So it has worked really well from the standpoint of productivity. Having a concrete figure associated with missing an update has led to a lot of “doing whatever it takes” to get the page finished, correct, up to snuff, and posted on schedule. I wouldn’t say the quality has suffered, either.

 

Unfortunately, “whatever it takes” has included a ridiculous amount of personal sacrifice for all three of Erfworld’s creators. And it has cost Erfworld a lot in other ways. You’ve probably noticed a lack of Toolbox content and pin-ups. That’s not us not caring, it’s us literally not having the time. In 2017 we have been spending every productive waking moment we can, just trying to keep on schedule.

 

Likewise with Dwagon Master badges, posting news items, approving Hamstards, updating the IRC quote and the wiki, and posting any of the Backer stories that I still owe to our patient and generous supporters, I used to have time in my weekly routine to spare some attention for some of these things. At this point I can barely answer reader emails and PMs and Erfworld Facebook page messages. I haven’t updated the “Last Book Rob Read” widget in a year and a half, because I literally have not had time to read a book in a year and a half. For an author, that lack of input is toxic.

 

There are genius writers in the world. There are flow-state writers who can bang out a quarter million flawless words of prose a month. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. I’m a grinder. I can fuss for forty minutes just to get two stubborn paragraphs to work together and convey what I need them to. If Erfworld is good, it’s only because of brute force thinking, just hours and hours and hours of close attention to detail. (And I still miss things.) Even lettering a page has been known to take me eight or ten hours of fretting over everything from the line breaks in the dialog, to brain/google-storming a funnier SFX gag than I put in the script, to evaluating 40 different tail placements on the same damn balloon and trying to decide which pixels are most important not to cover up.

 

This stuff matters, in ways I can’t always adequately describe. I care a whole lot about not letting it suck, so that you guys will enjoy it. And even so, I still miss things. When I get something wrong (yes, Parson already knew about Bonnie telling the Minds about Charlescomm, and I will Retconjure that), it eats me up way more than you’ll ever understand.

 

So I need to face the tough reality of what it takes to create this story to the standards we’ve set for ourselves, and how much I can really do in a week/month/year.

 

Last week marked 10 years since the last day I worked for a paycheck. I forget the exact day, but sometime in late June of 2007, I left my IT career to follow my creative passions. At the time, I had two webcomics and a comedy music career going, and I made funny t-shirts to sell at conventions. Every project that wasn’t Erfworld has been jettisoned since then, but I haven’t done any other kind of work in that span.

 

When I was a data analyst/developer, I can remember working at places where they only really needed about one day’s worth of hard work out of me per week. I also remember some places that looked at you funny if you left while the sun was still up and you weren’t in the office at least every other weekend. Writing Erfworld is harder than any of them. It’s by far the most demanding work and the longest hours that I’ve ever spent at any job or school.

 

In 2014, we didn’t know how fast we might theoretically be able to turn out the comic. But now we know what the maximum sustainable pace looks like. And while we can certainly do better than 65 updates a year, 100 updates a year just can’t continue. Something needs to change about the production schedule. I don’t know what that is, but we’ll give it a lot of thought during the break.

 

For now, I am taking advantage of the handover and letting Lillian build up her skills and confidence and a buffer of finished pages. I realize this is in the middle of the Book 4 climactic actions, but the timing is what it is.

 

I’m taking a big long rest to catch up on my reading, my sanity, my humanity, and some of the promises I have made to our fans and supporters. I need to see a dentist (I have a cavity I keep poking with my tongue). I need to see a movie in a theater (the last one I saw was Zootopia 15 months ago, thanks to my friend Wayne for dragging me to it. Hi Wayne!) I need to throw a frisbee around in the sunshine. I need to go to Finland and marry the love of my life, who is more patient with me than all the rest of you, combined. :)

 

Lots of stuff posted during “hiatus”

 

Nevertheless, I am going to try and post backer story updates every Sunday until we return. (If you’re thinking we’re going to miss the revenue from these updates while we’re gone, you’re not wrong. So if you’re a Tool, you might consider updating your pledge to include the backer stories as well.)

