I have fallen off the face of the world.

Or, perhaps that must be what it seemed like. Last fall, I said I needed to take a few weeks off to finish rebuilding the website and, somehow, those weeks turned into months with only a short story and a few random strips breaking up the emptiness. I should have posted to let you know I was still working and still alive. For that I apologize. But it was taking me longer than anticipated to get back to making comics and it’s difficult to tell people you’re coming back when you don’t know how long you’ll be away.

I know some of you don’t want a lot of explanation, while others will want to know everything I’ve been up to, so I’m posting a short version and a long version of what I’ve been doing that’s been keeping me.

The Short Version:

  • Started rebuilding website
  • Messed up my wrist
  • Helped write an opera
  • Finished website
  • Printed a promo book

If that’s all you need to know, you have my permission to stop reading now. If you want more details, I’ll elaborate on each item in The Long Version.

The Long Version:

1. Started Rebuilding the Website

I loved the original Lepus Studios website. I had written it from the ground up and I was rather proud of it. But it had problems. For one thing, it was slow to load. Plus readers were asking for features like comment boards, which would have added to the loading time even more (the old site was never really optimized for plugins). Last summer, when I published the “Manuscript” chapter of Urban Underbrush, several people told me that it was their favorite chapter. Some even said it was the best thing I’d ever written. In spite of this, my site was losing visitors. I figured that if my art and writing were improving, the problem must be the website. I had been contemplating making a switch to a WordPress site “someday.” Now it seemed like every day I put off the switch, I was wasting my efforts posting good comics on a site with few visitors.

WordPress is actually easier than my old method of site-building, but it was difficult to readjust my thinking from a site where I had to build everything myself to a site where everything had to be made of customized plugins. I tried learning WordPress and building a new site while continuing to draw and post new comics After two months of this, I had made little to no progress on the site. If I was ever going to finish, WordPress needed my undivided attention. So I put the comics and hold and threw myself into web design. It was hard work, but very satisfying because everyday I was learning new things and making steady progress. And when you work your hardest at something and give it all your time and attention and never give up you can…give yourself a repetitive stress injury.

2. Messed Up My Wrist

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Yup, this happened.

I started getting these little pains in my hands and some weakness in both index fingers. At first, I didn’t think it was computer-related, so I tried taking aspirin and started sleeping in an arm brace. But I soon realized that as my computer use was increasing, so was my pain.

Before anyone starts worrying, no, I do not have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But I did have a repetitive stress injury, and I would probably do some serious damage to my hands and wrists if I didn’t take a rest. At the time, I was really fixated on the new site and I really didn’t want to quit, but I was afraid that if I didn’t take a break, I might be ruining my future as a cartoonist and as a programer. I couldn’t draw or use the computer for long stretches. And stopping felt so very wrong.

3. Helped Write an Opera

Funny thing. Human lives are very fluid. If you remove something, you don’t have a big hole where it used to be. Something else will come flowing in to fill the gap. In my case, that thing was opera (I’m as surprised as you are.)

My sister, Liz, is an opera singer. She’s preformed in many local shows and even co-wrote an original opera in 2010. One day, she told me that she and her friends were writing a parody opera based on video games, specifically the Super Smash Bros. series. They were hoping to perform this new show at MAGfest and other game conventions. I am not incredibly musical, but I am a pretty huge Nintendo fan, so I asked if I could join the troupe. The five musicians/performers who were writing this thing were already friends of mine, so they accepted me pretty quickly as a graphic artist and one of the writers for the project.

The idea was simple, but clever. Operas have simple stories that are made to show off the music. Video games have simple stories that exist to serve the gameplay. So why not write an opera about video games? Our music experts took the old, public domain songs from classic operas, then were rewrote the lyrics to be about Mario, Pikachu, Link and the rest. The Smash Bros. games seemed like the best place to start (so we could use many of Nintendo’s characters) and Super Smash Opera took flight.

 As you must know, I have much more experience in writing than I do in music or performance, so I took on some story director roles and wrote some song lyrics. Here’s a spoiler-free synopsis: Each year, Nintendo holds a “Smash Bros. Tournament” to decide which characters should star in next year’s new video games. The big shot characters want to hold on to their titles, while the underdogs look to make a name for themselves. We ended up with a nice little story about giving everyone a turn to play. But with a lot of slapstick violence, of course. Lots of that.

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The event poster from January’s show

Once the script was finished, my focus switched to fabrication. Several of the smaller characters, particularly the Pokemon, would have to be played by puppets. I designed six puppets and had to sew most of them by hand. While sewing said puppets, something strange happened to me. Sewing puppets somehow cured my wrist injury. I suppose pulling thread works the opposite muscle groups. Sewing turned out to be effective therapy and the aches in my hands and wrists vanished in less than a week.

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Some of the puppets.

In January, we performed Super Smash Opera at MAGfest 13. It was very well received by our audience of gamers, music lovers, and people who were waiting for the Jon Tron panel. I hope we get to go back and to it again next year.

4. Finished the Website

Now that my arm was cured and my opera commitments were completed, I was finally able to finish my website. By this point, I was finally starting to think in Wordpress terms, instead of just HTML, so I was spending less time learning and more time doing. Actually, WordPress is much easier than straight HTML, but you can do so much more with WordPress if you’re already familiar with code.

I’m pretty happy with the site now. It’s sleeker and runs faster. I’m already having a tough time imagining going back to a purely home-spun site, but that may have something to do with all the time I spent building this one.

5. Printed a Promo Book

I’d like to make some appearances at local conventions this summer and it would be pretty embarrassing to be a cartoonist at a convention without a single comic book to sell. The trouble is, I’m still growing my fan base, and I simply can’t afford to print big, bound comic collections if a huge demand for it isn’t there yet.

For now, I’m printing a single floppy book of Draconis Wicked, Chapter One. It’s a 28 page book that also includes a neat little map in the back. I don’t plan on printing the entire story in this fashion, but Chapter One as a stand-alone seems like a good way to introduce the story to new readers.

You’ve probably heard this before, but book-making takes TIME. This early chapter needed a lot of retouching, lettering needed replaced, then every page needed to be adjusted to fit the printer’s specs.

This book will be a convention-exclusive thing for the summer (I’ll be announcing my plans soon), then I may sell any extra copies online.

If you can’t wait to read it, I’ve already replaced the early version of Draconis Wicked, Chapter One with the improved version I cleaned up for printing. Go back to the beginning and read it like new.

So now, I’m getting back to drawing comics. It might take a little time, as I’m a bit out of practice, but I have some new stories written, so we should be back on track and better than ever. Stick around. After all, you’ve waited this long.

-Marj