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Tao of Geek's Liz Walsh interviewed by Yolanda Janiga

Liz Walsh is 26 years old and a fairly recent graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where she studied computer science and earned her geek spurs. She grew up and still lives in Ottawa and describes herself as a "creative, passionate, thoughtful, antisocial, ambitious, [and] short temper[ed] (*grin*)" type of person. Her webcomic, Tao of Geek, is about geekery of all stripes, from computers and video games to role-playing games to anime. Walsh is a fan of geeks and her webcomic shows it.

"Geeks can be funny. Geeks can be serious," says Walsh. "It's all in who they are. They're more than just fanatics of some games, or people who dream in C++. They've got minds. They've got family. They've got friends. They've got personality. They can be the person that has aspirations of being on the stage based on how well they roleplay Garok the Mighty. They can be the person whose impeccable logic (from long nights of programming) lets them win any debate they enter, even against tenured politicians. They can be the person who creates a media empire based on the fantasy world they created during those long lectures at school. They can be *anyone*."

What is your definition of a "geek"?

Barring the usual definition of "One who bites the head off live chickens?" I guess I'd say "introverted passion." Or rather, it'd be something you really like or care about, but can't necessarily share with other people.

 

Are you a "geek"?

I'd say so.

 

Do you think everyone has some geek in them? Why or why not?

On some level, I'd say. But it depends on what you consider "geeky." Certainly not everyone who plays video games, say, is a geek, especially as games have gone mainstream. Or everyone who reads comics: are they geeks? I'm sure a few Comixpedia readers would take offense at that! :)

If you take "geek" to mean "something you're really into," though, then yes, you could say everyone's got some "geek" in them. It's just that we tend to associate "geek" with the same handful of activities.

You mentioned that you were currently between jobs. What "geek" work have you done and what are you hoping to land in your day gig?
Most of my "geek" work has been on the programming end of things… writing and debugging code, testing, that sort of thing. Barring that, I'd like to return to the government. Government jobs are nice.

Your characters in The Tao of Geek are interested in video games, role-playing games and anime. Do you share their interests in these pursuits? What are some of your favorites in each?
I hope I share interests with them, otherwise I'd find it odd to even talk about the stuff they do! *laugh* Seriously, though, with anime, I like Nuku Nuku, Slayers, and Cowboy Bebop. I tend to like computer role-playing games - ranging from various Final Fantasy games to the Baldur's Gate series - and 2-d platformers, though I must confess a certain fondness for River City Ransom. As for RPGs themselves, I'm mostly familiar with Dungeons and Dragons... and even then, we're talking old-school 2nd edition, none of this 3(.5)rd edition stuff.

Any special stories about your childhood that shaped who you are today?
I did skip a grade, which led to a lot of frustration because I was teased and whatnot. I ended up having a low self-image and being rather antisocial... but it seems to all work out in the end. As far as I'm concerned, nearly everyone I went to school with dropped off the face of the earth, and I couldn't be happier.

How old were you when you realized you could draw? Did you have a favorite character that you drew?
I've always been able to draw, in some fashion, for as long as I can remember. As for characters, it depends on how old I was at the time. I drew lots of dinosaurs in the primary grades, these weird mutant animal things that stemmed out of my liking Ninja Turtles, when the original TMNT were popular, gargoyles when Gargoyles was popular, etc.

Of course, my real love tended to be fantasy art, and I drew lots of weird characters and monsters all the time anyway, regardless of my age. :)

In three sentences or less, describe The Tao of Geek.
ToG is basically a more human look at geeks and geekdom. Geeks are more than stereotypes, and this is my attempt to explore that. Granted, there's lots of weird stuff too, but isn't that what life's about?

Where did The Tao of Geek stem from?
Well, I've always wanted to do a comic, seeing as I liked drawing and all. I did a lot of one-shot jokes and short comics during my second year of university, mostly spurred on by: (a) boring classes; (b) ready availability of a sketchbook; and (c) the fact that there were absolutely horrible comics printed in the school's newspaper, and I knew that I could do a better job without even trying. Amusingly enough, I never attempted to submit anything to the paper, because I never had a decent idea. Not that that stopped the people being published.

Fast forward to late 2001 or so, where I was severely un- and under-employed. As most people can attest, this is not a fun situation. My dad suggested that I create a comic about a guy in my situation: educated but can't get a job. It's not much of a hook, but I liked the
idea, and it gave me a chance to do something. I created a few ideas for characters and stories, but something didn't "click" with it. I shelved the idea for a few months and then one day I tried reviving the idea, but creating different characters and designs. I ended up writing the first month or so of ToG in a couple of hours!

