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.
Two months go by so fast, don’t they? So fast, in fact, I almost forgot to write this introduction! Well, maybe it’s because Meredith McClaren’s work speaks for itself so well. From her kickstarted projects to her Patreon photo series, the creator of the webcomics “Scraps” and “Hinges” knows how ot make comics fun and funky. Many will know her, as I originally did, from her work with long time collaborator of Kelly Thompson. They worked together first on the amazing “Heart in a Box”, itself a digital comic originally through Dark Horse, and McClaren is currently working on “Black Cloak” for Kelly’s Substack.
In this interview, we get into what it means to be a webcomic, why people seem to love horror & ghosts, and the joy of mixing media. Thanks again to Meredith for chatting with me!
To start us off, tell us about your experiences with webcomics prior to “Hinges?”
Oh boy. My memory is not great that far back. I think my journal comic “Scraps” was on blogspot before “Hinges.” Right at the tail end of college. Before that I had a few webcomics I had seen previous, but not followed regularly. I’m really bad at keeping up with them.
What about webcomics drew you to the format?
I just really love the accessibility. If you have something and you want to build an audience for it, the tools are there to put it into the world. And the truth is I often need the gratification of an immediate response. Traditional comics are lovely, but there is SO MUCH CONTENT you have to sit on for SO LONG. I can only be so patient.
The challenge of “Hinges” was keeping it mostly silent. Was that a constraint you wanted to put on yourself or was it a natural outgrowth of the story you wanted to tell? Maybe both?
Because it was the first big comic I was writing for myself, I was really cognizant of it. I had done a few minis that were silent before, but nothing long format. And I was really concerned by the impression that, if given the chance to talk, I would start babbling. So I decided to try and push for a mostly mute character. At least in the beginning. And it became a solid tool for showing how the character grew as she started talking more.
Do you think you’d ever try it again – a primarily silent comic – now that you’ve had more experience, some of which being “Hinges” itself?
Oh yeah! I definitely like seeing how much I can do with as little dialogue. Means I don’t have to letter as much. 🙂
In recent years, you’ve also self published a number of projects through Kickstarter. What made you choose to go straight there instead of serializing as a webcomic first? Was that even a consideration?
It usually comes down to story length. I was working on “Hinges” for something like five years? And that was just too long to go without audience interaction for me. But the other projects I took to Kickstarter were usually stories that were finished in under a year and completely self-contained. So I could be a little more patient about delivering the content when it was fully finished.
What’re some of the most fun projects you’ve gotten the chance to work on?
An ongoing project I have is called “The Book of Ghosts.” It’s a journal comic where I try and stay at a haunted hotel in each continental state. (At least the ones I can get to by plane). It’s taken me to a lot of places I might not have visited otherwise, but the pandemic has definitely put a damper on the book’s progress.Continued below
Why do you think haunted locales appeal to people so much? Both the stories about them and actually being in the physical spaces.
It gives us a place to put our anxious feelings. Sometimes you’re terrified, but you don’t know where to put it all. Or you just want to feel scared about something that isn’t…current events.
There’s actually a strong correlation between when cultures go through something collectively traumatic, and a surge in interest surrounding the paranormal.
Are there any particular themes or genres you enjoy working with?
I do really love journal comics, for a person who doesn’t do a lot socially. Or maybe that’s WHY I like journal comics. It gives me the same feelings as interacting with folks. Gets me up and going places too.
As for specific genres, I’m real comfy with fantasy and horror. They’re a nice foil to one another. You can flip your brain off and on between the two.
As for themes…I find myself often coming back to messaging I thought was suspicious when I was a child. Like the ‘chosen savior’ or the ‘young hero.’ Things that don’t hold up to common scrutiny.
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?
Every part of a comic is challenging and lovely in its own way. It’s work. None of that ‘do what you love’ stuff. I love it, but it’s still work. And sometimes you’d rather dink around on Instagram instead. I think lettering is where I fall down a lot. It’s not my strongest suit because I don’t always have to do it. But I try (TRY) to make the page I’m working on as conducive to a legible flow of text as possible.
Coloring is the most interesting to me. Because that’s the stage where I’m more inclined to let happy accidents happen. I never know how a finished page is going to look.
