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That went faster than I thought, once i started.

This is the State of Things, I'm Frank Stasio.

The term comic strip may bring to mind the Sunday morning funnies, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Baby Blues, or Doonesbury, but these days comic strip are hardly confined to the pages of newspapers.
More and more comics are on-line and artists exposure on the Internet have made it easier than ever to make a career out of drawing in frames.
Here in North Carolina a local collective called the WebComic Coffee Clatch has formed to trigger conversations about the creative business and the business aspects of this art.
Joining me now is WebComic Coffee Clatch founder Larry Holderfield, creator of the webcomic Sinister Bedfellows .
Welcome Larry.
Well, thank you.
Good to have you with me. Also here in the studio is are comic strip artists Ursula Vernon and Stephanie Freese.
Thank you
Thank you.
Good to have all of you here.

Larry, let me start with you.
How did you get this idea for the Coffee Clatch?
Do you say KLATCH or KLOTCH?
Ah, I say KLATCH because we actually spell it with a C.(OK) Which is derived from a Scottish word meaning something that's been poorly made.
ha ha ha OK
'Cause the other one with a K, could be Yiddish, or something, what is that word, KLOTCH?
It's actually from the German adn it means to gossip, to make a noise.
Ah ha, so the Klatch with a K, gossip, but you, the Scottish, poorly made.
Right, yes.
Haha
We do a lot of gossiping too.
It's almost a pun, and it works for the alliteration for the acronym.
That's great, how did you get the idea.
I had moved back to NC after being away for about ten years in Berkeley, California and Paris, France, and I wanted to rebuild my social network. And I had been doing the webcomic for about a year, so I thought that would be a good hook. So I googled North Carolina webcomics, emailed all of them I could find and invited them out for coffee.
Wow, Stephanie, were you one of the first on board after that email.
Yeah, we actually met Larry at a local convention, Trinoc-con, that year and he as going around introducing himself and he brought up the idea of the Clatch and so, I think we were at the first meeting in Carrboro.
Yeah, I think all three of you were.
How about you Ursula, did it strike you as a good idea right away?
aah, I think it was one of those things that I knew was going on on the periphery and then one day I decided- I ran into yo guys at Trinoc-con again I think and said Yes, I will go hang out with other webcomics people.
That's a great idea, see, because we think that the internet is going to stop social, face to face networking forever and yet here you are doing just that, altogether.

Tell us a little bit about your strip, Sinister Bedfellows, which is a cool idea. You have actually a sequence of photographs and then you apply captions.
Well, actually, each one is one photo that has been divided into three panels, so that it is one continuous image across it. It was more of a graphic design idea originally. I was interested in the work of Barbara Kruger and a few other graphic artists who were applying text to photos. And when I was living in Paris, taking tons of wonderful photographs because I was unemployed at the time, posting them on my blog and started adding dialogue to some of the crowd scenes. And then from there it transitioned into a webcomic. Started getting good feedback from the ones I'd posted on my blog.
And it is kind of an old idea, that you can put a caption on a photo, but the triptych notion of this, the fact that it is split into three parts, it becomes sort of like a comic strip, but not drawn.
Right, I did definitely want to reference like the newspaper strips in the format of it.
And do you now see, you know, look at a scene and all of a sudden you see the captions right away or do you look at the photos and think about it?
Well, both.
I take tons of photos, the two hundred strips I've done so far have come out of probably 25, 000 photos I've taken over the last five years probably.
He's terrible about seeing something and saying "I have to get a photo of that." We were at a comic book signing the other day and Spider-Man, someone in a Spider-man costume went out back for a cigarette and Larry was there with the camera going I must have Spider-man smoking a cigarette.
That's on your website right now.
Yeah, that's the current one. The more difficult thing is actually coming up with the slogans, the text. Sometimes i have catchphrases that come to me and I have to go hunt through my [omie?] photos to find one to match it. Sometimes a photo suggests a text and sometimes it takes months for the two of them to come together.
I've got one, just as an example, I kept looking for it here, you've got gargoyles, the faces of sort of Roman gods or something, or Greek gods. One is in shadow because of its placement on the building and two of them are in direct sunlight and you've got, you know, the first guy says 'Hey, what a beautiful sunrise' and the second guy says 'I hate you guys', because he's in shadow and the third guy is looking up going 'Oh, it's gorgeous'. So, is that one that would come to you right away or is that one you'll have to look at and...
That one didn't come to me when I saw the gargoyles, but it came to me on reviewing the photos later.

