LUKE HERR, Pharaoh & Ibis - Author Interview

It’s Webcomics Wednesday, featuring the return of Luke Herr! Yaaaaayyyyy! (In my best “Hi Ho, Kermit The Frog here” Muppet Show introductory voice).

Muppet Luke as envisioned by Daniel Butler

Muppet Luke as envisioned by Daniel Butler

Luke Herr is “a Bachelor of Web Design-holding person who isn’t as thrilled about doing web work as he used to be. Former comic shop jockey and comic reviewer. He now does work on various nonpaying projects while looking for work that can pay the bills while living in Ohio. Favorite Comic Character: Moon Knight (the idea more the character)/ Jack Knight

ANTHONY: Welcome back to Rambling On, Luke. What have you been up to since the last time we chatted?

LUKE: Hey Anthony. Thanks for having me back on! Since we last talked a few months back life has changed a pretty good deal. I’ve graduated college and entered the job market since then. Of course I’ve yet to find a job that actually pays but I am still keeping myself busy by doing a bunch of side projects and comics.

I ended up starting a new project called Prison Spaceship which is an action pixel comic set in space. It is like Star Wars meets Con Air. A bunch of aliens in a spaceship who’ve been in prison and suddenly chaos breaks loose and it is up to Kat, the main character, to try and get off the ship and back to Earth.

Additionally I am working on a space series for an anthology with Allan Wood called The Future Universe and I have a story in that called The Last Confessions of a Living Bomb which is a diplomacy/religious/political piece with aliens. Two races are fighting over an asteroid and one of them leaves one person with a bomb capable of destroying the asteroid and the surrounding ships if they don’t get their way. It is up to a reporter to get the last thoughts of this living bomb. It is a lot more serious in tone but with some cool ideas.

ANTHONY: What’s the publication status of your webcomics SOCIALFIST and CHANGELING?

LUKE: Socialfist has entered a sort of publication limbo. Remus, the artist, ended up getting a deal to draw a book for James Asmus called The Life And End Times of Bram And Ben and since James is a professional comic writer who can pay money, Remus is working on that and some other jobs that can pay much better.

On the other hand though, I am working on getting the word about Socialfist out there so for a few weeks, I’ll be distributing a free CBZ file of the current Socialfist pages. After the free period though, I’ll be selling that for $2 and I’ll also be premiering the Special $5 edition. It comes with all of the pages of the series – including the two 9 page predecessor series back when it was still SFCRTSN (Super Feudal Communist Russia Team Squad Now). The money will be going to support the artist on those books and with some hopefully going towards the next version of the series.

I’ll be working with Max Y of Cracked on a new version. The plan is to do a series of shorter pieces before compiling them into a larger trade – that way if we lose an artist, the tonal shift will not be as intense. As to when that will begin, it will all be posted on the Socialfist blog and twitter.

As for Changeling we are working on finishing up Chapter 3, the Case of the Sound Demons which is our Doctor Who homage chapter. After that, if things work out, we will be having a fill in artist for a sort of crazy out there action chapter but I still need to nail down those details. Additionally we will be releasing the Changeling Volume 2 book soon in both print and digital formats which will include Chapter 2 and 3 along with a special book-only chapter and that should premiere at Heroes Con in June.



ANTHONY: Sounds like a lot on your plate! You’re also publishing a book online. What’s it about?

LUKE: I wrote and am currently reediting a book called Pharaoh and Ibis which is an all-ages adventure novel that takes a lot from mythology and comics and turns them into something fresh and fun.

The story is about Chris Cushing, an archaeologist, and Kevin Canyon, a young kid, getting thrown into this massive battle between the gods as they try to find an escaped deity who is out for revenge. There’s a lot of twists and turns and some really fun stuff.

That is located over at the Pharaoh and Ibis tumblr. I’ll be starting the second round of edits soon and additionally, if all goes well, I’ll be having an artist provide illustrations for it.

ANTHONY: Where did you draw your inspiration from for this particular story?

LUKE: I’ve always been a big fan of mythology and heroes and this was my chance to combine those two things together. I think we miss out on a lot of Egyptian mythology compared to Graeco-Roman partially due to the art and vandalism of the tombs but also the difficulty of translations but there are some interesting characters there and I do my best to round them out.

I’ve also been a big fan of pulpy superhero characters. When DC recently did their relaunch they did a lot of stuff that I didn’t care for. They turned Shazam into a gritty hero – and this is a book about a kid with superpowers. It shouldn’t be dark and gritty – if I were a kid like that I’d go into R rated movies and drive cars. I’d have fun. It wouldn’t necessarily be smart fun but there is no reason that a kid with all of that power should be so moody. That weird darkening was part of the impetus and the story partially stemmed from the stories I’d like to tell with these archetypal characters.

ANTHONY: I haven’t seen the new Shazam revamp but it sounds like I wouldn’t really like it at all. How does your creative process for your novel differ from your process for the webcomics?

LUKE: I’ve recently been changing how I write webcomics, especially after learning how to not tell shorter stories and luckily my brother had given me some books on novel writing. I ended up using those to go about the story more intelligently. The pacing is a lot better because I thought of the story as a trip with stops along the way instead of being a straight shot, so to speak. I like to think it shows up and I’m using that line of thinking to make even better comics now.

ANTHONY: What challenges have you noticed while writing the novel that you weren’t expecting to encounter?

LUKE: The biggest challenge is creating the world. One of the weaknesses I am still working with is understanding how to describe the world that the characters are in and figuring out how long to keep things going. Comics are a very visual medium and I’ll admit that most of the time I write the comics, unless I am telling something very actiony I think more about the dialogue than the setting. To sort of counteract this I’ve been reading more narrative fiction which after my kick of fake information books and histories of comics and galactic comic writing saviors, it is a valuable thing to do.

ANTHONY: Many writers have a group of first readers, or “beta readers,” to help vet the story, notice plot holes, catch typos, etc. I think this is especially important for self-published authors who don’t have an editor assigned to us by a publishing house. Have you worked with anyone before posting? If so, what has that process been like?

LUKE: I’ve had a few friends look at the book and part of my reason for posting the book to tumblr is to help people get a first crack at it. Most of the people like what I’ve written but my grammar can be a little funky at parts and because I normally worked on the book before going to bed, I commonly got sidetracked and delirious while writing.

I am also going back through the book myself though part of my reason for bringing on an artist is to reward myself for getting editing done – if I finish editing a chapter, I get to share some awesome art.

ANTHONY: Where do you going with the novel when it’s done? Any plans to publish in e-book format or seek other avenues to share the story?

LUKE: I really don’t know what my plan for the book is. I have the sequel planned out and the basic ideas for a third but I think it will all come down to whatever happens. I mean, I am not entirely sure about hunting for a publisher but I am happy sharing the book for free now. If a publisher were to come by offering me money or if someone wanted to do an e-book version, I’d not be opposed.

ANTHONY: You’ve already answered my usual closing question about favorite books. So: favorite comics, and what would you say to convince someone to read it who hasn’t already?

LUKE: Actually speaking of books I recently finished Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw and that was a fantastic read. It is a sort of Douglas Adams take on conscious non-player characters in an MMO and it deals with a lot of big ideas while also being incredibly funny and well written.

For comics I haven’t been read too many recently but I’ll give my big throw of support to Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge with Chris Samnee doing the art. The book is a fantastic re-imagining of the origin of Thor in a more all ages setting but it is more than that. The series redefines a lot of the characters and makes them actually live and makes them human, so to speak. It’s not as much of an action piece and instead focuses on relationships and characters. Unfortunately the book sold poorly so it was cancelled quickly but it is collected in two trade paperbacks that are well worth buying or most of it is on the Marvel Digital Comics.

ANTHONY: Thanks again, Luke!

Luke can be found all over the internet. His novel PHARAOH AND IBIS is on Tumblr. He is the chief editor and blogger on Nerdcenaries. His webcomics are Socialfist and Changeling. And of course he’s on Twitter as @koltreg.

CHIP SKELTON, Webcomics - Interview

Today we welcome Chip Skelton, the creator of the webcomics-turned-print-comics BROKEN and TERRAN SANDZ. In his own words, Chip has “drawn my whole life. Discovered comics in my early teens and found I loved ‘em, but was too chicken to pursue a career in them. Eventually my passion for storytelling overcame my fear and, bam!, I created two graphic novels.”

Broken, Chip Skelton

Broken, Chip Skelton

BROKEN is a southern gothic, coming-of-age tale about the monumental battles that happen closer to home. It is about the things that live and die within us, that leave us either broken or better for the experience. A teenager in western Kentucky faces family, high school, and a mass murderer. A mystery that is not what it seems.


TERRAN SANDZ: ONE BAD DAY focuses on one day in the life of Terran Sandz, an alien who has drawn the short straw for most of his long life. Unfortunately, the day in question is a really crappy one. Terran Sandz must fight an entire planet, his own people, the two greatest warriors to ever exist, and his own god. It’s an all-out, nonstop slugfest that still manages to explore ideas of faith and individuality. Or maybe it’s just a brainless, all out slugfest.

Anthony: Chip, thanks for agreeing to the interview.

