18 Years of Silent Shadow

Jess |
Before I dive into the meat of this post, I’d like to say something. Silent Shadow is coming…

Before I dive into the meat of this post, I’d like to say something. Silent Shadow is coming back. However, I don’t know when. I’ve learned that it’s best not to put deadlines or release-dates on personal work. It’s basically a way to set yourself up for failure. This post is the first in a series of posts that will be spread out over the next few months while I continue working on the revamped version of Silent Shadow: Hawk & Wolf.


Silent Shadow Issue 1.1.1, released on September 14th, 2005

I launched Silent Shadow at the end of August 2005—the same week Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf states. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. In fact, I didn’t realize that it had been that long until I started nosing around on the Internet Archives and found the original site.

That find turned out to be a goldmine of information. Little details about the characters that I had forgotten about, that sort of thing. Information that’s good to have since I’m in the process of filling out character bios with backstories.

Aside from the Internet Archives, I’m also a serious digital pack-rat. I have backups of my old Livejournal account and can narrow down when I seriously started considering doing a web-comic. Middle of August 2005. It all got started after I picked up a book from Borders. That book? It was Webcomics: Tools and Techniques for Digital Cartooning, and while it’s dated for today’s web, it does still have some pretty good information and is a good source of inspiration.

Back in 2005, social media as we know it now did not exist. Facebook was still limited to college students, MySpace was just getting started, and Twitter didn’t exist.

At that time, I was in the process of learning the ins and outs of Poser, and Daz had just released the Aiko- and Hiro 3 figures. Both of those combined with finding that book served as enough of an inspiration to get me started.

But Why Did I Stop?

I worked on the series in 2008 and 2009, but I stopped because of school and the focus on graduation. After graduating, I thought I would have more time for the comic, but my job as a web developer left me tired at the end of the day*. I was also in the early stages of a long-term relationship, so life became a priority. When I returned to working on the comic in mid-2012, a lot had changed. Daz3D had just released the first version of the Genesis line, and Daz Studio was improving. I also found out that the new Genesis line was somewhat compatible with Poser but needed extra tools to work properly. Lastly, the biggest obstacle was that I actually forgot my original work-flow.

Mental health played a HUGE factor in that fatigue. It was my first encounter with Imposter Syndrome, and that may have been what sapped my creativity. Also, in an attempt to overcome that feeling of “not-good-enough,” I forced myself into writing code in my free time. Sadly, all that did was make me hate an activity that I used to enjoy.

Meanwhile, new versions of Poser were being released but didn’t offer much in the way of new features. The library was changed (again) and on Windows, required you to have Internet Explorer 11 and Flash installed. Poser Pro 2012 was probably the last version I purchased before getting Poser 11 in late 2015.

That changing landscape and changes in my personal life was very effective in discouraging me from continuing further with the web comic. So in the spring of 2013, I decided to retire Silent Shadow and leave it in the past.

Looking back over the last ten or twelve years, that decision was a mistake. I might’ve kept a better grip on my mental health if I had something else other than programming to do after work.

Story and Influences

I’ll have a more detailed post on what Silent Shadow is actually about at a later point. As for influences? Honestly, I probably knew eighteen years ago but now I have absolutely no idea other than a general love of anime and manga, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Originally, I cited Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series as an influence, but guess what? I didn’t actually read those books until recently! So eighteen years ago, the influence was basically “I saw these at the book-store, read the synopsis and thought ‘oh cool, fantasy but based in modern times.'”

I skipped school a lot as a teenager and tended to hang out at bookstores or libraries. The most memorable was skipping school in seventh grade and hanging out in the sci-fi/fantasy book section at Shinders in downtown Minneapolis. That’s probably where a lot of my inspiration came from—book covers and book synopsis.

One of the primary influences for Silent Shadow was a television series called Special Unit 2. I saw one episode while turning over patient rooms at HCMC back in 2001/2002 but unfortunately, I never caught another episode before it was cancelled. This show turned out to be a significant influence on the concepts behind what eventually became Silent Shadow.

