Archive | September, 2012

No interview this week

25 Sep

Will be out of town this week so there will be no interview this week


Interview with Ronnie Filyaw (Whomp!)

21 Sep

The key to making a good autobiographical webcomic is honesty. Few, however, are quite as honest as Ronnie Filyaw’s Whomp! While some other authors may be willing to depict their faults and anxieties, Filyaw seems to relish characterising himself as short, round and paralysed by self-doubt. But this honesty is the key to the strip’s success: reading about Ronnie’s daily suffering is strangely relatable and, of course, incredibly funny.

First of all, why the title Whomp!?
Well, the term comes from the Mario games, as well as Recess, a Saturday morning cartoon in the nineties. I like the word because it depicts a very active, interesting world where things just… HAPPEN. It’s an active and sudden thing. That’s what I want from my comics, and I think Whomp! says that well.

Whomp is in many ways autobiographical. Part of the reason why Ronnie is such a likeable character is because of the brutally honest way he is depicted. How important is honesty when making comics of an autobiographical nature?
I am always willing to make myself seem worse for the ‘camera’ but I don’t like making myself look better. Comedy comes first. Pretty much anything that isn’t too personal in my life can get put on the page. I’m a pretty open person in how I’ll talk about my life and habits, so it’s easy to put that on paper without worrying how it’ll portray me.

Ronnie has become more characterised as the series has developed. So how autobiographical would you say Whomp! is?
While some of my comics are dead on the nose straight occurrences from life, others are obviously twisted a bit to fit the narrative. But mostly, I try to make sure it’s something that’s always in character for Ronnie. The other characters often depict those around me who I don’t want to write directly into the comic. Everyone on Earth does silly, funny things, and it’s easy to make a character that isn’t them so you can pick at life’s silliness without embarrassing anyone.

Is writing Whomp! therapeutic at all?
When I’m not banging my head against a wall trying to write a comic, or worrying about whether the most recent comic was funny at all, yeah it can help. Being open about the dumb things in my brain makes them easier to deal with, especially when other people chime in with their similar feelings. ‘Whomp!’ brings us together. Misery loves company, you know.

There are hints of other works such as Horribleville in your comic. What are your influences?
When I first started, yeah I had read every Gunshow and Horribleville twice. I’d made webcomics in the past, but they were all generic crap that wasn’t worth the bandwith it took to upload them. When I read KC Green’s work I realized this was a guy who was weird like me, and I wanted to tap into that part of myself. I aped on his style in the beginning, but I quickly tried to move away from it, and I can safely say that after the first few months I was going completely on my own awful brain juice.

That embarrassing fact out of the way, I was also really into Spongebob. Love me some Spongebob. (KC wrote a Spongebob comic for Nickelodeon magazine, but that’s just a coincidence, promise!)

The comic was less clearly defined during it’s early stages with Ronnie becoming the main focus later. What advice would you offer to budding artists/writers for finding a series’ focus?
Draw 30 comics. Don’t put them on the internet. You have no idea what you want to do yet, unless you’re a creative type who has written a lot of complete stories. You also don’t know if this is what you want to do. If you can stick to a strict schedule for 30 comics you may be able to keep it, and you’ll have found your voice before putting a single thing out there for people to see. I know it’s hard to tell someone to not display their hard work right away, but you’ll feel better when you know what you want to do. Ever see the first two seasons of… any show ever? They often change and evolve into something more polished and interesting by the third seasons, and that’s where you want to start watching. (Mostly I’m thinking of Star Trek: TNG and Seinfeld here, but I’m sure something else works)

It’s quite interesting that ‘Motivation Dude’ is portrayed as being violent, angry and evil at times. Is his characterisation based on your own attitude towards motivation?
Pretty much. He’s a simple portrayal of my own self-loathing that drives me to be less of a crap. He is an ascetic figure, beating me with the proverbial cat o’nine tails, driving me forward. If I don’t want to work, or a comic I wrote is just poor, I can almost hear him saying “You’re stupid, you know that? You can do better.” He always thinks I can do better. It surprises me every time, and that’s why I keep going.

