perjantai 14. marraskuuta 2014

D'Moleyk - The nightmare that keeps on giving

Warning - contains spoilers for those who have not read episodes from Tähtivaeltaja.

Somewhere around 2012 I began a comic book project, that I wanted to do since 1994. So now I am drawing it, and I'm hoping to finish it by 2015. It's called D'Moleyk - The Mole age. Simple, isn't it ?

If only it could be.

D'Moleyk is a nightmare that keeps on giving. It is a plight that is weighing on every move I make. It has been tormenting me for the last 20 years. It is the best thing (for me) that I have ever done in my life, and the worst.

It began in 1994 from a drawing, as usually. A mole-like creature, and girl with bat-wings. What are they? Intriguing. So I wanted to make story around them. And that's when the problems began.

I wrote a treatment around it called "The last winter". I still have it on floppy disk, somewhere.
So basically, it was about the end of the world. There was this Mole-like humanoid creature, who arrives at a hotel, looking for a job. He gets a job as a cleaner. Later, a father arrives with her daughter. Daughter is found later, murdered. Murderer was apparently her father. Father runs away, or kills himself. The Mole buries the dead girl. Faceless humanoids arrive in the near forest, freezing everyone in sight. Winter gets worse, and power cuts off.  Girl is resurrected as some kind of demon-like creature. In the end, everybody freezes. And then there is an epilogue, an afterlife.

It made no god damn sense. So I could not even begin to draw it. There were too many open questions. Who was this mole creature? Is this even happening on earth? Why there is end of the world? Why eternal winter? Why the girl comes back to life? Why the afterlife? What's the point of the whole mess?

I had, and still have, extremely strong sense of self-criticism. I could not possibly draw it, if I had even a slightest doubt about the story. So, naturally, I tried to think my way through the problems.

During 1994-1998, the plot began to go in all kinds of directions. The girl was sent back from hell. Why hell? Did she commit something wrong? Could the characters be better? Is the plot interesting enough? I invented all kinds of stupid things that made it even bigger mess. The hotel was self-transforming battlestation invented by mad scientist. Faceless ones were omnipotent beings, who were "erasing" and then redrawing reality. Girls was killed for vampiric, Elizabeth Bathory-minded witches, whose touch cursed you so that you would go to hell, and then return as some kind of avenger (I had no idea about a comic called 'Spawn' yet.)

But, in the end everything just felt more stupid. I had piled random, cool-sounding ideas on top of other ideas, until in the end I had juxtaposed mess where nothing fit together. I despaired, and decided to abandon the whole thing.

But something about it bothered me too deeply. There was something too touching about the image of the girl and mole sticking together in the snow, trying to avert themselves from freezing to death. I just could not shake it off my head.

Years 2000-2006 passed. I was mostly busy with my game concept (Furry dragons), which then became my 2nd serious comic book attempt (Lopunperä). Still, I was bothered by this single image - girl and mole trying to survive the winter. I realized, that if something like this bothers you, then it MUST have some potential that is worth pursuing.

So, in 2007, I tried to fit my head around the idea again. First thing was to throw everything away that did not work -mercilessly- and stick what felt the most precious about it: The girl and the mole. Winter. Threat of death. End of the world, life possibly, and resurrection.

But why? I had to have some kind of story arc that made sense. Even then, I stressed that I am just not able to ever find time to do it, because I was busy with Lopunperä.

in 2008, I tried another treatment: A biblical apocalypse. God would intend that it's time for humans to go. Mole would be the harbinger of new race. Girl would be a murderer, who would have escaped from hell (as it would be spilling its inhabitants to the living world).

This simpler storyline felt more powerful and functional. But, there were still things that were bothering me. The young girl as murderer was bit unusual. Nothing wrong with that, but to truly understand such unique character, I would have had to explore her history, what would have made her to do it. This would have made another novel inside a novel, it was simply too much. And then there was spawn. And in the end it was that.. hell felt too goofy, too cartoony, and it would have been therefore difficult for me to sell the reader the real feeling I wanted to create, especially if I could not believe in it myself.

But Lopunperä, and game industry comic kept me busy, so it were in the backburner. Eventually, making of Lopunperä ended, and I began to think about this again.

