Today I welcome Gordon McAlpin back. It’s been a week of returning favorites. You’d think there was an anniversary coming up or something.

Gordon McAlpin

Gordon McAlpin

Gordon McAlpin lives in Minneapolis with his cat Punk. In his twenties, he watched over a dozen movies a week. Gordon has written movie reviews, co-hosted a movie podcast, and edited a movie news blog, but now he just writes and draws Multiplex. While he has never worked at a movie theater, he has had several equally terrible jobs.

From 2004–2006, Gordon created Stripped Books, a series of non-fiction strips covering book- and comics-related events in comics form. Multiplex began in July, 2005, and is Gordon’s first on-going comic strip.

Gordon draws Multiplex in Adobe Illustrator CS5 on a Mac and happily endorses the Astute Graphics’s Phantasm CS and VectorScribe plug-ins. He uses Coda to update and maintain the Multiplex website and hosts the site on Rackspace Cloud Hosting.

ANTHONY: Welcome back, Gordon! Thanks for agreeing to chat again.

GORDON: No problem. Thanks for asking!

ANTHONY: You used Kickstarter to successfully fund the publication of MULTIPLEX BOOK ONE: ENJOY YOUR SHOW. It’s time to get Book Two: THERE AND BACK AGAIN. How long is this campaign running for, and what are some of the rewards you’re offering to those who contribute?

GORDON: This campaign is running for 23 days total. This is a bit shorter than most, and much, much shorter than my first project, which went for the maximum of 90 days. When I ran the Kickstarter project for Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show, I was literally the first webcartoonist to do it — not the first cartoonist, jus the first webcartoonist. So I assumed more time = more money. What I didn’t realize was that it would be more stress and more work, because I had to promote the project for three months. That got old kind of fast. So I decided to do a much shorter one this time: three weeks, which I rounded up to 23 days so that I could end it on midnight before an update day. This way I get the initial flurry of interest and the last-minute drive much closer together. That might have been a mistake, but it’s been doing well so far. We’ll see how it plays out, won’t we?

As for the rewards, you can get artist’s editions of the book (or both books, even), a T-shirt with some as-yet-undecided movie parody image (like the Breakfast Club one I did for Book 1), a print, sketches, an original hand-drawn Multiplex comic on the subject of your choice — on up to some kind of jokey ones like a print of a Multiplex comic with yourself “George Lucased” into it or me flying/driving to your home to watch the movie trilogy of your choice on Blu-ray.

Gordon McAlpin, photo by Charlene Epple

Gordon McAlpin, photo by Charlene Epple

ANTHONY: You’ll really watch any trilogy of the person’s choice if they donate at the highest level? This makes me hope I hit the lottery before your Kickstarter ends, just so I can make you sit through The Never-Ending Story movies. Seriously, what trilogy would you most and least like to sit through if someone did donate at that level?

GORDON: Absolutely! I mean, it was really mostly a joke, but yes, I would absolutely do it. It’d be great if the staff of a movie theater were to make that pledge collectively. I can’t imagine any single person wanted to give me THAT much money. I was shocked that someone went for the “Leet Pack,” which gets them a portable hard drive with every Multiplex file (strip, reference file, background, etc.) in its original Illustrator format, signed by me. And some other stuff, of course.

The trilogy I would most like to see… I think the Mad Max movies. They’re pretty awesome, and I’ve only seen each of them once or twice ever, so they’ll feel pretty fresh.

Least like… probably the Matrix. The first one is awesome, of course, but I can’t even look at it anymore because the sequels were so bad, especially the third one.

ANTHONY: Book One got some really good reviews, and I remember how excited I was to find a copy randomly on the shelf at my local Borders (alas, poor Borders, we knew it well, Horatio…). What lessons did you learn from the production of Book One that you’ll apply to producing Book Two?

GORDON: I was mostly very happy with how the book turned out, physically. There were some mistakes that slipped past me and the freelance proofreaders I brought in, so there’s stuff I’ll be able to keep my eye out for now.

Johanna Draper Carlson gave a review of the book that pointed out a few things I hadn’t thought of, like a table of contents or providing a better introduction to the strip in the front matter than I did. I’ll be taking some of those comments to heart with Book 2’s design.

