No More Words: An interview with the creators of the webcomic Pear Pear
Pear Pear is an innovative, wordless webcomic created by Peter Donahue, Erin Donahue and Sal Crivelli. There is a lot to like from the clean and simple icon-driven website to the intriguing ideograph-in-balloon speech that the characters use. Maybe most impressive of all is the investment of real personality in a pear and a mug. Artist Peter Donahue is the creator of this month's cover art at ComixTalk -- I got a chance to interview all three by email.
What is the creative team behind Pear Pear? And what do each of you do on the comic and website?
peter: Well, my wife Erin and I, along with our friend Sal Crivelli, formed the initial concept. Erin and I maintain the site; she focuses on design and I mainly create the cartoons. As a team we write the comic and develop ideas for where to take it going forward.
erin: Peter's the artist, and I'm more of an idea person :)
Had any of you done work on a comic previously?
sal: I wrote and collaborated with a couple of college buddies on a webcomic series back in '04, called The Four Jackasses of the Apocalypse, which didn't wind up surviving the end of the year. A little before the inception of Pear-Pear, I wound up taking the original idea from the comic, refining it, and creating a hopeful comic book series based off of it (renamed Horsemen). We did a limited run of the first issue, and we're halfway from completing the second.
peter: This is Erin's and my first endeavor on any kind of consistent, sequential graphic story. In many ways it's an experimenting ground.
When did you start pear pear? How did it come about -- were the three of you looking to do a comic together?
peter: Let's see... we started last summer, almost exactly a year ago. August 28 will be our anniversary. It all started at the Macaroni Grill, actually. haha. They have crayons and paper tablecloths for the kiddies.
sal: I remember Peter doodling the beginnings of what would eventually become Pear-Pear, and I immediately pictured this as a comic. I think in my head it was almost a little more guerrilla-style webcomic-ing; I envisioned a daily comic that depicted the remnants of a paper tablecloth with scribblings of anthropomorphic fruit, saying interpretable things to each other, devoid of any true form or function.
peter: Haha. Maybe I'll have to do some strips like that.
When I really think back as to why I was drawing pears on the tablecloth in the first place, I remember that I had been doodling pears and breakfast foods in my New Pathways to Teaching class (a class i had to take once a week to get licensed to teach). Anyway, Sal said that I should put the stuff I was drawing online because it would be more amusing to him than a lot of the webcomics he was currently reading, and we started brainstorming. Erin came up with the name for the site. I'm not really sure where that came from, haha.
erin: I guess I've always been a fan of "cute" things, and the name "pear-pear" just kind of came to me, I guess. I thought it sounded pretty cute. The pear Peter drew was most certainly cute. I think Sal and I "aww"-ed audibly when Peter drew some of the first sketches on that tablecloth.
sal: Peter and Erin really refined the idea into something much more coherent, which I kind of expected. I was knee deep in my own endeavors when Peter and Erin wound up conceiving Pear-Pear, so I knew this could be something creative the two could share together. That's something really special, to me. A creative outlet in a field I really admire, in which the two can express themselves through collaboration. I think my main contribution was adamantly pushing for them to take one of the pictures Peter came up with, buy the domain name, whip up a page in some basic site-builder, and go from there. In a way, I guess my ultimate role in Pear-Pear's history is being the first fan.
peter: So, I can't say we *meant* to create this comic together, it just sort of grew out of that conversation. Anyway, me being the nerd with a masters in English, and a lot of interest in structuralism and the way conventions shape literature, the discussion turned to whether or not we could make an intelligible comic without any words whatsoever.
Who then came up with the pictures-in-word-balloon approach to conveying "speech" from the "characters" -- it's surprising to me how well that works actually.
peter: I have to think...It somehow came out of two things. At the Macaroni Grill we were sort of trying to make each other guess what the characters were saying by putting pictures in the bubbles. I was of course being intentionally obscure at first but the conversation, and the drawing accompanying them, sort of evolved from there to how comics as a medium really does depend on a lot of established visual conventions. It works a lot more now than it did at first. I almost consider the first 6 or 7 comics juvenalia, or whatever.
Anyway, the second source for the idea is probably something more ingrained in me... the very early pear doodles in my New Pathways notebooks were actually not pears but blobby aliens -- shaped sort of like pears that spoke in your stereotypical alien font. I guess I was getting tired trying to take notes on all that educational psych babble, haha, and of course those doodles must be (now that I think about it) influenced by that calvin and hobbes strip -- where this little bean-shaped alien is speaking in alien. So I guess something about the quirky and inventive play with not only the drawing but also the speech in that cartoon and others like it captured me somehow.
erin: We really delight now in listening to different interpretations of a comic. Often there are several interpretations that we hear from friends, family members, or readers, that sort of crystallize into an overall message for a certain comic. I often find an even deeper understanding of what the characters are doing or feeling after discussing the comic with others.
peter: Totally. That's one of the main reasons I do the comic