Home Blogodome Comics Credits Archives Forum Links About

The Art of Sprite Comics - Part 3: The Cellspex Rebuttal and Other Musings

I originally outlined Step 3 under the assumption that it would be simple to explain. I figured I'd spend about as many words on it as I did the previous two steps, hoping my tenuous grasp on the definition of "tutorializing" would be enough for any hypothetical sprite comic authors-to-be. But then time passed, my network infrastructure died horribly and was reborn, and as I sifted through the ashes of my workflow I realized I really had no idea how to properly articulate this without sounding like an idiot. It's one of those annoying intangible concepts that seems like it should be obvious to anyone who's familiar with the medium already, but as is always the case, somebody out there always seems to send me something that proves that presumption to be utterly, hopelessly wrong.

The problem lies in the assumption that you, the hopeful sprite comic-er to be, already have a firm understanding of what the word "original" is supposed to mean in the context of my writing. And unfortunately, we live in a post-context world in which all prose seems to be judged based on whether or not the author's intent is hostile, as opposed to whether or not said prose exists in, say, a fictional vacuum in that given context. But I'm getting *far* ahead of myself and delving into ideas that don't really belong in the scope of this article, or even this site. The point is that it's foolish to presume you would have an instant understanding of "original" in the context it was used in Part 2. So by way of explaining myself, I'm going to offer a detailed rebuttal to a video essay published by semifamous animation critic Cellspex, entitled "'Not Original' is Lazy Criticism". I've chosen this out of millions of possible candidates partly because it was recently linked to me by a friend, and partly because "unoriginality" is one of the most common critiques leveled against sprite comics in general, and I'd like to dissect this cadaver to get to the heart of why that could be and how *you* can avoid it.

Before we proceed, I'd like to note that the bulk of Cellspex's video seems to be mired in (at the time) recent controversy surrounding the straight-to-streaming Disney/Pixar release, Raya and the Last Dragon. I really had no clue this controversy existed nor had I watched the movie before watching Cellspex's video, though in the interest of critical integrity I did so before rewatching the video for the sake of this article. I'll try and wrap up my thoughts on these things before this article is over, but suffice it to say I really don't consider any of these details in the video to be important in any way, and if anything they're just distractions that pointlessly date what could otherwise be a reasonably well-made argumentative piece detailing Cellspex's stance on this matter.

Cellspex starts off the actual content of her video (it's preceded by an ad read for Squarespace) by "breez(ing) through the completely obvious things." She briefly cites a common comparison between Joseph Campbell's Monomyth and Star Wars and states that "everything is an extension, subversion, deconstruction, reboot or remix of the 7 basic plots." If you're not prepared, this is already a lot to unload. She provides a cheap infographic of what the 7 basic plots are supposed to entail, but it's worth analyzing this further because jesus christ.

It's only going to get worse from here.

First of all, the notion of "seven basic plots," at least as described in the above infographic, originated in a 2004 book by Cristopher Booker entitled (you guessed it) The Seven Basic Plots. Broadly speaking, it's a highly reductionist affair. At a little over 700 pages, it's not exactly a light read, though having skimmed a decent portion of it I'd hardly consider it anything more than a coffee table book at best, at least in terms of content. It's a beautiful example of that axiom we've all known since antiquity - saying a lot without actually saying anything, or as Shakespeare famously phrased it, "an infinite deal of nothing." If you strained your eyes to read the above infographic, you already more or less understand the point of the book. The rest of those 700-odd pages are consumed in examples of media, like some hellish proto-TVTropes. Booker's compartmentalization of media is couched heavily in Jungian analysis, and the selling point that his book took 34 years to write is frankly more embarassing than it is impressive. My grandfather, a studied nuclear physicist and part-time scientist of the mind, would classify the likes of Jung and Freud in more professional tones as "early students of the mind," which is to say they were far more focused on the role of the subconscious world in its development of the conscious world.

