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.
Long-time readers of this column may recognize Taylor Robin’s name from past columns or, if not his name, then the name of his very popular and very good webcomic “Never Satisfied.” Join us as we talk about his process, the wild twists and turns of the comic, and a brief aside into who is safe and who is not. Don’t worry; your fav is probably not safe.
Thanks to Taylor for chatting with me!
To get us going, what was your first experience with webcomics before “Never Satisfied?”
Taylor Robin: I’ve been making and posting comics online since I was literally, too young to be doing that. Like “got banned from DA for six months because they realized I was 12” young.
OMG that’s amazing.
TR: Yeah they ran me off to Sheezyart until I was old enough. But the first real webcomic-webcomic I ever made was called “FUSE,” on Smackjeeves (rip).
TR: I think I was 15-16 while I was working on that. Updating three times a week during high school, like some sort of creature. Full color too. I sound like I’m bragging but absolutely do not do this during high school.
I’m guessing it took a toll on you after a while, juggling that with all the normal stressors of high school.
TR: No, I just broke up with the boy who was writing it LMAO.
OH. Well, that’s one way to end it haha.
TR: But also yeah, I just wouldn’t recommend it. I managed with that comic, but when I got older and started working on the original Never Satisfied when I was 17-18, I did serious damage to my neck and shoulder trying to keep to that three-a-week standard I’d set for myself. That pain lasted about halfway through college, and I’d stopped working on that comic a year before I went.
That seems to be a thread I see a lot between webcomic creators, the push and pull of keeping up a pre-set work load and, you know, your body not hating you. In the years since, I’m guessing you’ve found ways to not get back to that point, seeing as it took at least a couple years of zero comics to get your neck & shoulder pain to go away.
TR: Definitely by working less, in general. When I did start the new (“”new””) Never Satisfied, it was just two pages a week. And also, like, stretches and such, though I probably always could’ve been better about those. I think it was doing some light weight lifting that really made the difference. If the muscles in your neck and shoulder are strong, they get better at holding up your big heavy head leaning over a desk all day.
Were you ever afraid that your comics’ audience wouldn’t understand those kinds of trade-offs? Like, when you had to adjust a schedule on the “new” version from two pages a week to one or on the OG from 3 to less?
TR: I don’t think anyone cared between the old NS and the new NS since so much time had passed, and I don’t remember any pushback at all when I made the switch to once a week when I started a full-time job. Most people were glad I was taking care of myself, and less (but consistent) updates are always better than none. I did see a gradual drop in Patreon subscribers though, but who knows if that was actually connected. It was 2020 after all.
Yeah, that would throw any trends out the window. Do you think webcomics audiences, in general, have changed how they think about these kinds of update changes? Like, in 2015 vs 2020? Obviously I can’t ask about 2002 but anecdotally that too.Continued below
TR: Really hard to say! I never really paid a whole lot of attention to trends when I first started out, or else memory holed it. I’ve definitely seen other people talking about how sites like Tapas and Webtoons have affected what level of output audiences expect, but I don’t see much of that myself. I don’t read any comics on those sites.
Is that because you don’t read too many webcomics, either due to work or having a full list already?
TR: Both, but I also just really don’t like how the sites are designed, haha. I’m an infinite scroll hater. And you lose a lot of personality and customization. Smackjeeves used to let you fully customize the page like it was an original website. You can’t do anything like that on those sites, not to that scale. A lot of the internet is becoming that way.
Interesting! I’m split myself on liking infinite scroll vs pages. Do you see this loss of customization as a detriment to the comics and the community, or just a sign of an increasing corporatization of everything and loss of control?
Do you think we’ll ever find a way to restore balance to the elements?
TR: Man, I hope so.
Shifting gears so I don’t fall down a well of despair haha, do you work digitally, physically or a combination of both? What about your preferred format do you find works best for you?
TR: Totally 100% digitally. I used to (as in, when I was a teen in high school) pencil my comics in sketchbooks and scan them in, and then do the inking and coloring etc on the world’s most jank laptop. But by the time I was doing the old NS I didn’t have classes to not do my work in, so I just did it all digitally. Never looked back (except in college, when I would do my thumbnails in a tiny notebook, also during class. I do those digitally too now, when I even bother doing them)
Not a fan of thumbnailing, I take it?
TR: It’s the hardest part of the process, but mostly because it used to be how I’d write the comic. I didn’t script ahead at all, I’d just write the dialogue in the margins when I wasn’t staring at the blank page. I script now and sometimes thumbnail, but I change things a lot when I get to the pencil stage. My generation process is a nightmare, don’t live like me.
That process must’ve been utter chaos. How far out do you script now?
TR: You don’t want to know the answer to that.
Hahahaha OK then. What do you find to be the most challenging part of the creation process? Is it the idea generation, the joke creation or is it a function of the art, the lettering or the coloring? Other than thumbnailing, obviously.
TR: Absolutely the idea generation, like I said. I am a slave to “wait, this line is raw as hell I can’t get rid of it–but it’ll totally change the tone of the scene!”
