The art:

Piro speaks:
Ah, what do i use to draw Megatokyo strips?
The answer might suprise you. First off - it's all done in pencil - there is no inking, just pencil. Originally Largo wanted me to ink them - but after I demonstrated my crappy inking skills, never mind the additional time to do it, i decided to try using pencil. I actually re-did the first two strips to get started. I'll have to post the inked ones again sometime.
Ok... lessee...
I'll go into history some other time - right now what i do is print 'blanks' which have two square 'frames' on them 4.75 x 4.75 inches square onto simple HP Bright White ink jet paper (thats two frames per 8.5 x 11 sheet) and i draw the comic entirely on those.
As for pencils? Well, i use simply a Pentel Graph1000 .5 MM mechanical pencil with HB lead.
Thats it.
I go thru a lot of those little white Pentel erasers on the back of the pencil. I could use any .5 mm pencil, really. I have a .3 and a .7 i use sometimes, but rarely.
I freehand the things - i used to have to sketch then trace them onto marker paper, but these days I just draw the things from scratch.
I just scan them in, rotate them till they are square, adjust the contrast/brightness a bit, clean up a little with my drawing tablet (they usually scan pretty clean) and then i insert them into the blanks in illustrator, add the text, add some bubbles, export to photoshop at 300 dpi, then reduce them to the final size, upload and go to bed.
Sometimes I copy and paste bits and peices of drawings over backgrounds - i have a 2 layer background for tsubasa's apartment i am using now (if you havent noticed) that makes my life a little simpler

Piro speaks:
it is a font that you have to purchase, and you can find it here:
it's called 'comic book' and its the same font PVP Online uses.

Piro speaks:
Girls are more fun to draw. In fact, i draw Piroko more than Piro, really. Drawing boys is boring, at least to me. :P
dont complain too much tho. Before MT, i really couldnt draw male characters at all.

Piro speaks:
actually, i never use rulers or straight edges (a more correct term) for final drawings. I use a pair of triangles for drawing straight lines, paralell lines, etc.
When i do use ruled lines (sometimes its a good idea) i alwasy draw over them freehand to loosen them up. thats the nature of how i draw things - extremely sharp straight lines would contrast too much with the rest of what i draw, and that would look odd.

Piro speaks:
Actually, it has been interesting to read all of the comments regarding my 'style' and critiques of where my artistic efforts stand these days. Some people think i'll go into a spastic fit if people say that some element of what i do sucks, but that's not really true. Sure, some stuff stings, but i actually do appreciate critique that has basis and thought behind it, even if i dont agree with it (for example, i actually read and took to heart some of the stuff that was said in that infamous Websnark article over a year ago, and i think i managed to pull the MT story out of the rut i had been in at the time.)
I won't address all the concerns here, because my own critique of what i do and why i still refuse to refer to myself as an 'artist' or a 'professional' would be a little less than helpful :) One thing to remember about me is that i have no art training whatsoever, and (as Merekat can tell you) i really do not take well to learning from others I like to figure stuff out on my own. The only reason i draw at all is because it is part of the desire to communicate hard to describe and quantify emotive content to other people. As a result, what i draw is kinda raw, and somewhat primitive, in an un-schooled kind of way. This has lead to a somewhat unique and pig-headed 'style' over the years, but none of it is part of a conscious mechancial approach - it's just what has worked for me.
i tend to not concern myself with the technical aspects of what i'm drawing at all. I never think about light and shadow, or proportions, or measurments, and assembly of perspective, etc. I rely on what comes naturally, or what becomes learned over time. Now that isn't to say that i wouldnt (and don't from time to time) benifit from trying to get a little more mechanical about some things - i really really wish i had a better hand on proportions and anatomy of the human body - in the past i never drew anything below the waist - these days i'm at least trying) and hands are something that i've improved on but still need plenty of work, and color... lets not talk about color. I have zero color sense, just a sensitivity to shade (which is hard to really punch out in a single pencil weight). Yes, these things can be learned, and i've tried, but i have not been very successful in making much of the stuff learned availible to the 'production' side of things. It's like anything, it has to be a part of the tool set you have to produce works with.
I would really benifit from a few months of doing nothing by learning - taking some classes, even, working on taking what i have and expanding upon it. The problem with the art side of things is that, to me, that's the least problematic part of what i do, and i have not spent a lot of time working on making big jumps in it. Its the story and writing side of things that gives me the most grief, and tends to suck up most of the time between comic production.
It's really weird to sit and read people picking apart what you do, and the opinions about how you should do this or do that or that some specific decision you had made (the avoidance of ink, for instance) is just patently wrong, etc etc... I've been in this argument before, and i know that there are many people whould argue strongly against this but... I believe there are no rules about what makes good art. The only real measure of whether something is good or not is how people react to it. Does it communicate emotive content, intentional or not, and do people react to it? From a technical point of view my 'art' really is not very good. I constantly hear people piss and moan about how wrong it is that i'm successful at doing this when there are so many more talented 'artists' out there who deserve far more recognition than i do. Look, you don't ask for recognition, it just happens. Don't ask me why or why not. Why has my rather sub par artwork worked so far? Because for some reason people do connect with it. Sometimes i think 'artists' worry too much about the technical aspects of what they are doing and forget about the fact that most people dont notice or could care less if the shading isnt perfect, or the proportions are a little off here and there... if the drawing or picture touches them somehow, thats what they react to.
This is rather long, and i appologize for it, just random thinking :) I tend to find that i really like filling up areas in my drawings with a lot of density, and the balance of that density and depth can, at times, turn out to be somewhat interesting. Do most of my drawings lack contrast and sometimes come off as a limited balance of shade? Yeah, that will happen when you only use HB lead in a .5 mm pencil. But thats what i'm comfortable with, and i feel no desire to add other pencil weights to my work - mostly because i'm happy with the range i have now and i personally like the output. This may not be an acceptable answer to the technocrati critics, but... its the best i have :)

