Chris Hazelton is the creator of Misfile, a webcomic about, well, a celestial misfiling of epic proportions and the angelic clerk who tries to clean it all up. It's a great premise and Hazelton has been spinning it out on the web for more than four years now.
I got a chance to interview Chris via email this month.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What's a typical day for you like recently?
Well, my wife gave birth to our first child about 2 months ago, so mostly I try to fit drawing in between feedings and diaper changes while in a sleepless stupor. To relax we play D&D a few times a week at the local hobby shop, though it really depends on the baby's mood whether we can go.
Where are you located these days?
Southern Pines, North Carolina.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
That's a complicated answer. It's been my only job for several years. However, due in part to the birth of my son, and because a friend of mine who owns a local business is being re-deployed to Iraq, I've agreed to take over managing his store for 18 months.
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
I read a few manga. Gunsmith Cats – Burst is my favorite right now. Yotsuba is also a guilty pleasure of mine.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
The premise is that the entire universe is held together and defined by a set of filing cabinates in heaven. Changing information in the files literally changes reality.
Recently they hired an angel to run it named Rumisiel because his father and brother are important and got him the job. But Rumisiel basically just sits around drinking and smoking pot all day. One day his bosses come in for a spot inspection, so Rumsiel throws a few files under a rug and stuffs a few into random cabinets to clean up for the inspection figuring he'll fix everything later. He also shoves his lit joint in his pocket to save it. During the inspection, the joint burns its way through to his crotch, and his bosses put him on "indefinate administrative leave without pay" for smoking on the job.
Rumisiel realizes that if they realize what he did with the files to clean up he'll probably be kicked out of heaven for ever, so he goes down to earth and finds the people who's lives he inadvertently screwed up by messing with the files and moves in with them to keep them from letting anyone know what happened until he can figure out a way to get back into heaven and fix everything. The two people who's lives he messed up are Ash, a street racing boy who is now a girl, and Emily, a super scholar who just got into Harvard who just has the last two years of college applications erased and is now a sopomore again.
That's it in a nutshell…
How has the strip evolved over time?
Originally it was a pet project and a creative outlet to keep me from going mad at my job. Then it became my job and I started updating 5 days a week. The extra updates have really allowed me to fix the pacing the way I wanted and really explore the characters.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
I like the Kamikaze Kate storyline that started in book 2. My readers tend to prefer the storylines in which I make Ash really uncomfortable with her new identity.
Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
Again, I loved Kamkaze Kate. I especially loved writing her back when she was still crazy evil and posessed. I still like her as a character, but as a protagonist she's a bit less fun. I also love writing Ash, because I find it easier to draw women, but easier to write men. With Ash I get to do both at the same time. Lucky me…
Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?
I'd like to eventually bring it to a thrilling conclusion a few years from now. I'd also like to get it in book stores. My biggest pipe dream is to maybe get it animated one day, but I'm not holding my breath.
Have you had good success with using Lulu for print collections of the comic? Any plans for other print collections?
I've had a great deal of success with Lulu. They's been really great to me and I would reccomend them to anyone. I may one day make some hard bound collectors editions, but there are no concrete plans for additional editions at this time.
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
The single most effective way to advertise webcomics is banner ads on other webcomics. I've tried litterally dozens of other venues, all of which have their merits, but the best bang for the buck is still banner ads on other comics.
What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at? What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?
My favorite convention I've done in the last few years was Persacon. I just liked how it was run and how I was treated there. I must admit though that I made the most omney I've EVER made at a convention at Dragon*Con, so which cons are my favorite to exhibit at really depends on what angle I'm approaching the question from.
Do you have a favorite convention story?
I used to work in the movie business. Earlier this year I ran into another artist at a convention who'd I'd worked with when I was working for the company turning one of his books into a movie. That was pretty cool.
I guess my all time favorite convention story is kind of horrible though. I was at a convention last year where two guys were killed in a gang shooting outside my colleagues' hotel room while they watched. I use that as a bench mark for bad conventions now. "Hey, this convention sucks, but at least no one was shot outside our hotel room".
Do your fans bring you cool things at shows?
Definitely. My favorite thing is when they show up in costumes from my comic. That just makes my month.
When you create a comic, how do you appproach 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 comes from a screenwriting background, so I think visually. I just play scenes over and over in my head and then write them out when I'm happy with how they run in move form. Then the challenge is to convert that into still images.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
I still work in a fairly primitive way because I find it works for me. I draw out the whole page on size B4 Comic paper by hand. Then I scan it in and clean it up in photoshop. After it's clean, I add a few textures in photoshop to ad depth to the images and add the text using paintshop pro. The whole process takes about 2 to 3 hours, unless it's a race scene. The race scenes take a lot more time because of the cars.
Did you do your own website? What software are you using on it?
God no. I'm terrible at web design. I did do my original site. It was ugly. When I got enough readers I had some of them re-design it and found a webmaster who does a few other comic sites to program it and keep it up.
How would you describe your relationship with your fans? Do you engage in a lot of online interaction with your readers?
I try to make myself as available as possible. I used to give out my IM information, but when my readership topped 200,000 it became impossible to get any work done, so now I just interact through my forums and my email account. I do love talking with my readers at conventions. I always call them readers and not "fans" . "Fans" is too creepy for me. 😉
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
I really didn't. I always thought I would end up making movies. When I got to Hollywood though it turns out I didn't enjoy the process as much as I'd liked. While I was there I just sort of "fell into" comics.
Other non-comic influences on your art and/or writing?
Anime, mostly. Also cinema because of my film making degree.
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?
Becaue making my own movies or animation is too expensive. 😉 Comics are really the only visual medium I can do on the cheap all by myself.