Fresh Blood: An Interview with Liriel McMahon

Liriel McMahon has been attrcting oohs and aahs for years now with her beautifully rendered black-and-white vampire story, Bad Blood, winning several awards and quite a few fans. Despite being one of the most active people in the webcomics “community”, she was kind enough to give Comixpedia an interview.

I know this was originally a short story (the original’s printed on your site). What made you decide to put this out as a webcomic? Any other stories you’re thinking of adapting?

Well, really I just wanted to be a novelist, especially around the time that I wrote the short story you mention, “Home, Sweet Home”. For writing I went so far as to complete a fiction writing certificate course through the University of Washington Extension Program, which was a total of twelve months of coursework spread out over three years. At the end of that time though, I discovered that descriptive narrative was my writing’s weakness, so I kind of lost faith in my ability to follow through on that dream. I later got inspired by manga to take up drawing again, got great feedback through art forums, discovered webcomics — and then found myself returning to my childhood dream of creating a graphic novel. I had a lot of short stories at the time, and even one completed novel that I made some attempts at making into a graphic story — though that story was so horrible I could never settle on character background, let alone design. With “Home, Sweet Home” the characters came naturally, the story flowed, and it just clicked as a graphic novel, especially considering my skill set and tools at the time. Later if I do adapt any other stories, which I hope to be as yet unwritten stories because I like the idea of moving forward, I can see myself going into a much looser style on a future work, just because this one is very overcompensated and a literal pain.

Tell us a little about yourself. I suppose you are a Seattle native, since BadBlood is based in Seattle? I know you’re married. What else should we know?

My husband, Craig, and I live in Seattle, though he’s the native since I only moved here 13 years ago — Seattle’s definitely my home town now though, I can’t think of living in any other area. As for what else folks might want to know…..hmm ….I’m 33-years-old… never went to high school — or even junior high really, though I did try and earn my diploma through college but just got tired of jumping through hoops for a piece of paper that no employer ever cared if I had anyway. After 9-11 I finally quit school for good — I realized I needed to seriously re-prioritize my life’s goals… uhm… I was a musician and played bass guitar for 8 years, the grunge-punk lifestyle wore me out though, and after only having one song on a CD after all that time was like ‘okay, I’m obviously not meant to be doing this’… I did a spot of globe trotting, you know, back when it was safer for Americans to travel — that was a lot of fun, going to places like Corfu, Morocco, and of course Europe. That whole experience of getting ‘outside’ and being with others who live differently is so incredibly mind expanding, I’m really glad I had that opportunity. Obviously my life isn’t so exciting these days, but I’m content to spend my free time reading, which is my number one hobby now. I read tons of books, from history, classic literature, science fiction, to of course print and web comics.

You have a gorgeous black and white style. Who are your artistic influences?

Thanks for that Al, though I’m still pretty hard on my own art work, constantly trying to improve what I see as my greatest weakness. Without formal art training I often find myself going ‘I know there’s something wrong with this drawing, but I can’t figure out what it is’ — that can be very frustrating, but maybe someday it’ll come naturally. As for influences I don’t have any specifics, I just aim for the goal of mood and for this story it worked out to be this black and white pencil shaded style, though again that was due mostly to available tools. A lot of folks have said the style reminds them of Colleen Doran’s early work on A Distant Soil, which I did love as a kid, so that could be kicking around back there as an early inspiration towards style. My mother was a fine arts artist, in painting and sculpture, also self taught, and she helped me get started on realistic rendering as a teen, though that did go to wayside for music, that learning is all still back there. When manga got me back into drawing I leaned heavily into the various Japanese styles, playing around with them for a few years, and what eventually emerged is this mixture between the manga experience and the realistic upbringing.

What attracts you to the idea of vampires and horror in general? Who are your storytelling/writing influences?

I’ve had a long bout with the vampire mythos, since 1987 when I first got into Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles. I saw the archetype then as every-man’s alter-ego in a time when individuals realized their true powerlessness over life and death — my view of the archetype has since changed considerably. “Home, Sweet Home” was actually my attempt to kick the habit, to pen a disgustingly senseless story to debunk the allure of vampires. It proved ineffective though, since I’m obviously still at it. This time I’m taking a more round about and subtle way of sharing my observations of human nature — because really even though BadBlood features vampires as a plot device, the story is about what people are capable of doing to each other. Hopefully I can be done with the vampire genre after this, as I’m not really a fan of horror — it is sometimes an interesting place to take a walk, but as a whole it can be limiting to write for. I don’t have specific writing influences either, though I could say everything I read is an influence — from Orson Scott Card to Hunter S. Thompson, and back to classics like George Eliot. I figure if I keep it mixed up I won’t get pegged as anyone’s clone.

