Final thoughts on The Z Train

I just posted the last page of The Z Train. I hope it was at least somewhat enjoyable.

After going back through the comic again this month, one page at a time, I still have a lot of misgivings about the end product, but regardless, it is definitely nice to actually have an end product. Working on this comic proved that I could still draw and finish things while pulling full time hours at the Real Job… as long as I have a tight, immovable deadline. If I could only come up with enough ideas to work from, I could probably do one of these every other month or so. But the problem is the ideas. It took me three weeks to finalize the story/thumbnails for The Z Train, and little more than a week to pencil, ink, and tone the whole thing. You’d think it’d be the other way around.

But the ideas I had at the beginning of October were far from what I ended up with. Originally, I had wanted to attempt something more experimental. I wanted do a comic primarily in brushes (rather than the crutch that is the tech pen) and wanted the storytelling to be more surreal (and/or absurd), less straightforward. I also wanted to do something in my more “normal” style. Chibi-style is great for 24hr Comic Day because it is fast and easy, but I’d given myself a whole month! …But that month went away very fast, and in the end, I went back to what was easy. A failed venture on that front, but the only hard requirement was a finished comic. Maybe next time there needs to be different requirements.

I am terrible at coming up with new characters, so I tend to recycle the same ones for multiple projects. This is kind of obvious when you look at Rainbows and Rainclouds, Grains of Salt, and Greater than DOG. When I’m stuck, I end up iterating through existing characters in my head until I find something I can work with. The sketch of Aymichi on a bus stop bench was the first doodle that eventually led to The Z Train. But Aymichi is still, after all these years, more of a visual design than a character, and I didn’t have time to try and hash out a personality for him for the fifth billionth time. So I moved on very quickly from Aymichi to Ferris, who appeared briefly on the first page of Greater than DOG.

I have a great love of New York City. As such, a large percentage of my characters live in and around the city. Aymichi was on a bus stop bench, but subways are cooler and creepier than buses by far, so the subsequent sketch was of Ferris on a subway train. I am still very fond of shadow wolves I used in 狼来了 and thought, heeeeeeeeey, shadow wolves can live in the subways just as well as they can in the forest, right? Sure. Why the hell not. They can live there with the hobos. Cue creation of a hobo shadow wolf person. Cue further thought processes that got tangled up in a Little Red Riding Hood-esque storyline.

And then I was thinking that I have way too many accidentally androgynous protagonists. I actually think Ferris is much less questionable in chibi form, but no one else agrees with me. So I designed Ferris a sister with more traditional gender cues in regards to her appearance. But I still like androgyny. So I named her Sammie. Meanwhile, the hobo is still a mystery! I think the hobo is probably a girl too, but I dunno. It could also be a boy. Who knows? Who cares? The dA poll I had on the subject is also inconclusive. What we learn from all of this: don’t assume anything.

I started these (awful) thumbnails not long after finalizing character designs, but that didn’t mean I had any idea what the story or plot was. The beginning of the comic would be mostly the same regardless, so I just started planning out pages. I changed the reason Sammie had to take the Z Train about five times. I changed the resolution of the comic ten times. The parts that remained the same throughout the revisions ended up with the most pages because I didn’t want to re-plan things I had already planned. That’s probably why the beginning of the comic dragged on for so long.

I really didn’t realize how incredibly draggy and slow the first half of the comic was until I posted page after page of not much happening. Seriously! Nothing really happens until after the halfway point. I mean, I suppose you can say it’s building suspense and anticipation, but man, if it frustrated me, it was probably worse for the readers, huh?

As the story technically took place in New York, I spent some time debating how much effort I wanted to actually put in making it accurate. But I am neurotic about these sorts of things if I decide it matters. If it’s going to be accurate, I was going to need to look at which was in fact the least-used subway line in New York. I was going to need photo references of the specific station. I was going to need to know the real names of the stops and what kinds of stores/restaurants were located at its stops. Basically: I was going to have to drive myself more insane than usual trying to cross-reference reports and maps while trying to beat a deadline.

So I said screw it.

Some things are half-accurate. It was very hard finding reports of individual line usage, but the Z is probably low on the list. The Z and J trains do in fact stop at Broad St. Station, but the sign for the station probably doesn’t hang up high like I drew it. And there probably isn’t a Little Thailand way out to the east and I would be very, very surprised if there was a restaurant called Jalupa’s Kitchen. But HEY WHATEVER. The Z Train probably also doesn’t have zero ridership and probably doesn’t have a creepy hobo child of indiscriminate gender living on it with a pack of shadow puppies! Probably.

I was still thumbing and re-thumbing the last couple of pages when I started penciling the first pages. Many of the thumbnails you see in these sketches never actually got used… and there might be a few pages that weren’t ever properly thumbnailed. This probably confused me, which is why after I finished inking everything and was scanning pages on October 30th, I realized I was one page short of 24. Panic! Rage! Very hasty insertion of a new page somewhere in the middle of the comic! Shockingly, I kind of actually like that page. Bet you can’t guess which it is! But yeah. Protip: if you have a page count to meet, double check frequently.

In the end, I suppose The Z Train turned out well enough as the first post-schooling comic I’ve done, driven by my own deadlines. Still have a lot of room for improvement though. Next time: maybe lay off the chibis and the tech pens, eh? But no, actually, the next comic you’ll see from me will probably be THE BLACK CAT, which is an 8-page short I drew back in Spring and never toned properly. I want to give MangaStudio another go and tone it in there and then post the whole thing. Shooting for some time after New Years? I dunno. But look out for it. :O