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. We’re continuing those conversations here, albeit a little more formally, by interviewing webcomics creators to pick their brains about craft, storytelling, and their personal experiences with the medium.
Regular readers of The Webcomics Weekly, our webcomics review column, will no doubt recognize the name of this month’s interviewee. Harry Bogosian is the creator of “A Better Place” and “Demon’s Mirror” as well as working on the comics “Starhammer” and “Topside” with writer J. N. Monk. It may be a month before the month of spook but that’s OK. Settle in for a deep dive on how Bogosian creates demons, what makes them so funny, and a lot of talk about an under-discussed part of the drawing process: inking.
Thanks again to Harry for chatting with me!
Tell us about your experiences with webcomics prior to starting “Demon’s Mirror” and “Starhammer?”
Harry Bogosian: OK, well. I think my experience with webcomics is like a lot of people who grew up when webcomics were first bursting onto the scene which is that they were free comics online, which blew my mind, blew most people’s mind, and it was very hit or miss in those days. A lot of gaming comics, a lot of strange ones that don’t go anywhere and then stop abruptly, but they were still free comics and they were amazing and I read as many as I could find.
That was your main interaction with webcomics?
HB: Yeah. I was blown away by the idea that webcomics could be up online and you could have total control over them, over how you presented them, edited them, and you get feedback from the people that were reading them. It was very exciting and I’ve always loved — I feel like most people who enjoy comics have always loved comics and it builds over time or it fades away as you get older.
Did you find that this influenced your decision to make a webcomic? What was the process that got you to start “Demon’s Mirror?”
HB: When I was at the end of high school, I wanted to work on a comic. It was an extremely vast idea that I won’t go into now, very very biblical and everything, and I enjoyed making up the world and character but I wasn’t capable of executing it so I got thirty pages in and stopped. Then I went to college and studied illustration.
After that, I became a concept artist for some small video game companies and the entire time I was working for these companies I was thinking to myself: “I’d love to make a comic but I can’t because I’m not good enough at anatomy, I’m not good enough with fashion, I’m not good enough with architecture.” So I kept putting it off and bringing it up to my friends. Then one of my friends, he was probably tired of me, and said “just do it then. Do it and learn from it. Who cares? Who’s reading it in the first place?”
I’m like, “You’re right. No one is! No one’s reading it in the first place so I can’t really fail at making it. If it fails, that means no one has read it and I’ll stop doing it.” Although, nobody read it for a very long time. I was just making it for myself and then I started making “Demon’s Mirror” based off of “The Snow Queen,” a Hans Christian Anderson story that I loved, and the more I worked with it, the more I felt it was deeply fulfilling that doing concept art and illustration work never quite tapped into because I had total control over the world and characters. I got more and more invested into it and felt a desire to spend more of my time doing comics, which is not a great plan financially or in terms of your time but comics, I don’t know, they make me feel very powerfully.Continued below
How did you work process change from doing concept art and illustrations to the sequentials of your first few comics?
HB: The biggest changeover to comics from illustration — or any visually creative work — is that you really have to understand how your time is gonna break down. Like, with an illustration, you can pick away at it, you can do a really quick one, you can take you time and you can always return to it. With comics, every panel becomes its own illustration and you don’t have infinite time. I usually set myself a hard limit — I tried to, it didn’t always work out — of a day for a page, so that meant from getting up in the morning to writing it, to sketching it, to inking it, to coloring it, to finishing it, to be like, this page is done.
HB: Well that’s because with I know with illustration, it could just spill over endlessly and I didn’t want to be making a comic where, I mean a whole day on one page is a long time, especially when most comics I enjoy are hundreds and hundreds of pages long. You know, it’s hard to rationalize. So I tried to become more efficient because I know many artists, if you get to spend more time with it, futzing around with it, you can make it look better. If you have to keep moving to the next stage, you will do stuff that you’re like, “I wish this could be better but I have to move on.”
