Lessons from the week’s webcomics reading: 5/16/2012

My webcomics feed was full of all kinds of knowledge this morning. Here are a few morsels that felt particularly meaningful: • xkcd taught me to be grateful that Apple hasn’t named an OS iteration “Ocelot” yet. • Scenes from a Multiverse taught me that if Jon Rosenberg ever starts a band, that bunny panel … Read moreLessons from the week’s webcomics reading: 5/16/2012

Warmoth on Webcomics: John Allison

[Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a staggered out series of some of my favorite webcomics creator interviews that previously ran on WizardUniverse.com and were a part of the site’s archives that are no longer hosted there. John Allison’s Scary Go Round just posted its final installment and in going back through the archives I decided to drag this out for the blog. This interview was originally posted on December 22, 2006.]

Scary Go Round
(from Scary Go Round by John Allison)

John Allison’s webcomic Scary Go Round stitches a world of frightfully bizarre and at times even Lovecraftian happenings together with a brilliantly quirky cast indicative of his understatedly British sense of humor. A former web designer, Allison has made the lifestyle switch to working on his comic full time and designing snazzy T-shirts, which he sells on the side. I reached around the globe to gently pick Allison’s brain about the webcomics scene from where he stands, how he brought up Scary Go Round and when he’s coming back to the U.S.

Before you had started your first webcomic, Bobbins, what was your comics background like, what had you done, and why did you decide to give the Internet a go for publishing it?

I had no comics background at all! I had drawn comics like every comic-reading youth does—sporadically, and badly! When I was 17 or 18 I had an idea about drawing comics for common people, because I was embarrassed to go into comic shops with my friends. This was the era of “bad girl” comics and racks of covers with giant, anatomically bizarre cleavage. Comic books, [before] the manga explosion and mainstreaming of titles like Ghost World and the crossover of people like James Kochalka, seemed to be aimed at a tiny demographic that didn’t include me anymore. So I decided to make a comic strip (which I figured was “legit”) and submit it to syndicates. I colored my black-and-white samples in and put them on the Internet just to show I knew how to color things in, and that’s how I started publishing comics on the web in 1998.

What was your experience like looking for print syndication?

I submitted to King Features and Universal Features, once. The first 25 strip cartoons I had ever drawn! The hubris of this now staggers me but I was young and indestructible. I received nice, encouraging letters back from both—King Features were particularly generous with their comments considering what I had sent them. By the time they replied, I had got a job as a magazine designer but decided to carry on making five comics a week, reasoning that if I hadn’t “made it” in five years, I would give up. I actually drew my first proper month’s wages from my comic four years and 11 months later.

Read moreWarmoth on Webcomics: John Allison

Warmoth on Webcomics: Cameron Stewart

[Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of some of my favorite webcomics creator interviews that previously ran on WizardUniverse.com and were a part of the site’s archives that are no longer hosted there. Cameron Stewart, of Sin Titulo and Seaguy fame for me is still one of the most interesting and versatile creators working in comics right now, and the Transmission-X project he put together with his fellow creators is one of the best examples I’ve seen of how to put an ongoing webcomics anthology together. This interview was originally posted on November 9, 2007.]

Cameron Stewart is already a respected and Eisner-nominated name in comic book artwork coming out of his Vertigo series Other Side. He’s also worked with A-list names like Grant Morrison and Brian Azzarello. Stewart has further aspirations, however. Right now, he’s writing and drawing his own webcomic serial Sin Titulo as part of his Toronto based collective Transmission-X with Karl Kerschl and Ramón Pérez.

Sin Titulo follows a main character searching for answers about his grandfather’s death after he goes to visit the nursing home and discovers that no one notified him that his grandpa died. The story takes some screeching and unsettling turns as Stewart has honed his scripting talents, which as I found out speaking with him, dealt with some issues very close to home.

I caught him in the middle of the day at his Canadian studio and asked him about his writing aspirations, as well as where autobiography helped shape Sin Titulo, and he was remarkably forthcoming.

BRIAN WARMOTH: How’s stuff going at the studio right now? Is everyone still on schedule?

STEWART: Amazingly, yes. We set it up so that everyone has a week to do one page. We want one update a week from everybody, and everybody’s stuck to it so far. We have a little informal penalty system. Every week, we all go for brunch on Saturday, and whoever fails to update their strip has to buy brunch for everybody—and there’s eight people, so that’s going to be expensive. That’s kept everybody motivated.

It’s a bold endeavor putting that many people together for a webcomic project. Virtually no one can publish for a year without missing a single deadline. But with that many creators together, there’s a lot of inter-reliance. 