Another influence for Silent Shadow—from a folklore standpoint—was InuYasha. Using the yokai of Japanese folklore, I started playing around with the idea of what if most of the world’s mythology, folklore, and monsters were actually real, along with people who possess various psychic talents.

To be fair, I’ve always been interested in mythology—and to a lesser extent, history. Both of those is likely what got me into the Fate franchise. So don’t be surprised if you see some influences from Fate Grand Order in the revamped version of Silent Shadow.

Initially, I started off with the idea of referring to these creatures as “demons” like what was done in the dubbed version of InuYasha. However, considering that the world of Silent Shadow also has true demons—evil creatures from a different dimension—I thought yokai would be a better term. I was nerdy enough to come up with a Latin-sounding species name for the yokai of the world: natura terra demonicus. The yokai species name roughly translates as “The nature of the earth is demonic.” For some reason, I find that hilarious.

Main Character Snapshots

I listened to this track heavily during the development of Silent Shadow

Syleth Reshay

Syleth Reshay
Syleth Reshay

Personality-wise, Syleth is complicated. *She’s an introvert who is very good at faking extroversion. On the outside, she puts out this “hard-ass/no fucks given” attitude and is generally considered a tomboy. She’s completely different around friends and family, showing a softer side to her personality. Syleth is a huge nerd who enjoys anime and manga.

A lot of us introverts have been there and it gets exhausting.

She’s the co-owner of her uncle’s automotive shop in South Minneapolis, and has an interest in cars specifically and technology in general.

Complementing her combative nature, Syleth enjoys first-person shooter games, which is something that she shares with Rowan. She also enjoys gardening and growing plants during the winter as a means of dealing with seasonal depression.

One of the reasons for Syleth’s interest in gardening is that because she lacks the element of Earth, she needs a way to stay grounded. Kestrel theorizes that gardening is how Syleth establishes and maintains her ground.

Aside from her introversion, Syleth is tough and takes no shit from anyone—not even an old love. She is protective of those she cares about—to the point where this is actually a character flaw because her protectiveness can turn her into a homicidal maniac. She’s very independent—raised to be so by both her aunt Nyx (who taught her the basics of magic), and her uncle Andy, who taught her martial arts and combative magic. Her sense of responsibility can also lead her into considerable pain because there are times where she takes things too personally, like being unable to save someone.

Syleth is a mother—that’s something that has changed from the initial run. This was a change that I decided on to round out her character more. I do have some sequels in mind that feature Roan following in his mother’s footsteps as a Guardian but those are in my head or exist as rough outlines for now.

Another thing I changed with Syleth was her height. Originally, Syleth was like 5’9″—tall for a woman. I brought her down to somewhere around 5’6—which while still tall, is closer to average.

I’m not playing the Anne McCaffrey game of making strong women really short, or child-sized, as Lessa was described as being in Dragonflight. Come to think of it, Rowan/Anghariad (Talent series) was also described as being “child-sized” in later books. Anyway, Syleth is still a fighter, and so needs to be slightly taller than average to handle most challenges.

Character Influences (Click for More)

Looking back over the last twenty years, I can’t nail down what the influence/inspiration was for Syleth—other than Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, or maybe Xena?

Seriously, I had to really rack my brain for what actually guided the development of Syleth as a character. I had to go back thirtyish years to when I was *twelve. The first influence would likely have been Jo Polniaczek, Nancy McKean’s character from Facts of Life. Totally not related to urban fantasy of any sort. Basically, Jo was a tomboy and at the time, being a tomboy and heavily interested in automotive, I related to her. So of course, that personality stuck with me!

This was the same time-period where I was skipping school to hang out at the local bookstore.

Later on, once I turned into an avid reader of science-fiction and fantasy, additional influences came into play. Polgara the Sorceress (David Eddings The Belgariad/Malloreon books) was a definite influence—perhaps more as just a general strong female character. It’s probably better to say that Polgara was more of an influence for Syleth’s aunt, Nyx Reshay, than for Syleth herself.

