Spotlight

Love, Life and Logging – Here We Are!

Dirchansky is an artist and writer from Canada who makes a wide variety of things, including comics (print and web), games, illustration, etc. She likes to tell stories through visual media and is the creator of a webcomic called Here We Are.

Here We Are is a series of intertwined comics about ordinary people navigating their lives and relationships. It features a cast of folks in a logger sports team, but the comic isn’t about logger sports (HA!), it’s about everyday struggles, not belonging, and searching for comfort in their existence, hence the title.

The current comic arc can be summarized as “male jocks/himbos trying to fall in love”…

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
Not formally! I studied molecular and microbiology. I learned more about art/comics by making comics and having artist friends.

Writing is still something I’m weak at (as you will soon realize as you read my responses).

What genre(s) does Here We Are fall under?
Here We Are (HWA) is an umbrella name for a wide variety of story arcs and characters, that happen to take place in the same world. It would be accurate to categorize HWA as “modern day slice-of-life and drama”.

The current arc (chapters 1-10+) is slow burn queer romance…but I have plans to steer completely clear of romance in other arcs!

How do you handle writing a comic that’s focused mostly on emotions and relationships? When your characters feel down, do you feel down, too?
If my character is feeling down, I feel bad for putting them in the situation, however, that also allows me to pause and reflect on whether the character’s SAD FEELINGS are a required to move the plot forward! I don’t like making characters feel bad for no reason 🙁

Writing emotions and relationships:
I draw on experiences I’ve seen or experienced. I’m always curious about human behaviour. What motivates someone to feel and react differently to the same scenario? Why are they feeling that way? What part of their history of background led to this? How do I empathize and understand their POV? What’s the red thread that ties it all together?

Researching and engaging with other people is core to diversifying and expanding my mindset, since we all default to our own way of thinking and logic. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people from various walks of life (e.g., people living with terminal or mental illnesses, highly confident or anxious people, etc.), and that thankfully gives me a lot of “data” to draw inspiration from. I try to empathize with my characters and go up and down their respective ladder of inference in all scenarios. I have to “check” myself and think through whether what I’m putting down on paper is “how I would react, or is “how the character would react.” I spend a lot of time self-reflecting, and probably look like I’m zoning out!

The wonderful thing about comics is that you don’t have to rely solely on written descriptions or dialogue to communicate emotions. I use facial expressions, body language, timing, etc. to hint at what’s going on. How big are the character’s pupils? How tightly clenched is their hand in this moment? Did they react immediately, or was there a pause? Can we hear inside the character’s head, or are we observing from a 3rd-person POV? When fueled by emotion, you might blurt out and say something hurtful, but that might not at all be how you’re actually feeling inside. The difference between what is felt inside and what is seen or perceived outside, can be exploited to further hint at character motivations and behaviours!

Was there any particular inspiration to tell the story of your characters?
I believe that putting myself out there as a PoC comic creator who is putting out stories featuring people that don’t fit neatly into a white/cis/het-dominated media, also signals to marginalized creators, that they can do this too. I’m not well known or famous, but even if 1 person feels inspired to take up storytelling, I am happy!

Marginalized creators are often put on a pedestal where others hold us responsible for “communicating the plight of our people/culture/etc.” out to the world. If you’re a creator and want to do that, go for it, but I didn’t want to focus on the struggle; I wanted to focus building confidence and comfort in your own existence. Life is hard, but we can get through it! Here we are! Take it or leave it!

Do you have any advice for people who are struggling to write about relationships and feelings?
All advice really depends on the creator’s intentions, so please take the below with a SPOON of salt! My advice is based on my intentions to create characters that you’d likely encounter in real life:

1. Unless it’s meant to be that way (e.g., your character or the scenario is meant to be analogous to your own experiences), be very conscious about whether too much of yourself or your own biases are seeping into the way your characters are looking, behaving, saying, etc.