STEWART: When you’re doing it alone there’s no sense of consequence if you fail. If nothing else, even if we didn’t buy each other brunch we’d just mock each other terribly if anyone failed to do it. We’ve been up since July, and no one’s missed a day yet, though. There have been some close calls, but everyone’s managed to—like Indiana Jones pulling his cap as the stone wall’s coming down—just make it.

Read moreWarmoth on Webcomics: Cameron Stewart

Warmoth on Webcomics: Kit Roebuck

[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of some of my favorite webcomics creator interviews that previously ran on WizardUniverse.com and were a part of the site’s archives that are no longer hosted there. Kit Roebuck’s Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life isn’t only one of my favorite webcomics of all time. It’s also one of my favorite comics. As a lover of Kerouac, Beat literature, and sci-fi, this comic snagged me from the moment I read it for its craftsmanship, technically innovative format, and its simplicity. This interview was originally posted on September 7, 2007.]

If Jack Kerouac had been manufactured in the future as a metal robot, his classic hipster novel On the Road might have resembled Kit Roebuck’s webcomic opus Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life. The planet-by-planet voyage now spans a half-decade since the webcomic launched in 2003. While he has since taken several sabbaticals during the run, Roebuck shrugs off those who complain that he doesn’t maintain a weekly release schedule. The pseudonym-toting Georgian behind George and Ben—two unemployed robots in search of their purpose in the solar system—has a day job.

Thankfully, I was able to reach Roebuck after hours to casually slide in a few questions about when new chapters might be on their way. (Roebuck winked my way that a new episode could be on its way by the time this interview gets posted, so click over to Nine Planets posthaste and see if he made good.) The artist, who dabbles in painting in addition to his comics work, was obliged—though adamant that he is not a comic professional—to converse about his intentions and aspirations for his webcomic. He told me about his brother’s role in putting his site together and his love for the infinite canvas of webcomics, which far too few creators take advantage of. Over the course of the late afternoon chat, I got to step behind the perspective of a webcomicker who unabashedly is not in his craft for the money, and relishes everything that that entails.

BRIAN WARMOTH: I liked the description you used of Nine Planets when you referred to it as a sandcastle you find along the seashore. For the purposes of Cursory Conversation, I wanted to get a feel for what you’ve been building there from time to time and how it’s coming along, since new strips do pop up sometimes. When do you think new episodes might be appearing?

ROEBUCK: I think it’s just going to be whenever I get back to it. The reason I haven’t ever said this is on hiatus is because I’m not really on hiatus. I just haven’t done it in six months.

I’m assuming with the whole “nine planets” concept you have an endpoint you’d eventually like to hit. Is there a goal at the end of the road for the story?

ROEBUCK: Oh yeah. It may change, but it’s going to go out to Pluto. We’ll be following the nine-planet structure from before these smaller-planets-rearrangement things started to happen.

It’s a unique part of making a story as a webcomic that you can change it as people are reading it.

ROEBUCK: [Laughs] Yeah, and because of the flow I can change my mind.

Read moreWarmoth on Webcomics: Kit Roebuck

Warmoth on Webcomics: Jonathan Rosenberg

[Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of some of my favorite webcomics creator interviews that previously ran on WizardUniverse.com and were a part of the site’s archives that are no longer hosted there. Jon Rosenberg’s Goats is one of those webcomics that could really have only been born in webcomics. He’s also one of my favorite individual creators in the webcomic world. Hearing that the strip is getting released in 2009 in a series of print volumes from Del Rey made me really happy. This interview was originally posted on September 25, 2006.]

Jonathan Rosenberg’s webcomic Goats has been raking in the hits since he first launched it 1997. Nine years later, the creator is making a living off of his surreal fantasy strips that shift settings and characters as often as he pleases and long ago dumped his daily journal format for outer space, demonic chickens and extra-dimensional exploits.

BRIAN WARMOTH: Goats started off as an autobiographical strip and morphed into something else all together. What changed along the way, and why did you change creative gears so drastically?

JONATHAN ROSENBERG: One of the things I hate about newspaper comics today is how static they are, how unmoving the styles and characters and plots can be. An audience can tell when an artist is uninterested in their work, when they’re phoning it in. So you’ve got to keep the work interesting, keep creating fresh challenges for yourself. If you’re not learning and growing then it becomes this repetitive, pointless exercise. After ten years I’ve found a way to integrate change into the nature of the strip, so that it becomes a part of how the strip functions. These characters have a literally unlimited universe to play in and/or kill each other. Anything can happen. It’s always new for me, so I’m having fun with it, and I hope that makes it more fun for a reader as well.

This isn’t the sort of thing that would fly in a traditional newspaper environment, but as an independent artist I don’t need to appeal to the same aunts-and-uncles demographic that a newspaper does. Aunts and uncles always want to see the same thing on their comics pages. They feel safe from Soviet attacks when they see good ol’ Dagwood eating one of his large sandwiches. They love consistency above all.