Chip: It’s cool to be interviewed by you. Hopefully I’ll make more sense than normal.

A: Haha. No worries. You’ve recently released two short graphic novels: BROKEN Book One and TERRAN SANDZ Book One. Both were originally serialized on the Drunk Duck webcomics site. What made you decide now was the right time to go from webcomic to print for each of these projects?

C: Basically, my lovely wife said it was time to crap or get off the pot. She suggested I really commit to seeing if I can make something of this passion of mine by not only printing my books, but attending conventions and promoting myself as well. I raised the money by creating and selling sketch cards, as well as selling a few other odds and ends, on ebay.

A: How long was the process of going from web to print?

C: Really it was pretty easy. It took me a few nights to size the pages to the printing template, make a few edits, and compile the guest art. All in all, it was surprising easy.

A: BROKEN and TERRAN SANDZ are two very different stories, not just in genre and plot but also in tone and execution. You have a great ability to suit style to story without losing what makes you you. How did you decide on the art style for each story?

C: At least for me, EVERYTHING serves the story. Since I seem to be able to alter my style, I make that a slave to the story as well. TERRAN SANDZ is intended to be a big-production action flick, so I chose a more frenetic art style as well as dynamic page layouts (I was aiming for Kirbyesque) to help me achieve the desired effect. I also wanted an 80’s feel to the first mini-series, so I created the zippatone-like effect for the shading.

BROKEN, on the other hand is the exact opposite of TS. BROKEN is my homage to Koike and Kojima’s LONE WOLF AND CUB, perhaps one of the best series of graphic novels EVER. I wanted the storytelling in BROKEN to be as stripped down as I could make it. I sought to focus on the quiet, poignant moments that seem too trivial but are in the truth often the most impactful.

I didn’t always achieve my goals, but overall, I’m happy with the outcome of both books.

A: The one thing both stories have in common (and I think this is true of your unfinished story DEAD as well) is a deep background mystery. Is mystery/crime fiction a genre you particularly enjoy, and if it is, what authors/works have influenced the way you’re developing the background mysteries in each story?

I’m not really a mystery guy. I read horror and fantasy for the most part. From my perspective, a good story always has aspects of the unknown. I love when a story, be it prose or cinematic, intimates that I’m only seeing a small part of a bigger mosaic. I love to be teased that I have much more to learn if I turn the next page or don’t turn away from the screen. So I guess I include that in my storytelling.

A: TERRAN SANDZ is, as I think I once put in a comment to you, “balls-to-the-wall action that still manages to include a plot and characterization and raise questions about faith and loyalty.” The pace of Book One is absolutely brutal. Did you ever look at a sequence and think, “man, I need to cut this guy a break, give him a chance to breathe,” or did you pretty much know from the get-go that he was going to take a non-stop beating? I guess I’m asking for a little insight into the way you put the story together, and used the action to deliver character and plot and hints at the greater mystery of the story.

C: Never thought of giving the poor guy a break. His story will never be an easy one. In fact, should I ever get to tell the story I intend to tell, things get far, FAR worse for him. I’m not a big fan of “happy” characters. I like the complexity of troubled individuals. Plus, I think that’s more realistic.

As far as how I plot a story, there I take a more organic approach. I sorta know where I want a story to go, but I let the characters have varying degrees of control, plus I like to sometimes go in the exact opposite direction of what I intended. If I can catch myself off guard, then I’m likely to do the same with the reader.

Whether its TERRAN SANDZ, BROKEN, or a short graphic story, I tend to plot as I thumbnail a page. I block out a page as though it were a movie. The arrangement of the panels, flow of the images within the panels, and how they relate to the pages before and set up those to follow are all considered with a cinematic sensibility. How would Leone, Wu, Lean, the Coen brothers, Miyazaki, or Tarantino not only direct, but write this scene? Sometimes I don’t even have any dialogue until I’ve finished illustrating the page, but I do have all the emotion I want for the page.

Geez, long answer. Hope I answered the question.

A: Definitely. Speaking of similarity to film: right now, TERRAN SANDZ is printed in black-and-white. Given the opportunity, would you go to a full-color format? Or was the decision to do it in black-and-white for the web and in print a permanent decision? This harks back to the age-old question: to colorize or not to colorize. (Personally, I’m a believer in not colorizing old movies – films shot in black-and-white involve decisions about lighting that don’t translate to a color presentation without losing some sense of reality, in my humble opinion.)

C: Naw, it’ll stay black and white. I’ve always seen TERRAN SANDZ as a black and white movie. Not saying it’ll never be in color, but I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

A: I don’t think I’m the only person who has described BROKEN as “Southern Gothic.” Compared to TS, the pace is almost languid, and even the fight sequences are a study in pacing. A lot happens in this first book, but it doesn’t feel rushed. Again, is the pacing a conscious decision or something that’s grown organically as you’ve worked on the story?

C: The pacing in BROKEN is 100% intentional. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I consciously aim for an emotional impact for every scene and page. I’m interested in distilling the emotional core of a scene, whether its action, solitude, or drama. I want to go “ooh” and “aah”. I aim for the reader to have the same experience. Again, I don’t know how well I succeed, but that is my goal.

A: I find it hard to ask specific character questions because I don’t want to spoil anything about BROKEN for potential readers, but I have point something out that I didn’t notice reading the story a page at a time on the web but which stands out in the print version – and you can plead the Fifth if you’d like to this one – It almost seems like you’re working in two different time-frames. The graveyard sequences where Dan talks to his mother’s grave feel like they are at a remove from all of the other action (school, home, mall, etc). Are there really two different stories going on here? Or am I just reading way too much into the layout of the story?

What a prescient question.

And feel free to ask any character questions you’d like. I enjoy taking about them.

A: Nice non-answer, haha. I think I’ll save character questions for a follow-up interview. BROKEN is in black-and-white, but rather differently from TERRAN SANDZ. You work in little drops of red throughout the book. Was it always intentional, or did it start out as an artistic device that then became a larger part of the story? And without spoiling anything, can you tell us whether that red will continue to be important after the strong cliff-hanger ending of book one?

The red was intentional from the start. It IS, and will remain an important symbol within the story.

A: Both books have very cinematic art-styles. TS is full-on block-buster; BROKEN is very indie-film, with lingering shots of rain, stars and fireflies in the natural world, and close-ups of broken lockers and nasty bathrooms in the school setting. How hard do you work on that aspect in the plotting stage, and how much of it comes as you’re drawing?

C: I see a scene in my head, and I play it out mentally, moving the camera, editing the pacing, and setting the characters on different marks until I find the blocking that I think achieves the result I imagine for that particular moment. Though it sounds like I work hard, all of what I described happens within seconds. I seldom do more than one set of thumbnails for a page, and hardly ever redraw a panel more than once. Maybe I could create better pages if I spent more time noodling them, but I’ve never believed it would be worth the time.

A: Both titles are “Book One,” and both end with cliff-hangers. Obviously, the intention is to continue both stories. I know as you were working on BROKEN, occasionally scenes grew beyond what you’d originally plotted as characters interacted, so obviously your creative process is not completely static. So how far out are things plotted in both cases? And in what level of detail?

BROKEN will be three books. I know the high beats I really want to hit, but my characters will have a great deal to say about that. Still, I know the whole story. The details will reveal themselves as the characters interact.

TERRAN SANDZ has the same structure as HELLBOY. It’s intended to be a series of tightly-related mini-series. Should I ever get around to the second mini, it will be called “The Good, the Bad, and the Alien”, and will be 100% a Leone western. I know what I want to do for the following ten or so minis, but heaven only know if I’ll ever get the chance. We’ll see.

A: Chip, thanks again for being here. You know I’m looking forward to the continuation of both stories. My final question, as it is with every interview, is this: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

C: Gee, not really sure. I don’t have one favorite. And my favorites shift depending on my mood and circumstances. I love Steven Boyett’s “Ariel” and “Architect of Sleep” because the characters and bizarre worlds they find themselves in are just around the next corner. Koontz’s “Watcher” is the only book to ever scare me. Tanith Lee’s “Kill the Dead” is a morbid character study of shameful regret. “Planetary”, the graphic novel by Ellis and Cassaday not only breaks down the clichéd superhero genre, but tells you how to write it. I could keep going, but that should do.

Thanks a ton for this opportunity, Anthony. These were fun questions.

* * * * * * * *
While Chip’s eponymous website is still under construction, you can see more of his work on the Chip Skelton SketchCards Facebook page, as well as finding Broken and Terran Sandz on DrunkDuck. If you’d like to order copies of either (or both!) graphic novels, you can contact Chip at

ALLAN WOOD, Webcomics - Interview

This week, we catch up with webcomics creator Allan Wood.

Allan Wood

Allan Wood

Allan Wood writes and draws webcomics. He’s also a college student, a musician and an all-around nice guy I’ve had the pleasure of knowing through social media for quite a few years now.

ANTHONY: Allan, thanks for joining us this week.

ALLAN: Nice place you’ve got, here, Anthony!

ANTHONY: You started out in the webcomics world with an autobiographical eponymous daily comic on Drunk Duck, when you were in your mid-teens. What inspired you to start chronicling your daily life?

