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Meet Orneryboy: An Interview with Michael Lalonde

Michael Lalonde is the creator of Orneryboy, "a very domestic romantic comedy, set against a backdrop of slapstick horror." If you've never checked out Orneryboy it's a very funny comic focused on the relationship between Orneryboy and Dirtygirl (along with Orneryboy's misadventures with their zombie roommate Brian.)

How much are Orneryboy and Dirtygirl like yourself and your fiancée Jennifer Krebsz? How did you come up with these two characters?

They pretty much ARE us, except that they're exaggerated for comedic effect. I came up with the characters a few years before I started the comic, as caricatures of us both. I used to put them on gifts and greeting cards that I would make for Jen.

A lot of things that the characters do in the strip are taken directly from real life. Jen really does pick up snails and worms off the sidewalk, and I really did cut the door to my office in half so that the cat wouldn't stare at me while I worked. And I really do have bad mood swings.

 

The relationship of the two main characters is really well done - they are both very distinct personalities and yet they do a lot for each other. I was rereading the first 15 comics and I was impressed by how sharply drawn you get the dynamics of this couple down right away. I'm not sure "romantic comedy" is the first word people would use to describe Orneryboy but maybe they should. How important to your view of the comic is writing about Orneyboy and Dirtygirl together?

Thank you! I think the dynamic between Orneryboy and Dirtygirl is the most important aspect of the comic, though sometimes I lose sight of that, and get tied up in meandering storylines about rapping zombies. Writing about Orneryboy and Dirtygirl's relationship isn't hard at all though. The same dynamic exists between Jen and I, and so the characters pretty much write themselves. I draw heavily on our real life conflicts and conversations for my inspiration. I've always thought of Orneryboy as a very domestic romantic comedy, set against a backdrop of slapstick horror. It's a fantasy version of our sterile, suburban existence.

 

Right away though (in comic #18) you introduced Brian the Zombie. Did you have that character planned before you started the comic? Not too much further in to the comic you turned him into a full fledged member of the Orneryboy household and you've wound up featuring Brian quite a bit in the comic - is he your favorite character to write for?

Actually, the zombie in #18 isn't Brian, he just looks way too similar. That was my clumsy way of introducing zombies into the Orneryboy universe.

I knew from the start that I wanted to have zombies in the comic, because I always imagined Orneryboy and Dirtygirl living on top of an old cemetery, where the dead were constantly coming back to life. I didn't really have any plans when I brought Brian in though, he just sort of happened. I don't remember what I was originally going to do with him; probably just kill him off like most of my other characters. But then I guess Dirtygirl took over and adopted him. He is very fun to write, because he occupies a unique place in their family unit; he's like part sibling, part pet, part roommate.

 

What other characters seem to draw the biggest responses from your readers?

The cats, Soya Sauce and Miso. Everyone loves the cats! I realize that bringing one's pets into their comic is hardly original, but considering how much my home life is affected by those two, it was just something I had to do. They're an important part of the dynamic around here. Sometimes they're cute, sometimes I absolutely hate them. And since the comic is where I vent all of my negativity, I just had to bring them into the comic.

 

What individual comics have drawn the biggest reactions? I've seen people point to this one where Dirtygirl flashes Orneryboy to turn the tables in a videogame as one that got them hooked.

I try to avoid reading about what strips people like and don't like, because I find that it gets inside my head and starts affecting the direction I take with the comic, and I hate when that happens.

But I have seen a few people cite the strip you mentioned. I think the strip I see cited most often is the one in which Orneryboy threatens to write about the record store clerk in his online journal. I've seen the last panel from that strip used as peoples' user icons quite a few times.

 

How do you create the art for Orneryboy? In terms of the visuals who are your influences?

I create the art for Orneryboy by drawing directly in Macromedia Flash using a Wacom tablet. I just start drawing stuff, and then refine, refine, refine. I spend a lot of time getting the individual body parts, scenery and props to look exactly the way I want them to, because I reuse them over and over again.

When I create a new strip, it's a matter of finding the pieces I need from among the thousands I have in my library, dragging them all onto the stage and posing them how I want them, then adding the dialogue. You'd think that this method would save me a lot of time, but it doesn't, because I get really picky about where everything should go. The whole process is about as far removed from art as you can get, but I don't really care because I'm not out to prove to people that I can draw. I'm just getting my own creative rocks off, and trying to amuse others in the process.