But I’ve produced books and other printed stuff as part of my “day job” as a freelance print production artist for over a decade, so there wasn’t much I was going to learn from doing yet another book. The only big difference was that this was MY book, you know?

ANTHONY: There are those who say “why bother buying a print edition of one storyline when I can see the entire series archives online for free.”  So what can we expect in the print edition of book two that we didn’t see online?

GORDON: About 236 dpi? (Mathematically not accurate, I know.) Aside from much better reproduction, there will be something like 25 bonus comics. Those will also be in the Chapter eBooks that I’ll be releasing as I get the material done, just like with Book 1. Chapter 6 is already out.

There isn’t a new story in this book, like the “Prequel” story in Book 1, because I felt like there was already a pretty strong main thrust to the volume and that any new, longer story I added would just feel like filler. But the bonus comics here will serve the same purpose as in Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show — fleshing out the narrative and characters in a way that I couldn’t (or failed to do) the first time around.

ANTHONY: For those who don’t follow Multiplex on line, give us a summary of who the main characters are, and where we find them as THERE AND BACK AGAIN starts.

LtoR: Kurt, Melissa, Becky, Franklin & Jason. Your friendly neighborhood Multiplex 10 staff

LtoR: Kurt, Melissa, Becky, Franklin & Jason. Your friendly neighborhood Multiplex 10 staff

GORDON: Jason is a movie snob, a bit of a jerkass, but always honest (some might say to a fault), so… that’s his one redeeming quality, I guess. Oh, girls think he’s cute, too, but his mouth gets in the way.

Kurt is a horror movie buff and just in general muuuuch easier to please. He’s goofy, but not stupid, and has a cruder sense of humor than Jason (although it’s slowly rubbing off on Jason).

Becky is a quiet, bookish science nerd with a romantic streak, who was kind of in love with Jason for a bit (see Book 1), but might just be getting over it…

Melissa, Kurt’s girlfriend, is a bit more worldly than Kurt. She’s pretty protective of Becky (her roommate and best friend), so she can be a bit of a scold when Jason is a jerk to her, but otherwise she’s sort of aimless and just likes to enjoy the moment. Which is how she can handle with Kurt’s abysmal taste in movies.

Franklin hasn’t done a whole lot at this point, but he’s a ladies’ man and computer nerd rolled into one.

Jason’s girlfriend at this point is Devi, who worked at the theater over the previous summer but is now attending the SVA in New York, so there’s going through some long-distance drama (still). Devi is a lot like Melissa: worldly but also a little boring. (I hate to say that about her, because I love her, but that was always the idea.)

Book 2 picks up where Book 1 left off, but there’s not a long going on with them yet. Multiplex didn’t really have a whole lot of continuity at this point, and it’s not really a plot-driven comic. It’s the 2006 Christmas season. Devi is back home from school for the winter break, and that pretty much sums it up, really. It’s a pretty good jumping-on point.

ANTHONY: Your art and story pacing clearly improved over the course of the strips collected in book one. What noticeable differences are there over the course of book two?

GORDON: I think my writing — in terms of character — is what improves the most throughout this book. The art evolves less noticeably in Book 2 than Book 1. You have to keep in mind that I was basically relearning how to draw in the material you see in Book 1, so it was bound to start off VERY roughly.

Mostly, I think, I just get a little better at the actual drawing/posing/whatever of the characters in Book 2.

ANTHONY: The estimated delivery date for the rewards is November 2012, which I guess rules out Book Two making its’ debut at NYC Comic-Con this year. I don’t suppose you’ll be getting a table anyway?

GORDON: If things pan out with financial aid, I’ll be a poor grad student when NYCC rolls around, so I don’t think so.

The November thing is definitely an estimate, though, for the ebooks. The print books will be out in March of 2013.  If I end up going with a Chinese printer, it could be later than that. We’ll see.

ANTHONY: You know I have to close with a question. Last time we talked your favorite movies and favorite books, so this time, tell me what each of the Multiplex main cast’s favorite movies are, and what they would say to convince someone who hasn’t seen that movie that they should go watch it immediately.


Jason: The Apartment. “It’s the perfect blend of comedy and drama, with just a bit of schmaltz-free romance.” And then he would blather away for another few minutes.

Becky: Sense & Sensibility. “It’s so wonderful. Emma Thompson makes me start bawling every single time.”