 

I will also post Toolbox stuff, approve some Hamstards, and get caught up on Dwagon Master badges (can anything compete with Chickpea, though, seriously?). Xin has already started to turn back to the pin-up art. We hope to get them all caught up, and postcards too. Anybody who was a Level 2 or above subscriber during the last 10 months will get access to the pin-ups, whether or not you are an active subscriber.

 

And we’re going to do other stuff to the website, but not so much work that it feels like I am still on the hamster wheel. We’ll spend a little time on gametable.erfworld.com, rpg.erfworld.com, and the unit collection system, which have also been chucked under the bus all year in favor of Kickstarter fulfillment and keeping the updates coming. Speaking of which...

 

Is there a 3D sculptor in the house?

 

With Lauri’s departure, we are also losing our modeler for the unit collection system. We’re looking to retool that idea (*cough*), and maybe go with collecting simple gamepiece-style units that will be augmented with sculpted versions later. For reference, here’s what we want them to look like:

 

 

If you are an experienced 3D modeler or you know somebody who can do work of this quality, please send an email to us at gobwinknob@gmail.com.

 

World fan gathering in Helsinki - Rob and Linda’s wedding!

 

So this bit of news is the most joyful. We are still going ahead with our plans for a fan gathering at WorldCon in Helsinki, and Linda and I will be getting married at a Helsinki venue to be disclosed later. Date of the wedding is Friday, August 11 and Erfworld fans are invited! If you think there’s even a remote possibility you might like to attend, please let us know at the same email address as above.

 

Details about the fan event will be posted in the coming weeks sometime, as we get more details.

 

Kickstarter Wrapped Up, Rewards Sent, Cards Beautiful

 

We tried to streamline the Kickstarter for the playing cards, but it managed to be twice as expensive and five times as much work as we’d planned for. The amount spent to make the cards and the rewards ultimately exceeded the amount we raised, including for the stretch goals.

 

I realize that saying that without getting into the details why might kind of make it look like we still don’t know how to plan a project after doing six of them, but these were all-new surprises in all-new territory. Bottom line is that it was still a big success and I am not at all sorry we did it. We got the cards we really wanted, and I’m extremely proud of how they turned out.

 

 

Last week, we started hearing from happy backers who were getting their display boxes and decks. By now, I believe that all physical items have either arrived or are on the way. Let us know through Backerkit if you have not received at least an email notification about your backer rewards by the end of this week (or next week for non-US) and Linda will follow up.

 

We will add the cards to the Erfworld store soon, but we wanted to make sure that project backers got theirs first. And, of course, if and when we hit Milestone 4 on the Toolshed, we will be sending one deck of cards to every single Tool.

 

State of the Erfworld, closing thoughts

 

This news post is longer than most text updates, and it took me a long time to write it. I never know how much detail to share, because there are so many ways to misinterpret what’s going on.

 

I’m grateful for all the amazing work Lauri has done for us. I was hoping we’d have him forever, but we won’t. I’m really looking forward to working with Lillian, though. She has a wicked sense of humor and a tenacity I admire a lot.

 

The only thing “wrong” right now is just that it’s no fun to be facing my own limits. I do have a couple of chronic health issues that put some limits on me that I have to recognize (nothing life-threatening). But I’m mainly unhappy with myself for not being able to write the book to the end before Lauri had to go (rushing the ending I have in mind would have been a worse mistake, though). And I really don’t like that I can’t keep aiming for 104 strips a year. That doesn’t just affect me, it changes what we can pay everybody on the team. My not being a genius shouldn’t cost anyone else a single dollar, and I feel like crap that it’s going to.

 

Other than that, though, things are on track. The story’s where I want it to be. The rest of the web and art team is still here, and still doing great work. You all are still the best audience in webcomics, and I’m thankful every day for the ways that you show your love and support for Erfworld.

 

So, Lauri is leaving, but good stuff is coming. More books are ahead (hey, we gained one today!), plus the unit collection and gametable that will lead us inexorably toward Erfworld tabletop and video games in the next few years. There are so many stories still to be written...

 

 

 

Stand by for all of that fun stuff to come, and we’ll see you in Helsinki! Thanks as always from Team Erfworld.

