Al Schroeder interviews Steven Charles Manales, the creator of Superslackers, the winner of last year's Ignatz award for webcomics.
Not your typical superhero saga, the offbeat Superslackers comic is filled with delightfully odd superheroes such as Invisible Right Leg Lad, Ghoulfriend and The Wafter.
Tell us a little about yourself.
First, I was born, which goes without saying. But even in the hospital the day I arrived, I knew I was different from the other kids. I was a rabbit in a human world. Or whatever.
When I was a little older, I went to art school, dropped out, worked in advertising, then quit to do freelance ad work; Comic art in print ads, mini-comics, storyboards, some website art. (Cheestrings.ca features a lot of early work. I did that work in, like, 1995. How is that site still up?)
Now I do regular comics in YTV Whoa! Magazine, Chickadee Magazine, Canada's largest newspaper – The Toronto Star, textbook illustrations for Thomson Nelson, and lots of freelance work for advertisers and board artists.
And, like everybody else in the world, I have art shows and sing in a goofy band just to meet pretty groupies. And by pretty I mean 'fictional'.
What superheroes were your favorites as a kid?
Robin, Spider-Man, The Flash, The Human Torch, Iron Man, Ant-Man. It was only years later I realized that my love of superheroes was primarily just about my love of the color red.
Wearing a mask always appealed to me, and I just liked anything that was red. I almost became a firefighter/arsonist.
My favorite super-hero comics now are probably old wonky but heavy Golden Age stories, Lee and Ditko's wonky but breezy Spider-Man books, or, for completely opposite reasons, Lee and Buscema's corny but faux-heavy old Silver Surfer comics. Kirby's [Fantastic Four is] good.
Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru's brilliant and hilarious Metal Men comics are probably tied with the Ditko Spidey stories as my favorites.
I also love anything that has Jimmy Olsen being forced to marry a gorilla on the cover.
Where did the idea for Superslackers come from? What was the genesis of the individual team members?
Hrm. Well, it was all pretty hastily thrown together. I met an editor who told me to put together a pitch if to get a regular weekend strip in The Toronto Star's kids supplement called "Brand New Planet". I went home and wrote up a few ideas, and the one that they liked was Superslackers.
At the time I wished I had more than a couple days to whip up characters, names and costumes, but I've let the strip evolve so much over the last year that I'm happy with most of them now. A couple were old one-panel gag characters (I.R.L.L and the seldom used Draculad) that I had doodled in sketchbooks, but most were just invented on the fly. Unsurprisingly, a couple of them are based on people I know.
You're a talented cartoonist, and your coloring is excellent. What artists influenced you most?
Talented? I think the more accurate term is "marginal". I'll also accept "Bazooka Joe-esque". I'm not sure if any or all of these artists influences show in my drawings, but my big heroes are Charles Schulz (well, okay–THAT influence shows), Dan DeCarlo, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.
More recently, I study Mike Allred, Paul Pope, Jay Stephens, Bryan O'Malley, Darwyn Cooke. (By study I mean 'read comics drawn by these guys when I'm on the can'.)
What writers or sources of humor influenced you most?
Gee. Hrm.. I'll say Bugs Bunny cartoons and Keith Giffen's old Ambush Bug comic books for DC. Metal Men and Metamorpho comics. Douglas Adams maybe? Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes… I do also apologetically love 'lame' humour comics, like the aforementioned Bazooka Joe and Archie strips – comics that you don't necessarily laugh at when reading 'em, but they're kind of nice additions to your day.
Dang. Now I'm being earnest. Weird.
What made you decide to put it on the web?
Well. Actually I just had requests to put it on the web. I was floored when I was nominated for an Ignatz Award last year for best webcomic!
My comics really are designed to be stupid fun for kids. I never expected any adults to get any enjoyment out of 'em, but I'm pleasantly surprised that some do.
Then again, I guiltily laugh at my own funny drawings sometimes. Sometimes I'll do a drawing that's so bad it's good. Then I have to decide if I leave it because it's funny — and let everybody think I suck as an artist, or redraw it, which means re-doing something.
And nobody likes re-doing stuff. Ummm… Unless Jessica Alba's involved, I guess.
What the most satisfying—and the most frustrating–things about putting a comic on the web?
It's free to view! That's the coolest! I can't think of a bad thing about it, other than it being disappointing when I can't find the time to get it updated on time every Monday.
Do you read other webcomics? If so, which ones do you admire?
The Perry Bible Fellowship. I've laughed out loud at so many of those strips it's crazy. Nicholas Gurewitch is a mad genius. He actually deserved and won the Ignatz Award for best Webcomic this year.
The D&D/Warcraft nerd in me likes Brian McLachlan's all-ages Princess Planet, too. Nerdy and silly and sooo fun.
Who's your favorite in the cast? (Personally, I like Ghoulfriend.) Which is your favorite strip?
My favorite strip? Hrm. I like a couple. Any strip that revolves around money I think is funny. Money and food are my crutches.
I'm unfortunately like 'Weird' Al Yankovic in that regard. Sticky begging is funny (#94) and Cap'n Rapt'r at the bank (#86) is funny. I like the drawings in this week's a lot. I'm getting looser. I'm almost happy with where I am, drawing-wise. I think the early laboured-over ones are hard to look at now. Sadly, most people like the old ones better. That's life! If you can call this a life.
Characters? I dunno. Ghoulfriend is fun. Visible Right Leg Lad is new and I'm kind of enjoying him. I like drawing Sticky The Stickboy and The Wafter's head the most.
I think Tik-Talk is pretty funny. A kid named Anthony Ludlow invented him.
We had a contest in the paper that involved kids inventing and then sending a description of their own superheroes. I got to pick the winner. His description was " a robot clock with a cape" who is "the master of daylight-savings time" I guess that means he can spring forward one hour or fall-back one hour in time.
How could I not pick him?
The Clash was another kid-submission I never used. His color sense was so bad that even the least fashion-conscious criminals would collapse in revulsion upon seeing his horrible idea of color-coordination.
Truthfully, 9 year old Amy Tran's 'Little Candy Dude' almost won. An intelligent baby with lollipops for hair, chocolate-covered pretzels for feet, and deadly "sugar dust" that criminals can't help but slip on, Little Candy Dude had the ability to shoot scalding hot hot chocolate from his eyes.
I really wanted to do a strip about him only being able to find work at the Winter Fair with a row of kids just standing in a line to get their hot chocolate from his eyes. Hideous.
Future plans both for Superslackers and other projects? What can you tell us?
I'll look to collect Superslackers this summer. It goes on hiatus for the month of July and I'll have enough strips then that I can shop it to a publisher. I haven't really put together any pitches involving the characters in any other media yet. We'll see.
I've got a few other ideas in mind, and maybe some more conventional super-hero writing work up ahead that will keep me busy the next little while.
I'm working on a children's book this year, and hope to head down that road in the next couple years in addition to doing comics.
Then, theoretically, I'll have built up a nice nest egg to settle down with whatever groupie the rest of the goofy band says I can have.
Or maybe I'll just join the fire department/burn it down.