Ursula, tell me about Digger. Digger is not really a set-up, punchline kind of strip.
No, it's an ongoing story, sort of a graphic novel that gets put up one page at a time, twice a week and I've been... I did not realize quite how lengthy an epic it was when I first embarked on the project. And if I had, I probably would not have. But I kept drawing it and saying 'this is just a style experiment, people, don't get attached' and now we're at 480 pages and three print collections so apparently they got attached and now I have to keep going and just finish the story.
Tell us about your characters, where they came from?
Well, I, the main character is a talking wombat. It came to me because I was sitting around drawing, I'm an illustrator by trade, and I had the idea of drawing comics. I was trying to come up with a character that I could draw over and over again and have it look the same. I was wracking my brain for some idea and at that moment on TV a wombat took a chunk out of Steve Irwin's leg and I said 'SOLD!' So I started drawing a wombat and everything else just kind of fell into place...
Of course, after the talking wombat it would.
Yeah, now I've got the tribe of cannibal hyenas and the talking statue of the god Ganesh, you know, it was all just very logical after that.
It is logical because it's a blog and your viewers and your fans actually chip in, they're participating in this and it's making perfect sense to them too.
Yes, well, I've been very lucky with my fans, who are willing, the pace, I mean, being a graphic novel it's occasionally a little glacial in how it goes along. It's taken four years to get this far and I've been very lucky with the fans sticking it out, and speculating and writing in and making snide comments...
And well, and it is a little on the weird side. Are you afraid to meet your fans?
Aaah, let's see, my fans are listening now. Um, generally my fans have been awesome. Yeah, every now and then you get one where you, where afterwards, where you find yourself finding excuses to go to the bathroom adn stay there for twenty minutes, but for the most part my fans have been fabulous, wonderful people who I am very grateful that they hang around and look at my stuff.

Stephanie, now you're also a painter and as Ursula said, you're an illustrator and painter, you are as well, and your comic strip is called The Dada Detective. It gets it's name from the Dada movement which you can tell us a little bit about, this early twentieth century art movement.
Yeah, well, the strip is written by Matt Wood and Dave Milloway and I'm the artist and we were, sort of, tossing around ideas and I think Dada Detective just kind of fit as a good, a nice sounding combo and Dada is a movement from the earlier 1900's, it was a response to World War One and there was a lot of anti-art going on and a lot of nonsense being, making nonsense out of sense, and our strip isn't quite that nonsensical, it's got a linear plot, there's a lot of linear things going on, But there's a lot of absurdity as well.
He's a noir, noir detective, and absurdities, puns, puns galore.
Puns all over the place.
It's great fun. What's it like working collaboratively? You've said you've got two writers, you're the illustrator, which comes first?
Definitely the script comes first. Matt and Dave work together on the script, they send me the copy, I work on a sketch, I send that to them, they usually approve it, everything looks great, and I go ahead with the final.
Do you get together and meet face to face much.
We do, we're actually good friends. I've known Matt probably over twenty years, so that's kind of frightening to admit. Yeah, we meet, we're all local, so we meet quite often.

Larry, how important is it that artists get together and actually meet and have coffee?
Actually, I think it's very important, because we are prone to a solitary lifestyle. We are chained to our computer and our sketchpads, our drafting tables. And, I was realizing that there were a lot of things that different people in the group knew, related to marketing and merchandising and networking, that it would help if we shared with each other. um, and, one of the things that I go to for help is website design. When it comes to HTML, I am almost clueless with that and different people have made suggestions and helped out.

Other than the technical details, Ursula, do you bounce creative ideas off each other? Your strips are really very different in a way.
Every now and then we'll all get together and we'll just be talking about something and somebody will suddenly go 'oh my god, I have to use that" or 'can I borrow that, I need that for a comic' or someone will say something, there'll be a pause and three or four people will go for their notebooks and start writing things down. Things come up spontaneously but I think a lot of it is, like Larry said, just getting out of our hermit-like life style and hanging out with other people who understand what it's like to be an artist...
Yeah, and you can do that, I mean, obviously that was part of the cafe culture that we've come to romanticize as sort of the artist's life, that we thought we might lose in the internet age. Apparently you;re bringing it together.
But now, in terms of the technique, Ursula, let me ask you this first, you're a trained artist, is it difficult then to work with a mouse.
Actually, it would be, so I don't. I use a graphics tablet, they're produced by, Wacom's the industry standard, and they're basically like a pen that you draw on a little pad with. And that allows me to do the strip digitally. They are great to pick up, the only problem is they have kind of a learning curve because if you get used to drawing with a mouse it's like drawing with a brick. And then people pick up a tablet and it feels wildly uncontrolled, so half the time they return it to the store the next day because it's just so bizarre to use. But technology caught up to the point where it's much easier to do art completely digitally these days.

