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15 Minutes of Fame: Hammer time


15 Minutes of Fame is our look at World of Warcraft players of all shapes and sizes – both the renowned and the relatively anonymous. Know an interesting player you'd like to see profiled? E-mail us your tips.

This week's 15 Minutes of Fame subject has earned her time in the limelight – and it's actually worth more than a mere 15 minutes. Auden, creator of the wry and witty Hammer of Grammar, shines her sharp wit into all the little cracks and crevices of WoW culture and online life. Hammer isn't another off-the-grid, lore-based fantasy adventure; instead, through their doggedly domestic lives, Auden and her partner in crime Gweryc (yeah, the melee hunter guy) make us chuckle over the little things that endear the game world to us.

The proverbial "one tough cookie" IRL, Auden's unquenchable spirit comes through not only in her comic but in this exclusive interview with WoW Insider. Read more about what keeps her in the game and at her design desk, after the break.

15 Minutes of Fame: Tell us what sparked your interest in World of Warcraft. When did you start playing? What characters are you actively playing?

Auden: I've dabbled in various online virtual worlds since I had a 2400 baud modem, so WoW attracted my interest almost immediately. I held off on actually trying it until I was hit with a major case of writer's block, which was just before Christmas 2005. I thought it would be like the other MMORPGs I'd tried ... I'd play for a while, get bored and go back to writing. Damn you and your finest crack rock, Blizzard Entertainment!

Auden's become my main, but since 2.3 she's turned into an overdressed gold farmer for a druid and a mage that I'm raising. I'm a completely casual player; the closest thing I've done to raiding was road-tripping with my guild to loot the Headless Horseman of all his jewelry. My real-life commitments don't let me play on a stable schedule.

What inspired you to create Hammer of Grammar? When and how did it all begin?

Gweryc -- or rather, the dynamic between us -- was the primary inspiration. We've been on a 15-year quest to crack each other up, and when we're together, we tend to riff off each other. I have pounds of instant messenger logs that ought to be comedy sketches.

The original idea began one night after we'd broken out in spontaneous stupidity. I had the idea to throw some word bubbles on a screenshot of the evening and send it to him for lulz. It got a bit fancier than I'd planned, and the first comic was born.

Gweryc -- what's the connection there?

Contrary to popular belief, I am not his wife, his girlfriend, nor his alt ... Gweryc and I have been friends since high school. We have a beautiful relationship built on creativity, trust and the fact that I have videos of him drunk on Zima that I could upload to YouTube if he pisses me off.

What's your background in art/design?

I come from a creativity-saturated family. There seems to be a rule; you either get artistic talent, or you're smokin' hot, effortlessly thin and naturally blonde. Unfortunately, my sister won't trade with me.

I never had any formal training -- my actual degree is in psychology -- but I've had a lot of creative projects I wanted or needed to do that I taught myself the skills for as I went along. I didn't so much pursue a graphic design career as fall into it. A friend liked the arty things I did as a hobby, convinced me to join his company as a graphic designer ... And before you can say "This isn't my major," I had a reasonably impressive work history that kept me in beer money.

Influences? Let's talk about your favorites.

My most direct influence would have to be Flintlocke; I try hard not to rip him off. There was actually a comic in development that I'm not sure will see the light of day in which I poke fun at the many similarities. (Dammit, Gweryc, why couldn't you have rolled an orc?)

I didn't read any other Warcraft webcomics until I started Hammer of Grammar. Once someone pointed out the similarities between "Into the Black Temple" and "Azerothian Super-Villains" -- which I'd never heard of -- it occurred to me that I really ought to check and make sure I wasn't accidentally plagiarizing anyone else. My fear was justified. I found out that a major plot arc I'd been planning had already been done on "By Way of Booty Bay," and another was the entire basis of "The Scout Report." There are a lot of really great WoW webcomics out there, the vast majority far superior to mine.

In terms of favorite webcomics, though, nothing beats Penny Arcade. Those guys rule the cosmos.

It's obvious that readers are insatiably curious about how, technically, you put Hammer of Grammar together. Without spilling any of your trade secrets, can you tell us more about the tools and techniques you use in Hammer of Grammar?

It's basically a collage. The characters are posed in the model viewer, the word balloons are done in Illustrator, the backgrounds are either screenshots or "sets" I've built out of parts. I put it all together in Photoshop, then paint in anything that's missing.