Are there any comics that stand out of favourites?
The dark ones. The one where M Dude says Anime/Manga sucks, and Ronnie is trying to kill himself; that’s a favourite. Also the one where M Dude is holding a gun to Ronnie’s head; that’s a favourite. I fear things like death/dismemberment, so when I make fun of them they don’t seem too bad. I don’t know why those are my favourite comics, but they definitely stick out at me. (Oh, and the one where he jumps in the wood chipper)

What’s the response been like from readers?
Outpouringly positive with very little negative. 4chan’s /co/ and /v/ have had some very kind threads about my work, and the official Whomp! Facebook page rarely has anything negative on it. Lots of nice tweets, too. I got a lot of “me too” responses. I like when it connects with people.

You are quite the Twitterer, do you feel Twitter is a useful tool for webcomic artists?
I think I could Twitter even more than I do now. I like talking to my readers and friends, just saying stuff. Little stupid one-off jokes, or a thought I’m having. Really I’m using it for its intent, I guess. Something not worthy of a proper blog entry goes into the Twitter. Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough, though. If only it were 141. That would solve all of the problems. As for marketing/exposure? I don’t really think about that stuff anymore. No amount of effort you’ll ever put into getting your comic noticed is going to be as powerful as the random meme that comes from it, causing it to explode in popularity. Be active somewhere with a lot of people, and eventually you’ll get noticed (for better or worse).

Finally, why does Agrias still live with Ronnie after all she has to put up with?
Agrias tried to find a better place to live in an early story arc, but didn’t like her choices. Also, the rent is cheap and it’s close to her job. On a personal level, I like to think their friendship supersedes simple annoyances and approaches a near family status, much in the same way a little brother is annoying to his sister.

Interview with Patrick Alexander (Hilarity Comics, Raymondo Person and Others…)

14 Sep

Like others interviewed, Patrick Alexander has an extremely large body of work to boast of: the extremely funny adventures of a stick figure in Raymondo Person, satire of the gaming community in his work for EEGRA, the far more random and bizarre characters in Hilarity Comics as well as countless other comics. Though famous for often finding humour in the filthy and lewd what demonstrates Patrick Alexander’s skills as a cartoonist is his ability to create characters and settings that are extremely funny regardless of the tone or audience.
WARNING: interview contains some foul language.

The EEGRA Hilarity comics often focused on the gaming community and gaming webcomics instead of video-games themselves. Why did you choose these sources for comedy?
Those comics probably went down well with the many people who love video-games but were tired of being spoken for by a minority of self-identified ‘gamers’ who all too often are frothing half-wits with idiotic views. But it may be that the self-identified ‘gamers’ enjoyed those comics too! It can feel nice to be acknowledged.

Probably another reason I kept drawing strips that had nothing to do with specific video-games is that I couldn’t keep up with what everyone was playing at the time. Doesn’t mean I don’t love video-games! And I expect a big chunk of the EEGRA audience were other people in the exact same position.

Also, browsing old comics I think there was something really fun about portraying video-games as being a pastime for dorks, nerds, losers and idiots. Because most video-game webcomics are created by dorks, nerds, losers and idiots but portraying themselves as the raddest dudes on the block. If I was a dorky kid and I draw a comic about being a dorky kid other people are going to read that and think ‘Haha, oh God, Jesus, yes! That was me!’ But if I then go ‘And then that dorky kid grows up and gets REVENGE!’ I think I would lose that audience except, perhaps, the people who were dorky kids and have not grown up since. And I did a lot of strips about those guys too.

They also acknowledged and avoided cliches frequently found in gaming webcomics. Are there any topics you’d advise a potential gaming webcomic writer to avoid?
I would recommend avoiding being a gaming webcomic writer altogether! Although EEGRA raised my profile a lot and I’m really proud of those comics so perhaps I shouldn’t say that. There’s nothing wrong with having a specific topic for your webcomic – it gives you a starting point, which is nice, and an instant audience, which is nice too.

All I would say is that there’s got to be some honesty in what you do. It doesn’t have to be raw ‘I was touched as a child’ honesty; just your personality coming through. Don’t create a fantasy persona for yourself. Just express yourself, say what you want to say and the rest should come naturally.

I haven’t read gaming webcomics in forever but I always felt that Awkward Zombie was an example of what one ought to be. It’s very specifically about video-games, and yet there’s not a single strip that doesn’t feel like an expression of Katie Tiedrich’s personality. She never drew what she thought her ‘fellow gamers’ wanted to read; she drew whatever was funny to her. And what do you know? It was funny to other people as well! The point is, you should trust yourself.

