Interview with a Webcomic: Katherine Lang on Long-Running Comics, Collectives, and Horror in “Soul to Call”

By | June 14th, 2021
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

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.

Where does the time go? Does it get sucked into a hell dimension made of fog and blood? No? Dang. Well, that’s not quite an accurate description of the world of Katherine Lang’s “Soul to Call” but it’s close. It may be a few months until the spooky season but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it here. Don’t worry, it won’t all be spooks and scares. We even talk a little about what it means to be in a webcomics collective. Thanks to Katherine for taking the time to talk with me!

To start us off, tell us about your experiences with webcomics prior to starting “Soul to Call”

Katherine Lang: Sure! I’d been drawing comics since I was very young – some of which made it online – but my first true stab at making a webcomic was this zom com called “Zombles.” You can’t find it online anymore thanks to Smackjeeves shutting down, but it did exist once upon a time. That comic just barely got past its first chapter before I realized it wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to commit years to telling, but it taught me so much about webcomics. I learned how much work they take, how much you need to really love your project, and that having a page buffer is absolutely essential. It’d be a few years before I returned to making webcomics, but I’d return much better equipped thanks to my experience making “Zombles.”

Before I started “Soul to Call” proper, I made what I like to call my “Pilot.” It was a 77 page self-contained story set within an early draft of the Soul to Call universe. I used that comic to test out my world, characters, and ability to make comics on a strict deadline. I came out of that project fired up and ready to draw so many comics! So I began writing the real script for “Soul to Call.” In December of that year, “Soul to Call’s” prologue was released.

You’re a part of the webcomic collective SpiderForest. What’s it like to be a part of one, as well as this one in particular, which seems to lean fantasy/horror in its makeup?

KL: All genres of webcomic are welcome at SpiderForest! But we do get a lot of great fantasy and horror comics, it’s true.

In this age of webcomics becoming more and more homogenized under the umbrella of websites like Webtoons and Tapas, being a creator that prefers to post their comics on their own independent websites is becoming a more difficult and isolating experience. It’s not as easy to draw in a crowd, or find a community. That’s one thing that makes being part of a webcomic collective great. It helps spread the word about your comic to other people already reading comics on independent websites, and provides an amazing community of fellow creators. I especially like SpiderForest because they’re so friendly and relaxed. It feels like hanging out with friends! I don’t have to make any big commitments by being part of the collective, so I can focus the majority of my energy on my personal work. But it’s wonderful to be able to give and get support via this web of passionate and awesome creators.

Spiderforest’s support has helped me solve printing problems – I’ll never forget the time Delphie, creator of the webcomic “Sombulus,” did a small test print of some of my pages and physically mailed it to me so I could see what it would look like – pushed me to table at my first comic convention, and even lead to me getting some work as a colourist. Being able to talk about the ups and downs of webcomics, share experiences, support each other, ask questions, and be part of great projects like our yearly anthologies really makes SpiderForest a fantastic little place for me and my comic to live and thrive.

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What’re your thoughts on the ways we share webcomics now compared to when you first started?

KL: As much as I’m not 100% thrilled about platforms replacing indie sites, it does have the benefit of making it easier for potential readers to find you, and easier for you to share your work with others. Those platforms attract readers of webcomics, and make finding comics that are relevant to their interests much easier than scouring social media and whatnot. And you as a creator don’t necessarily have to have a big online following for a readerbase to discover your comic. Though it’s unfortunate that readers on platforms like Webtoons or Tapas tend to become more faithful to their platforms than the creators of the comics themselves, often refusing to follow the comic if it chooses to move off-site and go independent.

So I think the way we find and share webcomics is easier than ever before! But I do think it has drawbacks for creators who don’t want to be at the mercy of those platforms. Social media is still, and always has been, a great way to get the word out about your webcomic, but more and more social media is stifling posts with off-site links, so that can make it difficult for indie creators too. So hey, if you love a webcomic, sharing its social media posts around is an invaluable way to help it get seen and support your favourite creators!

”Soul to Call” has been running for over seven years. What’ve been some of the joys of working on such a long running series and some of the challenges?

KL: I love my characters and my world a lot, so getting to spend so much time with them is fantastic. I get to watch this little idea I fell in love with all those years ago grow and evolve as time goes on and I improve my craft. Watch it become better and better. I find that very rewarding. Characters will change in ways I didn’t expect when I started, or I’ll discover something new and cool about my universe. It’s constantly evolving. Nothing excites me more than getting a new burst of inspiration that builds upon ideas I’ve been nurturing for years, making them fresh and thrilling all over again. For some people spending so much time on one story might be a drag, but for me I don’t really feel compelled to jump from one idea to another too quickly. I just want to spend time with these characters and let them tell their stories.

That said, I can’t say there haven’t been times where I’ve wanted to make huge sweeping changes to the comic, or – god forbid – restart the comic. This is a byproduct of improving as a creator I think. I see all the flaws of past chapters, or things I could do better. And sometimes it’s tempting to call it quits because all I see is the flaws in my sizable page count. And when you have so many years behind you, that’s a lot of flaws to think about!

