Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Archive for the ‘webcomics’ Category

I’m switching, and that’s all there is to it. It’s time for a change. I’ve made up my mind, you can’t talk me out of it, there’s no turning back.

Switching nights for my Interview posts, that is. Why, what did you think I meant?

I’ve been posting interviews (in the weeks when I have them to post) on Wednesday nights, but Wednesday nights have become increasingly crowded for me. If I make it to a computer in time, I try to check in on the weekly live ustream that Forrest, Andre and Alex Burnham do at 7pm (who are they? Check the links to the right, music lovers!). Then at 9pm the #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Chat) session starts on Twitter, and I hate missing that. So by the time I’m really ready to start putting the post together, it’s late and I’m cranky and it creates more stress than it should. This interviewing thing is supposed to be fun, right?

Tuesday nights in my world are less busy (at least currently) and therefore I have more time to polish the interview posts before I hit “publish.” So, Tuesdays it is. I also intend to increase the non-interview post frequency — on subjects writery, musicy and fundraisery. (No, those are not really words. I’m a former English teacher. I can make up words if I want.) — to every Friday evening.

Tonight’s interview, which will be up in the next hour, is with Luke Herr, aka Koltreg, the writer behind SOCIALFIST and CHANGELING.


After that? I’ll be chatting with author Jay Lake (MAINSPRING, GREEN, THE SPECIFIC GRAVITY OF GRIEF, the upcoming ENDURANCE), and author BRYAN THOMAS SCHMIDT (THE NORTHSTAR SERIAL PART ONE, the upcoming THE WORKER PRINCE) will be back for a second interview. Webcomic writer-artist Allan Wood (ALLAN, BLUE CIRCUS) is upcoming, as well as pop culture reporter Joshua Estrin (Celebbuzzz on Twitter), author Neil Ostroff (AFTER, DEGENERATES, THE DROP OUT), and … well, that’s probably enough teasers for now.

Check back in a little while for the Luke Herr interview, and please go back and revisit my earlier interviews!


This week, we’re rambling on (boy, are we ever!) with author Neal Bailey.

Neal Bailey

How to describe Neal Bailey? I’m tempted to run with “a riddle, a mystery, an enigma,” but then again he’s really not. Read his livejournal, read his blog … he’s pretty open about pretty much everything. You either love him or you don’t, but you take him as he is. He’s the author of multiple novels. He’s had short stories published in SMALLVILLE magazine. His current project is CURA TE IPSUM, a webcomic about alternate realities and self-discovery(ies), illustrated by Dexter Wei.

CURA Trade Paperback #1

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.

Why? Well, that would be telling…. so let’s see if Neal Bailey has any hints for us, shall we?

* * * * *

ANTHONY: Neal, thanks for stopping by to ramble on with us for a little while.

Neal: Any time! Thanks for having me around.

A: I’m going to get the hard question out of the way first: with as many variations on the “hero meets alternate versions of him/herself” concept as there are alternate universes, what makes CURA TE IPSUM stand out?

N: If I wanted to be arrogant, I’d say character over gimmick, but that’s really up to the reader. On a basic level, I’d have to say I haven’t really seen anything where a hero teams up with other versions of himself that doesn’t have a cape involved in some way. I am told that Nick Spencer’s INFINITE VACATION plays with the concept, but I haven’t read it yet (that’s not a condemnation, note, I just can’t afford many comics right now).

I’m also trying to use the multiverse itself as a conflict resolution mechanism. The closest I’ve seen to that is where the JLA can’t defeat the villainous versions of themselves because there has to be a balance, which is kind of a gimmick. I’m trying to take that further. Charlie’s with each character for a very specific reason as a form of self-examination. Charlene helps him get in touch with the more masculine side. Leo is the reflection, at least for the time being (can’t say any more without spoiling). Squirt is his innocence. The Nerd is his intellectual side. Hank is his best friend, but it’s also a way to avoid navel-gazing. If every version of himself is telling him one thing, Charlie can still turn to Hank and say “What’s the outside perspective?”

The other thing that I think is different is the whole angle of time travel. Time travel and the multiverse are rarely mixed together, because the intermix often leads to plotholes. Thankfully, I’ve outlined very strictly, and I’m trying to take a cue from Moffat and engage the plot device to its fullest extent, like he does with DOCTOR WHO, by having a plan ahead of time. I know the last page, I know the middle, I know the character arcs right now, and so I can play with time in a way that LOST kind of screwed up, I hope.

A: The pace of CTI really is “a mile a minute.” I don’t think the reader, or the characters, has had a chance to catch a breath since at least page 5. Is the unrelenting pace and constant change in the status quo intentional, in terms of keeping not on the characters but the reader asking questions about what’s really going on?