ALLAN: It was probably The Office. When I think back on it, now, I was drawing quite a few parallels between the Jim and Pam relationship, which lead me to want to write about my own life. Couple that with some research and I realized that the Journal Comic was way underdone (at least in my opinion). To me, reading about peoples’ lives in detail is fascinating (both for the included and the excluded information), and I made Allan as a means of exploring that fascination.

ANTHONY: Yours was one of the first comics, web or print, I’ve encountered where the panels run vertically instead of horizontal. The only other comic I can think of that used that format consistently was the classic “Little Nemo in Slumberland” over 50 years ago. Why did you choose that format, and have you ever considered switching Allan to a more traditional form?

ALLAN: Little pieces to my comics, such as layout, composition, writing styles, etc., are usually products of my own preferences and experimentation. Personally, I prefer scrolling to read things. Not sure why—it’s possible that it’s in the same vein as newspaper articles reading “faster” when they are wrapped into tight confines.

As for changing the layout, I have considered it. In fact, I’ve made some unpublished Allan strips recently that have branched out of my vertical layout.

ANTHONY: Being a chronicle of your life, Allan isn’t always “work-safe” but it is always truthful. You’ve opened up about relationship problems, losing your virginity, even the car vs. bike accident you had. Is there anything you regret making public? Or anything you’ve left out or glossed over that you wish you had taken the time to draw and include?

ALLAN: I don’t regret a single thing I’ve drawn. I’ve tried to make it all as accurate and honest as I could. Do I regret letting some of it happen?—sure, but creating a timeline that in 20 years I can look back on and laugh at how stupid I was is surely nothing to apologize for!

ANTHONY: Allan isn’t a daily comic anymore … adulthood has brought more constraints on your time, but you’ve also branched out a bit with other webcomics projects. Before we talk about those projects, one last Allan question. Do you foresee a time when you’ll discontinue Allan in favor of other creative endeavors?

ALLAN: Allan’s always been my “time-killer” comic. If I have an idea, I can draw a strip in under an hour. Because of this, Allan’s toughed out all the slumps I’ve come across with my other comic endeavors. It’s easy to pick up, accessible, and just plain ol’ fun (from an artist’s perspective). Having said that, I could see Allan “ending” around Day 1000. I’m not saying I’ll ever stop drawing journal comics, but with trends in comics I’ve noticed lately, the Formatted Comic isn’t necessary for success. Expanding on that, people seem less interested in comics and more interested in the people who create comics they read. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but creating a bond between your readers and yourself is probably one of the best things any webcomic artist can do, and having that bond with my readers, I couldn’t just see myself leaving them without any kind of continuation, regardless as to whether it’s on a site called Allan or not.

ANTHONY: Your other currently-running webcomic is Blue Circus. Definitely NSFW! Tell us what it’s about, who the target audience is, and where it can be found.

ALLAN: I grew up drawing a lot of men. Dragon Ball Z was a big influence when I young. Akira Toriyama’s understanding of the male physique sprouted my own appreciation for the muscles that make up our bodies. However, I never really “got into” drawing girls. They’ve always been a difficult enigma for me to craft accurately, stylistically, and femininely.

Blue Circus began as just an art project. I wanted to draw girls. The problem was, I was having a hard time thinking up girls to draw and at the moment I had no reference photos or anything like that (I was home for a weekend visiting family). As I struggled to draw the female figure in different positions I realized that I wasn’t attached to these drawings. So I began thinking up a backstory, and as I did, I found myself becoming more and more attached to this girl I was drawing. Her name was Amy (Amy is now one of the main protagonists in Blue Circus).

So once I decided on one character, the rest kind of all fell into place. It’s definitely not a comic I expect commercial success with or anything, so I never planned on an audience. Rather, it’s a means for me to stretch my artistic wings when it comes to cartoony females and to practice my story plots on the side.

ANTHONY: You’ve never been shy about sexual topics, but you’re a bit more …. detailed, shall we say, in BC than you’ve been in any other project. So what made you decide to really “work blue,” as the Vegas comedians used to call it?

ALLAN: Blue, indeed. I think it’s a well-established fact that I like sex. A lot of people do. I can understand why, too. Sex is fun, funny, and fascinating. It’s intricate and detailed, and it reveals a lot about people. Consider the explicity of it to be an experimental character device (you can learn a lot about a character through their dreams). Blue Circus is not about sex, but rather the people who do sex, and I’m working trying to find a good balance. It should be noted that the nudity in Blue Circus is not gratuitous. I draw boobs and penises for reasons. I don’t just shove them into the panels so people can beat off to them.

ANTHONY: I definitely wouldn’t describe BC as “pornography.” Now, let’s talk creative process for a minute. There are plenty of differences between Allan and BC: real life vs. fiction, vertical vs. horizontal page layouts, etc. For BC, how do you decide the composition of each page, the length of each story arc, etc.?

ALLAN: Blue Circus story arcs begin with an idea. How well-thought out that idea is varies, but that’s its beginning point. Earlier in production, I would think up the dialogue in my head, draw the characters, and try to match the events together. Now, I kind of create one strip at a time, writing the dialogue (which usually has changed by the time I’m done drawing) to strips and then drawing them. It seems to be working better.

Other comics I’ve done, such as Red Future, I’ve written in their entirety. The problem was, the comics themselves took too long to make and I got bored with it, trying to rush to the “good parts.” Personally, I find myself more entertained with my works when I surprise myself with each update.

ANTHONY: Since we’re both LOST fans, you know I have to ask: Does BC have an intended end point, or are you just making it up as you go along?

ALLAN: Right now, the latter. The final moment hasn’t been decided upon. The girls are all in college, so the easy end would be graduation. However, that’s boring, and personally, I’d want to go out with more of a bang.

ANTHONY: One more blue question: Whatever happened to the Blue Squire?

ALLAN: That’s like asking Star Trek what happened with Tribbles. The Blue Squire was an in-joke pertaining to a Medieval Times experience I had when I was younger. Later he became a bit of a mascot for Allan, and at one point I was in the process of creating a storyline for The Squire, himself. Things fell through, though, and time got away from me. I don’t know if you’ve figured this out, yet, but I stop a lot of projects before fully completing them!

ANTHONY: See what I did there? And since I mentioned the Squire, you know I’m going to bring up two other unfinished projects of yours: whatever happened to DandE and Red Planet? Any thoughts about going back to either one?

ALLAN: DandE was a comic I created in the midst of making The 600. I drew it at school during math classes because apparently I didn’t already have enough comic projects going on (even though I very much did). I stopped it early after publishing it online because of time restraints. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel attached to the project enough to pick it back up. I still may include some of those old strips in an Allan anthology or something, but for now, it’s done.

As for Red Future, I became bored with its process. Personally, I do more than just draw. I have to write, produce, create, and once I had finished writing RF, all I was doing was copying down the info.

ANTHONY: Are your comics hand-drawn and then scanned, or done completely on the computer? In either case, what are the tools you prefer to use to create the art?

ALLAN: Usually my strips are hand-drawn with some kind of fancy pen (no pencil sketching) then scanned into the computer and cleaned up just a tidbit. Occasionally I will make a digital strip (that is, a strip drawn into my computer through the means of my Intuous 3 Wacom Tablet), but this is usually for convenience (or lack of materials). An Allan page looks best to me when it visually represents a journal comic, and you just don’t get the same feel with digital processes that you get with pen on paper.

ANTHONY: And for my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

ALLAN: I’m not much of a book person. I should be, because I like learning, thinking, and imagining, but currently I find investing the time impossible (I like getting things done fast). However, Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite book. The world Bradbury weaves of his own volition frighteningly predicts what the world could become (and even stranger—what it already has),

ANTHONY: Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed, Allan!

ALLAN: Thanks for having me! And thanks for being so patient.

You can follow Allan Wood on Twitter, find his page on Facebook, and read Allan and Blue Circus on the web.

DANIEL VANDERWEFF, Webcomics - Interview

This week, Rambling On welcomes the mysterious and deadly webcomic secret ninja known as Mr. V to our intervie…

Wait, hold on, that’s not right. Let’s try that again.

This week, Rambling On welcomes the funny and not-at-all-deadly Daniel Vanderwerff to our interview table. Daniel is the writer-artist behind SCHOOL SPIRIT, a very family-friendly webcomic about a group of Australian kids whose primary school (elementary/grade school to our American readers) just happens to be right next to a cemetery full of very active spirits (not ghosts, thank-you-very-much). Being a primary school teacher himself, Daniel (“Mr. V” to his students) has a keen sense of the types of adventures these kids would get up to, especially if they were friends with the dearly departed. The tone of the strip is usually light and often filled with visual and verbal puns, but Daniel’s not afraid to touch on more serious subject matter if it’s appropriate to the characters (a recent arc, for example, dealt with a student coming to terms with the fact that she might really be a bully without intending to be one).

Here’s a couple of samples:

Casper and Cody meet Wendy

Casper and Cody meet Wendy

Wendy the Spirit gets to know Grace better.

Wendy the Spirit gets to know Grace better.

Okay, on with the interview!

Anthony: Hi Daniel. Thanks for agreeing to “sit down” for this international email interview!

