Haha hi everybody. Uh-oh. What happened to my webcomic? It still lives. I’m just going through something right now. OK, hear me out.

So you may remember me a while ago saying I was going to take a little break from regular updates while I figure out a few things. Well, let me tell you what I figured out.

For the sake of my sanity I’ve been doing one of those radical self-inventory type dealies, just really having a look at all the different components of me, holding them up to the light, thinking about “Why am I like this?” 

This is a useful exercise. Don’t be afraid to keep an open mind and ask yourself, really ask yourself: “Am I racist? Am I sexist? Am I good person? Am I gay? Am I a woman? Am I a man? Am I neither? What does that mean to me?” It’s useful. As a kid I always had a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything that invited me to ask tough questions like that about myself, but if you’re secure in yourself and your identity you can run those things by the internal committee and get them to debate it and walk away with perhaps a new, more nuanced understanding of yourself and live your life with more confidence, more clarity and more purpose.

The question I’ve been asking myself for the last year and change is: “What the actual fuck is wrong with me?”

It can be useful to look at your life a different way. Recently I found out what the symptoms of ADHD are in adults (it turns out they are not a deficit of attention and hyperactivity; useful name, guys), and I began wondering what it would be like to have it. It’s interesting to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask yourself, what if I was chronically lacking in executive function and had chronic memory loss, what would my marriage be like? How would a typical work day look? How would my life look? And it turns out it would look exactly like my life and the shoes I was putting myself in were my own.

How to Diagnose Yourself with ADHD (and how not to)

What prompted all this? A YouTube video of all things. A YouTuber I follow was talking about coming to a realisation that they had ADHD. And I watched it thinking “Wow, fascinating stuff, glad I don’t have ADHD, that sounds really tough, although that part does sound like something I’d do, haha so does that, so weird…” And, as I’ve detailed in previous blog posts, that led to conversations with my wife and my parents. Conversations about stuff I do, stuff I didn’t realise I was doing but I totally do all the time, stuff everyone is able to do that I somehow can’t do and stuff I do that I thought everyone did but which actually nobody does but me. A typical conversation went thus: “But we all have that, don’t we? It doesn’t mean we’re all mentally ill. Why do we have pathologise every aspect of the human experience? Nobody can actually feel time pass, can they? That’s not a real thing. Nobody can perceive time.” Turns out they all can, everyone I know can, and I have dyschronometria, and it happens to be a symptom of ADHD. What a mindfuck!

And so on. The weird emotional outbursts, the memory loss, having no sense of time, focusing for hours and hours on one thing to the point I forget to eat for hours and hours. Constant dehydration from forgetting to drink anything, all day. One of those things in isolation you can dismiss (although maybe you shouldn’t dismiss some of those) but taken in aggregate I’m a pretty textbook case.

Listen, I know there’s this trend online right now of people making TikToks that go: “Hey, do you get distracted? Are you whimsical and quirky? You might have ADHD!” They either don’t have ADHD or don’t have the ability to describe it accurately. And moderately impressionable people are watching those and diagnosing themselves with a disability based off of vibes. Yes, that’s inane. And the backlash is understandable and justified to a great extent. But it’s terrible timing for me, because I actually do have ADHD and social media has been a great help in figuring that out. Coincidentally, it just so happens that a lot of people are self-diagnosing themselves with the same thing right now, and that’s kind of hurting my credibility in what is actually a very important blog post.

My sister has a nut allergy and she hates it when people—e.g. people who ate peanuts at a party and then drank 12 shots of vodka until they threw up—decide they have a nut allergy because they threw up that one time. There will always be idiots trying to get in on your illness, it shouldn’t stop you from looking after yourself and getting the treatment you really need. You shouldn’t, even though you are one of those idiots or have been at some point in your life. Because we all do this, don’t we? We hear about the symptoms of a disease and we reflexively apply them to ourselves. “Dry mouth? Well, my mouth doesn’t feel dry. Dizziness? No, don’t feel dizzy. Nausea? Well, my stomach does feel a little weird but maybe I just ate too much cheese.” The inner hypochondriac awakens and we start to kid ourselves into thinking we might have the thing. Like that episode of House, the one on the plane where people start panicking because of a mysterious illness. That was a good episode.

I know I have that tendency, so these days I immediately distrust it. Any sense that I might have anything now, I dismiss out of hand. That’s a sensible, pragmatic thing to do. It just won’t help you if you ACTUALLY HAVE THE THING. Like the paranoid person that everyone is out to get, sometimes you’re a neurotic hypochondriac and you have an illness.

The tricky part for me is that the symptoms of the thing I have are all things that everyone does sometimes, I just do them more often. Everyone loses track of time sometimes. I just can’t perceive the passage of time at all. So finding the line between neurodivergent and neurotypical was difficult for me. The messed up part is that I have stayed the same throughout this entire process, I’ve just been slowly discovering that everyone else is weird. You freaks, walking around perceiving time and remembering basic day-to-day stuff without visual aids and successfully making small talk. Small talk! You disgust me! 

I’m not saying people should diagnose themselves on a hunch. But it begins with a hunch. People shouldn’t diagnose themselves over the internet… but you have to sort of diagnose yourself, in order to get yourself properly diagnosed and treated by medical professionals for your mental illness. Because mental health is invisible, the doctor can’t just get you to bend your leg and ask if it hurts when you go like this, you have to sell yourself. You have to give them the ten minute elevator pitch of your mental health.