In less professional tones, he'd call such early theorists "hack frauds" or "idiots" and would openly deride them for not really focusing on how the conscious world actually works from a practical or theoretical point of view. This heavy focus on subconscious analysis is more insulting than it is productive, as it heavily marginalizes evolution's second-greatest triumph behind the opposable thumb: the Neocortex. But I'm getting ahead of myself, as this has very little to do with what The Seven Basic Plots is actually about. To understand that, I think I'll just quote large swaths of a contemporary critical review by Adam Mars-Jones, because I don't really feel like dedicating much more effort to this than is necessary.

"In any case, his grip is slacker on film than on books. His mistakes in literature are largely motivated by dislike, as when he asserts that William Burroughs, 'after writing a pornographic novel, The Naked Lunch, went on to experiment with stories in which the sentences were designed to be randomly jumbled up and read in any sequence'. That's a wholly inaccurate description of the cut-up method, which was also used in Naked Lunch. His film mistakes have more to do with carelessness, misrepresenting the ending of Jaws, or saying Star Wars was set in 'the distant future' of our galaxy'. The clue here is in the giant opening titles: 'Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away...'"

"In general, writers are penalised by Booker for including too much of the world around them. Art, by this account, has no function of witness. Experience is not its true domain."

"Booker's best chapter is on Oedipus Rex and Hamlet, masterpieces that contrive to be exceptions to some of his rules as well as archetypes in their own right. These plays force him to engage with things other than plot, although when he tries to get his readers to ignore the distracting personality of Hamlet in favour of deeper patterns, he seems almost to be saying: 'Don't listen to Shakespeare; listen to me.'"

"He sets up criteria for art, and ends up condemning Rigoletto, The Cherry Orchard, Wagner, Proust, Joyce, Kafka and Lawrence - the list goes on - while praising Crocodile Dundee, E.T. and Terminator 2 ('The archetype has again reformed itself into the image of wholeness which lies at the heart of what our urge to imagine stories is about'). Star Wars fails because it doesn't liberate the anima, while in the original Terminator the princess has to free herself, which won't do."

If we're to believe this critique, Booker was a bit of a crackpot who couldn't understand basic facts about the media he tried to classify in his book about classifying media into archetypes, and when presented with ideas that deviated from the archetypes he spent so long establishing as immutable, he tried really hard to pretend these deviations don't exist or are otherwise invalid. I'd further add based on my own skimming of the book that several of his examples seemed like cherrypicking - his use of the Epic of Gilgamesh, in particular, as he explicitly worked off of a sub-story that only comprised a fraction of the entire multi-tablet epic, though I've seen people claim the seven basic plots can be "combined" and once you get into that territory it just starts feeling pointless to even continue using this arbitrary categorization. Cellspex, in spite of the shakiness of this supposedly foundational text, seems to be treating the word of this man as law. Okay? Sure, I'll roll with it for now. It's not just Cellspex, if the web is to be believed. Such previously-cited works as The Monomyth are also couched heavily in Jungian analysis, and in spite of being allegedly mocked in the scholarly world for their narrow understanding of actual folklore, they still seem to have a pervasive chokehold over modern critical discourse. We're only a minute and a half in to this video, by the way.

I really couldn't think of a better illustration, so here's Fallout 2.

Remember how I opened this article musing about how it was foolish of me to assume that you, the reader, would have a clear understanding of how I'm using the word "original?" Cellspex is doing a similar thing here. In the first minute and a half of her video, she bombards you with information rooted in texts dense enough to bludgeon someone to death with because she assumes you know what these things mean. She says it herself - to her, these are "the completely obvious things." Maybe to you, Cellspex. I'm sure you've actually read Booker's text cover to cover. Or maybe you haven't, maybe you picked up the gist of it from a blog post or an academic essay or a TVTropes page summarizing these things. I can't say, I don't know you. But what I can say for sure is the average person almost certainly hasn't read this book, or even skimmed it like I have. I imagine a lot of people are vaguely familiar with its ideas. Average people read TVTropes, and this kind of thing gets picked up in the meme pipeline by people who want to seem superior because they've thoroughly reduced all media down to a macro. My point here is, Cellspex assumes you're at least familiar enough with The Seven Basic Plots for it to click in your head without having to pause to read that infographic, because she does not give you time to read that infographic. And if there's anything I hope to convey here so far, that was clearly a false assumption. It's difficult to judge how much of that is my fault for simply being uninformed about really terrible novels on critical analysis, and how much of it is Cellspex's fault for seemingly writing her video essay to appeal to an audience that already agrees with her.