How about you, Stephanie?
I would agree with Ursula about the tablet, I use one of those as well. I actually did use to do the strip by hand in terms of pen and ink, and then realized that it was a lot quicker to use that pen and use Painter and Photoshop and so forth. I still do a lot of hand-drawn media, hand-drawn work, but the strip is definitely all digital.
Do you feel that you are losing anything or maybe gaining something by using the technology to create the images?
I think it can, if you're not careful if can get a little sterile looking and a little too regular, too plain, but that's where, if you understand your software better, with Painter or something like that, you can really pick out some effects that look very creative and very exciting.
Well, and I've noticed in a lot of strips, that really is part of the joke, the fact that replication is so easy and ubiquitous becomes the joke, you know, Red Meat for instance, you see that kind of repetition over and over again, the face doesn't change, but the captions do.
One other thing you lose with doing everything digitally is money, because people will buy originals. You can sell a print of a strip for ten bucks, you can sell the original art for a hundred if you're lucky, but if there is no original art you just say 'gee, I wish I could sell it to you, but no...'
Well. you need to do the storyboard as original art by hand, and then you offer that and everything else is online.
I don't have the time, I just do the covers as original art and sell those.

I have one that's on the other extreme of technology. I did a limited strip, I think it was eleven episodes, that was actually lino-block prints. So it was hand-carved, printed, then scanned and put online.
Wow.
It's called Cthulhuvida and it's linked from the blog.
Wow. And Ursula, you also have a children's book?
Yes, yes, I fell into children's books sort of sideways. I had done a painting and I got an agent through a complicated series of completely unduplicatable events, who saw the painting and said 'I need a children's book based on this' and I said OK, I could do that, sure, and went and wrote it, and the nice people at Harcourt-Brace bought it and it's out in stores now.
It's called Nurk, the Strange, Surprising Adventures of a Somewhat Brave Shrew. You don't like people do you? It's wombats and shrews...
HAHA, I like people fine as individuals, but they are hard to draw. So basically that's the trick. If you draw a human wrong, everybody knows, but if you draw a shrew with the nose a little too long, no one cares.
No, but then you start getting emails from shrews and it's all...
Well...

Stephanie, can you make a living at this? You are, I mean, how good a living is it?
Actually, I work full-time as an illustrator with a magazine. It is possible to make a living, I consider myself pretty lucky to have gotten into the job that I have, but it's possible. Doing the webcomics, not so easy, there are a few folks that make a living doing it.

{soft}yeah, we have a few people in the group
We have maybe ten people in the group who are making a living at it. Jamie Robertson, who does all of our technical, maintains the website and everything, does a comic called Clan of the Cats and he has a spin off comic called Sebo and I believe he is making his living off of book sales, CD sales, and advertising on his site.

Is the online world making this industry and making this art better? It allows more people to get into it, which could be good, and then again, it could water things down. What do you think?
There's a, I forget the name of the corollary, ninety percent of everything is crap. So, you find, there's a lot of very bad webcomics on the internet and there are a lot of webcomics that might have had promise but people got bored within three months, which is about the average half-life of a webcomic. But because there is no publishing bar, as it were, there's a lot of stuff that would otherwise have never gotten out there, that you can find, that is really cool and innovative and weird.

Out of the hundred thousand comics on the web, there are probably about a hundred where people are making a living off of it.
Yeah, but it's interesting, the ninety percent crap can inspire more people because one germ of an idea, the fact that more people have seen it...
Actually, I think it inspires people sideways, because they look at it and go "I could do that!'
It brings too many people in.
But the threshold for entry into the field definitely had been lowered by the internet.
Yes, Yeah...
Well, your stuff is great, you're well above the bar, and I'm happy that you are on the program today. Thank all of you for being here.
Thank you, thank you.

Larry Holderfield is the writer for the comic strip Sinister Bedfellows and the founder of the North Carolina WebComic Coffee Clatch, Stephanie Freese illustrates the webcomic, Dada Detective, and Ursula Vernon writes the webcomic Digger and her newly released children's book is called Nurk, the Strange, Surprising Adventures of a Somewhat Brave Shrew. For more information about my guests and the North Carolina WebComic Coffee Clatch you can visit ncwccc.com.

That's the State of Things for today, thanks for listening, our website is stateofthings.org. This is North Carolina Public Radio.It's a broadcast service of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I'm Frank Stasio.

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Please let me kn0w which parts you think we should keep. Definitely keeping Steve Irwin and 90% crap.