OK so let me explain what I mean. Don’t do what I did: three years ago I just went to my GP, or what you earth men might call a primary care physician, and I said “Hey doc, I think something’s wrong with me, I think I might be going bananas,” and then he asked me a few questions for maybe half an hour, I remember talking really fast because I know the appointments are super short and I had a lot to talk about, I remember describing how I sometimes hyperfixate on weird hypothetical scenarios and apocalyptic catastrophes (because I’d recently watched a Kurzgesagt video about the heat death of the universe). I gave him carte blanche, he made a reasonable assumption based on the vertical slice of my life I gave him in that short time, and we went forwards on the basis of that assumption. I don’t resent him for misdiagnosing me, he did his best with what I gave him. He suspected it might be an anxiety disorder, told me to get out a book from the library about anxiety called So You Have Anxiety and read it and come back to him in a week. Don’t do this! Because you’re a hypochondriac and humans have confirmation bias. You’re going to read the book and come back a week later saying “Hey, I think I have anxiety!” and he’s going to give you a citalopram prescription and send you on your merry way. Maybe you do have anxiety (in which case, good for you, this scenario worked out well) but if, unbeknownst to you, you suffer from chronic impulsivity and disinhibition, the citalopram might make that worse and maybe you’ll recklessly step in front of an SUV travelling 60mph and end up in the hospital. Like I did.

It wasn’t all bad. People prescribe citalopram to help with ADHD sometimes. It did help me get more stuff done and be less forgetful. I think, I can’t really remember. It elevated my mood. Elevated mood during a pandemic ain’t nothing to cough at. However, in my case, side effects included broken windshields and broken bones, and I decided the General Anxiety Disorder was not a good fit for me. So I went off the meds last year. I did not dramatically pour them down the sink while foreboding music played, I just gradually lowered my dose under my doctor’s advice and a few months later was able to stop altogether. Sorry.

My mistake was going in scattershot. You have to be smart about this, do your homework. There are resources online. Find out about anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD. I never considered that I had any of these things but that was because I didn’t know what any of them were! Everything I know about mental illness and neurodivergence I learned from how they’re depicted in sitcoms and movies. Yes, it’s bad to decide you have a mental illness based on a TikTok, but it’s also bad to decide you don’t have one based on that episode of The Simpsons where Bart takes Focusyn. That was a bad episode.

If you think you have ADHD, don’t go to TikTok, watch that Youtube video where Thomas E. Brown PhD explains exactly what ADHD is for half an hour, then decide if you have any of the symptoms he’s talking about. Talk to your partner and/or parents and/or loved ones and see what they think. Then, armed with this knowledge, have a highly specific talk with your doctor about these exact symptoms and listen to their advice, see if they agree with you. They have questionnaires you can fill in to see if you have it but, spoiler warning, it’s all the same stuff from the Thomas E. Brown YouTube video so if you’ve already got to the point where you’re filling in the questionnaire, you already know what the answer is. And that’s the thing — your family doctor doesn’t know what the fuck ADHD looks like, not in an adult. Most people get diagnosed as children and the presentation of the symptoms they’ll be looking for is for a typical fidgety child, not an adult sitting perfectly still and trying not to think about which of the lights in the room is making that sound. They only started diagnosing adults with this stuff, like, three years ago. If you’re an adult in your late twenties/early thirties and you’ve flown under the radar, it’s because you’ve become really good at masking your symptoms and pretending to be a regular-type person. So the only way your doctor is going to believe you have ADHD is if you convince them you have it. Make sure to give them a broad overview of everything wrong but emphasise the symptoms that will lead them to the conclusion you did, don’t lean too heavily on the dyschronometria thing because that’s not part of the standard diagnosis despite being a consistent symptom. Probably because kids can’t tell the time.

What you look like, how you act, how you present, might not be what people think of when they think “ADHD” but that doesn’t mean you don’t have it, so don’t let people dismiss the possibility out of hand. It’s worth hearing people out so make sure your doctor hears you out.

Then your doctor will refer you to a specialist for diagnosis and, if the specialist agrees you have it, treatment. And, if you live in England, thanks to the evil Conservative government’s systematic vandalism of the NHS for the past 12 years, that whole referral process will take two years. You and your untreated symptoms have to try to stay out of mischief in the meantime. Good luck!

So that’s where we left off last time. We had gotten to the point where I had become 90% certain I had the thing. Well, news update! Since then, I have received an official diagnosis from a dedicated team of specialists! So, yes. Now I officially have ADHD! Can the TikTok self-diagnosers say that? I still have to wait months and months for any kind of treatment (yippee, yay, thank you Conservative Party, thank you for making me a part of this), but it’s a start.

Plot twist! My GP thinks I might also have autism. I did not know you could have both. Also I had no idea what autism is. My understanding of what autism was, like everything about my understanding of the world, came from sitcoms and movies… is something an autistic person might say. And I have a bunch of other symptoms to. Coincidentally, you understand. Haha well, how do you like that? I spent so much time trying to convince them I had ADHD, I didn’t stop to think about what else I could have as well.

So now I’ve got one team of specialists working on the ADHD and a second team of specialists working on the autism, a third team looking into other things that make people obsessive and weird, it’s a real Mental Health Avengers assemble.