TR: The only reason Rin is a husk right now, literally, literally, is because I thought Broom Girl kicking Wolfe up into her shot was too cool in the thumbnail not to do it. But then I realized within my own lore what that would actually do. And now I’m committed to it. Because it was cool.
That’s amazing but also sounds like an absolute nightmare for future you to deal with.
TR: I have always been like this and I have never learned my lesson. I’m doing it right now in the scene that’s coming out on the site as of this interview, with Rin confronting Fidelia. I wrote a cool line and then had to rewrite the rest of the scene to keep it.
One might say you’re…never satisfied.
TR: yes. Throttles you
The appropriate response to such a pun haha.
TR: If I had a dollar for every time someone’s said something like that to me I’d be able to buy a nice steak dinner, at the very least.Continued below
Hahaha so a lot but not quite as much as one might think. You’ve already kinda answered this but when creating a long-form narrative like “Never Satisfied,” what were some of the considerations you put in for characters, setting, plot details, etc, knowing many would probably get absolutely wrecked by rewrites?
TR: I like to think I solved this problem for myself–the one I created for myself–by being as light as possible with my world building and plot threads. I keep things vague, I don’t over explain, I focus on the effects more than the cause. That way if I end up dropping something, you don’t really miss out on the part that moves the comic forward. Like–I genuinely don’t know if I’ll ever spell out what happened between Philomena and Su-Yeong that resulted in Su being fired and becoming a husk. Would the details really matter, if it doesn’t change what happened?
So at this point it’s about keeping track of what you’ve already established and extrapolating from there? Is there a specific or nebulous end point you’re hoping to work toward? Not time wise but narratively.
TR: I’ve been really meaning to sit down one of these days and make myself a list of every plot thread and relationship I’ve established and going “okay what do I absolutely need to give closure on”. I don’t know exactly how NS ends, it’s more like I know what needs to happen by that point. Mostly.
But there could always be a complete swerve, like what happened with Rin?
TR: Ideally, not at this point. The dominoes are mostly set up, it should be a matter of knocking them down. Emphasis on should.
Do you find that your characters drag the story into new directions as you write them? And in so doing might throw a monkey wrench into your domino line?
TR: I’m definitely worse for my characters than the characters are for me. Having so many of them at this point it’s more like “okay who am I going to pay attention to, who’s next on the block, who can I absolutely not ignore for another six-eight months” and god help you if I see you and think of something I need you to do to get where I’m going. I sound like a crazy person.
Not at all. But I’m sure fans of those characters are at once very happy they get to see them and then very afraid that they’ve returned.
TR: At this point in the comic nothing good comes of appearing. Stay home. Hide. You want to see Broom Girl again? Are you sure? Are you SURE?
Should this section of the comic just be subtitled: everything burns and we’re all sad?
Are there any characters you WON’T put through the absolute wringer? Or are even your favs not safe?
TR: Cedric is the only completely safe character because he escaped in the first chapter. He’s somewhere learning how to cook delicious food and is just totally unaware of anything happening to anyone. He’s like eleven.
Good for him! I know it’s not polite but…can you pick a favorite child i.e. character? Is it Cedric?
TR: Cedric is also safe because I forget he exists half the time. The answer isn’t especially shocking, since they’re the main character, but it’s Lucy. Closely followed by Seiji. I love that idiot. He was never supposed to end up as important as he is but I liked him too much and he kept being perfect for bit parts. His whole appearance in chapter three was originally going to be played by an older brother to Sylas who doesn’t exist anymore. Actually the answer might just be Seiji. It’s Seiji’s comic now.
Sorry Lucy, you’ve been usurped by hyena boy.
TR: A friend of mine once pointed out that when I started “NS” I was still kind of figuring myself out with regards to identity and gender and where I stood socially in college, so Lucy inherited all that anxiety. And then when I got older and transitioned into a rat boy, Seiji became the self insert. I’ve never been more owned in my life.Continued below
Now that it’s been pointed out, do you find you’re conscious of it in your writing? Or was it just a moment of “dammit they’re right” that’s stuck with you?
TR: I’d like to think it’s the latter. It’s really that I’m loud and obnoxious more than anything about the two of us as people. I hope.
Has working on “Never Satisfied” over the years been a source of positivity for you more than a stressor, as I’m sure any creative project can be?
TR: Ups and downs. I definitely needed the outlet when I started it, it was driving me crazy going as long as I had without a comic. But I’ve had times where I’ve been like “god if I could be working on Anything else right now…”. Switching to the once a week schedule helped with that a lot. I’m able to get several weeks of updates done in one, which frees up a ton of time for other projects.
Anything you’re allowed to talk about? Or just general, personal life/work projects?
TR: I made the switch initially because I was starting a full-time revisionist job at Titmouse on Harriet the Spy, but then when that ended I found myself with a ton more time to work on short stories and such. Honestly–mostly adult stuff the NS audience wouldn’t be interested in. Working in a YA space for years really makes you want to do more grown up stuff after a while. I was 20 when I started, that’s a lot of growing up I’ve done myself.
