On The New Stuff

Q: What new stuff?

A: This FAQ represents what has happened over the somewhat stormy fiscal year 2005. Umlaut House spent most of this year in total limbo, without regular updates or even a story.

Q: So why did Umlaut House go away in the first place?

A: The "hiatus in cancellation's clothing" was a result of overwork in school, and the character interactions going stale. How many jokes are there, really, in squicking Jake? So I walked away from the whole comic, announcing that with the characters used up, there was no reason to continue Umlaut House.

Q: Why did you start back up again?

A: It's funny, I hadn't thought of going back to Umlaut House for a while, and I was working on Unit Zero and several other projects thinking, "hey, this is what I really want to do", when I heard Aqua's "Happy Boys and Girls". I heard the lead singer's lilting voice and saw Rhonda's face. I started putting together images, pictures of Pierce as her long-suffering best friend, and soon other characters started falling into place. No Doubt's masterwork, "Rocksteady" generated several characters unto itself. ("Different People" is solely responsible for two entire characters, Alice and Lain.) Over the next few weeks, my sketchbooks increasingly became filled with tableaus from the new Umlaut House gang, the "next generation" cast. Eventually, I knew that the first storyline would be a re-telling of the "Green, Glowing Portal" storyline from Umlaut House, this time seen from the viewpoint of the next generation. At that point, I was pretty much sold on the idea of folloing up Umlaut House with... more Umlaut House.

Q: Does UH2 have anything to do with the failure of Unit Zero?

A: I'm not sure I really classify Unit Zero as a failure. It didn't do as well with the forumites as I'd hoped, and it was clear that I had some holes in my ability to tell stories that would need to be plugged before I made an effort at a story not sewn together with gags, but as far as learning experiences go it was huge.

Q: Is that it for experiments?

A: HELL no. UH2 is a relatively low-time-commitment comic. Black and white (except for a few dashes of color where dramatically appropriate) and only a half page strip for most updates, I can bash out a week's updates in nintey minutes when the juices are flowing well. This means that when I'm doing art that isn't Umlaut House, I won't be worrying about it. The buffer is staying large; I won't go to faster update schedules until it becomes clear that I can do them while still putting some effort aside for other projects.

Q: How is this going to work with Keen-- er, ComicGenesis?

A: The auto-update is going to be problematic, to put it gently. I basically get one track per URL as far as I can tell, so other comics will likely just show up on my VCL account, or on custom pages to the side somewhere on the website.

Q: When is UH2 set?

A: UH2 takes place almost twenty years after Umlaut House. Rhonda and Peirce are in High School, as well as most of the cast.

Q: Isn't that going to present certain... problems?

A: Like what?

Q: Oh, come ON, man, Umlaut House was a college sex romp comic! How are you going to do that with High Schoolers?

A: Oh, well, obviously there won't be any sex.

Q: ... wait, what?

A: Sure, there'll still be lots of wink, wink, nudge, nudge stuff, but nobody will actually do The Deed, or at least not for the first couple of years. Trust me, there's plenty of room for hilarity without actual sex, as I think El Goonish Shive has taught us.

Q: Ohhhhkeeeeyy... So why IS this a High School comic?

A: A lot of little reasons. One, putting the ages back lets me get into some things that were ancient history by the time Umlaut House started. We didn't get to see Volair work out his bisexuality because he worked that out in high school. Jake only wrestled with his in the post-college era because he's a flake. Another reason is that the Old School storyline from Umlaut House was lots of fun due to things like Football players and the cultural environment of everyone having known each other forever. Also, I wanted the parents to be around, closer to the action than the parents of the previous generation were. People will want to see how Rick, Jake, Volair, Saundra, Amanda, and Cal turned out as grownups, and I want to be able to show them frequently without the story appearing contrived.

The Old Umlaut House FAQ

I finally got asked enough questions about the strip to really understand what an FAQ should say! Score!

Q: Why the name "Umlaut" house?

A: I orignally wanted this to be an obviously college-oriented strip, so I wanted a name that conjured up the image of a fraternity house. (For reference as necessary, see the movie "Animal House", starring John Belushi.) But I didn't want to be too obvious, so I considred: maybe ALL the greek letters and combinations were taken. Maybe it couldn't be "Kappa Phi Kappa", especially since it was just a little assisted housing job on the outskirts of the campus, and not a proper fraternity at all... so I remembered my two years of high school German and picked that funny, double-dotted punctuation mark that I always had so much fun pronouncing. (I also should note that a physics teacher of mine kept insisting that it would make a wonderful name for a pet. So the name has special significance to me, just because "cute" and "college preparation" both come to mind when I think of the umlaut.