Feeling Terrible About Yourself: the Unsung Productivity Tool

What an exciting time to be alive. Three years ago I was worried about having a mental illness, now it looks like I might have all the mental illnesses. Am I depressed? Probably. I’ve just found out that while I’ve been on my grind twenty-four-sev giving 110% to fulfil my dreams of being a cartoonist, I’ve been doing all that with at least one undiagnosed disability. Everyone else is climbing stairs and I’m climbing one of those downwards escalators trying to walk up. I’m working twice as hard to make the same or less or no progress. Anyone would be depressed living like that. Anxiety? I don’t have anxiety. I use anxiety, yes (because anxiety is my medium), that’s what I realised about myself lately. The tricks I deploy to climb up those descending stairs faster. Growing up, I found I could complete the assigned work, hand in the homework, ace the test if I put myself under insane amounts of stress—if I curled myself up into a tight fist and made my skull into a pressure-cooker of stress, anxiety, negative thoughts and self-recrimination—or, as I called it, ‘concentrating’, ‘working hard’ and, more recently, ‘adulting’—I could achieve at a normal level or near-to-normal level. And they rewarded me! God damn it, they rewarded it. Teachers would congratulate me for buckling down and getting it done. Thanks teach, I hope this doesn’t give me some kind of debilitating need to achieve at the cost of my personal well-being!

What I was doing, basically, was tricking my brain into releasing adrenaline, which works pretty well as ADHD medication. All you need to do is become a stressed, jittery person, sick with worry. I even had a manager at my old job who realised that I worked harder when he said mean things to me. He showed me on a graph the spike of adrenaline and the accompanying spike in productivity. He didn’t know that’s what he was measuring, he just thought I was being lazy until someone caught me doing it and intervened. He thought each of his petty cruelties was an appropriate moment of no-nonsense straight-talking, he thought he was being a good manager. “See how you’ve kicked into gear. And all you had to do was feel terrible, like the worst piece of shit in the whole world. That wasn’t so hard, was it? This just goes to show how lazy you’ve been the rest of the day.” He was congratulating himself, the dick. Even at the time I knew I was being bullied. But I didn’t see it for what it was, abusing a neurodivergent person for fun and profit.

Yes, that was a bad time but… why did it work? Why did someone saying horrible things to me—or, at other points in my life, me saying horrible things to myself—why was that the key to productivity? Well, now we know. Here’s the thing. As soon as you realise that’s what’s going on, the first thing you do is say to yourself, “I’m going to stop doing that to myself.” And your self says “Thank me, you appreciate that.”

That’s what I’ve resolved to do: I’m going to be kind to myself. Compassionate. I’m going to go easy on me, give me the mental space each day to relax some of the time. Because I’ve been relying on stress to make myself more productive, and it’s not worth the toll it’s been taking on my mental health.

Time Management and Projects

Which brings us to here. The comic hasn’t updated in… how long? Hahaha yeah. Oops. It turns out, yes indeed, when you abuse yourself into being more productive, and then stop it, your productivity drops. Who could have foreseen this? Someone able to perceive outcomes realistically. That’s not the only factor. It’s not true that I’ve been doing nothing this whole time, just meditating under a tree. I have a huge important project I’ve been working on for years: two adorable children. I don’t really talk about it here but I’ve got two great kids and trying to be a good father, trying to give my offspring the time and attention they deserve, it eats up a big ol’ chunk of my time that other, less child-having content-creators don’t have to consider. It’s like Inside but he never writes any songs because his three-year-old wants a tea party. So there’s that. Just keep that in the back of your mind that everything that follows is secondary to being a good dad to two small children.

Then there’s my awesome day job which I can’t talk about. That’s been insanely busy post-COVID.

Then there’s a third thing: there’s this really awesome new project that I am very excited about and proud of. More so than the kids — they’re just so-so. It needs a little more time in the oven but when it’s ready you are going to love it and I can’t wait to share it with you soon. 

Well, what about the comic? What about Life on the Fourth Floor, have I just forgotten about it? Absolutely not. I’ve just turned down the pressure cooker. I’ve been working on comic-y things when the muse has suggested it would like to do so, and other projects as the muse dictates, or nothing at all if that’s what the muse felt like that day. And by ‘muse’ I perhaps mean ‘autistic obsession’, we just don’t know yet. It’s been wonderful and I feel better than I’ve felt in decades.

I’ve realised something. More than being a cartoonist of a popular webcomic per se I would quite like to be a happy person. A not-stressed not-overworked not-crazy person. I love my comic, and for the most part I’ve really enjoyed working on it, but in my greed to be prolific I pushed myself too hard and I destroyed my enjoyment. So we need to calm down, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate the whole situation.

What I want is to be a guy who makes things for you. I want to delight you. That is my life’s ambition: to delight. I don’t think I can do that right now—I don’t think I should do that—by just jettisoning all the other projects I’m working on, including my kids and my job, and just cranking out webcomic updates every week until I die. I want to keep making things, a bunch of different things. Maybe a YouTube video one day, maybe a podcast the next day, maybe a screenplay the day after that, maybe a novel the day after that. I want to keep making things I’m interested in making, that light me on fire, and then share some of them with you when they’re done so that I can delight you. That sounds like a good deal to me! I think that’s the best either of us can hope for.