 

Rob

 

 

 

Comments

  • Serethirin

    You have kept up a phenomenal pace over the last year and I have been thrilled. If you need to back off a bit on updates, that's fine. I'm glad you feel comfortable enough to understand your limits and admit to yourself that running at full capacity for another year would be unhealthy. Finding a good balance is what keeps things like Erfworld going for years instead of burning out early.

     

    Also, I got my cards a couple of days ago and they are fantastic! Believe me, problems and all you run by far the least problematic kickstarter campaigns I have backed. Everyone is late with their deliveries and ends up with cost overruns, but very few make up for it with the quality and attention to detail on which you insist.

     

    In other words, keep up the good work. The pages have looked fantastic with this art team and I'm sure they will stay high quality after the transition. Farewell, Lauri! Welcome, Lillian!

  • FlaminCows

    A tattoo artist doing your inks! This is going to be interesting. Lauri did a great job, and I have high hopes for Lillian as well.

     

    Thank you for the hard work, and take the time you need. I am confident and trust your decisions on the comic's rate, and I am sure other fans feel the same way.

     

    Good luck.

  • Vorteks

    Lauri, very sorry to see you go. Your coloring work was phenomenal, and Erfworld really looked amazing under your skilled hand.

    Welcome Lillian! Thanks for stepping up, and we're excited to see your work on the next 100+ pages.

    Rob, regarding the lost revenue during the hiatus.... Hypothetically, if someone wanted to send you a gift of some kind, do you have a PO box or something set up for that purpose?

  • Raziel

    Thanks for all your work, Lauri! Good luck, Lillian!

    ...and, when do we know that Parson's conversation with Roger is retconned? I'd like to reread it then, and I imagine many others might, too.

  • maestoso

    Thank you Lauri, for all of your efforts. The art this past year and a bit has been truly amazing.

    Welcome, Lillian. You've got big shoes to fill. I wish you the best of luck!

    Thank you Rob for all the effort you put in here. We really truly appreciate it!!!

  • maestoso

    Also, this feels like a good time to bump up a tier in the toolshed :-) Can we get to 2K, folks?!

  • robertzi7

    Thank you very much Lauri, may your career take a good turn in whatever you decide to do next.

    Welcome Lillian, can't wait to see your take for the comic.

    As a suggestion, can you think about putting in a "minimum pledge" field to the Toolshed? This way, those of us who want to can continue to give the amount that we want to even if there aren't as many updates during the next few months.

  • MostTornBrain

    I've been a reader since you started at giantitp.com.   This past year it dawned on me just how much I was looking forward to each story update and was really taking it all for granted.  I really should have joined the Toolshed a lot earlier, but better late than never. 

    Best wishes with the hiatus - the work you do is incredible, so do whatever it takes to keep it alive.   

    Cheers!

  • WooSai

    Rob, I'm going to start with how much I love the story that you've created. There have been points in the past where dialog has come up about timetables, so I'm glad that you're taking steps to make a sustainable change for yourself.  I'll be sad that I won't get my Erf-fix twice a week, but I'll be glad that you won't be burning the candle at both ends to do so.

     

    Lauri, thanks for all that you've done.  Lillian, welcome to the team!

  • Mylar

    I have absolute trust in your creative vision and the way you've shown it to the world. If you think a hiatus is necessary, that's a shame but I know that you know best how to tell this story. Please don't burn out, take care of yourself. I've been reading Erfworld for years, I know that five or ten years down the line I'll read through the archives and I'll be blown away by the scope and quality of Parsons' story.

  • StrawberryGS

    My toolshed pledge is more "What can I justify spending per month?" than "How much do I think each page is worth?" so if you need to go to once/week, I can up my pledge to more per update.  

    Erfworld and OOTS are my favorite comics. OOTS doesn't update regularly at all, and somehow I've managed to live with that, so I can do it for Erfworld too.  Thanks for putting lots of thought into great writing.

    --Beth

  • Knott

    Thanks for all your work, Lauri! It has been an absoloute joy to watch. Its sad you have to move on, but I still hope you'll be there during WorldCon. We can always hope you have time for some occational guest work if your new job allows. Best of luck with your new ventures!