You might, of course, be wondering how any of this ties back to the general point I'm trying to make. Frankly, I'm starting to wonder that, too. There are a lot of threads dangling around, a lot of roads being paved, and it's becoming quite easy to get lost in the labyrinth of our side-tirades, with the ramblings a proverbial Minotaur chasing down the Theseus of our Thesis as we scramble down dark hallways of thought. The chief point I'm trying to make here, I think, is that accusations of unoriginality are valid, but it's still absurd to assume anything original will be wholly and completely original, as in something made entirely Ex Nihilo. By definition, this is logically impossible. Even the protomatter responsible for all life on Earth came from a distant rock somewhere out in space, but the life that evolved over the four billion years from then until you started reading this digital insanity was often faced with selection pressures that encouraged - from a very simplified point of view - fresh ideas. Ergo, originality.

Ripping apart The Seven Basic Plots is key because even though it's such a small facet of Cellspex's video, it provides an insight into how she approaches critical analysis. The book and the popular idea that resulted from it is reductionistic, it intentionally ignores concepts that don't fit into its broader narrative, and most of all it's pointlessly arbitrary. Why seven? Why not four, or ten, or twenty, or thirty, or one hundred? In 1895, Georges Polti identified Thirty-Six possible dramatic situations. Soviet folklorist Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp spent most of his career analyzing Russian folklore, and there are around 31 specific "functions" of a "wonder tale" listed on his wikipedia article. How many different plots do you think you can identify if you try hard enough? Four? Eight? Fifty? A million? Cellspex uses this arbitrary number to try and tell us that nothing is wholly original, ergo accusations of unoriginality are void by default because truly original ideas must ride in on the winds of the Godhead. I would argue that the use of this arbitrary number only serves to illustrate that Cellspex views all media through the lens of seven specific plots and their permutations, and feels the need to defend against accusations of unoriginality because this worldview is extremely limiting.

From here, Cellspex continues the trend of rapidly assaulting the viewer with concepts in this intro by briefly bringing up ideas such as the three act structure, pitching shows to people by describing them as if they're two other pre-existing things, and Calarts faces, a debate which could warrant its own article but is beyond the scope of what I'm talking about here (and frankly speaking, is also probably beyond the scope of what I'm even professionally qualified to talk about. I can't really draw, remember?) The general thesis of her intro is that in the mind of Cellspex, truly original ideas are created (as previously mentioned) Ex Nihilo - From Nothing. Ergo, nothing can be "original" because nothing can be created from nothing. This is best encapsulated in the denounement of Cellspex's intro, in which she boldly claims "and in fact if you were a true original you wouldn't even make movies or write stories, you'd create an entirely new medium of expression, ya hacks." This is a somewhat flawed way of thinking, and I think the dictionary backs me up on this. Let's consult two of them.

