The Art of Doktor No

For amusement and personal development.

“Cuauhtli” production report (January 2024)

Another buffering of episodes.

New year began with a slow build up of “buffer” of pages. I underestimated the required amount of work plus some life hurdles had contributed to slowdown.

The comic is mirrored on Tapas.io, the only difference is a slight censorship to keep it compliant with TOS of this service: https://tapas.io/series/Cuauhtli/info

In the meantime I am still doing historical research and buying new books:

“Onyx Equinox” – a hard to watch failure

In the meantime I finally watched “Onyx Equinox”, and I did not liked it… It is a macabre meat-grinder with unsympathetic protagonists and lousy writing. It is also a final confirmation that Mesoamerican fantasy setting is like magnet attracting mean spirited creators1 (with noble exceptions of “Codex Black” and “Zotz”).

Seeds of inspiration

In my country decades ago there was a huge obsession about Native Americans. So huge that Amerindians had become some sort of mythical creatures, that kids badly wanted to be like one, emulate and fantasize about. By modern standards it is problematic, deeply culturally insensitive and cringe-inducing.

From left: poster for film about summer camping scout boys who called their troop “Blackfoots”, kids’ book literally called “And also you could become an Indian”2, and classic “going native” novel set in 18th century Venezuela.

That fascination was extended to Maya, Aztecs and Incas. The residue of that trend was present during my childhood in the 1990’s, and I can remember reading comic adaptation of Bernal Diaz’s memoir about Cortez expedition to Mexico, Mesoamerican story arc of “Thorgal” comic series (image on the right), or watching “Mysterious cities of Gold” anime series on TV. For a kid in 1990’s the world of warriors dressing like mythological creatures and animals, pyramidal temples and gods like Feathered Serpent has planted deeply in my mind the idea of Mesoamerica as a place for great adventure. Later, as an adult it was expanded by solid historical knowledge, and made possible to realise in comic form.

Please take my comic as an attempt to resurrect that idea, but in mature, well researched and respectful manner.

  1. Miss Alexandra had admitted on Twitch livestream she was struggling, edgy student during making first draft of the show in 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA5X291xa6M ↩︎
  2. In finale of film adaptation of that novelette a boy meets real Amerindian and becomes member of his tribe… http://sfkadr.com/pl/movies/195/i-ty-zostaniesz-indianinem.html ↩︎

“Cuauhtli” production report (November 2023)

It begins… for good.

The comic will be updated either on Fridays or Mondays, depending on whether my daily life gets in the way. However, I cannot guarantee that new pages will be delivered on schedule since this project is a hobby of mine, and I have other responsibilities such as a day job. Anyway, thank you for your leniency in advance.

I remind you, that there is RSS channel for latests updates: https://cuauhtli.doktorno.vot.pl/feed/comic and if you have BlueSky account here you have dedicated feed: https://bsky.app/profile/did:plc:ypt3injnod2jj5atikhcr3wq/feed/aaaeq5c5ftudm I am exploring other options for promoting my webcomic, like mirroring it on tapas.io or Webtoon.

Addressing two elephants in the room

I want to say two important things before they would possibly become a big issues:

  1. This is not historical setting, but a made up fantasy world
  2. While it is intended to be inspired by Mesoamerican precolonial cultures it must not be viewed as historically accurate representation of them.

Moving to next point.

Notes on tone and world building

I used to dislike fantasy because I thought it was just bad imitations of “Lord of the Rings” or “Conan.” But I’ve come to realize that good fantasy is about opening new horizons, exploring different perspectives, and evoking a sense of wonder. Unfortunately, there are some fantasy works that has unhealthy focus on disturbing themes like gratuitous violence, power, domination, and cynicism.

I will not commit myself to this. As the tag line says, my comic is about adventure in a fantasy world inspired by Mesoamerica. That opens possibilities for me to explore alternative social organization and politics because not every fantasy world needs to be a carbon copy of the political pathologies and savagery of medieval and early modern Europe (like in “Game of Thrones”). Also, I think we have enough violence and cynicism in the real world, and for that exact reason, we do not need another Conan-like fantasy about decapitating enemies and molesting women in a savage world. These kinds of fantasies are too dangerous for modern society.

So, don’t anticipate the story to be gloomy and pessimistic, but do bear in mind that there will be some darker elements as well. After all, it is rated for 15+ year old audience for a good reason, intended for striking a balance between light and dark.

