Strange Writing Mistakes

Anyone who takes writing seriously knows that there are certain conventions that should be followed.  From simple things like “they’re” vs. “there” vs. “their” to bigger things like handling protagonist character development, there are numerous mistakes that are talked about frequently.  However, there are still even more mistakes that do not get talked about often, if only because they used to be infrequent.  Yes, I did say used to be.

Due to my myriad of project types, I end up reading a lot in one day and get exposed to a lot of mistakes I’m surprised people even make.  That being said, there are a few in particular that not only grind my gears, but also are a concerning trend in certain areas of the internet.  As such, I would like to take a moment to address these unspoken mistakes.  You too may have seen these and felt the irritation I do.

Keep in mind these mistakes are pretty variable and don’t particularly have a consistent theme like previous articles; nevertheless, they are worth discussing.

 

  1. Titles that are in all lower case

Even for non-native speakers, it should seem a pretty noticeable after a while that titles for works should be capitalized.  While there are a few exceptions that were done on purpose by the creator for specific reasons, in most cases titles in all lowercase shouldn’t be done.

Yet, it is something I see happen very frequently for indie stories.  Whether it’s laziness or some desire to be edgy, I’m unsure.  What I do know, though, is that in most cases it makes the work appear extremely unprofessional.  This is especially the case when the creator is inconsistent about whether they capitalize the title or not.

So, unless you have a very, very specific reason not to, I highly recommend capitalizing your titles.  It is something simple that if not done, quickly turns off a slew of readers who just assume you’re otherwise going to be a bad writer (which is often not the case for the indie stories I see do this).

 

  1. Summaries that are an inappropriate length

For those who write stories, situations where you need to summarize the story can often be difficult.  Even I struggle for reviews sometimes actually summarizing what I’m seeing on comic pages, and the longer the story the more difficult it can be.  That being said, most of the time people persist and persevere through the problem and eventually come up with a summary that they believe is golden.

This is the point, though, where the next mistake comes in: not stopping to consider if your summary is the right length.

Not all summary lengths are appropriate for every situation.  For example, your two paragraph masterpiece of all things is definitely not going to fit onto Twitter.  On the otherhand, your Twitter elevator pitch probably isn’t appropriate length if you need to describe in detail what volume 1 of your masterpiece entailed.

Thus, my next tip is simply to consider what you’re writing your summary for and make sure to fit it to those specifications.  The point of a summary is to describe the work with as much information as you can in as few words as possible.  People will go in with different reading expectations depending on what the summary is for.  By that, I mean the person on Twitter is on Twitter to read sentiments that are 140 characters or less.  If you give them two paragraphs worth of summary, they will more likely skip it than read it.  In the end, it’s in your best interest to not just worry about the summary, but also how long and/or brief the summary needs to be.

 

  1. Not specifying the time zone

Time zones are a headache.  They have purpose and are around for a reason, but for the average person they can be a hassle.  Unfortunately, a lot of writers seem to forget that they’re a thing.

Let me give you a personal story.  Recently, in order to become more proficient at marketing, I’ve been researching the best times to post on social media.  While I have plenty of complaints about receiving mixed information, the thing that bugged me the most is that none of these articles I read listed the time zone.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Articles whose purpose it was to list the best times couldn’t be bothered to write the time zone abbreviation.

Hopefully, you can see my dilemma.  Sadly, it was a lot of articles who committed this folly, leaving me feeling confused and no more knowledgeable than when I started researching.

Although it’s easy to forget, it is generally wise to include the time zone.  Your 1pm is not necessarily someone else’s 1pm.  As the internet reaches the far corners of the Earth, this becomes more and more poignant, so it’s better to include than to not include.  Particularly, be sure to include it in situations like my story above where the time is the highlight of the topic at hand.

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In summary, these lesser talked about mistakes are still things that happen frequently enough to be worth addressing.  Even if you think you’d never make them, they’re good to keep in mind regardless, If you have made them, well, everyone makes mistakes and it’s always something you can fix in the future.  If this article taught you nothing, perhaps it at least brought to your attention your own pet peeve you’ve noticed happening more.

 

Image: Time zones courtesy of geralt on Pixabay.

