The Hero's Handbook


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About This Mess

Where The Idea Came From

I came to the idea of this strip in a rather interesting fashion. A lot of influences went into it, many of which had nothing to do with each other until they combined. So bear with me, this gets complicated.

Influence #1: I suppose the earliest influence would have been about seven or so years ago (about 1997) when I was reading the funny papers and was trying to figure out an angle that some cartoonist hasn’t covered so far. I settled on a fantasy strip. Totally forgetting about the very-well-known comic “Wizard of Id” (like, duh!), I designed my own fantasy comic. The strip featured an over-enthusiastic scrawny knight whose visor always fell in his face and rode a sensible, if not always cooperative, unicorn. Other characters included a princess who wanted an adventure of her own and some crack-pot old king who always sent the hero on ridiculous quests, on which the princess would often stow away. I drew a couple of idea strips and some concept sketches, and then proceeded to forget about it entirely. Even lost everything I ever drew on the subject. -_-

Influence #2: I have been a part of a book club organized by some bookworms in my church ward for quite a few years now (since about 1998 or so). This club is sci-fi and fantasy oriented, though about 85-90% of what we read is just fantasy. We each take turns in selecting the reading of the month(s), either choosing single books or whole series. One selection that has made an everlasting impression on me is “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. I got a huge kick out of how completely random and pointless some of the events were.

Influence #3: In September of 2002, I went to serve a mission for my church, but was released after one month in the Provo MTC (Missionary Training Center) due to medical reasons. Upon returning home, my twin sister (attending a university in another state) buffeted me with e-mails of all the cool stuff she’d discovered while I was gone. It was in this fashion that my sister first introduced me to webcomics. The first one we got into was Mark Shallow’s “Adventurers!” which was about characters in an RPG (role-playing game).

Influence #4: At the same time my sister was showing me all sorts of cool stuff (also when we first got into fan-subtitled anime), I was thinking about an idea I had for a series of novels. I’ve had the idea for years, and intended to eventually write it. For some reason, I felt I needed a completely different warm-up series to practice my writing with. And here’s where the influences begin to merge.

Influence #5: The general media. Anime and books boosted my creativity and influenced my drawing style, while music of several varieties provided my inspiration.

I was still heavily under the influence of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” style of writing. October 2002 found me wondering dreamily what would happen if a fantasy version of the goofy sci-fi story would be like. This one thought was like a match on a tank of gasoline located next to a fireworks factory. The idea of “The Hero’s Handbook” simply exploded. My head is like a factory at times; once an idea hits, all creative energy is devoted to the almost uncontrollable and accelerating development of the idea. I designed the basic concept in mere hours (the details have undergone many changes since), during which I had erased all resemblance of “the Hitchhiker’s Guide” and forged an entirely original idea (though there will always remain a lingering sense of the conventional laws of reality and writing being merely an option). From then on for two years, characters and plots manufactured in my head like toys in Santa’s workshop during the last minute November crunch time. At first, my idea was to write a series of books (this being the warm-up for my original book series idea, though it has evolved to me much larger than my original series concept). Each book would be written from a different character’s point of view and be titled in accordance to which guide the character would use. The first three books planned were “The Hero’s Handbook”, “The Villain’s Volume”, and one more (I can’t remember which one that was now). This was the original idea, created in those first few hours. It would expand, once I discovered a new creative outlet.

