Home > CR Interviews
An Interview with Drew Weing
posted March 30, 2000
Drew Weing would be a young cartoonist to watch for either of his two major projects, each so different in intent and result that seem to have come from separate, equally promising, comics authors. From March 5, 2002 to July 21, 2003, Weing kept an almost-daily comics diary, in a rough approximation of classic newspaper strip form, focusing on various minutiae of daily existence and the ins and outs of his young adult life. The Journal Comic
was for the length of its run the front-page feature on Weing's eponymous web site, and garnered him a curious blend of attention - part lively blog and part debut comic book - as readers enjoyed the recognition of shared experiences as well as the discovery of a new comics "voice."
Weing's other significant project is the strip Pup
, perhaps the most striking offering on the serializer.net site and one of the better comics outings on the Internet, period. A fun way to devour Pup
is to contrast its more fanciful story, designs and cartooning to the modulated visual vocabulary of The Journal Comic
. Unlike many cartoonists his age, Weing has learned from previous cartoonists without letting his work become immersed in any one artist's previously established creative direction. He seems to find equal value in cutting-edge formal play and orthodox creative strategies. As confirmed by a story in the 2003 small-press anthology Failure
, where the cartoonist used yet a third equally divergent but still recognizable style, Weing is a talented craftsman with the facility to move between cartooning idioms in order to find what best suits the individual project.
Drew Weing was born and raised in the sleepy, history-drenched college town of Lexington, Virginia, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the time of this interview, he was living in Savannah, Georgia, where he completed the Sequential Arts program at Savannah College of Art and Design in Spring 2001. We spoke in early February 2004 over the phone.
What Was Your Thinking?
TOM SPURGEON: Let me ask you first off: is your diary-style
The Journal Comic finished?
Yeah, essentially. It was never really meant to be a life's work, like [James] Kochalka's.
SPURGEON: If that's the case, then what was your thinking going into the project?
I had seen Kochalka's by that point, and it seemed like a pretty good way to force myself to draw every day. I liked the idea of it. I like the idea of keeping a daily journal. It seemed more fun to be able to share it publicly.
SPURGEON: Is there a point at which your perspective changed, or did you just become exhausted? There were a few breaks during the run of the strip.
I think I ran it pretty consistently, like every day for the first six months. But Kochalka does his in about 20 minutes or 30 minutes per strip, and I was spending three or four hours per. It was basically like doing a daily newspaper strip, but without the rewards.
The Journal Comic was formatted very much like a daily newspaper strip. It had a heavy border, and it seemed like you settled into a cartoon iconography pretty quickly.
I guess the closest it would come to would be a newspaper strip. I find it helped to sort of standardize it to some extent to sort of force myself... if I had no clear idea how the strip was going to be laid out, if it was just a page to go crazy with every day, I would end up with these massive, half-done strips. I basically put some limits on it, some outside limits. When I was drawing them, I would take an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of cardstock, and cut it in half vertically, and draw some borderlines, and I had until the page physically ran out to squeeze it all within that. That amount of paper. Which is sort of an odd guideline, but it kept me from getting too ambitious.
SPURGEON: In terms of content and subject matter, it wasn't really, really far away from what you might see in a newspaper strip, either.
There was plenty of language.
SPURGEON: But no frontal nudity. Not a lot of poop, not a lot of sex, nothing really over the top. Was that to fit into a certain tone you wanted?
Probably I'm just a wuss. [laughs] I don't know. The exhibitionist aspect was never really what I was after. I know a lot of people really seem to be baring their personal secrets when they do such things. I guess my aspect was kind of the more pleasant things that everyone does. I wasn't really interested in doing a Joe Matt kind of "Look at me" whatever. Creepy.
SPURGEON: An obvious Joe Matt follow-up question would be how your circle of friends reacted to being in the strip.
Most of them pretty much enjoyed it. I have a friend who jokes with me about how it's not exciting to hang out with me anymore [laughs] because he knows I'm not going to make it into the strip. [pause] Hopefully, he was just kidding.
SPURGEON: Was there any effort on your part to censor yourself or simply not use material for fear of offending someone?
Yeah, there probably was. There are probably strips I could have written but chose not to so that I could avoid stepping on other people's toes. I don't think that's a bad thing. I don't think I was compromising my art by not putting other people's problems and secrets into the strip.
SPURGEON: Now was
The Journal Comic intended for the Web from the beginning?
SPURGEON: Did you get any sense of how many people were reading it, or who was reading it?
At the peak, there were probably about 1500 people a day.
SPURGEON: What did you hear from people reading the strip?
I guess most of the feedback was what I was intending, which was "Wow, that happens to me, too."
SPURGEON: One thing about doing a newspaper strip is that you rarely hear from anyone. There's a syndicate and newspaper between you and your audience. Did direct feedback help or hinder you?
I don't think it hindered, but I can't say that it helped a lot. [Spurgeon laughs] That's one of the beauties of the Internet, the immediate feedback, which really helps so that you don't feel like you're doing it in a vacuum and sending it off and god knows where it goes from there or if anybody reads it at all. With the Web you got concrete proof that people read it in terms of page counts; the number of hits you get. Most web sites you can access a page that tells you how many visitors you get on any particular day. Since people are already on-line, they can just basically click a link and e-mail you directly, and it takes them like ten minutes. People are a lot more apt to fire off an e-mail if you like it or don't like it or whatever.
SPURGEON: What led you to do paper versions of the strip?
I just like making mini-comics. And plus there are a lot of people who just don't read Web comics. You give them a mini-comic and they can read it, or maybe it will inspire them to read it online from then on.