Daniel: No worries. Thank you for the opportunity to have a quiet chin-wag with you about it, and for considering School Spirit worthy of your time as a reader.

A: This past week, School Spirit hit a landmark 1,000 strips. Some nationally syndicated print strips here in America don’t get that far, so congratulations. When you started the webcomic, did you think you’d still be working on it 1,000 strips later? Was there ever a point where you thought you might give it up?

D: Some nationally syndicated print strips in America might not get this far, but I bet you Sydney to a brick that they made more money! But that’s not why School Spirit’s here. No, I didn’t think back in late 2003 when I first drew Casper and the kids for the first few times that I’d end up reaching 1000 (and more) strips without a break seven or so years later. When the idea of making a webcomic was first brought up to me (considering I hadn’t actually READ one yet until after I had started making one…) I scoffed and said ‘I’m a teacher! I don’t have time for rubbish like this!’ And… yeah. He we are, 1000 regular strips later.
I can’t really say, though, that there was ever a point where I thought I might pack it all in. It was never meant to be a job and I never expected to make a crust from it (although getting a few bucks back every now and then for it wouldn’t be passed up!), so in that regard it’s never been more than a hobby. There HAVE been times when keeping it running was taxing, but you get second winds every now and then, tie it all up with wire, so to speak, and keep the show on the road.

A: I won’t ask who your favorite character is, because that’s like asking you to choose your favorite student or favorite child. Instead, I’ll ask which of the student characters you feel has drifted into the background over the years, and why you think that might have happened. (Lynn Johnston, the creator of the print comic FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE tells the story of suddenly realizing a supporting character had virtually disappeared from the story, and then going to figure out why.)

D: Most of them, from time to time, if I’m honest. While she’s not a student character, Mavis the busdriver went over a year without popping up, which I only realised when a reader brought it up. Davey Jones, Brylcreem, Chastity and her two shadows have all dropped off the radar from time to time, but I don’t really think any of them have come close to disappearing. Davey is probably the closest, but he still pops his head in every now and then and occasionally gets a more prominent front row seat. The football match and some of the schoolyard cricket scenes are ones that come to mind for him.

The reason for things like this tend to be because they were only intended to be background colour to the principal characters, and therefore the stories didn’t always allow them appropriate spots to pop their faces in. Over 1000 strips though, each of the kids has had their chance to take centre stage and show their character.

A: Occasionally (and I’m thinking mostly of the year-end strips) it feels like the kids know they’re in a comic-strip. I can’t recall that you’ve ever directly addressed the issue, but I have wondered about it. Is this purposeful? Are they aware they’re fictional characters or when they look at the reader, is it more like they’re looking at a camera crew filming a documentary? Or am I just analyzing those occasional “oh, not this joke again” panels too hard?

D: Ah, the fourth wall. It’s a terrible, terrible mistake making your characters break that fourth wall and register the presence of the audience, isn’t it? Too bad. I don’t really agree with that. If it’s a serious story, then yes, it’s not usually a good idea. But this is a story about a bunch of kids doing kid stuff. Also, it started as a primary school musical production I was writing for the kids to perform. Most of the school plays (the fun ones!) I’ve seen have some sort of interaction with the audience and share the jokes with them, so School Spirit as a play was littered with audience references and interaction. I just adapted those sorts of little inside jokes between the characters and their audience into the strip.

So yes, it is purposeful that the kids are still only very occasionally glancing in the audience’s direction as though silently asking if they got the joke too. I’m not entirely sure they realise they’re in a comic strip (there is one strip very early where they appear to understand this, but that is one of the strips I recognise as a mistake now looking back), but then perhaps the documentary idea is closer to the mark. I just like to remind readers that what they are reading is, in fact, just a comic strip, and nothing more than that. Have a laugh and hopefully learn to love the kids along with me, but they’re in on the jokes from time to time as well. It’s not that they’re intelligent enough to work it all out, it’s probably more that they’re just filled with flat out kid cunning!

A: The main focus of the strip continues to be “the big three” of Casper, Cody and Grace, with Wendy the Spirit coming and going. Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic between these four characters, and how it has changed over the years?

D: Actually, the Big Three are Casper, Cody and Wendy, although I can understand how you include Grace in that number. Casper is the ‘every man’ of the strip. I suppose he’s the straight man of all the kids and tends to learn about the strip and the setting along with the reader (especially in the first year or so of the strip) whereas Cody was more his comic foil. These two were the invisible nobodies than no one really noticed or bothered about, and that is why they could see and hear Wendy, the young spirit in the cemetery next door. This was the original seed of the whole strip. Since then though, they’ve all grown and developed and the dynamics are somewhat more muddled now. Grace was their third monkey back at school, but Wendy was their third monkey everywhere else. Particularly over these last 100 strips, Grace has grown and developed much further (and it was not before time, it must be admitted), and it actually ended up being her interactions with Wendy that have been the underlying story for the last year. Now, Wendy has distinct relationships with both the two boys, and Grace, that are completely separate, which I think has given the strip an important change of pace and focus now.

A: The supporting cast has grown from occasional foils for the main three kids to characters with their own storylines that occasionally take center stage. What happens when you get that “a-ha” moment that a character is ready to carry a storyline (or, for that matter, when a background character is ready to gain a name and a best friend)?

D: I love working from time to time with the background kids, although they really stopped being background kids quite early on. They have all featured in their own storylines over the history of the strip. There are still original intentions for some of the characters that haven’t eventuated yet, purely because the time isn’t right for it just yet. Casper’s continuing wish to have Chastity register his existence is one plot point that still hasn’t resolved itself, although from time to time it does reappear and develop further.

I think the real reason the supporting cast have developed over the years is because it gave the main three kids a chance to have a break. It also allowed me to work with other stories and ideas that just wouldn’t work with Casper and Cody. Those two can’t carry the stories that Chastity and her girls can, or those that Brylcreem and Davey Jones can. They’re different kids which means different views and behaviours. They’re also important parts for the colour of the School Spirit world. I don’t think the strip would be anywhere near as rich in colour and warmth as I hope it is if those supporting cast characters had stayed in the background.

Oh, and I know exactly what point you are talking about when you speak of a background character getting a name and a best mate! Those two younger boys did just pop up as background kids for one strip only, but the moment I put words in his mouth (because he was the kid in the front of the group – and who knows whether I put the words in his mouth or he just said them to me himself!), I knew he was staying. As I mentioned with the recent stories with Grace and Wendy, the appearance of Jackson and Didj so suddenly at the start of 2010 gave the strip a breath of fresh air and I think again just added to the colour of the strip. I’m really glad those two kids walked onto the page and refused to bugger off! I really like them!

A: There seems to be a perception that comics like yours, in which the characters don’t age despite regularly celebrating annual holidays and end-of-school and so on, are not as heavily plotted as the more “real-time” comics are. Two questions: one, why do you think that perception exists, and two, how far ahead do you plot the goings-on of School Spirit?

D: I think it could be just as simple as people want a reason to justify not wanting to read certain genres. Every June School Spirit runs a birthday week, and every year it runs an End Of Year Series. None of these strips are part of the counted number or the main stories. None of the kids in the real strips have had birthdays or aged yet, although they have spoken about things like Easter more than once which could be seen as ‘not aging’. Other than that, School Spirit is just as much a ‘real-time’ comic as your common graphic novel set up. If there are stand alone jokes in School Spirit’s archive, they’re written into storylines that all tend to follow on and build form each other as the archive progresses.

As for planning ahead, there is very little actually written down. There are three major story themes waiting to start at this point, but they could well only appear after another 250 to 500 strips yet. I know what ‘main plots’ I want particular kids to feature in, but I also don’t want those plots to flood the strip for lengthy periods. Instead, the kids not featured in those strips tend to interrupt the stories with their own shorter ones every now and then. It just keeps my work a bit more fresh and breaks up the main plots a bit. To be honest, I rarely even script out each storyline! I usually have an ending in mind, an idea of how it can start, and then just fill the gaps as I go along, letting it grow naturally as I work on them. Many would probably think it lazy or unprofessional, but I’m still here, eh?

A: You include a page of Australian slang to help us foreigners understand the kids better. What I find humorous is that I rarely need to consult it — almost every slang word makes sense in context. Have you seen your international audience grow over the years, or has it remained consistent?

D: I honestly couldn’t say. I don’t think I’ve seen my audience grow much over the last few years at all. It seems to have stayed quite, well, stagnant! It’s never been a strong crowd pulling strip, but it has held onto a fairly quiet yet loyal little group. It doesn’t feature what I consider ‘internet humour’ or the cliches I feel many use and abuse, but I also don’t want to weaken what the characters have made for me by bringing cheap laughs in just to drag in an audience that didn’t appreciate it already. Internationally though, the audience seems to be predominantly American or British, although there do seem to be regular readers from Canada and Germany as well. One or two. I have had complaints that it isn’t in English, or that I’ve spelled words incorrectly (by the way, up above you spelled the word centre wrong, you American language killer!). Actually, I’ve even had people accuse me of pretending to be Australian just to have a hook, because no one in the world really talks like these kids do. I just laugh at stuff like that. I say g’day, I say struth, I say ‘Are you fair dinkum? Give us a captain’s at that, it looks a right corker!’ and ‘Avagooweegend’. I enjoy using Australian slang and lingo as well. It’s part of my character and it’s part of School Spirit’s character.

