One of the most popular comics these days is a webcomic called Applegeeks by Mohammad F. Haque and Ananth Panagariya, which has, among other things, a female robot named Eve (who destroys alternative/inferior OS) and a main character who talks to squirrels. Graced with beautiful art and excellent writing, it's an example of collaboration at its finest. The two creators were kind enough to grant us an interview.
How'd you two meet? And what made you decide to do a comic together?
Ananth: We met in a beginner-level drawing class. I noticed Hawk's portfolio — it had a big picture of the Hulk – – and we got to talking. Somehow webcomics came up – – I think we more or less tentatively decided to start a webcomic together in the same conversation. Both of us had worked on previous webcomics projects, so we had some minimal idea of what to expect coming into it.
Tell us a little about your backgrounds.
Ananth: My parents are from India — I was born and raised in Maryland, in the D.C. area. I spent middle school and high school in math/science/computer science programs, but I was always privately drawing and writing in my spare time – and often times when I probably should have been relegating time to schoolwork. Graphic novels have always been a passion of mine, but I also do a lot of straight fiction writing. Whether it be graphic novels, written word, or any other medium, though, at the heart of it I can say that I've always had a strong attachment to story-telling.
Hawk: There's not much to say about myself. I was born in Washington D.C and raised in Maryland. I'm pretty quiet in real life. When it comes to drawing, digital coloring, I basically taught myself everything. I taught myself how to draw by collecting American comic books. I remember trying to draw the Ninja Turtles back in grade school because my brother gave me my first comic book, which was a Ninja Turtle comic.
One of the first things that strikes anyone seeing your comic is the excellent art, and its use of filters and effects. Hawk, who are your artistic influences?
Hawk: Filters? I stay away from filters. All of the effects in the comics are done by regular photoshop brushes. You can do a lot by playing with the layer blending modes and the airbrush. My artistic influences are basically comic book artists like Jim Lee and Skottie Young.
Ananth, who are your storytelling/writing/humor influences? (Hawk, if you contribute to the plotting, feel free to chime in.)
Ananth: I'm not certain who I could cite as humor influences … my high school crew, the FNoP, surely contributed a lot, and of course whatever silly stuff happens in everyday life. As far as the humor based comics that I like, I'd have to say Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes, and Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest. Also, Brian O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is something that makes me grin very wide and occasionally laugh out loud. Applegeeks' sense of humor is completely different, though – go figure!
In terms of storytelling, for comics, I tend to try to read and absorb as much as possible. I'd have to say that very few of my actual influences are webcomics, though. I've read (in no particular order) Scott Pilgrim, Lost at
Sea, Bone, Craig Thompson's Blankets, Scott Morse's Soul Wind, Daisy Kutter , Demo, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, The Last Man, Fables … the list goes on and on, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some important ones. As far as "typical" comics go, I don't tend to read a lot of superhero books anymore – definitely not as many as I used to when I was younger. If there IS one character that's stuck with me, it'd be Batman – – simply because there are a lot of "alternate" Batman stories that explore the nuances of the character by taking him out of his standard setting. I was also very enamored with a series called CreeD when I was younger, but it's since been discontinued. It doesn't seem like Applegeeks could possibly be directly influenced by any of these, of course, but when doing major plotting for AG, I try to remember a few lessons I gleaned while reading items in the list above. Hawk and I have also begun working on some side projects with a more serious tone, and I feel that I'm more suited to those sorts of stories.
For straight fiction, I'd cite a lot of magical realism authors and books – especially Isabel Allende's House of Spirits and Garcia-Marquez' short story, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.
And that answer was waaay too long. Sorry.
Hawk: Ananth talks too much 😛
How do you work together? Does Ananth send a script, or a storyboard, or does Hawk do the art and Ananth add the words afterwards, or what?
Ananth: Back when we started, we would script and storyboard almost simultaneously (in class, more often than not). Nowadays we understand how each other works, so I just send Hawk a script, and if a layout explanation is easier with a storyboard, then I send that along as well. All visual work, down to the word bubbles, is done by Hawk.
Hawk: Sometime I like to add a few ideas when I draw the comic. For example, the squirrel was never written in the script for Issue 45. It was something I just drew in for the hell of it. For some reason it became a huge hit, so we decided to keep the squirrel.
I know Ananth ISN'T in the comic, and I assume Hawk is an exagerrated version of you, Hawk….what about the other characters? Are any of them based on real people? (I assume Eve the robot isn't, but I'd be delighted for you to tell me different…and I HOPE the real Hawk isn't talking to squirrels…)
Ananth: Hah, we get this question a lot, and I usually end up disappointing people when I say that the rest of the cast is purely fictional. The situations and events that occur are often based on real life, but that's as close as it goes. Alice, Jayce and Gina are characters I'd used on many an occasion before Applegeeks, and as I was somewhat comfortable writing them, it seemed a natural decision to use them here.
The real Hawk does talk to squirrels. He talks to a lot of things that aren't there … it takes some getting used to.
Hawk: It's always the quiet ones you have to look out for…
Turning Hawk's hunger during Ramadan into a running joke is a refreshingly normal/funny look at a character who's religious. There are so many Islamic stereotypes these days…thanks for breaking the mold. (Before that sequence, I would have thought the cartoon Hawk worshipped Steve Jobs.) Did you get any negative feedback on that, in these paranoid days after 9-11—from anyone?
Ananth: I don't think we got any negative e-mails, surprisingly. We did get a lot of e-mails from readers thanking us for broaching a subject that gets neglected. It's one of the few topics that makes me wish I had written myself in – there's a whole wealth of material that I could have tapped if there was an Indian character as well. As it stands, I'm saving that material for some other upcoming projects.
Hawk: Nope, we didn't get any negative emails. Everyone was very supportive.
Why did you decide to do this on the web? What other webcomics do you admire?
Ananth: We think the web is a great place for this sort of comic strip – it gives our audience a direct, conventient line to us. I read Penny Arcade, VGCats, and Sinfest regularly. I check a whole host of other comics 3-4 times a month.
Hawk: Not to mention it's free. Well I guess it's not free, since we have to pay for the server. But it's better than paying a publisher and hoping it will sell. Since we have the comics on the web, we have a better understanding if we can make the comics into a book.
So, who's your FAVORITE of the characters in the strip? Jayce? Alice? Gina? Eve?
Ananth: Alice. I've got plans to develop the other characters further, but at the moment Alice is the most tangible, interesting one to me.
Hawk: Alice, Eve, and Gina. I like girls. =)
What are your plans for Applegeeks? Do you have any other projects lined up?
Ananth: We plan to do it for as long as we feel reasonable – which means a few more years, I suspect. As for side projects, we always have side projects… we just completed Seven, a 9-page short for the robot-themed Disposable Parts Anthology. We're working on a new project called Neomera– – I'm still in the act of planning it out, but it's basically about pirates. That one is going to be a short as well… we've got tentative plans to open a site that will contain 8-10 page shorts, where Hawk will try new styles, and where I can flex and tone my story-telling muscles.
Al Schroeder is Interview Editor for Comixpedia. His webcomic is Mindmistress.