Art Team Change and Hiatus
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Lauri will be missed.
Other than that it sounds like Rob needs to hire at least three more people:
(1) An editor who can help on all the endless little things that go into transforming raw text into a finished product. If the editor is good, they can even handle writing smaller flair sections and pieces themselves. If the editor is really good they can also serve as project manager and tell Rob when to just go take a break. This seems like the most important missing piece.
(2) A dedicated storyboard artist who can take the raw text and mock up designs for Xin. Over the last year or so it has been clear that the burden of communication has fallen on Rob alone -- and people forget how the cost of communication is very high.
(3) A general businessperson to handle all the other non-production aspects of running Erfworld, like handling Kickstarter crap. The production art team should not be doing this.
I hope things work out.
OK, I don't normally post here (because I'm lazy), but while we can argue till we're blue in the face about what constitutes actual Genius, Erfworld strikes me as one of the most complex and thought out fictional settings I've come across. And not just in it's backstory, it's complex system and mechanics, but seemingly endlessly thought out hypotheticals, cheats and what-ifs, in addition to a plethora of deep, consistent characters that make sense in that setting.
So, I mean, if creating this isn't Genius, then it's a colossal undertaking masquerading quite successfully as Genius.
What a blow about Lauri. I'm deeply in love with the current visuals of the comic. I'll have to do my best to give his replacement a fair chance to impress me.
But wow, you're getting married in Helsinki Rob? I only live some 200km away, so maybe I can come and give you a visit.
Regarding the game projects, maybe I should send in my CV. As a game designer on both computer gaming and RPG / boardgame side, I think I could have something to offer.
:) Thanks for everything you gave Lauri, it was thoroughly appreaciated
Welcome Lillian! I hope you love it here :D
Hmm, If you reduce to a goal of 6 updates a month, it will be an income level drop, but to a level that Erfworld has lived at before :), but before it was at the full unhealty pace, and now would be at a healthy pace ^_^
AND pledges will continue to grow :) and Erfworld will continue to flourish
All the love!
An update indeed! Y'all do what you gotta do. I'm already confident that your intuitions lead to doing good things.
Lauri, thank you for some splendid coloring. To raise a daughter AND conjure such a vivid yet textured spectacle -- you're a man of many talents, and I wish you all the best. Props to you!
And to Rob, Xin, and the rest of Team Erfworld: it's been a horizon-pushing, stake-raising year for sure. Thanking for driving it this far and for being honest about needing a breather -- which we all do at some time or another. Breathe deep, and stay connected (and congrats to you for your wedding, Rob!) The rest of us will be here when it's time.
Also also, to our incoming Erfworlder Lillian -- welcome! Your work certainly popped off the page in your tryout (not to mention that gruesome claw-gash tattoo on your instagram), so count me among the many excited fans!
Best wishes for you all.
Erfworld is the highlight of my webcomic circuit. You guys are amazing - I've been a fan since you started on giantitp, and I've been with you through every artist; I'll definitely stick around for Lillian.
You have my full support during your hiatus, as I've adjusted my pledge to include backer stories. That said, I'll definitely be looking forward to the return of the main story.
Thanks for the update. I also really appreciate how the pin-ups are being back-dated. I always buy your books because I love your complete stories. Webcomics can be fun, but I personally despise paying for things piecemeal. Eventually, I became a tool, mainly because I wanted to support my favorite comic and see it completed, but in large part for the pin-ups. It became very frustrating when they didn't keep coming.
Thanks for all you do, and for being willing to admit that you aren't superman. I think I speak for many of us when I say I would rather have high quality than messy quantity. It was enough to make me realize that I should subscribe and join the toolbox to acknowledge all the work you and the artists do.
THANK YOU. And enjoy you vacation. AND your wedding! See you in September!
I just want to pop in (so to speak) and add my voice to the chorus of people saying thanks to Lauri for his run on Erfworld.
And for the record, while there are a good many A++ pages to choose from, I think my favorite page art-wise since his joining the team is:
Also, about the collectible units - I'd be fine with 2D art for these as well. For me, part of the appeal of the 3D was that the models are sort of an extension of what Lauri does behind-the-scenes for his mockups. Maybe we could have some other kind of special feature for 2D units?
