An Interview with Sexy Losers’ Hard Artist

Hard Artist of Sexy Losers may make his comics in Japan, but he’s a Canadian. That’s right, he’s from the East Coast, and studied in Waterloo, Ontario for a degree in psychology. Unable to find a job in the field, despite a published thesis, he made his way to Japan, where he puts his comic together.

Comixpedia: How did you end up in Japan?
Hard Artist: I came over on the JET program in 1999. I quit last year, and work in a private school near Tokyo.

CP: How have you found living in Japan?
HA: I never knew what racism felt like until I got here. People will say that learning Japanese will help you combat racism. It doesn’t. You can speak Japanese to someone, and they’ll think you’re speaking English to them. You can have an entire conversation in Japanese, and they’ll walk away thinking they’ve had English conversation practice.

CP: Why did you decide to stay in Japan?
HA: Well, I felt I had a lot to learn here. I don’t mind being anything difficult as long as it’s a learning experience.

Plus, as a comic artist, Japan really has the coolest comic-making supplies.

CP: What can you get there that you can’t here in North America?
HA: Comic paper, pens, nibs, markers, tones… oh my GOD, the TONES. And you don’t need to go far to get them.

CP: How has having all of that affected what you do with your comic?
HA: Well, that’s a good question. It’s great having good materials, but people make comics on printer paper. But I’m a gear nut. And these stores really cater to that. For example, the strip is done on paper with blue rules that mark off 4 panels in the Japanese tradition. I don’t *need* that… but it makes me feel less of a hack.

CP: What do you think of the comics that are less traditional in form?
HA: All that really matters is good writing and art that moves the writing along.

CP: So you’re no Manga purist?
HA: No. No, no, no. Who cares about the style when you have engaging writing?

CP: What do you think about the Manga scene online?
HA: There are some comics that are really excellent and use the Manga style to their advantage. There are others that use it as a noose to hang themselves. Take Tsunami Channel for example. That’s a really well-done comic. Fantastic artwork, writing and pacing that engages you, and uses all the familiar manga trademarks sparingly and in all the right places. Then there are comics that go completely overboard, try to mimic the Manga style so bad and forget about making an engaging story. It becomes a bad copy of Manga.

CP: So what do you think doing Manga-style comics online should be about?
HA: It should be about story first. Story, story, story. Then characters. Interesting characters, not carbon copies of your favorite anime characters. If you have a good story and interesting original characters, you will have the beginnings of a great comic.

CP: Do you think you can overuse the elements of traditional manga?
HA: YES. And it’s been proven too. Though I’m too much of a gentleman to name names, but we all know of a few.

CP: What about your comic? Where do you think you fit in the world of online Manga?
HA: I don’t know if I really do. I’ve tried very hard not to classify my own work as Manga, because I’m afraid that would pigeonhole people’s expectations of my work. When people think Manga, they think of the popular titles — Love Hina, Ah My Goddess!, Shirow, etc… and expect it to be somewhat of a copy. In fact, people who do Manga-style get the reputation of not being original. So I label my work as a comic, because it is a comic, though it has its Japanese comic influences. It’s influenced by the Japanese yonkoma manga, which is four panels vertically on the page. It’s also influenced by Japanese adult humour comics. When I read Heartbroken Angels by Kikuni Masahiko, I wondered to myself why comics in America didn’t do clever adult humour like that.

CP: Why did you choose the subject matter you did for Sexy Losers?
HA: American adult humour comics are generally, well, Playboy-type things that don’t make you think. I thought it would be interesting to do an adult humour comic, that like the Japanese version, would actually make you think a little. Well, not that I think my comics are "brilliant" or anything, but I think they’re a little more sophisticated than things you see on bathroom walls.

CP: What kind of response do you get to your comic?
HA: That’s a good question. I don’t receive hate mail. Generally all responses are positive. I have over a half-million unique visitors a month, which is pretty good, considering my update schedule. I’m glad people like it, because Sexy Losers is the kind of comic that I would want to read. I remember how excited I would get when I picked up a new copy of Pulp, wanting to see the latest Heartbroken Angels. So at that point, I thought there was a niche that I could get into. And I’m glad it’s got a niche, and now there are a number of gag adult strips out there.

