iWebcomic: Talking with PC Weenies Creator Krishna Sadasivam
Krishna Sadasivam is the creator of the long-running tech-focused humor comic, PC Weenies. Sadasivam has been publishing his comic to the web for almost nine years and I caught up with him recently via email to talk about PC Weenies and his new comic Uncubed.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you now; where are you from?
I'm a married 35 year young guy living in Tampa, FL. I teach media arts, web design and animation courses at the Art Institute of Tampa and freelance as a cartoonist/illustrator/hero-for-hire when I'm not teaching. I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada - and have lived in the states since I was seven years old.
A Canadian eh? Just curious, was it a big change when you moved? My daughter is six and while I'm sure she'd adapt if we moved, I can tell she'd be very aware of it and probably miss her friends a lot.
Moving from Canada was a big change for me - it was my first move and wasn't quite sure what was waiting for us on the other side. Over time I began to adapt, but it wasn't easy being the only Indian kid in school back in the day. Due to my father's job transfers, we moved around a lot within the states. I've practically lived in just about every state in the North Eastern US growing up. I definitely know what its like to be "the new kid".
I saw from your bio page that you really know what you write about in the PC Weenies - you have engineering degrees and worked in chip design before deciding to pursue art. How much do you think that experience helps you create the PC Weenies? When did you come up with the idea for the comic? You have been posting it online for almost nine years now (if I can count!) - since October 1998. Is it still fresh for you and do you enjoy creating it?
I think the experience of working as an engineer and systems administrator gives me additional insight into the mindset of what it's really like to be in the trenches. That authenticity is what I strive to put into my comics.
The idea for the PC Weenies came about during my stint as an ASIC design engineer. I was constantly surrounded by fellow techies - techies who said funny things that made me laugh. I felt the urge to create a comic about these anecdotes, and would post them on my cubicle for all passerbys to see.
Back in the day, I wasn't really aware of any other "webcomic" and posted my first 'toon online as something of a lark. I honestly didn't think much about it - until I received an e-mail from a reader who enjoyed the comic and wanted to know when the next one would come out. So.... starting with an audience of one, zero knowledge in HTML and Photoshop, I started down the road of creating webcomics. And gradually that audience number grew... Everything I've learned to this point has largely been through study, with a lot of trial and error thrown in for good measure.
Anyone can write a 'computer/geek comic' and certainly dozens (if not hundreds) already exist on the web. But engineers, developers and IT folks are a very picky lot - they demand a certain level of sophistication in their humor that goes way beyond the conventional "CD ROM cupholder" gag. I try to create comics that they would appreciate and enjoy.
The comic is still fresh to me, as the landscape of technology is always ever-changing. And, I love drawing Bob. :)
That's funny. In my now distant webcomic creating days I first started posting comics from a comic strip I did in school on a Geocities site not really knowing much about the web or webcomics. At some point I started finding lots of other people online. What about you - do you remember early webcomics and creators you discovered online?
I think one of the first webcomics I stumbled upon was User Friendly - a few months later I discovered other strips like PvP and Penny Arcade. What I remember the most about that early experience was "Wow! There are other people creating their own comics on the web!" I'd love to pick their brains and chat about webcomics with them at some point.
For a long, long time, I harbored this feeling that I'm toiling all alone on the webcomic front, with nobody to really shoot the breeze on webcomics and the like. Thankfully, that's changed in recent months thanks to Tauhid Bondia (Good Ship Chronicles), Scott Gallatin and JT Shea (NightGig / The GigCast) They've coaxed me out of my shell and I keep in touch with them quite regularly. Camaraderie is something I've always yearned for as a webcartoonist, and now that I have some good friends to chew the fat with and bounce ideas with - it's great!
How hard-core do you think your audience is? I think most of the gags are aimed at at least moderately informed person but some of them really do seem to require knowing your WiFi from your Windows.
That's a good question. Many of the e-mails I get are from people who work in IT, software development or engineering. I conducted a survey a while back and the percentages showed that over 60% of my readers are in one of the above professions. When a joke is a bit 'hard core' I supplement the comic with a blog post relating to the topic at hand.
You often go for very topical gags - I suppose that's one of the benefits of the web. How hard is it to come up with a good comic on extremely short notice?
It depends. Just like any creative effort, sometimes it's very easy, other times it can be just the opposite. I try not to 'force' the comic - in that, if something isn't working, for whatever reason, I leave it and move to something else. I read lots of articles relating to technology and geek culture and take notes to jog my brain into coming up with ideas. These days, many PCW readers are quick to send along ideas my
way - which I'm very appreciative of.
Bob is your primary character for the strip but you do seem to tweak him a bit to fit various situations and gags. What's consistent about him that makes him "Bob"?
