Earlier this month, I interviewed Chris Hallbeck who does the weirdly funny webcomic The Book Of Biff. More recently, I found out that he was a finalist in this year's Bomb Shelter Webcomic Idol contest. A bit of a fortuitous coincidence and reason enough to hustle this one onto the website.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm 34 years old. I live with my wife Amanda and our son in the suburbs of Chicago. I went to art school in Savannah, GA and Grand Rapids, MI majoring in Illustration.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
I spend the majority of my time at my day job doing web design for an office supply company. I have about an hour's drive each way so I try to write comics during the commute to pass the time. I do the rest of my comics work on nights and weekends.
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
Yeah I have a list that I read through on my lunch break each day such as: PVP, Starslip Crisis, chainsawsuit, F Chords, Ugly Hill, Sheldon, SMBC, Diesel Sweeties, Dinosaur Comics, Savage Chickens, Nedroid.com, Gingerdead and Friends. I haven't read print comics in many years.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Biff is a single panel comic with a short attention span and long eyebrows.
How has the strip evolved over time?
I think the most apparent change is in the art. I seem to draw each comic slightly differently each day and those minor changes add up over time. I usually can't tell where it's heading until I look back 50 or 100 comics. I enjoy this process and it keeps the actual craft of drawing the comic interesting to me. I get excited when I stumble on a new shape to draw for clouds or a better stroke for wrinkles in fabric. When I'm looking at older comics I'll sometimes find things that I used to do better and steal little bits from my past to put into the new comics.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
For the first year each comic was usually unrelated to the next. Then one day I was writing a pizza joke and wound up with 2 punchlines that evolved into 2 separate comics. I remembered I had a third unused pizza comic in my sketchbook and so I decided to try and write 2 more and make it pizza week. I got a good reaction to it and so I started doing more occasional theme weeks until it evolved into the new standard for the comic.
It has become a sort of secondary game for some of my readers. When they see Monday's comic they try and extrapolate what the theme for the week is going to be. As the days go by they get more clues that will strengthen or disprove their theories. On one occasion I didn't have the rest of the week written yet and I liked one of my reader's guesses for the theme of that week more than what I had planned so I wrote the next comics based on that.
Some themes have been a good jumping on point for new readers. For example, the recent magic week got a lot of traffic from various magic-related websites.
Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
I have only one main character but there are secondary characters that are developing such as the giants or the toaster or spaghetti. I try to write each comic to stand on it's own because I know that each comic will be the first one that someone reads. But it's also nice to reward the longtime readers that can see patterns emerge over time.
Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?
My long term goal is to be able to support my family from the comic.
Any plans for a print collection?
I have self published 2 collections so far and plan on having a 3rd available before the end of the year. The comics are meant to stand on their own but I think they are funnier when read as a book. The ridiculousness gets a chance to build on itself.
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
Advertising on Project Wonderful has been my most successful promotion so far. I have been unable to find anything else as cost effective in the 2 years I have been using it.
What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at?
I have not gone to any conventions yet. I'm looking into hitting a few of the 2009 Midwest cons. I won't know for sure until next year.
When you create a comic, how do you approach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?
I have a few different methods for writing. The one that I use the most is I'll start with a situation and put Biff into it. I usually give him a problem to solve and then see if he succeeds or fails. I'll explore many different outcomes until I hit the one that I'm excited about drawing. While I'm drawing the comic I'm constantly rewriting the caption. After typing in the final caption I go back and re-read what I has originally written down in my sketchbook and usually make a final change.
During the writing process I usually develop a story and motivations that lead up to the final joke. I then need to condense that concept into one image and one sentence. Before I post the comic I like to get Amanda's first impression. I watch her facial expressions as she sees the final comic for the first time. She helps me figure out when I'm telling too much or not enough of the story. I think my most successful comics are the ones where I just barely give you enough information for the joke to work and you fill in the rest from your own personal experience.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walk through of your process?
Currently I draw the line work in Flash and then color it in Photoshop.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones?
I read a lot of Marvel comics as a kid. Mostly X-Men and Spider-Man.
What are your influences from comics today?
I try to constantly expose myself to other comics that have better art than me like Octopus Pie or Ugly Hill and comics that are funnier than me like Starslip Crisis or Nedroid. They get me excited about comics and make me want to get better.
What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?
I think It's that I have a short attention span. I don't know if I would have the patience to complete a long form project.
Anything else you wished I'd asked you about?
You haven't said anything about my new haircut. Do you even look at me anymore? Why do I even bother going to the gym.