(P.S.) Status of the Hitherby Dragons Print Books

Dear friends,

I felt that I should take a moment to update you on what’s up with the Hitherby Dragons books.

When I came to China, Hsin and I agreed that Eos would print a series of illustrated Hitherby Dragons volumes. Discussing this further, we concluded that a mix of illustration and graphic novel format would be best: adding basic illustrations to most of the legends, but converting most of the histories into comic form. The stories are more of an ambiguous case; I’ll discuss what I want to do with them at a later point if at all. (You may just see it when the book comes out.)

A local artist, Tokyo by name, proved to have an extremely fitting style. The language barrier is problematic, so not *every* piece is like I’d like it to be, but her work is charming, and many of the pieces actually add something to the story, improving on my original vision for both the legend and the accompanying art.

The graphic novel portion proved more problematic.

I was discouraged to find that I’m bad at scripting comics, specifically in the sense that it takes me about as much time to script a page of comic as to write 1,500 words; and the result isn’t awesome; and then, after translation into Chinese and being handed off to a local artist, all of my attempts at doing awesome visual things are ignored, all my attempts at clear explanation are lost in translation, and nothing terribly awesome gets added.

Practice may make perfect in timing, and we have access to more artists now than back in April when I tried this; but it was horribly discouraging on every level.

I sought out help from an experienced comics scripter in my friends circle.

He told me that there was too much conceptual depth; that I needed to spend serious time with the artists nailing everything down and making sure they understood at least as much about the story arc as, well, regular readers, before it was feasible to even do The Monster (I/IV).

Right now, accordingly, it’s on hold until Eos has budget to solve these problems, which is to say, until we find either:

* a manga artist with enough English fluency to read Hitherby;
* a manga artist, plus a translator for Hitherby and myself into Japanese or Chinese as appropriate;
* a Western-style comic artist, plus someone to help me through the scripting process, plus a translator for Hitherby and myself into Japanese or Chinese as appropriate;
* someone smart enough in all relevant areas (Hitherby, comics production, project stuff) to help me figure out a fourth/fifth answer.

An alternative is to give up on including comics sections.

That leads to another issue with the illustrated books, which is, Hsin is increasingly interested in doing it *as* comics/graphic novels, if we manage to find solutions to the above. I’m not sure how I feel about that; on the one hand, it’s the awesomest thing ever; on the other, it’s going to cost a lot of the coolness that is only in the language and not the events, and it’s going to take like twenty years rather than six to get the currently-written part into print if that happens.

It’s a little stupid that these things are problems. I feel a little bit like someone’s given me five million dollars inside a meter-thick pizza box and said I can only have it if I eat the whole box. But that I can have as many years as I need! I’m also not sure whether the problems mentioned above are reasonable or because of failings and/or arrogance on my part.

Anyway, I put the project on hold while trying to get Nobilis *out* already, but I’ve been assured by various parties that all the zillion things not done there are happening in the next two weeks, so this’ll be on the front burner soon.

(P.P.S.) Status of New Entries

While I’m at it: I’m not going to think about new entries, for the most part, until the following things have happened:

* I finish annotating/categorizing the archives. (5/6 complete, but slow.)
* I review/finalize that part of things.
* I finish making the necessary changes to build coherent publishable volumes out of the archives. This is mostly done for chapter 1 & 2 and barely started for chapter 3—the only part of it I’ve been doing as I go for chapter 3 is occasionally removing a site status or me status note or moving an entry to the compilation of removed entries.

Part of me is eager to get back to doing entries, but I need to have it all clean and clear in my head first so that I can actually get back to Liril and Micah rather than just writing random legends, and that’s hard even for me. (I want to hit the ground running if I do start posting again.) However, I can’t say for sure that *all* I need to do to start doing entries again and finish this thing up is have it all clean and clear in my head; maybe there’s other conditions that I don’t know of because I haven’t jumped that wall.