This is where we can kind of start to see the root of the issue. Cellspex is working more from definitions such as "(not comparable) relating to the origin or beginning; preceding all others" or "1b : a work composed firsthand", whereas whomever she's responding to with this video seems to be working more with "2a: a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity" or "(comparable) fresh, different". The core issue we usually seek to address when accusing something of unoriginality isn't that it's a completely and totally novel experience - even something as miraculously out of the ordinary as ZA/UM's 2019 masterpiece Disco Elysium is rooted in a rich lineage of isometric CRPGs, and by the developers' own admittance draws heavy influence from Planescape: Torment, a similarly heady isometric CRPG about amnesia, a personal journey and a strange world. Here's the thing, though: Disco Elysium isn't getting accused of unoriginality because its ideas are fresh. There was another isometric CRPG that came out not too long ago that tried to ride the waves of Planescape's success, and nobody wants to remember it existed. That game was called Torment: Tides of Numenara, and its ideas were about as stale as week-old wheat bread. There's a time and a place for accusations of unoriginality, you see, and bringing myself back around to a sentence that never really had a proper conclusion, the issue we seek to address with accusations of unoriginality is that the ideas, visuals or what-have-you presented in any given form of media simply aren't fresh or engaging. Cellspex seems to have a kind of cognitive dissonance going on - she's right in that fundamentally speaking, there are no "truly original" ideas. But she's also wrong in assuming that to be original, ideas must come from nowhere. She could be forgiven on some level for having this dissonance - the dictionary definitions cited above are, in and of themselves, a little contradictory. But this is the fault of the English language.

I'm really straying away from the whole point of this article series. I forwarded a draft of this article that ended around here to several friends in the hopes that they'd analyze it and maybe point out something I was missing, but they all seemed about as lost on the issue as I am. The locus of what I'm trying to convey here is that "unoriginality" is generally synonymous with "not fresh," and while I initially considered responding to the entirety of Cellspex's video for the purposes of this article, I'm beginning to doubt the point of it, because she waffles on this issue so much after the intro that it's difficult to *efficiently* respond in the first place. She establishes this thesis that truly original ideas must come from the void and therefore accusations of unoriginality are futile, but she later *admits* that many works of fiction have issues with originality. I just don't see the point in this video. Was it entirely a response to critiques about that disney movie? Why spend all that effort to defend a soulless megacorporation's latest bowel movement? Disney doesn't care about you, they don't even know you exist.

If anything, I think one of the reasons I've dedicated so much time and thought to this video is simply due to how bafflingly out of the ordinary it is. Cellspex invents a definition for originality which is so far beyond reach as to be physically impossible, not just from a purely philosophical or logical point of view, but even under some interpretations of cognitive science and neurobiology. Ludwig Wittgenstein once observed that most people learn new things by contextualizing them through the lens of things they already understand. Theoretical neurophysiologist William H. Calvin speculated in his book The Cerebral Code that the brain enacts a sort of neural Darwinism, selecting out ideas it already knows to form "fresh" ideas based on pre-existing data. Having developed this infeasible model for originality, Cellspex uses this completely impossible definition to demonize a group of people who allegedly prescribe to this same impossible definition, and shortly after doing this, she crumples under the weight of this definition's impossibility and underhandedly admits that yes, the definition is impossible, but oh-ho-ho that was the point the whole time, you see. It reads like the product of a mentally ill person, specially written to cater to the mentally ill, particularly those who view critics as some sort of "hater meanie no-fun men."

Make no mistake, by the way, this isn't an admission of defeat - I don't agree with Cellspex - this was a mistake made by one of the aforementioned proofreading pals, and the only explanation I have for this mistake is that they just didn't read closely enough. The thesis they took away from Cellspex's video is that accusations of unoriginality exclusively serve as a form of gatekeeping. If that's the case, I'm the gatekeeper and the keymaster, because I've seen what happens when everybody can just do anything they want in Sprite Comics and the whole damn point of this article series is to warn you against a repeat of history.

More to the original point, your assets are from video games, your characters are not. As difficult as this has been for me to convey, this will be just as hard for you to hypothetically master if you choose to follow the suicidal path of sprite comic mastery, not the least of reasons being that relying entirely on prefabbed assets means you will inevitably be using video game characters. Unlike the previous two steps, this step actually demands artistic labor on your behalf. At the bare minimum, you'll have to recolor what you have, but stopping there is ill-advised. You're going to require an intimate understanding of your chosen editing software, and at least a slapdash understanding of sprite editing and humanoid anatomy. Emphasis on slapdash.