     

    Welcome Lillian! I have my fingers crossed for you!

     

    Ah, Rob, the plights of perfectionism... You ever have my deepest sympathies.

    While I couldn't really afford to support the theoretical 3 updates a week, I can certainly support non-main-updates that stand alone.

    Just a thought; while p141 is a suitable end for Book 3, p142 might not be the best start of Book 4. So perhaps adding a new page to go in between might make sense. Although for consistency's sake it might be hard to do if Lauri can't be available for that.

    Anyway, enjoy your hiatus, find some serenity and creative recharging, and I'll see you in Finland!

     

    To the rest of the Team, enjoy your summer and I guess I'll see you at WorldCon too!

  • fannypiggs

    I appreciate you coming out and giving this update. There's so many comics which just go on indefinite hiatuses and then disappear leaving readers sad. On another note, I always imagine these webcomic artists living in California or New York and it just makes me so happy every time I get reminded that this is a super cool local business.

    Thanks for everything you guys do!

  • fannypiggs

    I appreciate you coming out and giving this update. There's so many comics which just go on indefinite hiatuses and then disappear leaving readers sad. On another note, I always imagine these webcomic artists living in California or New York and it just makes me so happy every time I get reminded that this is a super cool local business.

    Thanks for everything you guys do!

  • Kieve

    Moving to a "more sustainable" single-update format actually sounds really good to me. For the last year especially, it feels like the story's been dragging its heels through the mud, pacing-wise, trying to "set up" all this great stuff that always seems just over the horizon - a continual cliffhanger approach akin to daytime soaps (but with substantially better writing).

    To that end, Rob, I heartily endorse (and hell, would even finally consider becoming a Tool for) a single-update system with big meaty chunks of story where boop actually happens. Dominoes falling, rather than being placed.

    As to the rest of it... the woes of being a perfectionist artistic type. All to familiar.

  • Polvane the eraser

    Take care and thank you, Lauri.     Welcome, Lillian.   

    Rob: Pls take care of yourself.    I don't want to hear you're not managing your chronic health issues.

    Good luck and eventually congratulations on your wedding.   Hope you enjoy Finland.

  • Istaro

    After a bunch of Wednesdays and Saturdays (I'm UTC+9) pass with no main-story updates, I might (might) stop thinking about them every time, and then, in August . . . damn is that going to be a happy surprise!

    I like to think long-term, and I'm really stoked to read phrases like "open-ended commitment" and "Book 4 and way beyond", because this is a creative endeavor that I am excited to support long-term.  Just added backer stories to my pledge as requested.

    Thanks for the detailed update, take care of yourselves, and congrats re: your upcoming wedding!  The very day before my brother's, in fact :)

  • Titanium Dragon

    You gotta do what you gotta do, man.


    One thing I will note, though - if you're taking ages and ages to put out words, you might want to consider whether or not your workflow is appropriate. Like, maybe there's a more efficient way of writing that you might be able to employ than you are right now.


    If what you're doing is eating your entire life (and it sounds like it is), I would suggest you should consider whether or not what you are doing is actually the best way to do what it is you are doing. You're suggesting it is about being a genius, but TBH, writing a lot isn't about being a genius - it is about both work ethic and work flow. You seem to have the ethic down. But the workflow sounds like it is troubled. You might be able to write much more efficiently by taking a different approach to how you write.

     

    That said, taking a break is likely the first step in helping you regain your grounding. Seriously, if you aren't consuming anything else - no books, no movies - that's a huge issue for a writer.

     

    I hope you enjoy your vacation and come back to things with fresh eyes!

  • Spruce

    Hyvin vedetty keikka, Lauri.

     

    Toivottavasti sulta tulee vielä uutta itse kokonaan kuvitettua sarjisalbumia, Pikku Närhi oli pirun kova.

  • elecampane

    I'm really sad to see Lauri go (massive thank you for your work on Erfworld and the very best luck, Lauri!), and plot-wise hiatus happens in a really unfortunate place — just as buildup followed a buildup and we're on the edge of our seats every single update.

