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Catty or Chatty? CotC's Jamie Robertson talks with Al Schroeder

For over five years now in the Clan of the Cats, Jamie Robertson has been chronicling the adventures of a witch/were-panther in the person of Chelsea Chattan. He has also introduced two spin-offs, Mythos and Magic on Graphic Smash and Melpomene on Keenspot Premium. In this interview with Al Schroeder, Robertson talks about his comic, chivalry, and his gaggle of cats.

Cheesecake Chelsea may also be invoked.

I know some of this is covered by your FAQ, but for those who don't know – could you give your age, some of your background....where you're located, perhaps some idea of your day job...?
I hate bio questions, because I hate talking about myself. This will be very short.

I was born the year the Beatles came to America. I began to draw the year JAWS hit theaters. I used to draw monsters under my grandmother's coffee table until I got a spanking for it. Chelsea Chattan was born out of unrequited love, although I still see the girl to this day. I live in Burlington, NC and work for a family Photography Business, Westbrook Studios. I have a BFA from Elon College, now Elon University.

So, how many cats have you had in your life? Have you always been a cat person?
I would define myself as an animal person. I like dogs and cats with equal enthusiasm, but have cats because they are low maintenance. There have been many cats in my life, beginning with my grandmother's cats, one in particular named Humperdinck. Yes, he was named after Engelbert Humperdinck, the 70s pop music icon. Humperdinck was a smart cat, able to even open the screen door. He would lean over from a stand next to the door and pushed the handle open. He could even draw the curtains for when he wanted to look out, but he was not polite enough to draw them back shut. Humperdinck was a smart cat, but he was also a smart-ass who didn't like kids and I was forever chasing him.

Although he was black and white, Humperdinck was probably the biggest model for Sebastian, the magickal Russian Blue of CotC. The next cat in my life was Ragmuffin, a beautiful gray Siamese mix who absolutely hated people. She was never mean to people, she just thought she was above them all. Definitely, another Sebastian influence. The first cat I ever owned myself was a Tortoise Shell named Fidgit. She was with me for 13 years. Fidget was needy, stubborn, aloof, and oddly enough, sweet.

Where I am living now is a haven for cats, and at one time we had eleven cats. Four have been taken to the adoption shelter. About a year ago, a cat came up to our place, which is pretty widespread to be so close to the city. That cat had a kitten. My Aunt asked me to feed it, which I did.

The first kitten we named Rocky and she stayed outside. When you feed one cat, more are bound to come and one did. This other cat, a beautiful silver gray, had five kittens. I fed them, too, and they became known as the CotC kittens, and were named Autumn, Silver, Marvin, Blackie and Li'l Bit. I even had a fund drive to help with Vet bills and such.

In CotC, which character do you identify with most?
I'm not sure if there is one character that I identify with more over the others. Jubal's lackadaisical style is just as much a part of me as Chelsea's whininess, or Paul's mixture of faith and curiosity. Overall, Jubal and I share more things in common. At least he is what I would like to be.

How did the Order of Jubal get started? How have they helped you over the years?
Here's the URL: http://ivbalis.org/

The order is dedicated to Chivalry. The concept of chivalry is much more than placing your coat over a mud puddle for a pretty woman. It is a way of life and doing the honorable thing for all. I would say that Jubal tries to be that way.

Jubal was in love with Chelsea, the main character of CotC. On two occasions, he has jumped in front of her and taken a bullet in order to save her life. On one occasion, he died, but he got better. One of the readers, Silver Adept, suggested an "Order of Jubal". The idea was developed a bit further, and with some artistic help and a good deal of borrowing from myth and legend, the noble Order of Jubal was born.

To be honest, I had very little to do with it, except giving my blessings. Another reader, Timber Bram, got involved in the order full steam. He took it by the horns and we were expanding. Unfortunately, Timber Bram passed away last year and the Order has struggled ever since. Silver Adept could give a better account how things really went and possibly where things are going.

How has the order helped me? It let me know there were far more good people in the world than I thought.

You've expanded the Chattan saga, both in a Keenspot Premium webcomic about Chelsea's sister, and on Graphic Smash in a tale about Chelsea's ancestors. Have you ever been tempted to do a non-Chattan-related tale?
Mythos and Magick, when we get it started up again, will eventually leave the Chattans alone and explore other fronts of the CotC universe. I created that universe to handle both the magickal and the mundane, so nearly any story I come up with could conceivably work there.

How much have you planned of the larger CotC universe you're exploring? If you had to describe it, what would you say?
The CotC Universe evolved from two main stories, Melpomene and "The Council of Three", both of which contained ideas I had for years. It all sprung up from watching too many vampire and werewolf movies ;) One idea I supposed what if these "monsters" evolved a shaky, but albeit working political structure. Therefore, in the story "The Council of Three", I used that "monster politics" idea and formed a council between a vampire, werewolf, and wizard. Then combined that with a character I had played around for quite a number of years, Lilith. She was then made a charter member of the council. As it stands now, I have a very solid idea of what the CotC universe is like, but I always allow it to evolve.

