Our third community interview is with Jon Rosenberg, creator of Goats and Patent Pending (available on the Goats website with a subscription to Goats Premium). (We haven’t forgotten about our second interview with Pete Abrams. We’re negotiating with T-Shirt Guy Tom right now for Pete’s answers.)
Jon published the first Goats strip on April 1, 1997 and is still going strong. Along with Phillip Karlsson, Jon has also carved out a niche as the creator of some truly funny website-parodies, including Brains4Zombies and Moistnap.
1. Do you ever see yourself doing a comic collaboration where you write, and someone else does the art, or vice versa? Would it be difficult to give up half of the creative control on a project like that? (jgarcia)
As a fundamentally lazy person, I think it would be great to let someone else do a good-sized chunk of the work. I’ve almost always suffered from writer’s block; you can tell when the strip is forced and when it comes naturally. It’s unfortunate that there’s a pressure to get content out by a certain deadline (although without one, it might never get done at all). You end up going with half-formed ideas occasionally just to put fresh content on the site. This doesn’t happen often, but it happens enough to bother me.
As time has passed, the quality my writer’s block has changed — it’s less an issue of not being able to come up with ideas (after 1400 strips and six years, you kinda train yourself to enter that state where ideas surface — my mind is a machine for generating random stupidity), but coming up with fresh ideas gets tougher and tougher. Sometimes I’ll come up with something that I think is a sure winner, and then realize I did it 3 years earlier (or, even worse, that someone else did).
The only way to get past that not-so-fresh feeling (no, not Massengill) is to provide yourself with new stimulus. Garbage in, garbage out, right? So I watch a lot of television, or I drink a lot of beer, or I try to staple my cats together and see what happens. The best stimulus, though, is to work with someone else who is more creative than you are.
Some of the writing I’ve done that I’m most happy with was for the crossovers I did with John Allison back when he was still drawing Bobbins. We would shoot scripts back and forth across email, and his ideas sparked my ideas, and vice-versa. Working with someone that talented also inspires you to take it up a notch, as it were. Hopefully we’ll get to do something like that again soon, as I love working with John. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and he doesn’t mind indulging me when I want to go out for fast food.
On occasion, I’ll consult with a friend of mine, Colin, when I feel my scripts aren’t up to snuff. Colin will suggest places where things can be punched up, and he’s got a great knack for comic timing. We’ve also been discussing the idea of adapting Goats to the stage for an off-Broadway deal, as Colin is a fabulous screenwriter.
I think the one person I’d most like to write with, though, would be Jeff Rowland, the evil genius behind WiGU. He’s the single most talented humorous webcomics writer out there right now, and it would be an honor to collaborate with him on a project.
Would it be difficult to give up control? Probably. I can be somewhat cantankerous. It might be difficult to find someone to collaborate with who would be able to tolerate me.
2. What do you feel provides the most important contribution to your creative process? (zamphir)
[And a related question: What part does Phillip play in your creative process? (rstevens)]
Beer, drugs and sleep deprivation, mostly. A healthy infusion of pop culture also provides a lot of stimulus for me. As far as Phillip is concerned, most of this Goats stuff is his fault to begin with — it wouldn’t exist without him. Think of him as my enabler, pushing me to do unhealthy things that I’d rather not be doing but am dangerously addicted to. Phillip doesn’t have a formal place in the creative process, but his sense of humor pervades the strip. We’ll chat about a storyline I have in mind, I’ll throw out some ideas, he’ll make suggestions, I’ll incorporate them. A lot of the best stuff that’s made it into Goats has been random stupidity that comes up during one of our beer-fueled conversations. And I’ll often pinch one of his jokes without giving him any credit for it at all (most recently, the last line in the first strip of the Pork and Adultery series).
3. There are a number of high quality comics available online these days, and there are also a number of not-so-high quality comics around as well. Which comic falls into which category is, of course, a matter of personal perspective. Do you feel the existence of those comics that, in your opinion, would fall into the second category helps the online comic community by widening the options available to the potential reader, or hurts the community by discouraging the distinguishing reader? (stillwaiting)
This questions seems to keep coming up, and my feelings on this have not and likely will not change — anything that enables more people to get involved with any art form is a good thing, no question. Lots of incredible comic strips, including many of my favorites, started out as total crap. I can’teven bear to look at the art from the first couple of years of Goats. Giving people the tools to reach a wide audience will increase the likelihood that talent will develop and be discovered.
I also think that creativity is the single createst thing there is in life. Even if you’re not looking to do it professionally, expressing yourself artistically is a very healthy hobby and should be encouraged. I think a creative society is a peaceful, productive, evolving society.
And anyone who thinks the existence of Crappy Gaming Comic #374 is hurting their own chances of finding mainstream acceptance needs to reexamine why they’re drawing in the first place. Odds are good that the only reason someone is failing is because they themselves suck.
4. In one of the story arcs, Diablo introduces Jon to Satan only Satan turns out to be Stan. Does this mean that Stan is also Diablo’s uncle? If so, is that legal? (mechablue)
Stan (or is it Satan?) is Diablo’s uncle in much the same way that Uncle Fester is your uncle, and my uncle — he’s an uncle to all of us. I’m a big supporter of the Universal Uncle Principle.