A: As you mentioned earlier, School Spirit started out conceptually as a musical and was actually performed. Did you record the musical’s performances, and what are the chances that you’ll someday add a music page to the site and let us hear the songs you wrote?

D: Yes. School Spirit: The Musical was performed back in 2004 by a group of grade five and six students. It ran for an hour and a half, was in two acts, and featured twelve original songs with each of the speaking parts having at least a verse if not an entire song to sing. I have a CD with the recorded show on it somewhere, but I’d have to dig around for the songs. I don’t have them recorded with lyrics though, just the music, so if they did appear on the site in the future, they’d have to be there alongside the written lyrics.

Many of the songs were littered with references and homages to various Australian bands and songs, too, which probably isn’t surprising if you’ve read the strip and understand how Australian I have tried to make it!

It was fantastic to see my characters walking and talking in live action, and the kids gave those characters I draw on paper different aspects and behaviours I could never have given them. Also, I highly doubt there’s another webcomic in the vast internet world that is actually also a musical production, eh?

A: There was recently a case in the US where a teacher who was also an author received negative attention from parents because the teacher’s books were not suitable for her students, despite the teacher writing under a pen name and never bringing her books up in class or in the school at all. Since you are a teacher as well as the creator of a web-comic about a school, what kind of comments or feedback have you gotten from students, parents, and other faculty over the years?

D: To be honest, very few people I work with know School Spirit exists, and I don’t think any of them read it anyway. To be fair, I don’t really advertise the fact to everyone I meet. It’s a hobby, and amazingly, there are many, many people out there in the real world who don’t give two shakes about things like webcomics. I have had kids read it and pop up from time to time, but their attention moves on quickly too. The main reactions I’ve had to School Spirit came when it was being performed. A parent took offense to the story featuring ghosts and didn’t want her daughter to take part. Her reason was because she believed in God and School Spirit was evil and featured characters who had come back from the dead. When I asked ‘isn’t that what Jesus did?’ she dropped the argument! The kid still didn’t take part. But other than that, there have been no negative reactions. If you can find something offensive in School Spirit, then really, you’re looking at it far too seriously!

A: Other than the odd way you spell things like ‘behaviour’ and ‘colour,’ I can’t think of anything offensive in School Spirit. haha Now for my usual closing question: What is your favorite book and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

D: Easy. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s just a beautiful, tragic, warm and simplistically honest story. I recently bought myself a little Jack Russell pup and he was always going to be named Jem. I just absolutely adore the book, and to me it’s not about the slavery or the court case or the right or wrongs of the racism undertones. It’s a story about the innocent and magic of childhood and the relationship between a man and his children, and to me, Jem is one of the greatest literary heroes ever put to paper. It’s one of the world’s true masterpieces.

A: This has been a fun interview. Hopefully, it’ll bring more readership to a webcomic I absolutely love. Thanks again, Mr. V., for your time… and here’s hoping we see another 1,000 School Spirit strips!

D: I’m not promising anything, but I don’t intend to pull up stumps on it just yet. I still enjoy the company of the kids, and I just hope there are some out there who feel likewise. Cheers.

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Don’t forget you can also “Like” School Spirit on Facebook, and follow @_schoolspirit_ on Twitter for news.

Megan L Heaton and Isabelle Melancon, Webcomics - Interview

This week, we welcome Megan L. Heaton and Isabelle Melancon, the creators of the webcomic NAMESAKE.



Namesake is the story of Emma Crewe, a woman who discovers she can visit other worlds. She finds out that these are places she already knows – fantasy and fairy lands made famous through the spoken word, literature and cinema. Her power as a Namesake forces her to act as a protagonist in these familiar stories as she figures out how to get home.


Isabelle is a French-Canadian comic artist currently living in Montréal. She has currently 2 graphic novels published and a webcomic running and is planning to write many, many more. She is fascinated by fairy tales, mythology, gore and the macabre. She currently works in a french comic book store.




Megan is an American comic book writer, tech blogger and newspaper designer best known for co-creating the webcomic Namesake with Isabelle Melançon. She’s originally from Montgomery, Ala., and currently lives outside Harrisburg, Pa. In addition to writing comics, she is a designer and copy editor for The Patriot-News and app review editor for TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog).

ANTHONY: Hello, Ladies! First question: What’s the creative process like? Do you work with Megan giving Isabelle a fully-detailed script including dialogue? Or is there more creative give-and-take behind each individual page?

ISABELLE: Well, since both of us work on the story, it’s very much a back-and-forth. Megan and I discuss what happens in the next couple of pages and then she scripts it out. Once it’s scripted, I create the weekly pages from it, usually in sets of three, adapting her text to the comic format. She approves the visuals, I ink them, color them and then send the files to her for her to add the text in and make some last minute changes. So as you can see, it’s pretty much pure teamwork all steps of the way.

MEGAN: Exactly what Isa said. It’s teamwork all the way. Before Namesake began, we sat down starting in mid-2009 and hashed out a detailed story arc we dubbed the retcon. We broke the entire story into individual arcs, then from there we began breaking the first arc into chapters. The story’s evolved from that first retcon in a good way. We’ll now look at what we want to accomplish in a chapter as a whole, then I script it out. Originally, almost was computer-scripted from first to last, but then I realized I was getting my best results by handwriting the script first. So, I’ll take a Moleskine and fountain pen and script out a scene. Then, I’ll type it in Scrivener where I have the master Namesake file, then send the scene to Isa. She’ll create the weekly pages, adding in her own suggested dialogue and either expanding or contracting some of the suggested scenes/lines. I’ll approve the visuals, Isa then inks and colors, then I do the lettering for any last-minute text tweaks and because I am an acknowledged font snob. I hear there’s support groups for that.

ANTHONY: The idea of fairy tale and literary characters existing in our real world has been done before, in a number of different formats. You’ve tweaked that concept in an original and interesting way. How did you hit on the idea of Namesakes (Wendy, Dorothy, Alice, Jack) fulfilling specific literary roles in new adventures?

ISABELLE: I guess it’s always the way I saw adaptations as a kid. All the characters felt like different persons born of the same original concept. The first Alice was long gone and the one in the Disney movie I was watching was the “new” one. I don’t even remember the concept ever really hitting me like Newton’s apple. It just naturally evolved into Namesake, thanks to Meg’s encouragements and motivation to help me get my ideas into place. The whole idea really started solidifying in a silly parody of the “Wizard of Oz” I was doing. She saw a lot of potential in it, and that’s how it started off.

MEGAN: I came into Namesake after Isa’d already come up with the idea, encouraging her to do more with the idea.

ANTHONY: Your main character, Emma, seems to be the first new Namesake in a number of years — so much so that Alice and Wendy aren’t even really sure what literary role she’s meant to fulfill, although a Jane Austen connection is mentioned. Emma ends up in Oz, is greeted as the new Dorothy, and is read “The Dorothy Protocols.” Does every literary dimension have such Protocols (“The Alice Protocols,” “The Jack Protocols,” etc)?

ISABELLE: Yes and no. It depends how the world greets the Namesakes and keeps up with their history. For instance, Wonderland doesn’t have an Alice protocol because they really can’t manage to write down a logical one. In most worlds, the visits of Namesakes are recorded in the form of folktales, much like the other worlds are folktales in our world. Oz has a pretty specific protocol mostly due to the fact that Dorothies usually ended up staying as residents and most Ozites are immortal, thus allowing the memory of what a Dorothy is to stay alive and fresh.

MEGAN: There’s even rare cases where the Namesake has shifted from a guy to a girl or vice versa depending on the circumstances. We’ll eventually meet one of these Namesakes.

ANTHONY: Feel free to order me to be silent, but my theory is that Emma is not named for/empowered by the Jane Austen character because all of your recognizable Namesakes so far are named for child characters (Alice, Wendy, Dorothy, even Jack). Of course, that makes Emma even more mysterious. You, as the creators, do have a plan all worked out I assume. This isn’t going to be like so many genre TV shows that claim they know what the end-game is but really don’t at all, right? Feel like giving us any hints as to where the story is going?

ISABELLE: Rest assured, Emma’s story is pretty much all written out. Which allows us to laughs evilly when people make theories. Mwa-hah-hah. I guess the two only hints I feel comfortable giving is that not all Namesakes are kids and that Emma’s world is quite close to the ones of the rest of the Calliope cast. It is an existing literature world. And it’s not by Austen.

MEGAN: The vast majority of the Namesake cast is actually in their mid-20s to early-30s. As Isa said, not all Namesakes are kids or take their journeys when they’re children. Among the main cast, we have some who did their journeys as teens and some when they were younger, and there’s some who do their journeys as adults. But, yes, we definitely know the end game. It’s all documented in that aforementioned retcon/Scrivener file and in Gmail conversations. It’s like J.K. Rowling already having the epilogue to the Harry Potter series, but I promise we will not name a character Albus Severus!

