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.
Ben Fleuter is one of the recognizable mainstays in webcomics, with a bibliography spanning the many platforms and eras of modern webcomics. Arguably his most iconic work, the WEBTOON series “Sword Interval, concluded in 2018. Four years later, he’s starting his new project, the high fantasy series “The Beekeeper’s Tale.”
What inspired the book?
Ben Fleuter: I’ve wanted to do a, I don’t know, for lack of a better term “high fantasy” for a while now. Sprawling landscapes, overgrown fantastical ruins, armies clashing, all with a more mythic tone. “The Beekeeper’s Tale” is a chance for me to do all of that. I think a lot of inspiration – both tone and style – comes from The Dark Crystal, the Hobbit, “Final Fantasy IX,” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.” Oh and from decades of playing fantasy TTRPGs.
After finishing a project as long as “Sword Interval,” were there any core changes you knew you wanted to make to how you handled your next webcomic?
BF: Well, I for sure knew I didn’t want to do something quite as long or involved as the “Sword Interval,” haha. Of course I say that now, but these things always seem to end up longer than intended. But yeah I wanted a project that would be a less intense commitment. I was going through a very difficult time in my life as “Sword Interval” was ending. Figured it would be healthy to do the next project at my own pace. To that end I decided to go independent for “Beekeeper” rather than publish with WEBTOON this time. And it feels good to have my own website and make my own update schedules again.
What came to you first? The design for the Beekeeper, or this story about a shattered sword of the God of War?
BF: Interesting question! I guess technically the shattered sword plot came first. That whole scenario – and its twists and ending – is something I’ve had for years. The Beekeeper character and her arc on the other hand came to me a year or so ago (at 4am on a night I couldn’t get to sleep, if I recall). I knew she needed to be chosen to go on a big journey, and it worked out that the sword scenario slotted in perfectly. That’s often how I write. A lot of disparate half-formed characters, scenarios, and scenes floating around, eventually gravitating toward each other and combining into something more solid.
Between “Parallel Dementia,” “Sword Interval” and “The Beekeeper’s Tale,” you have three distinct fantasy series. So how would you describe the difference in genre and aesthetics for this new series?
BF: Wow you remember “Parallel Dementia” huh? You know, until you asked me that I didn’t realize that “The Beekeeper’s Tale” is the first webcomic I’ve done that doesn’t take place on Earth. That’s interesting. Genre-wise yeah, this will be a bit more of a fairytale. The logic of the world is a little more storybook and fantastical, and the aesthetics are more stylistic and low-tech than my previous projects.
Even in the first few pages of the series you’ve focused on creative ways to present the book, especially in terms of paneling and detailing. How do you creatively challenge yourself in a project?
BF: Hey thanks. Yeah I’m really happy with that first page especially. The rest of the comic won’t incorporate the infinite canvas so heavily – I do plan on printing this book one day – but it’s fun to use the medium to one’s advantage like that sometimes. I can’t say I do these things specifically for the challenge or to flex. It’s more like, sometimes I want to do a hundred-page car chase between dozens of characters, or a cutaway to a huge isometric dungeon, or a battlefield with hundreds of bodies, and it’s just like “Welp! I guess this is my next few weeks, months, years, etc!” And then okay yeah if I pull it off maybe I do flex a little.Continued below
What are some essential fantasy comics in your eyes?
BF: For webcomics I gotta say “Rice Boy,” “Kill Six Billion Demons,” and “Ophiuchus.” Oh, and I recently read “Ten Earth Shattering Blows” and can’t recommend it enough. A great webcomic. For print, I know it’s predictable but “Hellboy” and its spinoffs are just so dang good at mood and pacing.
In your opening page there’s a lot of mollusk-based designs among the soldiers, which made me wonder how you’re approaching design and the various styles of characters in a fantasy book like this?
BF: There’s a lot of factions at play in “The Beekeeper’s Tale,” and I want to keep them distinct from each other while looking like they belong to the same world. I also want to avoid “The Beekeeper’s Tale” looking like a generic D&D setting, but not go too far and become too alien or wacky. So to both inspire and restrain the designs, every faction loosely fits into a garden theme. Snails and slugs vs. weeds and thorns in the intro, for example. From there some smaller details can hint at more about the faction. The snail army for instance has fur trim and gold-flecked armor because they come from a cold region with access to a wealth of ore.
Who were your biggest influences when you entered comics and do you think they’re as strong a factor in your art now?
BF: God, when I FIRST entered comics? Johnan Vasquez’s “Invader Zim,” Kouta Hirano’s “Hellsing,” and Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy.” But I got my start in communities full of other aspiring comic creators and I think we all influenced each other quite a lot – maybe more than any professional did. And I think that’s still where a lot of my drive to do this comes from – from talking shop with other creators, seeing new work that’s always coming out, and just getting hyped alongside other people.
You can find “The Beekeeper’s Tale” here on Ben Fleuter’s new site.