In order to really get across what I mean here, I think it might be prudent to get into the meat of a misunderstanding that seems to crop up every time I show my works to anyone older than 40: Sprite comics are a legally gray area. I know, right? Hard to believe! They're mainly allowed to exist through a collective of copyright laws that are almost exclusively used as defenses once you're already being sued for copyright abuse - things like Fair Use, the notion that something cannot be claimed as copywritten unless it's already been registered at the copyright office (this is largely a defense against litigious "custom sprite" artists who might get antsy about their work being used without permission - courtesy of a recent supreme court ruling on Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com,) and the body of legislation covering derivative and transformative works. I'm not really a copyright lawyer, but I know enough to tell you that the general gist of things is that it's a pretty bad idea to try and make merchandise of a sprite comic, but a patreon tip jar that exists solely to support the upkeep of the site the comics exist on? That's legally defensible. You aren't technically making money from copywritten works there.

Now you might be reading that and slapping yourself upside the head, saying aloud, "well of course they're legally gray, Alpha! You'd have to be some kind of out of touch crank case to think otherwise!" And to that, hypothetical reader, I say god damnit you're right! But the problem is that whenever I show my works to the barely-net-savvy denizens of Generation X (or the "Baby Boomers," or whatever stupid label you want to apply to anyone 40 and above. I used to be Gen X before age-weary millennials insisted on turning the clock back further and further on the label, but whatever. We'll play ball) they seem to have this notion in their head that simply entertaining people on my own terms isn't enough. I ask for constructive criticism, and their chief direction is "this is good, but you need to make money." I tell them that there are legal ways to do this that I can try and implement, but they still operate under pre-web understandings of comic publishing. They talk about "syndication" and "publishing deals," as if this is a newspaper comic and the only realistic way to make money is to bend over backwards to the whims of the print industry, the Comic Book Code and the format demands of syndicated newspapers. Mindsets like this are what hindered early webcomics - the internet has no comic book authority, no set format, no all-encompassing censors (assuming you self-publish, at least.) If you want your strips to fill the entire page, they can. If you want them to animate, they can. Hell, if you want them to be interactive and have music, they can. We stand at the cusp of a revolution in how we understand sequence art, and the previous generation only seeks to limit us by insisting on adherence to the "old ways." We will never escape this proverbial quagmire of the Byzantine if there is no Giotto to usher forth the Renaissance.

Of course, even this isn't enough when discussing my work with the proponents of the ways of The Old. Their typical secondary suggestion, after ruling out syndication and merchandise as an "agree to disagree" issue (they will typically stay steadfast on these ideas no matter how much I try to convince them they are unworkable,) is to change the very medium I use to convey my comic's visuals on such a fundamental level as to no longer be a sprite comic. I have difficulties expressing just how intrinsically insulting this is. Imagine you are a fantastically talented musician, and your passion in life is to play the harp. You dedicate easily as much of your time to this passion as I do to this, and when you approach me for critique on your form, instead of giving you tips about your pitch or your interpretation of the music, I tell you that the harp industry is an extremely competitive and cutthroat one, and you'd make more money if you just gave up and picked up the electric guitar instead. You don't know the first thing about reading guitar music, and in fact you're not very fond of how the electric guitar sounds. You tell me this, but I press the matter further instead.

Ultimately, I think I understand where some of this comes from. Generally speaking, it seems to stem from a perceived inability to properly analyze the entirety of the work. In the early days when my visuals were far more simplistic, the critique I received from these same people happened to be much more in-depth. Now that the visuals have advanced to the point that they have, I get the feeling that my colleagues only feel qualified to critique the writing, and literally don't understand the intricacies of the visuals. This seems somewhat reinforced by the point stressed by the most recent Adherent of the Old Ways to view my works - an associate who, by all arbitrary measures of academic worth, is far more intelligent than I am. According to him, "visuals don't matter," which seems somewhat contradictory to the entire point of a visual storytelling medium. He, too, insisted that I syndicate my works in Old Media publishing channels, and when pressed on the matter of sprite comics being a legal gray area, insisted up and down that I could tell the exact same fiction with elaborate cutouts of public domain paintings a-la Terry Gilliam's work on Monty Python's Flying Circus. This is a terribly misinformed interpretation of what a Sprite Comic actually is and an insultingly reductionistic view of what I actually write, but for the sake of illustrating Step 3, we're going to analyze it.