ANTHONY: That poor kid will be scarred forever. (Couldn’t resist the pun.) Right now the focus is clearly on Emma in Oz and on Alice/Wendy/Jack’s efforts to figure out where she’s gone. But there are other mysteries running in the background: why did Vanessa kill Karen? Whose ghost was possessing Karen? What happened to Emma’s missing mother? And what connection do Charles Dodson and Alice Liddell have to the modern cast of characters? Will any of these mysteries come to the front burner in the future? Or are they all long-term sub-plots?

ISABELLE: All the current plot points will get resolved. Most of them will be closed when the big villain walks in, which is fairly soon. More flashbacks featuring Alice and Dodson will gradually show what their connection to the present is. Every member of the cast has a planned flashback sequence within the story, with some extra material that will be included as downloadable content in the future. In the long-term sub-plot part of the story, Emma’s mother is going to be a very important character in the future and the ghost too. So they have planned flashbacks as well. But be warned – every explained mystery pretty much opens another. Again : evil laughter. Mwa-hah-hah.

MEGAN: Speaking of the big villain, I am really looking forward to introducing that character and showing some of the research that went into said villain. As you can see with some of the current pages, we’re finally answering some of the questions from chapter 1, but raising others at the same time.

ANTHONY: Isabelle, this one is for you: what medium do you work in, and what tools do you use, to create the art for Namesake? How do you decide which pages, or sometimes just panels, get to appear in color versus which pages stay in black and white?

ISABELLE: I work with liquid china ink, Sakura micron pens and pilot fineliners on bristol board. I usually sketch out the art with a red pencil, then ink directly on top, scan the art and remove the red sketch lines with Adobe Photoshop. The shading and coloring is done with that program as well. The color highlights that are chosen usually come quite naturally. They either match the conversation or underline the use of magic. For instance, the current pages show that Jack feels guilty over Vanessa. So the blood-splatter-shaped marking on his hand is the element in color.

ANTHONY: There seems to be a stylistic difference between the Dodson/Alice Intermissions and Emma’s story. Am I imagining it, or are you purposefully using a slightly different art style for those flashbacks?

ISABELLE: The art style is mostly the same, the framing is a bit different. The sequences with Alice always have a striped wall in the back. Makes everything looks tight and caged. Emma’s story breathes a whole lot more.

ANTHONY: Who are your creative influences, respectively?

ISABELLE: …Oh boy. So many I don’t even know where to start. I guess the main ones would be 19e century illustration (as a whole), Terry Moore, Jeff Smith, Yukito Kishiro, Kerascoet, Fabien Vehlmann and many. many of my webcomic artist friends.

MEGAN: For me, the first was J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5. His televised novel made a huge impression on me as a teenager. Writing-wise, feel free to laugh, but I draw a lot of inspiration from Nora Roberts. She’s a romance/mystery writer (as J.D. Robb), and her characters are well-rounded and the stories filled with emotion. Other writing influences include J.K. Rowling, Rumiko Takahashi and Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin. I’m starting to study the work of Stephen Moffat more and love what he’s done with Doctor Who.

ANTHONY: What is the typical turn-around time from the beginning of script-writing to the completed pages being posted on the site? How far in advance are you working?

ISABELLE: So far, we seem to get stuff done about a week or two in advance. It’s not ideal, but it seems to work well for us.

MEGAN: Yes. Knock on wood, we’ve never missed an update. Some times I am doing the pages by remotely connecting to my desktop to get the lettering done, but the latest we’ve ever been was 30 minutes and that’s because I was driving home from the airport.

ANTHONY: Is there a plan for getting Namesake into print form?

ISABELLE: Since both Meg and me are fascinated by books, yes, absolutely. We are currently looking for printers we can use.

MEGAN: Yes, with a story like this, Namesake needs books. If you know of any good printers, please send them our way.

ANTHONY: When you’re not working on Namesake, are there other projects out there readers should be looking for?

ISABELLE: I have several graphic novel ideas currently in the works. For some of them, Meg and I will be working together again. For others, I will be working alone or with other talented writers I adore. We plan on having one or 2 mini-comics available this year. Among the planned ideas we have vampires, an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast with a gender-swap, magical murder mysteries and stories about fire spirits. So it’s going to be a lot of fun for both us and our readers. I think it’s what makes our projects so likable. It’s that we really have a ton of fun making them.

MEGAN: Isa’s provided a good description of our upcoming projects. We have a ton of fun making stuff and refining ideas. We write what we would like to read. Isa’s been encouraging me to develop my own ideas more, which is where the magical murder mystery came from. We also plan to have mini-comics featuring powerful women in history that don’t always get the spotlight. We also participated in Womanthology together, and that will be out in December.

ANTHONY: And here’s my customary final question: What is your favorite book and what would you say to recommend it to someone who has never read it?

ISABELLE: My favorite book changes every five years or so. I’m a fickle thing that way. But I think one of the books that will always be in my top 10 is the Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Why? Because it’s a story that is really complex and really simple at the same time. It’s imaginative, beautiful and truly an example of what timeless fantasy should be like.

MEGAN: I can never answer this one! I can easily give you a list of 10 that would be my favorites. My favorite single book is T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” I first read it in ninth grade, and it’s such a great fantasy story. I still have my very battered copy I got for school sitting on the shelf. I love how complex he made the traditional Arthurian characters and how he weaved the current events at that time, World War II, in with the fantasy setting of the novel. My favorite book series is the “In Death” mysteries by J.D. Robb (the aforementioned Nora Roberts.) It’s a series that’s spanned more than 40 books and novella since the mid-90s, and the beauty in the story is the complex mysteries and characters that change and grow as the novels progress. These are mysteries with a romance subplot, and they go hand in hand. But, I absolutely love them and it’s a rule in my household that I am not to be disturbed when a new In Death comes out.

ANTHONY: Thanks for chatting with me, ladies!

You can find read a new page of NAMESAKE every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You can also follow both Megan and Isaon Twitter.

NEAL BAILEY and DEXTER WEE, Webcomics - Interview

This weekend, instead of blogging about my inexorably slow NaNoWriMo progress (and aren’t you all glad I’m skipping thattopic!), I’m welcoming back my buddy Neal Bailey to talk more about the wonderful webcomic Cura Te Ipsum. This time, he’s brought along artist Dexter Wee, too!

Neal Bailey

Neal Bailey

CURA TE IPSUM is the story of Charlie Everett. Well, several Charlies, as it turns out. In most universes, Charlie Everett gets sick of his life (where he’s most often a guidance counselor who tells other people how to live their lives, while not knowing how to live his own). After a certain point, he’s fired, and he goes home and sticks a pistol in his mouth and blows his brains out. Charlie Prime, our hero, is stopped by another character, Leo, who introduces him to the concept of the multiverse, and tells him that there’s a whole team of Charlies, Cura Te Ipsum, fighting to stop him from committing suicide across multiple universes. The story has grown and deepened, new Charlies (both good and evil) have been introduced, and a world has been destroyed. Let’s see if Neal and Dexter will tell us what’s in store for Volume Two and beyond….

Cura Te Ipsum volume 1

Cura Te Ipsum volume 1

ANTHONY: I know there’s a synopsis of Cura Te Ipsum as a whole leading off this interview, but give us an idea of what Volume 2 is all about, and how it is different from volume one.

DEXTER: Volume two opens with a bang, introduces new characters to the team and ends with a killer cliffhanger.

NEAL: Volume one was definitely much more about laying the ground rules for the story, and volume two is all about running with that world, now that it’s established. Charlie tries to come to terms with the first (of many) things that drove him toward suicide in the first place, and the Dark Everett moves to take the advantage by kidnapping Hank, Charlie’s childhood best friend. Charlie’s role as a leader starts to come into more prominence, and the Dark Everett solidifies his place as Charlie’s nemesis, where before he was more of a mystery to the team.

ANTHONY: Last time I interviewed Neal, we talked a little about the collaborative process between the two of you. Several months later, has that process changed at all? Have you guys settled into a comfortable rhythm or are there still surprises that pop up in the partnership?

DEXTER: The process is still the same. I read the script then send Neal the draft layouts for approval. Then once it is approved I tighten the pencils, scan, then email the pages to Neal for lettering. It’s been a smooth partnership. Neal is very easy to work with and the communication is great. It’s been a fun and enjoyable ride so far and will continue to do so.

NEAL: I would say the process itself hasn’t changed too much, but I do see a definite comfortable rhythm that has developed, at least with me. Dex has become very much a friend over the months that we’ve grinded away at this thing, and there’s a kind of sixth sense I feel now, where he’ll see something missing in the script or something that’s too much, and he’ll add a panel, remove a panel, or give something a little touch that it was missing in a way that makes me feel like I haven’t before… like I have a back up editor for one of my own stories. With a novel, it’s very much EVERYTHING I screw up, I see later and regret (even if it’s small). In a collaboration, I’ve learned that Dex has my back, that two minds are better than one, and it just keeps getting better and better for me.

ANTHONY: Neal, has your scripting style changed as you’ve developed a better feel for Dexter’s strengths as an artist?

NEAL: Absolutely. As I got to know Dex and learn what he liked to draw, and where his strengths lie, I started tailoring the broader script toward his work. Now, to be fair, I had the first year in the can before we got through the first trade, so much of that adaptation occurs in year two, which is an even higher compliment to Dex, because the first year is not directly tailored, and yet he’s still, consistently, CONSTANTLY knocking it out of the park.