Sometimes you have to spill over into the next day and sometimes comics pages take longer than you’d want them to, but you do still have to keep moving forward. That was a big change. That was probably the hardest part of switching over. The other hard part, which I was totally unprepared for but I really really enjoyed was the act of writing dialog and setting up themes and characters over time because if you don’t think of characters, themes, and where your story is going, it’ll start creating themes for you.
If you have a person do something and they get punished or rewarded for that thing, in many ways you’re saying this is, in some ways, a moralistic lesson. Your character wins the day, by the end of the story what have they accomplished, what does that mean? If you’re not planning for that ahead of time, you can end up with very weird moral lessons. Are you accidentally promoting X, Y, Z thing without really thinking about it? It’s like, oh shoot, I did not realize I was going in that direction, so pre-planning and anticipating where the story was going, and making sure I knew where it was all gonna end up, even when working from a pre-established story became very important.
As you said, the first story was loosely based on “The Snow Queen.” Why that story? And this was Pre-Frozen?
HB: Yes, this was pre-Frozen, which is also so loosely based on it.
Yeah, the original story is pretty dark.
HB: When I go to do stories, and this has crystallized over the years, I try to think to myself, “What story am I looking for that I can’t find elsewhere?” So when you’re taking a pre-existing story, it becomes, “What am I looking for in this story that isn’t there already?” With “The Snow Queen,” you already have this beautiful great world, very magical and fantastical, in Hans Christian Anderson’s world. All these great characters, all this great intrigue, but it keeps introducing people and then leaving them behind and at the very end of the story, it doesn’t really answer anything about the demons in the beginning.
It doesn’t answer anything about why the Snow Queen wanted Kay or Kai, it just, in the version I read at least, Gerta shows up, I think the Snow Queen is on vacation, and then Gerta gets Kai and they both leave. And then they’re back home. Then some angels show up and rescue her, I think. It’s very disjointed, almost like a dreamlike thing, and I was thinking to myself, “I love these characters. I love this story. How do I make it into the story I want to read, where I see basically a continuation of the characters throughout the story?” That’s what I tried to do.Continued below
Did you find that you would run up against any problems while adapting it? Like, you’d come across something and you went, “hmm, that doesn’t quite line up with what I want to do” and have to adjust or work it in? Were there times this would happen when you were part way through writing the story?
HB: Oh for sure. My first outline was, I got a huge sheet of drawing paper and plotted out what I wanted for the story beats, so I read through “The Snow Queen,” what are the story beats they have, how do I want to line them up? There are some obvious ones like, Gerta goes to the city, Gerta meets the Witch, but because I was having the characters stay with Gerta and become a part of the story, it very quickly becomes, what do you do? Do I have all the secondary characters do nothing and are just observing Gerta as she goes? No, they have to be incorporated into the story.
Then you start having problems where, especially with demons, you have these incredibly powerful beings chasing her down. How do they not just catch up to her and grab her? I had to throw up roadblocks for them. I had to find ways to stop them. It’s almost like a puzzle. I have all these antagonistic forces and these protagonistic forces, how do I make it so they mesh in a way that continues the story and is satisfying to me, at least. That’s what I was always aiming for and that requires a lot of, “Oh shoot, I’ve got to think hard because I’ve put a character in a tough spot that could easily kill them if something doesn’t happen in the next couple pages.” I did try to plot out chunks at a time so I didn’t end up with my back to the wall too often.
Re-reading “Demon’s Mirror” and reading “A Better Place” you can see some of your design elements show up in the demons. What made you go with the many-armed, many-eyed and very distinct looks over more traditional designs like what Anderson may have been thinking when he said Demon?
HB: Obviously you’re familiar with my work and I’m sure you’ve seen some of my art outside of comics, I have a real compulsion towards demons. They are the perfect embodiment of human creativity. They are everything we fear, want, desire for ourselves, don’t want for ourselves and can be any combination of plant, animal, human, technology. They are the product of the human mind in every way. But that means at some point you’ve got to scale that down, especially for comics.