I decided to downplay the religious aspects, and just make the invaders as some otherworldly beings. The girl would still be some kind of half-demon, and her presence a mystery. The mole would wake up below the ground from a capsule, start wandering about, and meet the girl. They would become friends. World would end.

I met Pertti Jarla and told him the concept. I had never told it to anyone before as I was really embarrassed about it. It still just made no sense to me. But he loved it, and said I should definitely make it. But I just could not bring enough time and energy to concentrate on it. As half a joke, I applied for one month art residence in Praque. I wrote wandering, blumbering synopsis of the thing mentioned above "Girl who may or may not be human.. and this creature.. and they are friends.. and it is set in HELSINKI!" for the art council.. and I got it!

Then I began to really compile for notes and crack the story. I decided that the everything would be caused by extraterrestial beings, or spirits. The mole would be just one member of the coming race who would slumber in their capsules under the earth. Girl would be perfectly normal, but she would get possessed by alien spirit, who goes after the escaped mole. This escape of the mole, too soon, the surface, would risk the aliens plan as humans might find the hives, so it would accelerate the intended apocalypse.

I took on me to do lots of research about possible scenarios of alien invasions and end of the world scenarios, only to find out how childish the whole notion was in the first place. First, you can't just "kill off the world" - it's too large and complex system to be killed, second, there is no payoff to just "kill everyone", third; you just CAN'T go and kill all humans, it's impossible! People are like cockroaches; that's why we've survived so long. It would take years, hundreds of years of dedicated hunting to smoke out the last remainders of our race, hiding around the planet. And to nuke planet so thoroughly that even humans couldn't survive would require so much resources that it would be just ultimately not worth effort.

And there were more; the notion of aliens as "invaders" is basically set on our own prenotions as ape-like species competing for limited resources. To even travel from star system to another would require such resources, that the civilization equipped to do so would no longer need anything from us. The whole notion of aliens invading is just a projection of an ape, trying to imagine a threat of something that is completely outside its own framework of experience.
So they would need another motive. I ended up with idea, which I was and still quite happy with. I am not discussing it here - it could be argued similarly as stupid, but at least it would cater for type IV civilization, at least on a context we can understand.

Then the girl itself; she would become powerful only as in order to protect the mole-like creature. But that can't happen by itself, so it would make sense to send off some possessing spirit from the basement to possess the first human that has met the creature - in order the girl, who found her.

So, the basic foundation was done. But the problem was that every solution brings up new questions. The whole story is one massive, audacious lie. It veers so strictly into fantasy territory, that it is very difficult to bring any real gravity into it, as we simply lack the existing context from our own experiences to relate into it, in any way.

That's when I decided to make the events and consequences as realistic as I possibly can. In order to detract the reader's attention away from the massive mumbo-jumbo fantasy scenario that was being fed to him. I researched about the side-effects what happens when society falls apart. I read about what happened during the natural disasters. The starvation in China and North korea. It was grim beyond all belief, a horror story of all horror stories. No invented demon I would have ever conjured from my mind could match the atrocities people have done to each other in real life.

So this is the path I had to take. And story, therefore, took turn to much darker territory that I would ever have been able to imagine myself. I had all the information I needed to build this.

But, some problems still remained. The style? Should it be in color? HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN IN STRAIGHT FACE that "Below Espoo, an ancient hive buries the embryos of hundreds of mole-like creatures, planted there for the day when they take over the world". That alone jumpkicks into so deep into fantasy territory, that no one could take seriously anything that comes after it. How to write dialogue about huge tentacles in the sky? Would the characters discuss how these things can even float in the air, in the first place? How had their formed, how they affect the weather, etc etc..

Again, it just seemed it won't work at all. Then I thought. What if there were no text at all. Let's make it silent. Not explain ANYTHING at all. Let's just make it realistic, but surrealist at the same time. It is like a dream, a nightmare. Nightmare that you believe is real while you are in it, only to realize to your relief that it is not.

So, finally I had something I could work on. But that was only the beginning of real troubles.

I had no notion whatsoever about silent storytelling. When everything is done with images, the traditional rules of sequential storytelling for graphic novels no longer work. Some situations can be explained with simple image, yes; but when you have to describe the consequences of CAUSE and EFFECT, you all suddenly have to use many more images than you would normally need to. For example, where character is going? From where? How does it relate to other events around him/her? Suddenly, planning a layout became a nightmare.