ANTHONY: Dexter, what is your process like once you receive a script from Neal? Do you charge right in, or do you read it over and let it soak in for a while?

DEXTER: I read it over then soak it for a while. Just visualizing the story and getting the feel of it. But sometimes I just draw right in, read one or two pages then draw, but most of the time it’s reading a chapter first, and then I get one printed page and place it on the drawing table and read it again while drawing the page.

ANTHONY: Have you ever read over a script, started to draw, and then thought there might be a better camera angle or page layout for what Neal’s words are trying to convey? And if it happens, how do you guys work through disagreements like that?

DEXTER: Yeah. Sometimes scenes sounds good or easy in the script but looks different visually. So If I encounter something like that I usually draw a sample first then send it to Neal. Glad to say there isn’t much of a disagreement. Sometimes I just miss the point and once Neal explains it to me, I’m all good. There are times also when I completely mess up by forgetting to draw some characters in certain scenes. Good thing I don’t ink the pencil pages, so it’s much easier to correct once Neal will inform me about it.

NEAL: I should pop in and, in Dex’s defense, say that most miscommunications are mine. Like when I put Squirt in a bar! Duh! But yeah, usually the thumbnails catch anything that might be funky… and Dex is always, ALWAYS improving my pacing with his awesome layouts.

ANTHONY: Dexter has an interesting challenge with this series: even though each main character has an overall unique visual, they are still all variations on Charlie Everett. So what do you do to make sure they look like the same person while making sure they stand apart?

DEXTER: I have a picture of my head of what Charlie looks like from the eyes to the chin so that when I draw the Charlies they will look the same but still have those unique look.

ANTHONY: Cura has a distinct look. How do you create it? What tools do you use as you move from initial roughs to the final uploaded pages?

DEXTER: My tools are just pencils 3H, 2B and 4B. After scanning the pencilled page I just adjust the contrast in Photoshop. I don’t ink my work due to time constrain but hopefully in the future we’ll do one.

NEAL: I use an ancient version of Adobe Illustrator to letter. I take Dex’s final pages, place them, do my layers and all, and then I save a version for the site, which is typically much less detailed so it doesn’t take forever to load, but it’s still clear on the screen. Illustrator seems to leave less blur on a file than Photoshop, so I use Illustrator for most everything I can.

ANTHONY: Are there pages you are particularly proud of?

DEXTER: Ah, let met me think. I like the recent pages of volume three. The first page of Cura is also memorable to me. I also like the first time I drew Dark Everett in page 35 splash and Undertaker Charlie in page 49. The massacre splash of page 47. The doomsday scenes from page 76 to 78 as well as pages 89-91 where Hank slide down from the exterior of the building. I also like the Titanic scenes, it might look easy but it took me time to check the Titanic ship design and copy it. I also like the cameo scenes of pages 118, 119 and 149.

NEAL: I echo Dex for favorite pages. I remember seeing that first page and going “Holy crap, this is actually going to work.” I realized in Dex I was working with real talent, someone who could make this comic soar. My personal favorite page is when Charlie throws the gun into the water, the no copy page. I also like little things, mainly. Panels really make me smile on their own, as part of a whole. When Hank is being called Lucky in caption in the middle of the falling ash from the nuclear weaponry. There’s a page coming up that has the pyramids again (I won’t spoil it), and that page really makes me smile in a ghoulish, moribund kinda way.

I really, really love the pages with Henry V. Dex really killed those pages.

ANTHONY: Certain pages still jump immediately to mind for me with very little bidding. For instance, the buildings collapsing during the nuclear attack, where we first meet Hank. Did you intentionally draw on September 11th imagery for those pages? It resonated that way for me.

DEXTER: No. Neal wrote the script clearly for me to visualize it. Actually the picture that I think went into my mind while doing the page is the apocalyptic scene in Terminator two movie.

NEAL: I actually overloaded Dex with references for those pages, doing the math, seeing how high and how far you’d have to be to survive a nuke placed right behind the Eiffel Tower, seeing what you’d have to do to survive. That building is actually the Tour Gan, which I believe is a government building, across the water, but at just the right height and distance to survive that kind of nuclear explosion. And for all that reference, all that thinking, Dex still outdid me in that page. It was so awesome. I think the only thing we changed, if I recall, was added that waterfall in the building. Oh! I also (like a dunce) added a redundant panel at the top, so we deleted that, because that page on its own… oh man. Can you imagine it with a small panel at the top? I have learned to let Dex do his thing, because he does it so well, and stop cluttering.

ANTHONY: Neal’s starting to feel left out by now, I’m sure. So, a plot question: As you know, I’ve really come to like the character of Billy, the version of Charlie who has cancer and has obviously been through chemo. Was he a planned part of the story all along? He seems to really be merging well with the main crew, although I notice he hasn’t been added to the cast page or the team picture…

NEAL: I would feel left out if I didn’t keep jumping in on Dex’s questions! Heh. Apologies, Dex.

Billie is an interesting story, actually. He’ll be added to the cast page and team picture shortly, actually, and he’s around for the long haul. He was planned to be around, but the cancer element I added as I was writing. When I’m creating a story, there are fixed things which can change, but often don’t. For example, the destruction of the Anchor Universe was ALWAYS the end of issue four, back when this was planned out as a monthly. The intro of Headquarters was the end of the first issue. The destruction the end of the second. Charlie’s second survival was the end of three, and then the death of the world. Explosion, implosion, life, death.

Once that settled into the regular story, the longform tale, Charlie would have to explore who he was in the past, and he’s not done with that at all. We still have to meet Cindy, we still have to learn about what happened in Paris, and on and on… I won’t spoil, but Charlie has a lot of life to unpack. The first thing, however, the thing which ate him up and spat him back out, was the fact that he believed if he had just had the courage of his convictions to go to New York, he’d not have been sad. He would have succeeded. He was weak, and selfish (in his head, not to me), and so he had to go and talk to his younger self and see if he actually was these things he believed he was.

And so the scene where Billie is brought in (it shall be explained how, toward the middle of year two you’ll understand) was important as hell, because of his naivety in comparison to Prime. I was writing this scene I’d had in my head forever, where Billie says something about having no future that sets Charlie off, and instead of realizing it’s a teenager being a teenager, he shakes the kid. The initial construction was that Charlie would think about what his dad did to him, then we’d meet Billie, and then Charlie would shake Billie and realize he was like his father. A real Luke looking at the glove moment. But then I realized that if Charlie thought he was like his father, like, ever, he’d blow his own brains out right after doing such a thing. I couldn’t shake the scene, though, I knew it had to play like that no matter what (fixed point), and so I wrote it anyway thinking I’d delete it or take a break if I had to, but then, as Charlie’s shaking Billie, the wig came off, and I realized… ah. Billie has cancer. That’s what my mind was trying to tell me.

Charlie is trying to confront death, and it’s VOLUNTARY death. My subconscious was telling me that I needed a character to help him confront inevitable death, because he’s looking at all the facets of why he should live or die, and the inevitability (or avoidance) of death, too.

That’s not to say Billie is doomed to fail with his chemo, or that he’s going to survive, note. Just that his character is an important part of the larger picture, and is, beautifully, not a fixed point. I will let Billie’s story tell itself to me, and given what’s coming, I think he’ll have a great potentiality in several worlds.

ANTHONY: By the time the print version of volume 2 hits, the webcomic will have moved on. So what teasers can you share with us about where the story is headed in the next few months?

DEXTER: Oh, it will be big year. Lots of exciting stuff happening. I already did some visual teasers for the next chapter. It will be posted soon so I hope you’ll dig it. I’ll give the floor to Neal to share his thoughts on whats coming next.

N: Well, like Dex said, we have some teasers. We’re going to release them in our first week after the trade (in five straight days of pics!), and here’s two of the six:


The Charlene pic is a hint at a little bit of what’s going to happen in the first few months. The peril of Central Park is… well, I can’t spoil it, but it’s pretty damned crazy. It’s a scene I’ve had since early in year one, and it’ll shake out over a few months.

Then there are other promos you’ll see, starting on the 11th of November, celebrating our one year anniversary. For a hint, you’ll get a look at the terror lightning, a familiar face will return, an origin will be hinted at, and a new Charlie will debut.

Year two is going to be CRAZY. Flat out nuts. There’s all kinds of great stuff going on now that the core team is in place. They have to rebuild Cura. They have to find a new source of cash. They have to cope with Billie’s health. We learn more about the Dark Everett and his creepy buddies. We see what happens when you open a portal to a place you shouldn’t, really. Plus, as promised, a return to the dystopian Anchor Universe! Stick with us! I promise a great time.

ANTHONY: Thanks for the hints and teases! I’m honored to be debuting some of Dex’s artwork here for the first time. Neal, any final words to add?

NEAL: On a more nuts and bolts level, buy a trade if you can, folks. It’ll help keep the lights on, and they flicker sometimes around here. I’ll gladly operate at a loss until my brain explodes (that’s one of the great curses of being a writer, you love what you do even if it’s eating at your pocketbook), and it’s totally worth it even if we never turn a profit. However, if you can, we’d love any help you can provide in this down economy to help alleviate production costs. And if you have already bought one, MANY THANKS! You’re a saint, and you give us the faith we need to do this thing.

