The ComixTalk Interview with Blank Label Comics
ComixTalk: Howard mentioned that BLC was a member-managed LLC. Could you explain briefly what the advantages of that are? When do you think a webcomic artist (or a collective of them) should consider setting up a formal legal structure for their work?
Howard: Greg and Liz actually recommended the LLC. I was in favor of going subchapter S, or maybe C. Turns out I was wrong.
Greg: LLC is just the best option, tax-wise. It offers the most protection to each individual within the group. (I had just finished a mini business course in Culinary School around this time, so it was all fresh in my mind.)
Howard: For us I think it really comes down to two things: 1) Since we had joint revenue, we needed to NOT penalize one person with the tax burden of receiving those monies and paying them back out to the rest. An LLC simplifies that. 2) Anytime we enter into a business arrangement with a partner, it is helpful to do so as a corporate entity. This protects individuals from liability... hence the term "limited liability corporation."
ComixTalk: Okay, that was pretty dry. Do you guys make each other laugh?
Greg: Oh, if only you saw our private discussions.
Howard: Paul Southworth and David Willis are hilarious. In our private discussions, they are the masseurs of my funny-bone.
David: Did you laugh when I described my WGA strike non-pants wearing as "a big reveal?"
Howard: Yes... but not for any reason I'll post here.
David: Hmph. Not all of us can be as big as Big Paul, you know. (You know which one I'm talking about.)
ComixTalk: Do you read each others' comics?
Greg: Oh, yeah, I keep up with my fellow... Labellers? Blankies? What the hell do we call ourselves, guys?
Steve: I usually call myself â€œunemployed.â€
Howard: The corporate paperwork describes us as "member managers."
David: See... you were supposed to come up with a funny answer.
Howard: If you don't think "member manager" can be funny, you're not trying hard enough.
Southworth: I read every BLC comic! And man, if they didn't make me laugh, what's the point? :)
ComixTalk: Ahem. Okay. And where do you see webcomics going from here?
Southworth: More mainstream and, subsequently, leaving me far behind.
Howard: I think the democratization of content will continue until we've reached equilibrium... Every comic will eventually be web-accessible. The top 1% will get 99% of the traffic, and the remaining 99% will rotate dynamically, until new major talents emerge.
ComixTalk: We've got a few directed questions here...
To Greg Dean: What were the major influences that lead to you becoming a "full-time cartoonist". With Real Life being an older comic, is there something you've done/will be doing to bring in the new readers, or any nifty new money making ideas you'd like to share?
Greg: Nothing mind-blowing to share, really... my wife Elizabeth and I were planning to move to Texas to save some money on rent, and possibly look to buy a house in the next few years, and I just looked at what I had going as far as income streams, and realized that I could really make it work. Also, with a second book about half-finished, I realized that if I just had the time to work on it, I might be able to finish that and make some decent money there as well. So, I figured the base revenue we were making would be enough to cover us while I got to work on these projects I've been neglecting for so long.
The nice thing is, I've been able to spend more time on the comic itself. I don't have to resort to time-saving shortcuts anymore - I can actually spend four or five hours on a comic if I want to. Or, for instance, there's a storyline I've been mulling over for almost a year now. Not only can I devote time to it, but I'm actually planning on working on it on the side, so I can get it done to my liking, in total, before even one of the comics in it hits the web. I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am about that.
To Paul Taylor: First and foremost, I gotta compliment you on your artwork, especially the hands. How do you deal with criticism? Having read several times Wapsi being blasted for having characters made up as blatant fanservice, I can only assume the first few times reading it must hurt like hell. How do you teach yourself to brush off something like that?
Paul T.: Thank you kindly. Regarding the hands, I remember in one of my Art History lectures, the professor stating that Leonardo Da Vinci made a point to always include all the hands in all of his pictures. Iâ€™ve never checked to see if this was accurate or not, but it did make an impression on me and I do see hands as a major way to convey mood and character intention. Iâ€™ve been known to spend several hours just working on sketches of a characterâ€™s hand gestures until I get what I want. Itâ€™s both frustrating and rewarding.
Criticism can sting but I try to understand the intent of the criticism. If it is constructive criticism, I normally will look closely at what Iâ€™m doing and see what route I can take to try and improve what Iâ€™m doing. As for the â€œfanserviceâ€ blasts; yes, my comic has cheesecake in it and someone would have to be blind not to see that Monica has big boobs. As Iâ€™ve stated before, all of these characters have their bases in reality and itâ€˜s not really necessary for me to be any longer-winded than that regarding why they look the way they do. As for brushing off those kind of cuts, just because a character has a defining physical trait, if a reader/critic canâ€™t see past this (claiming the work as merely fetish) and not notice the other character development going on, then any further dialog with said jaded reader/critic is pointless.
