Dave and Damonk: An interview with the creator of Bob and George by Damonk

David Anez has been messing with pixels before messing with pixels became cool. His landmark Sprite-based comic, Bob and George, actually wasn’t even supposed to BE a comic about a hero and cast of characters awfully similar to a certain Capcom game. It inadvertently became one of the first Sprite webcomics on the web, and certainly the first one to really pioneer and spark the masses of Sprite comics out there now. Almost four years after this “accidental” genesis, Anez tells us about how it all started, and why his webcomic is exactly what it is.

First off: Name, rank, serial number, and brand name of your current pair of underpants (i.e., tell us about yourself)?
Well, to start with, the name’s David Anez, though most people involved in the comic, be they fans or staff, tend to just call me Dave. I just finished graduate school, where I earned first a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics and then a Master’s of Science in Materials Engineering and Science, which is basically a combination of physics, chemistry, and metallurgical engineering. There’s also a Computer Science minor thrown in there somewhere. Right now I’m teaching physics and science courses at a little community college somewhere in the Midwest, though I’m loath to say exactly where.

On the personal side, I’m currently involved with Liss, the gal that effectively runs the message board and the chat room, the fan-related sides of the website. I’m a big fan of video games, as is probably evident, though I really don’t have time to play them much these days. I also have a soft spot for anime and role-playing games.

I notice you didn’t mention anything about the underpants, though.
I’m afraid that’s between me and my significant other.

Fair enough. You started your comic months before the Big Webcomic Boom of Late 2000. This means there weren’t many webcomics out there yet. What spurred you to start your own?
The short answer is Sluggy Freelance.

The longer answer is that I had just come out of a long relationship and needed a way to fill my free time. After some wandering aimlessly on the Internet, I found my way to several webcomics, like Sluggy Freelance, Dragon-Tails, and Player vs Player. Like so many others, I thought it would be fun to try my own hand at webcomics, and lo, Bob and George was born.

I had spent a previous summer working on HTML and JavaScript and I already had a small, Tripod-hosted website, so I knew it wouldn’t take much more to design a website devoted to the comic like all those other sites. In fact, aside from some cosmetic differences, the current site really isn’t that different from the original.

You started out intending to hand-draw your comic – why did you switch plans and stick with the Sprite approach?
Originally, the sprites were only supposed to be filler until I could get access to a friend’s scanner to scan in my comics. When I finally got access to my friend’s scanner, I realized I wasn’t nearly as ready to start a hand-drawn comic as I’d thought. I eventually bought my own scanner to work with and tried rather unsuccessfully to come up with some sort of system for making my hand-drawn comics. So, while I struggled to find my artistic expression, the sprite comics continued.

After two unsuccessful attempts to switch over to the hand-drawn comics, I finally decided to just give up on the whole idea and devote myself fully to the sprite-comic.

You even *did* try to hand-draw for a period of almost two weeks – (June 1-10, 2000). What kind of feedback did you get from your readers from this switch?
Actually, there were two periods where I tried to switch to hand-drawn comics, with the second in October 2000. At the time, there were only a few readers and I didn’t get any real feedback on the switches at all. Over the years, though, the switches were generally seen as bad ones and everyone is glad I stuck with the sprites.

When you switched back to the sprites, were you happy or disappointed?
At the time, I was very disappointed in myself for failing. Worse yet was the fact that I had failed at the very thing I had initially started out to do.

However, I later realized that the very reason the hand-drawn comics failed, at least in my eyes, was because I felt the sprite-comic was better, both in plot and humor. Which, I suppose, is a good thing.

Do you ever feel like you wished you weren’t using “borrowed” characters, as opposed to your own?
I would have to say the times I hate using borrowed characters the most is when I look at my wallet. I imagine, looking at some of the other webcomics out there, that I could make quite a bit of money off merchandising were the characters my own. I’ve always felt very strongly that selling anything with the Capcom characters on them is wrong and have avoided doing so at all costs. And, you know, I’m trying to avoid any possible reasons for Capcom to sue me.

Have you ever been contacted by Capcom for using their characters?
No, Capcom has never officially contacted me about the comic. Once a friend of mine contacted them to get their stance on sprite-comics, and they replied that sprite-comics were illegal and Capcom would never officially endorse them. So I think any contact with Capcom probably wouldn’t be a good thing.

What do you think of other Sprite webcomics, both those that use copyrighted characters and those rare ones that create their own original pixel art?
I think sprite-comics are both a blessing and a curse on the Internet. They’re a good thing in that they allow people who can’t otherwise create webcomics to tell elegant stories and relate epic adventures of their own devising. Artists can use sprite-comics with copyrighted characters to continue the sagas of their favorite video game characters and create elaborate back-stories to fill in what happens in between sequels.