Listen, at work I’m like a contractor and there are busy times and quiet times, so I know I’m going to get more creative stuff done during the quiet times and it’s going to vary. I might disappear for a few months but then come back. My kids, too, are going to need less and less time with me the more they go to school. Sad that I see them less, happy that I get more time to write. I can’t easily predict when I’ll have time for anything, but I know there will be time in the future. It makes it very hard for me to schedule free content. I know I can make the content, enjoy making the content, but I don’t know if I can guarantee next Wednesday will be content day. My life just doesn’t work like that anymore and, frankly, the internet doesn’t work like that anymore. Nobody posts shit based on an update schedule anymore, they all realised it wasn’t necessary to success.

That’s good news for me because I am very bad at schedules and deadlines. Because my brain no work normally. So here’s what we’ll do. I will continue to produce free high-quality content, endeavouring at all times to delight you. I just won’t do it at the expense of my sanity… anymore. For your part, you’re going to consume and enjoy the content and understand that I don’t work well with schedules because you’re kind and compassionate people who understand things like that.

But what I will produce. Well, sit down, honey, we need to talk. And before we go any further I just want to tell you that we still love you and none of this is your fault.

Are Webcomics Still a Thing?

My wife asked me last year: are webcomics still a thing? A question that has haunted me ever since! Well, fuck. Are webcomics still a thing? Shit.

It’s true, you do see a lot of articles mentioning webcomics in the past tense these days. And it’s true that you can’t run a website and get paid a living wage from the ‘punch the monkey’ ad banners anymore like you could in the old dial-up modem days. The business model of start a webcomic, sell shirts, make a little money from the ads, make a decent living, quit your day job, that door had already warped shut behind the pioneers who originally went through it when I launched the project, 19 years ago.

Are webcomics still a thing? No, not in the same form they were 19 years ago. That was like two versions of the web ago. But cartoonists are still a thing. Graphic novels are still a thing. Kate Beaton doesn’t update Hark! A Vagrant anymore but she just published Ducks, so it’s like they got Kate Beaton but in books now, that’s awesome. Are webcomics still a thing? People are still making comic strips and posting them to Twitter and Instagram and other places and making people laugh, they’re just not doing it whilst self-identifying as webcartoonists or webcomicists (I don’t know which of those we landed on, but Google Docs will not stop underlining “webcartoonists” and telling me it’s not a word, and if that doesn’t just sum up the whole situation I don’t know what will). That nomenclature has receded from the public consciousness somewhat to put it lightly.

Webcomics are absolutely still a thing, a huge thing, it’s just the format is slightly different these days and they call them Webtoons now. That’s how the internet has evolved. Back in the day it was individual people running their own little websites. Back then, the internet itself was the platform, it was six websites full of dad jokes, a blog and PvP. Then big companies came along, the ad revenue went away, hosting costs went up and everyone migrated to platform services like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. For a while there, Facebook was the internet, it’s just where you went for your internetting and if you didn’t have your comic on there you didn’t have it anywhere. But Facebook is now no longer a viable option because it’s become a racist tyre fire. As of three weeks ago, Twitter has started to conflagrate like a poorly-engineered self-driving electric car. So who knows what the future brings? Do we all migrate somewhere else? Is everyone going to publish comics on Discord? On their shoes? Nobody knows!

Generally, we’re seeing a trend towards big streaming platforms with gargantuan companies, these absolutely colossal media empires looming over the horizon as inexorably as continental drift, and that’s what the internet is becoming, a place to watch a third series of Mandalorian (which I absolutely will) and then Tweet about it (which I absolutely will)… or Mastodon about it? Whatever we move to when Twitter is an ashy crater. Where do comics fit into that model? Well, we have Webtoons and similar sites like Tapas. That’s as close as you can get to a Netflix for webcomics. In fact, they made the webtoon Heartstopper into a Netflix series, soooo… I forgot where I was going with this.

Yeah, so, about all of the above. I had to have all of that explained to me because I am not the most big-picture-y of guys. In fact, to quote Tracy Jordan, I’m straight up mentally ill. You may have noticed: I never published my comics on Facebook when that was still a thing, I never published anything on Twitter, I don’t have a YouTube channel, I do not have a Webtoon. The writing is on the wall, the future is here and I am still plugging away at my little webcomic on my little very-expensive-to-run website to the delight of, what, 100 people and one Patreon patron?


Here I am gnawing my arms off with worry about when I’m going to update my webcomic again and, like, who else is worried? Does anyone care? I’m not saying that in a self-pitying way, I’m saying: if you’re reading this right now, were you upset enough that I hit pause on the comic schedule? Did you DM me on Twitter to ask when I was coming back? Statistically speaking, you did not. You either didn’t mind or you didn’t care and I’m actually super cool with it either way. This comic always primarily had one audience in mind and was made to please one person: me. Reaching an audience was always just a side benefit. But let’s be real: the e-mail from Netflix offering to turn this comic into a show, it ain’t never coming. If the aim was to reach a wide audience, I would have failed. This comic has failed to reach a wide audience. And that’s not entirely the comic’s fault, that’s mostly my fault.

The Shame

I have to confess something. I have always felt incredibly weird about promoting the comic. I feel a kind of queasy feeling when people tell me they’ve read and enjoyed the comic. Like: did you? What? Why? And I feel incredibly called out when people point out ways the comic isn’t very good. I have rejection-sensitive dysphoria (another symptom, a lot of stuff makes more sense now), so when people tell me they don’t like me, I feel it physically like a punch to the face, like my heart rate quickens, it’s a physiological reaction. On a biological level, the comic’s flaws hurt me. It’s not just that I want to please everyone and I want everyone to like me and be nice to me. That is true, but it goes deeper. When I look at the comic as a whole, its flaws are so fundamental that I can’t bring myself to recommend it to another human being.

