The Community Interview with Greg Dean

In Real Life, Greg Dean has incorporated practically everyone he has ever met into a character for the webcomic. Okay, maybe not everyone (as Dean explains below). Real Life ran for a long time on Keenspot before Dean went independent. We gathered ten of the readers questions and sent them to Dean who answers are below the fold.

1. You’ve had the interesting experience of using people from your everyday life in your strip, and then having had those people move out of your life and therefore out of your strip. (Including at least one ex-girlfriend, if I recall correctly.) Given that "Real Life" is often more a fantasy life based around your real life, how do you handle the retirement of characters based on people you’re no longer close to, and does it bother you that they’re still lurking in your archives? –by Websnark

Well, really, it depends on the instance. In all honesty, the only people currently in the strip that I actually see with any frequency are (of course) Liz, Cliff, and Ben. I see Dave from time to time, but it’s been a long time since I’ve hung out with the rest of the crew. However, I don’t really see the need to retire Tony, for instance, because of what his character brings to the strip. I’ve only really "retired" two characters that I can think of – Crystal, because it’s kind of awkward to have to keep writing stuff involving your ex-girlfriend, and Danny, who just really didn’t work as a character. Adam is still a part of the strip, we just don’t see him that often because he was away at college for a while. I’m not sure I’ll ever really "retire" anyone, much as I don’t really retire them as friends. The circle just changes from time to time. I’m not really bothered about the older characters lurking in the archives, though. That’s life – people you don’t see may fade from view, but they never fade from memory.

2. The "Sky Dumbass and the World of Two Weeks From Tomorrow" sequence featured absolutely incredible artwork. Could you compare your standard technique for producing Real Life Comics to what you had to do to create Sky Dumbass? –by Websnark

Heh, yeah… That was a fun series of comics to do. Generally speaking when I work on a strip, I’ll draw everything in Illustrator, which results in precise lines and a fairly realistic depiction of things. For the Sky Dumbass series, I wanted to try my hand at something different to show how much I enjoyed the movie. I had been playing around with a stylus and Corel Painter, so I fired it up and tried to do some impressionistic "quick-backgrounds". After realizing it was feasable to do, I would write up the script, try to frame the panels without backgrounds (I would draw the characters in position in Illustrator without any backgrounds. This also required some different views from what I’ve done before, because when I push myself, I try to push myself as far as I can.), then I would import those individual frames into Painter and paint "behind" them. Once I had the backgrounds finished, I would import those BACK into Illustrator, create my little soft filter effect, (I could detail how it’s done, but it’s too technical for an interview. E-mail me and I’ll tell ya how.), equalize the colors with the background to make it feel more realistic, and save that puppy. To put it in context, a normal strip can take anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours, depending on how much of it is new artwork. The sky dumbass strips took a MINIMUM of 3 hours, and one took almost 6. I try to limit myself to one or two of these kinds of story arcs per year… It’s a lot of hard work. 🙂

3. Aside from your real life, what are your inspirations? I don’t necessarily mean things that inspire specific strips. Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be, what stuff do you watch/listen to/etc that gets you so excited you just want to create something? (Even if you never actually do.)–by Jeff@WTM

Honestly, just about anything is fodder for strips. All the TV shows in the strip that I watch are things I enjoy in real life, all the games I play show up in the comic, stuff like that. Really, anything that crosses the line into the absurd is prime material. Often my friends and I will sit around and something funny will show up on TV or in a game, and we’ll say "Oh, that HAS to go in the comic!"

4. Why Mars?–by Tcampbell

EASY one. First off, Mars is the planet closest to us. Less time spent flying there. It’s size is slightly smaller than earth, yet still big enough that there’s enough gravity to walk around and whatnot. Sure, Venus is about our size, but it’s closer to the sun, making it a ton hotter, and its atmosphere is way too dense and volatile to be any use. Besides, there’s so much talk about the feasability of terraforming Mars that it just seemed like a good idea to send the one guy who could actually DO it there. The fact that I had a childhood obsession with the planet Mars only played a small role in that storyline. 🙂

5. Is there an alternative to Sour Cherry Bubble Yum so we readers outside the US can get to Mars enjoy the taste? And why a brown Volvo?–by battyden

In answer to your first question, no, there really isn’t. The catalytic reaction between the Dr. Pepper and the Sour Cherry flavoring is essential to powering a starship. You would think there would be a significant reaction using something such as Ballistic Cherry, but despite its name, Ballistic Cherry is not, in fact, ballistic. The only other gum that produces a reaction is Cyclone Fruit, but the power output of such a combination isn’t enough to run your playstation, let alone power a galactic cruiser.