Best wishes,

Jenna

18 thoughts on “(P.S.) Status of the Hitherby Dragons Print Books

  1. A comic version of Hitherby would be really cool, but it’s hard to imagine a comic as a replacement for your words in print. I’m sure this’ll be exciting however it turns out, though!

  2. Yeah, I don’t think a Hitherby comic is reasonable at this point, given that EOS hasn’t managed to even get any books or a website out yet. Besides, trying to make a two-person work of art through a language barrier is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak.

    Besides, people who are waiting for a Hitherby book aren’t waiting for comics drawn by somebody they’ve never heard of; they’re waiting for the stories //you// wrote. Making it into a twenty year project won’t please anybody.

    Good luck on all your projects, whatever you decide to do!

  3. You’ve said before that Hitherby isn’t high art, but … if there was a useful way to critically disagree, I’d disagree. There are all sorts of things that were turned out by writers on deadline, writers being paid by the word or in a rush, that later got to be considered high art.

    I think you should do whatever supports you best in finishing the work. Clearly, you need to be paid. If doing this is what is most likely to get you paid, then fine.

    At the same time, though, I don’t think Hitherby can really be turned into a comic book and still keep many of the strengths you put into it. Sure, Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland are pretty famous, and helped to define the original reaction to the work. Turning it into a comic book instead of an illustrated text would have removed a lot of what’s lasting about it, though.

    My preference would be to see an illustrated text, if you want to illustrate it. But I’m not sure how much the preferences of us as early readers really matters.

  4. I would be interested in comic version of Hitherby. But it wouldn’t be the instant sell that the book version would be – I would need to see it, to see if I like it as much as I do the words alone. The webcomic without pictures approach works brilliantly – I am not sure that adding pictures will be an improvement. Still! I trust your judgement, so if you are convinced it’s the best way forward, I shall have to wait and see.

    An illustrated work sounds much better, to me though, and just the words bound and printed would sell me instantly! As a bonus, then, the comic would sell just as well to me afterwards as if there were no words-alone edition.

    Meanwhile, sadly, I am unlikely to get very enthusiastic over something promised to happen in the future by EOS. Weapons of the Gods, and especially the Companion, have soured me on that.

  5. Let me take a moment to observe that the overriding reason to have comics pages is to increase the feasibility of selling in comics-type stores. I’m a little concerned about getting it out there; I think Hitherby books have the potential to be functional midlist long-term sellers but I’m a bit concerned about bookstores or web-only sales or getting into comics shops with just illustrated text. I may be wrong on any point. Discuss!

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  6. I don’t know which country you’re talking about, but in the U.S. my impression is that the comics-type store is a thing of the past. Almost all high-end comics now show up as graphic novels. Almost all bookstores that sell new books also sell graphic novels (to some extent). The stores that sell lots of graphic novels also sell books, and also RPG material, often.

    I’m wholly not a publishing person, so I don’t know … but I guess I assumed that it would be put into novel-sized books and appear in the “science fiction” section of bookstores. I know that you’ve said it was a Web-comic of sorts, but I never really got that, and it seems not as important now that we’re not reading a new entry every day. To me it always seemed like a single long book that was done as a series of linked short-shorts in order to have style go along with content.

  7. My 1/2c (inflation/deflation, not an economist): some of what is unique and special about Hitherby is the prose style, and I can’t imagine translating that particular quality into comics. I’m sure something new and awesome would be added, but something would definitely be lost. On the question of marketing&demand I’m afraid I have no idea; all I can say is that *I* would miss it. (An illustrated book sounds *wicked* cool, and a mix of illustrated-text and comics would keep the prose style *and* add whatever as-yet-unknown awesomeness the comics will bring: I call it win-win!)

  8. I don’t see comics shops as a very good market, really. There aren’t many left (here in the UK, anyway, but I get the impression it’s the same all over) and what they sell is mostly also sold in bookshops. And – would it be a particularly easy sell to comics fans specifically, as opposed to the general reading public?