I love what the comic is… becoming. I love what it could be in the future. What it has been just makes me cringe. I’m sorry, I hate the archives. I hate them so much. And it’s like… with the archives in place as they are now, I can’t show this project to anyone. Just the thought of posting a link to… all that fills me with a great deal of anxiety. To think that someone could read this all the way through makes me shudder. This thing I made, this thing I have worked so hard on for so long, I am simultaneously proud of it and deeply ashamed of it. It’s fucked up.

So I just don’t tell anyone about it. So you, reader reading this right now, I did not amass a community of readers to read with you. The comments section is empty, and that’s on me, I did that. I realise now why I did that, but it is what it is and we need to be honest about it.

But what are these mistakes and flaws in the comic that make me so ashamed?

Don’t Start a Webcomic When You’re 16

I do impulsive things sometimes. Turns out, yes, it’s a symptom. I know why now. It’s a bit late now, but I got there in the end. I had an idea, at 16 years old, the summer before I got my first girlfriend, that I was going to make a comic about single twenty-somethings living in the city based on, frankly, no real-life experience. I spent that afternoon drawing up some character designs, I made thirty pages that I scripted on the fly as I drew them. This went on until a few months later, at 17 I launched my webcomic. If I make this comic’s genesis sound rushed and slapdash it’s because I am honest.

Young creators, do not do this! I’m not saying you should brick yourselves up in your cellar until you are perfect. You will never be perfect. But you don’t have to be this imperfect and this… amateurish… straight out of the gate. It’s not fair on yourself. You can take time, learn to be a little bit better. Hold yourself to a higher standard. If you can, start an experimental little short project. Don’t try to write a long-form graphic novel over the course of 19 years based on an idea you had when you were going through puberty.

If you read through the archives (don’t, but if you did) the comic actually flows pretty well into what it would become later. It’s a lot more… random in those earlier strips. The humour is different, more early-2000s. At first I was doing gag-a-day webcomic shenanigans and then I moved to sitcom episodes with a long-running story. There is sometimes too much dialogue and sometimes too little. Sometimes a little bit of plot and sometimes none at all. The characters start out like flat stereotypes with dumb gimmicks, some of the characterisation is borderline misogynistic at least, I realise that now, and slowly the characters evolve nuance but then that doesn’t track with what we saw of them before. The art massively improves. People always told me they liked that about it, that what they enjoyed about webcomics was seeing a single artist improve over the course of the whole run. That’s lovely and everything, but I didn’t start this project because I wanted to show everyone how much I could improve, the idea was to create a product. The idea being you could collect all this stuff together into a book and read it. Something you would buy in a shop. So therefore by that metric I fucked up. I made a book that when you read the first twenty pages it’s like “What is this? What am I reading?” and then later it gets good. Well whoop-de-fucking-doo. I’ll write that into the foreword. “Trust me, reader, it gets good later.” People discovering the website followed the same pattern: they landed on the homepage, read the latest comic, probably enjoyed it to an extent but, unfortunately, the characters were mid-adventure in some kind of sitcom scenario that makes no sense out of context so every new reader was coming in on a sitcom they’d never watched before and didn’t know the characters and starting the episode two-thirds of the way in. Sitcom, by the way, being a genre built on returning week after week to the same familiar characters. Can you see the problem here?

Nobody read the archives, so nobody read the comic. I have the analytics data to prove it. They’d land on the latest strip, then 93% of readers would skip back to the very first comic (great conversion rate, we like to see that). And then 99% of those people left. Oh no, why is that? Because the first comic is really bad and, in fact, a large chunk of the archive is bad. If you’re reading this now, if you’re a fan, you muscled through it. Congratulations on your perseverance. However, you are in the minority. I say this with no bitterness, it is what it is.

People who like to see bad artists improve over time: I love you, you are valid, I am honoured—genuinely honoured—that you came with me on this journey of self-improvement but now we cannot continue as we have before. Nobody ever made a career out of being really bad at something and then maybe getting slightly better. At least, the people who did got insanely lucky and have obscenely rich parents. I got neither of those things. The rest of us, to even stand a chance of standing out from the crowd, have to be excellent. You have to be unequivocally, inarguably fantastic at what you do and even then there’s still a huge element of luck in finding an audience. Getting a Netflix deal is like a lottery win, you can’t live your life in expectation of someday getting one. If you want a case study in survivorship bias, ask successful artists how they ‘made it’.

The course of action is clear: I need to redraw and rewrite the archives. But there’s more.

Writing a Novel One Postcard at a Time

Someone once asked me in the pub what it was like writing a webcomic and I remember telling them it’s like writing a novel one postcard at a time. Except, it’s worse, because you have to illustrate the postcard yourself. And, in my case, it would be quicker to make a stained glass window given the insane amount of detail I compulsively, obsessively pour into each page. Like you know those artists on Deviantart and ArtStation who craft these beautiful illustrations and they make like ten in a year but each one is just a masterpiece and you look at it and go “Ahhh yeah that’s some good detail,” you know those people? That’s how long I’m spending on each panel of the comic. I am so slow and I am such a weird perfectionist about every tiny detail being exactly right that I am spending ArtStation amounts of time on something that, when it’s done, someone will spend around 60 seconds reading, mostly focusing on what’s in the word balloons. And now we know why! Yes, this relentless perfectionism, also a symptom. I am just a scarecrow stuffed with symptoms instead of straw at this point.