You are very involved in the webcomics “community”. BuzzComix moderator, the buzzBugle, the Webcomics List’s Wackybox… as well as a member of one of the smaller but more-proactive webcomics “communities”, “Hot Bullet Press”. Are you often drawn into a lot of projects, or is this something exclusives to webcomics?

While it may seem that all those things are separate projects, they’re all part of this vague pro-community agenda I have… The web just facilitates my natural urge to be helpful. Despite my sometimes off-putting forum persona, I like people and want to help the community as a whole, because frankly that’s where talent is lurking, and talent must be encouraged… and yes, especially if that talent is better than mine — I’m not one to be jealous or vindictive. The way I see it everyone has something to offer, though sometimes that offering can be disruptive to community as a whole and that’s when I have to put the mod hat on… it’s a hard thing because then I get the ‘reputation’… whatever, I still have an intuition on what’s good for the community as a whole, and more often then not nay-sayers turn out to be too ‘young’ to know better, but that’s okay too, I figure eventually they’ll figure it out, or well… just go on doing what they’re doing — it won’t stop me from being pro-community. Recently I’ve become involved with Cartoonists Northwest which is a local group of professional and amateur artists. Having a local group to work with has helped me to get out of the ‘catty’ tunnel-vision the webcomics community can sometimes generate, though even in person you get ‘politics’, it’s going to happen in every group — that’s just human nature. I’ve just learned to see that for what it is, a pothole in the road, and just go around.

You also attended several cons to promote the printed version of your comic. What was it like to actually talk to readers?

I’ve actually only done one convention to promote print issue #1 so far, as it was just printed this year, and that was at Emerald City ComiCon in February. It was a lot of fun meeting not only the readers I already knew, but also brand new folks who never heard of BadBlood but were attracted by the art and the fact that it’s set in Seattle. Honestly though I think I have more readers in the Netherlands then in Seattle, I can’t really tell if EC3 changed that or not, but I hope to meet a lot more readers when I do CascadiaCon this coming September to promote print issue #2 and other things besides.

Besides the occasional cameo appearance of webcomics authors in Club Sanctuary, any of your characters based on real people? Is Jared based on someone real, or is he your anima, or just a character you enjoy?

The Trinity characters and Detective Leland are based on my husband and his three closest friends — mostly in physical aspects, as the personalities are based more on amalgams of table-top RPG characters they’ve played in various different game campaigns. Craig and his friends also get to offer input and ideas for Trinity scenes, especially some of the upcoming action sequences. As for Jared, he isn’t based on anyone specific, not my animus to any extent either, and not really a character I enjoy — rather I think he embodies the spirit of anyone knocked about by events beyond their control… I will enjoy the moment when he’s finally had enough though.

You are masterful with black-and-white. Do you ever get an urge to it in color instead?

Nope. It just wouldn’t be the same. Color is suitable to vibrant and/or fanciful moods, but this story is so not either of those. It’s gotta to be black and white, like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Besides… I’m horrible with color — I need color theory classes or something first.

How many chapters do you see BadBlood going? Is this going to have a definite ending, or is it perhaps an open-ended series?

I originally outlined BadBlood as eight chapters, but it may go for ten — hopefully ten at the most. It’s got a definite and complete ending to be sure. I can’t write anything unless I know exactly what kind of note on which it’s going to end. The ultimate goal is for it to be a trade volume that someone can curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon — or at least that’s what I plan to do with my copy.

What do you like about webcomics as a medium? Any predictions about how it will evolve, what direction the webcomics medium will take?

Webcomics are and will continue to be the best medium to showcase independent work to the widest possible audience with a minimum of fuss. As for evolving, I think the standards of web site navigation will become stabilized, which would be nothing but good for readers who’d be able to jump from the most popular webcomic to the least known and not be confused as to how to read either. I’m assuming technology will continue to advance, most likely in favor of animated works and cellphone displayable strips. At some point I imagine entertainment corporations will try and turn the field to their advantage and profit, though that could be a disaster just because readers are all so used to the free aspect. Overall though I hope that the world of webcomics will continue to operate freely and without censorship of any kind.

Al Schroeder is the interview editor for Comixpedia, the Review/Critique forum moderator for Buzzcomix, met his wife through a Superman comics letter column (and had three children together), has a day job yet writes his own webcomic, so he’s obviously a glutton for punishment.

Xaviar Xerexes

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