Piro speaks:
It's nothing special really. Frames are drawn one or two per sheet (8.5 x 11 bright white inkjet paper - i use HP). Scanned into photoshop, cleaned up and adjusted. (I amusing PS 7 right now, havent upgraded to CS yet) I assemble the comics in illustrator just because thats the kind of system i've put together and it works well for me (sizing, cropping, word bubles and text, etc). I then export to a EPS file, and import that into photoshop at 600 dpi, then adjust levels (if nescissary) and resize the image to web size. Upload to the website and post at least 3 or 4 hrs late. Pretty straight forward.
note - i assemble the comics at print size (makes it easier when going to book format). Also, i'm on a mac platform right now, but i used to work on PC versions of Photoshop and Illustrator.
my methods are not the act of someone who knows what they are doing. Its all a extended hack based on my own trial and error methods over the past six years.

Piro speaks:
One thing that i do do differently than most japanese manga is that i use a lot more backgrounds. No, not compared to Akamatsu Ken, or Masamune Shiro, both of whom are insane, but in general if you look at most manga there is not a lot of background - mood is more often conveyed with tone. This is why it always amuses me when people bitch about the lack of backgrounds. How many backgrounds do you see in Fruits Basket? not a lot :P
Economy of frames is not something i'm very good at. I view pacing and movement in an almost cinematic way. My layout is actually very static - look at most comics and manga, the frame layouts are far more dynamic. It goes to show you that i think in a frame by frame basis, not an entire page at a time :P
oh well, it is whatever it is in the end, i think. I'm only pretending to know what i'm doing, what i've learned i've learned mostly on my own. I have not taken the time to learn from others how to do things properly... i've found that i'm so far off base about most things that its kind of a lost cause :P

Piro speaks:
One interesting thing about doing the comic as a sheet is i find myself starting to sketch the other panels while working on early panels - this is kinda nice, because im able to finesse earlier panels by gettng a feel for later panels. Very nice, i can see this working out very well for me.

Piro speaks:
First off, the comics you see online here are a different aspect ratio than the final book size. this is a legacy issue - i just have to account for it. Specifically, the web comic version is taller than the print version, and the print version is wider. Up till about half way through the last book, the format i used to make the comics did not match the print version at all. I had to take the web versions (done in illustrator, pretty much filling an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper - the aspect ratio of the comic matches the japanese Love Hina tankubon trim size) and size them down to the print version (which was based on what Dark Horse wanted me to use). the old processing method required shrinking the comic down, pasting a template over the comic, adjusting all the boundries, etc, etc... it was a nightmare and took forever.
These days i work on a illustrator template that has trim for both web and print versions already in place. Ideally, when assembling the comic, i will account for bleed (1/4" to an 1/8") outside of the trim, but (particularly with my old method of drawing each frame separately) i didn't always account for this bleed. Since i switched to drawing everything on a full sheet of paper, i now have all the bleed already in place.
Anyways, the process is, turning off web trim layers and turning on print trim, extending crop frames to the full bleed for print, moving text away from the page edge to be within the 'safe zone) so that text doesnt get cut off (this can be a pain sometimes), etc.
Usually i do my edits and tweaks and saving the files to the proper filename (for instance, MT5_p021R 0754.eps would be a typical file name - MT volume five, page 21, its a right page, comic # 0745.) while doing all the changes, but since hawk is helping me all i've been doing is going through and catching all the edits, checking each comic to see that it is ready to be processed. One problem i have had to deal with is that about 8 months ago i switched to Illustrator CS2, and when you import a Illustrator 10 file into CS2, sometimes the text renders a little differently, and i've had to adjust word bubbles accordingly. It may not seem to take a lot of time per comic to do all this, but when you have almost 200 files to go thru, it takes time.
Anyawys, once the EPS file for the print version is created, i import the file into Photoshop at 1200 DPI with anti-aliasing off (this means that the text has no grey at the edges and will print sharp). Adjust levels, clean up problems, and the biggest thing - make sure all the art extends to the bleed where req'd. THis is the biggest pain of the process.
once all of this is done, it gets saved to a TIFF file, and these are the pages that DC will take and assemble into the book using Quark. I let the experts deal with things from there on. Book 4 looked pretty good, so they did a good job :)
One other thing i forgot to mention is - the book layout and design is something i do - i manage everyting from a excel file where i map out the pages, the sections, extra material, freetalk, design pages, etc - it is here that i keep track of what goes where, if things need to be moved around, what has been done and what hasn't been done, etc.
All the extra stuff is what kills you. A design page, some text here, a spelling error there, etc. It's mind numbing sometimes, you end up going over the material so many times you are sick of looking at it. The only good part about it is that in the end the books usually look pretty good, so it's worth the effort.

