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.


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