N: Yes and no. As a comic book, you’re always going to want things to be in motion, because a visual medium is more dynamic that way, and plus, I never want to be the guy saddling the artist with huge talk-y scenes. That said, there’s a lot of extrapolation in those first forty pages, I just took a lot of time whittling the dialogue down, so hopefully that makes it SEEM a mile a minute while dosing you with a ton of the basics of the universe.

It will slow down at times. There are a LOT of character vignettes that will weave in with the larger action, starting soon, but you have to open with a bang. Headquarters is introduced, then blown to hell, and then they’re adrift, and Charlie is learning what day to day life is with the team. Right now, they have no idea the Anchor Universe is not chugging along like normal. I think it’s fair to say that’s not going to stay true.

The destruction of the Anchor Universe is the last major boom for some time. It’s going to get much more interpersonal for a while… at least until page 160. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve now written the story through page 270, so I can see a broader arc folks seeing the weekly comic might not. Year One is GO GO GO, for sure. Year Two is where the pieces are on the board and we can tell a few stories.

There will still be a ton of WTF and WHOA moments as I throw out all of the potentialities the portal, time travel, and a relentless enemy can bring, however, and I doubt the tension will ever ease up. If anything, the darker side of the fact that these are all broken, suicidal people will start to emerge more, on the way to hope.

A: Each of the Charlies in the main cast is a different personality type — can you talk a little bit about what went into creating each version of Charlie and what role they play in the group dynamic?

N: In my initial notes I wanted to have a mix of very different, very unique characters, and in the end I tried to stick to a reasonable cast that reflected what Charlie needed to solve his central dilemma, how to defeat his darker side and find a reason to live. Right now he’s very much “Kill the head and the body will die!” but he learns, over time, that the answer is “Enable the good parts of yourself, and the evil inside will either give up or go away.” That’s metaphorically speaking. I’m not spoiling the Dark Everett’s arc… that’s another thing entirely. Mwu ha ha ha!

Leo SEEMS very like Charlie, only more assertive. That will evolve. Leo’s also his conscience, in that he’s constantly pushing him to be the best he can be. He’s got that need that Superman sometimes has to constantly be there for everyone at the expense of self.

Charlene is the toughest character in the group, but she’s also a girl. This lets Charlie explore what it means to be a girl quite literally, in ways that guys try to fathom but can’t. You can theoretically think of what it would be like to be a woman, but if you can ask your female self, you can know for sure. Charlie will, and some of what he finds out is surprising. The Nerd is Charlie’s analytical sense.

Squirt is a bit of a blank slate, but he’s innocent. If you ask him what’s right and what’s wrong, he’ll know. On page 65, that saves Charlie from a murder or a suicide (depending on how you look at Leo potentially killing him). As things move on, Squirt takes on another dimension, but I can’t spoil that.

The Nerd reflects Charlie’s compulsive need to overthink, the thing that drives him to realize that much of life is futile if you look at it like a scientist. We’re born, we die, and in a hundred years we’re dust and forgotten. Well, yeah, duh, but if you focus too much on the facts and not the magic of life, you stop enjoying it. The Nerd shows him how to be analytical and smart without focusing on the bad facts, the ones that drive us down. There’s a number on my wall, “1,370.” It’s the number of CHILDREN who die of dehydration, essentially diarrhea, every day in the world. I wrote that on my wall at the height of my depression to say “Your problems, your insecurities, your petty worries, they mean NOTHING. Don’t be sad.” That’s the Nerd in me, and that’s what the Nerd does for Charlie.

Hank, who folks don’t know yet, is the best friend figure. When every part of yourself is telling you to just tough up, Hank is there to tell him, “No, that’s some pretty heavy stuff, man.” He’s essentially the opposite of the Nerd, which is why the Nerd and Hank are such good friends. They compliment each other. Leo and Charlene complement each other in that same way.

A: So far, other than the mass of nameless Charlies seen in the brief visit to Headquarters, the core group has stayed static. And it seems to be mirrored by Dark Everett’s gang: Dark Everett mirrors Charlie-Prime; Victorian Everett seems to mirror The Nerd; and at least a few panels show The Squirt with very similar body language to Junior Everett; the Everett who sets off the nuclear bombs seems a lot like Leo. So two questions: a) will we see a (as you say, statistically-less-probable) Female Everett and b) is this mirroring of Charlies and Everetts intentional or am I reading way too much into a few panels?