    But! I'm glad this means Rob will take care of his health, have a wedding, recharge his batteries, pick up things that were previously set aside, and work out a more sustainable solution of keeping Erfworld awesome.

    And I kind of excited about the new artist, too. Sure, Lauri's shoes are hard to fill, but the line work here and drawings on her instagram make me think she can actually do it, and bring new creative eye to Erfworld in the process. And this picture of hers made me think she might have a little bit of Wanda in her :)

    Thank you, Rob and the rest of the Erfworld team, for making an amazing comic (because I say thak kinda not often enough). I wish you a smooth transition and a lovely remainder of summer. 

  • DukeBG

    Ah, Erfworld updates have long become one of the largest highlights of my week, something brighter and more energizing than the end of work weeks (especially, since lately I had to work some weekends too). So the hiatus will kinda hit emotionally a bit, but I expect backer stories to fill that in a way. But either way, I totally understand it and the need for it. It was crazy, that you were able to maintain the updates flow with this quality.

    The best of luck to Lauri! Xin and Lauri's combined skills were definitely the best Erfworld has seen. Looking forward to Lillian's work too!

    ...And most importantly, FINALLY you're splitting the book 3 at the 141-st page. I was waiting for this for ages, geez! There's definitely a lot of work on wiki to do after this decision, but maybe I'll try to figure out a way to help with it too? I can be in touch about that.

  • archaeo

    Throwing in my thanks as well.

    For what it's worth, while you've clearly agonized over it, Rob, your work hasn't suffered; if anything, I'd say the last few hundred pages have been your most creative yet, exploring the frontiers of your magic disciplines and pulling back the curtain ever so slowly. It sucks that they've apparently been hard pages to create, but the content still really sings. 

    It also helps that the art has been fantastic. Good luck, Lauri! And welcome to Lillian!

    Anyway, like everyone's been saying, enjoy your vacation. 

    P.S. #BringBackJack #JackSnipe2017 #MakeFoolamancyGreatAgain #WheresJackSnipe

  • ickus

    Have a good break, guys!  I'm sure we'll all still be here hanging out for the rest of book 4 when you get back :)  Oh, and best wishes for the wedding day - I hope the weather will be good!

    -Ix.

  • Supewfluous

    I've been having this feeling that something was wrong with the way Erfworld was handled ever since I've discovered it. It had to do with apparent management choices, the pacing of the story and whatever, so becoming a Tool seemed like something I'd never even consider.

    This post has almost everything right, though (almost because of the planning of the end of book 3 and Lauri's departure deadline combined with the pacing of book 3, though I understand it was a tough choice to make and seeing the end of book 4 may make me realise that it was all worth it and the right decision in the end), so you've turned an impossibility into a reality. Take my toolship as a mark of support during the break, to help you all enjoy your life and take care of yourselves as you all well deserve. Support for the backer stories has been included during the hiatus but I'll remove it after it (since the backer stories have already been paid for by the backers).

    So, in no particular order :

     - Thank you all for a wonderfull webcomic, with its ups and its downs, that has me happy to come back whatever amount of times a year seems the best to you to get my dose.

     - Lauri : you rock ! Keep on being amazing and have a lot of pleasure and fun in your new endeavours.

     - Lillian : Congrats on joining the team and have a lot of fun doing so ! Don't let perfectionism chew away at your personal life but don't hesitate to give your all for the things you like either.

     - Rob and Linda : Congrats on your wedding ! Glad to see you're taking the time to be human beings and indulge in such weaknesses as sharing time with loved ones and enjoying yourselves. :-)

     - To the rest of the team : you rock too ! Keep it on and a big thanks for your dedication, and talent, and hard work.

     

    So, kuddos and thank y'all ! Have a merry summer break. :-)

  • zbeeblebrox

    Random thought: if you alternate twice weekly and once weekly, that brings you to about 78 updates a year.  More than 65 and less than 100.  I'd say it's a pretty solid compromise.  How you spread them out is trickier though.  Do you try to make it as even as possible, like alternating tues-thurs then weds? Or do you try to keep it consistent for readers, like every tues plus every other thurs?  Tough call