Taking on the warrior woman archetype, Tarma shena Tale’Sedrin from Mercedes Lackey’s Vows and Honors series was a definite influence. That being said, Kerowyn (By the Sword/Mercedes Lackey), was another influence as a strong, competent and tough female. However, Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell was probably the top influence for Syleth in that same vein. All three characters represent dedication to justice and doing what is right.

Technical Details

Syleth hasn’t changed much from the original run. Other than making her appearance tougher and more adult, that is. I did adjust her skin-tones from the earlier comics because she was too light for what I had imagined her character to be.

I went through multiple challenges with her skin-tone—basically trying not to make her look like she had a spray-on tan. I did learn very recently that some of that issue was my “helpful” post-processing in Photoshop, combined with working on two differently calibrated monitors.

It was in Poser 7 that I came up with the idea of light-sensitive toon-shading. I wanted a toon-shader that would respond to light colors, and I found an imperfect solution that involved using Poser’s FastScatter node with its ToonShader node. Later on, Poser’s devs changed how the FastScatter node worked, so the results I got initially with Poser 7 no longer worked. I also learned after I returned to working in Poser in late 2015 that the FastScatter node had been deprecated. Another reason for me to move away from Poser.

Syleth’s hair was a freakin’ pain. Pure black in toon-shading is a pain to work with, plus I wanted blue highlights in her hair. That turned out to be a pita to pull off. I think I dropped that in later pieces, but I might try to bring it back in Blender.

Kestrel Amane

Kestrel Amane
Kestrel Amane

Kestrel is an Empath/healer and works as a *paramedic. Her experience with emergency medicine makes her the perfect support for Syleth. She’s also Syleth’s confidante, and occasionally lover. She usually serves in a support capacity as someone who knows first aid coupled with her healing gift.

There’s a side-story where she’s trying to use her wages as a paramedic to put herself through college but isn’t successful because it’s too expensive.

The role I have in mind for Kestrel is for her to basically be the opposite of Syleth in personality and temperament. What I want for Kestrel is to be a foil of sorts for Syleth. Kes is very feminine while Syleth is the resident tomboy. Kestrel is an Empath and at times because of this, is actually more “worldly” than Syleth. One could say that Kestrel is more grounded than Syleth.

Kestrel’s nature is Earth and Water, while Syleth represents Fire and Air. Essentially, Kestrel has the ability to stay grounded—something that Syleth doesn’t have. Basically, Kestrel acts as Syleth’s “ground”—one would have thought that role would have gone to Rowan and I suppose it has in some ways, but Kestrel is better at it since Rowan has a tendency to be as impulsive as Syleth is.

Technical Details

In the original run, Kestrel had a bit part as Syleth’s “spirit-guide.” I changed that up and eliminated her entirely when I redid those earlier pages. However, a chance encounter with the Poser file that had her character morph actually inspired me to fill out her character a little more.

Kestrel wasn’t as difficult to work with as Syleth or Rowan were. Part of that was that she was supposed to be a one-bit character so I never tinkered with her appearance beyond that original piece from 2005. When I rediscovered that Poser file, I kept her original appearance but changed her eye color. When I created her all those years ago, I wanted her to be the opposite of Syleth—softer and more feminine.

One influence for Kestrel could be Kethry, also from Vows and Honor. Otherwise, Kes is sort of the every-girl/girl-next-door-type.

Rowan Ookami

Rowan Ōkami
Rowan Ōkami

Rowan works as a bartender at a bar in downtown Minneapolis owned by a friend—someone he met on his travels before coming to Minnesota. He has an interest in mixology (see why he’s a bartender?), and also likes to people-watch. He’s seen some weird shit—both traveling and working at a bar.

To be fair, his stories probably don’t top Kestrel’s—paramedics have seen it all and then some. On another note, I’m probably going to fill out those stories using shit I’ve seen from taking public transportation and working as a hospital housekeeper.