N: Actually, you’re not reading too much in there. Those hints and clues and ideas are to get you asking those questions. I can’t answer them, obviously, without spoiling the story, but I can say it’s very intentional. You are meant to wonder if these are, in fact, distortions, or future versions, or concurrent versions, or _______?

While Cura is an action story, a character story, at its core are several mirror mysteries. Who is the Dark Everett, really? What is Charlie’s future? Is time structured and set, per fatalism, or is it random and conscience driven like determinism?

You will find out the truth about the Victorian Everett in the first half of year two. You won’t learn about Junior or Weapons (the guy who set off the nukes) for some time.

It’s always good to have the evil characters and the good characters yin and yang each other. With Cura there’s that additional chance… maybe they mirror each other because there’s been some catalyst that has changed one person into another over time.

You will see more female Charlies. You will see how each of these characters became who they are, and why, and why they become what they become. I am very obsessed, almost fanatically, with trying to unfold a good mystery, because that can be the most memorable type of comic book story for me. Ruin in Rucka’s Adventures of Superman. Criminal, by Brubaker.

There is a hint on one of the pages, I won’t say which, that has the key to some of the biggest mysteries. There is stuff hidden in there that may not pay off for five years, maybe more.

A: You recently introduced one version of Hank, the Charlies’ childhood best friend. The Nerd comments on Hank’s incredible luck, and we see him escape a falling building (reminiscent of stories relating to the September 11th fall of the Towers), finding a motorcycle, and haring off for parts unknown. How much of Hank (or better, how many Hanks) can we expect to see in the near future, and what will his presence do to the dynamic of the core team?

N: The thing about Hank is that he’s already a part of the team. We haven’t experienced him as part of it, because we’re looking through Charlie Prime’s eyes, but he’s been there for the whole time the team’s been together as a cell. He serves as a spirit of adventure, in many respects, and as someone who (before Charlie) urged them to find joy in their powers.

His past is explored in part in year two, and his whereabouts become pivotal in the second half of the first year.

A: The first CURA TE IPSUM trade came out not too long ago, along with a really cool looking poster. A nice package comprising the first “book” of the series. What are the plans for future print installments, posters, etc.?

N: Thanks!

Right now we have a number of posters in the can, but we don’t want to oversaturate or make people buy too much stuff at once. We do, however, have some great plans. I want to make an extra-dimensional translocator rock for folks (and myself, honestly). I want to make a card deck and have the original art be a giveaway for future trades.

Currently, we’re gonna put out a trade every six months or so (maybe a few weeks off, depending on the story… I will add a few pages if the story demands it). I’m thinking I’ll do a paperback volume 2 at page 156, and then start a regular schedule with the comic (tentatively) that involves a trade every six months, and then, so we don’t overwhelm people (because I know how tight cash is), I’ll do a hardcover or a collection of two trades three months after the second trade comes out, Ultimate Spidey style.

I really liked that, when I was reading Ultimate Spidey, the choice between a cheaper trade, if I couldn’t afford the hardback, or a hardback, if I could.

That is, of course, if a hardback is not cost prohibitive. I’m still learning as I go.

I intend to offer customized sketches as opposed to random ones with the next trade, and Dex has already agreed, so that should go well.

A: Customized sketch cards will be a great draw, I think. I already love the sketch card that came with my CURA trade. You mentioned LOST and DOCTOR WHO earlier. Do you know, like those show producers claim to, exactly how it all fits together and where it will all end? How much room for “oh, that would be cool” is there in your writing process?

N: There’s plenty of room for “Oh, check this out!” in the process, because though the arcs have beginnings and ends for each characters, the adventures they have are still wide open and chosen from a batch of “things that will for sure happen.” I weave them together in a very arc focal way, but I’m really big on the school of if something happens randomly, let it, and then make sure it fits, and if it does, keep it, if not, get rid of it.

I just wrote a scene in the 250s that involves a “wouldn’t it be cool?” There’s also the fact that I will be introducing other characters that DON’T have fully written arcs of yet, eventually, characters I’m still creating.

I will NOT pad story, and I won’t throw things against the wall to see how they stick. SMALLVILLE and LOST have shown the flaws in that when they were at their worst. But, as a hypothetical example, if Charlie turns to Nerd and says “Hey, why haven’t we killed Hitler?” Well, that might lead to all kinds of fun.

And may already have… keep reading.

A: Such a tease! Okay, switching topics: tell us a little bit about your artist collaborator, Dexter Wee. How did you guys come together for this project?

N: I met Dex through Skipper Martin, creator of Bizarre New World, a comic about the ramifications of human flight and a character story of the highest order. Go buy it! Seriously.