What was the genesis of Raymondo Person?
I was doodling stick-figures one time and having a lot of fun and thought “this way is better than putting effort in,” and decided to give the stick-figure a name. Of course I ended up putting heaps of effort in anyway. Can’t avoid it.

Tobias and Jube were originally children’s characters yet in Raymondo Person they are found in far more ‘adult’ situations. Why did you make this change for the characters?
The characters didn’t change at all. They express themselves more freely in Raymondo Person. I admit that it was a lot of fun taking my children’s characters and making them swear and fuck and stuff, but at the same time adults speak and behave differently when there are children present. They’re not being fake or dishonest, they’re just being appropriate.

You left Raymondo Person with the possibility you may return to it someday. Do you feel this is likely any time in the future?

Your comics can be quite adult in theme and grotesque in style. What attracts you to these traits?
It’s complicated. I will not deny that I experience a certain glee when I include taboo things in my work knowing how people might react. But at the same time, I didn’t make them taboo. There are gross and bad things in my comics, but there’s also a lot of sweetness and cuteness and joy. Some people only notice the gross and bad things probably because they are less used to such stuff compared to the sweet and cute things. But it’s all the same to me.

Artists should have standards, not limits. Some people seem to have it backwards. I don’t think there’s anything outrageous about diarrhoea or sex or the word ‘fuck’. What really shits me is cartoonists, comedians and others who mock the weak and oppressed and then have this attitude of “Yeah, my comedy’s pretty OUT THERE! Can’t censor me!” when in fact all they’re doing is reinforcing the status quo from a position of privilege It’s not only offensive, it’s boring.

I’m not going to declare that that sort of shit has never slipped into my work. It may have, especially when I was younger. And it may again despite my best efforts. But the point is that it is rarely my intention to offend people: I just do my best to be funny. And when I do try to offend people, it’s people who ought to be offended – the thin-skinned bastards at the top.

I do like the grotesque – I like gross, fat weirdos with funny faces. Even my nice or benign characters (outside of Raymondo) tend to be gross rather than cute. There’s two reasons I can think of for this: firstly, funny faces are funny. Secondly, my deepest instinct is that cartoon characters shouldn’t be cool dudes. Like those fucking Gorillaz. Fuck those laid-back, iconic rockstar bastards; fucking pretend monkeys making more money than I do and driving expensive cars and shit. What the hell is that about?

Why does Garfield appear so much in your work?
Garfield was the first comic of any kind that I was exposed to in a more-than-fleeting way, and probably one of the reasons I decided I was a cartoonist. I was a dedicated Garfield fan throughout my childhood. So Garfield is there in my head. On top of that, he’s such a popular, pervasive and benign cultural icon that he’s fun to fuck around with. I am hardly alone when it comes to playing silly buggers with Garfield.

You have worked for Dark Horse Comics, what was that experience like?
It was very nice, and will continue to be nice in the near future!

Having made comics for both physical publications and the internet do you feel there are any significant differences between the two mediums?
There could be in theory, but generally I think the differences are negligible in practice. Most webcartoonists hold a thought in the back of their heads that says “It would be nice if this were a book one day,” and that informs the way they make their comics. Books are a lot nicer but the internet is a lot more convenient. The two media ocomplement each other pretty well, if you choose to use both as vessels for the same work.

Outside of the US and Canada, Australia seems to have the largest webcomic community. Do you feel there is a strong community of Australian webcomic writers? Do you feel there is anything inherently Australian about your work?
I don’t feel qualified to comment on the existence of an Australian ‘webcomics community’ or any sort of community really. The universe I inhabit is just me and my mates, and some of my mates are cartoonists and a few of them put their stuff on the internet. That’s all I can tell you.

As for the Australian-ness of my work: since it comes out of me, I expect it’s as Australian as I am. But who knows what that means? I don’t make comics for an exclusively Australian audience, but I am an Australian and I don’t make any attempt to disguise that in order to appease some imagined international market or demographic. But then again, some might regard me as an
internationalised or somehow other-than-typical Australian. I don’t think about it too much.

I would like to imagine my comics have universal appeal, but also possess a hard-to-put-your-finger-on-something-or-other that marks them as the work of an Australian. Far more important than that though, I want them marked as the work of Patrick Alexander. Patch did these comics; Patch made them great; Patch gave them their character and appeal and the national culture can get rooted.

Finally, what are your plans for the future?
I’ve heard that if you talk too much about your plans they’ll never happen. Better to get the ideas of your head by doing rather than talking, you know?