Can you give any examples of these happy accidents?
I color with a flat base and then make passes over those flats to simulate the lighting. But I don’t always know what certain lighting techniques are going to do. Or if I’m passing those lighting aspects through different filters, how it will affect the overall composition. Sometimes I get surprised what certain passes will do to the work at large.
Do you primarily work traditionally or digitally? Or is it a combination at different steps?
I work all digital these days. I don’t have the storage capacity to keep physical pages around anymore. XI
If storage wasn’t an issue – something I wish I could say about my own bookshelves – would you switch back for any of the parts of the process?
…It’s really nice to be able to ‘undo’ stuff…probably not.
On your Patreon, you have a daily post where you draw yourself/animals/Pokémon/anything really into a photo I presume you took. How’d you get the idea to do that?
OH MY GOSH. So when I was growing up, Cartoon Network did a series of adverts that I just ABSOLUTELY LOVED, where it was recognizable cartoons but in real world settings. Like Fred Flintstone running the carpool to work and fighting for parking spots. I cannot tell you how much I adored the aesthetic of 2D in real life contexts. I think that’s where it started.
I’ve seen it touched on in several other ways over the years. The Amazing World of Gumball show did a fantastic job of implying that kind of 2D/3D interaction.
For sure! How do you pick which photos to add to and do you ever revisit old photos to add new drawings?
I try not to revisit photos I’ve already used. I may have multiples of the same location though. As for the photos I choose, I just pick what strikes my fancy that day from a collection I’ve amassed in advance.
You first worked with Kelly on “Heart in a Box” for Dark Horse for their digital comics initiative, I believe. It’s a favorite of mine so I’m curious. Could you tell us a little about how that came to be, what the project was like, etc?Continued below
Kelly and I first started talking just as “Hinges” was wrapping up its Kickstarter for book 1. She was really gracious and offered to do a write up on the comic that was wonderful. After that, Kelly did most of the work, inquiring if I was open to collaboration and pitching “Heart in a Box.” I can’t remember how much she already had on paper for the story, but it was definitely enough for me to go: ‘You have something honest and good here.’
How long is “Black Cloak” slated to be? Is it shaping up to be the longest series you’ve worked on page count wise? (I suspect “Hinges” or “A Book of Ghosts” may end up being longer time wise.)
I don’t…know? This story I think is slated to be five or six issues. But please don’t quote me on that. There’s a lot of room in the world of “Black Cloak” to tell a variety of other stories with different casts. So it remains to be seen how long it goes. As of this moment though, “Hinges” is my longest runner, I think.
This may seem like an odd question but would you consider “Black Cloak,” your current work with Kelly Thompson on Substack, to be a webcomic? Why or why not?
I think of it as a webcomic. It is a comic, on the web. That you have to subscribe to get additional content isn’t that much different from other models like Webtoons. And I don’t think it’s worth it to try and pigeonhole it any more than that.
That’s fair. What are you most excited for in the project and, on the flip side, what’s the part of it all that’s making you the most apprehensive at the moment?
It’s kind of the same answer for both. Every page is a chance for me to sit down and say ‘what’s the best job I can do?’ I can have a vague idea of how I’d like the page to end up, but what I get at the finish line will always be a surprise. And then I get the chance to step back and ask myself if I’m happy. Is this my new best piece? Am I progressing in my craft? Sometimes at the end I can really go ‘Yes. I’ve done good work here. I’m proud of this.’ Other times I have to look at the piece, understand that by the nature of the industry, it will have be delivered as is, and ask myself ‘Where can I do better next time?’ But the end result is always an exciting and apprehensive moment for reflection.
Okay, final question. What are three webcomics you’d recommend for fans of your webcomics
This is where I tell you I am woefully under-informed on today’s webcomic scene. But to throw a few out there: stuff by Saint Monster @saintmonstre. They post beautiful short comics on Twitter but I don’t know if they’ve serialized it anywhere yet. Journal comics by Lissa Treiman @lbtreiman on Instagram. And journal comic stuff from Shivana Sookdeo @toastasaurus on Twitter. I’ll put my eyeballs on any comic stuff these three’ll post.