I tend to draw more complex creatures when I’m doing them for an illustration. You have to re-draw the character in comics over and over and over again, sometimes dozens of times per page, but I don’t want to make them not interesting to look at, so there’s that balance. If you think of demons as they’re portrayed throughout history and culture and art, and you think of each as a circle and you overlap them into venn-diagrams, you see the same things showing up.
Demons are usually very powerful, they’re usually unsettling in some way, and weirdly enough, they’re often comical. Demons are a very strange junction of terrifying and amusing and I try very hard for that to be the case. In fact, usually, the more powerful I want it to be, the more important it is to me for it to not only have the teeth and the claws and the eyes but also what about this makes it a little ludicrous, a little “if it weren’t so dangerous it would be funny.”
That’s, I dunno, demons are inspiring in that, you can never go wrong, you can only go boring, so just do your best so it’s not boring, to keep it interesting and entertaining.
Did you design your characters in “Demon’s Mirror” after paintings of demons from long ago? Or were they entirely conceptual and building out from the concept?
HB: A lot of times when I’m designing demons, I let my hand do the designing. I’ll usually have an idea ahead of time what I’m going for but the hand starts drawing them and that influences the look. Like a human has to exist within parameters but a demon doesn’t. I will say that the classic Renaissance, medieval age demons where they’re made of many many parts, almost all together, shines through in terms of my understanding but also things like “Calvin and Hobbes,” the creatures under the bed. Silly but clearly, deeply scary creatures that are under Calvin’s bed are very informative to how I approach demons. Sometimes you don’t even see what they are, you only see the idea of “what would they look like if they were slithering out from underneath there.”Continued below
Like if you encounter them in the dark they’re terrifying but as you start to think about what they look like, they begin to seem ridiculous.
HB: Exactly. I think that’s another part of demons for me. Demons exist not only in the context of humans but in the context of themselves. Do they find each other scary? Do they find themselves scary? No. They don’t. They’re very easy going and relaxed and they’ve got their own society, which I’m going to get into in the sequel to “Demon’s Mirror,” and that’s built on it’s own structures. They don’t necessarily see themselves as humans do. They see themselves as greater than humans and operate on that basic principle.
In the same way that humans decorate themselves with clothes and jewelry and hair dye and stuff, when you’re interacting with an animal, you don’t care how the animal perceives all that, it’s just not very important to you. That’s how demons interact with humans.
I hadn’t thought about it that way.
HB: Yeah, they are very far above humans because of how in my world, because of how demons come into creation, they primarily eat human meat but they’re not necessarily malicious beyond that. They just inherently view humans as lesser, as food, potentially entertainment, but it’s very hard to respect humans as people because they aren’t.
Did you expect when you finished it that you would feel strongly enough to make a sequel?
HB: When I go to do a story, I plan it to have a beginning, middle and an end. I grew really frustrated with stories that are so open ended that they never end.
Not a fan of the big cape comic then?
HB: I loved superhero comics growing up. I loved them so much but then you have a character that goes through so much growth and change and claws their way to victory or to save a friend and then four years later none of that ever happened. Then you get into a new arc and four years later it’s like that never happened. It’s so hard to become invested in characters when everything they went through is forgotten, or only the stuff that the current writer enjoys. Cape comics are great but they often shed anything they see as excessive and that’s on a personal, individual creator basis.
On the other hand, you have a lot of Japanese comics where they have one linear story but because they go until they don’t have enough popularity, the story very rarely ends until it has to be wrapped up abruptly. That also is frustrating because you’ve got characters that have gone through so much and they deserve that ending.
So, in regards to my comics, “Demon’s Mirror” had an ending and I left it in a place where I knew I could return to that world but if I never did ever, it could be read by itself and there wouldn’t be. . . hopefully you would want to know where the characters lead but you wouldn’t be like wait, Harry never answered the story or the questions he posed. Hopefully. “Demon’s Mirror” was a work where I was learning as I was going through it. Definitely you can find areas where this was not explained enough or this has to be worked on more but I did try my best to have an end.