Unfortunately, sprite-comics are also a curse, because more often than not they are simply awful. People that would never have otherwise created a comic are now barfing pixels onto the screen and calling it a The aDvent00res of Megabaxxors! I sometimes fear that bad sprite-comics will end up being my legacy…. I know many people consider all sprite-comics to be crap based on the large number of horrid ones. However, in defense of sprite-comics, there are also a large number of bad hand-drawn comics, though the ratio may not be as large as in the case of sprite-comics.

As far as you know, were you the first Sprite-based webcomic?
That, I’m afraid, is a loaded question. To answer it, first one needs to define what a webcomic is, exactly. Is a webcomic simply a comic posted to the Internet, or is a webcomic more specifically a website devoted to a comic?

I can honestly say that Bob and George is not the first comic using sprites ever posted to the Internet. I recall visiting a site before starting my own that had several examples of haphazardly constructed comics with Mega Man introduced into them. There is also a site that predates my own that had a section devoted to sprite-comics with Mario characters in them.

However, I think I can safely say that Bob and George was the first site solely devoted to a sprite-comic, which I would allow as the distinction to call Bob and George the first sprite-based webcomic, though I know some people would disagree on that definition.

Why do you think so many others started creating Sprite-based webcomics?
Without a doubt, creating sprite-based webcomics is easier than hand-drawn comics. Some people may want to argue this point, but when considering the amount of time that would have to go into a hand-drawn comic, including tracing, inking, scanning, and digital effects, sprite-comics are just easier. Oh sure, it may take several hours to put together a really complicated sprite-comic, with custom sprites and lots of special effects, but I could throw a simple sprite comic together in less than ten minutes, which is something I don’t think anyone doing a hand-drawn comic could ever do.

Aside from the simplicity, some people just can’t draw worth a lick. I can’t, and I don’t have the time or patience to devote to getting better. So, for people who want to create webcomics but have neither the talent nor the patience, sprite-comics may be the only way.

Since you play with the fourth wall so much, and include avatars of “the Author”, what are your thoughts on the breaking of the fourth wall in webcomics?
When I first started my comic, I thought breaking the fourth wall was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I loved seeing TV shows and movies break the fourth wall, so why not have it be a major part of my comic? Over the years, though, I’ve come to see it more and more as a crutch. I mean, why would the characters ever do anything on their own, such as fighting a bad guy, if they can just have the Author come down and eradicate the villain?

Further, breaking the fourth wall can terribly over-complicate the storyline. What’s real? What’s not? Of course, the nice part about breaking the fourth wall is that you can just put it right back where it belongs whenever you want, as long as the readers will go along with it.

Do you read many webcomics? If so, which are your faves? If not, why not?
I still love webcomics. Every morning after checking my email, I make my rounds checking out my favorite webcomics.

My current top favorites include Sluggy Freelance, Dragon-Tails, and Ozy and Millie. I also check in on Real Life, Penny Arcade, VG Cats, 8-Bit Theater, and Mac Hall when I can. My list of favorites used to be much larger, but over the years either my tastes changed or the comics got worse… sometimes I’m not sure which.

Oftentimes, I start seeing the same jokes being used over and over or I get irritated at the lack of talent. For instance, there’s this one really popular comic that has excellent art, but the stories are repetitive and boring. It aggravates me to no end to think about the truly excellent storylines that I would come up with if only I had that level of artistic skill.

Why is your hero so dumb?
I once read somewhere that the unexpected is funny. The audience enjoys it when they’re lead in one direction, only to be caught off-guard with some skillful misdirection. I’ve found that this can most easily be done with an immensely stupid character doing something completely idiotic and counter-intuitive. For example, we all know what a telephone is used for, but a stupid character can take that telephone and do something unusual with it, and this can be funny.

In other words, stupid characters are easier to write jokes for. And I’m lazy.

Who’s your favorite MegaMan “sub-villain” (i.e., not Wily himself)?
I don’t know if I have a favorite sub-villain. The characters in the games themselves don’t have much in the way of personalities, and I think it would be unfair to base my opinion on the personalities I’ve given them in the comic.

But hey, why not? Of the Robot Masters I’ve parodied in the comic, there are a number of them that I really enjoyed writing for, including Top Man and Shadow Man… and who could forget poor Spark Man?

Any final pieces of advice you’d like to share with our readers, or people who’d be interested in starting their own webcomic, be it Sprite-based or no?
Whenever you’re making a comic, it’s important to have both long-term and short-term plans. Not only do you need to have some idea what’s going to happen in the next comic, but also where you plan to take the comic in the coming months or even years. Many people start comics with a single idea or joke in mind that they completely run it into the ground, which can lead to the early demise of any comic.

Damonk is the Editor-in-Chief and the Executive Editor for Reviews and Columns.

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