I was looking for good, hard working pencillers who were willing to take what I could pay, and who wanted a long term project. Dex jumped right in, and seriously, about a month from when we started, we were cranking it out like we’d always been doing it. He’s amazing.

A: You and I go back a ways, to when you were writing short stories for SMALLVILLE magazine. And if I’m not mistaken, you appeared in at least one issue of a DC Comic as a member of the Blackhawk Squadron. Your love of the superhero genre is obvious, but CURA isn’t a super-hero story per se. Are you working on any superhero concepts at the moment?

N: Yeah! My buddys/mentors/idols Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann popped me into Checkmate 25 as a shout-out, making me a Blackhawk Ensign. It’s my goal, if I ever get to DC, to note that I was killed by the Snake Babies from that arc, heh. I kid.

I am always working on superhero concepts, non-superhero, heck, even non-fiction comics in the Pekar style. Honest truth, which may sound bad, but hell, I have forty comic scripts that haven’t been drawn for lack of a consistent artist. Hear that, anyone within the sound of my voice? If you draw, and draw well, and are consistent, let’s do a webcomic! Part of the problem is that it’s hard to find a consistent, good artist who isn’t already scooped up and making cash, someone who wants to put out something to show people. The rest of the problem is that I can write five pages in a day, maybe ten, and an artist can do one or two, so there’s a huge work gap there. They do the heavy lifting.

I think with the webcomic model making money at last, however, that’ll change. More people will do it out of love and get the money on the back end without getting bilked. People are realizing that they can get better stuff without a whole heck of a lot of corporate oversight sometimes. There’s some meritocracy to it, as opposed to cronyism and/or the cult of personality, which I dig.

I am pitching to major companies in ways I can’t really publicly talk about. Part of that process is being rejected. CURA initially was rejected by a company. I decided I wanted to do it anyway. I did. I have many ideas that are waiting in similar fashion for their moment and/or a collaborator.

If the pitch process has taught me anything aside from frustration, it’s that work on good ideas is not wasted. You put in the work, and eventually the best ideas spring forth.

A: I know you’ve been plugging away at novels when you’re not writing CURA. Anything you want to share with us about those?

N: There’s nothing coming out soon as of this writing, but I have written five books in three years, and boy are my arms tired… GOLFSWING! My agent is working hard to get them published. It’s a tight market. We’ll see.

One is a series character, Hal Taylor, a redneck detective based out of Salt Lake City whose MO is simply “I kick asses for a living.”

I wrote a book about rich guys who take women captive as sex slaves, at least until they pick up a gal with military training who escapes and gets a gun. It doesn’t end well for them.

I’ve written ten novels, and I’m working the eleventh right now. Eight are publishable by my hyper-critical estimation. Patience and time sustains me. I have faith that though reading is in decline, and though the marketplace is full of folks, I’ll find my little niche. If not, it’s not so much about that as the satisfaction of a job well done to the best of your ability, for me.

A: Well, hopefully we’ll see the Neal Bailey name on a hardcover (or a Hard Case Crime mass market paperback … are you listening, Charles Ardai?) soon. 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?

N: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, hands-down. I don’t say much to people who haven’t read it. I actually mail them copies. Ask my poor, badgered friends. But if I had to summarize it, I’d say that it’s the perfect example of a madcap exploration of the contradictory nature of human opinion, and how we still act upon things that lead to death, sorrow, and destruction without thinking in a modern age.

It’s also just a damned funny, well written book. The craftsmanship that went into the prose is so strikingly evident in every paragraph, it’ll please heavy editors like me. The concepts are high and there are tons of subtexts and contexts, so it appeals to literati types. There’s sex, scat, and base humor, so it appeals to people with a common sense of humor. It’s pretty much a perfect book, in my opinion.

That said, give it thirty pages to get the vibe. I put it down once because I just didn’t get it. That happens with most of the very best books.

Thanks for joining us, Neal! I know we could have let this conversation run twice as long and still left plenty to discuss. We’ll have to do this again, perhaps when CURA closes in on 200 pages.

You can contact Neal Bailey on Twitter as @nealbailey, via Facebook (bailey.neal@comcast.net), or on his personal website. And of course, visit CURA TE IPSUM every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to follow Charlie, Leo, Charlene, Nerd, Squirt, Hank, and the Dark Everett. It’s worth getting in on the ground floor for!

twitter: @nealbailey
personal site: www.nealbailey.com
Facebook is under bailey.neal@comcast.net


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, the heroes of School Spirit meet Wendy, the actual spirit

Casper and Cody meet Wendy

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.


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, Book One

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.

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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 cs.ink@verizon.net