“Cuauhtli” production report (April 2023)

We have a lift-off (sort of)

So it begun… I just uploaded the last page of six page mini-comic as introduction to the main “Cuauhtli” series. You can read it here: https://cuauhtli.doktorno.vot.pl/comic/introduction-cover/.

Learning to walk before running

I decided to do a short feature in order to test the techniques and technology for making my webcomic a reality. The process of making that simple mini-comic took six months (!) of trial and error, and that’s fine. Despite the fatigue, there’s also a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with creating something that you’ve poured so much time and energy into. But for now, it’s time for a break and some well-deserved rest.

What’s next?

Burnout is a real thing, so I will take a break from doing any new pages or sketches. For how long? I guess next two weeks should be enough, and after that break I’ll start doing pages for the first chapter. Also I plan to do some extra concept arts and character sheets.

“Cuauhtli” production report (January 2023)

Slow progress and experimentation

Unfortunately, I don’t have good news here. My creative process had stalled a bit, mired in experimentation, research and trying various new processes of creating comic, not mentioning daily life getting into the way.

The silver lining here is that good projects needs time. You simply cannot speed up certain things, and creating fantasy comic book is one of them.

Creative writing challenge

Here things gets tricky. Creating basics of the world and interesting characters is only the first half of the the process. The rest is creating an interesting story. I am gathering ideas for plots and adventures, and brainstorming them ditto character development and world building. Its not easy task for sure, another one is setting the tone. I don’t want to shy from mature topics and there would be some violence, but on the other hand I don’t want to create “dark/low fantasy” that makes reader depressed and disturbed (more on that here).

Disappointments and mixed feelings about Aztecs in comics

Since the beginning of the work I tried to gather other existing comics set in Mesoamerica to gather some inspirations and just look how creators tackled that. Unfortunately I noticed that way too often creators sensationalise things like human sacrifice, extrapolate those religious rites on whole society, creating dark, depressing visions that are not only historically inaccurate (e.g. the 24 thousand human offerings in one holiday is a colonial era fabrication; modern archaeologists and historians agree that it was 100s per year and they were mostly war captives) but also mean-spirited. For example “Queatzalcoatl” by J. Y. Mitton is concealed sadistic pornography. “Le Serpent et la Lance” by Hub (who did “Okko” series) is failed thriller with bad storytelling, and I wonder if creator have some personality issues. “Le Azteques” by Andreas (creator of “Rork”) is a mess and admitted failure by author. “Helldorado” is a horror fantasy that basically replicates prejudices of Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”. And so on. My feelings are best described by attached screenshot from Red Letter Media’s show on YouTube.

The massive “door-stopper” sized novel “Aztec” by Gary Jennings is mixed bag because author went overboard with graphic sex, that feels like a cheap gimmick for increasing book sales, and despite being fairy historically accurate there are some inaccuracies (despite authors claim of 12 years of research while living in Mexico), but that’s maybe because it was written in 1970’s when our knowledge about Aztecs was smaller than today. Also author does the sensationalisation of human sacrifice and cannibalism, and main protagonist does despicable things. On the other hand Aztecs are humanised and shown as sophisticated people with rich culture and arts, in contrast to intolerant and ruthless Spaniards.

In conclusion, I stopped looking for fictional works (especially comics) set in Mesoamerica for inspiration, because its a waste of time.

Roadmap for next months

What lies ahead? First of all, I decided to put main storyline on hold, and finish short 6 page interlude unrelated to main story, that introduces reader to the magic in this world. Next I need to flesh out concept art for extra characters and do more studies of architecture. Stay tuned and watch this space.

“Cuauhtli” production report (June 2022)

My webcomic project, that I aforementioned before, is now in quite bumpy phase of development. There few reasons for tat. First is my inexperience with such project, basically everything I do is experimentation and learning by trial and error. Secondly, recent horrific events in Ukraine, so uncomfortably close to home, had made me emotionally dry and paralysed my creativity (now I feel better and more motivated). Thirdly I was was waiting for delivery of few books (more on that later) plus I was collecting resources online and in local library, and studying them.

Research and literature

I think the candid photos of books I bought recently or acquired from my family collection says more than thousands words:

The bibliography is increasing each month, and includes online articles from archaeology publications and digital copies of ancient codices. While “historically accurate fantasy” is an oxymoron, I found out that learning and researching real history is a very good source of inspiration for fantasy.