Q: Where do the character names come from?

A: Let's take this one at a time:

Volair: Volair's name came from what was, strictly speaking, a screw up on top of a screw up. (Kind of appropriate, that.) He should have been named Volta, after the scientist who created voltaic cells. He was supposed to be a superspy named after a scientist and philosopher, because somehow I had it in my head that Voltaire had discovered voltaics as well as all that existentialist stuff. Boy am I a dip. Screw up number two came when I dropped the 't' and the 'e' on the first major image of him I did. Karla, the strips co-creator, looked at this image and said "Volair?" Her off-kilter, quizzical utterance of the name was enough to freeze it and make it as real as solid stone. Furthermore, the *way* she said it fixed a lot of things about Volair's character. His name, from then on, was Volair, and nothing I could do could change that.

This isn't usually how I do things, though. I usually just pull the names out of the air after staring at the characters for a while. I have been able to figure out where some of the names came from, however:

Saundra: Ever see the British Sci-Fi Comedy "Red Dwarf"? In the episode entitled "Marooned", Arnold Rimmer claims he lost his virginity to a girl named Saundra.

Jake: No clue. Really. No clue. Possible subconscious influences: "Jay" from Jay and Silent Bob, "Jacob" from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Jake the Rake", from the online strip of the same name.

Rick: Okay, this one's a stretch, especially if you haven't watched Star Trek: DS9. I was watching the show, and this gruf, muscular, virile, AMAZINGLY STRAIGHT Klingon guy struck me as the perfect character to use for a very tiny bit part in II, my novel in progress. Since I wasn't going to use the character for more than one short scene, odds were that nobody'd notice. No one did. I had to pick a human name for him, and the one that seemed the most like a name he'd respond to was "Rick". When I did Umlaut House, UH's Rick was a perfect opposite of my lifted Klingon Rick.

Amy: Chasing Amy. Her insistance on being called "Amanda" was something she came up with on her own. You'll have to ask her why. Nicely.

Calvin: Actually, named for the star of "Pupils" a short story I wrote last year. Calvin from UH is pretty much nothing like Calvin from Pupils. There weren't any heterosexual 'ships in UH at the time I introduced him, so he's probably at least partially an outlet for my straight side. Also for the part of me that's still just a little freaked out by this whole "bi" thing.

Liz: Liz is actually a girl I knew from Junior College named Valerie. I changed her name to Liz on a whim, because Elizabeth is another of the same group of people I used to hang out with in Junior College.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: I wanted to do a spy/college comic when I started. So I made a spy, an inventor, and a mad scientist character. I thought about my inventor, and made her more of an individual by applying bits of other characters I'd seen. With my main characters concieved, I put them in a setting, gave it a little push, and then just watched it roll. The dynamic that has developed is this. Ideas, and feelings about things, seep into my subconscious from all around me. Then, whenever I'm not busy or procrastinating, I start thinking about the characters, and what they're doing at the moment. What I "see" is usually in the form of agonizingly breif snippets of Umlaut House, no longer static, but as a beautifully animated cartoon sitcom. What I see in my head is on level with -or higher than- Disney's level of animated polish. Once I've seen a particular scene, I can recreate it in my head at will, and just draw as well as possible what I see. It's often very hard to "freeze" the characters into static positions, since the way I envision it is animated. The comic was a LOT more difficult to draw before I got all that practice; I was seeing "Disney's Robin Hood" and drawing "Bord in Maff". Argh. But now, my drawing *nearly* matches what I see, except frozen, and with most of the backgrounds removed. THAT's a shame; the "real" Umlaut House has all these lavish backgrounds...

Q: Will we hear how Volair discovered his bisexuality?

A: Possibly. Volair discovered his bisexuality at about the same time he discovered sexuality in general, so we're looking at some high school flashbacks. Touchy stuff, but potentially entertaining.

Q: How did YOU discover YOUR bisexuality?

A: I drew this comic. No, seriously. When I started, I thought I was almost completely straight. But as the comic went on, I started to realize that I wasn't as straight as I might have thought. Some of Jake's reaction to his bisexuality parallels mine.

Q: Will Volair and Saundra ever be a couple?

A: I have too many good joke ideas about this for it not to happen. But it may take quite a while.

Q: Are your characters basically just parts of you that have been torn off and allowed to go running about like the little energy-based multiples in that episode of DarkWing Duck?