DC Movies, Tone, and Why it Hurts

While I’m not a huge mainstream comic fan, I’m averagely familiar with Marvel’s and DC’s franchises.  Really, living in America, it’s hard not to be at least somewhat familiar with them.  They are fairly pervasive in the culture, and with the recent string of superhero movies, they are pretty well-known characters.  That being said, those familiar with the current state of movies know one thing: Marvel is doing better.  Not to say, of course, that Marvel always has masterpiece movies, but Marvel has had more successes in the past few years than DC.  In fact, outside of a few Batman movies, such as The Dark Knight, most DC flicks are forgettable or laugh worthy.

Why is this?  This is a pretty important question since Marvel has proven that superhero movies can be box office successes.  Though I’m sure certain fanboys/fangirls would say Marvel has better franchises, I would disagree considering Marvel and DC copy a lot of characters from each other.  This is not to mention that DC does have iconic characters like Batman and Superman, so the flaw in the movies more likely lies with their execution.

As I pondered this question, I also considered the fact that DC gets a ton of other great material in different media.  While Marvel has put most of its eggs in live action productions, DC still gets a lot more animated shows, video games, and so on.  Though there are certainly flops, a lot of these productions are successful.  Take for instance Young Justice who just got renewed for a third season because of the passionate fans.  Or, consider perhaps, Injustice 2 which just released and received high praise, in part for its writing and not just its game mechanics.  Heck, even consider, despite all the years that have passed, people still talk about Batman: The Animated Series because of how masterful of an animated show it was.  The point is, whether you personally like the productions or not, DC can succeed as shown by their success in other areas.

So, why are their movies so ill received?

Thus comes my personal opinion on the matter: DC movies are getting the tone entirely wrong.

Tone in stories can be subtle but very important.  Describing a rainstorm as “light and cascading” sets up a different tone than describing it as “an unforgiving torrent of water.”  Though movies are clearly more visual, the dialogue, music, light choices, and more all characterize what the tone of the movie will be.  Tones dictate everything even if one doesn’t understand them completely; they not only encourage consumers to a specific interpretation, but also help manipulate the emotional responses that will occur.

In the case of DC movies, there seems to be a common trend of making the tone as serious as possible.  The movies will focus on the darker sides of the DC characters, from Superman’s inherent threat from being so powerful to Batman’s broodiness and vengeful attitude towards stopping crime.  The conflicts they face will often have dark implications, and lighting choices will be fairly dark or have a gloomy atmosphere to them.  All in all, the choices in the movies set up a serious tone to remind the consumer that this is serious business with serious stakes and angst.

Unfortunately, this is inherently the problem with their tone.  Everything in the movies (with exception to a few specific movies) is meant to be taken seriously.  Consequently, all the joy and fun of superheroes is sucked out of the production.  These are, at the end, people running around in costume; to not have a little fun with that is to do the concept a bit of a disservice.

Now, that being said, I’m not saying the franchises shouldn’t be treated seriously.  After all, there are some DC movies who did the exact opposite, and were as poorly received as the serious ones.  However, what there should be is a balance of treating the franchise seriously and having fun with it.

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To example this, let’s take a quick look at the 2001 animated Justice League TV show, a generally well-received animated show for the time.  Now the show was definitely a serious one and the conflicts were treated seriously.  There was an episode about Diana/Wonder Woman being banished from her home, an episode where Superman was thought to have died, and so forth.  The show did not skirt around serious conflicts and made sure to convey some heavy emotions.  However, the tone was never overly serious, and the show added lots of light-hearted moments as well to keep the tone from being too heavy.  A lot of this actually came from Flash, who was depicted as a goofball with some funny lines, especially his failed pickup lines.  Overall, the best word to describe it is the show was relatively witty.

I could go on and on and analyze several incarnations in other media but lack the time for this post.  Regardless and suffice it to say, in my personal experience, the good DC productions all achieve this balance.  They are serious, but never forget to add some humor and wit at regular intervals.  When done well, it blends in seamlessly, and one gets to have fun even despite the heavy conflicts going on.

As such, for me at least, it is the tone of the DC movies that is failing them.  If one looks at Marvel’s movies, they do not fall into this trap; rather, there is a lot of humor in Marvel’s movies.  Even when there’s a hole in the sky, there’s still time for some witty banter from Iron Man.  The movies are fun, so many flaws can be overlooked.  Since DC movies treat themselves so seriously in tone, though, their flaws don’t receive this benefit; people will judge the movies in a completely serious and unforgiving manner in the same spirit.

