Interview with David Malki! (Wondermark)

5 Oct

Wondermark is one of those comics that could only really exist thanks to the Internet. Creator David Malki ! builds up strips from 19th Century illustrations to create it’s complete its unique style of, as the strip’s tagline states, an illustrated jocularity. Though while the style of the strip is what distinguishes it from many other webcomics, the absurdity and comedy that arises from it is what makes the comic such an enjoyable read. Additionally, David Malki ! is head of Publicity and Promotions for the online webcomic publishing site, TopatoCo.

Why did you decide to make a webcomic out of 19th Century source materials?
I wanted to make a comic in a different way! It’s visually interesting and it’s not like most other comics, so I think it captures people’s attention. And I’m a huge admirer of the craft involved. I hope some of my love for the art itself comes through in the strip.

There are hints of steampunk in your work, is this intentional?
I’d never heard the term ‘steampunk’ until after I’d been doing the comic for several years! I think it’s easy to label anything neo-Victorian as ‘steampunk’ but I don’t think that’s always accurate.

Basing your work off material so close to steampunk, do you think you could explain the appeal of it to many people?
There are surely some steampunk fans that might be drawn to the Victorianism of Wondermark, but if that’s all they stay for they must be frequently disappointed, since the point of view of the comic isn’t Victorian at all. Wondermark is set in the modern day, it’s just that everyone has a really good fashion sense.

What are the qualities of a great Wondermark comic?
My favorite strips are when I can marry a good joke or observation to a clever piece of collage. Since I work with collage, I have a different challenge in crafting visuals of the strip than a traditional cartoonist has, and I have the most fun when I can craft visual elements that weren’t in the original, or use the original art as building blocks to create something new. It’s not always possible (or appropriate) to completely tear down and rebuild every piece of art in every strip, but my favorite strips are usually the ones where I’ve had a funny idea and then used pieces of Victorian illustrations like LEGOs to build something unique to illustrate the joke.

Unlike a lot of other webcomic artists you refuse to accept donations from readers, why is this?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with accepting donations, but I personally prefer to be on the ‘giver’ side of the giver/receiver paradigm. If someone donates, there is a danger they can feel entitled to something or other. It’s only half of a transaction. Through a store, I can accept money, give a product in return, and the psychological balance is settled. I want myself, with my own ambitions and interests, to be the only voice I feel obligated to answer to. I don’t want to take someone’s money and then feel guilty that I did a clunker comic the next day, as if I’m ripping that person off.

Also, if I make a product and someone buys it, I can think “Cool, they like the product.” If nobody buys it, I can think “Okay, this wasn’t a good product, or maybe there wasn’t enough demand for it.” If I have an open door for donations, the ebb and flow of donations is a referendum on my work as a whole, and I don’t need that kind of pressure for the few bucks it might earn me. I like transactions to be compartmentalised and two-sided so they don’t affect how I feel about my work in general!

In your article ‘Comics is Killing Webcomics‘ you criticise how webcomics are often compared to traditional comics as it also associates them with a separate culture many dislike. While there is a webcomic community do you feel a separate webcomic culture has developed?
I hope there isn’t. I think that every year there are more people who pay attention to webcomics, but in large part they are probably people for whom webcomics, or certain webcomics in particular, are simply items on a large list of general things which they enjoy on the internet. Webcomics are broad enough in style and subject matter that it’s very easy for someone to follow one or two or a small handful of comics without knowing anything about other comics. I think that’s okay. Webcomics will be better off if, as a medium, it comes to be perceived like TV – nobody’s a ‘TV fan’ or part of the ‘TV community’. They have favorite shows, or types of shows. The medium itself becomes so unremarkable as to disappear.

I think cross-promotion (“If you like X, you’ll like Y”) is a big part of what helps webcomics grow, for sure, but that is by no means limited to webcomics. That’s how the Internet works in general, and webcomics are part of it! Webcomics are a Member State of the Greater Internet.

What was the impetus behind TopatoCo?
TopatoCo was started by Jeffrey Rowland as a way to help out some of his friends and fellow creators, who wanted to sell merchandise but weren’t able to do it themselves (usually due to living in a different country from the majority of their readers). Jeffrey began offering a shipping service just as a favor to them. Over time, he found that by putting all the items from multiple creators on a single website, everyone benefited from the cross-promotion and the ability to bundle multiple items together in a single order. And as it continued to grow, he began publishing books as well, in many cases helping creators who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have a book collection. I work with TopatoCo, primarily these days editing and art-directing the line of books.

How do feel TopatoCo has benefited webcomic artists?
The cross-promotion is a huge deal. Someone coming to see a product of mine might see something of another artist’s, or vice versa. So sales go up across the board.

Also, TopatoCo frees artists from having to handle merch production, shipping etc. which can eat up a lot of time (and capital!). That means more time to make comics!

On sites such as TopatoCo one can see the same comics and authors appearing again and again. Do you feel there is a possibility of the webcomic community becoming insular and excluding new artists?
I don’t know if it seems like TopatoCo is some kind of gatekeeper. TopatoCo isn’t a publisher in the traditional sense, where a property can be pushed out to people and an audience created that doesn’t already exist. It’s actually the other way around – TopatoCo won’t take someone on as a client unless they’ve already got a fanbase behind them. Even better if they’ve been creating merch independently and it’s just getting too big for the artist to handle! That is where TopatoCo can step in and streamline the process.

So if you see the same artists again and again, that’s probably because they’re popular. Their affiliation with TopatoCo is a consequence of their popularity, not the cause.

And the internet is a meritocracy! Every year I see one or two new artists really break out and seem to be everywhere. Nobody is holding anybody down. Everybody I know who does or loves webcomics LOVES seeing exciting new voices doing amazing work. We love seeing it and we talk about it when we do!

I hope that makes sense. I have seen this in book publishing as well. People tend to think they are being excluded from some sort of club, not realizing that what the people IN the so-called ‘club’ want more than anything is to find new people doing incredible work that can’t be ignored. Also, there is no club, just a bunch of people with their noses to the grindstone doing the best work they know how. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes the stars align (or don’t), sometimes people get lucky (or don’t), sometimes the work strikes a chord in an audience (or doesn’t). All you can control is the work, and putting in the time, and doing your best.


4 Responses to “Interview with David Malki! (Wondermark)”

  1. Jim Brown III (@jb3wisc) October 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Thanks for getting that interview and having good questions. I appreciate it.

    Also, thanks to Dave for helping me finally decide what to do about the ads and paypal link I have on my sites. I’ve been going back and forth on them but his logic on the creative effect nailed what’s been bugging me.

    Thanks again everyone!

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  3. Darwin July 27, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Superb blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
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    • niallnorbury July 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      WordPress is pretty good for content management, start off with it for free and you can then pay if you like it. Also allows a lot of customisation if you need it.

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