SPURGEON: Have you had a chance to go back and read the entirety of it now that you're a little further away from it?
Not really recently. But in the last couple months I have.
SPURGEON: I know that James Kochalka has said he's been able to pick up on different threads in his diary comics, elements of his life that connect over time. Did you make any similar discoveries?
Oh, yeah. Probably I could pick them up even when I was doing them. A lot of strips are about how lazy and frustrated I am. [laughter]
SPURGEON: Your strange sleep habits got a lot of play.
Yeah. I haven't changed much from then. I guess I'm on a better schedule. For a while, there was really no schedule at all. One day I might be waking up at three in the morning, and the next day I might be waking up at nine in the morning or twelve in the afternoon. It was sort of like living in an isolation booth, not knowing when the sun was rising and setting.
SPURGEON: I find it weird to contrast that pretty typical young person's schedule with this regular comics output. How soon following graduation did you begin
The Journal Comic?
It was a while. I did another comic online first that I didn't get very far on because it was too labor intensive as well. It's actually not even online anymore at this point. This sort of photo-realistic sci-fi called Rover
. I basically got this cease and desist from this guy who works on another comic called Rover
about a robot which I had no idea existed. [Spurgeon laughs] Have you heard of Monkeysuit
? Apparently they've been putting out their anthologies for a while, and one of them was doing a comic called Rover
that was about this robot on an alien planet that wandered around and met strange creatures. I guess mine was sort of similar. He was planning on putting out a collection, and he wanted to cover his bases.
SPURGEON: Is this an actual cease and desist letter or was this someone who watched lawyers on TV and sent his own version?
At first he e-mailed and I didn't think he was that serious. Apparently all of those guys are animators, and I got a letter from a big New York law firm. Which was funny because I was done with the comic at that point. I was already working on The Journal Comic
when I got the cease and desist, so it wasn't what stopped me from doing Rover
. I had already pretty much put that on the backburner with maybe vague intentions of getting back to it someday when I got the cease and desist, which was pretty much "take this off the web site immediately."
SPURGEON: Now when you say the first project was too labor-intensive, how do you mean? You don't have a formal deadline. Do you mean in terms of being able to get it out on a regular basis in a way that suits you?
I was doing one panel a week. Which sounds crazy, but they were like 30-hour panels. [laughs]
SPURGEON: What was it about the panels that took them 30 hours?
I was doing them in Photoshop, basically, these kind of fully rendered - like I said, sort of photo-realistic. Not precisely, though. I guess the closest you could get to it would be a Richard Corbenish kind of airbrush effect to it. Just the style, not the content.
SPURGEON: No naked bald people?
[laughs] No. It was just this little robot wandering around a post-apocalyptic earth.
Image, Valiant and Dave Sim
SPURGEON: You grew up in Lexington, Virginia. I went to college in Lexington, and my memory is that it's a very small town and a tough place to find comics.
There wasn't much. There were newspaper strips.
SPURGEON: How did you discover comic books?
Embarrassingly enough, when I was in high school I had a friend who was really into Spawn
. [laughs] So I kind of picked it up and thought it was the most awesome thing I'd ever seen. I guess that's pretty shameful. [laughs]
SPURGEON: Was something even that popular for sale around there?
Not in Lexington. I would read other people's comics, and then I would go up to Roanoke, which is about an hour away. They would hold local conventions. They would get that guy - who's that guy who created Green Lantern and the Pillsbury Doughboy? Martin Nodell. He was a standard fixture at those, and some other people. I was into the Image and Valiant scene in high school.
SPURGEON: Did it appeal to you in part because they were hard to get?
Yeah, that was definitely sort of the cachet. I don't know, I'm probably just the antithesis now of what I was into back then. I was a Wizard
subscriber. I just remembered there was one video store that carried comics in my hometown. I bought a lot of the new stuff there. They just had the big names at that point.
SPURGEON: I know you were oriented towards fantasy literature before comics. Were you drawing?
Before I was into comics I had aspirations of being one of the guys who does illustrations for TSR. The guy who does paintings for the fantasy novel covers and whatnot.
SPURGEON: At what point did comics become the career option?
Middle school and early high school, I had vague aspirations of doing fantasy art for a living. No career plan, like any normal middle school or high school student. By late high school I was heavy into comics so at first I wanted to draw for Image or Valiant or something. I took a year off between high school and college. In my senior year and that year between I was getting into a lot of self-published people. That was the time of the self-publishing boom headed by Dave Sim. I was super into Cerebus
for a good couple years, too.
SPURGEON: You found
Cerebus in Roanoke?
I think Wizard
would occasionally pay lip service to various Indy titles, which I would think "Hmm, that looks very strange" and mostly ignore. They talked about Cerebus
, and then he appeared in that Spawn
#10, I think. I was like, "I should go check this out." It was a good comic for me to get into, I think.
SPURGEON: At what point were you entering into
I think it was around the time of the infamous 186th issue. Mostly I spent a lot of time collecting the back issues. I think I glossed over the whole "Sim's insane" [laughs] aspect of it for a while. I think it took a while for that to sink in. At the time, I would think, "Maybe he has a point."
SPURGEON: Did the craft elements have a special appeal to you? I can imagine for a young artist it would be fascinating to watch Sim solve problems on the page.
Oh, yeah. That owes a lot to Gerhard as well. Even now I think they did some really incredible stuff in Cerebus
, just in terms of creating atmosphere. I don't know. It was geared to appeal to high school me.