2. Easier said than done, but make acquaintances or friends who are different from you; if there’s something happening in your story, that you can’t quite figure out, present that to these people and see how they’d react. Follow-up with questions to understand what/why. This approach might be even easier these days, with social media platforms that you can openly post questions to.

3. Making a fully fleshed out character takes time, so expect to spend a lot of time thinking and re-thinking. I can’t remember the source, but one approach is to write down a word or scenario, and then write down how different characters would respond to that scenario. For example, if the scenario was “A cat knocked the cup of water on the floor”, Character A might think “Wow that’s so cute.” and Character B might think “That little jerk!!!” and then you go through an exercise to unpack why they reacted or felt so differently. It takes time to be this deliberate! If you don’t have time to think and just want to go “make”, that’s cool too; I sometimes rush through planning parts (prototyping and learning as I went along), and revisit my drafts a day/week/month later. I’ve come up with some terrible terrible first drafts that made me laugh with how out of character and off-base they were.

4. Also easier said than done, but be emotional, vulnerable, and try to understand yourself. Be open to experiencing the gradients in-between the highs and lows, because that can help you write about them. I know some people try very hard to suppress, limit, or ignore their feelings. Conversely, I try to deal with them head-on, let them out, reflect on what triggered them, and get to the deeper WHY. I will caveat that I’ve had a safe environment to be in, people to rely on, for this to be possible.

5. I avoid making extremely stereotypical or polarizing personalities, since I find that people are more complex in real life. Character X may have a desire to do Z all the time, but they probably dial Z back because Character P is around and Character P is someone Character X greatly respects. Environment, situations, and relationships can greatly modify default behaviours and emotions!

6. I filled out a MBTI quiz on behalf of each of my characters and looked at the results. Using these frameworks can be a good anchor for you to build upon if you’re not familiar with all the possibilities and don’t know where to start.

Why did you specifically choose logging for the team sport? There’s gotta be an interesting story behind this!
I contributed to an original sports-related comic anthology (FujoSports) in 2014. I believe I ran a twitter poll and asked folks if they preferred to see me draw something “martial arts” related, or “loggersports/lumberjack”. Those two rose up to the top for me because I like watching both of them. I bet the Log Driver’s Waltz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upsZZ2s3xv8) that was played during my childhood, influenced the decision to include lumberjacks, haha.

The loggersport topic won the poll, so, here we are! Most of my stories start from weird random jokes, that then become real things. I hadn’t planned for the one-shot I made in 2014 to balloon into a 100p+ webcomic, 4+ years later.

How often do you release a new chapter?
Usually every 1-2 months, but I make no guarantees nor promises! It also depends on the length of the chapter. Some chapters are 8 pages long, while others are 24+. I have a day job that consumes most of my time.

What is your process like for creating comic pages? What tools do you use? How long does it take you to complete a page?
Tools:
I used FireAlpaca (it’s free and great), then I paid for Clip Studio Paint EX. CSP’s spread page view is a great because I was drawing the comic with both web and print in mind. I also use Adobe Indesign to compile pages for print.

Process:
1. There is a lot of lying on a couch, staring blankly in the air, while “movies of the chapter run in iterative loops in my head”
4. On paper, I write down these ideas, scenes, dialogues, and thumbnail specific moments/scenes that capture the essence.
5. I thumbnail or sketch a full chapter in its entirety. This is either on paper or straight digital, just depends on my mood/surroundings!
6. I build a map/floorplan for where the chapter takes place (in roomstyler), and render out references; this is for consistency
7. I now do everything in FULL CHAPTER passes: thumbnail/sketch, panels, text placement, refined draft, inks and solid black fills, bubbles, tones, proofread and look for errors, edits, etc. I’m constantly looking back and forth between pages for consistency and continuity, but I always miss something!