Concept art

In the meantime I made some rushed and preliminary concept art, that is intended for conveying mood and feeling of the setting:

3D assets

My choice is to use 3D CGI as much as possible for architecture landscapes etc. because I am not skilled enough in drawing architectural stuff and interiors, plus perspective could be very tricky… So far I managed to make procedurally generated pyramidal structures in Blender 3D:

Character design

The most sophisticated kind of concept art so far. Below, I present you eponymous protagonist: 7-Reed Cuauthli (Eagle), a young warrior of the Empire, turned into travelling mercenary, who in first chapter meets a warrior-girl this is very eager for adventuring, and his old mercenary friend.
In case you asked: yes, I took inspiration for title header from “Thorgal”.

More to come soon, I need to design two more characters for the main cast.

Writing

Here things comes tricky. I wrote 90% of first chapter (where we meet our main heroes), but I also wrote a 6-page intermission that introduces reader to the supernatural side of the world. I decided, because of my inexperience with making comics, to write, draft and draw this short intermission, in order to gain experience. In the meantime, below is a sneak preview of storyboards for first chapter:

Long haul ahead, but I think I can do it. Stay tuned for more announcements.

Plans for 2022 and beyond

Preface

Start of the new year always welcome both retrospection and formulating plans for the future. So lets begin.

Retrospection

The year 2021 was quite productive for me, in fact last 4 years were constant improvement of my art skills. I managed to do mostly erotic pin ups and some random OC’s designs (that did not went far enough) fanarts (like series of reimagination of classic “Witcher” saga books covers) and various experimental studies. In the same time I upgraded my hardware and now I can add serious 3D into my mix of techniques.

But time marches on, I am not content with lack of serious goals and challenges, hence I decided to start new grand project.

What?

I present you: “Cuauchtli”:

An action adventure fantasy comic about eponymous travelling mercenary warrior (whose name pronounced [ˈkʷaːʍ.t͡ɬi] means “Eagle” in classic Nahuatl) in a world inspired by cultures of pre-Columbian civilizations, like Aztecs (and other Nahua peoples), Maya, Incas etc. A story of both adventure and self-discovery in ever changing world.

Its a very risky setup, and despite fantasy setting it needs lots of research on historical source of inspiration, but I think I can manage that challenge. My sources are mostly books written by people with academic credentials, like Alfonso Caso, Inga Clendinnen, Frances Gillmor, Esther Pasztory, John Pohl and others. Also historical epic novel “Aztec” by Gary Jennings is another source of inspiration, due the historical accuracy and vivid storytelling.

Why?

My feeling is that the best way to stay creative is to reconnect with things from your childhood. Pre-colonial Mesoamerica was my point of interests then, and I blame comics that I read as a kid for igniting it:

Another reason is that history in general and sociopolitical matters are other areas of interest for me, and I have completely useless degree in political science, that begs to be utilised in my grown-up years. It would be handy during world-building.

Fantasy set in Mesoamerica is very rare but not unusual. The Netflix’s “Maya and the Three” CGI series and CrunchyRoll’s “Onyx Equinox” anime serial are most recent examples, ditto indie comics like Daniel’s Parada “Zotz” (more alternative history than fantasy) or “Codex Black” webcomic by Camilo Moncada.

I am approaching this topic with a great care and respect, because we are talking about cultural heritage of indigenous peoples of Central America, not made-up stuff. And I take “Avatar the Last Airbender” as an yardstick of how Western creator can make fantasy story in setting inspired by non-Western culture while being respectful and true to source material.

How?

This format requires me to be consistent with my artwork and be productive. Making comics is art all by itself, and it is quite complex process with yin-yang-like philosophy, but with words and pictures being in balance in order to effectively tell the story.

Another challenge would be building not only credible world but also storytelling and character development. I never before wrote fiction by myself (with exception of crappy SF novel in my high school years), so I need to familiarise myself with creative writing techniques.

So far I created early draft of first chapter and early panel layout of it. Its harder to make than it sounds, but very satisfying in the end to see the preliminary results. Also I did some studies of Aztec weapons after historical sources:

Where?

The comic will be published online for free as webcomic on this server on dedicated subdomain. I cannot rule out Patreon/Kofi support or merchandise but these things seems to be too distant possibility to be considered seriously for now. Also I am exploring ways to meaningfully promote it on social media, but prospects looks bleak considering how busy and biased they are.