Piro speaks:
It's enough to tear your hair out sometimes. You have a vision of what you want to get on paper, sometimes not specifically, but you know the 'air' of what it is. To a certain extent you REALLY have to rely on a certain amount of inspiration to make things come out right. No amount of forcing can really make a drawing work, its more like you keep pushing at it till that little bit of inspiration sets in and the emotive side of your head throws out the right signals to the motor elements of your hand and viola, there it is. :)
You also end up with this problem that comes from working a drawing too hard - you have stared at it so much that you cant see it anymore. I can't number the times where i thought i finally nailed a drawing, was tired, went to bed, woke up and went to finish up and went 'oh god, thats not right' :P
Last night there was a particularly important frame that i was half finished with, but for some reason i could not get it to work. This morning, i sat and tried working at it, and found myself drawing the same lines over and over again, erasing and drawing, erasing and drawing. Agh, frustrating. its like you can't find the point at where the lines need to be to get things right. The trick at a point like this is to back away from what you are trying to draw and look at the rest of the drawing and see if there is something there that is throwing off what you are having trouble with. For instance, if you have drawn the shoulders of a character in relation to another character that is drawin already and looks fine, you may find that the problem is the angle or the scale of the shoulders is wrong, or that you are tryng to make a character occupy a space that he or she is just not going to fit in. Sometimes (thankfully not for this frame) you find that you have to erase a half hours worth of work that looks fine just because you had your sense of space off. Sometimes, when it is really bad, you have to start over. (this is not as bad as you might think for doing the drawings on a full sheet - you just grab a 8x11 sheet of paper and do the frame seperately and place it in with photoshop later). I'm working with a little bit of that today.

Piro speaks:
When they asked me about publishing MT in japan, my first and biggest worry was that my earlier art was really not up to the level of detail and quality that it is now (not that i still don't have leagues to go, but at least its pretty decent these days). I was really worried about making a bad first impression. I still am. I told them that maybe we should look at compressing the first few books, combine things and cut out as much as we could so we could get to the 'better' material. The editors considered this idea, but decided that Japanese readers would enjoy the book as a whole, the same way the rest of the world gets it. They particularly like the commentary at the bottom of the comics.
In the publishing industry in Japan, editors have a lot of sway. The reason MT is getting published there is not because I or DC or DH pushed it and marketed it there, but because this editor, Ohta-san, wanted to. He and his team (and i've talked at length with the translator) really feel that readers will like it, and they aren't just saying this, they've chosen to publish it - and PROMOTE it mind you. Would they do that if they thought people would just laugh?
In the end, Japanese readers might not like it. That's fine, i'll be totally fine if they do. I would never force my work upon anyone. I got an email from a Japanese reader last year who was amazed at my insight into japanese culture. Not that i got everything right, but that it was not that stereotyped way that the japanese feel westerners look at thier country. They laugh because more often than not, 'japan' is a stereotype in western media. The translator was quite fascinated with the things that influenced me as MT went along. I gave her a lot of info that i dont tell readers, specifics on where influences came from, the manner of thought and character personalities from this manga or that anime. It had been a long time since she'd watched some of these things or read them, and actually had to rent some old anime series to see where i was coming from. The mix of it all is, i think, pretty interesting. You need to give japanese readers more credit for catching american humor than you do. After all, we're the ones who have only been exposed to their media recently. They've been parsing hollywood and everything else for much longer.

Piro speaks:
I'm pretty sure that i mentioned this in the past, but one of the most time consuming elements of a megatokyo comic is the hatching and rendering of the final drawings (er, well, it technically should be my dithering over dialogue or story development often takes longer, but that's another issue.) One of the reasons I got a cintiq (or rather, sarah got it for me :) was to try experimenting with ways to speed things up by finding ways to hatch digitally if possible.
Hatching and rendering of the drawings is part of my style, part of the look and feel of my work, and is quite important, but the time it can take to render/hatch a page can be several hours or more.
I've experimented with it in the past, as can be seen in these comics:
The last one, 1029, being particularly awful ^^;; I experimented with a lot of techniques, most of which i was basing on trying to hatch large, even areas by hand and then scanning them in, using them as backgrounds to cut/paste and clean up over. My first efforts took longer to do digitally than by hand (which was stupid) and didn't look all that good (which was even stupider).
I know its hard to beleive, given the release schedule for MT comics recently, but the truth is that i am getting more efficient and quicker at getting the drawings done - working quickly actually results in better drawings (you can usually tell when i got stuck on a drawing and overworked it). Hatching, on the other hand, is not something that can be easily rushed, and when it is it tends to look terrible and sloppy. Also, hatching can be very inconsistent. Just look at this chapter, the density of the hatching varies a LOT.
The use of zip-tones and applied tones is a standard practice in the production of manga, any my thinking was that if i could develop a some sort of analogue to this for my style of work, it would amount the same kind of thing. I did some more digging, and figured out other ways of aproximating the look and feel of my hatching (liberal use of the motion blur filter seems to be the trick) as well as getting a better understaing of using patterns and building a library of them in photoshop.
Last night i posted this screenshot of how things were looking in hatching friday's comic. About an hour ago, i posted the finished version to the site, and i'm actually fairly happy with how it looks.
It's not perfect, but i think that over time with some experimentation, widening my hatching library, getting used to the process and what i can do with it, etc i can achieve two things - more consistency with the look and feel of megatokyo pages, and less time in the production.
I actually have a lot to rant about in regards to the production process - i have COMPLETELY changed the way i work. My old habits were such that production was starting to become impossible, and it was time for a very long overdue overhaul. Such a thing does not come together overnight, and it has also forced me to address a lot of things up front that i usually tried to avoid until it was time to finish the comic (namely, the hard work of fully working things out and refining them as opposed to my rather seat of the pants writing style).
I think MT is a pretty decent story, but it has suffered from my lack of will to improve and improve the way I work. I'm rather pathetically a creature of habit ^^;; Now that all of these changes are in place and I've been learning to work with them, the comic will start rolling along at a more acceptable pace.
I know that many (im almost thinking most) will prefer the hand-hatched method, if for no other reason than it is more pure than using photoshop to 'cheat', but the goal here is to tell a story, and I've been letting obsession over the art slow the story for way too long.
True cheating, and it is something I AM considering as a potential source for the beginning of more accurate backgrounds, is to use some available plug-ins to go from photographs like this:

To this

(That was using just two filters, one of them being Alien Skin's Snap Art and the other just Find Edges.) I would never use such an image as is, but I might be able to use such a thing as a base to build upon (cranking back the pencilings drastically and lining things myself where I can) but thats not really much of an issue right now - there are few photos that capture what I want to show anyway, and I like drawing backgrounds :)
BTW, this Photograph is from Christopher Butcher's blog entry on his trip to Ikebukuro. It'll give you a good sense of Otome Road, Sunshine City and the other areas in this block.
(Sheesh. This forum post could be a rant. Oh well :)

Piro speaks:
THe artwork issues have to do with the fact that i'm trying to move to digital production, which i think is very feasable (especially now with a new computer) but it takes some practice. The examples you are pointing to are examples of the troubles i was having working in Painter IX. When i moved to the new machine, i upgraded CS2 to CS3, and found that i was able to get an even better pencil effect in CS3 than Painter, which meant that i could work in an enviroment i was much more comfortable in... thats reflected in todays comic. The hatching will come - todays comic took half the time to draw as the previous ones.

Piro tweets: i am experimenting with making small movies of the drawing process - we'll see if this is youtubable :)

Piro tweets: here's that video:

Piro tweets: two more videos to upload here, these are slightly better - also, i now know what settings i should use when trying this again.

Piro tweets: 2nd and 3rd videos uploaded to youtube - first of them is visible now:

Piro tweets: and... the third one is up now too:

Piro speaks:
actually, everything is done in Photoshop - i just use a blue color when rough sketching and keep it on its own layer - sometimes, multiple layers. Makes it easy to move stuff around. Just adjust the transparency when tracing/sketching over it.
Frames and bubbles i still do in Illustrator - what you see there is just a EPS export that i place in its own layer to use as a reference for where things are. I've tried doing them in Photoshop, its just a pain - lot easier to work with text and vector stuff in Illustrator.
No speed up or slow down on this, its a real time video. All three of them are. Which is kinda sad, i think to see how slow i am. Well, not so much slow, as how much i go back and tweak and adjust and layer to get to final drawings. A real pro could put the lines down in the right place more or less the first time. I gotta fiddle with it to find them. :P
These are really just experimental vids. A few tweaks will get me some higher rez versions that should look better for starters, and i will add some audio to them in the future as well (music, commentary, not sure yet). It's all doable.

Piro tweets: Flickr and Google Earth are writing tools i've been waiting for for years...

Piro tweets: Google earth is a fantastic resource for backgrounding: scr33n_2008-08-19_81651.png

Piro tweets: er,

Piro tweets: the Moleskine Cahier EXTRA Large Plain Notebook, what i'm am doing the endgames prelims in:

Piro tweets: I love drawing on the computer, but i still have a much better feel for coloring with COPICs.

Piro tweets: I still like to draw in pencil, i do a lot of sketching and thinking that way. PS has undo and layers tho...

Piro tweets: I still use a .4mm Pilot S5 as my main sketching pencil

Piro tweets: It doesn't matter how hard you try, you just can't do enough research to REALLY get the details right when your story takes place elsewhere

Piro tweets: so, you are always battling the question "how right is right?"

Piro speaks:
Also of note, tho not all that noticeable - i have tweaked my pencil settings to make it easier to get to darker thicker lines, and some other things as well. The result is less time to get to a finished drawing than before.