On the worst days it can make the comic not feel worth going forward with if I can only see a foundation made of mistakes and things I don’t like. But on the good days I’m proud of what I’ve done, and excited to see where it goes.

Do you find that sustaining an atmosphere of horror is difficult over such a long run?

KL: Since scaring my audience isn’t my primary goal, I don’t usually focus too hard on horror while writing hahah. I enjoy using horror imagery and themes and don’t worry too much if it’s sustaining an atmosphere. Mostly I just want to make sure I’M having fun portraying the horror. I think since my universe and cast is anchored in so much uncertainty – be that due to an apocalypse, or personal struggles – it’s pretty easy to ride the waves that come naturally from that kind of setting. Being human is scary and confusing! The world is scary and confusing! It’s that whole experience dramatized using twisted settings and freaky monster designs. I also try to keep a lot of facts about the monsters and the world a secret from the audience and cast, which I think helps maintain an air of fear and mystery with them. We fear the unknown, after all.

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So I guess I don’t really find it hard because it’s not necessarily something I consider a priority, nor something I think is difficult for me to maintain because the material I work with can be inherently unsettling in so many ways.

What are some hallmarks of the genre that you love to play with or indulge in, and what are some you find frustrating down to your very soul?

KL: Hah, that’s a kinda funny question because one reason I started “Soul to Call” was out of spite for the post-apocalypse genre. I love the potential these settings can have. I love eerie, abandoned, overgrown environments, and survival situations pushing characters in dramatic ways. But I found a lot of portrayals of the post-apocalypses in popular media to be boringly bleak and full of shallow drama. (The horror genre can be a little guilty of this too.) Most human interactions are usually done for the express purpose of showcasing the worst of humanity. The utter cynicism and hopelessness that drips from the genre makes it so annoyingly uninteresting to me. I’m not going to deny that intense situations can bring out the worst in people, or that people are capable of monstrous things, but it’s also a fact that the worst isn’t the only thing tragedy and struggle can bring out of humanity. So I created “Soul to Call” – in part – as a post-apocalypse that explores all kinds of humanity, the worst and the best, and puts the bonds we build with other people in the forefront.

Okay but something I really love about horror – psychological horror in particular – is how it can turn the human psyche inside out. This genre gives us permission to take fear and trauma and really explore it. Give it life. Visuals. Sounds. Whole worlds. Project the dreams and nightmares of our internal world out onto the real world in a variety of ways. And with psychological and supernatural horror we can often take those twisted insides of the human mind and reflect them in what the characters go through, the monsters they fight, and even the environments they explore. I mean, sometimes the biggest monster is our own mind, right? It can make the journey through trauma a tangible, tactile experience, and I find that really fascinating to explore.

Also I just love me a good ‘what the hell is that’ monster, and there’s no better place to put some sort of twisted cacophony of flesh than a horror story.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you change how you worked from physical to digital some time in the first couple years? If so, what prompted this change?

KL: “Soul to Call” has actually been produced 100% digitally since day one! Though the style was rougher in the beginning so I can see how that could cause some confusion.

But y’know my first webcomic attempt “Zombles” was sketched traditionally and coloured digitally, and the main thing that caused me to switch over to digital was getting a graphics tablet that allowed me to draw directly on the screen. I started out using a pen tablet, and really struggled to sketch with it since I couldn’t see the image directly under my pen, so I’d sketch traditionally and scan it onto the computer for lines and colour. But as soon as I got a screen tablet I transitioned to doing everything digitally and haven’t gone back.

What about the creation process do you find the most challenging? Is it the scripts or a part of the art, like lettering, coloring, inking, etc?

KL: Sketching comes in close second because art is hard, but the most challenging thing for me is absolutely scripting. I’m something of a perfectionist. I will write, and rewrite, and rewrite AGAIN to get that perfect scene, that perfect dialogue. To make sure everything flows together well, that all the characters are acting in-character, that the character arcs are going smoothly, that I’m laying out the right breadcrumbs for my readers to follow, etc. Sometimes I’m honestly way too hard on myself, and expect way too much from my own writing, but it’s a great feeling when a scene finally clicks. It’s a good thing I have the deadline of weekly webcomic pages or I’d be in editing hell forever. Just to give you an example of how much I pick away at my scripts… the current chapter I’m writing is on draft 23. So. Yeah.

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Okay, final question. What are three webcomics you’d recommend for fans of “Soul to Call?”

Let’s see!

If you like the idea of found family, glowy eyed boys, and complex characters struggling through hard times, but maybe are looking for something less bloody and horror oriented, “Castoff” is a great webcomic.

But hey if you’re looking for more eldritch abominations, tired army men, corruption, and great characters, then I can’t recommend “Broken” enough.

And finally, if you love a snarky lady leading the show, with endearing characters and supernatural antics, then “Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses” is a fun ride.

//TAGS | Webcomics

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.


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