While, of course, I don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon, I thought this analysis might be insightful for some people asking this same question.  I’m sure other aspects also hurt the movies greatly, but for me, the tone is the truest culprit that changes what could be a fun depiction into an overly serious, nonsensical, travesty.

 

Mentioned Marvel franchises (Iron Man, The Avengers, etc.) are © to Marvel Entertainment LLC and affiliated parties.

Mentioned DC franchises (Batman, Superman, Justice League, etc.) are © to DC Entertainment and affiliated parties.

Image: Justice League (2001) animated show promotional image.

Project Organization Tips

So, you’ve got your big project planned, but feel overwhelmed because there’s a lot to do.  Or, even worse, you’re in the middle of the project and keep missing deadlines, keep forgetting to do particular parts, etc..  These are generally all symptoms of lacking organization.

From my experience, lacking organization for your project is the quickest way to kill it, whether you’re working alone or with a group.  Even if you think you can remember everything off the top of your head, distractions in life will always pop up and prompt you to forget things.  As such, in my opinion having good organization for any project is the first key to success.  Surprisingly, though, few people ever seem to have a clear idea on how to get themselves organized.  Thus, the purpose of my article today is to give you my tips and tricks for getting organized and staying on top of your project.

 

  1. Break down your project into manageable goals

The first step for any project should be to break it down into manageable goals.  It’s very easy to become overwhelmed when one keeps in mind their lofty goal of creating a game, planning a birthday party, or anything else of a large nature.  Generally, without breaking down the project, you will eventually become confused, lost, and unsure of the steps you need to take to achieve completion.  You also run the risk of forgetting aspects until the very last moment when it’s too late to rectify.  Thus, breaking down the project should always be a first step.

Certainly, breaking down a project is no easy task sometimes.  However, there is a key question you can ask yourself if you’re struggling: “What do I need for this project?”  Once you start asking yourself this question constantly, you put yourself on the track to think about the project from a more manageable level.  Planning a party?  Well, you probably need decorations, a location, invitations, music, food, etc..  Creating a game?  You need art assets, music assets, an idea of what gameplay mechanics you want, and so forth.  You can continue to ask this question to make the tasks even smaller, but as may be clear, the tasks suddenly become easier to accomplish.  Yet, they all work towards your larger, lofty goal, so completing them is still progressive towards it; now, you’re just better organized and prepared to handle everything.

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  1. Use a to-do list

Your project is broken down, but how can you keep track of it?  My suggestion is to always have a to-do list.  Whether you want to use a web-service that syncs across your devices or write it on old fashioned paper, the to-do list is how you keep track of what needs to be done and its status.  Now I’m sure there are those who “ugh” at this point since to-do lists are, in themselves, work.  They are also something that has to be developed into a habit so one can stay on top of it.  There are reasons, however, to keep up with a to-do list.

To start, a to-do list again, helps keep track of the project.  The larger the project, the larger the chance you will have to wonder, at some point, if you did something or not.  As long as you stay on top of the to-do list, it only takes five seconds to check it (versus the many minutes you may spend checking otherwise).  If you’re a paranoid person like I am, it’s also helpful for boosting confidence; in other words, your to-do list can help assure you that yes, you did indeed do that task you were supposed to do last week.  A to-do list also helps ensure you don’t forget what tasks need to be done either.

At the end, this sort of organizational task, though work, helps make the project more efficient.  As mentioned, it’s much quicker to check something off a to-do list than it is to keep track of everything in your head.

 

  1. Plan a conservative schedule

With to-do list in hand, the next task to organizing your project should be to plan a schedule.  Even if you aren’t going to set a hard deadline, a loose schedule is still important.  You may know your tasks, but the order you do them in can be pre-determined by the nature of the project.  For instance, if you’re making an educational video on math, you can’t exactly edit the video before you shoot it.  Even for the most hobby oriented of projects, make sure you know the order.