The story:

Piro speaks:
Basically what happens is that I spend a lot of time working on the overall storyline, eventlists, time/locations stuffs that keep some semblance of MT in order and going in the directions I want the story to go. I develop rough episode lists that are very flexible. Final stage is to write the scripts themselves, which sometiems lead to new directions in the story or a change in that episode list.
I have a group of friends that I bounce story ideas off of here and there - dom, ed, seraphim, asmodeus, natsuki, pocky, and some others, depending on what thier interests are (for instance, i have some friends that i go over shoujo-y things with and others i discuss game threads with).
Final scripts go up for revew, and Dom is the one who tends to knock them around the most. Dom is a very good and very patient editor - i have a tendency to accept and include and work in things and suggestions, but I also tend to ignore and not apply suggested changes from my review team. I'm a bit stubborn when it comes to the story.
Biggest problem I had right up to when i was laid off, and then last week when i was workin so damn hard on the book that I didnt have time to script things properly, is that i often would not have time to get anyone's feedback on what i was doing. Usually, this turned out ok, but there is no question the better MT strips, and mt storylines across the board happen when there is time to get good feedback ahead of time.
This i think is going to be the greatest benefit of me doing MT full time - I can get things done ahead of time, in stead of the last minute. Before my last week crunch on the book, i was actually finishing comics 6hrs to a whole day ahead of time - and imho the comics were better. The last three comics suffered a little from 'not enough review time'.
Anyways, thats a little of how it works.

Piro speaks:
I write the scripts and draw the comic. Dom will, sometimes, when i show him stuff, comment and give me feedback on stuff i write (him and others. Seraphim actually gets to do this far more than dom does because she's right here :) I also bounce stuff off of Asmodeus, Natsuki, Cortana, and other friends.

Piro speaks:
well, i could go on for quite a while why i do things the way i do, but it'd be a waste of time for any of you to read it. :)
Ever since i started MT, i've had a lot of people (including 'professionals') tell me that i was doing this or that wrong, and that it was time for me to 'stop doing things wrong and start doing them right' or i'd start loosing readers. Story Pacing is one thing i do horribly wrong. Right?
peh. whatever.
The simple fact is - i pace things the way i do for a reason. These are real people, in my mind, and every time something happens, i try to weigh the reactions and the results of things against what keeps the characters who they are. Not all characters grow, not all change. Most do, of course, but some dont. Making a character like Largo grow is very difficult. Try it sometime.
People change slowly. Wasn't anyone paying attention to one of the chapters? 'things change little by little' The characters in MT HAVE changed. If you aren't seeing it, then maybe MT is too sublte for you. Sorry, that's just the kind of story i like.
There are a lot of stories and things out there that happen at a quick pace. They move quickly to the best parts, keeping things interesting, evolving moving changing and getting things done so the reader can move onto the next bit of sugar coated pre processed entertainment that is fed our way. Personally, i think that people WANT something that they can latch onto and develop an attachment to that isn't going to go away in a few months. Maybe people want something that just meanders along and does its thing.
Megatokyo is about the inbetween days, the moments between things, the little stuff. The big stuff is just there to have something to connect to. You might think our lives are defined by the big events in it, but personally i think we're defined by the little stuff. Just my take on things.
Sure, the MT characters all will (or wont) grow or change. Just because the last comic shows things that are reminicent of the early MT comics between Erika and Largo, that doesnt mean that there aren't a lot of subtle differences. I get emails all the time like "piro needs to get laid and stop being such a wuss" - yeah, sure, lots of people like him would LOVE to just go ahead and do that and the world would be fixed, but things don't happen like that.
To date i've not taken anyone's advice on how i should change MT, and according to most of them the result would be MT going down the tubes and losing readers. Funny how every month the traffic to the website goes up, and has for almost 4 years. March was a record month for MT.
Guess there's something to be said for just doing it wrong. Maybe doing it wrong is ok. :)

Piro speaks:
I hope *my* response didnt come off offensive, just a quick answer, really. Keep in mind that im not a professional, i have no idea what im doing. Sure, my ways of doing things could lead to disaster, but havent we also seen where something fun got 'fixed' as it got popular, and lost what made it was it is in the first place?
i'd rather stop doing mt than have that happen :) Just me

Piro speaks:
I put a lot of thought into how the dialogue for MT reads. To me, brackets are an indicator of Japanese being spoken, not some sort of mechanical device that signifies either pure japanese or pure english. The flow of the dialogue is important. Brackets are indicators.
When it comes to translating japanese to english, as any good translator will tell you, is not an exact science. It is far more important to get the intent of what is said across than to be mechanically specific about things.

Piro speaks:
Uh, dom never makes me do anything. I write the story, and from time to time i bounce ideas off of him. No where near as much as he would like me to, i tend to keep most of the story details to myself, and work them out on my own. I'm not real big on getting input from others on the story - i feel it needs to come from me, and not be directed or influenced by anyone else if at all possible. remember, Largo and I split up - and one of the things that lead to us parting ways was that i like to write by myself.
This has several effects on the story. First, it leads to it's quirky nature, and many of the problems that surface. The benenfits are that it really IS a story i pull together that has no outside influence or polishing (you need to do this or people won't like it, or that's a bad idea, you really should change it). The most i ever ask from people is thier reaction to what i'm doing. Very often i get advice that strongly advises that i change something. More often than not, i completely ignore the advice and do it my way anyway.
What i do get from talking to others about the story is a reaction, and from that reaction, i can guage if i want to change something - because i know what i'm trying to get across is getting across. There have been a lot of instances where Dom or Asmo has reacted to a script in a way or had an idea about it that was really good, and the idea found its way into the final strip. I try not to do that often because, well, its not fair if they don't get credit for thier ideas, so i try to use my own.
I also get a lot of input on details. For instance, Dom and Asmodeus helped me with the japanese for the most recent comic, because my japanese sucks :P There are often
Would MT be a better story if i more heavily involved a team of experts, and some editors and some people who wouldnt be afraid to grill me about it? Maybe, but personally i think it would just water it down. It is just a webcomic, you know, its not like some disney production.