But, fuck it: I’m going to print a Raymondo Person book. Stay tuned for the Indiegogo campaign.

Interview with Ryan Armand (Minus, Great and Others…)

7 Sep

Ryan Armand is the Eisner-nominated creator of several successful webcomics. Minus, for which he received his nomination, Great and many more found on his website, Kiwis By Beat. Though each series differs they are share the wondrous and joyful style which sets Armand’s work out as his own.

What was it like receiving the Eisner nomination for Minus?
It was interesting. I went to the ceremony and sat in the general audience with a friend. When the webcomics nominees came up someone sitting in front of me said “Yeah, Minus!” and I debated whether I should tap them on the shoulder and say “CREATED BY ME.” In the end I decided against it.

It appears that Minus, from it’s beginning, didn’t have any particular arc or end in sight. Why did you make the decision to end Minus?
An ending for Minus was actually one of the first strip ideas I came up with, and it’s why the phrase ‘It’ll be updating every Thursday until I suddenly stop!’ was included in the comic’s description, since it was designed to be inserted at any time. I had never made a series of comic strips before, so the planned length of Minus was relative to how difficult that ended up being: if it was hard to come up with ideas, then I planned on doing about 20 strips; if it was easy then I would do 100, but it was never intended to run for a very long time.

Minus appears to be the only series of yours done in colour, why did you choose not to continue this pattern with your other work?
I’ve worked on other comics in colour, it’s just that none of them ever developed into something that went public. I guess I just have a problem with the way my paintings come out, I’ll probably have to force myself through another colour comic until I’m comfortable enough with it for that to stop happening. Also: black and white is cheaper.

Many of your comics such as Modern Fried Snake feature very minimal dialogue, allowing for the images to tell the story, what is so attractive about this style of storytelling?
Hard to say. I don’t have a special interest in comics with minimal dialogue and I don’t think I’ve made many deliberately silent comics. It’s probably just a side effect of de-emphasizing plots. So rather than being the focus of most events in a story, the plot chugs along silently beneath the surface as time progresses. Along those lines I try to play most scenes evenly to let readers decide on how significant anything is, or maybe get them to stop worrying about trying to figure out how important to the story a given scene of piece of dialogue is at all. So scenes that might be edited to save space in other stories end up being focused on and the camera gets to linger around following silent scenes instead of rushing past them towards the next event.

I have read that Great begun as something to keep you busy until you came up with another idea for a comic. What are the advantages/disadvantages of allowing things to develop as you write instead of planning them out ahead?
There might be a misunderstanding about Great because of that comment: it was planned out almost completely before I started drawing it. When I said that it was something simple to do while I worked on other projects, what I meant was that I could get the pages done quickly, which would let me keep updating the site while working on other things. When I first put it up I had lost a few months work on another comic called Socks, so that’s what I was drawing for the few months of Great’s run. The mistake I made with Great was that I severely misjudged its length. For some reason I thought I could finish it in about 200 pages when it ended up taking over 600.

I don’t know how people can just allow things to develop as they write, honestly. Even if you try to, drawing an idea takes so much longer than coming up with it that after drawing for a few weeks you should already have the comic planned out for the next few months. Maybe it makes more sense with comic strips, or some people are just so focused on what they’re currently drawing that they don’t look too far ahead of themselves until they’re done.

There is a clear Japanese influence on your visual style, is it true to say it has had equal influence on your narrative style?
Absolutely. With comics, art and story go hand-in-hand so being influenced visually is already changing your narrative style. One quick example would be that Great was tremendously influence by Akatsuka Fujio’s comics. He had a way of drawing characters that made them seem like they really enjoyed being in a comic, so I tried to capture that. But influence is like a filter; if you really like Bill Watterson and want to make the next Calvin and Hobbes, rather than reproduce it, you’ll most likely end up making a comic full of what you personally liked about it, which may differ entirely from what went into actually making it or what people liked about it. In that sense, what you’re capable of taking from your influences is more important that what you’re influenced by.

Minus was part of the webcomic collective, Koala Wallop. How important is having a strong community of fellow artists for the success of developing webcomics?
We didn’t really do anything in Koala Wallop, or at least I didn’t. I liked it because I thought it was a set of good comics that were distinct from each other which is what I hope I can eventually do with my own work, but it was also a warning against forming superficial groups. If you’re going to do something with other artists it’s best to have a specific goal or project in mind rather than just a banner.