CP: What would you like to see online with all the Manga-style comics (because there are a ton out there)?
HA: I’d like to see the following:
1) a comic that has a solid story as its foundation, one that has the FEELING of it being thought out beforehand. And one that gets updated regularly. Like Saturnalia.

2) A comic that hasn’t killed itself off from overplanning. You know the ones – the ones that have this huge story planned, a few character designs and that’s it. No comic, except for a title page. If you’re not drawing comics, you’re not a comic artist. Stop promising and start delivering.

3) DON’T COPY YOUR FAVORITE WEBCOMIC!!! Do we really need another PvP, Penny Arcade, MegaTokyo, College Roomies, etc?

4) Putting Japanese in your primarily English comic does not make it any more authentic. Those of us that read Japanese will just shake our heads.

5) Do it for fun. Don’t do it for popularity, for hits, for PayPal, etc, because you’re going to be disappointed. If you do it for yourself, for fun, you’ll have a great experience. I am not a real comic artist. My day job is unrelated. I do the comic totally for fun and enjoy the process.

There’s a feeling that anyone who puts up a comic on the internet becomes an Automatic Professional Comic Artist. The truth is, anyone can put up a web site, and anyone can make a comic.

CP: What do you think about Keenspace and the plethora of half-started comics in general?
HA: Don’t get into this stuff. Just get online, enjoy making some comics, make some friends, because unless you’re PvP or Penny Arcade, you’re not going to make professional money off your webcomic. And the web can only support so many PvPs and Penny Arcades.

So do what you can and enjoy doing it.

Keenspace… now there’s a question. Sometimes when I go to update my comic, I find myself in a waiting line of over a thousand comics.

CP: Did you lose anything in the big crash?
HA: No, but then, since i generate my own HTML locally and keep ALL my raw files and stuff, there’s no cause for worry. Getting back to the Keenspace problem, what happens are people get into webcomics thinking that they’ll become a MegaTokyo overnight. Fred Gallagher’s put a lot into his work. He’s been at it for years. So have I. And you always start out with nothing. Then you have to work hard. You gotta build up an archive. You have to entice readers. You gotta wait for people to link you and word of mouth to spread. This takes time. A lot of people don’t have this kind of patience, which is why you see a lot of half done comics. That, and they don’t think their idea through well enough, and they lose interest in it.

CP: Do you think your warning on your main page stops the people who might write to you with hate mail?
HA: I never get hate mail. In fact, if anything, it’s the people who like the comic that are the problem. ^o^ That page is there so that people who would have been hesitant to link to the site before can link to it. Before, linking to the main page was a grab bag… one didn’t know WHAT would show up. I just get weird stuff. Like internet stalkers. People who want to be your friend. I had one person break into my E-mail account to tell me he loved my comic. I no longer have a public AIM because people would message me and say "Hi." and nothing else. I’ve also had lots of bandwidth troubles because people who liked a particular strip would post it on BBSes, and there were scripts that plucked my artwork off the sites and made it the content of OTHER sites. Popularity is not that wonderful. I don’t understand why people want it so bad.
Well, that’s not true. Being in my position, I would think that. If I was not very popular, I would think differently.

CP: The grass is always greener… What adult gag strips do you read online?
HA: To be honest, I don’t read many comics online. That’s my little secret.

CP: But you seem aware of the existence of many?
HA: Yes, I scan them. Update times vary so often, it’s hard to keep track. What I usually do is read a bunch of pages at a time, and forget it. Then after a while, come back and read some more. My index page is also my bookmark page for comics. Most of the ones I read are in there. My favorite all time comic is JERK CITY. Online comics just do not get better than that. Whoever thought gay chat humour would be so entertaining every day for over 5 years??? The problem is with most comics is that they read so much better collected. So I tend not to wait for an update, I’d rather read a bunch at a time.

My comic suffers from that too. People often say, "Your comic isn’t as funny as it used to be." and I know why. If you first read a comic, you get a few hours of belly aches as you go through the archives. If you wait for an update, there is no way you can match the cumulative effect you had before. Bloom County, Far Side… you can’t put it down, you want to read what’s next. But read per update, well, that has a totally different effect.