Bob is your atypical protagonist. He's short, fat, bald, and wears exceptionally thick glasses - and he's a smart and crafty little dude. He's your geek 'everyman' - a foil that people who read the strip can (hopefully) relate to.
You've also recently started a "journal" comic called Uncubed. Why start a new comic?
Over the last year, I really started to feel the burning desire to start something new. Writing a single panel comic is difficult - and in some ways, more confining. Uncubed is really a metaphor for me exploring comics beyond the confines of the 'cube' or square panel that my readers are already familiar with. Writing and drawing Uncubed gives me the creative outlet to go in directions I never could with the PC Weenies.
That's not to say that I'll never explore a narrative PC Weenies 'toon - it's just that I wanted to do something completely different.
And -yes- it's a blast!
I really should ask about the one panel versus multi-panel format. PC Weenies really is one of the few one panel comics I've read that isn't trying to be The Far Side. Why did go with one-panel for the comic and why do you keep using it?
Thanks. While I'm very respectful and a humble fan of Gary Larson's work, I don't want to be another "Far Side" clone. The reason for choosing the one-panel format is brevity. Working in the one panel format forces me to boil my visuals and words into the tightest possible combination. I mean, a 'toon will hit or miss on one panel - because that's all you have. It's like walking a tight rope over a field of razorblades. I like that challenge, and now, after all these years, I've grown quite accustomed to it.
Scattered throughout the PCW archives are a few multi-panel toons - at one point, I was testing the waters to see how the PCW would fare as a narrative-type comic. It felt forced, and after a few strips, I reverted back to the single panel format. You may have noticed lately that I'm slowly trying out split panel comics with the PCW. Think of it is 'testing the waters'...
You also do non-comics art work. What other projects, professional or otherwise, are you working on these days?
I work with clients large and small, on a freelance basis. My most prominent client is Microsoft, which I worked with on an avatar design project last year. Most recently, I worked with EDMC Online on a series of illustrations and how-tos for an Advanced Ink and Paint online course.
I've also designed iTunes album art, logos and other branding for a few prominent podcasters/writers in the tech arena.
You seem to have experimented with many business tactics in conjunction with PC Weenies. Ads, auctioning off guest spots in the comic to fans. What's worked best and is PC Weenies part of how you make a living these days?
The guest-star spots have worked out really well for me, more so than advertising or other means. It's a unique service that helps me connect with my readers in a way that other comics don't. I think the single-panel format lends itself quite nicely for this type of service.
Recently, I've added a poster option to the list of services, whereby readers can have their toon blown-up to an 18" x 24" canvas. I've
also started making prints of each 'toon available for a nominal charge. These are used by folks for their presentations / newsletters. It's a service I plan on expanding in the near future.
While the BIG dream is to have the 'toon sustain my family completely, as of right now I receive enough to buy a few weeks' grocery and the occasional hardware product each month.
After nine years of webcomics, any advice for aspiring new creators just starting out?
It's been echoed on Comixtalk by wiser folks than myself, but the main crux of my advice is to draw, draw, draw and hit your deadlines consistently. Don't worry if you can't draw well in the beginning. Take classes, get books on the subject, and keep your work in sketchbooks. You'll be amazed to see how your constant dedication to your craft will transform your art - especially if you keep your work together in sketchbooks. I still have all of mine, and it's quite interesting to look back and see how I've progressed since the beginning.
When I first started the PCW, I knew next to nothing about Photoshop - and very little about HTML. I scraped by and learned everything the hard way. Nowadays there are tons of books, online tutorials, and even podcasts (Webcomics Weekly is a great one!) that discuss all these aspects. Absorb all these resources - and don't be afraid to ask questions if you'd like more clarification on how to do something. Chances are, someone else has the same question, and even better yet - it's covered in a tutorial somewhere. Webcartoonists are a busy lot, so make sure you do your research before asking.
Who are your influences on your art and on your comics generally?
I'm a huge fan of Jeff Smith (BONE). I also really enjoy works created by Ben Caldwell, Stephen Silver, Tauhid Bondia and Gabe (of Penny Arcade). These guys all do amazing work, and keep pushing me artistically. Other influences stem from traditional print comics (Marvel, etc.) - I admire the work of Mike Wieringo, John Byrne, Kerry Gammill, Mike Zeck, Mike Mignola and Mike Manley. (three Mikes, I know) ;)
Any books in the works for PC Weenies?
I'm in the process of working on the first PC Weenies book, which I'm hoping to have out by Spring of 2008 (to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the comic). I've pulled the best of the early comics (1998 - 1999) and redrawn / contemporized them for this forthcoming
book. There'll be some other neat surprises thrown in as well.
Anything else big in the works for you soon? Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Outside of the book, the sky's the limit. I've been wanting to get back into animation - especially with Bob and company - and I have
some strong ideas to work with - so we'll see how things go. Five years is a long time -- maybe by then the PC Weenies will be a household name. :)