Imagine this image tens of thousands of times, with different text. Congratulations, you've read all of Dinosaur Comics.

The most concise encapsulation of the misunderstanding at play here is that it's an arbitrary idealistic clash between constrained comics - comics that place arbitrary restrictions on themselves, such as Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics for example - and the idea of the infinite canvas, a term coined by creator's rights activist and cartoonist Scott McCloud to encompass the infinite storytelling potential of webcomics which I've previously described. The reason this idealistic clash is arbitrary is because while some constrained comics will rigidly adhere to the conventional panel layouts long established by print media, this is not the only way a comic can be constrained. A comic can be constrained by the perceived desire to write all dialogue in haiku, for example. Sprite comics, in and of themselves, are constrained comics by definition because the medium is so difficult to work with. But this is where the misunderstanding takes root: Sprites are a medium, and just because they create the constraint, that doesn't mean all sprite comics are the same as constrained comics. Think of Spritework like painting, or sculpture, or musical composition. It's the medium that conveys the art, and to say any other form of similarly constrained asset reuse could do the same job would be akin to claiming the frescoes of Michelangelo would be just as efficiently portrayed in charcoal on a cave wall, or the works of Bach, Vivaldi and Glass could all be rendered accurately on a theremin, or the great heads of Rapa Nui would be just as magnificent in binary, or that Citizen Kane would be just as much of a landmark piece of film history if it were presented as a shadow puppet show. Now, could you do all these things? Sure! This kind of thinking is at the seat of remix culture in a way, and Sprite comics are remixes by their very nature. The thing is, when people think of remixing art that already exists, they rarely ever say to themselves that their interpretation will be just as effective at conveying the original message. You can change the medium and remix the art, but you're always going to lose something of the original artistry along the way, and the more you change the original, the more it becomes your thing. And this notion of using a Terry Gilliam-esque visual style isn't my thing, it's my associate's thing; purely and wholly his idea, which I think he should pursue. He seems quite sure of it.

Having said all of that, let's indulge my associate for a little bit. Here's a strip that I haven't (as of the time of writing) posted to the site's comic database, mainly because I'm just not entirely sure where it fits into the story's chronology. A lot of my strips have a tendency to get made out of sequence like this, but that's okay - the important thing is that a sequence ultimately gets established. This particular strip is part of a storyline that sprung about while recycling ideas, jokes and layouts that were already made - in the case of this one, it's a rehash of a strip from 2012 with a similar premise. As such, it's not the best example, because many of the strips from 2012 used photographs instead of sprite backgrounds. But it's still serviceable for illustrating what I'm talking about, because the characters are at their most expressive.