Of course, for less casual projects, you want to set deadlines with your tasks.  Thus, we come to the “conservative” part of this tip.  The unfortunate truth of life is that stuff happens and life does not always want to work with your plans.  One minute everything is on track for your party, and then boom, your DJ cancels a week before because their parent is in the hospital.  Or maybe the artist you hired to make game sprites for your cool indie game just suddenly dropped off the face of the Earth, leaving you asset-less.

Inevitably, when picking your deadlines, always give yourself an abundance of time to meet them.  If you can draw two comic pages a week, promise to upload one every week.  If you think your art piece will take one week to make, give yourself two.  There are numerous scenarios I could rattle off, but you always want to give yourself extra time.  This way, when life throws wrenches into your plans, your organization has given you leeway to deal with them and still stay on track.  If you meet your deadline before then, that’s great!  Start working ahead.  Trust me, it’s a much better feeling to be ahead than it is to be behind.

 

  1. Communicate your butt off

While this tip is more oriented for group projects, it is still worthwhile to mention.  Group projects can be a pain in the ass, and more people generally means more can go wrong.  However, you can help the matter with organization and communication.

So let’s say you’ve done all the above tasks, but instead of a solo project it’s a group project.  The next step to your organization should be to assign the tasks appropriately and make sure everyone understands the tasks and what’s expected of them.  It may even be helpful to agree to check in with each other every week to monitor progress (i.e. hold each other accountable).  Perhaps, if you’re really ambitious about your communication, you can start a group project page on Trello or other similar sites.

The point is, for group projects, organization and communication go hand-in-hand.  One cannot stay organized and on top of their project if they can’t keep track of how things are going with other group members.  It’s a stressful time for everyone, so the more you can assure people the project is going as planned, the easier everyone’s life can become.  This will ensure the optimal efficiency for the project and keep it from falling through.

There are two things to remember though.  For one, every group always has Dick, the person who will be a terrible member, never communicate, miss deadlines, etc..  Just because one person doesn’t care though, doesn’t mean you should strive to be Dick.  Be better than Dick, and perhaps kick Dick off the project.  The other thing to remember is that people cannot read your mind.  You think Sally and Joe Bob know you’re working on the last character art, because you subtly hinted at it by saying you were almost done?  No!  They don’t know.  They probably interpreted it to mean something else entirely.  Sounds silly to you, of course, until you’re on the other end where someone expected you to read their mind.  Always be direct, and always assume the other people don’t know.  Even if it gets tedious and annoying, it will save you from miscommunication later.

 

In summary, though organization is work, it is an essential component to any project.  Not only does it make you complete projects more efficiently, but it makes sure you do so with confidence.  I have seen a ton of potentially great projects fall through cause it was clear the people involved weren’t organized.  So please, do not be those people.  Organize, do better, and you will have a successful project that comes together smooth as silk.

No Post This Week

Hey everyone.  There won’t be a post this week.  I’m very sorry to miss the update day.  Sadly, one of my cats passed away this evening so I’m just not in an emotional fit state to update the blog this week.

Posting should resume normally next week.  Thank you in advance for understanding during this time of grief. 😥

The Broad Usage of Indie

Speaking from a game development perspective, you’ve most likely heard the word “indie developer” thrown around.  It’s becoming quite the phenomenon lately, especially with the numerous changes that benefits indie developer.  These changes range from financial support systems like Kickstarter to platforms that make indie games readily available (circa the Steam Greenlight program).  There are also numerous engines available to the public now such as Unity and RPG Maker.  All in all, the industry scene has changed quite a bit for indie developers, allowing them more access to tools to make games and more access to people to play those games.

All that being said, none of these changes have affected how we apply the word “indie developer.”  Yet, for me personally, I have to wonder if the term is applied too broadly now?  With more tools and more platforms comes a wider variety of quality in these games.  Is it fair that all indie developers get lumped into one group?  That is the topic I wish to explore today, or more so, apply my opinion to.

To begin, we first must have our standard definition.  Wikipedia defines indie games as the following:

“Independent video game development is the video game development process of creating indie games; these are video games, commonly created by individual or small teams of video game developers and usually without significant financial support of a video game publisher or other outside source.”

By this definition, we’re speaking then of creators who are not supported by publishers like Electronic Arts, Bandai Namco, etc..  While this may at first seem like a fine definition, when one looks at the wide range of games available, it starts to have some flaws.