A: Pretty accurate. Sometimes it's more like they're little shadow versions of certain group dynamics in my life, but often I look at a picture of the crew, pointing from Saundra to Jake to Volair, saying "Ego... Superego... Id." Volair, my id, is utterly nonviolent, but somewhat boorish and bi-polar. Saundra, the ego, is often frustrated with the world, but more often with my superego and id. My poor superego Jake is constantly running around terrified that he'll mess something up or hurt somebody, invariably doing both, and only because he's so frantically trying not to. You can draw whatever conclusions you like from my Ego being female.

Q: What do Saundra's boobs look like?

A: Let's ask her, shall we? Hey Saundra! Can we see your boobs?

Heh heh, well, there's your answer, I guess...

Q: I still say you only intrroduced the straight guy to annoy me.

A: Well, I didn't.

Q: There seems to be a lot of references to future technology in the past tense; is the comic in the future?

A: Actually, yes. This is a "near future" sci-fi comic. There are some new technologies, like hovercars and some rudimentary AI, but for the large part this is now, plus a little bit. Time will continue to advance, and our heroes will graduate about the same time I do. Umlaut House will always be about 19 years in the future, with course corrections along the way.

Q: Parents and families have been depicted so far as being the same species to each other and their related cast character. If this is so, why? Are interspecies relationships doomed to no offspring; are there any taboos about such things?

A: No taboos, per se, but there is only a 50% chance that a cross-species couple will be capable of producing offspring, and only about a 30% chance that that offspring will be firtile. Infirtile crossbreeds will have a range of attitudes about their status, from grateful, "I don't have to go on the pill!" to bitter "Why couldn't dad have just married INSIDE his species? Was that too much to ask?!?". Ayla Bifrost, half polar bear, thought she was probably sterile when she concieved Saundra. (Saundra wasn't an accident, but rather a pleasant suprise.)

Q: Is there are particular locale for Umlaut House we should know about? Jokes about (sub)culture in the U.S. easily fly over the heads of international visitors like the same would be for (sub)cultural jokes in the U.K.

A: I'm assuming they're in Seattle, Washington, taking classes at the University of Washington, just like me. I try not to make it culturally specific to America, but much of the U.S. college experience is unique.

Q: Why do you update on Tuesdays and Fridays?

A: Tuesday was chosen as the day for weekly updates back when the strip was a once-a-week thing.
I chose Tuesday in honor of the caption of my first-ever picture of Volair, which you can see on the "About the strip" section of the Guide.
The caption reads:
"Now, if you'd been beaten, tortured, thrown out of an airplane, beaten, tortured, thrown out of a twelfth-story window and left hanging from a rope for six hours, some people would say you'd had a bad day. Me, I prefer to say to myself, Hey, it's better than LAST Tuesday."
I picked Friday as the second update day because it was halfway through the week without being on the weekend. (I made this decision thinking that people'd want Umlaut House as part of their morning routine, like coffee. That's certainly how I read my strips.)
When I've got a job and a place of my own, I might go to three days/week, then daily, depending on how much better and faster I get, and how many jokes there are left in this strip.

Q: Wait... You're thinking of quitting already?!?

A: All comics have a finite number of jokes in them. Some strips can go for decades without running out. Others, a few months. I'm estimating that, even going daily, Umlaut House has about three years worth of jokes, minimum, left. If Umlaut House runs out of jokes, though, be sure I'll come up with something else to fill the time! After all, you guys haven't even seen Unit Zero yet...

Q: About Unit Zero... What is it?

A: It's a graphic novel/comic that I started during my first year of college but never completed. You can read some of its first pages in the gallery, but the art quality is exceedingly poor, the jokes are often incomprehensible, and to make matters worse, the scanning job was done with little or no skill.
Unit Zero (formerly Team Allotrope) is inspired by old shows like the A-Team and Mission Impossible, but with a decidedly silly undercurrent. The "main joke" is that these people are quite capable, but that they are also borderline socially retarded. Naturally, hijinks ensue, but not without the odd explosion from time to time just to keep the plot moving.

Q: How much time do you have on your hands, anyway?

A: Not enough! In summer, plenty. During the school year, next to none. I had more than enough time to do the strip when I was taking a full time job but living on my own, so if I get that situation for a few years... Oh yeah, I could go daily alright. And I probably would.

Q: That's it, oh, would you mind if I sent some fan art in?

A: Fanart is ALWAYS welcome.