5. Your comic is reasonably successful, I think it would be safe to say. You have a solid readership. This gives you an opportunity to speak to a segment of the populace as few others can. Your comic isn’t political or especially topical. It’s just funny. But is there one serious message you’d like to give your audience through your comic? (political anonymous fanboy)
If you haven’t spotted any political messages or societal commentary in the strip, either you’re not reading closely enough, or I’m being far too subtle. And I’m very rarely accused of subtlety. If there’s one overarching theme that I try to get across in all the strips, it’s that you should think for yourself. People are far too willing to let large institutions (government, big business, religion, what have you) do their thinking for them. These institutions have agendas of their own, and it’s not always in their best interest to give you access to all the facts or to have you thinking independently. Thought and open communication, without limitations, keeps us free.
6. Why do you do Goats? I mean what do you get out of coming up with the stories, drawing, and posting them for us to read? Is it a desire to create something fun, personal satisfaction, feedback, etc.? (rfk1222)
There’s a lot of reasons, some of them noble, some of them not so noble. It’s difficult to say which ones are most important. Certainly a lot of it is inertia – once you get started, it’s hard to stop. Part of it is wanting to leave something of import behind; to create a body of work that will gain recognition.
Possibly the most important reason is that I want a comic strip like Goats to exist. No one else was making one, so it was up to me. And when it’s not maddeningly frustrating, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to do.
7. Have you become frustrated with the lack of revenue streams which at the least pay for your server and other hosting services so much so that you will stop doing Goats or will it be a lack of ideas/time which will end the strip (not that I’m looking for an ending)? (rfk1222)
We’re doing fine with revenue streams, it’s the revenue that’s always an issue (everyone reading this, go take fifteen minutes and sign up for Goats Premium. Please?) Diversifying your revenue streams is an important and healthy thing for any business — when the ad market fell flat, we had merchandising to migrate to. Now we have our Premium offerings. We’ll probably start doing other stuff when we think of it. For now, we do okay. I’d love to be pulling in enough cash to do this full time, but it may take us a while to get there. I’m a patient man.
The difficult part, really, is creating a product compelling enough to get cheap college students to open their wallets. Go get jobs, lazy college students.
What will end the strip? Dunno, really, it’s hard to say that one of those factors will be the deciding one. Likely it will end when we get sick of doing it. Or when I’m found dead on the toilet with a peanut butter sandwich stuck up my ass. Now that would get us some publicity.
8. How much of the content is influenced by others ("you know what would be great in a strip?" etc)? How do you tell them to shove their crummy ideas without hurting their feelings? (insensitive anonymous fanboy)
That’s a great question. I’ll think about it and get back to you.
9. Interestingly enough, most of your jokes revolve around late 1980’s early 1990’s pop culture. Brooke Shields and Scott Baio have been the most obvious targets. (What about Willy Ames? Now he just needs to have some one make fun of him.) What is it that makes that time period so funny? (tubular anonymous fanboy)
I don’t think there’s anything inherently funny about that time period; it’s just when I grew up, and the popular culture of the time made a large dent in my brain. It’s recent enough that we still remember it, but far enough away that we can look back and laugh at how stupid we were. Plus, I went through puberty watching Nicole Eggert. Bitch.
10. What are your feelings on the various "business models" currently in use by various webcomics: subscriptions (like Modern Tales), advertising (like Keenspot), donation or one-time "clubs" with bonus material (like Goats or Penny Arcade)? (xerexes)
Ah, business models. I fucking hate them all. None of them work. People hate ads. People hate to spend money. People don’t form attachments to content if it’s walled off. People have too many t-shirts already. It’s enough to make you want to go sell ties in a department store.
I’m not going to waste your time by outlining all the downsides to the models you’ve mentioned; they’re all flawed. But they’re all at least partially workable in different circumstances, too. It depends on who your audience is, really. Some people will go for subscriptions, some won’t. Some people won’t pay for anything, but they don’t mind ads. And of course, there’s always folks who want everything to be free and then go ahead and use ad blockers and then complain when their favorite sites go under.
Our approach has been to pick and choose from amongst the various business models to see what work best for us. We like to keep our revenue streams diverse by not relying on any one method too heavily. That way, when one thing starts to break, we’re still propped up by the other stuff. We also try and work around the downsides to the various business models to make them work.
For example, our subscription model doesn’t have the Achilles heel that MT has, because we’re not walling off so much material. People can’t fall in love with your work if they can’t read it. And someone who is hesitant to subscribe at first might subscribe later if you don’t scare them off right away. Or they might never subscribe, but they might buy a t-shirt at some point.
Basically, we’re out to make a website where people can come and have fun, and hopefully they’ll like it enough to help us out in return. As long as we keep that in mind, I think we’ll always do okay, regardless of how we end up funding the venture.
BONUS: Where do you envision your main Goats characters winding up if you (hypothetically) were to end the series in the future?
Dead. Or in the suburbs. I’m not sure which is more horrifying.