In his hilarious comic, Wally & Osborne, Tyler Martin has been educating us about Antarctica in a delightful way. In this interview, Martin enlightens us about life, liberty, and the unlikelihood of polar bears at the South Pole.
What's your background?
Currently it's a JPG of a cat with a transparent CD spindle cover over its head and a caption that reads "Going to the moon, brb".
Oh, you mean… yes. I thought that was an awkward way to start off.
Career-wise I pursued commercial art, assuming the word commercial meant it was art there was actually money in. It was pivotal timing as far as technology goes; with the origination of desktop publishing. I began with ad design and eventually ended up managing the art, layout and development of various magazines and publications. Actually I was using the same graphics software to do those ads with that I now create Wally & Osborne in, only 11 versions later.
Eventually I went the way of freelance, offering both graphics and illustration (the latter being something previously I reserved only for my own projects, under the impression that if I was paid to do it, I would grow to hate it). I believe that's a risk of turning a hobby or love into a 9 to 5.
I don't hate it though… well, only sometimes.
Who are your artistic influences?
Don Martin from Mad Magazine was a big initial influence in creating comics. At twelve years old I mimicked his style for the creation of one of my main comic characters. To this day I love to draw a bony elbow or a pinkie sticking out.
Another big influence and inspiration was Mort Drucker for his wonderful celebrity caricatures, also of Mad Magazine (so we can narrow down a primary factor of my sometimes warped sense of humor). It's an amazing thing to be able to capture the very look and aura of a person with a few lines. Not only are they a fun representation, but by highlighting the identifying features, they can be more recognizable of a person than realistic portraits or even sometimes, photos.
Who are your writing and humor influences?
Well, as far as comic strips go, if you looked on my bookshelf you would see collections of Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County and The Far Side. I love Berke Breathed for his entertainingly-interesting and neurotic characters, Bill Watterson for his sometimes dark but generally light-hearted, innocent humor and Gary Larson for his genuine absurdity.
How did you first get the idea for Wally & Obourne? Antarctica, at first glance, would seem an odd place for humor, but surprisingly fertile in your hands.
Well, I've always loved penguins, they are such entertaining little creatures anyway, a penguin just seemed a perfect character for me. I love polar bears too and thought it would be fun to team them up, which is fun in itself since they are from opposite ends of the globe. I think penguins and polar bears are pretty much universal favorites to begin with.
As far as Antarctica, I didn't want the penguin to have a job and live in the city as portrayed by the average comic penguin, I wanted him to leave him in his native environment and have struggle with some of his actual life activities. So for the two of them to buddy up, Wally needed to be a lost vegetarian who ended up at the opposite pole. I see the Antarctic setting as a unique place with its own strange and extreme living conditions to draw from, as well as being a big white canvas to allow me total freedom to add whatever I want.
With only two main characters, I won't ask who's your favorite character. But do you have a favorite strip? A favorite story arc?
I'm not good with favorites but I'd say one of my classic favorites was this one. It just cracks me up picturing Wally going to town on that door with a snow shovel, yet all you see is the aftermath. That snow shovel has since been repaired and gone on to make many more appearances in the comic. Practically a recurring character.
I think the "Cowboy" storyline was a pretty funny one, but I'd say my all-time favorite is the "Max" one in its entirety,starting with them going BASE jumping and then winding up in an ice cavern where they find and revive a prehistoric penguin frozen in ice. It's fun seeing the new dynamic formed with a third character in the mix (even though he really had no lines), as well as Wally's parenting skills.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from readers of Wally & Osborne?
The feedback has all been really great, supportive and appreciated. I don't think readers really have any idea how much it helps fuel the motivation to do a project like this. A simple "I enjoy your comic" cuts right through to my cold little heart.
You switched the name of the comic from On The Rocks to Wally & Osborne about a year into the project. How did your readers like the name switch? Just as importantly how hard was it to get the rest of the internets to adjust? Did you take a hit on "visibility" on the web through things like search engines and links into the site?
I didn't seem to have any visibility problems, I kept the OnTheRocks.com domain and it mirrors WallyAndOsborne.com so you can still find results for either. Some fans didn't mind, for those that did, there is a theme switcher so they can switch back to the old site theme and logo, and still use the old URL so they wouldn't even know.
Except for one thing, here is the biggest issue, I changed the spelling of the penguin's name from Osbourne to Osborne. Some readers still refuse to spell it the new way. Heh, I made that switch with the domain in mind, since it was shorter, looked cleaner, was easier to remember the spelling of, and was also the more common spelling. I still have to go back and change it in the old comics. The spelling with the "u" seems to be almost exclusive to Ozzy Osbourne and his family, I don't want my penguin to be associated with someone who bites bat heads off, he would never do that, fish yes, krill sure, but not bats.
You also do the art/music blog, RockToons. Which takes more of your time, Rock Toons or Wally and Osbourne? Which is closer to your heart?
Poor RockToons is often neglected — Wally & Osborne definitely gets more "me" time these days. As far as closer to my heart, they each have they're own unique place there. I've done the RockToons project for so many years now it's like family, whereas Wally & Osborne are like the friends I hang out with. So… yeah… I'd take a bullet for either of them.
Can you tell us more about what RockToons is? Is it just your work or does it feature others?