    I don’t know publishing, so I could be wrong on all points, but I don’t see comic book shops as being a better market; rather it’s a limiter, as those comic fans who would like Hitherby will go to other bookshops too, but the comic format will put off some readers who would buy prose. Beyond that, I started to read Hitherby ion large part because I love your writing – that may or may not translate into the comics, so there’s a gamble there.

    I would, without hesitation, buy Hitherby in book format. Illustrated would be lovely, but might push them out of my price-range; I’d still buy them, probably, but it might well take a long time to get me to buy them all. Comics? I would have to see how well it conveys the essence of Hitherby that I love so much before I would commit to buying in.

  9. Well, personally, I’d buy several copies of non-illustrated Hitherby and squee over them and give them to my friends and make them read it. Illustrated Hitherby? Eh, I *might* buy a copy, I guess. It just doesn’t interest me. I mean, I like graphic novels and all, but what I love about Hitherby would never translate to an illustrated work.

  10. For those who have commented, or are about to, do you think that your opinion/advice is specific to established fans or applies equally well to potential new readers?

    (I mean, I love my fans! But I want . . . er . . . more of you to love! *^_^*;;)

  11. It’s very difficult for me to evaluate how a potential new reader would read Hitherby-as-a-published-work. A whole lot of my memories of it have to do with the excitement and immediacy of having a new post many days, and of having a community that discussed it. Both of those are missing from either a book version or a comics version. Or even a Web version, once it’s written. I mean, there may well be a community, but there wouldn’t be a the “ooh, look, new stuff!” bit.

    As far as I can detangle my already-existing ideas about it, I think that work goes best as a story of someone with MPD trying to figure out an answer to suffering, via multiple levels of postmodernist short-shorts. I could see an alternative focus on the short-shorts themselves — like, here’s a cool story about the animated Super Friends and the fall of the Norse Gods! Did you like those clever pop culture references? Now here’s a whole book of that! But I tend to think that that’s something that gets a new reader interested in reading a Web post, then another, then the whole site, rather than a reason they’d start a book.

  12. OK.

    This is really not very much of a quorum, but it does have a prevailing wind. ^_^ I guess I’ll look at the entries I wanted to do as comics and see how many of them I wanted to make comics because they are better thus, and how many I wanted to be comics because I needed to have comics.

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  13. If you are looking for highly unqualified advice, then I would like to say that it is insanely hard to get new people to read Hitherby. I’ve tried! I’ve even gotten people interested in random Legends that I linked them to, but only one of the dozen or so was convinced enough to read through the archives.

    That said, I read through the archives at my own pace during the hiatus, not as it came out. Though I ended up loving it and finding it all well constructed because it all makes so much sense in my brain, looking back at the beginning, it starts, well, weak.

    Not weak to mean that the writing is weak (which it isn’t) or that the theme is weak (which it isn’t), but weak in that I don’t feel it conveys the intent or tone or format of Hitherby very well at first. You start off being told that the stories are a girl in a tower trying to make sense of the world, but the first few entries feel like they are completely devoid of context. They read like random creative-writing pieces, some of them like they were written in a stream-of-consciousness manner. Knowing the framing of these pieces – that they are plays being put on by a girl named Jane as she makes sense of her pain, that changes them entirely. But I don’t feel that you can just *tell* people that’s the framing and have it make sense.

    When I try to get friends to read Hitherby, from what I’ve seen, they go, “I don’t get it,” and stop early on, before they are capable of ‘getting’ it. Nothing early on really grabs a reader and makes them want to keep reading, because of the disconnection between entries.

