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Of Hipster Kings and Rabbit Detectives: An Interview with Ben Gamboa of Tweep

Ben Gamboa is the creator of Tweep, a comic he's been creating and posting to the web for over five years now.  It's about a group of friends who the comic looks in on as they go about their day to day lives.  I really like the description offered by Gilead Pellaeon in his review of the comic:

Tweep is a really sweet strip about friends who care about each other, relationships that make sense, and, of course, The Rabbit Detective. And I've gotta say, I'm loving it. It's not as edgy as Questionable Content, it's not as funny as PvP. It's definitely not as dramatic and emotionally charged as Megatokyo. While all of those strips qualify as relationship strips, in them the relationships are the vehicle by which the purpose of the strip is delivered, be it humor or drama. In Tweep, the relationships ARE the strip, and any drama or comedy that arises is simply the result of natural interaction between the characters.

And I don't think that description is intended to damn with faint praise.  Tweep is often disarmingly aimless as its characters go about their day, and while the characters do stuff, it's much more about this small clique of characters and their interaction with each other than what they do.

I was really happy to get Ben to do the cover for ComixTALK this month and talk to him about Tweep.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?  Where are you located these days?

I live in Whittier, California, which is nestled snug between Los Angeles and "the OC." It's named after a poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, who never even bothered to visit. Whittier has been, at times, home to such dignitaries as John Lasseter, Carol Lay, Oscar de La Hoya, and Richard Nixon; parts of the city have served as backdrop to some of the cinematic touchstones of my generation, including Back to the Future I & II and Masters of the Universe.

There's also an earthquake named after us, which I slept through.

It's an odd town, and I often feel out of place, but it's home.

 

I grew up behind the Orange Curtain too.  I remember sleeping through most earthquakes myself -- you just get used to it after awhile.  I cannot seem to convince Mrs. X of this though and that's probably a  big part of why I'm living on the East Coast these days.  So what's a typical day for you like recently?

My typical day involves lots of procrastination, followed by feelings of guilt, and concluded with resolute productivity.

 

Do you have another job besides working on comics?

I consult for an architecture firm, off and on.

(More off than on, of late … but I majored in English, and am grateful for what I can get in today's character-building economy.)

 

Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.

The comic is about a trio of longtime friends, one of whom meets a girl. Said girl is eventually accepted into the fold, along with her best friend. Ultimately, all five are just trying to make it through each day the best they can, with a little help from one another.

There's also a rabbit and a cat. But neither of them talk.

 

How has the strip evolved over time?

Art-wise, the comic's evolved quite a bit. I really hadn't done any drawing prior to starting out and, in hindsight, I don't really know what made me think I could pull it off (although, it was 2003, and the quality of most webcomic art at the time was very encouraging to amateurs).

In terms of writing, it's hard to say. I do know that I write more comics that rely on visual punchlines nowadays, because I feel more confident that in my ability to pull them off. I also try to be a little less wordy than I was in some of my earlier strips, but I don't always succeed in that regard.

As far as the story goes, it's much the same as ever: friends having everyday adventures, with the occasional dose of the absurd thrown in for good measure.

 

For me at its best, Tweep is this interesting mix of watching pretty normal "hanging out" time between friends punctuated by random weirdness. You tell the story at a pretty relaxed pace.  To be honest, I actually enjoy reading it more in batches of a week or so at a sitting than checking in every day.  I wonder if in terms of you coming up with the comics do you really think in terms of each daily strip standing alone or do you compose the ideas for several strips together?

Reading the comic in batches seems like a perfectly reasonable thing! The slow pace can be kind of a turn-off to some people, but it's the only thing that feels natural to me. Plus, some of the strips I'm really fond of are the ones that happen in the ordinary moments, which would get skipped over if I were moving more briskly.

To answer your question, I have a very, very rough idea of how I want the story to progress on a weekly basis.  When each new week rolls around, I usually decide what I want to happen by Friday's strip, and then try to figure out how to get to there from the previous Friday's strip, and so the pieces start to fall into place.  If I'm really lucky, I'll come up with some dialogue during this step, but usually that doesn't happen until a day or two before each strip goes up (like I said, I procrastinate, and I haven't yet figured out how to function without a deadline breathing down my neck).  I try to make sure that each strip has some sort of punch at the end, but they're not really written to be read as stand-alone comics.

Sometimes I get sick of this process, or have a case of writer's block, so I just wing it for awhile; that's how the more bizarre strips come about.  Every cartoonist needs to blow off some steam now and then.

 

Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?

The one about sugar gets emailed around some. I also get a lot of positive response from the wordless comics; they're really fun and challenging to do, but I have to be careful not to go overboard with them.

I don't know that I have any favorite strips or storylines, but there are scenes that I really like: Milton and Julie at the diner; Lily and Jack walking at night; Milton, Kate, and Jack all bantering with one another in the kitchen.

 

Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?

Lily's a fan favorite, and one that I've come to be pretty fond of. She was only going to be a minor character, originally, but she lobbied pretty hard for a larger role.

Owen's kind of a tough one. He doesn't show up in too many comics, so I haven't really had a chance to figure him out all the way.

 

Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?

Like most webcomic folk, I'd love to make a living off of this. But, after five years, one's optimism grows tempered. That said, I can't imagine not having the comic as a part of my life. I'd miss the characters too much.

 

Any plans for a print collection?

Not at present! I'd probably have to redraw every strip that I intended to publish, for one thing. I'm not saying never, but it feels unlikely.

I'd really like to do some sort of print dealie, though. But it'd be something written and drawn with that intent in mind at the outset. I have ideas, but they are of the secret variety.

 

Tweep-esque and appreciated.

Huh. That answers a lot of the things I'd been idly wondering about Tweep. The Photoshop thing comes as a surprise-- I could have sworn the comic was made with a vector-based program.

What a pleasant interview to read about my favorite comic. The tones for each match very well: gentle and respectful with a side dish of warm amusement. Nice work, both of you!