When Magical Girls Rule the World (or making a tough choice when you pick your projects)

Yesterday I was sitting in the gym of one of my schools, waiting for the opening ceremony of the year to begin. I like to people watch, so I showed up early and watched the first-year students approach the seat assignment board with their parent (or parents, or sometimes with friends), in their brand new, still super-stiff school uniform. They had the perfect mixture of eagerness and downright anxiety about what was to follow. The school is a technical school, so the population is mostly boys. As I saw girls start to filter into their ranks, I was really happy. I’m not underestimating when I say that there are less than ten girls in the first year class. Last year there was less than five. The girls at the school have always reminded me of me– picking the more difficult path in order to make your dreams come true.

So what does any of this have to do with creating comics? Well, I had an epiphany while watching this opening ceremony. I’m not even sure what truly caused it, but I suspect it was when I started to think about just how hard it will be for those girls in their new life. How they made that choice, and how much respect they must have for themselves for not going down the most traveled path and instead following their own ambitions. And then I thought about myself, and the choice that I made a little over a year ago to accept the position offered to me to come teach in a foreign country. And how hard my life was, and how I’m just now getting comfortable enough, but still long for home, and the more I thought about all of this, the more my mind kept saying “Man, wouldn’t that make a great comic?” Because in the end, my brain is hardwired for trying to figure out how my daily experiences will make good content for stories. It’s what I do. And in that thought, the idea of doing a magical girl comic came back to the forefront in my mind.

I think I just heard the record scratch as I lost everyone in my train of thought. That happens a lot, I’m used to it.


What was not to be…

This was not the first time I’ve had this thought about magical girls. Back at SCAD I actually made an animatic of a crack idea called Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome, but did it more as of a joke than anything. My friends and I loved the magical girl trope, and I loved messing around with it. But in the end, all that came of it was a 90 second animatic that left my professor rolling with laughter (as I was aiming to do), and a maquette that later broke. Over the next year or so, I occasionally sketched more magical girl things, but I was more focused on doing serious work (that was during my phase when I was fed up with people telling me I had a tendency to “go cute” so I did some really dark stories… all that which made editors question my sanity– but we’re not going to go into that!).

It was those occasional sketches that landed me with a trial issue at a publisher, and four months of further development and 32 pages later, left me stressed because the project had come to a dead-end. The editor would take a long time in getting back to me for feedback (for those of you who have not dealt with a publisher before this is kind of par for the course– editors are just as busy as artists, bless them!), and in the end the editor got promoted to a really upper level job so the idea got lost in the shuffle because nothing had really taken off yet. My inspiration to work on the title faded fast because it was my first time finally getting that far in da biz, so it was really disheartening. Over the next two years, I’ve poked and prodded at the idea. I even wrote another comic that is a prequel to the new universe that I started to work on. But the falling apart of the deal hit me hard and I wasn’t sure what to do. There was also this little unknown anime called Puella Magi Madoka that had just finished, which pretty much deconstructed everything about the magical girl trope and I wasn’t sure if I could, or wanted to follow that amazing work (because if you have been living under a rock and haven’t seen it, you should remedy that– even if magical girl is not your thing).

But let’s get back to the opening ceremony. What does watching that have to do with the magical girls? The school uniforms, maybe? NOPE. Perhaps the fact that most popular magical girl series take place in a Japanese High School and I was sitting in one at that moment? NOPE. Sakura falling? NOPE. What the opening ceremony and magical girl genre share is a common theme. I promise this won’t become another storytelling lecture, but I do want to address theme for a moment. Think about your first day of high school. It was a frightening experience. Everyone is taller than you, some even look like grown adults already, you are in fear of being shoved into a locker or getting lost in a massive school, and the sinking fear that you are only four (or three) years away from adulthood looms over your life. Then you have to think about what you want to be, whether or not you want to go to college, the list goes on and on. You are a lost soul in a new world. A fish out of water. So is, or at least should be, a heroine in a magical girl story. She has fear, hesitations, she is uncertain of herself and her new powers, whether she is up to the task etc etc. Why do you think a lot of magical girl series start with that transfer girl student? Because the elements tie together like a pretty little bow. There, that’s all I’ll discuss about theme. For now.

So they have a common theme. That was my connection.

Now that my brain was thinking about this, I couldn’t get it out of my head (see this post). Now the responsible thing would be to ignore it, like I advised, or just jot some notes and think about it later because holy crap I’m trying to do this big webcomic series launch! … but that’s the thing. Despite being, in what I thought, the perfect environment to work on Butterfly Dance, it has become anything but. I’m hating working on the outline, and am tearing out my hair trying to get all the pieces to come together. Butterfly Dance has become the ever dreaded Pet Project. You know, that one idea that just lurks about in the back of your brain, that you’ve had for years (we’re coming up on ten years now), that you keep putting off until things are “just right” or when you are a “better artist.” And I’m beginning to think I keep putting it on the backburner because I just can’t get the story to come together in something resembling a cohesive plot that is interesting to someone other than my Furby (yes, I have one– and he thinks Butterfly Dance is off the chain!). And maybe it does need more time… or maybe I just need to forget about it for all and good. I don’t know. But what I do know is if you are hating a project, it’s time to pull the breaks, because if you hate it, anyone who reads it is going to know. I’m intending on spending the next two or more years with this title and I can’t bring myself to even draw anything for it at all? BAD SIGN.

A good sign, is that as soon as I made that mental acceptance to stop working on Butterfly Dance, suddenly my mind was awash with ideas for Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome and got more work done on outlining for that then I had in three months of trying to work on some development for Butterfly Dance.

There are other advantages of making this switch as well. For one, a lot of the universe is already developed. There are going to be several changes in the characters background and such, but a lot of that had been worked out already in the silent interim I had before while waiting to hear back about the sample. It also takes me much less time to produce a page of Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome than anything else, because it is a quickly drawn style. The style for Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome is completely different than my normal art style– its much simpler and human proportions are extremely exaggerated (doll heads! doll heads!). The downside of that, is that after doing the 32 page pitch, I had to work for about a month to get the wacky proportions back under control in my other art. But one fix to that is to continue my weekly Sunday morning art sessions, where I work on something completely different, and I could strive to keep my normal human proportions in check. There is also the difficult task of outlining the series. So far in all it’s incarnations Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome has only been a randomly funny concept, and I would like to tell a cohesive story, which makes things a bit more complicated.

However, in bringing out my old files from the pitch I made three year ago, I felt a sort of renewal in wanting to play in this world again. So here’s to Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome! I hope you all enjoy the ride as much as I do while working on it!

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