SPURGEON: How did the Savannah College of Art and Design [SCAD] enter the picture?
In my junior year, Dave Sim actually came to SCAD for the Comic Arts Forum that they do every year, where they invite guests and hold workshops. A part of the Forum's main focus is not just on students currently at SCAD, but also prospective students. High school juniors and seniors were invited to come up. You paid a fee, and did all the workshops, and they would talk to you about why going to SCAD was such a great idea. And it seemed like a great idea.
I didn't think I was going to go to college for a while. I thought I would probably graduate high school and start my self-publishing career and become a big, famous star. I was into Cerebus
and I was getting into the other self-publishing guys Sim was promoting. Taliesin Press, was that it?
SPURGEON: James Owen.
. Wandering Star
SPURGEON: Teri Wood.
These weren't tremendous influences on me, these were just the kinds of books I was seeing and thinking, "I can draw almost this good." [Spurgeon laughs] "These guys are famous and making money." [laughs] "I can do this."
So I spent the last year of high school and the year in between high school and college thinking I wasn't going to college, I was going to do this book and self-publish it. I think I got 36 pages done of this opus I was putting together, called A State of Bliss
. It was about a high school kid who forms his own country on a small island off the coast. I finished about 36 pages, and then I was like, "Well, maybe I'll give some other publisher the benefit of putting this out." So I sent out to a bunch of different companies, and I got some form letters back and one or two hand-written responses. Including one from Fantagraphics [laughs.] Although I don't know what I was thinking, because I don't think I was actually reading anything by Fantagraphics at that point. Maybe the name threw me off.
SPURGEON: Did you get a handwritten response from Fantagraphics?
No, I got the form letter. I think I got a handwritten one from like Caliber Comics, maybe Sirius Comics.
SPURGEON:Caliber was publishing a lot of comics.
They were doing some sort of all-ages friendly line at that point.
Yeah, I was thinking it would ideal for them to publish me because my story was in that vein.
SPURGEON: Whose work did you enjoy in the fantasy and science fiction genres?
My mom was really into sci fi during that peak in the late '50s, '60s and early '70s. So we had about ten million of those anthologies. Best Sci-Fi of 1965
. I read massive tons of pulp - stuff like, "It's a Good Life," the one they made into that Twilight Zone
episode. Bradbury was one of my favorites. I was reading all of that stuff: Heinlein, Asimov… it's just going to sound like a list of big-name sci-fi guys. In terms of fantasy, my mom also read some of that as well, so I guess Anne McCaffrey's books I read a lot of. My mom had most of those Dragonrider of Pern books. Dragons were a big draw to me, so anything with a dragon on it probably got a second look.
SPURGEON: In terms of the visual?
Yeah, pretty much. Dragonlance, Dragonriders of Pern... I'm sure there were more.
SPURGEON: So you didn't make a connection with a publisher on
State of Bliss, but self-publishing remained an option.
I'd always been planning to self-publish it. It was just an idea for someone else to publish it, like maybe it would be easier. I was really gung-ho behind the idea of self-publishing. I guess Sim now is kind of declaiming the idea that he was trying to spark a movement or lead anybody. It certainly felt like that at the time. I felt like there was a movement, and I wanted to be part of it. I sent in to a bunch of different printers and got quotes and samples. And it was right around that point where I started getting second thoughts [laughs] that maybe I was going to be throwing a whole bunch of money away. And school seemed like an option.
I think I applied to SCAD first because they had a dedicated sequential arts program SCAD seemed ideal, because I think I'd been on two different comic arts forums - the big one was the one with Sim.
SPURGEON: What was Dave Sim like as a teacher?
I don't know. I didn't get into his workshop. But I did hear his address to the attendees. What's funny now is that I found it extraordinarily motivating to listen to Dave Sim at the time. He's a pretty decent motivational speaker if you're 16 years old.
SPURGEON: He has a great speaking voice.
I did get a portfolio review from him. I remember a quote from him that he said when he was looking through my stuff. "At least you're prolific." [laughter] I didn't take that too harshly, though.
Comics at College
SPURGEON: Did the program at SCAD meet your expectations?
SPURGEON: Am I to understand you were at the school when it began to change for the better? I'm told there was a point when the program reinvigorated itself.
I'm not sure. It's really hard to get a perspective from the inside. I hadn't read about it before going, so I don't have anything to compare it to.
I think a large part of what I got out of the SCAD experience was a sort of broadened perspective. Going in, my idea of really "out-there" indy books was... I think I'd heard of Eightball
, maybe read one issue of Hate
and thought it was really weird, heard of ACME Novelty Library
. I hadn't read them, but I had read a "Palmer's Picks" about them.
SPURGEON: That was
Wizard's alternative-friendly column at the time.
He was providing a sort of vital service there, I think. I think he was trying to save us unwashed masses from the doom of reading too much Wizard
SPURGEON: You were exposed to all of this non-mainstream work at school.
Yeah, basically. There was a pretty good record/comics store in Savannah called RPM. They carried a super selection of indy publishers. Not too many mini-comics, but I think they had every issue of Eightball
and ACME Novelty Library
on the stands.
SPURGEON: Were there specific artists that kind of hit you? Or was what you got out of it the experience of being confronted by this vast array of personal expression and differing styles?
After I got into SCAD? Chris Ware. All it took was the availability. I'd never worked up the motivation to order things sight unseen. But I think I was primed at that point for something that was more sophisticated, with more substance than the stuff I was reading at that point. As soon as I found stuff like ACME and Eightball
, I took to it. But probably ACME
was the #1 thing that blew my mind and started me thinking about going down new paths.
