An Interview with Alice’s Michael McKay-Fleming by Yolanda Janiga

Michael McKay-Fleming is a Canadian comic artist who created the witty PG Web comic Alice! In this inventive comic, Alice and her friend Dot wander through the realities and the hilarities of their lives. McKay-Fleming also creates a number of other webcomics that can be found at his site. In this interview, McKay-Fleming talks about how Alice came about, as well as telling us about a planned adult Alice comic! (no foolin'!)

Comixpedia: Hi Michael.
Michael McKay-Fleming: Hi.

CP: What's your full name?
MMF: Michael McKay-Fleming.

CP: What's your occupation?
MMF: Freelance cartooning and writing.

CP: Are you married? Kids? Pets?
MMF: Married (Kimberly), two kids (Ryan and Rhiannon), one puppy (Chip, a golden retriever I wanted to call Goldmember but I was vetoed).

CP: What’s your favorite color?
MMF: Depends. I like different colors for different reasons and in different situations.

CP: When did you realize you were artistically inclined? What else, if anything, interested you in a career?
MMF: I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist in grade 2 and I haven't really changed my mind. I like writing prose just as much now.

CP: Why webcomics?
MMF: When I started there weren't very many web comics and I thought there'd be a great potential for artistic and financial freedom. Financially, it hasn't been a great success, but artistically I have grown quite a bit.

CP: Alice has been online since '99, but when did you start with webcomics?
MMF: Alice was my first webcomic.

CP: Why a story about a girl and her friend? What brought about this idea for a webcomic?
MMF: Alice was a minor character in another comic I had developed for syndication. It was terrible. But I loved her character. I started sketching out the concept for Alice back in '97 but she didn't fully develop until I decided to try webcomics. Dot came along late in the story.

CP: What was the syndicated comic that Alice was in before Alice? What was the outcome?
MMF: It was called Family Portrait. It wasn't syndicated – sorry for the confusion – I just tried to get it syndicated. It was terrible. Bad artwork, mediocre characters, and lame jokes. It was a learning experience.

CP: What did you love so much about Alice's character that made you create a comic that revolved around her?
MMF: Alice was the one character that seemed full of life. She was an original.

CP: I read that Dot is much like your wife….are you much like Alice? How much of yourself have you put into Alice's character?
MMF: Dot is a compilation of many different people in my life.
She is like my wife in many ways, but she is also me. Am I like Alice? Certainly. Alice represents my creative side. Dot is my serious side.

CP: Are any of your childhood/adolescent experiences displayed through Alice?
MMF: Actually, very little. I can only think of two strips that
I've pulled right from my own life. The first was the Macbeth storyline. I was just as excited as Alice was when we started Shakespeare. I didn't come to school dressed in period costume, though. The other one was the Krazy Karpet strip. I still have a tiny scar where it hit me on the nose.

CP: This is a very PG comic. Some are curious as to why your comic is not syndicated? What was your experience with this?
MMF: I pitched Alice to Universal, United and King. All turned me down. There are a couple strikes against me. One, I don't do gag-a-day very often; two, there are quite a few "little girl" strips out there – nothing like Alice, but that's how syndicates think.

I have played around with the idea of getting Alice into periodicals, but I'm waiting to see if a special print deal with Keenspot goes through first.

Alice wouldn't do well in comic stores, I know that. It needs to reach a more general audience. My other comic Of The Damned (formerly called The Shadows) will be out someday soon as a series of graphic novels.

I have considered making Alice a bit more PG but I know that I have readers as young as 5 (and as old as 88) so I don't want to take it in that direction. I will be putting out an adult Alice comic via Keenspot Premium soon (by adult I mean she's an adult, not like "adult" video stores).

There's also a L'il Alice series for Premium I'm doing with Tariq de Vore of Ban the Basics.

CP: You said that for Alice to do well in comic stores it would need to reach a more general audience. In your experience, what else does a comic need to do well period?
MMF: I'd like to say a good story with good art, but what it really needs is good marketing. Something I'm woefully bad at.

CP: What characteristics would you say a comic needs to be syndicated? What are companies looking for?
MMF: If I knew that I'd be syndicated now. I think they're looking for something unique, but not too unique. They want something that's never been seen before but make it familiar. I'm being facetious but it seems that way sometimes. There are quite a few strips online that should be syndicated but aren't. It's without a doubt the hardest venue to break into, with very little in return.

CP: Out of all your creations, which ones were syndicated? Did any of them meet those characteristics you just mentioned?
MMF: Never been syndicated.

CP: Please explain more about your adult Alice project. What will it entail? (Can we get a sneak preview in words?)
MMF: It's Alice, Dot and Joanne in college. I had wanted to get another artist to do the art chores but couldn't find one. There probably won't be as much emphasis on fantasy as with Alice proper.

CP: For L'il Alice, you said you're doing it with Tariq de Vore of Ban the Basics. Since you've done Alice alone for so long, why are you teaming up now? What will each of you be responsible for?
MMF: Tariq will be handling all the drawing. I'm doing the writing and coloring. One of my favorite events is having guest artists take a turn with my creations. Tariq did a wonderful guest strip and I wanted to see more of his Alice rendition. His artwork fits the mood for the L'il Alice world perfectly. I have a lot of concepts and realistically can't do them all, I need help.

CP: When will L'il Alice and adult Alice be available on Keenspot's Premium?
MMF: L'il Alice will be first – hopefully sometime next month. Tariq has four pages drawn of the first eight page story done. Once he has them all done then I'll upload them. We want a good lead time for the series.

Alice: The Summer Years will appear sometime later in the year – probably the fall.

CP: Is Alice your favorite creation? Do you have any other favorites?
MMF: Alice is probably the character closest to my heart, but I'm very partial to Cree, from Of The Damned, as well. Alice gives me an opportunity to be silly, Cree is my action hero. I don't have to worry about humor with her. Comedy's hard. Ghosts and ghoulies are easy.

CP: When did you decide to do "Annotated Alice!", and why?
MMF: I was having trouble maintaining a regular schedule and one of my readers suggested running re-runs with commentary. Looking back on the old strips is both fun and scary. I think the first few months were badly drawn. It's painful looking at them.

CP: One last question. I read that you like the four panel structure to comics versus the conventional three panels because, and I quote, "the rhythm is more natural with four panels. Ba-ba-ba-bum!" Are you yourself a very structural/analytical person?
MMF: Analytical, yes. Structured, no. I need more structure in my life. I wouldn't have so many hiatuses if I was.

CP: Thanks again, Michael, for all your help. I have really enjoyed learning about you, Alice and Dot. Take care and the best of luck with Alice and your many other creations.
MMF: You’re welcome and thank you.

Yolanda Yvonned Janiga is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.