My sister had already introduced me to webcomics, but the idea of doing one of my own didn’t really sink in until a little while later. There wasn’t really any trigger, just—BAM! Hey! Why not try out the HHB concept with a webcomic first? I could work out the bugs in the plot and characters, and iron it all out for when I eventually write it up. So, I began to design the style. I remembered the old fantasy comic I had attempted, and while I couldn’t find ANY of the original artwork, I did remember sort-of what the characters looked like. Perhaps someday I’ll add a page to the site describing what went into the design of each HHB character. All I can say right now is that the knight was eventually transformed into Lute, the unicorn into his mount, Star, and even the princess was included (though she changed a lot in appearance and character design). After them came a whole slew of new characters, each more outrageous than the first. I came up with characters, plots, character backgrounds, and twists with the help of music. As I listened to my favorite songs, I let the stories form on their own (a trick I learned as a little kid when I heard about Walt Disney’s concept behind his movie “Fantasia”). When I realized I needed a certain type of character, I started drawing. The drawings became real characters to me, and they told me their own stories—even dictated what they looked like, to a certain extent. I found I could not entirely develop a character until I knew what he/she wanted to look like on paper. In all this, most characters were created from a doodle that originally had nothing to do with HHB but came to life in the world anyway. I basically just drew someone, looked at the doodle, and suddenly I knew who they were. Most of the rest were created because I needed to fill a position in the story (ex: I need a villain…who’d make a good villain?). There are only two characters so far that were inspired specifically by and to match a particular song; which characters these are will remain anonymous for the time being, though I will say that they are prominent in later Adventures—no, I’m not saying what songs they are yet, either. ^_^ One other character began as a fan-character for another person’s comic, but was adapted to fit into the HHB world because I liked the concept.

I drew and colored the first two strips a year before I actually began posting them (all others are more recent). I then went through a period of procrastination and tight schedules. During this time, I continued doodling and creating. I had to register with Keenspace twice, since I had neglected the original site and it was deleted. I began the new site about February 2004, but it mostly just sat there while I delayed more. During the summer I actually designed parts of the site. Finally, when fall quarter and school were fast approaching, I made a decision. I simply could not hold out any longer, and I was eager to get the comic out of the way. I still didn’t know if I would have time for it, but that excuse had kept me off for a long time, and would continue to do so if I didn’t just charge in and hope to find time. So I did, and here it is. I officially posted the first strip in the beginning of October 2004 (as kind of an anniversary of when I had originally thought up the idea), and has been going…uh…randomly ever since.

As for the plot itself, there have been many changes. The original novel concept was to publish a few books from the perspective of whoever is following a particular guidebook. This idea dissolved, as the chronology of events no longer allowed for such a method of storytelling. In its place have arisen four completely separate storylines, codenamed “Adventures One, Two, Three, and Four” until I can come up with something more catchy. Adventure One is possibly the shortest of the four plotlines. When written in novel format, it might (I can’t be sure) be only one book long. The whole point in the creation of this story is to simply introduce the concept and some of the main characters. It is a beginning, something that every story needs. Even though it’s just a warm-up for the big show, I still have some good ideas and characters for it and it will be quite enjoyable. Compared to the other stories, Adventure One is relatively subdued and is not as intense in some places, though it can get like that on occasion.

Adventure Two is what I also call the “main story”. This is the real deal! The complexity of this story is much greater than Adventure One, or possibly even Three and Four. This is the story where most of the characters become fully developed. There will be a lot of action and surprises, new characters and concepts. When I write this out, it will probably be a trilogy or an entire series itself. I’m really looking forward to this one.

Adventure Three is not fully developed. Initially, I hadn’t intended on going beyond Adventure Two, but I felt the need to create an encore anyway (the ideas just don’t stop). There will be new characters and obstacles in this one, as with just about all the plotlines. I’m not even sure I’ll write this out as a novel, but if I do, it will be shorter than Adventure Two and I’m not sure how many books it will be.

Adventure Four, like Adventure Three, is not fully developed yet either. I came up with this story for kicks. It is designed to be a surprise possibility itself. This story will be dramatically different in setting and other areas, for reasons which will remain secret until further notice. As far as novels go, same deal as Adventure Three.

All four Adventures can stand as separate stories, but still flow together chronologically. There are elements that will span between the plotlines, such as unanswered questions or concerns or surprises nobody ever knew was building the whole time. Some unimportant piece of information that was in one story might prove essential in the next, that kind of thing. This way, the stories interact better.

Well, that’s about the whole of it. If there are any other developments that I can share, I’ll put them up. So far, I have enough material to keep me busy a VERY long time. I hope everyone will enjoy following the story as much as I have in creating it! ^_^

About The Creator

Eventually, I'll tell a little about myself, though I find talking about me awkward.

All original characters and contents and stuff copyright 2004 A.L.McMullin
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