Q&A: TBSkyen on League of Legends comics, RPGs and freelance pay

Slingshot contributor Amanda Stevens, host of The Analyst Desk podcast, had the chance to talk with TBSkyen, a popular esports artist who produces his work on Caster Comix. The transcribed interview is below:

Amanda Stevens: I think the most basic thing I can start this interview with is what does the TB stand for in TBSkyen?

TBSkyen: (The) first website I really started frequenting and found a community of friends on is a Danish art site called Tegnebordet.dk (lit: “the drawing board”). It’s also where I first used the handle “Skyen.” Since that handle has taken on a lot of other platforms, I threw in “TB” as a sort of identifier that that’s where “I was from,” as well as an homage to my origins.

AS: Oh, so Skyen ISN’T your name? This is why they tell me not to assume things. Does Skyen mean anything?

TBSkyen: It’s the Danish word for “the cloud.” Our definite article happens in conjugation – i.e. “sky” = cloud, “EN sky” = a cloud and “skyEN” = THE cloud. Originally, my handle on that website was Cloud Strife because I was 13 and had just discovered PS1 RPGs, my friends on the site eventually pet-named me “Skyen”.

And that’s what I stuck with, if for no other reason that there is literally no website on the internet where every possible permutation of “Cloud Strife” isn’t already taken.

AS: I mean, but do you really want to be thought of as an emo dude with absurdly long blonde hair? So, you’ve been a gamer for a while then. What type of games do you mainly play?

TBSkyen: I think, all of them?

Okay that’s a cop-out answer. I tend to play RPGs most of all, with RTS and turn-based strategy a close second. But I play almost anything I can get my hands on. It’s only really twitchy FPS and sports games that I never seem to enjoy.

AS: Alright, time to put your feet to the fire than. Fill in the blank. “The best RPG of all time is…”

TBSkyen: Oh come now, that’s EASY, it’s Final Fantasy VI!

AS: Well, you’re wrong, but that’s OK. Wanna defend yourself?

TBSkyen: Huge ensemble cast, distinct and interesting visual design, every character has a fully realized storyline (except Gogo, I admit, but that’s the joke) and there’s a sequence where they perform an opera to lure in a gambling sky-pirate, but the plan is almost foiled by a vengeful purple octopus, who they fight as the orchestra plays. Say what you will about modern AAA RPGs but they all take themselves WAY too seriously to ever pull off a set piece like that, especially not the Final Fantasy series. FFVI represents a unique place in time where great RPGs told enormous, world-spanning stories without losing sight of the human stories that makes characters interesting. FFIX managed to recapture some of it (in that brief moment before we slid inevitably towards Implausibly Gorgeous Teenagers Save The World From Nonspecific Evil) but FFVI did it much better. I’ve yet to encounter a game that is nearly so completely realized and fleshed out.

AS: Well put. I can jive with that. My answer would have been Final Fantasy Tactics. What lead you to playing League of Legends?

TBSkyen: I came to League by probably the most standard of paths: I had a friend who was into it and he wanted someone to play with. This was back in the twilight of Season 2, and I played for a while and then lost interest when my friend did. On a random whim I decided to watch the S2 world championships and that was my first real introduction to esports – a baited hook which has kept me thrashing in the water ever since.


AS: What keeps you coming back then? League is VERY different than it was in Season 2.

TBSkyen: And that’s what keeps me coming back. Riot has hit on, I think, the right approach for securing League’s longevity by constantly being willing to change core aspects of the game season to season. I mean, killing of green wards is kind of a big deal, trinkets did a lot to alter the game, completely reworking Dragon, introducing the Herald, monster timers…not that all these changes have been uniformly successful, but it means that I’ve never really felt like League was “figured out.” Yeah, you do 1-1-2 and a jungler, generally, but do you prioritize Dragon now? Or towers? Lane swap? Pressure or stall? It used to be that Dragon was a no-brainer because free gold, but now a lot of teams play almost entirely Dragon-free strategies as a viable option where giving them up doesn’t automatically set you behind or rubber-band an opponent.

Also, Riot’s visual updates just tickle every right bone in my artist’s body. From the SR update (my GOD was old SR ugly in hind-sight) to VUs and the humongously increased design quality of new champions coming out.

So yeah. I like that League is never really the same game it was last year.

AS: I think that’s the appeal of most esport titles. That because of patches for competitive play, the game is always evolving which keeps it from getting incredibly stale. This is going to be some serious Hawkman style continuity jumping, but how’d you get interested in drawing?