On that cape comics then, you’re also the artist on “Starhammer” with J. N. Monk. Reading through it, I noticed there was a bit of an art shift early on and you were brought on. Would you be able to talk a little bit about that?
HB: Yeah. Monk found my work through “Demon’s Mirror.” They had an excellent artist on their team, they were all set to go, but that artist had to leave the team so they were kinda scrambling. Who can we get to sub in? Ironically, Monk had approached me being like, “hey, I like your stuff, maybe we can work together in the future,” and a week later this happened to them and they were like, “actually, can you start now?” And I had been wanting to do more comic work so I was like sure.Continued below
We jumped in and, you know, that’s a very different experience. We have a writer, we have me, we had a colorist for a long time, we had character designs that had existed for a long time, and we’re working in a format, which is cape comics set mostly in the real world, well, more of a real world. It was deeply outside my comfort zone but that’s how you learn. I figured, let’s do this and I’ll do the best I can. That’s been my approach to it.
It’s something where I’ve grown to really love those characters, that world and everything in it, but Monk’s storytelling is different from mine. So it’s always something where we’re talking about it, working through it, and we’ll see where it goes. I know where Monk’s plans are now but I try not to have my hand on the steering wheel of where that’s going because that’s not fair to Monk as a creator.
Do you compose the pages differently when you’re writing it versus when you’re collaborating? On that as well, because “Starhammer” is in landscape while your other comics are in portrait, does that affect the way you think about portraying the events or is it more you’re treating it as a continuous stream of two-page spreads?
HB: No, it really changes it. The landscape thing really affects the way I approach the comic, much more than I would’ve originally thought. I prefer portrait because I think it’s easier to work through the page; you start at the top and by the time you reach the bottom, you’ve told a little story. Whereas with landscape, the same thing is true but you see more of it at once, it’s a whole different approach.
Since we work with editors and I work with Monk, I have to do thumbnails ahead of time so I’ll read through a script and do somewhere between 14 and 30 thumbnails that they can all see and they can give me red-lines on that or I can work right into the sketch or our editor Gisele will do a red line and I’ll be like, “oh, that makes sense to me.” If you’re working with others, the most important thing that continually comes is to make sure you know what they’re thinking and that they know what you’re thinking.
When I’m working on my own comic in my own head, I can extrapolate and change things and move ahead rapidly on ideas and I’ll often change things at the last second. I’ll often be reading through a page and be like, “Oh. This person should say this and do this in this moment” and I can do that. I can just change it. You can’t really do that with someone else’s story. You can’t be like, I’m going to change a major plot point because in this flash of insight, I’ve come up with something that I feel is better because that can be annoying to everybody.
I think it’s a little more stable and trying to make sure you have enough buffer so that you aren’t steering the car off the road unexpectedly.
Do you ever have that moment where you wish you could push ahead with an idea? If you do, do you ever go to Monk and pitch it?
HB: Oh sure. If I’ve got an idea and there’s enough time to implement and change it, I’ll go to Monk and be like, Oh, this would be cool, and unless it directly stops another plot line, Monk will be like, Oh sure, do that. They are not a prima dona about their world at all. At the same time, when you are creating a story, there are threads that could go years ahead of time, especially in webcomics. Such inefficient form of storytelling, it takes so long to get it done.
In my stories, I have an ending in mind when I start and then often, about a third of the way through, at least in the last few comics, I’m like, it’s too happy, it needs to be darker. Then I go farther along and it’s still too happy, so I make it darker and then I go further and I’m like, maybe I’ve gone too dark. I keep adjusting it as I’m going towards that end zone and I can’t swoop in and say I’m going to change you ending, you know? Those are the big, pivotal points that you have to be wary of.Continued below
Do you find that happy endings aren’t as satisfying?
HB: I came up with a theory before I started “Demon’s Mirror” because I realized there were certain stories I kept returning to in my mind.
