Spotlight

Realm of Owls – By Owls, For Owls

Gheralf and Vayandil hail from Finland and together, they are called Owl Basket. They are a team aiming to create content that’s enriching and smart in some way. Whether the content is comics, blog posts or anything else they might come up with in the future.

Gheralf is a software developer by trade and stage actor by heart. He loves all kinds of birds but you can probably guess his favorite type from the theme of our comic. He is the writer for Realm of Owls.

Vayandil does many things. She is a web designer by education, but does pretty much anything involved with it; like graphic design, illustration work and front end coding. She works as an independent entrepreneur and is the illustrator for Realm of Owls.

Synopsis: Realm of Owls is a realm inhabited by, well, owls. (And many other creatures!) It’s a humorous mocumentary made about owls, by owls, for owls. Although our reader base mostly consists of humans… We don’t know what that’s all about!

Some even see some satirical tones in how the owls run their city or how wacky the whole realm is, but that’s an accidental side product! It’s a light-hearted comic that’s all about laughing at ourselves!

Is your comic available in any other languages? If so, what language(s)?
Realm of Owls has been translated into Russian! You can read it at the Author’s Comics site! https://acomics.ru/~realm-of-owls

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
Gheralf: I went to an art oriented junior high school. But other than that, I’ve only taken some classes on theatrical arts and English literature. Most of my education is on computer science.

Vayandil: Back in high school, I loved drawing so much that I was planning to take every single art class they offered. But I hated the first course, wasn’t impressed by the curriculum in the others and didn’t like the teacher, so I ended up terminating all those plans. Instead, I drew a lot by myself during and in between classes!

But then after high school, I took comics and illustration classes for a year. After that, I moved to Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences (now part of South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences), where I got my bachelor’s degree in media communication. My four years there included a lot of graphic design studies, as well as user interface classes and a little bit of 3D art and game-making classes.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Realm of Owls is a comedic world-building experiment.

World-building is a fantastic genre, because we can wing it most of the time without much of a script! We’ve also taken full advantage of the unreliable narrator trope by putting ourselves into the comic as characters. It gives us additional leeway in case we make any plot holes, because we can always say: “Sorry, we got it wrong! This is how it really goes!”

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
One would be “accidental satire”, for sure! We don’t really intend to reflect real life’s shenanigans in our comic, even when it may seem that way.

What was your inspiration for the story?
Realm of Owls is the end product of multiple brainstorming sessions relating to inventory systems in RPGs (role-playing games). Such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Ultima IX: Ascension.

All that brainstorming produced an idea for a card game. We chose to have owl people in it, because we liked owls.

We needed some medium to build the world for that card game. A webcomic felt like a good choice since it combined our interests on both building websites and drawing comics.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
Gheralf: Both of us like Japanese manga quite a bit. Although it might be hard to see in Realm of Owls, since the art style looks nothing like manga. I really like Rumiko Takahashi’s works (Urusei Yatsura, Ranma and Maison Ikkoku) for their humor and storytelling. I have a soft spot for Ken Akamatsu’s works (Love Hina, Negima, UQ Holder!) due to how he manages to cram every page full of comedy. Finally, I like Makoto Yukimura for his aesthetic and vivid artwork in Vinland Saga.

Japanese four panel comics (yonkoma) were also an influence to me since they have a few common features that I think improve the user experience of comic reading. I’ve never really liked how with western comics you read panels from left to right, since it’s easy to accidentally glance at the last panel with the punchline and get spoiled. Japanese comics go from top to bottom so that’s never an issue. The format also works nicely in today’s smartphone-focused environment.

From western creators, I’d like to mention Richard Garriott, aka Lord British. He’s known for the Ultima game series (which is pretty much the grandfather inspiration to all Japanese RPGs and introduced most major game mechanics we know and love in today’s RPGs). In comic making and story-telling, my inspiration from him comes from the interesting magic and moral systems he came up for his games.

Vayandil: Don Rosa’s Donald Duck stories have definitely also influenced both of us! His “unnecessary but fun details” drawing style has appealed to me since I was a child. I love hunting down fun details in illustrations!

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series has also been a big influence. His humour is right up our alley and has definitely affected how we approach creating comedy in our works.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
Vayandil: One strip takes six days in total to complete. We make a preliminary script on the first day (Sunday) and then I draw it in four sessions, spread out into four days. On the sixth day (Friday), we put the images and the text together and finish the page.

Gheralf: And on Saturday, we rest!

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
Gheralf: We always have a planning session for the next comic on Sunday. The session doesn’t have a time limit: we go on until we come up with something that makes us laugh (yes, the process has been going on like this for almost 5 years!). During that time we try to come up with a rough idea for preliminary texts, and how many panels we need and what those panels approximately have in them.

Vayandil: As for the illustrations, I draw them on paper with thin marker pens. First I make a rough pencil sketch, review it with Gheralf, then make the final sketch and review it with Gheralf again. Then I ink the outlines, erase the pencil and add the rest of the details. I also put small x markers on areas that I’m going to fill with black during the refining process on my Mac. I do all that stuff with Wacom Cintiq and on Affinity’s Photo application.