In terms of the visuals, I think there's a definite anime influence in my work, but beyond that, I can't really cite any artists in particular. I think most of my influence just comes from the work I do for a living, which is creating online games for kids. I've been designing for the web for so many years now that it's resulted in a very economical approach to creating my visuals, as a result of always having to be mindful of the constraints of deadlines and budgets.

Also, I should mention that originally I envisioned Orneryboy as being a series of animated shorts, hence the reason why I designed the visuals so that they could easily be repurposed for this.

 

What got you into comics? Were you working on comics projects before you started Orneryboy?

It's funny, because I've never really thought of myself as being "into" comics, because I'm not really into comics as a culture and a lifestyle.I don't go to comic conventions or hang out with comic artists, and I don't really read or collect comics, or even know what's going on in the comics world.

But I'm definitely into comics as a creative medium, because I've always just liked telling stories using a combination of pictures and text. It all started when I was a kid. I used to read all the comics in the newspaper, and I had piles of old 1950's era Peanuts books that my mom bought me at garage sales. My parents even enrolled me in a weekend cartooning class at the local art centre. I used to doodle all over my classmates' books in school, and anytime I could incorporate comics into my school projects, I would. But the only comic BOOKS I ever got into were The Punisher, Akira, and Sandman. Beyond that, I guess I just never really got into them.

Before Orneryboy, I wasn't working on any comics projects, nor did I even intend to. I just wanted a website of my own where I could do something creative, because I needed an escape from my web design job at the time. Like I said earlier, originally I wanted to create Orneryboy animated shorts, but I just didn't have the time for such an undertaking. Then I discovered John Allison's webcomic Bobbins, and that's when I started thinking about turning it into a comic.

 

You do the design work for your fiancée Jennifer Krebsz's t-shirt company Sick On Sin. Do you enjoy that work on its own merits or is it simply a way for you to make some money related to your Orneyboy webcomic?

Yeah, I love doing the design work for Sick On Sin! I've always joked that I suffer from the Curse of Cute, because I have all these really dark ideas, yet everything I draw comes out cute. So doing the designs for Sick On Sin allows me to embrace that.

Plus, it's a lot fun working on a creative project with the one you love; it's like having a baby together, except that it doesn't produce a howling bag of meat. It's a great partnership, because it allows us each to focus on what we're best at. Jen's always wanted to have her own store, but she's never been that much of an artist. And I tried to have my own Orneryboy store a few years ago, but it ended up being a huge disaster because I couldn't deal with the pressure. So I help Jen out in a creative and technical capacity, and she handles everything else. She comes up with all the design ideas, and I simply produce them for her. I also designed and maintain her website, and helped to create her branding. And in return, Jen carries my Orneryboy merchandise, prints up the shirts, and handles all order fulfillment.

For me, the Orneryboy merchandise exists mostly just to fulfill whatever demand there is for it. I don't place too much emphasis on it, because I don't want it to overshadow the comic. For now, I just create shirts that I myself would want to wear, and luckily for me, other people out there happen to like them too.

Making more money from Orneryboy merchandise would be nice, but I'm not sure I'd ever want Orneryboy to become my job, because then I'd have to start worrying about maintaining my audience, and that would affect my whole creative process. I already have a job I love, so I'm fine with Orneryboy simply being my hobby.

 

Your website has always impressed me (I especially love the little details like the "taped on" navigation buttons). How did you build your website and what kind of trade-offs did you make in deciding on the final design?

Thanks a lot! I've always put a lot of effort into my website design, because of my background in new media. In the past, I built my entire website in Flash because it was the only way I knew how to do what I needed to do. But for the most recent version, I used Ashton Cummings' Comikaze Comic Manager. I wanted a system that would automate many of the more tedious tasks that come with publishing a webcomic, and Comikaze was the most elegant solution.

In terms of the design itself, I've always stuck with the cut and paste, "taped on" aesthetic just because I just like the way it breaks out of the rectangles and right angles more commonly found in websites. Plus I just love halftone dot patterns and torn edges. As far as the elements of the site layout, I just tried to make it as clean and navigable as possible despite its visual appearance. I also tried to make sure that elements like the RSS Feed, LJ Feed, and Hate Mail List were featured prominently; Because I tend to update sporadically and go on unexpected hiatuses from time to time, it's in my readers' best interest to stay notified. ;)