Melissa: The Princess Bride. “Cary Elwes. yummm Oh, it’s inconceivably funny, too.”

Franklin: Die Hard. “It’s the best American action movie ever, man!”

Kurt: Night of the Living Dead. I wrote a whole storyline leading up to Kurt introducing this flick, so I’m just going to give you the URL of the strip where he explains it… http://www.multiplexcomic.com/strip/606

ANTHONY: I loved Kurt’s intro for Night. Thanks again, Gordon!

GORDON: No problem!

You can follow Gordon on Twitter as @gmcalpin and be updated about the webcomic by following @multiplex10.  You can join in the current action at Multiplex, where Jason, Kurt and the gang are filming a zombie flick (yes, a zombie flick). And of course you can (and I hope you  will) donate to Gordon’s Lightning Round Kickstarter for MULTIPLEX BOOK TWO: THERE AND BACK AGAIN. Oh, and Multiplex has a Facebook page as well.

GORDON McALPIN, Webcomics - Interview

This week, we get to chat with webcomic creator Gordon McAlpin.

Gordon McAlpin

Gordon McAlpin

Gordon McAlpin lives in Minneapolis with his cat Punk. In his twenties, he watched over a dozen movies a week. Gordon has written movie reviews, co-hosted a movie podcast, and edited a movie news blog, but now he just writes and draws Multiplex. While he has never worked at a movie theater, he has had several equally terrible jobs. From 2004–2006, Gordon created Stripped Books, a series of non-fiction strips covering book- and comics-related events in comics form. Multiplex began in July, 2005, and is Gordon’s first on-going comic strip.

The cast of Multiplex

The cast of Multiplex

ANTHONY: So let’s start out with the basics: Multiplex has been running continuously since 2005. Tell us about the comic’s origins. How did you decide on this situation and these characters?

GORDON: My buddy Kurt Bollinger first suggested that I do a comic strip about a movie theater. We both love to talk about how I basically thought it was a stupid idea at first, but the truth is, I just didn’t know how to approach the idea. I was thinking in terms of newspaper comics, the 22 (or so) page magazine comic, and long-form graphic novels, none of which I thought were really well-suited to the premise. Once I’d learned about webcomics, I started toying with the idea again, because I realized you could keep the strip extremely timely by setting the strip in real time and referring to actual movies.

In the intervening years, I did also manage to forget that Kurt first suggested I do a comic about a movie theater, but I named a character after him, and stole some aspects of his personality for the character, so it’s all good. There’s a ton of stuff with Kurt that’s totally made up, though, and a ton of stuff in the real life Kurt that I’ve used for other characters, especially Whitey. Along the same lines, Jason is sort of loosely based on me, but he isn’t just a mouthpiece for me. People assume that, especially once they realize we’re both half-Filipino and sarcastic and hate everything, but he’s more an exaggerated 21-year-old me than me now.

The supporting characters tend to arise from a theme or idea I want to play with — Gretchen, for instance, is kind of a commentary on tabloid journalism (comparing it with gossipy high school bullshit); Allen and Norma are two of many types of managers; Lydia started off as me just wanting Jason to find someone even snobbier than him and see how he reacts to it. Obviously, if I’m doing my job as a writer correctly, these aren’t completely obvious.

A: The cast has grown over the years, but the story still centers on Jason, Kurt, Melissa and Becky. How would you describe the dynamic between them? And how, if at all, has that dynamic changed over the years?

G: I don’t know that their dynamic has changed very much at the core of things. Jason and Kurt are still basically in love with each other, Kurt and Melissa are definitely in love with each other. Melissa kind of thinks “Jason is annoying but I guess if Kurt’s his friend then whatever as long as he doesn’t ever talk to my sister.” Those two, I think, have had their ups and downs, but they’re starting to get each other a little more.

And, of course, Becky and Jason are Becky and Jason.

A: Everyone grows up and moves on eventually. Do you foresee Multiplex continuing without “the core four?” Or does the story end when they leave the Multiplex 10 for other jobs? And speaking of the story’s end: is there a plan for how Multiplex wraps up, and specific character arcs that you’re following step-by-step, or are you just letting the story go where it will, throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks?