Gheralf: On Friday (the day we publish a new strip), we look at the final drawings Vayandil has made during the week. Then we go through the texts I’ve written and wonder if they still work with what has been drawn or whether we should revise them. Sometimes the text I wrote on Sunday still works, sometimes we do a little revisioning, and sometimes all the old text gets thrown into the trash bin and we come up with completely new texts (there are periodically times when this is more the rule than the exception).

Vayandil: Once we’re finally happy with the texts, I put them in place and export a web-optimised PNG of the page. I crunch that file as much as possible by using an online compressor called Optimizilla. That way we make sure that our comic always loads fast even on slower internet speeds.

Gheralf: You could say our work method is a healthy combination of LEAN and AGILE. I work as a developer at a company that specializes in software for quality management and drawing processes, so you could say that my job has been an influence too!

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
Gheralf: We don’t have a specific ending planned, but we do have at least two more story arcs in mind. Although we don’t yet know how long those will take. The current arc has taken a year and a half so far, so maybe you can make an educated guess from that.

Vayandil: There’s also a few spin-offs we’ve been thinking about for a long time. They will likely be in some other format than comics, though.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Gheralf: We prototyped the card game (mentioned earlier) for about a year before we started the comic. During that time, I wrote up a bunch of funny scenarios, loose facts and characters. Those eventually turned into the comic strips that started the Realm of Owls webcomic.

Vayandil: That said, our road from the latest card game prototype to starting the webcomic was relatively short. We decided that we’d need to somehow build this world to ourselves and everyone else. So we built the Realm of Owls website in a couple of months in spring 2016 and I started drawing the strips right away.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? 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?
Gheralf: There hasn’t honestly been anything too bad. We’ve seen too many of our favourite webcomics start strong and then fade into indefinite hiatuses, so we wanted to prevent that from happening to our comic.

Back when we started, we were both working full-time, so it was even more important to decide on a workflow that would make sense for the comic, as well as allow us to easily stay on schedule.

Vayandil: In other words, the comic had to be so super easy to make that there’d be no chance of it becoming too stressful. That meant we wanted to get rid of anything that would cause extra work. Things like coloring, refined lineart, placing speech bubbles, etc.

Gheralf: Our whole setup is based around that mind set: it’s a story published by silly stupid owl people, so any mistakes we make (storywise and artwise) can be attributed to that. And the reason why the drawings are rough is due to the primitive tools available in that world. And so on.

Vayandil: Basically we’ve built ourselves a very intricate safety net that allows us a stress-free workflow, a lot of freedom and a lot of room for errors!

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
Vayandil: Definitely the moments when things just magically add up or work well with what we’ve established earlier!

Gheralf: And getting to read our own comic is also nice. Because it’s very important to us that we can enjoy reading our own product.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Vayandil: At first, my problem was keeping up my enthusiasm about making the next strip. As said, we were working full-time, so it was tempting to just relax and play video games. So I had to force myself a little bit, page after page, until eventually the process became a habit.

Gheralf: While we already said that we don’t plan too much ahead, it’s also been a double-edged sword for us. There have been moments when we’ve thought: “Oh no, this would have been so much better if we’d established this fact/character earlier!” At those moments, we just have to work with what we have and go on. We also try to learn from those moments and think harder next time about what we need to establish for the future.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Gheralf: I have quite a lot of characters that I’d really want to come back to. Sharpie and Clacky, especially. Sharpie’s perpetual frown and realistic view on life make him a loveable straight man that we’ve never been able to show in our comic enough.

Clacky the skeleton, on the other hand, (along with my another favourite character, Cacko) falls into the category of silly speechless creatures that have to communicate through their body language and expressions. I always love those kinds of characters.

Vayandil: Cacko is very fun to draw as well!

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Gheralf: We have a character coming up who is way smarter than us, so it makes them pretty hard to write for! We really want to convince our readers that the character is capable of complicated planning and strategizing, which is something that I’m personally not all that good at! We’ll have to see how that goes!

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Vayandil: Most of the random side characters that I get to draw once and then forget about them. I enjoy getting to be creative and make new characters on the fly.

Additionally, I also love drawing the derby chick that’s journeying with us in the current story. She’s growing up, so I have to occasionally remember to update her design towards an adult derby. And I love that!

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Vayandil: Those random side characters that end up becoming recurring characters… Winging their look is a lot of fun, but when I realise I have to start drawing them again and again, it gets a little bit less fun. Because I have to reference them regularly and make sure there aren’t any continuity errors in their design.

Where can we find you?
Realm of Owls comic can be read here: https://realmofowls.com

We have social media presence in Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Pick your favourite platform and follow our Owl Basket account!
https://twitter.com/OwlBasketTeam
https://www.instagram.com/OwlBasketTeam/
https://www.facebook.com/OwlBasketTeam

If you’re interested in reading about our thoughts on video games, health and life in general, head on to our Owl Basket Blog! https://blog.owlbasket.com

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Now is an especially good time to hop on to read Realm of Owls, because we have something amazing planned for this year! It will be our comic’s 5th anniversary, so we want to celebrate that with a blast! Stay tuned with our comic or follow our social media and you will see!