Monday, May 20, 2013

Webcomic Negative One turns eight

Today, my speculative fiction webcomic Negative One is officially eight years old.

I don't really talk much about my webcomic on my author network over here, because it's not "professional" quality work and I just do it for fun, but I'm still very attached to the story and very dedicated to updating it on time every week. I have never missed an update. It's practically unbelievable, but yes, I have updated it EVERY single Friday for EVERY week throughout the last eight years, and it has never been late or failed to update.

So I guess I'm allowed to be proud of that!

Negative One is what happened when I was starting to realize the novels I wrote in college were not publishable. I was a busy little author during my higher education, churning out four full novels in a contemporary fantasy series called The House That Ivy Built, while maintaining a high GPA and getting nearly halfway through a music degree (before switching to education and cramming all the extra classes into summer semesters). I guess it's not really surprising that what came out of my pen wasn't going to fly in the marketplace.

But even though some authors would be able to shrug and call them learning novels, I found the characters and their experiences so compelling and so precious that I didn't just want to trunk them. I also didn't want to try to squeeze them into the publishing industry's mold, because I didn't think that would be possible without compromises I didn't want to make.

So my webcomic was born. Where I can be indulgent and take my time telling the story however I want, and not have to answer to anyone. Where I can focus on characters with their interminable mental monologues and let their emotional lives take center stage. Where I don't have to feel pressured to manufacture a plot. I'm not charging anyone money to read it, so I can devote eight issues to potty-training a toddler if I want.

I don't get a lot of mail about the comic, and almost no one comments. It's not a well-known, popular comic, and I think that's partly because I'm no artist and I don't go out of my way to tailor it to mainstream tastes. It's drawn in pencil. It's by an amateur artist who's not really trying to improve her drawing. It's extremely text-heavy and the plot moves glacially. But I think the types of people who would read a comic like this are usually a bit shy and prefer to consume very quietly. I see the stats jump every Friday--on update day--so I know people are waiting for it and reading it. I do get occasional encouragement from people who love what I'm doing:
This is the most amazing story and comic I've read in years! --Alvin
I've been reading this comic for a while, and I just have to say, it's incredible. The writing, the artistry, and the characterization are all wonderful. . . . --Lyn
I love how well you capture your characters' thoughts. You go a level beyond normal understanding and really provoke thought.  --Ethel
I really like your way of story telling, I am fascinated by your story, and I love every single one of your characters. --Icke
It's hard to pick a real stand-out character from everyone in this comic, because each character is so vastly 'themselves' that none stand out beyond what relates to the reader the most!  --catc10
I feel I get to know the characters better because of the inner dialogue and stuff, and can relate to them a lot, which is something I sometimes miss with the standard online comics. --Eolill
It's wonderful to hear from people who have been touched by the characters and the story, and to realize I've succeeded in bringing this story out to the world in a limited fashion, even though it never would have worked as a novel in the mainstream market. There is an audience for it. And the writing in the comic, though very non-traditional (especially for a webcomic!), is still a decent example of my character writing. Working with these characters required me to adopt perspectives I've never experienced firsthand and convince the audience that those words are coming from someone with lived experience.

I had to narrate as a pregnant woman when I've never had a baby. I had to convincingly convey desire, loneliness, sadness, and attraction in a heterosexual relationship when I'm not straight. I had to invoke authentic details of the Asian-American experience in New York when I'm a white girl living in Florida. I had to realistically portray the balancing act my main romantic couple does--with her pessimism and anxiety balancing his optimism and happy-go-lucky attitude--when I don't know any real people like them. I had to cover what happens if you lose a child, and how you go on with your life (and to what extent you don't).

I've written first-person from the point of view of a pre-verbal child in this comic. I've written two male perspectives, and they're very different from each other--one's a sort of gregarious spiritual hippie, and the other is jaded and intellectual but has a sense of humor, and they share the same religion. I've written an extremely close relationship between a student of prophetic arts and her dear mentor, and I've written about what happens when they have to lose each other. In addition to the really weird fantasy aspects of the story which have happened to no one, I had to make everyday experiences that are just as foreign to me feel real to the audience and the characters. And sometimes it was a challenge because very little of what I'm doing here comes from personal experience. (Though sometimes the e-mail I get does suggest people think I'm a mom or I've gone through the same tragedies or whatever else.) But that's really what writing is about (unless you're writing your autobiography): convincing your readers that an entirely different person is authentically going through what you say they are.

I've enjoyed "practicing" on these characters in a low-pressure situation, but even though that's the practical upshot of what this story has been "for," their stories are far more to me than practice novels. There's no end planned and I have no intention of shutting the comic down, though I of course recognize that one day I may need to for some reason or another. But for now, I'm happy to be celebrating eight years, and I hope I'm making a "Webcomic Negative One turns nine" blog post on May 20th next year.


  1. You say you don't get many comments, so I thought I'd add mine... I saw the link you put at the head of the website, and came here to see what you're like. I like you as much as the comic. I have been reading it for awhile. Even though it isn't really easy to just google and I have a tendency to remember the character's names more than the name of the work... I've dug it up and put it right back on my comic reading list through two irrecoverable computer crashes. My favorite character is definitely Amanda. You catch the toddler-esque way of thinking perfectly! Your book sounds interesting. I've been curious about asexuality as a concept for awhile. I bookmarked your blog, and I'll probably buy your book when it comes out. GL and thanks for publishing so I can share your awesome writing!

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Mouse. I'm glad you like me, and I'm glad you were able to re-find the comic. Thanks for being so dedicated to continuing to read it. And your rationale for liking Amanda is so nice to hear--she's sometimes quite a handful to write, but I guess you'd expect that. Just wait until she's older. I've got so much going on for her.

      I run a YouTube channel and a Tumblr about asexuality if you ever want more resources. And thank you for all the compliments.

  2. I like this approach. I'm considering this approach for many of my short fiction, just because I think I still have a lot to learn in terms of writing before I can make it in the big leagues.

    I've also been reading it intermittently, and I'm enjoying what I find so far. I hope it keeps updating.

    1. Ah yes, practice works are necessary, but the problem is we rarely think they're just practice when we're writing them. They're our MAGNUM OPUS!!! Heh, but with this, I could definitely feel low pressure to improve and no consequences if it sucks. :)