When a story ends, let’s say it’s a good ending, a well done ending, and it’s a very happy ending, you are satisfied as a reader. You also forget about the ending very quickly. It’s almost like a bunch of friends. You know they’re taken care of, you say goodbye to them, and you move on with your life because you aren’t worried about them. A really, really unhappy ending makes you think about it but it’s almost so painful that it can be hard to think about at times. Like, a story that you go so invested in and everyone is just brutalized, even if it’s done well, it’s like, “Oh no, that was hard.”
There’s a certain level of sadness and trauma and failure while still accomplishing what the characters wanted to do that I think makes it so the reader continues to think about them and digest the situation they’re in. Ideally, you finish the story so they’re not frustrated about it but you keep returning thinking, what will be next for them? I really like those kinds of stories.
Perhaps the story I hate the most of all is a story where you have characters that gain increasing powers and abilities and then at the end everything is stripped away from them and they are put back into the normal world and then their life continues as if the story never happened. Why would you do that?! That’s not how the world works. If a person goes through what the characters have gone through, there is something of it that should stay with them. Hopefully a lot of it will stay with them and that lasting impact on the characters, which is usually not going to be all positive, is important for me to keep in the end.
I suspect I have a decent idea of what’s going to happen in “A Better Place.”
HB: You might.
Maybe. At least we’re not going to go back to Saturday Morning Cartoons
HB: We might. [Laughs.]
I have thought a lot about it. There’s a lot of moving parts and my initial idea going into it was: OK, “Demon’s Mirror,” I have a pre-made story. I’m going to keep things simple and see what happens when I layer on more characters. With “A Better Place,” that was the opposite. Let’s give myself a character who can create anything, and do anything, and who creates a world where anything can happen and then dive into that. A world of potentially pure chaos and that means that there’s a lot of potential loose ends and things that have to wrap up. I’ve been trying to keep on top of that but I gave myself an intentionally messy problem to see how it would resolve itself.
If everything is tied up too neatly, it can feel disjointed from the rest of the story but obviously if it’s too messy then it’s unsatisfying. That’s the problem I was trying to figure out over the last few years and hopefully I have!
We’ll just have to wait and see. So, how do you work? Specifically is it a physical process? Also, between your two comics, you went from full color in “Demon’s Mirror” to grayscale and then slowly back to full color for “A Better Place.” What factors influenced that?
HB: With “Demon’s Mirror” I wanted to try everything. So I did. I started doing it all traditionally. Then I moved into a combination traditional and digital and then I went to all digital. I tried Photoshop, Clip Studio. I tried thin brushes. I tried thick brushes. I tried painterly styles. I really was like, might as well do it all and I did as much as I could do or wanted to do. What I was trying to find the whole time was the cross-sectioning of the best possible quality with the best possible time. If you move through it at a relatively fast speed you can do more but then you drop in quality and, obviously that formula works itself out.Continued below
By the time I got to the end of “Demon’s Mirror,” I had a style where I was working 100% digital because there’s a much better fidelity with physical media but there’s the slowdown of scanning it, which is such a pain. There’s also the problem of you can’t refine things and change things; the flexibility of digital is so good. I went into “A Better Place” with that but I wanted to see, since everybody was saying to me, what I want out of webcomics is for them to come out faster. So I thought, well, if I do them in black and white, I should be able to make it faster.
But the longer I worked on it, the more I felt like I wanted to have color and eventually I missed the colorful pages I got to work with on “Demon’s Mirror.” Eventually I’m going to have to go back and colorize all the pages after we go to the future in “A Better Place.” I’ll probably keep old times when they’re just kids in black and white as a kind of nod to the Wizard of OZ, which is kind of a cop-out but, you know.
A lot of that was seeing what works. I feel like with art and creation in general, you don’t know what works personally until you try it and then you try it and you see.
What part of that process is the most challenging for you? Is it the scripting? Is it part of the lettering or the coloring?
HB: The most challenging thing to me, although it isn’t exactly what you’re asking though it kind of is, is inking because I love inking but inking takes so much time. It’s the biggest time sink. For instance, I’ll start my day at 10:30am. I’ll sketch out the page I’ve previously written. Writing is its own weird thing, like, if you’re really stuck it can be the hardest thing or it can flow so effortlessly, you can get 20 pages done in an hour or you can spend two hours writing half a page of dialog. It really depends.