My life is far too boring for me to take the sort of interest in it that a daily comic strip would require. It would mostly be a strip about me running out of breakfast cereal. I prefer fictional autobiographies to the real ones.

Read moreWarmoth on Webcomics: Jonathan Rosenberg

Warmoth on Webcomics: Nicholas Gurewitch

[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of some of my favorite webcomics creator interviews that previously ran on WizardUniverse.com and were a part of the site’s archives that are no longer hosted there. What Gary Larson Far Side was to me in fifth grade, Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship is to me now. It’s definitely one of those webcomics that’s jumped the planet into the larger awareness of comics. More and more are doing it every day. This was originally posted on January 3, 2007.]

Nicholas Gurewitch squirms a bit when you try to pigeonhole The Perry Bible Fellowship as a webcomic. The comic creator got his start at Syracuse University with the campus newspaper The Daily Orange. Gurewitch has long since taken his comics to the Web and expanded across the globe on the Internet and in print, landing spots in Maxim and The Guardian. We pulled Gurewitch away from his craft for a few minutes to talk about his vast arsenal of art styles and the year ahead, which he says will include his first full book of PBF comics.

BRIAN WARMOTH: You’re slated to introduce a screening of Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” at a local theater next week. Is it one of your favorite films?

GUREWITCH: I don’t know if it’s one of my favorites, but I’m really attracted to the techniques involved, and they were looking for someone to introduce the flick, and I said I’d love to.

Is filmmaking something you’d be interested in pursuing?

GUREWITCH: I’m always writing scripts. I’m trying to crank out a feature [length] right now.

I’m trying to expand some things into a longer form, and I guess one way of doing that is by writing a movie. I’ve always been interested in film, though. It’s what I went to school for.

What areas did you focus on? Writing, production or directing…?

GUREWITCH: All of it. Production.

Neat. I guess that begs the question of what else you’re into. Are you spinning anything else on the side right now?

GUREWITCH: Not a ton. I’ve always been drawing pictures, and I dabbled in superhero comics in my youth. I actually had a piece in Wizard [issue #88] at one point. It was one of the envelope art things. I really liked it. It had Scud the Disposable Assassin on it.

Read moreWarmoth on Webcomics: Nicholas Gurewitch

Warmoth on Webcomics: Randall Munroe

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of some of my favorite webcomics creator interviews that previously ran on WizardUniverse.com and were a part of the site’s archives that are no longer hosted there. This was one of those chats that was almost intimidating to gear up for, being that xkcd’s Randall Munroe may be one of the smartest webcomickers out there. It was originally posted on July 27, 2007.]

It’s really easy to make a bad comic out of stick figures. I’ve been churning them out and handily irking authority figures with such images since preschool. Randall Munroe, by contrast, has elevated stick-figure diagrams to high and hilarious art. If there’s a genre in which to pigeonhole xkcd, the comic belongs atop the heap of nerdy jokes doodled every day during boring physics lectures around the world which, unsurprisingly enough, is how xkcd got its start.

It’s hard to imagine a cooler job than testing out cutting-edge robots for NASA, which Munroe freely admits, but imagining another job is exactly what he did, and now he has a fulltime gig as a webcomicker. Munroe took a break from work for a quick “Cursory Conversation” about which is cooler: making robots or making comics; as well as to talk about how xkcd got to where it is now and, thankfully for xkcd readers everywhere, how one is supposed to pronounce its title.

BRIAN WARMOTH: When you say your webcomic’s name in conversation how do you refer to it?

RANDALL MUNROE: I say “X-K-C-D” and I’ve noticed sometimes when I try to say it fast I often skip over the “C” and so it’s like “X-K-D” or something like that.

I read the description of the comic’s name on your site and you said it’s not supposed to be an acronym for anything. So how did you put those letters together?

MUNROE: I was sitting up very late one night. I was trying to pick a screen name on AOL or one of their related services and I was trying to come up with a text to represent me unambiguously. So I thought, “Okay, I want a short group of letters and nothing with meaning or nothing with any obvious interpretations,“ and so I just started picking letters that I kind of liked that couldn’t be confused with other letters and that looked good together without any pronunciation. I wanted the “L” in there, but “L” can be confused with “I,” like a lowercase “L” and a capital “I.” So I went through a number of them that were already registered screen names until I finally hit “xkcd.” The whole plan was to do it unambiguously representing me, and then I ruined that by making it into a comic, so now it’s not clear whether “xkcd” means me or my comic or what.

Read moreWarmoth on Webcomics: Randall Munroe