In this strip, Gen Eric (the fox woman, panel left) and Dr. Baxter Schwartz (the bespectacled scientist man, panel right) are at an IKEA showroom. These characters aren't named in the strip, as it isn't intended to serve as a standalone comic. The reader is assumed to know these characters from previous strips in the archive. This is how serialized webcomics usually work, and this is something I should only have to tell you if you are over 40. The first panel established that Gen doesn't have much money to pay for shelves, which we learned in the next panel is because Baxter is using those shelves for the textbooks of his profession. Gen's aggravation at this development indicated several things, but the chief thing is that Baxter living with Gen is a relatively new development. Alternatively, the implication could be taken away that Gen has only recently gotten in to the art of Zen, which could indicate that she's only really going through it as a phase, possibly to distract herself from some underlying emotional pain that hasn't been specified in the boundaries of this strip. The Shopkeeper appears in panel 3 - he is a blatant visual homage to the Happy Mask Shop guy from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, and this is something I should only have to tell you if you're either over 40 or ruefully unattentive of basic pop culture. In the fourth panel, he offers the "cheapest shelf," which is named after what a machine translator and several semi-reliable linguistic guides told me is the Swedish word for "piece of shit" (or "shithead," as my Icelandic friend speculates.) In this panel we learn that Gen is so broke, she can't even afford to spend $80 on shelves (though in fairness, that is a bit of a ripoff for planks of wood) and in panel 5 she simply stands there in shock. Throughout all of this, the shopkeeper maintains his shit-eating grin, because all he cares about is making a sale. He doesn't care about Gen's money troubles, the reason she needs the shelves, none of these things register in his head. Panels 6 through 9 are an almost entirely visual dialogue told through facial and body expressions. Gen shakes off the shock and formulates a plan. She glances at Baxter, but he isn't sure what she's thinking because he's too busy thinking about other things, like going home. Gen takes a final sidelong glance at the box, and in the heat of the moment she tells Baxter to "Take the other end!" to which he responds with a surprised glance and a point, as if to say, "Oh! I get it now!" In spite of this, though, he's still looking back to ensure no one is chasing them in the final panel, flying in the face of Gen's instructions.

Now let's see what happens when we try and pretend the visuals don't matter.

We've taken the assumption that "visuals don't matter" to its absolute limit. Virtually no regard has been given to the internal logic of the assets used to replace the original visuals - only three basic prerequisites were set:

- That the characters resemble their original counterparts in the most basic sense

- That the setting resembles its original counterpart in the most basic sense

- That the assets be public domain

Gen Eric has been replaced with the most feminine image search result for "Reynard the Fox," a popular European folkloric character dating to at least the 12th century. Baxter has been replaced by a portrait of 13th century alchemist Roger Bacon, famous as an early proponent of the importance of emperical study - an easy analogue for Dr. Baxter Schwartz, a modern scientist. The furniture salesman has been replaced by Antonio, the title character of Shakespeare's famous 16th-century play, The Merchant of Venice. The IKEA - both exterior and interior - has been replaced by paintings of ancient bazaars, chosen at random. The crate containing the "cheapest shelf" has been replaced by an image result for "ancient shelf." All of these changes to the scenery were made under the assumption that the photographs were copywritten by the original photographers - which is a plausible assumption, though many modern photographers will release their works under licenses such as Creative Commons or the public domain, essentially meaning they are free to use in transformative works, though certain permutations of Creative Commons include a "share alike" clause which effectively demands that any transformative work be shared under the same license. This is a stipulation that could get sticky if left unattended.

The end result is a comic that delivers the same general script and flow without any of the impact of the original. The "visual conversation" told in the original is now an extended beat of dead air in which the characters stand around gormlessly, and due to the lack of attention to finer details, the use of a painting in which Antonio is being rebuffed by his moneylender, Shylock, creates an impression that the salesman is desperate for a sale. The removal of IKEA completely annihilates any humor inherent in the "Skithuvund," because there is no logical reason for a poor merchant in a classical bazaar to be using snooty european names for furniture. The humor and the drama of the strip is no longer about Gen and Baxter's money troubles, the Salesman's apathy and their decision to steal an $80 box of shelving - these aren't even Gen and Baxter anymore. This is Reynard, Roger Bacon and Antonio from The Merchant of Venice, and the humor and drama now focuses around how preposterous it would be for these characters to interact in this fashion, how sad it is that Antonio is being ripped off by these thugs, and how amusing it is that these characters of classical antiquity are using denominations of US currency to measure an object's worth. By simply changing the visual medium, everything I've done to evade the pitfalls of Sprite Writing (discussed in part 2 of this article series) has been summarily and unceremoniously undone. I'm sure my associate would love this - he's an ardent adherent to more modern schools of art, particularly absurdism. I like absurdism, but I like it from over there. When I write stories with established characters and settings, I want everything to have an internal logic. I want to know exactly where in the room the characters are, who they are talking to and why, and which laws of physics in the fictional context they're supposed to be adhering to. I want this because it's challenging. There's no conquest or thrill in absurdism, it's merely "haha, isn't it funny that this recognizable thing is doing or saying something completely unrelated to what you'd expect." Yes, it is. But that's all it ever is, and if your comic hinges solely on this, things get stale fast.