SPURGEON: This was because of his approach to the page, or his choice of nuances of adult behavior as subject matter?
Superficially, probably the insane, elaborate complexity of the artwork. The whole package of it. I probably had an idea that the current independent stuff was a lot like the '60s underground actually was. Wacky cartoon figures doing disturbing, nasty things. [laughs] To actually see it, it broadened what I thought comics could be.
SPURGEON: Was there an effect on your work that came from being around your fellow students?
Strangely enough, my roommate Antar, who is one of my best friends and the guy I hang out with, is also a sequential major. So we were both getting into the same stuff at the same time. But most of the people I was hanging out with were different majors.
SPURGEON: How did the courses break down? Was it hands-on lab work? Theory? Were general studies a part of the curriculum?
My first year there I probably only took one or two classes that were comics related. I think it's a good idea, too. At SCAD they force you to learn a lot of basic stuff first. I think my first year I took a couple of art history 101 classes, pre-historic art up until abstract expressionism and what not. Some basic drawing classes, where we sat around and drew a bunch of still lives in different media.
SPURGEON: Had you had any rigorous art training before?
I don't know that I would peg SCAD as particularly rigorous.
SPURGEON: Had you any kind of training where there was figure drawing or learning how to work with tools?
Figure drawing, no. I took high school art classes. I think they were pretty good for high school art classes.
I was surprised by SCAD. I was thinking, "Man, college is nowhere near as hard as I thought." For the longest time I was actually afraid of college. My dad was a college professor and my mom for the first part of her career taught elementary school. Both my parents were teachers, and they were both like "Study hard or you won't get into college." By the time I hit high school I wasn't particularly studying hard. [laughs] I was coasting. I got good grades in a lot of classes, the ones you can get good grades in without studying in high school. Classes that needed actual learning, like math or foreign languages, I got pretty mediocre grades. I was pretty sure no college at all would accept me, and if I did go there it would be like French and math courses 24 hours a day. I think I had a real college phobia. When I went to SCAD, and I don't know if this is such a positive thing in hindsight, but I was really surprised at how laid back it was. Maybe in hindsight harder, more rigorous coursework would have been beneficial, but at least to me then it took me aback and it was a lot easier than I thought it was.
SPURGEON: Is it one of those where you get out of it what you put in?
That's a lot like it. I've seen a lot of kids at SCAD pass classes and get good grades and they were just terrible artists. I know that sounds arrogant, but I was just a lot better at art than 90 percent of the kids there. In high school, you can be a little good at art and be at the top of the heap, because nobody else is doing it. There were three other kids that were really into comic art, or art in general. I have a memory of those kids being the only kids into art, period. But they were all into comics art. Maybe I was ignoring some kid out there who was doing fine art paintings or something. In high school everybody is just kind of kicking around and doing their own thing, and if you're into art and any good at it, kids are like, "Wow, you're really great. You should paint a picture on the side of my van!" [laughter] "And you should do it for free!"
SPURGEON: You were the artist guy.
I was the artist guy. So I thought, "I'm the artist guy now, but when I get into college I'm going to be a the bottom of the barrel. Everybody's going to be better than me." And that really wasn't the case. Not to sound arrogant, or to toot my own horn, but so many kids were so bad. They were the same kids from high school, their interest was art, but they weren't any good at it.
SPURGEON: A lot of kids have the opposite experience, where they go in expecting to rule and become horrified that there are actually other talented people there.
I'm not saying there weren't plenty of talented people, because there were.
SPURGEON: But you felt like you could compete.
Yeah. I guess that was beneficial to some extent. I guess I could have benefited from more rigorous classes, but also at the same time it was also probably helpful it wasn't so intense. I don't think I would have dropped out, though.
SPURGEON: You stayed in town after getting your degree. Is there a significant post-graduate community down there?
I have a couple friends who stayed in town, but I'd say probably about 75 percent of people I knew moved on.
SPURGEON: Why did you stay?
I guess a lot of kids when they graduate probably have jobs waiting for them. If you graduate in graphic design or something, probably in your final quarter or senior year you're lining up a job at some agency in New York or whatever. In sequential, those kinds of opportunities aren't there - especially if you're not really interested in going to work for Marvel and DC. So out of a lack of places to go, I guess I just stayed here. [laughs]
SPURGEON: Is Savannah a nice town?
Yeah, it's a pretty nice town.
SPURGEON: Is there an artistic community there other than the school?
No, not really. It's a surprisingly stodgy town, to be honest. You got your real class divide here between your monied white folk and the poor black community. I don't know. There's not a lot of in-between there, there's not a lot of poor white kids - it's definitely not Providence. There's not a lot of hipness in the air. There's no scene, particularly. Which is kind of surprising with such a large art college.
SPURGEON: So you're there, and you don't have a job lined up so what was your strategy at this point?
My first strategy was just to get any kind of job I could, and to work on comics on the side. By the time I graduated I had the vague idea that doing comics on the Web would be a good way to get started.
SPURGEON: Had you been exposed to that in school?
Yeah. Pretty much. When I was in school, I was taking a look around at some of the stuff that was showing up on the Web at that time. I think Scott McCloud was the major proponent at that point. Cat Garza was doing some interesting stuff. That was the first incarnation of Magic Inkwell
. Who else? Patrick Farley was doing stuff. There were other people who have kind of disappeared off the radar and I'm sure I'm forgetting them. I would see these interesting experiments on-line that would pique my interest. They were playing with Flash, these ways of interacting with comics. That was never really my main interest. I was never too enthralled with the thought of making interactive comics, but the Web seemed like it was going to take off. It was probably already taking off at that point. It was right around the Dot-Com thing, when that was gearing up.
