True Neutral is a web comic about gaming. The comic is written, illustrated, produced, and marketed by the talented team comprised of Twin, Mowi, and Aya. Although True Neutral isn’t marketed as an ‘all-female’ effort, such a team is still a demographic rarity in the worlds of gaming and geekdom. The webcomic presents a two-fold story: it follows the adventures of the gamers as well as the exploits of their tabletop RPG characters.
I had the opportunity to speak with the talent behind True Neutral regarding the project itself, the lives of the collaborating trio, and their Kickstarter effort (which grants ‘achievements’ to fans and donors as milestones are reached).
Tara M. Clapper: What have you learned throughout the process of fundraising for True Neutral?
-Aya: Friends are AWESOME.
-Twin: Friends are definitely awesome. Also, running a Kickstarter is like having another full-time job. It’s a serious commitment.
-Mowi: Math. So much math.
TMC: Have you encountered any resistance in creating the comic? Do you think it is due to gender?
-A: Funny story. When creating the colour palette for True Neutral, I was in LOVE with the idea of a pastel landscape. The muted, cool-shadowed look is very ‘in’ right now, and I wanted to utilize that to the fullest. It was brought to my attention by the other Sisters that we should tread carefully regarding the stereotypical “girl” territory; pastels being one of them.
-T: I felt that we’d be fighting a lot of the same demographic pitfalls that most female gamers face,I though we needed to try to steer clear of things that will pigeonhole us where we don’t want to go. We want this story to speak to everyone, not just women.
-M: I personally didn’t think about it much. As Twin said, we have a very open-minded community; at most, it’s been mentioned as “Female gamers creating a comic? YES!”, but I still don’t really think it’s relevant. I’m a gamer writing a web-comic about gaming with some of my fellow gamers. Gender is not the point, nor is it any part of our marketing campaign (not by design, anyway).
-T: We are blessed to have such an open-minded community that I don’t think our genders have ever provided much of an issue. If anything, we have so many strong-willed ladies in our circles that they’re more ecstatic about a “tabletop comic made by women” than we are. We just like tabletops, and like creating stories! Gender certainly isn’t the point here, and we’re glad it (so far) hasn’t provided any resistance from our audience.
TMC: What people or communities have been the most supportive of you?
-A: Some of the nerdiest people we know. Our highest contributors right now are men, by the way. How cool is that?
-T: We’re a part of a live action role play (LARP) community in SoCal, which is where the vast majority of our friends reside. Many of these friends also happen to be creative professionals themselves, which means that they put a lot of stock in paying for well-developed creative work. They’ve proven to be far more supportive than we even could have imagined (which was already a lot, considering how highly we think of them!).
TMC: What are your creative or project management backgrounds?
-A: I have done illustration for years upon years, freelance for any number of random businesses and individuals. As another creative outlet, I sing soprano for a celt-rock band, Sportive Tricks!
-T: I’ve been writing on the side since I was a teen, but I joined the staff team for a local LARP in SoCal about six years ago. From there, Aya, Mowi and I created our own LARP about three years ago, including writing our own ruleset (with outsourced help from our more mechanics-minded friends!).
Running a LARP is certainly its own project, and while it wound up being a bigger commitment than I could have imagined, it’s been worth every second. More recently, I’ve been working as a freelance world-builder, developing and writing lore for worlds by contract. It’s a pretty awesome gig, honestly!
-M: I worked for many years with a publishing company specializing in manga, where I worked as a writer, editor, marketing supervisor, and general Wearer of Many Hats. I then moved on to working as a freelance writer, developing NPCs and dialogue for MMOs and other such things. I’ve also published a novel through a major publishing company, and have another one set to come out soon.
TMC: How do you know each other?
-A: Take it, Twin.
-T: Hah, well, I met Aya back in high school. I was born and raised in Key Largo, Florida, and Aya moved there when I was a Freshman. Both of us got involved in the school’s drama club, where we got to know each other better. We got on like a house on fire (even if sometimes it was more like we were setting the house on fire while still inside), and we’ve been best friends ever since.
I met Mowi through World of Warcraft back in 2005 (specifically in Deadmines—who’d have thought something good would EVER come from a PUG?), and we also immediately got along. I visited her home in California for the first time in 2007, and moved out shortly thereafter when I realized that this is the place to be if you want to be a creative professional. Aya followed us a few years later. We actually lived together as roommates off and on for about three years, until we finally settled as we are now!
-M: Yup. What she said!
TMC: Are the characters in True Neutral based upon you and/or people you know?
-A: Echoes. They’re echoes of us, and every creative professional we’ve ever known.
-T: That’s exactly it. It’s less that any of them are specifically based on any of us, and more that each one is a healthy mix of our own experiences and quirks as well as those of all the various creative folks we’ve ever known. Each character is very much their own person in our heads, just given life by our own contacts and histories.
TMC: What is the tone of your comic?
-T: It’s two-toned. The out-of-game aspect has a little more comedy (though it has its own focus on the struggles of being a creative professional in today’s world), while in-game is built to have epic overtones.
-M: It’s going to be a little bit funny, a bit sad, a bit epic. Mostly, the campaign they’re playing is serious—so the “in game” part of the comic is going to be a little more epic fantasy. The bits of comedy come from the things the players do and the inevitable botches on the dice. We just want to tell a good story, in game and out.
TMC: Who is your favorite character and why?
-A: I love Shane. Shane is the kind I see yelling at people on XBox live. He’s got a lot of great expressions, and the ridiculousness that he incites makes me SO happy.