Piro speaks:
For me at least, no script survives first contact with the drawings. :) Its one of the things that makes MT good when its good, but it is infuriatingly frustating sometimes. :P

Piro speaks:
I try not to answer questions or say anything is definitive in the MT universe, as you guys know. Its a good thing to do, not just because a writer shouldn't give things away out of story because it takes away from the story, but because the very nature of MT is such that even my own perception of what im writing i consider to be suspect :)
Often, i find that i've done something or a character has done something or been set up in some way that later on something clicks that i never considered, something that makes so much sense that i swear i must have done it on purpose. I often joke with friends that i really wish the Fred that is writing this damn story would talk to me more and let me in on some of what is going on. :)
When a story is about perception, you can argue things a number of ways and its hard to say what is really right or wrong. Hell, any discussion of MT is proof of that. That's why it always irritates me when people want things clearly defined and established, no questions. Life isn't like that, and i can't see how any story could be either. The only things that are like that are inflexible extremest religious dogma and propaganda designed to promote a single world view over any others.
Have you ever taken a strong stance on something, been hot headed about it, taken a strong, extremest view, just to further counter a view that you don't agree with? And then later when your head has cooled down find that your opinion might be slightly different? Our world perceptions are not static, hard wired, definable things. Our perceptions can change multiple times in a day, it can change with mood, information, influence of others, passage of time, etc. I chuckle at some of my own statements from the past, and i have actually found myself saying things that i know are inflammatory just because someone irritated me :) Sometimes i'll phrase things to lead people astray, just because i feel like its a good way of making sure a perception doesn't solidify around some accepted fact i don't think should be solid yet :P

Piro speaks:
all i can say is my usual line: "trust me".
Don't trust me because i know what im doing, just have a little faith that if the story satisfies me, then it won't be a total waste in the end for a lot of readers. I'm pretty picky about the stories i like. Does it mean i can pull it off well? who the hell knows. But i will point out one caveat about 'explaining everything to the reader':
X-files began to suck MASSIVELY when they started to 'explain' everything.
I'm a firm believer in the fact that you *can't* understand everything. THe anti-thesis to the 'renaissance man' perhaps, but maybe part of the point is that people who think they know and understand everything are always... ALLWAYS... part of the problem
Oh, i should also point out that i think it's perfectly valid if even the writer doesn't know the true facts behind everything. :)

Piro tweets: btw, the most success i have had with writing programs, really, if i have had any, is with scrivener:

Piro tweets: the trick is, you gotta really work with it and see how others use it to use it effectively. i actually modified the script settings...

Piro tweets: (cleaning up the screen to take a screenshot... dont want to give story spoilerz)

Piro tweets: Here's a screenshot of scrivener as i have it set up, sort of, for the last comic: (note that this was a prelim script)

Piro tweets: ok, getting ready to post some of my endgame scribbles.

Piro tweets: stand alone doujinshi im working on. Honestly, its kinda nice to be working on multiple pages.

Piro tweets: i think i really get caught up by trying hard to make each page stand on its own, this kinda thing is liberating to an extend.

Piro tweets: of course, it means that i can do even less per page, story movement wise... ^^;;;

Piro tweets: you have to have an almost psychotic capacity for waffling to both go and stop. it's kind of a maddening way to right.

Piro speaks:
In all seriousness tho, how many comics have *significant* plot advancement on EVERY page? Hellboy "The Corpse" was made to be released 2 pages at a time, so something HAD to happen on the 2nd page, but for a long run chapter (like MT which tends toward 100 pages per chapter) its a real challenge to have SOMETHING big happen each comic.
Not saying im an expert, or that i do it well, but it IS a challenge, and sometimes even i feel a comic is kinda meh. but thats par for the course, yknow?
(and yes, i see this complaint every 4th comic or so)

Piro speaks:
I think i've said this before, but the writing process for MT is that i had no idea what i was trying to get at when things started rolling along on this 10 years ago. I've been telling this story to try to figure out what i was trying to get at. How the hell does that work?
Well, it works by working with the edges of concepts, of 'dark areas' and 'blurry areas' of ideas and story directions, casting off into the brush and doing some trail blazing. I work from my own feelings and experiences as a fan and as a human being, and keep poking at those grey areas in an attempt to better understand WHY i am a 'fan' as well as dipping into the deep and well stocked wells of neuroses that i have stored up.
It's been as much a discovery for me as for you, and there have been a LOT of tripups along the way. There were story directions that i thought would be very strong that ended up going nowhere, and little, almost not thought of at the time things, that suddenly became very important as i saw things converge. I've often likened it to there being some part of my brain that is writing this story but it doesn't talk to me that often.
Anyways, in the past six months a lot of the story has come together more rapidly than i thought it ever would, and i think it's actually turning out better than i expected. It all depends on execution now, which is always difficult. The muddling about as i closed in on the last half of this chapter slowed me down almost as much as the real life things have been doing lately, and i would do a lot to speed things up, but we'll have to see how things go.
thanks for being patient. If nothing else, it should all read well when sat down and read as a whole. I would LOVE to stop being so damn anal about the drawings and get back to telling a story that people can follow in real time much better.