As for what it is, the CotC universe is a combination of reality and fantasy. I have always loved contrasts. Look at the two main characters, Chelsea and Jubal. They are as different as night and day and yet they are in love. COTC is like that. However, with Mythos and Magick I will eventually be leaving the Chattans and moving on the other characters. Again, some are based on ideas I came up with as a kid. Some may come from tomorrow's newspaper.

Here are links to Melpomene: http://www.clanofthecats.com/d/20000410.html

And the Council of Three:
http://www.clanofthecats.com/d/20001106.html

What was it like working with Clint Hollingsworth on Melopomeme? Do you work well with partners, or are you more comfortable as a solo act?
Working with Clint was a pleasure. I had done a crossover with Maritza Campos of College Roomies from Hell, so I had a bit of experience working with a partner.

I'd send Clint some scripts, he'd say "cool!" he'd send me some roughs, and I'd reply "cool!" then he'd ink the page and I'd love it and say "cool!" Honestly, it was just about that easy. Clint had a wonderful eye for comic book layout. Most of the time, I would just send him dialogue with a few action notes and he did a wonderful job. Given the chance, I would work with him again in a heartbeat. Clint and I hope to put Melpomene into a graphic novel later this year.

Here's a link to the comic, Melpomene: http://clanofthecats.com/Melpomene/

You've been doing this for five years now, and I still see plenty of inventiveness and exploration of the mythos. How do you keep it fresh and interesting for you?
I remember that above all other things, CotC is meant me to have fun with. If that means a little more Chelsea cheesecake, then all the Wiccan feminists out there have my apologies, but the cheesecake stays in. Aside from that, I just write about stuff I like. That's what keeps me interested.

Do you think you will ever branch out and put out a print version of Clan of the Cats? Is there any other media you would like to see it branch out to?
Presently there are plans to turn the current Dracula storyline into a graphic novel. There are no print plans beyond that.

I know you say you've had many influences, both artistic and literary... but your work seems remarkably fresh and not very imitative of anybody. Is there any primary artistic influence in your life, one inspiration that you can see in your own work?
My biggest influence was my Dad. He was and still is quite talented in drawing, although with him, it was cars and with me, it was monsters. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did. As for a comic book style, if you go back about 25 or 30 you might see other influences from the likes of Gene Colan and Berni Wrightson. I loved Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night and Swamp Thing. Super Hero monsters, how can you beat 'em?

You maintain a color comic three times a week – an enviable record, rarely interrupted. What graphic software do you use? Do you storyboard? Does the art come before the actual scripting, or after?
I use Photoshop CS along with a Wacom Intuos 2 Pen tablet for color. One thing that I love about Photoshop is the flexibility it has, like making custom brushes and colors. The default brushes are okay for flats, but I always like to experiment and jazz things up with new brushes. Also with Photoshop, I can use a very painterly approach thus making the finished color product much more than window dressing. In fact, using the emotional and symbolic aspects of color, just as with composition, one can convey meaning within the story.

As for the writing of the story, more times than not, it starts out as little notes of dialogue and action sequences where it is then scribbled into loose panels of action on a piece of scrap paper. I guess that's a form of storyboarding. ;) Most of the time, I'm very loose with the design of the page, even changing everything at the last second if need be. The thing that matters is the design of the page. It has to be interesting and convey a story at the same time and experimenting is sometimes necessary to get something good going.

A lot of background information is covered in your FAQ---and I won't duplicate that here – but when did you first get the "bug" and knew you had to be a creator of comics?
I always wanted to create comics in some way or another. My biggest problem was not being satisfied with one role, as either penciler, inker, or writer. However, in the mid-80s a friend of mine started putting out a 'zine. It was in there, the first CotC storyline came to life and it was then, I fell in love with these characters. However, if it had not been for these characters, especially Chelsea, I never would have done comics and that's another story.

What is the most satisfying part of doing the strip – and what is the least?
The least satisfying part of the comic is the deadline, but it's probably the one thing that motivates me the most to actually do it. My favorite part of the comic is getting into that Zen-like moment where I am drawing and nothing else matters. I'm just drawing something like a head or a smile and trying to get it right is such a challenge. That's my favorite part. Runner up favorite parts would be seeing the finished product or painting myself into a corner with the plot and writing myself out of it. Fan mail doesn't hurt either. ;)

What sort of trends in webcomics seem promising? What advice would you give a webcartoonist starting out?
My biggest advice to any webcartoonist is to do it because you love it, not for the money, because there isn't any. Well, there is a little, but very little. Besides, both comic strip and comic book artists and writers gave me the same advice. Beyond that, I would say develop your own style and don't worry so much about what is hot.

The coolest trend in webcomics today is the melding of web and print. PVP went with Image comics last year and Keenspot has an exclusive book trade deal with CDS (Client Distribution Services). It was once laughably theorized that webcomics would take over print, but now it looks as if the two could meld together.

Al Schroeder is the Acting Interviews Editor for Comixpedia. More Details.

Re: Catty or Chatty? CotC's Jamie Robertson talks with Al Schroe

Psst! First paragraph: Melpomene, not Melpomeme ;)