Who was the first character from your comic The Tao of Geek that you came up with?
The first character that was "born" was Jeremy, who was sort of an ego character. Obviously, I'm not male, nor am I as skilled as he is, but it felt good to have a character I could voice my frustrations through. Most of the early comics, where he's wandering around job-hunting or lamenting, those are my thoughts.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Making me choose, huh? I tend to like all my characters for various reasons. I guess my favorites would have to be: Jeremy, for the ego factor. Hiryuu, for being an absolutely amusing and cool character. He ended up being a lot more like me than I thought. Onibuke Kageyori, for being one of the most surreal supporting characters. It's rather amusing to have a demon samurai from a video game walking around the "real" world... and no one cares.

If you could change one thing about your comic, what would it be?
I'd make the presentation more consistent. And by that, I mean making the character art more consistent, closer to the models, and making the dialogue "work" better. It sounds like I'm covering a lot of ground, but I'm not, oddly enough.

What are some of your favorite ToG stories from its archives? Which storyline do you think was the most successful and why?
Favorite stories? I'd say the entire "Pete dies/virtual reality" story is a favorite, because (a) it was the first large storyline I attempted, and (b) it introduced a few recurring characters/themes (the Coffee Ninja, Onibuke Kageyori, and a few others). A more recent example would be the "Cult of the Hiryuu" story, because I had put a lot of thought and planning into it... and it lays the foundations for quite a few more stories.

As for successful ones, oddly, I'd have to say some of the shorter, more human, stories, such as the Chris-and-Jeremy-on-a-date story; the humour and emotions in these stories probably have a broader appeal than the "I'm being weird and telling a story" ones. It's hard to say, though; I don't actually get a lot of feedback on my work.

How many people, would you say, read your online comic?
I'm guessing easily 300+ daily readers. I'm puny, and proud of it!

Are you happy with your artwork for ToG?
The artwork does what it's supposed to do. ToG is not meant to be a splendiforous showcase of my artistic talents; if anything, it's an exercise in storytelling and writing. Heck, I think that, if the artwork was more advanced and detailed, the characters and situations would lose something.

How long does it take you to make an installment of ToG?
Despite the simpleness of the character design, it can easily take a half-hour to an hour to even draw the characters properly. I'd say the entire process can take about two to three hours, max. It's not a long time as compared to most comics out there, but it's not a complicated strip, art-wise.

Where do the stories for ToG come from? Where do you get your ideas for the webcomic?
Sometimes I just think of funny situations in which to put people. Naturally, funny situations expand, and I think up even more screwball stories based on those stories and characters. As far as I'm concerned, the stories just spawn themselves.

As for ideas in general, you'd be surprised at how much material is available, be it from geek hobbies to the real world, or even other webcomics. For example, I notice that lots of animes (and, subsequently, webmangas) involve catgirls. Oh, look, it's a girl with cat ears and a tail, and she's sexy, etc. etc. etc. My response was to create a
catgirl... with the emphasis on "cat." As a result, you have a six foot tall anthropomorphic feline, Barbie-style body... and she thinks, acts, and talks like a cat: down on all fours, can only mew, and so on. Disturbing, yes... but probably one of the more popular bit characters I've created.

Another good example is the "LinuXbox:" some people buy Xboxes, then install Linux on them, in the name of "Freeing the computer." As a gentle poke, I had Jeremy install Windows on a Playstation2. If you're not familiar with the Xbox mod crowd, you'd probably find the story weird yet amusing. If you are familiar with it, though, you'd appreciate the satire.

You said that your inspirations come from a lot of different places (news stories, games, conversations). What is the most memorable conversation you had that turned into a comic?
Oh geez, that depends... of currently archived comics, that'd be a tossup between my demonstrating to a friend that you can buy a Spongebob Squarepants plush toy with "removable pants," and overhearing the girl that declared that whenever she saw pink carnations, she wanted to stomp on them. Of upcoming comics, I've an entire story that revolves around an actual RPG situation I played. Unfortunately, I can't tell you more than that.

What's the most difficult part about developing a webcomic?
Probably walking that fine line between "being popular" and "artistic vision."

You just hit two years and 600 episodes of The Tao of Geek. What are your goals, if any, for ToG? Do you have any desire to pursue comics as a career?
My goals, if anything, are to have fun and refine my writing. I wouldn't mind a career in comics, but I realize I'm several steps away from that point.

Yolanda Yvonned Janiga is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.