A Start from the Dark

To tilt both the chicken and its proverbial egg on edge, how about: What came first, the comic or the idea?

Every so often the absurdity of what I’m creating hits me face first – I talk about how something else is strange or silly or absurd and find myself having to add something to the effect of “..says the one creating a webcomic where one character is one fourth size for no apparent reason.”. And it’s true, really – it’s not the sort of cast where you go “Oh that’s obvious, why didn’t I think of that?”. To be honest, if I’d started with the mindset of creating a comic first, I doubt I would’ve either.

It starts simple. A sudden idea, a moment of inspiration. Like a private joke blooming up in your mind that you can’t wait to share. I was sitting around playing with 3D studio with no real idea what I wanted to create and with no task given. I was just talking with someone on MSN Messenger (or maybe that should be Windows Live Messenger now, alternatively Windows Dead Messenger seeing its occasional lapses in reliability, but I digress) and suddenly it hit me – an iconically humorous picture of a large character holding a really small one. It just popped into my mind and lacking for other inspiration, I pounced the sudden muse like an avatar of hunt and death. RAWR

I just took what character models and appearances I had available and put it together. It wasn’t awesome by far, but it was weird, it was silly and – to enough people – it was funny. Eventually the suggestion came up – why not make a comic out of it.

Why not indeed. The character dynamic was pretty obvious rather quickly – the larger warrior who cut stuff with a sword and the much smaller incarnation of snarkiness being some sort of strange shoulder elf. Warping the name Nhani Moonfall into Hani Foonmall seemed apt and strange enough for the setting and the smaller character got the name Tiny because she was and it seemed to make sense like that. And with that idea in mind I just set off, passed by some quest zones at a fairly rapid rate, reached up to five pages made and developed a running joke where everyone called Tiny an imp (much to her chagrin). It worked but it didn’t really feel like it was progressing anywhere. With nowhere to look forward to and nowhere to put it, it quickly fell to disinterest and was abandoned. Though I kept it in my mind and was occasionally nudged by my local World of Warcraft community to continue it, it never really happened.

Eventually a friend of mine started a Team Fortress 2-based webcomic that – while starting well – didn’t really end up getting anywhere. Still, she had a host, a design and was making things. I had neither and felt somewhat envious. So I started formulating an idea how to get things back on their feet – for one thing the old characters were cumbersome to pose – Hani had all these added elements like the armour on top of her existing body mesh, various armour plates and everything, my computer was really choking on all the various elements it had to deform and reposition whenever the slightest element was moved or rotated in any way. Tiny by contrast I’d just shrunk the end mesh so her skeleton was still its normal size and was off to the side – it really was a pain to make it all work.

So I redesigned both of them – using texture detail more than model detail and overall made them simpler and more iconic. After plenty of testing with various outfits Hani ended up with the bright orange Adventurer’s outfit because, ultimately, it was visible. Bright armour, a backpack, a bedroll.. she’s visible. I let her keep her long hair but tied it back to make her seem younger and more casual about the whole warrior aspect and off she went. Tiny had simular small redesigns and then both were given their own unique mesh with their bipeds adjusted to match. Not content in stopping there, they were given more solid character backgrounds this time around, their own set of backstories, motivations and intentions. I divined a reason as to why they’re starting off the way they are, what they’re trying to acomplish with it and just gave them depth where they previously had had none.

Finally, they were given a supporting cast to meet as things progressed (most of which we won’t meet for months) and a plot arc to discover and follow. Following the example of my friend with the Team Fortress 2 comic, I set up hosting on WordPress.com. Then, disaster struck! What would I call it!

The old incarnation had simply been called The Misadventures of Hani and Tiny, but the misadventures blog address was already taken, and I didn’t want to make it something like World of Anything – it didn’t really seem like it’d do the end result justice somehow. I didn’t like it. I wanted something memorable too, something that could just stick in your mind, easy to say, easy to remember. Beyond the Tree just came to mind like that, much like the idea that started things off. It sounded good, it was easy enough to remember and it was packed with all kinds of suggested symbolisms as to what it might actually mean.

And it was available.

So there it was, Beyond the Tree – the Misadventures of Hani and Tiny, a fledgling webcomic about a young former Sentinel and her 1/4’th size friend. When I hit nine pages I finally decided I should link to it on the European World of Warcraft forums, on the tenth page (ironically numbered #09 and named after a Queen song. “Radio NaGa” – “Radio GaGa“, come on!) it was linked to and .. well.. noticed.

It’s been quite the journey since!


3 Responses to “A Start from the Dark”

  1. March 6, 2009 at 00:40

    Do you have any more of the older pictures saved up?
    i would love to see them.

  2. 2 Nhani
    March 6, 2009 at 08:20

    I have a few.. well.. tests, in a sense. I tested a few textures on Hani (though no renders of that), had an alternate model for her that I never got a use for, and the entire Misadventures run that is something like.. five pages or so. I might show the odd thing at fitting moments, heh.

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