The forums:

Piro speaks:
actually, since this seems to be a real topic of discussion over the past week or so, let me clarify things on how i read and use the forums.
I read the forums, this on in particular, to see what the reactions are to what I am doing. It's facinating to see how close and how far off people tend to guess or 'get' things. This is something most print comic people don't have - instant feedback.
Do i take ideas from the story prediction threads? no. I have most of MT planned out, and I also would never use an idea found here for one simple reason - i would never use someone elses idea without giving them credit. Now, that doesnt mean that the discussions i read here don't effect me or the story - it does, mainly because the forums are like a weather vein - it makes me feel confident that people really DO read into the stories the way i hope they do.
Part of the fun, of course, with writing a good story, is avoiding predictability. If you knew what was going to happen, there would be no interest in reading. It's the fact that things might not turn out the way you really want them to that keeps people reading.
As far as all the theorising about all the characters, Miho, Erika, etc - taken as a whole over the past few years, it makes you think. Based on what people seem to think at certain part of the stories, it helps me fine tune what i need to do next.
Anyways, thought you all might find that interesting.

Piro speaks:
I like reading people's speculations, not because I like to see if people are right or not, but its a real good indication that my drawings are getting thru to people on different levels. Sometimes, i draw something and no one reacts - thats kinda dissapointing, it means i missed, that i didnt get into the image what i thought i was.
A lot of people don't spend time speculating, and thats fine. Speculation is a single path, often you have to fill in blanks with your own perceptions that may or may not be correct, and its not unusual for something to be accepted as fact that never really WAS fact, only implied. but of course, causing that kind of confusion among readers is part of the fun, and also part of the message, when thats your goal.

Piro speaks:
have i ever changed the storyline based on suggestions in SD? No.
has the opinions and some of the more serious critiques effected the storyline? Unfortunately yes. I'm way too sensitive and in the past i have i have backed away from my ideas for fear of getting slammed by people here. I stopped doing that a while ago, realizing that SD here was only a small percentage of my readers, and it wasnt right to let such a small percentage have such a potentially large impact and 'softening' of the story. Took a while to stop being so sensitive, but i think i've managed it.
Do i do things sometimes specifically to mess with people's heads? Of course, that's been one of the main tenets of Megatokyo since the early days. I never want to go so far as Ano did with blatant fan abuse, but it is interesting sometimes to lay down tracts and ideas that give an impression that one perception is more true than another. Having an understanding of what people are currently seeing in the story has been of some worth in that :)
When you have a lot of people analizing what you are doing, it happens from time to time that people 'get it' or figure out what is going to happen next. I do not change things when i see that people have figured out whats going to happen next, nor is the intent of the story to constantly keep people guessing. I write a story that keeps me interested and makes me chuckle and one i think people will enjoy experiencing. i dont always manage it, but thats my goal.
A while back there were a number of people who ganged up on me and were harshly critical of my writing and demanded that i allow them to help me and show me the proper way to write and do megatokyo - since it was such a big thing, it really needed to stop being so ameturish and be more professionally produced. They were professionals, after all. When i asked them what made them professionals, they indicated that they had had lots of training, were well schooled, and knew what they were doing. Had they ever been published? worked as editors? did anything 'professional'? No, but they were good enough to do so.
I still laugh about that encounter. :) I may suck, but i have no one else to blame for the suckage other than myself, and that is a good thing. Just a reflection of being human, i guess.

Piro speaks:
I take critiques to heart, i always have and always will. I learn from them, i get a sense of what people like and dont like from them. People here are too kind, honestly, and i don't base my reading of what people think of MT from what i see i here. i've always wanted to know what people were really thinking, the actuality. Of course, often that actuality is that many people think MT should die and i should stop insulting the world with my work, and i am faced with that horrible feeling in the gut that people don't want me to be doing this, but what am i gonna do? quit?
It irritates the shit out of me when people say 'an artist should behave this way or that way.' Artists are people too, and they all react differently to the things people say about their work. I take critiques to heart. In fact, remember that infamous websnark review of Megatokyo? I agreed with a lot of the things he said. I have tried hard over the years to improve what i do, and i think i have improved and fixed some of the things that guy talked about.
That said, another important thing to remember is that you can't take every critique to heart. Sometimes, the person giving the critique is just wrong, or off base, or his critique is just not of any value. There was one review by some webcomic guy that critiqued a whole bunch of web comics, and he trashed my work. Nothing wrong with that, there's a lot wrong with my work, but what he was trashing was the fact that i drew in an anime/manga influenced style which made it "childish" or something, and he wished that i'd 'grow up' and learn to draw in a more appropriate style. Sorry, that's personal preference, not a critique that i can improve upon. Nothing to be learned from that critique at all.
Critique of fred is welcome here. Fred bashing is not. there's plenty of fred-hate and MT bashing that goes on out there (what did i ever do to deserve it? no idea, really, but thats the nature of the internet and the world in general), and it doesn't make for pleasant reading for people who like MT (truth is, MT bashing is usually done to get a rise out of MT fans, which has nothing to do with critique at all).
I'm my own worst critic. Honestly there is probably little people can say that critiques my work more harshly than my own. I seriously dislike most of what i produce. I've been lectured to by people who are irritated that i haven't improved more over the years. WTF? You think i haven't been trying? Art is a struggle for me, which is why i honestly don't consider myself an artist. I bleed for this damn thing and it still sucks most of the time. ^^;;;
Anyhooo... you can add this one to the pattern. Critiques welcome. In fact, if you read the MDTs on a regular basis, you will find that they are full of 'i dont get it' 'this one didnt do it for me' 'there's something weird about kimiko's left hand' stuff all the time.
One thing i've noticed about people who post critiques is that they often get very irritated if people dont just agree with everything they say. I find this fact that people tend to not like critiques of their critiques highly amusing.