If I have it written out, I do the sketch. Usually the sketch takes me anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half. Then I spend some time refining the sketch, and this is something I’ve realized over the years I need to do as much fun as it is jumping in with ink when it’s really loose. Take the time, sketch it out more. Then inking, I’ll be inking from 12:30 to 6:30 or something. It’s such a huge block of time for inks.
You actually aren’t adding anything! The pencils often convey all the information but I really like the look of good inks. I keep trying to break away from them and I keep slinking back and wanting to be better at inking. Functional inks are fine but really excellent inking is such a pleasure in and of itself that I keep returning to that desire. That is my biggest frustration. At a certain level you can’t make it go faster.
Do you find that you spend more of that inking time on your personal projects versus “Starhammer” or is it kind of the same on both?
HB: Because of my storytelling, I often spend more time on my personal projects than “Starhammer” but that’s because the more under duress the characters are, the more battle-worn they are, or demons or monstrous, I feel like inking adds texture. You can keep adding texture, adding texture, adding texture. A lot of the pages I come up with call for that, at least the way I do it, especially when I’ve got something that’s real monstrous.
“Starhammer” is often lighter in the tone it takes. Making Evey realistically texture doesn’t always resonate with the writing on the page but keeping things dynamic and loose is its own problem. That’s more a technique thing than a time thing. I tend to get caught up in inking my own pages and then that becomes this time sink that I fight against.
I would love to do it more but I don’t think that would make it better. It just becomes an aesthetic, pleasurable thing of not having to worry about time with inking. You can see people who go to that extreme. I think there’s diminishing returns for the reader past a certain point.Continued below
Even if an artist might spend 10, 20 hours inking — that’s kind of a large amount of time, or maybe not depending on the page — verus 5 hours, and it could only be maybe 10% more instead of 2-4 times more appreciated.
HB: Or even less. You know the webcomic One did of “One Punch Man?”
HB: So there’s the original, which is super crude and looks like it could be done in a half an hour in terms of the actual raw technique on the page. Then there’s the remake, which is oftentimes the most beautiful comic you can find. Reading through both of them, they’re both very enjoyable. The difference in enjoyment is, like, twice as much? Four times as much? But the time invested. . .and not just the time but the artist of the remake is one of the most talented inkers and comics artists out there, it’s not hard to understand the difference in raw, technical quality levels but the original is still a great read.
That kind of points out how stupid it is and yet, I love the remake quality and I want my work to be as good as possible. There’s that internal battle. At a certain point, you give out very little but I want to scrape out every increase I can get.
On the whole, you have been very successful at this, especially in “A Better Place.” I’m essentially re-reading it a few pages at a time for the site and I really notice you getting more confident in your inks and in your application of color as well as the choices of what to highlight and where to put your attention.
HB: I really appreciate that. My driving force there behind my work, which again is the theory that I had to try before it could prove itself one way or the other, and it still hasn’t proven itself, comics being what they are, which is: I want to read comics. I remember I worked in a comic book story and I wanted to buy comics. It’s hard to find the comics I wanted. Like I’ll go to the store, I’ve bought many over the years, I’ve got the classics and I’ll go to find a new one and rarely will I find one where I think, Wow, I need to own that. And that makes me sad.
There are a lot of amazing creators out there doing a lot of amazing stuff. It only corresponds with my desires so often. When I’m making my work, in terms of plot and in terms of art, it’s: what do I want to buy? What do I want to see? What do I want to spend my time on?
The platonic ideal of my work is the comic that, if I saw it, would immediately purchase. Instantly purchase and recommend to my friends. Maybe someone else would see it and be like, I dislike it intensely or just pass it over, but I don’t have to consider that. I don’t know what those people want, those people being anybody else. I know what I want.