RockToons started with me publishing my cartoon art of rock bands on the web back in 1996. It was my tribute to the music, the one thing I could add to the web while other fan sites were being created that seemed to know everything about the bands including what they had for breakfast. It took off and by 2000 other artists were wanting to contribute to the site as well. It's still running to this day and has featured 25 official artists including webcomic creators J.J. McCullough and Chris Daily as well as hundreds of guest artists.
Why do you suppose so many comics from Wally & Osborne, to Bloom County, to Todd and Penguin have chosen penguins as one of their main characters? Are they just inherently funny birds, or is it the seminal example of Bloom County, or what?
I'm not sure, it could very well be primarily Opus influenced. I wasn't thinking of him at all when I created Osborne, but I can't say for sure that I wasn't unknowingly influenced, previously having been a fan of the comic. The linux penguin undoubtedly adds to the penguin popularity factor on the web as well.
They are a naturally funny bird, but actually, none of those entertaining qualities seem to be used in comic penguins anyway. Even I can't really capture their awkward little waddle within a still frame.
I've also learned a lot about Antarctica and its denizens than I ever thought I'd know, or want to know, quite frankly. (Projectile pooping?) Are you always on the lookout for new facts about Antarctica?
I am. Antarctica is still the most unexplored continent on the planet, and the general public doesn't know much about it. So I like to introduce facts about it in the comic's accompanied blog. I think people for the most part enjoy the extra content as well as getting in some ninja learning, especially us fact-hounding Interweb nerds.
Someone needs to let the population know that there are two arctics and each has it's own set of creatures. No polar bears or walruses in the Antarctic, no penguins in the Arctic (commercials and cartoons will almost always mix them up).
What are your future plans for Wally and Osbourne? Any plans for a print run? Any projects in the offing past W&O?
My future plans for Wally and Osborne is to violently kill them off, hopefully causing children throughout the world to cry many sleepless nights with horrible images of their favorite comic buddies being dismembered in a natural but cruel way. Just because I can. Wait.. no… no I can't. I must remember the words of Uncle Ben, "With great power there comes great responsibility".
Actually, the future plan IS a print collection. Not just a collection though, I've been trying to reinvent the presentation of it, to give the reader something new and beyond just the same strips printed on paper. It is proving a challenge though. I plan for it to feature lots of new content including stuff from the blog taken in a fun direction as well as an all-new short story presented in graphic novel format. I'd like it to be more of an interesting coffee table book than just an archive print collection. I want it to be something anyone could just pick up, flip through, and find lots of fun pictures and various entertainment. Something that might reach beyond an existing online reader base.
Beyond the book, I'd like to take the characters to various forms of storytelling, I see them as characters and not just a strip. There are a couple stories I'd like to tell with them in children's book format. It would of course also be fun to produce an animated short, maybe even a couple fun Flash games. I think the strip would stay the heart of it all though, that's the format that can easily be produced as daily or regular content to the viewer.
As far as projects past Wally & Osborne, I'd like to get back to my graphic novel some time. It's a fantasy epic inspired by The Hobbit, called The Namuian. It was actually getting kind of tedious and not moving fast enough to ever have anything to show for (I was being to much of a perfectionist). I wanted to get a simpler project going that I could start posting on the web immediately, just to get regularly producing something and getting it out there. So in actuality, I started Wally & Osborne to be the fun little break and side project. But within a few months of launching it, I picked up a good amount of regular readers and was contacted by Pearson Education, who now pay me to syndicate it at their own edutainment site, Funbrain.com. So the Namuian will have to sit on the sidelines or become the side project now, because there is no stopping Wally & Osborne.
I've got big plans and surprises in store for 2007.
You've also joined up with several other creators of "all ages" comics to create yet another webcomic collective called Lunchbox Funnies. It looks like Lunnchbox Funnies has a stellar lineup in place with creators like Ryan Estrada, Dave Roman, Dean Trippe, and Ryan Sias. How did this project get started and how long did it take for it to come together for today's launch?
It began with me chatting online with Ryan Sias and Dean Trippe about the idea, they too were interested in the concept. Looking at olde-mails, we've been talking about it since April of 2006.
There seems to be a big emphasis on "all ages" for the comics and creators that are part of Lunchbox Funnies. I think tying the collective to a category like that will be very useful to turning Lunchbox Funnies into a meaningful brand. I saw some explanation of "all ages" on the site – how do you see it and who do you see as the primary audience for these types of comics?
I see all-ages taking just family-friendly a step further. By all-ages, it should be geared to entertain people of any age. I see the primary web audience being the same group as all webcomics, but these are comics you can share with younger siblings, with your kids, with your grandma.
It also looks like you did the website design for Lunchbox Funnies. I have to admit I really like the website design work you've done for your webcomic sites and this one is no exception. The line-up of lunchboxes featuring the comics was a nice touch. Anything else cool about the Lunchbox Funnies website you want to highlight?
Since the site features several webcomics all with their own colors and designs, I tried to come up with something that was fun but would still be neutral and let them stand out.
The coolest thing from the site actually doesn't run on the site, it runs on the member's sites. The link banner. It has the logo at the top, followed by a random lunchbox and URL of one of the members (complete with a flashy shine on hovering) followed by the most recent two news items from the Lunchbox Funnies site. Also it's got transparent backgrounds so it seamlessly blends into the designs of everyone's site quite nicely. All the collectives will be using these new breed of link banners by the end of the year. 😉