More important than any of that, however, is if you can tell a friend. I may be being shameless here, but I want this comic to succeed, and if you can get one more reader for us, that’s one more person who can tell one more person, and we won’t need the apparatus to make this book work, we’ll just have a great, DIY, dedicated crowd of folks supporting independent art.

Either way, you all rock and have made Cura the best artistic experience of my life so far. Thank you. Thanks, Anthony, as ever, for this place to yak about what we love to do!

ANTHONY: You’re welcome, guys. I plan on inviting you back as long as there’s new CURA to talk about!

Don’t forget, folks, you can follow Neal on Twitter as NealBailey, and of course you can find the comic by clicking this link: CURA TE IPSUM.

LUKE HERR, Webcomics - Interview

For this, our first interview on the new Tuesday night schedule, we ramble on with Luke Herr.

Luke Herr (aka Koltreg)

Luke Herr (aka Koltreg)

Born in Ohio and currently abandoned in Pittsburgh, PA, Luke Herr alias Koltreg is a web designer, writer, and amateur impressario along with anything else that you need. He currently writes the online comics Changeling and Socialfist as well as articles for the comics blog DC Versus Marvel and occasional extra comic pieces for Socialfist.

ANTHONY: Thanks for sitting down to chat with us, Luke.

LUKE: No problem Anthony. I’m always happy to talk about myself and my work.

A: So, you’ve currently got two webcomics running, on different publication schedules and with different artists. Let’s talk about Socialfist first, since that one’s been around a bit longer. Give us a summary of what Socialfist is about and what kind of audience you’re intending to reach.



Zendorsky leaves his mark on Socialfist

L: Socialfist is about some really confused communist superheroes trying to bring communism back. In the world though, communism has been outlawed and it is seen as a form of rebellion more than actual communism. The force they (the Russians who get branded Socialfist) are fighting is the American Justice Squad (because every American team needs America, Justice and something saying they are a group in the title). The AJS isn’t much better than Socialfist but they are a lot bigger and so this struggle and the inner group struggles are the crux of the story.

A: What inspired Socialfist?

L: Way back about 5 years ago in high school I wanted to make a parody of American superhero teams with the opposites so I thought “Who is the classic stereotyped American enemy – the Russians.” Back then it was SFCRTSN or Super Feudal Communist Russia Team Squad Now! and it was a bunch of horrible characters and a good deal of scatological humor.

As time passed though I decided a guy whose power was vomiting from his butt was probably too juvenile so I removed the superfluous characters and rounded the casts down while making the story about this incredibly partisan world and people trying to cope with living in it. Those people just happen to be superheroes.

A: What kind of working relationship do you have with the Socialfist artist? Do you send a full script with detailed notes, or do you work more in the “this is what should happen on this page” mode and let the artist fill in the details?

L: I’m currently working with Remus Brezeanu who lives in Romania and is a wonderful illustrator. We mostly communicate via email or sometimes via Skype or IM if something needs more immediate notice though I am an internet addict so I am rarely away from my laptop for too long. Usually when I write I have at least loose notes on each script since we reached this understanding of how we were doing the comic. The first chapter was really heavily annotated but that was because I wanted something very cinematic and planned. I didn’t write page long notes like Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison but enough that I could slip things in. Now for the other chapters where there is dialogue, I usually just do loose notes on the scripts.

A: Does Socialfist have a limited storyline? An “end-date,” so to speak? Is it fully plotted out or is there room for character growth to impact how the story will play out?

L: Socialfist, at least for the meantime, has an end date all planned out but this universe and the major changes and movements are planned though I’ve changed ideas before just by sitting on them. With all of that said though, the first person who I told the whole Socialfist outline to pretty much said he really wants to know what goes on after Socialfist is done. If I am up to do that will depend where I am at the time.

To answer the second question, this is one comic where I am happy to tell origins and other stories of the characters. Socialfist is sort of like only reading an event comic like Crisis on Infinite Earths. There is still so much going on in the world and books of interesting stuff that went on in the past that can change things like how you might see a character. One of the ways I am actually going about showing this backstory is that once the current chapter is finished, I’ll be having a guest artist do a background story, both to flesh out a more popular character and to get some more time for Remus to build a buffer.

A: Any creative type knows that sometimes you start a project, and you realize it’s not working, and you go back the drawing board. For writers that often is a hidden road-bump, meaning our larger public (outside of our circles of first-readers) doesn’t see the false start. But webcomics sometimes face that hurdle right in the public eye. You restarted Socialfist with a new artist and a refocused storyline. Talk a bit about how you came to the decision to relaunch, and whether you feel you’ve addressed the problems you’d identified.

L: The last version of Socialfist, when it was SFCRTSN, wasn’t working for me and so when the artist had to leave for better paying work, I was stuck. We’d signed a loose agreement where he got to keep character design privileges and I actually started to think more about the aesthetic and what wasn’t working for me.
When we rebooted, Remus and I got inspiration from the DC Animated Universe shows like Justice League that also helped to set my mind in place for how to show action. I do believe that now we have addressed a lot of the problems that I had concerning me about the original series at the time but sitting with the comic for so long, you start to think of ways you could improve it and there are some ways that are obvious now that were not before.



Chaneling's main character

A: Okay, now, on to your other comic, Changeling. Tell us what Changeling is about and what audience you’re intending to reach.

L: Changeling is my attempt to condense a lot of the comic ideas I had back in high school about these weird paranormal worlds similar to ours into one story and ultimately to make it about something bigger. Less abstractly though, it is about a paranormal detective named Jeff Seibert. The first chapter deals with him being called in for an insurance claim and the second chapter, well, that will be interesting when it happens. We are currently finishing it up early for SPX to bring some prints of the first chapter along so we can get some early opinions.

A: Changeling has a very different feel to it compared to Socialfist: very much in the style of the daily three-panel newspaper comics, with a punchline of some sort at the end of each “day” but also a building storyline. How is plotting Changeling different from plotting Socialfist?

L: With Changeling I wanted to exercise my mind a bit more as far as writing goes. Remus had commented that I wrote a lot of panels on each page of Socialfist so I wanted to make myself learn to do more with less (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thing I am worse at that based on Changeling’s pacing). Changeling was also a test to see if I could make jokes easier or at least anti-jokes in some weird attempt to try and create the biggest unfunny thing I could (nut tots) and see if people would start saying it. I’ve heard it purposefully said it twice but luckily the phrase wont show up for another two years of story at least.
Really though Changeling isn’t all that different in plotting though from Socialfist minus the fact that most stories will be able to stand on their own chapter to chapter. For both of the comics I follow this pattern of writing out the dialogue and notes with an idea in my mind. When I reach the end or when I need a break I end up counting pages to see how many I got and then adding in additional notes. Currently I have about 9 or so chapters of Changeling dialogued out and at least 20 other story ideas.

A: Your artist on Changeling, Joe Hunter, has other webcomics running as well. Did his schedule have any influence on the way you’re plotting/telling the story?

L: Haha. Ironically it was my perception of his lack of a schedule on his journal comic Ghostbucket that got me to say “Hey, we should do a biweekly comic.” Keeping him on a schedule and all while fueling my ego with another comic.

A: Does Changeling have a finite storyline?

L: Oooh, that is an interesting question. Last week I couldn’t sleep and so I wrote the end point for the first arc of Changeling that could be the end of the series. It ends with something set up and hinted at and reading through I got shivers which I take as a good sign. Luckily the whole story is in flux but I figure when the characters reach that point I’ll see how Joe and I feel about continuing or not. If we do continue, it will, well… it will be fun.

A: Is Changeling a more collaborative effort than Socialfist, or vice-versa?

L: Socialfist is the more collaborative of the two comics I am currently doing, Remus frequently checks in on his ideas and substitutions. With Changeling it is more of Joe and I sending work to each other and only meeting up after everything is done for the commentary. We do frequently chat about other things though, more so that I talk to Remus, partially due to the time difference.

A: Now for my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

L: Oh, well my favorite book of all time is How To Become King by Jan Terlouw though it is really hard to find, at least online, since it is out of print. I remember reading that book at least 7 times in elementary school, if not more. It is this story about a teenager trying to become king but he has to deal with these codgery old politicians who give him these impossible tasks like stopping a dragon and a wizard, figuring out why houses are moving. There are these great political twists though like the dragon has polluted the countryside which causes all of the people in the town to become the most efficient workers and the wizard is actually a good guy at heart. He ultimately succeeds but it is done in such a creative and fun way it stuck in my mind over all of these years.

I’d recommend you pick up How To Become King if not for the fact that the only copy on Amazon is ridiculously expensive. As that is the case, read Grant Morrison’s Supergods which is what I blame if I come off as pretentious in the interview because that book is literary wizard drugs and comic history rolled into one.

A: Thanks, Luke!

L: No problem Anthony. Pax.

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In addition to the links in his bio, you can also find Luke Tweeting away as Koltreg and occasionally on the official SocialfistTwitter as well.