To jump back just a bit, would you say “Never Satisfied” is, or has become, a more personal work to you? Even though it’s firmly a fantasy world.
TR: Of course. Anything you make entirely yourself is by nature a personal work, there’ll always be pieces of you in it. I’ve given characters feelings and insecurities lifted 1:1 from my own experiences, it’s impossible not to. What you feel and value and think will always come through in what you believe is worth creating stories about.
Are there any times during “NS” you wish you had handled differently, either plot-wise or because of a topic you broached or something you were working out on the page?
TR: When you write the way I do, that feeling will be constant. It’s the drawback of the method I talked about earlier, about being light with the details and deciding in the moment. You’ll look back and think “man, I didn’t set this up very well”, and some things might land flatter than you wanted. Rothart and Lucy’s relationship, for example. I’ll always feel I could’ve done more to establish what went wrong–but that’s what different stories are for. It’s another chance to pick apart a theme you’re working out.
What would you say the theme of “NS” is?
TR: Broadly, classism. People with power, people without power, how it hurts everyone one way or another. That feels very vague but it’s what drives nearly every character conflict.
How they view themselves, others, and how they perceive others perceiving them, and how it all feels constrictive because of the power structures at play? Like how Seiji and the other initially dismiss Lucy because they’re not of the “upper crust” but how Seiji himself feels powerless with relation to Sylas and his mom.
TR: It’s definitely about perception too. They’re all teenagers, how other people feel about you is the most important thing in the world at that point in your life.
Were these themes present in the previous version of the comic? And if so, did having a previous version of the story help inform this one’s direction or was it hard to separate the two at the start?
TR: God, the previous version of the comic is completely unrecognizable.
TR: Oh, absolutely. Lucy was like 25, a flirtatious thief, the setting was way more medieval. Ivy was a deer.
TR: Literally none of the other characters were in it beside Rothart who was their explicitly evil boss. Now he’s their tragic dad.
Did you save a copy of it for yourself after it was scrubbed from the internet? I presume it’s been scrubbed at least.Continued below
TR: It has been scrubbed. There were boobs in it. I was 18 and really excited at being an adult and also queer so it was <e,>so edgy. But I still have it.
Could it cut a hair in half it was so edgy?
TR: Lucy kissed at least two boys and it was only three chapters long.
If there’s ever a complete works of Taylor Robin, would you ever release it?
TR: I didn’t know how to color very well so half of chapter three was so dark it’d be unprintable. That’s the excuse I’m choosing.
Hahaha that’s the story and you’re sticking to it.
On a related but different note, what do you most enjoy about being a webcomic creator? Are there any aspects of the webcomic community you love and others you wish were better?
TR: Joke answer is “the attention”, but it’s nice to have this piece of work out there that represents what I can do and what I’m interested in as an artist and author. I love that making it allowed me to meet a lot of friends I still have today, from being fans of each other’s works and essentially being colleagues in the field. I don’t know what I’d change, because the medium is always changing and developing, often away from what I find familiar. But I’d sound like an old man if I said “it should go back to the way we did things!”. Anything else I could complain about, you could say about any online community at this point.
Do you miss conventions?
TR: I never went to one. Weren’t expecting that one were you.
Well that settles that! Not a fan of them?
TR: I actually did get into TCAF. For 2020. It was going to be my first time ever tabling.
Oh nooooooo. Were you planning on drumming up support for volume 2?
TR: Volume 1 had just come out.
NO WAY. Is time that broken?
TR: Yeah the books came out at some point in 2019. I think. God I honestly don’t know anymore. There’s supposed to be the Seven Seas reprint with the first three chapters this year, but with all the supply chain delays I don’t know when.
Yeah the amount of re-solicits is mind boggling.
TR: It’s bad out there, gang.
I know it’s affected more than a few upcoming Hiveworks kickstarters. OK. To close us out, what are three webcomics you would recommend for fans of “Never Satisfied?”
TR: “Riverside Extras” is basically required reading for “Never Satisfied” fans, since I’ve borrowed so many characters from it. All the test proctors (Ophelia, Derry, Siobhan) and Dr. Brandt are characters from Riverside, among others. Fidelia actually was too for a while, until she became too important to be a cameo. It’s definitely more adult, given it’s a 1920’s crime noir that deals in vice and gangland politics, but it’s really very good.
I feel like anyone who reads “Never Satisfied” also already reads “Paranatural”, but it’s always been a big influence and the writing is just top shelf comedy. If you like kids with problems and color coded powers, which you must if you read NS, you’ll probably like “Paranatural” even better. Easily one of the funniest webcomics I’ve ever read.
“Widdershins” is a great magic based comic with some of my favorite magic systems/lore I’ve ever encountered. Every chapter is a mostly-self-contained story and it recently (on the scale of webcomics time) wrapped up the big main arc it’d been building up to for most of its run, so it’s a perfect time to hop on board. And all the characters are just so charming and funny.