Looking Back on Urban Underbrush
(This post contains some references to the last chapter of Urban Underbrush, so you may want to finish the series first, to avoid spoilers)
I did it! After almost six years and over 300 comic strips, I have brought Urban Underbrush to a close. I should probably feel bad about this, but right now, I only feel this great sense of accomplishment. It’s as if I finished a novel or something. The whole story is now out there for anyone to enjoy.
Do we make stories because we want to be authors or do we become authors because we have stories? In my case, it was a little of each.
In 2009 I was finishing the first draft of Draconis Wicked, which I had planned to post it as an online graphic novel. While I had drawn plenty of comics, I had never made a webcomic before. Draconis seemed too complicated to start with, so I started developing a comic strip to build my confidence. I gradually came up with the idea to draw a “wacky roommates” comic with some of the favorite characters from my middle school/high school comics.
Dynamite, Detonator, Slasher, Scatter, and Caius originated in “The Explosive Adventures of Dynamite and Detonator,” an adventure series I started in the sixth grade. It featured bomb-building jackrabbits and their animal friends. I made up tons of stories, drew tons of character pictures, and penned a few stand alone comics, but I never completed any of the major arcs I had envisioned.
Cassidy, Blair, Maxwell, Vincent, Clayton and Leslie were introduced in an eight page stand-alone comic called “Small Town Showdown.” In this story, Blair, the leader of a small group of friends, has returned to town to settle an old score. Blair envisions himself as the star of an action movie scenario, but his friends spoil his fantasy by having goals and dreams of their own instead of simply playing Blair’s goofy, downtrodden sidekicks. I wrote this story in by junior year of high school.
In my senior year of high school, I wrote another stand-alone called “Flip Side.” In this 15 page comic, three ordinary humans fall into another realm. It was a humorous parody of SciFi and fantasy tropes. Clive was created to be the obnoxious best friend of the kind yet forgettable hero, Deacon. I wrote that story for a school comic book club and I’m pretty sure I was the only member who actually finished a comic.
In the early 2000’s, I had begun experimenting with that sort of “Toy Box” style of writing where authors throw a lot of different characters from different continuities together. I discovered that my early characters had the potential for good chemistry. But I didn’t have enough to build on, until I thought of a house with a tree growing out of it. Stories came pretty quickly after that. I drew the first ten comic strips before I had even build a website.
Actually, the website was one of my biggest obstacles. I had no programming skills and the “how-to” books were only getting me so far. I was attending grad school for Instructional Technology and I signed up for a web development class as soon as I had an opening in my schedule. My final project was the prototype for the first Lepus Studios website. I launched the site on New Year’s Day, 2010 – about two weeks after I had completed the course.
I must have been crazy starting a comic that winter. I was working three jobs and still attending one night class. But working on the comic did not sap up too much energy. In fact, doing good, creative work gave me energy.
Things were pretty steady for a long time. I rebuilt the site a few times and switched from black and white to color. I launched Draconis Wicked in the summer of 2011 and eventually settled into updating both comics every week.
In 2013, I began having trouble writing Urban Underbrush. Dynamite and Detonator were too destructive and they had too little in common with the rest of the cast. I wrote the chapter House Inspection to give Dynamite and Detonator another connection to the other characters. I also wanted to switch their focus from demolition to fireworks so I could write more explosions with less collateral damage.
The retooling made the comic much easier to write, but, in a few years, I noticed some other problems with the story, problems which could not be remedied so easily. I had too many redundant characters and the overcrowding made it tough to develop any of them the way I had hoped. The story also had too many big focus points. Half the time, I was writing about Dynamite and Detonator’s secret business and the other half, I was writing about how the guys kept the house going. The biggest mistake was giving the lead characters a secret business where none of the other characters could participate. How do you keep writing for an ensemble cast when most of cast can’t join the lead characters? In the fall of 2015, I made the decision to end the comic. (This decision was the topic of my previous blog post.)
The realization that I couldn’t keep writing Urban Underbrush made me feel horrible. I couldn’t think about anything else. I slept restlessly. I kept coming up with new comics to replace Urban Underbrush and talked about them to anyone who would listen. I didn’t feel better until I signed up for a comic consultation with webcomics.com. The consultation did help me develop a new idea – a better comic that will bring back many of the same characters and premises. This next project will give me a chance to tell all the good stories that just couldn’t be fit into Urban Underbrush. I’m not ready to divulge any details yet, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in this next one.
Coming up with a new comic idea did make me feel better, but it drained my enthusiasm for continuing Urban Underbrush. Yet, quitting the comic without giving it a resolution would not be fair to my readers or my characters. Plus, I knew that if I abandoned the comic, I’d always regret it. I knew that this last chapter would not be any good if I couldn’t invest myself in it, so I put Draconis Wicked on hold and gave Urban Underbrush my undivided attention. Although my web stats took a hit, the decision worked out for me. I began to feel less disconnected from my work. I really started getting attached again when I hit comic #307. That was when the big twists started to arise. That was when it all started feeling real.
While the drawing and posting was tough at times, the final script was easy to write. I took the resolutions I had always planned for the long-term ending, condensed them a bit, and wove them together. The connection between Nitro and Cassidy was something new that came to me while I was outlining. Finding balance in life has always been a major theme of Urban Underbrush, so having those two characters talk about their roles one more time felt really right. The idea to knock down the house started as a joke, but, once I had thought about it, no other ending seemed right. I needed one sad event to make all the happy ones feel more real. It also marked a real change. The end of an era for the residents.
Sure, I could probably start a new story right where this one left off. I could do a whole series about everyone living in the desert and building fireworks. But I’m not interesting in telling that one. I like to think that this version of my characters can live happily and wackily ever after without us.
So I’m ready to wrap it up. It’s a funny thing. I knew I couldn’t tell this story well without getting emotionally invested all over again. But that means getting invested just in time to say goodbye. And I’m okay with that. An emotional goodbye sure beats an emotionless one. I think I ended it the right way.
My thanks to everyone who joined me on this journey. That includes those of you who were there from the beginning, those who joined in the middle, and even those who will find this comic in the future and read it in your own time.
On October 24, I will start updating Draconis Wicked again and there will be plenty of new adventures ahead.
Enjoy your rest, little rabbits. We’ll meet again.