To temper that a little bit, I still think at the end of the day, you have to consider what other people want to see so long as it doesn’t get in the way of what I want to see. So, massaging it so it appeals to a wider audience without compromising your ideals becomes that theoretical, perfect creation. I still haven’t reached it yet. I see and read other comics and I think, this is more what I want to buy than what I’m creating. So what can I do to achieve better?
How often do you see other work and see something they’ve done and go, “Oh, I think that could work very well in my comic? Or does that not happen often?”
HB: I’m very bad at taking and then putting into my comic than drawing on through osmosis. I absorb and read comics and listen to endless fantasy and sci-fi books while I’m working cause while I’m inking, I’ll be listening to audiobooks. I find that they’re going into the digestive system of the mind and then the nutrients of it get absorbed into my creative process. I’ll find that if I’ve gone a while without reading comics or listening to or reading a book, I feel a little malnourished when creating my own stuff. When I’m consuming it, it sparks, I get to have more to work with.Continued below
I would never want to go to a story and be like, “this has been done so well, I will now do it,” because it was done really well, I just read it. It was done well there. To recreate it would be fighting against the story I just enjoyed cause either I make the same thing over again, which would be boring, or I try to do a better version of the thing I just thought was really, really well done, so that becomes its own. . . I know some people do that excellently but that’s not how my brain works.
I definitely end up absorbing stuff all the time. Years later, I’ll be like, oh shoot! I was watching Akira the other day and wow, a lot of this has entered my work. Oh my god. From smaller details to larger ones, when I was coming up with these designs, I wasn’t thinking Akira, it just ends up being an underpinning because I saw it when I was younger and it was really influential on me and I just became absorbed deep within my creative self.
With regards to working within the webcomics format versus working for print, because you worked with J. N. Monk on “Topside” for Lerner Publishing. How different was it working with them on “Starhammer?” What about webcomics do you think affords you a different kind of storytelling freedom? You really like to use tags and descriptions and a lot of webcomics use alt-hover text to flesh out a story, which is something I’ve noticed a lot in “A Better Place” but that doesn’t really translate to print as much. What are your thoughts on that?
HB: That is something I’ve been thinking a lot about because I’ve been wanting to get more comics into print. Very few comics artists don’t want to do that. I’ve been pitching a few ideas and my agent Susan, who is very wonderful about going through it and massaging it for a more print format, because you’re right. When you are approaching a webcomic, you have a lot of leeway to keep adding things and tweaking things and doing little lore dumps or whatever whereas something like “Topside,” or anything that’s printed, you have to have the script, which I didn’t do for “Topside.” Monk did the whole script, that has to be done to be approved. Then the editor gives it to you and then you have to go through and make all the sketches for the whole thing. Then that gets approved and then you have to go through the whole thing and ink it and color it.
It’s very rigid in terms of changing because they don’t want you to be going back and changing things and then changing things even though I would argue that it leads to a better comic in the end, it also can lead to the comic being derailed and never finished. It’s kind of a double or nothing. They don’t want to be paying you for something you’ve been working on for years and you end up with nothing. That is the worst possible outcome.
So they’re going to do their best to have their editors look at it and think about it to get it as good as possible to go and now get it done. That was a huge learning experience. We really, really have to time it out. With “A Better Place,” I’ve added pages. I’ve subtracted pages. I’ve gone through and slashed sections. I’ve gone through and added sections. You can’t do that when you’re working on a timeline with an editor, or at least I don’t have the clout to be able to do that.
It just requires a much more formed scaffolding in mind, which isn’t a bad thing. It probably leads to it being more cohesive in the end and can lead to avoiding a lot of disasters. It’s just very different.
I’ve been wondering how “A Better Place” would translate into print and the only example I can think of is “Mind MGMT” by Matt Kindt. He took the form and basically stuffed every inch of every page with stuff. He’d have notes in the margins. He’d have random data pages. The interludes would have secret messages and all of this kind of stuff. Do you think that “A Better Place” can only exist as a webcomic or do you think there is a way to make it print without losing a lot of the additional work that’s beyond the page?Continued below
HB: For “A Better Place,” I have thought a lot about this. I think it’s important that, just as I considered webcomic format, and trying to do the best possible I can with it, the same thing is true of print. You have to format your comic and make it as good as possible for that format. Something like tags are often throwaway in “A Better Place;” you know, the little, goofy ones. Those don’t actually relate back. They’re like the author’s mini joke. I would probably dismiss those but the lore moments and notes and scratchings and whatever at the bottom, those are part of the story. I made it so the story can be read without them but I’ve also made the story so it can be read with them and that’s important to keep. If I made it for print, which I do want to do, I would make it so they were more visually a part of it.