The process has evolved a lot. I do a lot more work on shadows and coloring than I did at the beginning. For "On The Perils of Player Housing," I spent about a week building the set. It's a 100+ layer Photoshop file, designed so that I can change the time of day, the weather, the view outside, turn the fire on and off, have them sit in the furniture and be properly masked, etc. Most of it's painted -- the plants, the stained-glass windows, the candles, the books. Other bits were extracted from real WoW textures. It was a bit insane, but I figured I'd reuse the location.

Where do you "shop" for appropriate armor for each comic -- in game, online, a modeler ...?

Once I switched to the Windows model viewer, what you see Auden and Gweryc wearing is straight from the Armory. We should be a bit more fashionable when we return, since I finally completed my FSW set. For other characters, I shop in the modeler.

About how long does it take to produce one installment?

It really depends. If I already have an idea, and I'm slapping us on a screenshot -- and if I'm gifted with an unbroken block of free time -- I can pull it off in a night. It's generally a lot longer, though.

What part of creating the strip do you enjoy the most?

I think my favorite bit is the compositing. Getting the pieces together is really tedious. I have to swap between two computers and go through a lot of rigamarole. Once everything is together and I'm fine-tuning jokes and tweaking shadows, that's when I get to really concentrate and enjoy.

What's your favorite installment of Hammer of Grammar?

I'd say "On the Perils of Player Housing." That one took so damned long, it's my baby.

Let's talk about how RL and your subject matter in Hammer of Grammar intersect. How much of your character's lives and situations are pulled from ... well, yours?

I pull most of the material from real life -- or at least, things that have really happened to us in the game, although Auden and Gweryc are based on their roleplaying characters much more than the actual personalities of the players behind them. That's probably very obvious to anyone who has read Gweryc's blog. Gweryc the character is a loveable buffoon, but the guy who plays him is brilliant.

Overall, I've tried to leave real life out of it, ripe for mining as it might be; those are issues I don't want to have to deal with or work around. Auden logging off, driving to Gweryc's house and punching his real-life human in the stomach (which I have never and would never do, by the way) is probably as much of a mention of their offline friendship as will appear.

Look at all the WoW lore links on your site -- what a gold mine! Have you played all the Warcraft games as well?

I have not. I'm not much of a strategy gamer; I think I have a chip on my shoulder about it from all those nights I spent in college all dolled up, wearing the good underwear and lounged across this hot guy's bed while he ignored me to play Command and Conquer.

WoW was my first exposure to the Warcraft universe. Once I got into the lore, I went back and watched all the cut scenes I could get my hands on and researched the various characters. I'm that person who actually reads all those books lying around the inns.

What about the Warcraft books, the graphic novels ... Are you a fan?

I'd like to read them; I've read synopses of all of them. Someday, when my life's a little less crazy ...

What about this (WoW Insider blogger) Matt Rossi guy -- how do you know him?

Matt and I befriended each other years ago through our blogs, which eventually led to him coming for a visit. We visited caged gnomes, buried a cat, dyed his hair blue and decided to take a random road trip to visit another friend.

Protip: If you're leaving town with some random guy you met on the Internet -- particularly a blue-haired one built like a Viking raider and draped in black leather -- it's nice to tell people that you're leaving. Otherwise, you might come home to discover that you've been reported kidnapped.

What keeps you busy in the infamous RL?

My mother had a stroke in June, which left her profoundly disabled, and I quit my job to become her full-time caregiver. It's pretty wretched; she used to be this hilarious mad genius, and now she's a perma-toddler with receptive and expressive aphasia and a total lack of impulse control. So I'm pretty much a stay-at-home mom. I cook, I clean, I put her out when she sets herself on fire, I drag her back inside the house when she's standing naked in the front yard waving to people. Good times.

So when can we expect the next installment of Hammer of Grammar?

Soon, actually. I've been bouncing from state to state trying to take care of the godawful legal and financial mess that I hadn't realized my mother was in. The last time I bounced, I left my Windows box behind and just took my Mac laptop. I'd installed a new version of Parallels and genuinely thought I'd now be able to do all the comic work on one machine. I was wrong, so very wrong ... I'm now reunited with the desktop, so I should have a new comic out very soon.

Who's your daddy? 15 Minutes of Fame is looking for guild leaders and officers of the hardcore variety. Is your uberguild on the bleeding edge of raid content? Does your raid leader keep it together with skill and aplomb? Shoot us a tip and show us your leader's kung fu.

More interviews with World of Warcraft players from 15 Minutes of Fame. Plus, Lisa Poisso logs on to the WoW servers every week to ask players what's on their mind in Gamers on the Street.

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