Vattu 2018

Last year I posted some writing about what working on Vattu is like on the approximate anniversary of starting the comic, so let’s do that again: a Vattu State of the Union. Helpful to orient myself and think about what it feels like to be in the thick of this thing and actually moving forward!!

The majority of this past year has been taken up by working on Island Book for First Second Books at a more consistent and frantic pace than I’ve worked on maybe anything ever. It is now DONE, as of a last (I think) round of small edits I made last week. Vattu had to be back-burnered occasionally but never stopped for too long, and it’s a relief to be back into it and engage with some very Big Statement parts of it lately.

A circumstance of this weird career I am trying to keep afloat with no clear template to compare it to is that I have to work on a dozen things at once as much as I can; I have to instrumentalize the most self-destructively productive parts of myself in order to move forward, because if I stop it starts to unravel.

I am a webcomics person; my work is only feasible because of the internet and the social structure of the internet is what allows it to be the way it is. I’m thinking a lot lately about how the internet is becoming more and more limited by corporate structures. It isn’t a vast strange space of individuals pursuing idiosyncratic work in high-context communities in quite the same way as it was ten years ago: now we engage with the internet by means of rigidly commodifying social media platforms. Everything feels increasingly desperate, and exploitative, and hostile to deep ideological or stylistic creativity. I don’t know what to do with this other than to try to be aware of it and move forward.

In this new context it feels like the work I do probably couldn’t have gotten any sort of foothold, audience-wise, had I started it just a couple of years later. And the work I’m doing now feels sometimes like it’s drifting even further from the sort of work that’s viable on the internet lately. I don’t know what to do with this either!

One way to move forward that practically everybody I know who came up around when I did has taken is to diversify and try to opt-in to this or that corporate structure, as the space for independent work has dried up. The First Second book is the first way I’ve really done that, and I’m extremely happy with how that process has gone– I have had to modulate or edit what I wanted to do with Island Book practically not at all, which is extremely rare. I’m optimistic that the American book-publishing world seems to be more aware of what comics can be, and more interested in expanding that space, even as independent work seems more treacherous.

I say all this just to outline some big feelings I’ve had over the past year or so about what pop culture is and what independent art is and what I’m actually doing. I am enormously grateful that I have an audience that’s invested in what I’m doing and seems to really Get it in a complicated way, in a cultural context in which that seems increasingly rare.

So anyway now I’m back in the thick of working on Vattu, at a slightly quicker pace than I’ve been able to for well over a year. Last year I wrote about how writing Vattu felt like exploring a space I’d built, but now it’s very different, as I approach the end of the third book and Plot starts to happen in a more focused way. The 45-page long sequence of Vattu returning home is something I’d been building up in my head since starting the comic in 2010; it felt like a way of reconnecting with my original intentions with the comic, and bringing to them everything else I’d built into it without meaning to over the course of it. Nothing turns out like you plan it if it takes you long enough to get there! I’ve been trying to learn how to lean into that, and be faithful to the plans I made in 2010 at the same time as the significance the story has to me as I’m working on it now.

There are two scenes left of The Tower & the Shadow, the third of four books of Vattu. I’d like to get a Kickstarter running pretty quickly after posting the end of it to get the physical version printed. The image at the top of this post is the title page for the book. I am pretty happy with this one.

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