And the reason it’s a brown Volvo is because I did, in fact, own a brown Volvo. I’ve been thinking about changing it up recently, though, so who knows. Maybe the Honda Civic will show up soon. 🙂

6. How have the book sales been?–by Th’_Mole

Not bad, actually. I won’t go into specific numbers, but let’s say they’re good enough that we’re planning a Book 2. 🙂

7. Ever since last summer when you posted a call for guest strips and disallowed MSPaint files, it’s colored – pardon any pun – my perception of you (though I still save Real Life for last in my morning trawl). I would’ve liked to send you a guest strip, but I use MSPaint for my webcomics because I made the conscious decision when I went online to employ the ubiquitous industry standards/defaults so that I could work from almost everywhere I go. (I still read my email with telnet.) (So does my Intro To Programming II professor.) Must you shoot the messenger? Oughtn’t you look at a guy’s joke before you decide it’s not worthy? Or am I taking your comment more seriously than you did?–by scarfman

You’re probably reading into it more than I intended. Obviously if a strip is well-done, it doesn’t matter what it was created in, but that’s generally the exception to the rule when it comes to MS Paint stuff. The first time I called for guest strips, I got a deluge of really, really bad MS Paint comics. The writing was often horrible, and the artwork was just as bad. I’ve seen people do some awesome stuff with Paint – hell, when I was a kid and we got our first computer with Windows 3.1, I did some awesome pixel art with paint. (it was Paintbrush at the time) But by asking people to use something other than paint, it’s kind of like a seive to sort out the people who are only submitting to try and get something onto the front page. It makes people, at the very least, take a look at some of the other graphics platforms they can use. Some of which are even free. All right, I’m done sticking my foot in my mouth, now. Feel free to flame me for calling MS Paint crap, but I stand by it. Oh, and I may go berserk the next time someone uses Comic Sans in their comic, too. Yeah, YEAH. I SAID IT. 🙂

8. Any Wedding Bells possible in the future?–by CollegeZoo

Wouldn’t you like to know? 🙂 Heh, okay… Yes, I’d say there are indeed. Details will not be forthcoming, however. I like to keep SOME things private.

9. Did you ever think you would make it to year 5? Starting and maintaining a webcomic is a daunting task (at least, that’s what most of the current writers/artists tell us), so I often wonder how long many expect they can keep their momentum going. As a followup, do you still feel challenged, artwise or storywise, by your comic – comparing when you first started to today? –by reave

Oh, HELL no. I usually have no drive to continue things whatsoever…I start something, and then drop it for something else before it’s finished. But somehow, after starting RL I just feel like I can’t really drop it. It’s just kept going. There’s probably a few times in there where I felt like maybe I’d lost my mojo, but then I’d take a break or recharge or whatever, and I’d be right back in the swing of things.

And I’d say I still feel challenged, but the challenge is different. Now I kinda feel like it’s less of "what can I do a comic about" and more of "jeez, what haven’t I done a comic about?" My interests haven’t changed THAT much in the last 5 years, so sometimes I have to do some serious searching for material, but I think I get through it okay.

10. What is your favorite storyline of all the ones you’ve done and why do you like it?—by coralleane

Hmmm… There’s a lot to draw from, but I have 2 favorites. The one where Dave takes over Tony’s secret lair and the Black Pants Samurai and the Shirt Ninja have to infiltrate it and take it over again was a lot of fun, both artwise and to write. I also purposefully didn’t show Tony for about a month after that, to accentuate that Tony actually had to make his way back from China. The other one I enjoyed was the E! True Webcomic Story of Alan Extra, one of the strips most underappreciated characters. I got to have a lot of fun with the behind-the-scenes backstory, and I managed to work in the resolution to my future prediction of hitting my shin. Oh, I enjoyed the Future storyline, too… And the Alternate Dimension storyline…. Gah. Let’s just say I like ’em all and call it even. It’s just a chance for me to get to have fun drawing new stuff, in the end. 🙂

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.