-T: I can’t help it, I adore Caleb. I was blessed with some truly awesome stage managers during my theatre years, and Caleb embodies that. To me, he’s a little bit someone I could have been if I’d decided to stick with theatre instead of focusing on writing.
-M: I like Madison, honestly. Her dynamic with the other characters is hilarious, and she’s both a little bit quirky and a little bit the straight-man to everyone else’s insanity. And, of course, the DM. Speaking of insanity… Madison is going to have a lot of great moments with the DM.
TMC: What is the biggest obstacle you have encountered in creating or fundraising for your comic?
-T: Time. Seriously, who decided there were only 24 hours in a day? It’s not enough. Aside from that, there have been a variety of technical issues that decided to crop up right as we launched the Kickstarter, and it’s seriously impacted our schedule. We’re keeping more or less on track, but it’s been that much harder since we resolved some of the issues.
-M: Yeah, I’m pretty sure all computers have “favored enemy: deadlines.” Everything works great until we have to finish something on time…
TMC: Tell us about your Kickstarter. Where can we donate and why should we invest in you?
-T: Well, first let’s get the easy part out of the way—the Kickstarter is at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1348217565/true-neutral-comic if you want to check it out! Why us? The three of us work together like a well-oiled machine. We’ve been living, LARPing, and rolling dice together for almost half our lives, and this web comic is the first project we’ve done that specifically focuses on all of our main strengths and talents. Storytelling is a deep-rooted passion for all three of us, and tabletop remains one of our favorite hobbies. Creating a comic about tabletop with Aya illustrating and Mowi and I writing is like the perfect storm of awesome.
-M: Because we think we have a great story to tell, and donations will make it even better. Frankly, we’re going to do this either way—supporting our Kickstarter just means it happens faster and better, and you get neat rewards!
TMC: In your Kickstarter description, you mention additional possibilities – that True Neutral as the comic is just the beginning. If you had an unlimited budget, what would you do with your project?
-A: Make it ALL the things! Tabletops! LARP!
-T: Yep, ALL the things! With an unlimited budget, this could become the main focus for all three of us—as it is, our paying work has to take a lot of priority. Otherwise, we could have a more frequent update schedule, launch a blog, a podcast and additional comics, develop Imradion into a tabletop setting all its own, start up a LARP around it, hire out some programmers to make it into a PC game… The possibilities are endless. And that’s just on the “transmedia” side of things.
We could embed some truly mind-blowing puzzles into the website and the comic, and have them interact directly with readers via their phones, or their emails. Then we could release secret/additional content for those who managed to break the code, or find the Easter egg, or trace the clues back to the source. We could make the comic itself into one giant game. That’s my ideal goal.
-M: We plan to do all that anyway, but it’d be even better with unlimited funds. We also have several spin-off comics in mind, each of which will ideally have their own ARG (alternate reality game) aspects.
TMC: Real talk: We’re playing a new D&D campaign. Describe your character and class! Go!
-T: Oh, man, I have so many options. I’ve always been the altaholic of the group, this is so hard… Um, um… Okay. A greatsword-swinging barbarian who was raised in the wilds and is completely at one with nature. No, wait! A paladin of a lawful order, frequently torn between upholding the codes of a corrupt government and performing acts of good. Or, no, hold on! A cleric of a travel deity, constantly roaming to spread his wisdom! A rogue with a dark past and a heart of gold! A surly ranger, seeking vengeance! Aargh, this is so hard!
-M: She’s not even kidding up there. I think she rolls up like five different characters for every game. For me, it’s likely rogue or warrior! I personally don’t like rolling up characters as much, because I want to get past the math and straight to the dice-rolling. I just wanna hit things.
As for character personality, I like to take a stereotype and then flip it, like a shady, in the corner dark and scary assassin who is actually just really socially awkward… I also played a smooth-talking rogue who was only a rogue ’cause he got kicked out of monk school. I like dual-classing a lot, even though it means more math.
-A: What’s really funny is that how she gets her altaholic kicks is by DMing, so she has TONS of NPCs! I’m partial to magic users, personally. Healers and utility mages are my favorites. I love –options-, and using my critical thinking skills to find solutions outside the box.
-M: Hahaha, we kind of have a three-man group right here.
-A: It’s true! As far as characters go, I feel the setting, other players, and general world should shape most of what they do and how they grow. Typically I will think up the most simple, generic background complete with living parents and everything. Then I let that untainted person run around and see what happens.
-M: I’m trying to get better about that last bit. I tend to have an idea of end-game in mind when I create a character; I need to learn to let go of that writer-control…
TMC: Do you participate in other geeky hobbies? You did mention a favorite of mine…LARPing!
-T: Man, LARPing is where so much of this began for us! We probably spend way too much of our time LARPing. We’ve got two regular tabletops we participate in, as well. Toss that in with some quality time together shooting zombies or grinding levels in an MMO (when you can pull my nose out of my latest book), and I’d say that pretty much ALL of our hobbies fall on the geek side of things.
-M: You’ve probably figured out by now that the answer is yes! I actually started LARPing at about fourteen, when a friend brought me to a game. Beyond that, all of my hobbies have always fallen towards geekery. I get it from my parents. LARP is one of my favorites, though–boffer fighting is the best. You form strong relationships when you’re hitting each other with swords.
-A: Tabletops, PC and console games, LARP, reenactment, ren faire, Magic: The Gathering, cosplay, board games, drawing for a nerdy webcomic oh GOD what have I become?
Oh, that’s right.
TMC: Anything else you’d like to add?
-M: Hail Hydra?
-T: Rule #2: Double-tap.
-A: Be good or be good at it.