    Maybe, and this is just the unqualified opinion of an unprofessional, but maybe it would work better if you presented it in a novel format, giving the framing an in-universe introduction rather than narrating the framing from outside? Authorial interjections in a meta-story are confusing, especially at the start of the story when the reader is trying to figure out what’s going on. Maybe it would be better if, rather than narrating that Jane is in this tower telling these stories, the opening was a (1 of 1) of Jane deciding to tell the stories, and early on, there was an early backstage (1 of 1) that showed a glimpse of the story that would unfold later? Some commentary on the Histories, perhaps, put before or after the first set? For instance, a scene of Jane and Martin gazing into Necessity and commenting cryptically?

    Of course, as a reader who read everything at once after it was written, I should point out that the “canon” entries were an order of magnitude more interesting to me than the Legends. But, once I had a clear grasp of what the Legends were for, they were suddenly exciting in retrospect. Heck, the entire series of Legends that start the story weren’t that interesting to me when I read them, but looking back, they’re retrospectively incredible.

    I feel that (again, my opinion is rather unqualified), if you are going to release Hitherby in a print format, you have two options – release it largely unchanged from the blog format, or convert it into a more novel format. As is, it’ll sell to your current fans, and to anyone they can get to read it, but it’s less likely to catch someone randomly browsing books in a store. This feels especially true if they think it’s a series of random short stories and it’s actually a meta-novel, or if they were expecting a meta-novel and just see a series of short stories at first.

    It feels like the other option you have is to reformat/rewrite the beginning to show the continuity more and the meta-story more earlier, and then to release it as a novel. In other words, rather than as a series of short stories that happen to contain a novel, release it as a novel that happens to contain a series of short stories. If that makes sense.

    The third option is, of course, to make it as comics, but I feel like the only advantage the comic format has over the text format is that the comic format can grab readers by being visually appealing or interesting even if the text doesn’t grab readers early on. The weakness, of course, is that Hitherby is very much a textual medium. Personally, I can’t imagine how anything that I love about Hitherby could be conveyed in a graphical format. Maybe it can be, and maybe the format translation would make it better rather than worse, but it would definitely be an entirely *different* story. Of course, new story, new audiences, but I don’t think converting Hitherby’s format can be done without changing every story, and trying to keep from doing so is likely to lead to much being lost in the translation.

    Anyway, that’s just the unqualified opinion of a fan ^^; Hope it all works out!

  14. As it happens highly unqualified advice is *exactly* what I’m looking for!

    I take it from your mention of authorial interjections and being told about the tower that you’ve been through the archives after I went through and gave a bit more clarity to the beginning—adding the “What is Hitherby Dragons?” and “Creating Reasonable Explanations” and the like entries near the beginning. So I should assume that it takes additional momentum to push through past . . . “A Story,” “Kids Today,” “See Jane,” and “The Truth” to get to “She Puts On Shows”?

    Or should I assume that the whole thing starts too slowly and isn’t really going to compel readership until . . . hm . . . well, late chapter 1?

    What’s the most gripping short bit of extant canon? I’m hesitant to write a new story arc for the beginning at this point, although, really, that does seem like exactly the kind of thing I would do. (“That Jenna! Instead of continuing Hitherby Dragons, she PRETINUED it.”)

  15. This is actually something that I have a strong opinion on, which I’ve stated several times in the past to other people, and I am also deeply personally invested in having the book come out, so I’m going to comment on this:

    When I first started reading Hitherby way back when starting with canon from the beginning, I failed utterly for the reasons Nyren mentioned. What worked for me and eventually really got me into it was to start with “The Flower” and the three stories following – I feel like they have the advantages of being more accessible than the canon that comes earlier and doing a lot of help in explaining some of the key premises while at the same time being sufficiently in Hitherby style so as to give people an idea of what to expect. After that I went back to “Tantalus” and the following three, which are probably somewhat less accessible than the earlier four but which made much more sense after I’d already read “The Flower” and were sufficiently hilarious to make up for the random quality. That really, really, really worked for me to hook me into Hitherby.

    That having been said, this is the advice I give everyone else, and no one else seems to get hooked the way I do :(.

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