Rowan loves cats but cats seem to love him particularly when he’s in his wolf form because he’s warm and fluffy, and cats know that even as a wolf, he won’t harm them.

In the original run, Rowan didn’t have a backstory. He was just there as a means of getting the story going. To be fair, in 2005—Rowan was really just there for Syleth’s eventual love-life. Early on, I referred to Rowan as a “wolf-demon”—see that InuYasha influence there? Anyway, once I started building the world of Silent Shadow, I realized that he would actually qualify as a werewolf.

Something else I changed. In 2005, Rowan had a last name: Andurs. It never felt right and I later dropped it. However, because he is a werewolf, I decided to give him the last name “Ookami”—the Japanese word for wolf.

Character Influences

Unlike Syleth, it’s easier for me to pin down the inspiration for Rowan. The biggest influence was Rowen of the Strata from Ronin Warriors (Yoroiden Samurai Troopers) and Sesshomaru from InuYasha. Talk about a contrast in personalities! In a weird way, Wesley Crusher, Wil Wheaton’s character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, was also an influence as well—though nowhere near as big as the first two. Granted, it’s harder to see now. Other than curiosity and intelligence—physically and mentally, Rowan has nothing in common with Wesley. Later on, when Rowan’s werewolf traits became more fleshed out—the inspiration there was Underworld: Evolution. Some of Rowan’s early life took inspiration from Wolf’s Rain and Wolf Children.

This idea exists as a rough outline only but in the prequels—when I get around to writing them—Syleth has to go on a quest to become a Master mage. Her last trial takes place in Hawaii where she has a chance encounter with the characters from Yoroiden Samurai Troopers. Basically, they end up helping her defeat a corrupted version of the goddess *Pele. There’s no romance involved here because Sy already loves someone else. However, there are a few jokes about Syleth and Ryo being distantly related because they sort of look similar. That also plays into the ethnically diverse background of the Reshay family itself.

And speaking of Fate/GO references, that version of Pele is not BB 😂

Technical Details

I probably played around with Rowan’s appearance almost as much as I did Syleth’s, though in his case, it was his hair that was giving me a headache. It started off as bluish-white but for simplicity’s sake, I later changed it to white. That turned out to be the opposite problem of what I had with Syleth. Pure white is just as difficult to work with as pure black when it comes to toon-shading. Or at least it was in Poser. I haven’t encountered that issue in Blender.

Aside from his obvious role as love-interest, Rowan also serves as Syleth’s good sense when she’s feeling homicidal. While he’s just as prone to swearing as Syleth is, he’s not nearly as crass, nor does he have Sy’s tendency for casual violence.

New Characters (Preview)

Ciaran Reshay

Ciaran Reshay
Ciaran Reshay

One character that was developed more recently, and is going to make an appearance in the revamped version of Hawk & Wolf, is Ciaran Reshay, Syleth’s cousin. Ciaran mainly works as Syleth’s partner in the field.

The concept for Ciaran originally came about as a result of me fangirling over Cú Chulainn (Lancer) from Unlimited Blade Works.

Man, what is it with me and blue-haired anime guys?

*However, despite the name, Ciaran is female. The idea behind her character is that she’s the reincarnation of Cú Chulainn (*cough* another influence for Silent Shadow was Gargoyles—anyone remember that show?)

Ciaran is the male form of Ciara, which is almost too similar to “Kira.” I decided on the male form so as not to cause confusion with the villain from Hawk & Wolf.

Originally, I had an idea for a story involving Ciaran that’s set in the Silent Shadow universe but is unrelated to the main storyline. In that story, Ciaran acts as a Guardian of sorts for North Minneapolis—taking on tasks that she feels shouldn’t be the main Guardian’s responsibility. Later on, I decided to change things up and make Ciaran one of Syleth’s cousins, and Syleth’s working partner.

Whew… that’s a lot. Some tidbits of information about the original influences of the web-comic. Keep your eyes on this space for more Silent Shadow-related news and artwork!

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