And that’s the thing! I’ve made 365 pages in 19 years. If each page takes a minute to read that’s 365 minutes of content, or six hours. That’s the equivalent of 12 episodes of TV. Imagine watching the first 12 episodes of 30 Rock and in that time 19 years passed in terms of culture and technology, the whole show was recast at least once, and the tone, humour and style drastically changed. That’s what I made!

30 Rock, by the way, is a sitcom tonally similar to my comic that started, ran for seven seasons and then ended, all in the time it took me to make my 12 episodes. How I Met Your Mother, which is basically my vision for what my comic would be but, you know, realised. That show started after my comic and ran for 9 seasons and then ended all in the lifespan of my comic. And it’s like whoops that was the thing I was going to make and now it exists and I didn’t make it. I console myself that my character dynamics aren’t the same—I mean, I’ve got that thing with Charlotte and Amy, the roommate from hell, but wait uh-oh here comes Don’t Trust the B**** In Apartment 23, which arrived after my comic launched, ran for two seasons and, despite getting cancelled, still managed more than twice the amount of content that I did. I could never bring myself to watch it because it was in its premise too similar to what I was trying to do but seriously oh my God. Well, maybe my thing is I’m a geek, maybe my show could be like Friends but if everyone was a geek. Kind of like Big Bang Theory, which started after I started my comic and ran for 12 seasons and concluded in 2019 while I was still finding my feet.

I’m not saying that any of these other projects were copying me or anything. I’m just illustrating the fact that the story I’ve been trying to tell, the thing that when I came up with it was so fresh and unique and so necessary, at least as far as my 16-year-old self was concerned, has now been told. I made a start, it didn’t turn out quite like I imagined it would, and then while I was trying to figure out what had gone wrong a bunch of other people have come along and told similar stories, and have done for a long time, while I was fiddling around with my stained glass window postcards. They kind of ate my lunch. And it rather illustrates that my story, my characters, the tone of voice I was going for, wasn’t exactly as fresh and original as I thought it was when I was 16.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to have an original premise in order to find popularity or success. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a hack. Originality is overrated and, as I hope I’ve illustrated, impossible to achieve. When Iron Man came along, people were saying at the time “Oh great, another one of these,” and yet Marvel still turned their superhero universe into a massive entertainment juggernaut basically by saying “Yeah, we’re doing superheroes. But good and with more continuity.”

But it is a little disheartening that I had a certain creative vision at the age of 16, did not—could not—realise it, and then about 57 other writers came along and said “This? Did it look like this?” and I’m like “Yes, exactly like that, good job.” New Girl! Oh my God, New Girl. They just keep coming. There certainly was a gap in the market for this kind of thing, certainly an appetite. Glad to hear I was onto something for a second there. Only now, the cultural zeitgeist has marched on and left me behind, on my old website, with my old sitcom premise that now seems derivative and stale compared to my successors. At least, that’s what the negative anxious part of myself thinks sometimes.

But then I remember: Life on the Fourth Floor is incredibly unique! Because I made it. Not a team of writers, not one professional writer, just me trying my best. And in the process I tried to pour as much of myself into it as possible, I tried wherever possible to tell my little stories with a kind of unflinching honesty. And I suppose to some extent I succeeded because I accidentally made something completely different to what I set out to make! I was trying to make a comic about sexy twenty-somethings living in the city. What I ended up making was a comic about social anxiety! Whoops! I suppose it’s greatest failure is also it’s greatest success. It’s not a generic roommates sitcom, no matter how much it was originally trying to be, it’s something else. It’s about awkwardness. It’s about meeting new people and dating and what a terrifying prospect that is and about how incomprehensible other people are and how staying home playing video games is much more comfortable. It’s about trying to be an authentic version of yourself when everyone expects you to be something else. At least two characters are neurodivergent, I think. I think Jack has ADHD. I’m pretty sure Charlotte has some kind of anxiety disorder: the one date we actually see her go on in 19 years ends in a debilitating panic attack. Amy has a pathological lack of empathy. Michael is the normal one but he’s very slow on the uptake and struggles with social cues—is that aspergers? I don’t know, I only learnt what that is this week because someone told me they think I have it, I am the wrong person to ask. At this point the challenge is figuring out which of the characters isn’t on the spectrum somewhere.

I’ve been finally learning what the neurodivergent spectrum is and what its characteristics are and I’m responding by saying “Oh, you mean like everything that happens in my comic?” I don’t know if I have asperger’s, my assessment isn’t until next month, but at this point it makes a crazy kind of sense. I’m like “Oh you think I might have autism, doctor? Well, would an autistic person do THIS?!” Yes.

Now if you read the comic and you picked up on these themes and messages… Well done! I did not! I didn’t mean to do any of this. I was trying to make How I Met Your Mother and I just went really wide of the mark. I wish you’d told me I was neurodivergent, dear reader, because I only realised what was up last year. You probably diagnosed Jack before anyone diagnosed me..

Somewhere, in a parallel dimension, there is another version of this comic that I waited until I was a little older to start, where the quality of the art and writing was more consistent throughout, where the style of storytelling was more consistent, where the format the comic was being done in better suited the kind of story being told, and one in which I knew the characters and themes of the story going into the project. That would have been nice. That’s a dimension I want to live in.