TBSkyen:  Two words: Dragon Ball.

Manga came to Denmark in the early 2000s and outside of a run of Akira it had never really had a presence in Denmark before. Every 13-year-old boy picked up the issues every month, which sparked a bit of a rush of “whatever is popular right now” titles being translated and shipped over. It was a bubble, but for a kid who grew up on Disney comics and Franco/Belgian classic comics like Asterix and Lucky Luke, Dragon Ball was like an glorious kick in the face. Characters would SWEAR! And there were NAKED BREASTS IN IT! And they’d power up really big and go “RHHAHAHHAHAHA” and fire LASER BEAMS FROM THEIR HANDS.

What I’m saying is I turned into a weeb almost instantly.


The bubble also prompted publishing houses to put out a rush of extremely bad “How to Draw Manga” books – and I picked one up. My particular poison was How To Draw Manga by Katy Coope (Google it sometime. It’s hilarious), and I immediately started creating bad OCs and Dragon Ball fan-characters and drawing crappy comic strips.

This leads back to our introductory question, by the way, I came to Tegnebordet.dk and got my handle exactly BECAUSE I had all these dumb drawings and wanted to show them off somewhere.

As a side-note, despite the How To Draw Manga book being almost comically bad, what it did do for me was get me started, which is a lot more important. If any aspiring artist reads this, doing it “right” is not even one iota as important as just getting it DONE. Make shit, fuck up and learn. That’s how you become an artist.

AS: This brings me to the conclusion that you are a HUGE nerd. What was the catalyst for Caster Comix?

TBSkyen: HOW DARE YOU, MADAM! I will have you know that I am a GIGANTIC nerd, and this slanderous accusation of being merely a “huge” one will not stand!

Caster Comix happened for the same reason that most things I draw happen: I saw something interesting, my brain spun it into a narrative and bugged me until I gave in and put it to paper. Drawing comics about things is just part of how I express myself, so the first Caster Comix didn’t happen with any intent to create a series or make it a thing. In fact, I didn’t even know if esports would keep me interested for more than a couple of months at the time.

But then Reddit picked up on it and nothing motivates an artist like an audience and three years later here we are!

AS: Yeah, Reddit took to it with fervor. When working on the first comic, did you have an internal thought process that it was going to be as received as it was?

TBSkyen: None whatsoever. I mean I just liked the casters and had a dumb idea about shoutcasting breakfast in my head – point in fact I actually had a webcomic going at the time that had a small but dedicated audience (it has since died) , so there was no notion in my head that there would be an audience for it outside of the casters depicted in it. It was just a thing I drew as a one-off – even the name “Caster Comix” only really came about because I had a habit of naming my dumb one-shot comics “comix” as a self-referential meta-joke on the fact that there would only ever really be ONE of them and therefore the plural ending was ironic and now do you see what I mean when I said I am a GIGANTIC nerd?


AS: (laughs) I do I do. I have to say, one of my favorite moments of Caster Comix has to do less with the casters and more with NA/EU Finals. With Origen and Fnatic having their epic Dragon Ball Z-esque battle and CLG winning and the fans wondering when CLG was going to choke while they hold up the Cup. Where’d that idea come from?

TBSkyen: Well the Dragon Ball fight sequence just came from my childhood obsession with that comic – I always wanted to draw something like it, but never really had the skills. After Fnatic’s monstrous run through the LCS they seemed as unstoppable as a Dragon Ball villain before Goku shows up, and with Origen FINALLY landing some solid hits on them in the finals, it seemed like an obvious opportunity to flex that muscle a bit. Christ, did I regret it while I was doing it, though – SO MANY PANELS!

As for CLG, I was just taking unfair shots at the poor guys for choking and choking and choking and choking and choking and choking and choking again in big games. A lot of my jokes do tend to be some variation on “minor quality taken to illogical extremes.”

AS: Are there any moments that you look back at and go “jeez, that was a missed opportunity for a gag” or anything like that?

TBSkyen: I do. A lot. The thing about being an artist is, you can very rarely look at old work and appreciate it. You only see all the ways in which you’ve gotten better and all the things you’d alter, edit and change if you re-made that piece today. Also, just the sheer constraints of real life have kept me from doing a whole heck of a lot of comics.