G: Multiplex is about Jason, Kurt, Melissa, Becky, and Franklin. Mostly Jason and Kurt, though, and really mostly Jason. But those five are the Big Five to me. Becky, Melissa, and Franklin all get shafted for screen time, I know, but I try. The Big Five will always be in Multiplex, whether or not they’re still working at the Multiplex 10; I know where each of the Big Five is headed with their lives, although not necessarily exactly how it will play out. There will be a definite ending to the series, though, and I think I’ll keep any more details than that to myself for a while longer…

I’ve already laid some of the groundwork for the various ends to each character’s arc (as you would expect, being half-way through the story), so you could probably make some good guesses, anyway.

A: The Multiplex has boasted a very diverse supporting cast over the years as other employees and managers have come and gone. Is there any character you were surprised took on a larger role in the story than you’d originally intended? Or, vice versa, a character you thought would be important who ended up relegated to the background?

G: Every time I introduce a new character, I start to feel bad that they never get any screen time. The worst of these was a character named Letizia, who I never even introduced. I mentioned her in one of Gretchen’s Multiplex Examiner articles, but she never actually appeared. I finally had one of the managers mention he was about to fire her for never showing up for her shifts as a joke.

I was surprised at how much Angie kept coming back for a while. Her and Jason dating was never supposed to be more than a few dates. If I remember correctly, I planned their relationship to last from the release of Expelled, the Ben Stein Creationist screed, until the release of Religulous, the Bill Maher atheism screed. At some point, the two movies’ release dates were a few weeks apart. I started the arc, and then I noticed that Religulous got pushed forward by about six months. I ultimately decided to stick with the original plan and leave them together for a few months longer.

Mr. Harris (the security guard) should have been a little more prominent, but he kind of fell into the background more because of the logistics of doing a strip in real time. I simply couldn’t take the break to tell the story of young James at the Regal Theater without interrupting the main story for too long. I hope to add that into the Book 4 print collection as a bonus story, but how well I can do that will depend on whether or not I can convince the Chicago Blue Museum to let me see the blueprints to the theater.

A: As a writer, of course, I’m curious about your plotting and scripting method. Do you write out a full script first, and then craft the art to match? Or do you come up with a rough idea, pencil it out, and then craft the dialogue?

G: Honestly, it varies depending on the comic strip. I’ve done both. I think I’m more likely to just start writing out dialogue and breaking down panels (without any actual scribbles to go in them) than anything else. Sometimes, I sit down knowing what needs to happen and in what order and I’ll just go straight to breakdowns and write the dialogue later. In any case, I’m constantly revising dialogue until a strip is posted — and sometimes for a while after it’s posted.

I have an outline file to keep me reminded of where the various themes and arcs in the strip should be progressing in any given chapter. I work out of an InDesign file with the current chapter of the comic. In that file, I’m basically blocking out (on a strip by strip level) and breaking down the chapter in shorter 4–8 page arcs, with approximate dates for when the strip will post and what movies have just been released.

My workflow changes pretty regularly, though: it wasn’t until the beginning of Book 5 that I started even thinking about Multiplex in terms of chapters. Books 1 – 4 were broken into chapters after the fact, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been adding new material in the collections — so I could flesh out the events in various chapters and make them feel more intentionally constructed when you read them in the collected editions.

A: What tools do you use for the art? Is it hand-drawn first and then scanned in and completed on the computer?

G: I draw Multiplex almost entirely in Adobe Illustrator, a vector illustration program. I use a graphics tablet for any rough thumbnails I need to do, but if a panel is just two people talking to each other in a room, I often don’t bother with any thumbs first and just go get any existing vector reference I need to get crackin’. When I have movie posters shown in perspective in the backgrounds, sometimes I’ll need to use Photoshop to distort the images, because Illustrator’s capabilities there are… limited, at best.

When I do hand-drawn sequences in Multiplex, I pencil digitally with Manga Studio and then print the page out onto Bristol board (in 10% cyan) to ink by hand. So those, I’ll scan in and touch up and color or tone in Photoshop with my tablet.

A: After a successful Kickstarter project in December 2009, you were able to bring Multiplex to print form with Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show. What was the most difficult part of making the change from web to print?

G: Distribution, definitely. I’ve worked in printing and publishing for over a decade, so getting the book together and to the printer was easy — time consuming, of course, but easy. I do that stuff for a living, and this book was for me — so I was happy to work on it. But once the book was printed, getting it out there was (and continues to be) a lot of work.