SPURGEON: In terms of comics, what was strange about that time was that there were accomplished cartoonists popping up out of nowhere, even more than usual. So is this where the impulse to do work on-line came from?
I guess the idea of trying to draw a book and pitch it at a publisher seemed a little too intimidating.
SPURGEON: What year did you graduate?
I'm pretty sure it was the Spring of 2001. I didn't have a major book done, anything I could pitch to a publisher. I didn't have a job lined up. I wasn't interested in going to Marvel and DC. So I thought, "Well, let me just get a job around town." I was living here, I was sharing a house with a couple other people at that point. I had a place to live. If I could get a job, I would not have to move back home. That's a major impulse: not having to go home. I decided to stay in Savannah and get a local job and work on stuff on the side. The job market in Savannah for anybody - for college students - is really rough.
SPURGEON: I remember in
The Journal Comic you had a job doing coupon books.
I still have that job. I spent most of the summer after I graduated looking for a job, any job at all. I'm not talking design jobs. I was applying for wait staff positions and getting nothing. I don't know if it was the job market itself, or maybe there was some sort of warning flag on somebody who just graduate and is going to move soon. The general impression that any employer would get is that this would be a temporary thing until I moved away.
SPURGEON: It's the ink on your fingers, Drew.
Yeah, probably. Probably the fact that I turned in a resume with these jobs probably worked against me as well. [laughs] But I had a resume, so I decided to turn them in with these jobs. It was actually not until a graphic design friend of mine was moving away to a design firm up in Washington - she was working two part-time, design-oriented jobs at the time - she recommended me and that was the way I got in. At the beginning of The Journal Comic
I was doing filing work at an orthodontist's office as well as the coupon book. Those were both basically inherited jobs. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had a contact on the inside, such as it is. I was not getting any callbacks.
SPURGEON: The other big project you're known for is "Pup," which can be found on the
Serializer on-line anthology/site. I don't think I've ever talked with anyone about working for that family of sites. How long have you been doing "Pup?"
I was one of the guys onboard when the Serializer
site first launched. They've added a lot more since then.
SPURGEON: Was there a community of these cartoonists that you were getting to know before that?
Yeah, for sure. I was completely blown away. I did a couple of Rover
panels. I think the whole strip was literally 14 panels in its entirety. Weeks and weeks of work. It sounds kind of retarded in hindsight. I had learned a lot about coloring and Photoshop, and was interested in doing elaborate Photoshop pieces at the time. I had done maybe four or five panels at that point. I had been reading Comicon.com, keeping tabs on the on-line comics section of that site, which used to be way more active than it is now. Most of its energy seems to have been drawn off by various other message boards. But at the time it was pretty active with the people, the "Big Names" - if you can sense the quotation marks around that - of the on-line biz were posting on there. I did a couple of panels, and then I posted "Hey, you should go look at my comic" in a nobody-will-look-at-this-and-this-will-sink to-the-bottom way. But right off the bat from that post I got responses from all of these guys. In hindsight - I'm saying "in hindsight" a lot - in hindsight it's not that amazing, but at the time I was like "Holy crap! Scott McCloud just looked at my comics! And he likes them!" So that was definitely encouraging.
SPURGEON: When did you hook up with
At the time Modern Tales
wasn't even up yet. Joey Manley had been hinting for a while - and at the time he was just some guy on the board - he was hinting that he was going to be doing some big project in the future. He was lining up a lot of other cartoonists at the time to do it. I'm trying to remember the sequence. Not long after Modern Tales
went up, Manley contacted me about doing The Journal Comic
, which I had recently started - somewhere along the lines I had given up on Rover
and started doing The Journal Comic
- anyway, he e-mailed me to ask if I wanted to do The Journal Comic
for Modern Tales
. I wanted to continue doing that for my own site, but I was interested in doing something for Modern Tales
. I think he passed along my name to Tom Hart later, saying that I would be interested in doing something and if this would be a good fit for Serializer
. I get the feeling Tom Hart basically did it as a favor to Manley [Spurgeon laughs] because I'm not sure The Journal Comic
really recommended itself to the sort of sensibility that he was going for in Serializer
. But he took Joey Manley's word and asked me if I wanted to do a comic. "Pup" was something I came up with for a cartooning class, and by cartooning I mean this was a class that was geared towards newspaper strip formats. I think they're still on my web site - I'd done maybe a dozen "Pup" strips that were surreal little Jim Woodring-esque cartoons about a dog. I think there was also an old man in those strips. They weren't very nailed down, beyond surreal. I was still interested in doing something with those characters, even though they weren't very defined at that point, but just doing more with that concept. I tried to develop it into a more realized strip. Which is "Pup" on Serializer.
SPURGEON: When was it launched?
It's been running a little over a year now. Maybe late 2002, I guess.
SPURGEON: Give me a layman's rundown on how you work. Do you work from a tablet, or do you work by hand and then scan it in?
I like to play around a lot, so it could change from week to week. One of those big format strips like the "infinite canvas" strips, I draw all the panels on Bristol in ink and assemble and color it in Photoshop.
SPURGEON: Manley's sites work on a pay model, right?
Certainly not very much. Hopefully nobody's lied to you and told you it was a lucrative business.
SPURGEON: I've only heard vague allusions to checks showing up in mailboxes, which in comics is magic worth noting.
There are checks. Just about enough to buy a really nice dinner every month. It's an important step.
