- It started here, as Joel Watson noted that it’s been both four years of making Hijinks Ensue his job, and just about five years of the strip in general. Yay, anniversaries. But then it got deeper:
Now here’s the rub. HE used to have a very strong character element along with the humor. I started looking back at old comics and thinking back to the comments I used to get an conventions and the emails I would receive and the number one positive remark I would get is that the “characters are just like me and my friends,” or “I love Josh because he reminds me of my friend,” etc. Then all of a sudden these comments stopped. What changed? I reread my old comics again and realized that as I started traveling more and my daughter got older (requiring more and more time for her extracurricular activities), I started seeing the real life Josh and Eli less and less. In fact, I probably haven’t seen either of them more than once or twice in 2012. Our social realities just don’t align that well any more. It’s a fact of life and a bi-product of having children. I don’t love them any less, and I don’t believe we have grown apart as friends. The time to just fuck around and be silly with each other just isn’t there nearly as often as it used to be.
The result of this decreased exposure to the inspiration for my characters was that I lost my crutch. I had never been forced to create personalities for the characters since I would just observe the real people behind them and exaggerate their actions and reactions. Sometime around the middle to end of 2011 I really started writing in a singular voice. Every character was interchangeable and while I think the joke writing got MUCH tighter as time went by, the character development essentially vanished. This was never more evident than in the fact that NO ONE ever seemed to know the names of the characters. As one of my peers, who I respect greatly, told me, “Your characters are interchangeable. People love our characters and that’s why they love the comic.” I used to say, “The characters in HE are just there to service the joke,” as if it was one of the selling points of the comic. If that was the case, why would I keep drawing the same guys over and over? I didn’t realize I was admitting a shortcoming of the strip and disguising it as a feature. [emphasis original]
That couldn’t have been easy to write. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a creator be so self-analytical in public¹, and Watson’s conclusion is that he needs to shake things up — shake himself up² — in lieu of the pure pop-culture commentary that has been his stock in trade:
I am going to start devoting more time in HijiNKS ENSUE to getting to know the characters. Not necessarily their jobs, relationship or other sitcom type stuff (which still doesn’t interest me), but more their characteristics, quirks and view points. I want to teach myself (by doing) how to write in a voice that is not my own. I want to recapture that individuality the HE characters had in the early years before they became prisoners of my own head and parrots for my own point of view.
Good on you, Mr Watson.
- Now, let’s go back even further into the mists of time, as one of the most (weirdly) beautiful and (justly) beloved webcomics of the prior decade went on hiatus. To be specific, A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible has been quiet since 23 May, 2006. Fast forward to the present day, and one of the longest hiatuses³ of webcomics history is nearing an end, per co-creator/art half David Hellman:
May I suggest that you spend in the intervening hours between now and Update catching up on the ALILBTDII archives?
¹ In private, sure, all the time, although that has a definite tendency towards “artistic self-loathing” with a soupçon of meltdown.
² Not to mention adding what Jerry Holkins has for a decade or more referred to as dreaded continuity.