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Let’s take a look at Subnautica by the studio Unknown Worlds.  For those unfamiliar with the game, Subnautica is a survival, crafting game with a futuristic, underwater theme.  Subnautica, in my opinion, has a graphical quality that could challenge a lot of AAA games.  While there is a stylization to it, the graphics in it are high quality featuring smooth meshes and spectacular animations.  Fish in the game all have individualistic movements, from the Gasopods who more float around to the Reaper Leviathan’s who coil about.  The interface is also well-developed, featuring stylistic minimalism that serves its use while fitting in with the futuristic tone of the game.  The world is fairly vast, featuring numerous individualistic biomes.  This includes areas such as a biome filled with mostly underwater lava to a biome that that is in shallow water and has a bunch coral like structures.  The mechanics of the game are also well-developed and pretty balanced, letting the player explore, gather resources, and craft items at a good pace.  The atmosphere the game possesses is very intense and has vast immersive factors; one cannot but help but be a little more scared of the ocean.

In summary, though, the point is that this is a high quality game that you can tell was developed with great care.  While the game is still in development at the moment, there’s a certain level in which you could be tricked it was finished.  That is how amazing the game is.

That being said, let’s take off our Subnautica hat and look at someone else: me.  Now before you click off, understand I do not choose myself for shameless self-promotion.  I choose myself, because I’m the person I can criticize the most without hurting anyone’s feelings.  My intent in this article is not to discourage anyone from making games, so I’m a risk free candidate.  Moving on, in October 2016, I developed a Halloween game called Dark Forest.  It was made in the RPG Maker VX Ace engine and used, for the most part, in-engine assets.  The game is a puzzle-horror game and was made within the span of a week.  The game takes maybe 20 minutes to beat.  While I personally may be proud of certain aspects, I’m under no illusion that it’s some amazing, revolutionary game worth playing.

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The unfortunate fact is, however, that a lot of indie games are closer to mine in quality.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that as everyone has to start somewhere.  Yet, all these beginning developers (such as myself) still get to wear the title of indie developer.  So the point I ask you is that particularly fair?  Should I be able to say I belong to the same grouping as a hard working studio like Unknown Worlds?

In my opinion, the answer should be no.  In fact, I would argue applying the word indie so broadly in this case is detrimental to both sides when it comes to public perception.  Let me explain.  Say there was a player who only ever played my game and games of similar quality.  Let’s also assume that they did not care for these.  So, when a game like Subnautica comes along, there’s a risk players may not even consider it once hearing that it is an indie game.  After all, indie games to them have so far been of an immense lesser quality than AAA games.  On the flip though, say they were someone who, so far, only played games like Subnautica or Stardew Valley.  These are both fairly high quality indie games, so overall those high standards would inform their perception of what an indie game should be.  However, when they go to play a game by someone just starting, they are probably going to hate that game by default for not matching the higher quality of others.  In the end, both sides of this coin cause a huge rift in player perception.  Either they are going to expect gold or expect trash upon hearing that one word.

I feel this is a gross disservice to both experienced indie studios and those just starting.  While I, of course, have no power to suddenly command language to change, I do advocate that maybe it should in this case.  At the very least, I feel indie games should probably have sub-genres of a sort: one for games like Subnautica and one for games like mine.  In this way, the word indie would have less effect on players’ expectations, and the quality someone was getting into would be better known.  Though I acknowledge this may disadvantage those starting out, at the very least these developers would not be getting people who hate on them for not being these more intense indie games.

Unfortunately, this is the extent of my power in making this change happen.  I have no real expectations for it to change, nor am I going to go on one-on-one tirades for anyone who is okay with using the term broadly.  I do understand that not everyone feels a need to get that specific about word usage.  Nevertheless, I did want to put my two cents out there regarding this linguistic phenomenon.  At the very least, maybe someone thinks about indie games different than they used to, and I would at least consider that a victory.

Subnautica is © to Unknown Worlds all affiliated parties.

Image 1: Screenshot from Subnautica during one of my playthroughs.

Image 2: Screenshot from my game Dark Forest.

