I have never read a Brandon Sanderson novel. Plenty of people haven’t, so that doesn’t make me special, even among avid readers. But a great many people do read Sanderson. So many, in fact, that even among high profile writers, Sanderson certainly is special. And this week Sanderson’s readership went from buying Sanderson’s books, to buying into Sanderson and his books; they put down an accumulated and unholy twenty million dollars (and growing) on his kickstarter to publish four “surprise” novels in 2023.
But perhaps I should feel a little bit special, because while I haven’t read any Sanderson, he has read me. Or at least he has, on one occasion, in interview, indicated that he had read the web-comic that I drew as a teenager.
Thog Infinitron, written by Riel Langlois, a Canadian I met on a web-comic forum, and drawn by me, Daniel Woodhouse, is the story of a cyborg caveman and his various adventures. After his body is crushed during a Rhino stampede, the titular Thog is rebuilt with all manner of enhancements by a pair of alien visitors. I uploaded a page a week, and the story ran for a grand total of 129 pages before I unceremoniously lost interest and ditched the project somewhere in the middle of my second year of undergraduate mathematics. I had other things going on. Thog’s story was left at a haunting cliffhanger, with story-lines left open and characters stuck forever mid-arc.
I do not even have to look back over my work to recognize that I was a callow and unsophisticated artist. My potential was frustratingly underdeveloped. In retrospect, I cringe at my own haste to produce a popular webcomic that would bring in wealth and recognition, and how that haste led me to neglect my craft. I lacked influence and serious guidance. Or maybe I was simply too stubborn in my ambition. I do wonder how I would have fared if I had been that same teenager today, able to discover the wealth of material and advice that is now available online. You can literally watch over the shoulder of accomplished artists as they draw.
Nevertheless, when I revisited Thog, I was impressed by the comic as a body of work. Langlois’ writing was truly fantastic — in an completely different league to my art. And as rough as the art is to my eye, I have to appreciate the sheer cumulative achievement.
(Please do not go looking for my webcomics. Aside from Thog Infinitron I sincerely hope that my teenage juvenalia has disappeared from the internet, and for the most part this wish seems to have come true through a combination of defunct image hosting and link-rot. Thog is still out there and readable thanks to a surviving free webcomic hosting site, although I’m not sure your browser will forgive you for navigating into those waters.)
At the time, Thog, with it’s regular update schedule, was a major feature in my life. Now it feels like a distant and minor chapter. Years later I would occasionally do a web search to see if people still mentioned it , if Thog was still being discovered, or if the comic had any kind of legacy at all. It was during one of those web searches that I discovered a passing reference to Thog by Sanderson in an interview on Goodreads.
It is a strange an unusual writer who does not want to be read. And indeed it is a strange and gratifying to discover that you have been read. It is an experience that Sanderson enjoys to a singular degree, but that I too have enjoyed to a thoroughly modest degree. At some point during Thog’s run we even gave permission to some particularly keen readers to translate it into Romanian. I have never received a dime for my web-comics, and at the time I didn’t take much note at the time, but in retrospect I’m in awe that I should have received such an honor. Sanderson’s works have been translated into 35 different languages.
The money that is being amassed on Kickstarter for Sanderson’s project is no small thing. The way the arts and literature are funded have profound effects on the culture. The proceeds of bestsellers have traditionally been reinvested by published houses in new writers (or so it has been claimed), and I imagine that more than a few people will look at Sanderson’s foray into self-publishing (or working outside a major publishing house) and wonder how different the future might be. But it is at least, for now, worth appreciating the sheer spectacle of a truly devoted readership.