SPURGEON: Can you contrast the audience for "Pup" with that for
The Journal Comic?
I still get a lot of responses, a lot of people are like, "I like The Journal Comic
, but this 'Pup' strip, I don't know. It's sort of weird." [Spurgeon laughs] Which is strange, because I don't think it's an unapproachable strip.
SPURGEON: Jim Woodring is an early influence; are there others that come to bear?
I guess the number one is Krazy Kat
, but I don't want to steal too much from any one source. The basic relationship was kind of taken from Krazy Kat
, but I don't think it bears too much in resemblance to that strip.
SPURGEON: One thing I think is really interesting about your work is that you've never gone through a mirroring period, where one influence dominates.
I can see things in it that maybe other people can't. When I was in high school, I copied like a bandit. "Holy crap, this is what I should draw like now." I drew like Todd McFarlane for a long while. Then I found Sam Kieth, and I thought Sam Kieth was great so I drew like Sam Kieth for a while. And then I found Cerebus
, and I drew like Dave Sim and Gerhard combined for a while. That comic I told you about that I was going to self-publish called A State of Bliss
? That was my Sim-inspired comic. All the backgrounds were crosshatched, although not nearly as good. I was no child prodigy.
SPURGEON: From what I understand talking to you it takes a lot of effort to complete a comic. Something like the "Pup" strip "Heat Death of the Universe," how did you write that? How was that designed?
It takes me a long time, usually, to get the concept for a strip I want to do. Once I get that, it's usually pretty quick to work it into a prelim. I end up wandering around the house and staring off into space for a long while. Usually I find I get a lot of ideas right before I fall asleep. I try to keep some paper nearby so I can jot down something if something strikes me. There's a particular fertile period - not dreaming, exactly, but you're so tired your mind, your barriers, drop.
These aren't comics like dream comics, like Rick Veitch's Rarebit Fiends
comics. I'm just trying to get my mind tired enough. It's not like dreaming, with this weird imagery, but you get your mind to the point you can make a connection or remember something that's striking. I probably get most of my ideas that way.
SPURGEON: What form does this idea take? A visual? A few words?
Sort of a concept. It will be like, "Pup floats through space and watches the end of the universe." Then I have to work that into some usable form. It's usually not so hard to layout the strip because I guess, speaking for myself, I think in comics a lot. The picture will be in my head, I just have to translate it on paper. Successfully or unsuccessfully. I'm sure that's been said a million times before.
SPURGEON: Where do you place yourself on the spectrum of online comics? Are you traditional or out there? You do make use of the variable canvas.
There are definitely guys out there who are taking advantage of the Web more than me. It's weird; there are also about 20 million people who are basically interested in doing a daily joke strip, the kind that runs in a magazine or whatever. There's nothing wrong with that. That's the mainstream of on-line comics. It's probably healthier in a sense than the mainstream of print comics in that there's no particularly genre that's taken hold, outside of that joke every day.
SPURGEON: You seem to find a lot of artistic merit in traditional or regimented formats, but you also play a lot with narrative effects, size of the page, how something is read.
I guess I'm basically a traditionalist, but one that doesn't feel confined by the physical borders of the paper. I'm not interested in trying to push the internet aspects harder than that. I find that to be sort of gimmicky. Some people have done some really amazing stuff, and I'm not trying to cast doubt on that, but I'm hoping that over time my stuff will stand up better. In comparison, there's Patrick Farley who does some amazing things, he's one of my favorite online comic artists, I think he's a really good example of someone who is trying to push at the limits. The way he mimics actually being on the Internet at certain points in his comics, like having to click on certain areas to access other areas. There are a lot of people who do that type of thing. It's not a gimmick, but it's probably not going to hold up.
SPURGEON: There's a reason comics hasn't worked like that before?
It's more like what we think is neat now is going to seem sort of cliched ten years from now. But, if you're just dealing with straight imagery, which I think "Pup" does... There's nothing in "Pup" that couldn't be reproduced on paper if the paper were significantly large enough. Maybe that's not really pushing anything, but I think it will stand up better.
SPURGEON: Your use of color in "Pup" is pretty far advanced for that kind of work - how did you develop those skills?
I think Photoshop helped. I know a lot of people hate Photoshop because of how gimmicky it can make your stuff look. A lot of comics colored in Photoshop are just done terribly. People using every filter effect they can come up with. But I think its existence really helped me learn how to color, and develop my own color style, so to speak. I really wasn't doing much in color until I started doing color stuff on the computer. Almost every traditional medium you can do color in it's very unforgiving. I don't suppose that's 100 percent true, but it felt like that me. I don't have a natural gift for color. If you make a bad choice when you do a painting I guess you can paint over it. But I make so many mistakes it's hard to fix in traditional media, so I had less interest in doing it.
SPURGEON: Does it help to see what it will actually look like rather than having to guess the effects of a printing process?
That's true, but I hadn't really thought about it. I think the benefit is mainly that you can play around with stuff with very little consequence. That can lead you down a terrible path, though. People are still debating the merits of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Strikes Again
. Whether or not it was done in an intentional fashion, that was Photoshop drawing attention to itself. A lot of comics are colored in a similar fashion, not out of any particular sophistication but because people go crazy in Photoshop.
SPURGEON: Is there anyone who uses color that you look to?
I think I look a lot to old newspaper strips. I really can't think of anyone specific to comic books. Coloring in comics doesn't particularly have a great history. [Spurgeon laughs] The early newspaper strips are pretty good... no, they're good. I was going to say it might be nostalgia, but I really think they were good. After that everything went to hell. Not only didn't you have a good sense of what it was going to look like, the goal wasn't so much to make a good color scheme as much as a vibrant one.
