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Howard Answers Fan Questions

December 17, 2015

I recently solicited questions from the Schlock Mercenary faithful. I asked them what they would like to ask Howard Tayler. They didn’t disappoint. They asked about the past, present and future of Schlock Mercenary. Below are his answers.

[Mark Hedberg] Can you tell us about the time you realized ‘Hey, Schlock is actually feeding my family successfully!’ How did you know, and what did it feel like?

[Howard Tayler]: We knew because math, and it felt like relief.

Specifically, it was 18 hours after we opened pre-orders on the 1st print project, which was Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management. Eighteen hours after pre-orders opened we had paid for the print run AND paid the next six months of bills. 

Up until that point we’d been scraping by month-to-month, miracle-to-miracle, barely making ends meet. After that point we had a source of income that involved less scraping, and the ability to plan ahead.

[Will] How much research do you have to do for Schlock Mercenary these days, in particular to maintain consistency with 15 years of previous strips and getting the physics reasonably accurate (e.g. Oisri’s mass and gravity, or antimatter containment in carbon buckyballs)?

[HT] I devote between 2 and 10 hours per week to research. If it’s only 2 hours, it’s the as-needed stuff where I have to scramble to look things up, whether in the archives or in science sources. If it’s 10 hours, I had the luxury of drilling down on something well in advance of writing any scripts. 

By way of example, the strip for Feb 1, 2015 required three hours of research for historical data and supporting images that would allow me to create a narrative around the word “cavalry.” 

[Erik Zolan] When are you going to start working in other mediums? (Movie, TV series)

[HT] I’m not pursuing that kind of work. It’s time-consuming and expensive, and I’m certainly not going to attempt to finance cinematic or small-screen stuff on my own. 

If somebody comes along and offers me a producer’s slice of the pie for some TV or movie story work, well, I’ll put a stake in the ground and say as of that moment I’ll start working in TV or movies. 

[Jean Paul] What is the craziest thing you’ve done in the comic since you began to write it?

[HT] Launching an in-media res story (Sharp End of the Stick) with a half-page outline. Things turned out okay, lucky me. 

[Mark Hedberg] On the lighter side, which is your favorite character? 😉

[HT] It varies. When a character has an arc that is tied to the larger plot, and when that character is having pain of some sort, and is forced to face it in ways that allow me to write a really good strip? As of that moment, that character is my favorite. Recent favorites include Captain Landon, Captain Sorlie, Libretti/Kowalski, Schlock, and Commodore Tagon. 

[Nick Brown] At what point did Schlock Mercenary go from a collection of world ideas and characters to a consistent overarching story with a coherent universe of rules and an overarching plot, or has it pretty much always been like that?

[HT] The universe began hardening up before I was aware of it. By the first story in The Teraport Wars, which was “Quest for Second Sight,” I was actually aware of it, and started planning further ahead. Part of the planning ahead involved looking at what I’d already done, and creating plans for which that stuff would look like carefully laid groundwork. 

[alexander] In the (increasingly more miniscule amounts of) free time that you can scrape together, what fiction do you prefer to be a consumer of? Do you have a bookmark folder full of other comics you read (perhaps justifying it as market research), do you veg out in front of favorite tv shows (which?), or do you have a long watchlist of movies?

[HT] Well, the movies I review should serve as a good gauge of what kinds of stories I like. In books, I’m moving away from the re-hashes of the space operas I grew up on. They seem pretty narrow to me these days. For the most part, I read books on recommendations of fellow creators who like to read books.

[Liam] Assuming that Schlock Mercenary will come to an end (say it isn’t so!), how much headspace have you dedicated to your next great epic? Is it something that you find yourself actively thinking about, or is it recognised and put entirely on the back burner for now?

[HT] It is so. 

Absent a quantitative metric for “headspace,” I’ll just say “lots.” I have lots of kilobytes worth of notes, and lots of different kinds of notes for lots of different types of stories. Lots and lots and lots. 
The “back burner” metaphor is apt here, because as someone who cooks a lot, I know that during a single session at the stove, things will get moved between burners at least two or three times. The stuff on my back burner gets pulled to the front every so often.

[Paul] Are there any ways in which your personal faith or beliefs influence your writings (whether thematically, what content you are willing or not willing to include in the comic, etc)?

[HT] This is a tough one to answer. It’s a little bit like asking a fish to explain how water has affected his choices about where to live. The unrecognized influences far outnumber the ones I can put my finger on. 
The biggest influence on my work is that I wanted to tell a story that was the kind of story I like to read. 
If I had to pick a single religious principle whose expression has been important to the Schlock Mercenary story, that principle would be “agency,” as understood by my fellow Mormons. Our choices, right or wrong, are OUR choices, and our claim on them is sacred. I suspect that the astute reader can find that particular thread woven throughout the comic.

[Keith Schiffner] How come we never see any left handed charectors? Hmm?” (from a concerned lefty who is so left handed I could lose the right arm and not miss it.)

[HT] Kaff Tagon is left-hand dominant. Any character who is firing their weapon in plot-advancing, “protagonist-supporting” ways in the last panel of a strip is likely to be firing it left handed, because that lets me draw the more interesting, “open” side of their body, rather than having their right arm screen most of them. 

Honestly, I don’t give character handedness that much thought. I’m cross-dominant, and have trained myself for ambidexterity in a few ways. I decided that well-trained soldiers of the 31st century will similarly train themselves in order to ensure maximum effectiveness. If the passage curves up and to the right, a right-handed weapon may present a slight disadvantage. 

  June 8, 2001

October 15, 2004 

Capital Offensive

[BenE] Given your introduction of aliens and intellects of carbosilicate amorphs, dark matter, advanced networked AI’s, gas inflated foil etchings, regenerated lives, time clones, duplicated clones with identical memories and more, what do you think would be the first of all those creations of yours for humankind to be likely to encounter or create? 

[HT] Artificial Intelligence. 
I think all of the necessary technologies already exist. We simply haven’t had time to go correctly combinatorial on ’em. 

I think we’ll hit A.I. before we hit indefinite human life extension, and the modes we use for extending our lives will depend heavily upon HOW we hit A.I.

This is the fourth of a five part series on Schlock Mercenary. 

Monday – Interview with cartoonist  Howard Tayler
Tuesday – Interview with Business Manager Sandra Tayler
Wednesday – A Day in the Life photo essay of the cartoonist process
Thursday – Howard Tayler answers pre-submitted Fan Questions
Friday – New Maxims Revealed

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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