The webcomic creator is never far from their audience. Be it through social media, public email addresses, Discord servers, or simply the comments section beneath a page, there is a rapport and a conversation that is developed that is unique to the medium. As such, we thought what better way to continue our coverage of the medium than starting up a series of interviews with webcomics creators to pick their brains about craft, storytelling, and their personal experiences with the medium. Brief though it might be, for our first interview, we talked to the Eisner-award winning creator of “Spinning,” Tillie Walden, about her webcomic “On a Sunbeam.”
To start us off, tell us about your experiences with webcomics prior to starting “On a Sunbeam.”
Tillie Walden: I had zero experience with webcomics prior to making “On a Sunbeam.” I knew they existed but I never read one. I still haven’t read one (except for “Hark! A Vagrant”). I am slightly embarrassed.
When you set out to make “On A Sunbeam,” why did you choose to publish it as a webcomic instead of a graphic novel like all your previous work. What were the benefits to the format? What unexpected challenges did you encounter?
TW: A few reasons. The main one being that a webcomic is free and I really wanted to be able to offer people a story that they didn’t have to pay for. A lot of my readers are teens and they don’t have the money to buy a $20 graphic novel. So it was important to me to be able to make this comic accessible. Also, it meant I could draw the comic and immediately share it with people and when you make a graphic novel you have to wait forever for the book to come out and it’s always very frustrating for me because I work quickly and want to get it out there. The most annoying challenge was just actually having to set up a website and maintain it as more people came on it. Other than that, nothing about its as any harder than making a graphic novel.
Do you work digitally, physically, or a combination of both? What about your preferred format do you find works best for you?
TW: I mainly work traditionally because I like papers and pens and computers are stupid. For “On a Sunbeam,” I did a mix where I did the line art traditionally and the color digitally. In a perfect word, I would do everything traditionally, but I do not have time. When I am old and rich I will never touch a computer again.
As a one person team (I presume), what do you find to be the most challenging part of the creation process? Is it the idea generation, the scripting or is it a function of the art, the lettering or the coloring?
TW: I find the writing somewhat annoying because I’m very eager to start drawing. I have to force myself to actually figure out some of the story before I jump into the art. But I love the whole process and each aspect of it has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ve made enough comics now where I’m used to the challenges in each part of it so I always manage to get through it.
Considering the size of the updates, was it difficult to keep to the weekly-ish update schedule you’d set for yourself?
TW: Yes. At one point, I was working on a chapter of “On a Sunbeam” at my parents’ house and I walked downstairs and couldn’t decide what to have for breakfast and started sobbing — not because of the breakfast thing but because I was so exhausted and overworked from trying to put up these crazy updates. So it definitely got to me at a certain point but it was also a lovely challenge and really forced me to get the story out of my system and I”m proud I did it.
Newsletters as the main update distribution method are quite rare, with most webcomics relying on a combination of social media updates and RSS feeds. Why’d you choose that method? What were some of the advantages to it?Continued below
TW: I actually used a combination of social media updates and my newsletter to let people know when a new chapter was up. But I liked doing the newsletter because I could put as many images as I wanted in it and talk a little more in depth about each update. I really did not enjoy the part of the process where I have to shout form the mountaintops about an update. It’s a little tiring — but necessary.
The narrative of “On a Sunbeam” is structured so that we bounce between the past and the present of these characters, creating two parallel narratives, with one more grounded in the space opera and the other in the school drama/coming-of-age narrative. Why did decide to split it like this instead of going chronologically?
TW: I think I decided to split it into two narratives because I didn’t feel like picking and they both seemed interesting and I was at a point in my life where I was on the cusp of adulthood and so I was really interested in both looking forward and looking back. I didn’t worry about making a perfect narrative. I was focused on listening to myself and doing something that interested me. At the time, I simply couldn’t decide!
What works/creators/events helped to inspire “On a Sunbeam?”
TW: There were no specific comics that inspired On A Sunbeam. It really just came from the fact that I was interested in space and wanted an excuse to draw weird spaceships. But, if I had to recommend some creators that I like, I love Eleanor Davis, Jen Wang, and Rosemary Valero O’Connell.
“On a Sunbeam” comes out October 2nd from First Second.