I've really developed the way I color on my own. People think Photoshop is a terrible thing. I think if used as a tool it's probably the most useful I've found. I can put down all those colors, look at them and ask if they harmonize. I can put down some basic naturalistic colors - the tree trunk is gray-brown, and the grass is a light green - and then lay colored filters on top of it. I guess in painting it would be like doing a wash of a certain color, so that all of the colors have a little bit of blue in them or whatever. You can harmonize your colors that way.
SPURGEON: Anyone who's done something interesting in color I've talked to seems to feel like they had to invent it all for themselves.
I can name a dozen or two dozen artists that have inspired me throughout my career, but I can't think of anybody, any colorist or artist who uses color, that has particularly struck me.
SPURGEON: Do you use color as a narrative tool or is it primarily decorative?
I think I use it as a mood tool. I almost never do that thing where it's a surprise panel and the background is all red or something. I think my particular goal is to establish a mood through the use of color. Almost like weather - it's the weather of the comic strip. Since I also use a lot of outdoor settings in "Pup," you can really capture the feel of the day. Like if it's kind of cold, winter day, you can overlay blue and gray everywhere. Sort of a cross between naturalistic and narrative. Most of the time I try not to make it obvious, like bright red if you want to make people angry. I'm trying to instill a mood, but subtly.
Manifestos and Betrayals
SPURGEON: I read a numbered essay about the state of comics called "The Failure Manifesto" the other day.
[laughs] Oh, really?
SPURGEON: And when I got to the end your name was one of the names on it. Tell me about the manifesto, and tell me about the comic book of the same name with your work in it.
It was sort of this little group: me and a bunch of other guys who were about to graduate from SCAD, and other sequential people I knew. We were all friends and all had the same interests. It seems really clichéd now, but I guess we all felt really betrayed by mainstream comics. [laughs] When you're neck deep in mainstream comics, especially during the whole Image and Valiant phase - that was basically all I thought of. It never seemed odd to me that every single comic had to involve a superhero and guys fighting. When you start growing out of that, there's an initial flush of anger when you realize how limited the genres are in mainstream comics. Everybody who is in alternative comics, I'm sure they thought that and got over it.
SPURGEON: You mean the anger.
Yeah: "Mainstream comics are bullshit!" [Spurgeon laughs] "It's like a bookstore with nothing but cowboy books!" Everybody has had this realization, but you feel like the only one. So you want to write a manifesto. Me and some friends, we actually did. We were trying to start a revolution, I guess. [laughs]
SPURGEON: What did you hope to do by putting these thoughts on paper?
Just to do something. I guess we were thinking it would be agitprop. We would do some sort of guerilla attack, guerilla marketing or something at conventions and get people thinking. I had this idea of printing up these little inserts and I would go into some of the comic shops around Savannah that carry almost nothing but mainstream superhero stuff and put them in the comics. [Spurgeon laughs]. We never did that, but I definitely had plans for it.
SPURGEON: When you talk about it in the past sense, does that mean some of the energy behind your group is gone?
I think the basic ideas still hold true. I just think that as you get older, and you realize that people have been saying this for year, and nothing has happened, then putting your energy into reactionary stuff is sort of a waste of time. The energy would be better spent on actually making comics that buck the trend.
SPURGEON: Do you educate yourself about what's going on in the industry?
Yeah, I think I have a pretty good idea of the industry as a whole. I can't tell you what's going on in Batman
at this point. [laughs]
SPURGEON: But you have a sense of ethical obligations, things you think are wrong and thing you want to see changed.
SPURGEON: Do you think that's typical of cartoonists your age?
I think it's definitely more prevalent. Maybe peoples' eyes are a little more open. It's hard to say, because I think everybody goes through a similar maturing period. Phase One: they think superhero comics are the shit. Phase Two: they realize there's more out there - and so on, and so on. And right now it seems to me a lot more people, a lot of younger artists at least, have a little better sense of how ruthless the mainstream industry and comics in general can be. More people are aware of the issues McCloud brought up in the Creators Bill of Rights.
SPURGEON: I usually talk to people who feel there's no interest in any issues and everyone is thoroughly mercenary. So it's interesting to talk to an artist who disagrees, let alone read a manifesto that puts those issues on point again. Is there anything you regret putting in there now?
I guess maybe some of it is a little too reactionary in hindsight.
SPURGEON: "Superheroes are dying and they're taking the medium with them." "Newspaper comics are dying…" A lot of things are dying in the Failure Manifesto.
Yeah, but I don't disagree with that. I think in the original manifesto, when we were writing that, I think I had a little more negative view of webcomics than I do now. I don't think that we put anything that was specifically "Web Comics suck," but I think we might have something like, "Webcomics are not the wave of the future" or "Webcomics will not save the industry." And I can't remember my exact wording. I still don't think it's a "save the industry" point of view, but I definitely have a more positive view towards them than I used to. [laughs] Obviously.
SPURGEON: "Comics on the Internet are definitely worthy of experimentation as a new medium, but should not be touted as the savior of comics." And "The Internet should be seen as another option and format to the creator." Your memories of being a firebrand may be a little more active than the evidence, Drew.
That may have been the Manifesto Revised. [laughter]
SPURGEON: I'm getting the New International version?
I think some translations got shifted. I think maybe originally, Web comics might have been poisoners... [laughs] No, not really.
SPURGEON: Maybe if I read it in the original Greek.