But it progressed, and I got it into Tähtivaeltaja. Nobody understood the intro, of course. How could you explain, without text, following things: "An ancient librarian who has slumbered a millenia is made into flesh, when the maintaining devices for embryos are malfunctioning. He then contacts his superiors, an ethereal beings on another dimension, to discuss the future of the human race."
-See the kind of pit I had dug myself in? But still, I kinda believe that what I got in the end was best wordless description I could do.

But never mind. Let's just presume, that readers are willing to hang there for the first five pages. After all, everybody can understand this: "A girl walks home. She is alerted by rumbling sound. A capsule has emerged from earth. Inside the capsule, a small furry creature wakes up. She takes it home"

So, everything seemed to be fine. But while removing the dialogue removed the main problem - that the story was just too silly - it generated a whole set of new problems. And again, the nagging question:
WHY spend hundreds and hundreds an hours on this? WHAT is the point? Who is even going bothered to read this, when everyone already has, at their disposal, hundreds of hours of quality entertainment? Why this is so important?
What made it more difficult was that I had to draw it, without pay, every weekend. I had decided to make it in A2 "to speed up the process with brush", but just ended up making it more detailed and deliberate. It was cool at the start, but I began to get worn out.

So, why? The story itself lacks about all the traditional storytelling mechanics that are used to keep audience interest up, such as antagonist who creates the conflict (though you can argue that the environment brings the conflict), satisfying resolution (it is grim and depressing as hell), and message (everyone knows that humans are terrible when they start to fight over resources, so I would be simply just repeating the obvious - that no one even wants to hear in the first place).

So what I am left with is this weird, crazy and laborious story with no message or entertainment value. And it took me few dozen pages, and 20 years of silent planning to realize it. So why do it?

I believe, that art does not need to fit into message/entertainment category, it can just simply give you an experience (hopefully). D'Moleyk has nothing to do with plot logic (although it's plot is, at this point, very carefully thought and planned out, at least in the cause/consequence context), and it has everything to do with a feeling. There is, at least for me, something strangely moving about seeing two highly vulnerable characters trekking slowly through living hell (hell which is mostly created by humans -us- competing for resources). So it is bit like The Road. At least the feeling works, for me.

I assume that if you expect yourself to be entertained, or enlightened, you will not get any pleasure out from reading D'Moleyk at all. If you, for some reason, manage to read it to the end, and if I, somehow, manage finishing it, it will leave you puzzled, possibly even depressed, and in worst case, bored (though I hope not).

This project is somehow like a curse to me. I have been trying to analyze it, trying to understand what IT IS that makes it so important to me. I could have had much easier life, had I not started it at all. I might have not have had to resign from my job, and my girlfriend possibly might not have had left me. But this is just second-guessing ultimately.
The final result; from Tähtivaeltaja 4/2014
And even now, after thinking about it for 20 years, I still have NO CLUE why I must do it. What is it in this comic that makes it worth reading or buying, or making? I DON'T KNOW! I have given up trying to figure it out. It might simply be just some self-feeding obsession. I can't even claim that it is just enjoyable to draw it, as it is very laborious, my skills hardly are enough for doing it, and just trying to live in that depressing, semi-"realistic" apocalyptic world is terribly suffocating to me.

I did not even go to the myriad of small problems blighting me with every step of this comic; such as, the logistics of where the character goes and why, original character design vs. stereotypes in storytelling where you don't have much time to explain anything, problems with scale, possible finnish army procedures under emergency which I know nothing about, water points in helsinki downtown, whether the piping under the sidewalk can withstand extreme cold, scale of the tentacles and how far you see them in horizon, and numerous issues which I can't discuss yet because they are about storypoints that are not drawn or published yet.. but those are all just details.

Still, every new page is incredibly satisfying to complete, it is satisfying to see it in print (though I am embarrassed to see my amateurish drawings there), so it certainly does give something for me. Mental or financial ruin, maybe too. But it keeps on giving. And that's all I can really say about it:

D'Moleyk is a nightmare that keeps on giving. Better relish it while I am doing it, as I am sure as hell I'll never do anything quite like this, ever again!

If there is ever a collection of D'Moleyk in single book, it will have a quote from Winston Churchill:

"If you are going through hell, keep going"

Thanks for reading.