Inside the Webcomic Studio with Gordon McAlpin
Gordon McAlpin is the creator of Multiplex, a webcomic about the movies and the staff at a movie theater. We interviewed Gordon in 2006 but I thought it was a good time to catch up again. McAlpin is closing in on the 300th episode of Multiplex. He also blogs about movies at Movie Makeout and co-hosts the movie podcast The Triple Feature.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up mostly in Peoria, Illinois; I lived there from 3rd grade 'til I was 25 (in 2001), when I moved up to Chicago. I've bounced around from company to company, mostly freelancing for places for a few months here, a year or so there. And a few years ago, I started a little comic strip called Multiplex.
Hey I was born in Illinois! But that's about it actually. I really grew up in California. Are there a lot of cartoonists in Chicago? Do you run into webcomic creators there?
I almost never "run into" any other cartoonists. I suppose I've said "hi" to Alex Kujawa (F.A.R.T.S.) and Spike (duh) at Wizard World Chicago once or twice; I've met Neil Brideau (Sock Monster) once or twice… a couple of others, but mostly just on the interweb.
It does seem like there are a lot of cartoonists in Chicago, both web-based and none, but I don't have a sense of a Chicago cartoonists community, really. I keep meaning to invite all the cartoonists I'm even vaguely acquainted with out for a drink sometime to help remedy that, but… I'm kind of bad at planning anything.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
I do; I'm a "freelance digital artist." For the past year I've been at a full-time freelance gig with an educational publishing company, doing page layout, print production, some illustration. I do a bit of freelance photo retouching and print production on the side, as well.
What's a typical day for you like recently?
My Multiplex work week runs from Sunday to Thursday, so while I do have a fairly specific regimen, I don't really have a "typical" day:
On Sunday, I wake up and get to work on the strip as soon as I can muster up the motivation (sometimes after a movie), and I work on it until it's done. It takes me between six and eight hours for a normal length strip, and more for the longer, more complicated ones, of course. Sometimes I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to do; other times I only know I'm going to do a strip about a particular movie, or something. On the nerve-wracking days that I really don't have an idea, I'll scour the Internet for movie news or movie theater-related stuff, or even read through the archives to see what I haven't touched on lately.
On weekdays, I roll out of bed and try to get to work about half an hour late and work on the strip as much as I can when I'm there. At work, I can only find time to do the more business or promotional stuff: ad revenue monitoring, ad campaign maintenance, e-mail interviews… that sort of thing. I'm pretty lucky to have a flexible freelance job right now, where I can do this stuff, but the computer there kind of sucks, so working on the actual strip is annoying. Also, it's hard to just stop what I'm doing at a moment's notice if I'm working on the strip.
After work on Monday, I'll try to fit in a new release if I can, go home, work on the Thursday strip a little, and gear up for the Triple Feature at 9PM Central. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, I work on the Thursday strip until it's done.
Thursday evenings, Friday and Saturday are my days off, although I'm often watching a movie on at least one of those nights, but I try not to think about strip ideas then. I try to find some time for my girlfriend in there, too.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Multiplex is a unique blend of real-world movie commentary, teen drama, and stupid movie jokes — like South Park meets The Office, in a movie theater.
I dunno. I'm not very good at the convention pitch.
It's a bit of an acquired skill to "pitch" anything I guess. That's not a bad one although I don't think South Park and The Office are the first things that come to mind for me to describe Multiplex. It's not quite as farcical as South Park and it's less painfully embarrassing to watch than The Office. Maybe given the movie focus of Multiplex I should have asked you to describe what the movie poster for Multiplex would look like?
How has the strip evolved over time?
Multiplex started off being mostly a straight-forward humor strip. I hate the term "gag strip," at least for Multiplex, because it's not one. It makes my eyes roll when I read a Multiplex review and the reviewer talks about the "gags."
As the series progressed and the characters became better defined, I started doing less movie-centered jokes and more character-centered ones — and also more movie commentary. Even though the characters are fictional and the opinions are not (necessarily) my own, all of the opinions about movies in the strip come from somewhere: a synthesis of opinions I've read in forums, reviews, or out in the real world. I'm not trying to push any opinions, contrary to some peoples' assumptions, just to find some humor or insight in the characters' discussion of it.
The scope of the series has broadened a bit: it isn't just about specific movies, but also how we talk about movies, how we experience movies, and why we love (and hate) them.
The art's gotten more detailed, as well, and just generally improved as I get the hang of the drawing style, build up the library of characters and backgrounds, etc.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
My favorite storyline — and one of the most popular storylines — was the one where Brian got fired. Since Jason wasn't working at the Multiplex at the time, I finally got the chance to develop the rest of the cast a little more. Multiplex was always supposed to be more of an ensemble strip, but Jason ended up hogging the spotlight all the time, because he's the easiest for me to write.
I remember when I was working my way up to that strip, there was a lot I needed to set up, so that the pieces would fall into place. I had one or two complaints in the forum that the strip wasn't as fun anymore, and I just shrugged it off, because I knew that Brian's big reveal would really get people — even though I'd actually teased that perhaps Brian was smarter than he seemed many months before.
Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
I'm really fond of all of the major characters, but especially Jason, Becky and Angie. They've made for some really good exchanges, and the strips that have come out of them have been pretty challenging: as a former Christian, it's difficult to write Angie in a way that is rational and still very much Christian. But I think her popularity indicates I'm doing something right.
Even though I haven't used James much yet, he is one of my favorites, as well, because I've had to do so much research just to build up his back-story, and for when I eventually get around to doing more flashbacks to when he was an usher at the Regal Theater. He's definitely a long-term character, unlike some of the younger staff kids who will come and go, and he'll play a crucial role in the larger story.
C'mon, what about the insolent blogger? How can you not be fond of that guy?
Hahaha, you love him. Yeah, I like him, too. I keep meaning to bring him back to make fun of bloggers more.… which would be a little ironic now, because I took the Movie Make-out name for my own movie news blog.