There's some numerology going on there, too.
SPURGEON: At least I can say I'm behind any manifesto with the phrase "two-dollar whore."
[laughs] It's been a while since I actually read it.
SPURGEON: There was also an anthology called Failure. Was that an outgrowth?
Yeah. I think we're all pretty much past our firebrand days, but we still maintain a group. A support group more or less. It helps to have a group to be affiliated with when it comes to such things as going to convention, trying to pay for a table and a hotel room and the like. We all have sort of similar outlooks, and we can do things like put out an anthology.
SPURGEON: Do you critique each other's work?
Yeah, we do, actually.
SPURGEON: At one point there were formal drawing sessions, am I right?
Yeah, we used to have jam sessions. I guess we haven't done that in a while. But I can't say we stopped doing that.
SPURGEON: Was your work in the
Failure comic and its more traditional alt-comics visual style a significant departure for you?
I think of myself as a man of many styles, I guess. The cartoony stuff I've done recently was really a departure from the earlier stuff I did. So I guess that's sort of a throwback. I'm not interested in only doing stuff in that slick cartoony style - I don't know how slick it is, really.
SPURGEON: There wasn't a whole lot of justification in those works - the stories were presented pretty plainly.
I think part of it is that there's a theme to that issue. We decided to do stories about feeling like a failure. That's the reason everything is autobio.
SPURGEON: Are there more planned?
Yes and no. That issue came out a little before the last SPX. We had a really tough time finding a distributor. Basically we put all anthologies on hold in the meantime. I guess in hindsight - I'm really using that word a lot today - in hindsight the concept behind it is a little too much: an anthology title from a bunch of people who are really unknown. It's probably the thing that Diamond hates the most. It's not an ongoing title, and there's no one on there that is any real selling point. So for the time being, since we haven't even found a distributor for the first one, the plan for future anthologies has been held up. But we still have publishing plans as a group.
SPURGEON: What are your expectations as you continue on in comics? Do you think about in terms of a career, and if so, where do you want to go as you develop?
I guess I have a pretty realistic outlook on ways to make a living in comics. I suspect I will continue having a day job for the foreseeable future. I think I've already started to be a little more realistic about the salability of comics.
There's a new sort of trend happening, one I think is pretty interesting. The traditional way for things to go would be that you would have a comic series - any sort of story you were interested in telling you would tell in an issue-by-issue sort of format, and then eventually it would get collected as a trade. What I'm seeing now is that I think the floppy comic book pamphlet is starting to die off. A lot of things are going straight into trade paperbacks and graphic novels. A lot of indy cartoonists who 10 years would have come out with a series of comics that maybe would have been collected into a trade down the line, are just going ahead and making a book and selling it. I guess the problem there comes from - what do you do until the comic is done? How do you make money and/or get any exposure?
SPURGEON: What do you do until the book is done, Drew?
[laughs] "I'm glad you asked, Tom." I think the Web is becoming that intermediate step. A lot of cartoonists like Jason Little or Derek Dirk Kim have a web site and put up regular doses of story. Maybe not a page, but at least a little bit every day or every week. Building up an online readership. There are other titles - I'm not sure you would be familiar with them. Megatokyo
, have you heard of that? Whatever doubts you have about the actual quality of that particular title, those guys built up an enormous following online. Then they put a book together, and put it out through a small manga publisher. I think either that publisher folded or the Megatokyo
guys decided to dump them, and they moved on to Dark Horse. As far as I can tell, it's selling really well for them. That's not maybe the best example in terms of the genre or the style or the quality or whatever I'm after. Or what anybody should go after. [laughs] But in terms of a marketing model, it's pretty exemplary.
SPURGEON: Does the "Pup" work even translate to print, though?
Not really. I think with enough work I could format most of it for print, but I try not… I try to make "Pup" the thing I don't worry about in terms of marketing. I try to make it a Web creature.
SPURGEON: Can we expect a property or strip you will be marketing?
I've actually been working on it for a while, a new comic I'll put up on the web site. It's tentatively called "Little Trees." This will be geared for print from the start. It's sort of autobio novella, but more experimental than The Journal Comic
. It's basically about growing up, and how being a kid is sort of like being insane. Maybe a little bit like Chester Brown's Underwater
. I hope to get it up in weekly installments, and put it all out in a book when I'm done.
Actually, I feel a little twinge of betrayal when I do things on-line that are geared for print. [laughs] I think it's the McCloud in me. I think that's the way things are going to go. Maybe print will die off. Who knows? I'm not particularly looking forward to it. I don't any bias against print. I don't have any special bias against either medium. Or any special affinity. I think they both have merits. They both have unique aspects that you should probably take advantage of. If paper goes anywhere, it's going to take a while. But I can see that happening. It's not like there's any inherent value to printing things. It's just mushed up wood pulp. It's a compromise people made in trying to store our words and pictures. The Web does it just as well and maybe better. Maybe cheaper and faster, too. Will paper die out eventually? I think maybe it will.
SPURGEON: Are you generally encouraged or discouraged by people you see working that are near your own age? Do you feel like a young cartoonist among other, fellow young cartoonists?
Yeah. I guess I feel pretty optimistic about the future of comics. It seems like there's a healthier matrix for comics. I don't know if the actual comics being created in that matrix or any better, though. Does that makes sense? It seems like there are more opportunities out there than there were 10 or 15 years ago. For young cartoonists. You've got this burgeoning bookstore trade going on, you've got the Internet. I guess comics have sort of a little bit developed a hip cachet. Just a little. [laughs]