I am a Bad Cartoonist

Since we’re being honest with each other, there’s another confession I need to make. I am a bad cartoonist. I don’t mean, morally bad. And I don’t mean that I’m bad at drawing. I am OK at drawing. But there is more to cartooning than just drawing pictures. There is something about the beautiful simplicity of cartoons and comic strips that I can’t seem to grasp. Compare the stuff I’m making with, say, xkcd. Part of the charm of that strip is the slapdash low-effort feel of it all, like a PhD student just doodled this in the library between seminars. People find that really appealing! I’m not saying this to be derogatory, I’m saying I admire it! There’s a homemade charm to it, people like it, it feels authentic.

I’m not good at authenticity. I mean, I am authentic quite a lof of the time, a little too authentic for most tastes, but I am bad at appearing like that’s what I’m doing. Do you remember when the #nomakeupselfie trend was a thing? People posted pictures of themselves without any makeup at all. And some people were genuinely doing it to raise awareness for artificial beauty standards; this is the real me, don’t feel bad if you don’t meet the standard, the standard is all fake. And it was compelling because it was so brave and it made a powerful point. It was AUTHENTIC. But then people started posting no-make selfies and it’s like… Listen, can we be real? Are you trying to raise awareness for artificial beauty standards or are you trying to raise awareness that, actually, you look remarkably beautiful without make-up? Like there’s a kind of humble brag going on. Impossible to tell who was doing that. Perhaps a non-zero number but perhaps they were also raising awareness for beauty standards and, no fault of their own, they looked pretty doing it. Let’s not gainsay their motives. But THEN came the third wave; people posting no-make-up selfies and they are just blatantly wearing make-up. Maybe less make-up. Maybe nautral-look make-up. But make-up nonetheless. So now we’re right back to the artifice, we’re back to reinforcing the fake standards again but now it’s in the name of #authenticity #justwokeuplikethis.

What we learnt from this chapter in internet history is that people are more concerned with the aesthetics of authenticity than genuine authenticity.

That’s how I feel about a lot of the efforts to appear authentic online. 

Like memes. Shitposts. The whole point is that it look thrown together in ten seconds. Same recycled font, same recycled picture, hastily edited, daring you to take it seriously or hold it to any kind of aesthetic standard. But the shitpost, the meme, they are the aesthetic standard. It has to look slapdash. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of time to pick a different font, or find an image that fits better, or draw a picture. But then you’re making a single-panel comic, and then it’s artifice. Then it’s a carefully crafted thing, which is not the point. The point is to be authentic. Or, if you spent hours crafting the perfect meme, the point is to appear authentic by carefully deploying the aesthetic of authenticity.

What about the whole thing in YouTube videos where they flub a line but then leave it in the edit. Yes, I’m sure in this otherwise tightly-edited, highly scripted video essay you made one and only one mistake and just forgot to edit it out. How relatably flawed of you. Or this thing people do on Twitter where they write out all their tweets in all lower case with no punctuation, even when it would help the readability of what they’re saying to capitalise a few words or throw in a comma. Some people don’t know the rules of punctuation and grammar, understandably, and some do but are emulating the style of the people who don’t so as to appear casual and slapdash and authentic. oh hey i didn’t have time to punctuate this properly i just dashed it off in 10 seconds i just woke up like this. Yes, this tweet that you spent all morning drafting and redrafting and then you showed it to your spouse to see what they thought, then you drafted it another couple of times, then you artfully removed all the capital letters, this is absolutely something you wrote off the cuff. Sure.

I always write out all my tweets in full sentences with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. I didn’t just learn it at school, I’m now a writer, I’m a professional writer-down of things, I spend a lot of time writing stuff; I know how this stuff works. I don’t even need to think about it, it’s second nature. For me it takes more time and more effort and more concentration to go back and take the commas and full stops out than it does to leave them in. I know that’s not true of some people, but… your phone underlines those mistakes. You can set it to auto-capitalise for you. Who are we trying to kid here? This is like the orthographic equivalent of the no-make selfie in which make-up is worn.

So, everything I write on social media seems really precise and laboured and carefully-drafted but that’s just because I’m not spending the extra effort jumping through these orthographic hoops to appear casual, I really am only spending ten seconds thinking about the tweet before I hit send. I am being my authentic self, I’m being causal and slapdash, and it just so happens that my authentic self appears at a glance to be really inauthentic. Like there’s people who you can tell spent half an hour with a thesaurus looking up synonyms, then there’s weirdos who just know a lot of different words and use them in everyday speech. That is their authentic self, they just seem like they’re trying too hard even when they’re not trying at all.

Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Maybe I do have autism.

The point is I have spent over 8,000 words now saying “Hey guys no comic this week because I need to time to think about my work patterns and my creative output in light of a recent ADHD diagnosis” — it is actually a lot easier for me to write 8,000 words than write one concise sentence. It takes time writing the 8,000 words but it takes even longer to cut that down into 4,000 words. As Blaise Pascal said “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Everything I make is overlong, overwrought, insanely detailed, meticulously crafted. I find it difficult to be any other way, and I know people find it off-putting like I’m being a fake guy who can’t switch off and be casual, like I have to try and show off my vocabulary or something, but when I switch off I become more articulate, not less. I put a lot of hard work into being… less.

So this tendency in me, when it comes to drawing, lends itself really well to drawing every single twig and branch on a tree. It does not lend itself to drawing a single fluid line that perfectly evokes a tree. I suck at that shit. That simplicity of symbology, that shorthand, that elegance and grace of not bothering to represent a thing literally but instead suggesting it, playing with it, having fun with it, that’s something I struggle with. And it has led to some of the worst most inefficient cartooning the world has ever seen.