I’m signed up with Small Press United (a division of IPG), which specializes in distribution of new publishers like myself, and through them, I’m available through Amazon and (via Ingram and Baker & Taylor) at bookstores nationwide. It took us several months to convince Diamond to give the book a chance, unfortunately. Hopefully whenever the second book comes out, Diamond will be on board from day one, and I’ll see stronger sales to comics shops out of it.

A: You created a brand new “prequel” sequence for the print edition, revolving around the debut of Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. What was that process like, getting permission from LucasFilm to use the still from the movie and the poster?

G: Most of the time, I don’t feel I need permission to use film stills, because I’m commenting on the film (or satirizing them) in the strip. But that movie still was really half the punchline to the Prequel story, and I knew that it was an unusually prominent and non-critical way, so I felt it was important to ask for permission. I licensed one still from Lucasfilm, and they also gave me permission to use the theatrical poster as “set dressing” — but not as a focal point in any panels, just in the backgrounds.

It was a very smooth process; as you would expect, they have a whole team that works on this stuff for people like me, so on their end, it was all business as usual. For my part, I tracked down their licensing department’s e-mail address and explained the whole idea of the story. They responded very quickly and asked me to send the relevant pages for approval (in their incomplete state), so I did so. We signed some contracts, I paid a licensing fee, they gave me a high-res file for the still, I added legal notices per their instructions, and eventually I sent them a few copies of the book for their records. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

A: Any idea on when we’ll get to see the next print volume? There’s still plenty of story not collected, after all. You have years to catch up on. And will future volumes feature print-edition-only material like the Prequel in Book One?

G: I’m working on it! I’m examining ways of financing a second book, but while the first book was profitable, it wasn’t profitable enough to allow me to jump straight into Book 2. I don’t make much from bookstore or comics shop sales; I just want them available in stores so I can introduce the comic to new readers, really.

Book Two will have a bunch of new material in it, as well. Nothing as big as the Prequel story, though, just shorter strips spread out throughout Chapters 6–10, like I did with Chapters 1–5. Some of that stuff will be in the eBook collections. Some may be exclusive to the print book. I’m still working on the Chapter 6 eBook, though, so the Book 2 print edition is a ways off, I’m afraid. But I’m working on it.

A: I’m going to tweak my usual final question just slightly, and split it in two: First, since Multiplex is all about the movies, what is your favorite movie and what would you say to convince someone who has never seen it that they should watch it?

G: My all-time favorite movie is The Apartment by Billy Wilder (co-written by I.A.L. Diamond), starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It’s hilarious, dramatic (shockingly so, in a few parts), romantic without being schmaltzy, and sort of a coming of age for the main character — all stuff I love, all in one flick. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Shirley MacLaine was ridiculously cute in the film. I could watch it forever and never get sick of it.

A: Second, what is your favorite book, and what would you say to convince someone who has never read it that they should read it?

G: I don’t know how to begin comparing comic books against novels, so I’ll have to answer that twice:

Comics — Cages by Dave McKean. It’s a beautiful exploration of art and writing and music by one of the finest artists working today. He throws so much up in the air in the first several chapters that it’s all the more amazing when everything falls into place by the end. Or just about everything, at least. It’s a brilliant story, brilliantly told.

Novels — Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet and novelist with an exquisite writing voice. She’s my favorite novelist, in part because every one of her books has a few passages that make me stop and turn them over in my head for a while. And Cat’s Eye is my favorite of hers, because it has loads of such passages. I think Cat’s Eye struck a particularly strong chord with me, being about an artist who returns to her tremendously dull (to her) hometown of Toronto for a retrospective on her work and continually flashing back to her youth, especially her rather abusive “friendship” with a girl named Cordelia.

I guess I like books about artists…?

A: Thanks again for joining us, Gordon!

G: Thank you for having me!

You can find Jason, Kurt, Becky, Melissa, Franklin and the rest of the gang hanging at the Multiplex. You can follow Gordonhimself on Twitter, as well as Multiplex10. There is also a Multiplex Facebook page for you to Like! And you can still buy the print version of MULTIPLEX: ENJOY YOUR SHOW, which I highly recommend doing.