Greg: Wait... Paul has the ability to draw perhaps the sexiest characters of any webcomic, and people think that's a negative thing? Good lord, man! If I could draw like you, I would redefine fanservice!
To Dave Willis: Having taken the same characters across several genre... how do you keep then sane? To make that clearer, how do you take a character from a comedy, into an action comedy, into an action drama, and then back into a comedy without losing who they were along the way.
David: It's easier if they're real people. I'd like to think that if my life were subjected to a variety of genres, I'd still be mostly me. Mind, in any action genre, I'd be the guy last in line, huffing and puffing trying to keep up, and I'd probably end up eaten by giant ants, but you have to admit that'd be pretty damn me-ish.
It also helps to be prepared in advance. When I started writing my college strip, Roomies!, I knew a lot of these folks were going to be ending up fighting aliens. I made sure to portray characters like Sal and Joyce as physically capable fighters right off the bat, so that when the genre changes, they don't seem so out of place. And, well, absurdist humor tends to bounce of characters the same whether it's college-based or aliens-based. The rules of their universe didn't really change.
Now, a character like Danny, who's just a boring everyman, you might think he'd be out of place in an alien space opera. He's not going to be picking up a gun and firing it competently any time soon, but never underestimate how powerful a "fish out of water" component can be.
To Paul Southworth: How much time do you spend on character design, and what details do you focus on to keep a singular look and feel to a comic casts design.
Southworth: I spent a lot of time designing the core cast of characters before I started drawing the strip. At least a month just sketching and reworking designs before I even drew the first strip. Nowadays, when I need a new character, I don't really have that luxury because of the daily schedule. I'll usually spend maybe a half hour just sketching before I really start drawing. I find character design at the same time fun and frustrating! As for a singular look and feel, I think that just comes with knowing your characters and your own style. I don't really make a concerted effort to keep the designs cohesive, they just seem to fit because that's how I draw. A lot of times I'll have to push myself to come up with a new body or head type because I feel like I'm falling into a rut. There are only so many combinations of horns, eyes, wings and claws you can do before you start to repeat yourself!
To Steve Troop: How did your background as an animator effect the way you approach making comics? Also, does having a puppet on hand help when you're trying to draw a character from an odd angle?
Steve: My background as an animator was kind of a tangential part of my career... that is, I was a cartoonist for many years, worked for two years as an animator, then pretty much stuck to being a print cartoonist.
I'd say that certain aspects of the way I design carried over between the two (creating characters that work in both 2D and 3D environments) as well as the speed that I can draw (I used to have to churn out 60+ drawings a day as an animator), but they're two very different art forms.
There is one advantage to drawing comics, though: As an animator, I was employed by a company to animate their (often lame) ideas. The nice thing about drawing comics is that I can draw whatever ideas I want to write -- and whether they're lame or not is entirely up to me.
As far as the puppets go, I've never really used them to help me draw the characters in any particular pose. Design-wise, they're very different beasts, since you have to accommodate wrists (making the necks larger on the puppets) and manipulation limitations (like non-expressive eyes and large flapping mouths) when designing a puppet. When you draw a character, you can pretty much put anything down on paper that occurs to you.
Where the puppets have come in handy is in defining the characters. I get a lot of material out of watching my friends interact with people at conventions as the characters.
To Howard Tayler: The buffer!!! HOW??? REVEAL YOUR SECRETS! I'm sure you've spoken about the buffer before many times so you really don't have to get into it too much, but I was wondering more about why. Is it something you really push for all the time or is it just part of your personality to work so far ahead. Also, do you find you look at the story differently being so far ahead. Having to wait so long from when you finish up a piece that you know (or at least really hope) the audience will love. Do you feel any sort of disconnect between you and the readers because of the time delay?
Howard: Okay, it sounds like you want to know "why" more than you want to know "how." The "how" is simple. Draw more than one comic per day until you're a week or more ahead, and then you'll have figured out how to manage your time so you can do something less strenuous in perpetuity.
The why? Well... I just took two whole weeks off for Christmas and New Years. I spent time with my family, ate too much, slept too much, and frittered the time away with a clean conscience. The rest of the world didn't notice. Ultimately, that's more why than anybody should need.
I don't feel at all disconnected from my readers. If they want to interact with me in near real-time, there's a blog, a Live-journal, and three forums. I always get a thrill when folks start talking about a comic -- even though I finished it up a month ago.