Multi-device vs. Specialization: Company Edition Pt. 2

Welcome to Part 2 everyone~!  Yesterday, I discussed why and how webcomic platform Tapastic is alienating users by focusing mostly on its mobile app.  In this post, we’re going to take a look at Discord, whose company practices handle different devices in an opposite manner.  I will also put together a conclusion about the overall effect this has on users, whether good or bad.

 

Discord

More briefly, let’s now compare DiscordDiscord is a messenger service in a similar matter to TeamSpeak and Skype.  Users can create their own chat server or join someone else’s.  Each server offers numerous amounts of customizability, allowing users to create various channels for different topics and even have Voice channels.  It is a quickly growing platform, at the moment, with a very dedicated team.

That being said, besides industry, there is a huge difference between Discord and Tapastic: the former is vastly cross-device.  Want to use Discord in a browser?  You can do that.  As a separate application on your computer?  Yup, it even has a Linux version.  Want to use on mobile?  Go right ahead, there’s an app (well, unless you’re a Windows phone user like me…).

The point is, Discord has made itself vastly available so users can access it via whatever their chat preference is.  From my experience at least, all the different platforms run similarly smooth, so there’s no loss of features or support.  It is also extremely easy to be a guest in anyone’s server, so there’s not even a need to make an account.  If you choose to make an account, however, the process is easy, and opens up several features to enhance the core experience.

Now, there are features Discord just very recently put behind a paywall, with its version called Nitro.  However, these features are very minor, and include elements like the ability to have an animated avatar or have a badge for supporting Discord.  The most major locked feature is the larger file transfer size; by default, Discord has a limit of 8MB, whereas Nitro will get you a whopping 50MB.  With services like Google Drive and OneDrive, this seems a minor inconvenience.  The inevitable impression of Nitro so far is indeed what the team stated their goal was: it offers cosmetic changes, but the core experience remains the same.

At the end, this cross-device ability makes Discord a very user friendly service.  One is not limited by their device, so it allows almost the biggest user-base possible to use the service.  The features that are locked are not done so in a way that gives one device priority over another.  This accessibility and great support make the experience of using Discord very enjoyable.  Thusly, one is kept using the service, since it not only fulfills a desire, but does so in a thorough manner.

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Conclusion

As I have argued above, Tapastic’s focus on a single device has basically broken much of its user-base in half.  It denies creators and readers a fulfilling experience, whether they have the Tapas mobile app or not.  It is especially sad compared to a service like Discord who is so multi-device it can be accessed from most places.  Now, there are those who would make a valid point in saying that the industry makes a difference.  If Discord wasn’t accessible like it is, it would be an unusable chat service.  Tapastic, in comparison, is not limited by that so can afford to specialize.  To that, I say, however, is what harm would it do if Tapastic was more readily available equally on multiple devices?  Even if the company can survive without it, it could only please more of its user-base if it gave its desktop version more attention.

All in all, it is my conclusion that a company focused too much on one device is doing itself and its users a disservice.  It makes the experience unenjoyable for a good size of their user-base, and inevitably turns them away.  This is, of course, undesirable as there is always competition that would be eager to snap up those users.  I believe such a practice quickly puts a company on a riskier path that may indeed lead to their demise, whether it be now or ten years for now.  While the phrase has been harmfully used in the past, “the customer is always right” developed from the sheer fact a company should pay attention to its customers lest they leave.

 

So please, if you own or want to start a company, remember that all devices need attention if you want your users to have the fullest experience.  Company loyalty cannot be relied in the face of someone else who offers a better experience.

 

Discord is © to Hammer & Chisel Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From my test Discord server for developer testing.

Webcomic platforms – StArtFaire

A great review of StArt Faire where I serve as Writing Director~! Please check it out~!

Infected Blood

Today I won’t talk about an actual platform to host your comics the traditional, web way, but the traditional, old way combined with the modern joys – a online magazine! A few months ago I ran into StArt Faire, a new magazine accepting a variety of comics. So I joined, and it was a great idea! Here’s what it’s about in their own words:

StArt Faire is an online monthly comic magazine with an emphasis on fantasy themed comics appropriate for people 13 and older. It was created by an artist for other artists and fans of comics as a non profit project that aspires to unite artists in a collaborative effort to bring the concept of the Japanese comic magazine to an international and online format.
StArt Faire’s Aims: To help promote artists and their comics, to be a community that helps support each other, and to provide…

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