I post these work-in-progress images on my blog http://lazy.lovelovehill.com/freetalk/tag/wip

Time:
Depending on the complexity of a page, a thumbnail could take 5 minutes (or more, if I’m still struggling with dialogue), refined sketch could take 30-60min+, and inking can take anywhere from 1-4h+. I don’t like toning very much, so I try to draw in a way that reduces time needed for that, haha. I also don’t draw elaborate backgrounds unless I feel like they add value to the story. Since the current arc is focused on people and relationships…there are very few elaborate backgrounds.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Over a year. I explored characters, fashion, homes, personalities, motivations, background/upbringing, speech patterns, etc. Occasionally I went down rabbit holes reading about trees and loggersports-related stuff, but I knew that my drawing wouldn’t be accurate or technical enough to portray those details, so I stopped. I also figured more things out as I began to draw. It’s easy to get stuck in planning/research stage, but I always learn a lot by MAKING/DOING.
How long do you plan on continuing the story for? Is there a definitive ending or will you keep going for as long as you can?1 response
As of now, there isn’t a definitive ending for the umbrella of stories, but the current arc is wrapping up this year! I want to plan arcs about Sabina and Ferris next, but I have to do A LOT of planning before drawing!

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making Here We Are? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
It’s all about perseverance and resilience. A mental battle to keep drawing or inking, instead of being distracted. My pep talk would be “You can do this, you *have* done this! GO GO!”

What was your favorite part about working on Here We Are?
Including animals wherever I could…on cellphones, hats, the opossum, etc.
What was your LEAST favorite part about working on Here We Are?1 response
Drawing ball caps and glasses. The angle of a hat bills and of a pair of glasses, is mystery, and I’m sure I did it wrong. Oh well!

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
I’ve mainly written for Jake and Austin at this point.

Austin is easy to write for because he’s straightforward, reasonable, and responsible 90% of the time. The other 10% is a bit unpredictable, especially when the situation has to do with Jake. Those feelings, boiling over…! Generally I think he is more emotionally mature compared to others his age. I wonder why…?

Jake is a hot mess of emotions because he doesn’t really get himself, haha. He is interesting to write for because he is less logical, more emotional, has a lot of chips on his shoulder, which leads to more more variation in trains of thought and behaviours. I’m way older than him and just think “you’re a himbo!!!” but I gotta take care of him so he doesn’t stay in himbo-land forever. What will become more interesting in the future, is perhaps, writing them as a pair…?

Do you have a LEAST favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us about them!
Not at this point! There are several supporting characters that are still a mystery to me, so I anticipate that I’ll struggle to write for them in the beginning. Sabina is a bit mysterious right now, but I think it will be hard to write her in a way that doesn’t come off as completely bitter, jaded, and cold. I’m ready for this challenge, soon!

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
The opossum! Sabina and Ferris! I like drawing fluffy hair!! I think they’re both way cuter than Jake and Austin HAHA. I like drawing Sabina and Austin’s eyelashes.

Do you have a LEAST favorite character to draw?
Facially, Jake is really hard to draw. A lot of sharp angles. Very specific distances between facial features that I can’t keep consistent. I made him kind of horse-faced, but I have to remember that it’s OK to be horse-faced, haha. We’re not all “conventionally” beautiful nor good looking!!

Where can we find you?
My portfolio: dirchansky.com
Here We Are: dirchansky.com/hwa
Blog: dirchansky.com/freetalk
Mastodon: https://mastodon.social/@dirchansky
Twitter: http://twitter.com/dirchansky
More zines and comics from me: http://store.lovelovehill.com

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
I’m printing a limited run of the first arc of HWA (ch 1-11), this spring/summer! Please follow me on social media if you are interested!

To my fellow comic creators, you are awesome!

Please take care of yourselves, physically and mentally, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey! I get a lot of value from the process of creating and telling these stories, not simply the final output or number of comments/likes I get.

 

Have you read Here We Are yet? Let us know what you think in the comments! Or, hey, go to the creator’s site and show some love 😀

Want your webcomic to be featured here? Drop me a line!