If you're over 40 and this idea still hasn't been driven home for you, I'd first like to thank you for putting up with me for this many paragraphs. I'd also like to politely request that you go back and reread everything you just read.

...You done? Welcome back.

What's that? Re-Furred? Ah, I see. You think you've found extra proof on my own website that "visuals don't matter." Maybe you need a trip to the optometrist. But I'll humor you - for those reading this article who have no idea what Re-Furred is, it's a side thing I do in-between projects when the whim strikes me. Basically, I take a furry webcomic - any furry webcomic - and rewrite it. Here's the thing though, and this is important: the entire premise of Re-Furred relies on its visuals. I know this is going to sound obvious to anyone under 40, but most of the (un)subtle jokes and jabs directed at the furry community in my edits literally wouldn't work outside of the context of a rewrite. In several cases, I'll often perform edits to the visuals as well in the service of the joke, typically either splicing panels together from several strips of the same comic or editing details in the panel.

If we continue humoring the notion that "visuals don't matter," I should just as easily be able to tell a story about Gen, Baxter, their friends and foes and the antics they get into by editing somebody else's comic. I'd provide an example, but if you really can't get how ridiculous that would be by now, there's no convincing you. In a comic, your visuals will inform the story as much as - if not more than - your writing. You can't dismiss them, especially in the context of sprite comics, where there's a handicap on the visuals from the onset.

Before we delve any deeper, it might be prudent to quickly recap the ideas we've broached. This has been a long, meandering and possibly even confusing article, and it helps to get things organized into a nice bullet pointed list before we get into the meat of our core topic. So, chiefly, the ideas I've wanted to convey are:

- Unoriginality as defined in this article series is a lack of freshness, or an overreliance on prominently established ideas.

- Moreover, "unoriginality" is a common criticism to expect when working with sprite art. The ideal response is not to dismiss this critique as lazy, but to address the aspects of how you've been working with sprite art and writing your comic that initially brought about this critique.

- Sprites are a medium. You can tell any story through this medium, but those stories have to function within the confines of this medium and your own personal ability to work with said medium. This would be an obvious statement if I were talking about pencil art or oil painting.

- Visuals matter - "a picture speaks a thousand words," as they say.

Right then. The true grist of Step 3 is to simply write original characters. Do you see what I mean now, about originally assuming this would be simple to explain? We could have moved straight on to step 4 by now, but then the Cellspex video would have been a rebuttal to me, and that simply won't do.

Of course, you might be reading that and thinking the phrase "original character" is a little loaded. Maybe you haven't been around the internet for long, and you still think a recolor of an existing intellectual property would pass as original. Maybe you think I'm directly advocating that you recolor somebody else's shit so you can get away with copyright murder. You know what? Fuck Cellspex and fuck the entire goddamn English Language. "Original" doesn't even look like a real word to me anymore, we all mean "fresh" and "not fresh," why the fuck aren't we using those words instead? I hate this. Look what you made me do, this article is way too god damn long. Now I'm going to have to jam the blerb about characters into the start of Part 4. I mean, otherwise you'd have to scroll through pages upon pages of dumb bullshit for this advice. I'm so pissed off about this. God fucking damnit.

Y'know what? No, fuck this. This isn't Part 3 anymore. This is bullshit. This is "the interlude" now. Nobody's going to read this and take away any kind of useful advice or insights.

...Oh yeah, Raya and the Last Dragon. It was alright, I guess. I had difficulties paying attention because the dragon's design was too similar to those SFM pony models that everyone uses in porn, and it bugged the hell out of me. It's a decent 6 out of 10 I guess, probably wouldn't watch it again but I'd recommend it to someone who has nothing else to watch.