Finally, seconding a thought upstream, I'd also like to come up with ways to contribute to the Toolshed at some sort of enhanced rate during the hiatus. Maybe just cranking up the "Backer Stories" contribution level is the way to go, but it would be nice to come up with a "paid vacation" mechanic for the Toolshed.
Wish I could come... but no vacation time and would rather continue supporting the site. So I'll just send a gift the way of the site that should work out.
So... First off, @balder it's going to look wrong that 5 digits lands in your shmucker jar, but it isn't a mistake. Have a good time in Helsinki. I wish you both the best for the future.
@Lauri thanks for the work you have done. Hope to see you return in the future.
@Lillian congratulations. I look forward to your work.
" 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."
I just realized that this News Post must have taken months to create...
Rob, enjoy your wedding. Always remember that this is supposed to be the happiest day in your life ;-)
For the best. I think an annual break to recharge and get ahead on writing would be a good idea generally. It has been noticeable that you guys have been finding it increasingly difficult to hit deadline and the quality of the pacing and the art to story ratio has been affected too. Reading webcomics for so long it seems good pacing is always the thing to suffer when the writers are in trouble.
Oh, and congratulations on the forthcoming wedding!
While I have loved this comic since its inception, the most recent quality of work has been the best the comic has seen, in my opinion. Both in writing, and in art - things have been crazy good for quite a while now. I'm sad to see that things will change, but also glad to hear that it seems all figured out. I wish Lauri the best in future endeavors, as well.
Also, Rob, keep up the good work. Enjoy your break from Erfworld. Take the time to relax, get everything figured out, figure out that whole "love of your life" business, and come back better for it. I'm grateful to have found Erfworld myself, and it wouldn't be a stretch to call it one of the best creative works I've ever seen. So if you need to lower the update schedule, and figure out everything, that's understandable to me, and hopefully to many others as well.
You've earned a break. Not that breaks necessarily all need to be earned, but hey, it doesn't hurt to have that extra justification going for you. You've got enough to worry about it seems without worrying about that. =)
First off what a wonderful artwork to the entire team. I am excited to hear more of the backer stories. Since you are in general going to be pushing out 1 comic a week instead of two I would be doubling my pledge till you return to a normal schedule. Happy wedding in the near future and get some rest @rob.
@Lauri — Thank you so much for all the wonderful efforts. Your time here at Erfworld has indeed set a new standard, as Rob said. I can't wait to see what you do next — and the very best of luck to you in all your future endeavors. :)
@Rob (and Linda!) — Congratulations on your nuptials! I hope you have a wonderful day! My own wedding is coming up too — and that reminds me, I have invitations to send. Better get on that... gulp!
One last thing though, @Rob — Thank you so much, from the very bottom of my heart, for all the incredible work that you and the rest of Team Erfworld do. Seeing this comic grow over the past few years into what, it feels like, it was always meant to be has been a true joy for me as a fan. I look forward to your updates more than I can express — and the chiefest reason for that is the incredibly high quality of work you put forth; I know you agonize over every page, and please understand that your efforts are deeply appreciated. I read many different webcomics in my spare time, but Erfworld means more to me than any other.
I hope you can take some time to rest, recharge your batteries, and enjoy your life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Genius does not mean easy. Perhaps sometimes it does, but you have a different type, and we recognize it.
My favorite series is by Megan Whalen Turner, who's slowly produced a book about every five years, but I wore through my first set of The Queen's Thief books by rereading them so often, devouring the clever dialogue, inventive characters, and perfect twists. That type of genius wouldn't be recognized in a time trial or volume contest, but it's amazing, my favorite type, and I love seeing it in Erfworld.
You. Are. Genius.
And don't you forget it.
This update has been a roller-coaster of emotions to read (and write, i'd imagine).
At first, I was getting bummed for the hiatus. Then feeling ashamed for being such a boophole after learning why. Then happy to see the retconjuration confirmed, and then sad to hear it makes you feel so bad. By the way, it may come as a shock, but some of the folks here live for these things. Rob - you're still a titan for nailing 99.9% of the cases, the 0.01% left serves as a source of insurmountable amusement, and has no lasting effect other than confusing future internet-archeologists.
But I think the lasting feeling here is happiness (and mellowness) - congratulations for the coming wedding. Go take care of yourself, build a family (how hard can it be after building a world?), and come back when you're ready.
Also kudos for the team, old and new.