Back in Season 3, for instance, SK Gaming once left their gaming house and forgot to bring their top-laner Kev1n along. I believe they accidentally locked him in the house, too. I am salty TO THIS DAY that I didn’t get to draw an elaborate Home Alone parody comic based on that. HE WAS LEFT HOME ALONE AND HE WAS CALLED KEV1N, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO PERFECT!

AS: Missed opportunity. I am actually disappointed in you, Skyen. You’ve done a casting for streams meant for people new to League of Legends. Would you ever consider exploring casting more?

TBSkyen: Hmm. Yes and no. I do want to continue doing the beginner-friendly LCS videos for the summer split, because frankly the LCS NEEDS some sort of intro-option to help new viewers get into the games (Riot Please!), but outside of that I am just too pressed for time between university, commission work, Caster Comix and all the other things I spend my time on. What little shoutcasting I’ve done has also made it extremely clear to me just how difficult of a thing casting is to do well. You don’t just sit down and talk, it’s more like you’re giving a live reportage AND an academic lecture on something that’s going on as you speak. You get dry-mouthed very fast and the information-filtering is incredibly hard to do well.

So yeah. If I had enough time to dedicate to developing that skill, I’d love to learn it, and maybe cast some actual tournaments here and there. Not in the cards at the moment though, sadly

But hey, if my Patreon starts paying my bills, maybe I’ll have the time to dedicate to it.

AS: An artist has to eat, so I can relate. Speaking of freelancing and Patreon, you’ve been known to tweet about freelancer rights. Do you want to chime in on the Montecristo/DoA/PapaSmithy MSI situation?


TBSkyen: Well, yeah. I can’t speak for shoutcasting or esports talent, but what I know as a freelance artist is that people working below market value ABSOLUTELY drives down the value of the profession as a whole. Clients charming or coercing free work out of young artist is a tale as old as time (and one you can observe every time a company has a “contest” to design their new logo in exhange for a t-shirt or some similar, ridiculous compensation), and it absolutely hurts us as a craft. 99% of the paid work I’ve done has been far below minimum wage for where I live.

Some would argue that “them’s just the breaks” and that the market determines what my work is worth, and to a certain extent that’s true, but the simple fact is that every movie, book, shop, website, magazine, paper, billboard, t-shirt, CD, brand, company and local sports-club on the planet ABSOLUTELY needs artists and designers to make them logos, mascots, promotional material and entire brand identities. Our work isn’t a luxurious frivolity; it’s a cornerstone of the modern free market. So yeah, when companies take advantage of young artists, and then tell the experienced ones who demand their worth “well, we can get this kid to do it for free,” that hurts our business and artifically tanks our prices.

Therefore, I have a lot of sympathy with Monte, DoA and PapaSmithy when they say that taking work below market rates – even on a major event like MSI – would hurt the market for their profession. As far as I know, Riot has not officially commented yet, so I won’t presume to know their internal reasoning for their position. I also completely understand the argument that Riot’s impressive in-house stable of talent means that freelancers are economically less valuable to them than to, say, an event like Dreamhack or the Dota majors who have to hire their casting staff per event. In that sense, the economic incentive to take on freelancers is probably a lot smaller for Riot, since they don’t NEED outside talent to pull off an event like MSI anymore.

It’s disappointing to me as a freelancer to hear that Riot underbids talent, but I don’t think they’re either evil or underhanded for doing so, nor do they have a moral obligation to offer what the freelancers want. I applaud the OGN casters for passing on a huge event to take a stand for their commercial worth. That takes a lot of guts, but I’m not about to join the people who cast Riot as the literal Satan of esports for not paying what the freelancers want. It’s business partners failing to reach an equitable agreement, not the Rebel Alliance blowing up the Death Star.

I’ll add that in the work I’ve done for Riot personally, I have ALWAYS been compensated fairly and on time, and the people I know who’ve done similar freelance work say the same.

AS: Let’s try to end this interview on a more positive note. Well, actually, it may not be all that positive. Who do you expect to represent the EU LCS at MSI?

TBSkyen: Oh dear. Well, with the caveat that I’m a cartoonist and not an analyst, my heart really wants Origen to find their form again and rush to a win in the playoffs, but realistically we’re looking at H2K or G2, and since I think G2 might prove to be the weaker of those teams in a series, probably it’s gonna be H2K carrying the EU torch.

But who knows, Fnatic could find some of that IEM spark again and take wins just off their experience with series and extra prep time.

Facebook Comments