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BlizzCraftsAug 19, 2015 5:00 pm CT

Steve Hamaker gets to the heart of gaming in PLOX

If you follow our weekly Webcomic Wrapup, you’re probably already familiar with PLOX, a comic about … well, I’ll just let its own introduction explain:

Set against the Midwest paradigm of Columbus, Ohio, PLOX is the story of Chad, the raid leader with no patience, Roy, the rational one that would rather play with dice and paper, and Kim, the guild leader at the end of her rope. Without irony or prejudice, PLOX celebrates the subculture of gaming – video, card, and tabletop – while exploring how the shroud of internet anonymity changes our real world relationships and identities.

It’s a story that speaks to any gamer, and it’s written and illustrated by Steve Hamaker, who’s an Eisner Award winning colorist of Bone, RASL, and Table Titans. But if you’re looking for his gaming-centric work, it’s PLOX you want: you can read PLOX on its website, stay tuned for updates on Facebook, or support it on Patreon or Kickstarter, where Steve is working on publishing a print version of PLOX.

We caught up with Steve to talk about the how and why of his comics.

What Blizzard games do you play, and as what?

I play all Blizzard games!  Obviously my first love is World of Warcraft.  I have many characters, but my Blood Elf Hunter is my main.  I love tanking, so I have a Death Knight that I use to scratch that itch.  Timewalking dungeons have been insanely fun for me to tank again.

Heroes of the Storm is also very big for me.  I have a tight knit group of friends that I play with, and I think that’s the biggest strength of that game.

How did you get started making comics? 

I have always drawn and created comics for myself, but my first exposure as a professional was with Jeff Smith (Bone and RASL).  I was a graphic designer, and later a colorist for him on every comic he produced from about 2000 until 2012.  That job taught me how to self publish, self promote, and of course how to write and draw comics on a larger scale.

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You’ve been involved in print comics — why make a webcomic? (And, more specifically, why a WoW-themed webcomic?)

I’ll answer the second part first!  Ha, ha!  I love WoW, and I was into raiding and guild management pretty deep back in the Wrath days.  The story is semi-autobiographical, and I draw on many stories and struggles that I remember from that time in my life.  Not just in game either!  In some ways I was a different person and now years later I have a better perspective on it. I’m not really like Chad, but he’s definitely in my head sometimes. WoW and its community have been a huge influence on me and my comics.

As for why I chose the web for PLOX, I see online comic publishing as a fantastic starting point for anyone that is interested in building an audience for their stories or strips.  The current business model works really well for people that can’t scrape together $20,000 for printing, promotion, and everything associated with getting a comic made.  When you get to a comfortable point where your audience is willing to support a Patreon or a Kickstarter, you aren’t hanging out there wondering if anyone wants your book.  We can use analytics to reduce a lot of financial risk that stopped many creative people from ever trying.  The doors are wide open right now!

What comes first in PLOX: the story or the art?

In some ways, both.  I have had the overall story arc figured out for years, but each chapter, and each page get tweaked and revised four to five times before I am happy with how it reads.  Many times I write 2 or 3 chapters in a row and realize I need a chapter in between that wasn’t originally planned. That’s happened at least five times.

I have notes for a chapter like, “Chad & Roy go to a party”, and that’s it.  Then I just start drawing the characters in stick figure form, and writing out what they’re saying.  That part happens fast with the words and pictures virtually coming at the same time.

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Could you give us a step-by-step on what’s involved in making a new comic? 

I spend a ton of time writing and sketching whole chapters at once so the story reads naturally.  I have to figure out the pacing of the character action (if there is any) and of course the dialogue gets re-written until the very last second.

A quick breakdown would look like this:

  • Write an idea for a scene like “Kim & Roy talk at a restaurant”
  • Start sketching small 3”x3” thumbnails of the pages in that scene.  Very rough drawings.
  • Scan the roughs into the computer, put them into my page template.
  • Lettering goes over the rough sketched dialogue.  Re-write the dialogue to make it flow.
  • I draw tighter versions of the characters and backgrounds, and figure out how much space each word balloon will need, and of course where they go.
  • Once I get the drawings looking as good as possible, I digitally ink them in Photoshop.
  • The coloring process can take hours or tens of hours depending on the complexity of each page.  I paint the backgrounds (if needed for the scene), then the characters get colored.  I always work background to foreground.

How long does it take you to make a typical comic?

I can do one page a day if I don’t have anything else going on.  The Tuesday & Thursday update schedule is perfect for me.  I can spread the work out and complete pages at a more comfortable pace.  I never rush the process, so occasionally I take short breaks while I plan the next chapter.

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What’s the most challenging part about running an online, self-created comic series?

I think getting the word out about the comic is the biggest challenge.  Self-promotion is tricky because you don’t want people to get sick of hearing about what you’re doing, but there’s no other way.  Twitter and Facebook are good places to promote, but there’s a lot of news, noise, and everything else to compete with.

What are you working on next?

I am finishing up the current story arc of PLOX and it will be compiled into a print edition with the help of Kickstarter!  The campaign has a few days left, and it’s looking good so far!  The book is planned to come out in early 2016.

I will be coloring more Table Titans by Scott Kurtz.  I’m excited to get going on the season coming up that will be drawn by Brain Hurtt (of Sixth Gun fame).  That starts September 1st, I believe!

That’s all for BlizzCrafts today — but check back next week for another selection of cool Blizzard-themed crafts! Have Blizzard arts and crafts of your own you’d like to see on Blizzard Watch? Send them our way! Submissions and suggestions should be sent to liz at blizzardwatch dot com.

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