Piro speaks:
Trust me. i LOVE to talk story. I roll out ideas and thoughts to some friends in a private channel all the time. Bad for them, because the story is majorly spoiled for them, but it gives me a decent enough sounding board. I can't discuss the story with people here in SD because everything i say will understandably be taken as canon in regards to the comic (take, for instance, comments like "you will all hate piro by the end of the comic." That was posted here in the forums at some point, and it is often referred to when people discuss the story.) It should also be known that its not unusual for me to say things that are totally and completely misleading and untrue regarding the story :P. Red herrings are par for the course. Was i serious when i said that about piro? or was i saying something sarcastic? Do you really want to know?
I think that one of the things you folks enjoy about MT is trying to figure out where things are going and trying to dig out some of the subtle threads and meanings and themes within it. If i were to interject, even to say 'you got it right, you get a cookie', it would instantly end all other avenues of thought, which would be a shame. The whole point of MT is that it's about perspective and the fact that we all see the world differently - and i think that includes me. One of the more interesting aspects about this for me is to see just how other people view the thing that i am ostensibly creating. I'd ruin that if i joined in the conversation, because by default everyone would just follow my lead.
There have been times when someone really nailed it, totally got what where things were going or what i meant, and i've resisted the urge to give the poster a cookie. Validating things when you get it right is almost as bad as telling people how things are going to go.
While it's fun to see people totally not see where things are going, one thing i do not do is change the story if people figure it out. That wouldn't be right. The other problem with having a feedback place like this is when someone sees a pattern and makes a prediction that is brilliant - kind of a 'i wish i had thought of that' kind of thing. It can be tempting to go 'yeah, that's what i was planning to do all along, yeah' but i don't. it would be taking someone else's idea and not giving them credit for it, and i would never feel comfortable about that.
It's much easier to get in and defend myself or respond to critiques and simple bone-headedness than participate in story discussions. The comic should stand on its own, and should not require explanation from me. If i do a comic that gets a different response than i wanted, i have to live with it (or change it real quick :P)

Piro speaks:
But i WANT to hear these kinds of things - not from the 'haters', from people i know like or have liked the story and the comic in general. If all i got was 'man, that was the most awesomest thing ever here you win the internetz' and nothing else, either I would a) not believe it or B) think i am the best thing ever. Besides, i've won the internetz before and still not sure what to do with it. It's in the freezer right now next to Dom's soul. ^^;;;
In the end, the discourse that happens in the end rights itself, and if you are objective you can get the right feel for it. I've done really well with a lot of things - i think the story has developed ok over the years and has had some real high points, my art has improved a lot over the years, and i think i've been able to say some pretty profound things and even make people really laugh from time to time. There have been a lot of things that have not gone so well, plenty of mistakes and flubs and errors and things that really just have not been that impressive. It's good that i acknowledge all of them, try to be up front and honest about them... but it's also important that i don't allow it to discourage me or use it to bolster my overall lack of self worth. :P
Things in the forums swing from overly fawning to yawn to outright hostile sometimes, but it always somehow finds an even flow. It's self checking to a degree, people come and people go, the flavor of the place changes. I still find it a good place to take the weather on how i'm doing overall - the good, the bad and the ugly, it's all good.
The only thing here that would really indicate that things have gone really bad and are beyond redemption would be if i posted a comic and no one commented on it. Criticism is all about how you take it, but indifference doesn't need interpretation. :P

Piro speaks:
It's only confusing if you try to force it to fit preconceptions, folks :)
I swear, MT is a wonderful experiment in perception sometimes. Of course, i do this all the time, and watch as the foundations for 'proven truths' get eaten away and people finally see where the foundations actually run.
Sorta like looking at a computer screen. what you see, really, are just pixels. Your brain is what puts them all together. I think humans couldn't operate if they weren't able to 'fill in the gaps' between things to gain understandings. This, of course, is so, so, so often prone to parsing errors... :)
Question everything. The author is not to be trusted.

Piro speaks:
Speculation is interesting, and watching the way perception of the story changes and moves and has a life of its own in the MDT has been part of the curiosity for me of MT for a long time. FTR, i don't change things if you guys guess whats going to happen. I don't deliberately make things difficult or complicated. More often than not, with all the speculation that happens in here, you see one or two instances where someone got really close, but then shot way past the mark into loonyland :P There have also been instances where i've grumbled at some things wishing that i had thought of that, feeling that it would be better than what i was actually doing. But i am not the type to lift ideas from anyone without credit, so i have to leave the gems by the roadside. :(
Then there are the 'and then i think X is going to happen and then Z will kiss T and..." which makes me glad i'm writing this sometimes :P (shudder)