I once drew a lavishly detailed background to a single panel. Just one panel. Took me hours. Way too much detail. You know Eyvind Earle would have just thrown together some rectangles and some wiggly lines and said “Here you go folks, some trees.” Not me, I had to craft the fuck out of this stained glass window. Way too much detail, way too realistic, not a cartoon at all, just an illustration of exactly the thing it’s meant to be. Then I put the characters in the panel, and they covered up 50% of the detail! Then I put the speech bubbles in and they covered up the rest! You couldn’t see anything that I’d drawn! What kind of insanity is that? And the fucked up part is I knew that was going to happen, but I wanted the backgrounds to be detailed underneath because I’d know they were there. Madness.

So I realised I was being silly, and I stopped putting that amount of detail into backgrounds that would get covered up. I started putting the speech bubbles in first and drawing backgrounds around them so I’d know what was needed and what was not. But I would still put an insane amount of detail into an image that would, when it was ultimately compressed down into a smaller .PNG file, like painting a canvas big enough to hang over a fireplace and shrinking it down to the size of a post-it note. You know what happens to all those details? They become muddy and illegible. You know what doesn’t? A green rectangle.

I don’t know where this weird obsessive perfectionism comes from, this maniac that awakens when it’s time to draw a picture of a tree, or a sandwich, or a shoe, but it’s one of the reasons why 19 years yielded only 365 comics. Not the only reason, I did spend that one year trapped in a mirror by fairies, but it didn’t help.

I think part of the problem came from, say, giving myself a week or two to make a single four-panel comic strip. If I have a busy couple of weeks I might end up with only 12 hours or so to make the thing. But if I had a quiet week I would spend all that extra time… drawing meticulously detailed trees. Or bricks. Hundreds and hundreds of bricks for a brick wall. Gaaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh.

That is my authentic self. That’s what is authentically me. I couldn’t make xkcd, I couldn’t. I love it, it’s great, it’s funny and I would sooner slam my scrotum in a rusty car door than draw a stickman.

So I need to curtail my worst instincts and lean more on simplicity and shorthand. But while I expect that will save time, we are not getting this comic to the point where I can publish three pages a week, not unless I embrace a level of simplicity beyond what I am interested in delivering i.e. doodles and stick figures – not unless Patreon donations reach a level where I can quit my day job, which historically has not been the case (this is just how I talk, sorry).

The Plan

  1. I am going to take down the archive in about two months. The vast majority of it. If you’re a super fan of that material you can go through and right-click save them. Some of them have already been taken down and are only live on the old Comicgenesis website. That’s coming down too. You have eight weeks.
  2. I am going to go back to the drawing board and retool the whole comic. I am going to figure out what the story is about before I begin it. Always a good start. I’m not going to worry about being original or quirky, I’m just going to be authentic to my genuine self, find my voice, not the aesthetic or appearance of authenticity, not emulating others, just be myself and achieve originality that way. Hard reboot, reset back to page one. I’m going to start with the characters and build a cast of three-dimensional people. That’s the difference between a human being and a cliché or a gimmick or a stereotype, it’s consistent psychology. Consistent behaviour. Consistent personalities. Consistent voice. Not course-correcting the best efforts of my past self who was, to be frank, a kid.
  3. I am going to sit down and draw a whole 30-minute ‘episode’ of the comic in one go and publish it in one go in a Webtoon format. It will probably be quicker overall. When the comic “updates” you will see the first panel and, if you scroll down on your phone or your web browser, you’ll get the second panel and so on until you’ve read the whole story of that episode in one sitting. I’ll publish them here, and on Ko-fi and Patreon and wherever else seems like a good fit. When I have built up enough of a buffer, however long that takes, I’ll start publishing them on Webtoons or Tapas or Plorpy or JumpJump or whatever and see how that goes. This format is perfect for the kinds of stories and jokes I’ve been trying to tell. My slowness to embrace it I can only put down to a kind of blinkered, head-down, don’t-think-about-it, obsessive grind mindset. Might be a symptom, I might just be an idiot.
  4. You will see old jokes, old panels, old story beats, maybe whole storylines from the comic retooled in this format. There was nothing wrong with 99% of the recent stuff, it just doesn’t fit with the earlier stuff. A few tweaks and I’ll republish it in the new format.
  5. I’m going to allow my mind to flit to other projects when it wants to. At least until I can figure out how to work around my obsessive hyperfixation, if I ever do. I will persist in trying to delight you with different things. Maybe different comics, maybe other things that aren’t comics. We’re just going to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.
  6. Eventually I will be able to collect comics together into books. Imagine that! Books! Physical books on paper with ink and everything. Not a weird book where the first page has a different art style to the middle and the end of the book, a whole-ass book telling a real story.

Let me know what you think! Personally, I’m excited about what comes next. I feel like just letting go of my preconceptions about what ‘webcomics’ are and what my ‘webcomic’ is and all that is going to help me rediscover my joy and my love for being a writer and a cartoonist. This whole thing comes from my imagination, which lives in my brain. I need to feed and care for and nurture my imagination and part of that is maintaining a safe and hospitable environment for it. That means no more driving the brain crazy with worry or forcing it to do things it’s not good at doing. We start from that point and go from there.

If you want updates on what’s going on, follow me on Twitter and these other socials media:

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