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