I would probably do, here’s a comic and then after each comic is a section where there are literal notes or scratchings or whatever formats of these things. That’s going to have to be worked out and that’s going to be a pain I’ve given my future self but it would have to be done. It can’t just be neglected and it can’t just be shoved at the end because they often almost always relate to the page that should hopefully either cast a slightly different light on it or give it a little more meaning or a little depth and I’ve really enjoyed making them.
What have been some of the ones you’ve enjoyed the most? Do you enjoy doing the tags more than the descriptions?
HB: Tags often are a little lighthearted, like this is a silly side thing and then for the lore descriptions or whatever, which are at the bottom, and this is something I did find that I love doing “A Better Place” so you don’t have them in “Demon’s Mirror,” is there’s a lot of background thinking that goes into a comic world about the character, about the world. I don’t have the time to tell it all in the story. I’ve got a beginning, middle, end I’ve got to get to and there’s a million stories in a world and I can’t show all of them.
What are rich extras I can give that will let the reader know more but they can’t be required because a lot of readers don’t read them. If they become required to the story, then people will become confused, which could happen but if you also read the story and read them, I want you to be like, “Oh, I see now.”
For someone like Hannah, what are the experiments she’s done with her powers? How did she view the world as a child versus an adult, or pseudo-adult, and how are the other secondary characters processing what’s going on? It’s a change to give a little more vulnerability to characters in a way I find interesting. I feel like that applies to the real world too. I find that often what someone says, if you just had a little bit more information about them, you’d get an entirely new dimension on what they’re saying but you rarely have that insight.
That’s a hard balance to strike
HB: I think that for me, comic, storytelling, and character design are all an endlessly reforming puzzle with no right answer and I really enjoy that approach to them. That means you can make it as hard as you want but there isn’t any one right answer so what is the best possible answer you can come up with for that problem. Sometimes you can’t and sometimes you’ll be like, I am very pleased with my answers. The important thing is that you keep coming up with the answers and you keep posing new questions and the answers can lead to new questions.
It becomes recursive after a certain point in a really nice way.
To close us out, what are three webcomics you would recommend for fans of “A Better Place,” “Demon’s Mirror” and/or “Starhammer”?Continued below
HB: The first one that I think people will know about is “Kill Six Billion Demons”. It’s got a huge following and it deserves that following. It does a great job with lore and layering it, landscapes, art, you’re getting more than you should be. I remember finding that comic and being like, wow, this is very inspiring. I still feel like some of those background pages that have been done are just amazing. They’re like “Where’s Waldo?” but for a fantasy world and you can keep returning to them over and over again.
There’s a lesser known comic I’ve been reading called “Beret” by Kent Mudle. “Beret” is great. It’s a world where art is literally a weapon to be used. It’s slowly coming out over time and it has, and I hope this is an acceptable compliment to give, it feels like One Piece at times. It’s got that feeling of looseness and energy and ridiculousness but with real stakes. They’re very rounded, believable characters in an absurd world.
In terms of the last thing. . .damn, there’s a lot of good comics. I feel like one I am fascinated by and keep returning to is “Paranatural” because although it is always a work in progress and you never know where it will go, is such a great way of looking at webcomics as an evolving comic. The art style, the storytelling, the themes, the genre it’s exploring, the characters keep changing because Zack Morisson is continuously re-examining why they’re creating the world and what they’re creating within it. I keep returning to “Paranatural” and being like, you can so clearly see what Zack Morisson is trying to do with each branch of their story in a really interesting way.