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An Interview with Crystal Yates, Creator of Earthsong

Crystal Yates is the creator of the fantasy webcomic Earthsong.  The comic has a complicated mythos; in it the planets are somewhat like gods and the creatures that live on their surface are their offspring.  I don't want to write out the whole mythos but many different species are relocated to the world of Earthsong.  Despite the involved world-building that went into the concept, it's a pretty easy webcomic to get into and the art is nicely done.  I got a chance to interview Crystal earlier this fall via email.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I went to college for an art program and hated it.  I excelled in it, but I hated it so much that I decided to give up on art as a career entirely.  So I went to university for Fine Art History, Archaeology, and Egyptology, and enjoyed it, but missed the art.  After graduation I started my comic, Earthsong, just for fun, and never looked back. I've been working on it for four years now, and during that time I got married, had a son and turned 28.  Crazy.

 

What's a typical day for you like recently?

I look after my 20 month old son full time so I have to squeeze in as much comic making as I can during his roughly two hour afternoon nap.  Occasionally I get to work on the comic in the evening when my husband comes home from work, but other than that I'm burnin' the midnight oil to get anything done. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

 

Where are you located these days?

In the Greater Toronto Area.  Good ol' Canada.

 

Do you have another job besides working on comics?

Full time mom moonlighting as a comic artist.  I'm lucky if I even know what day of the week it is ;)

 

Do you read other comics?  What are you reading online or in print?

I read a ton of them, and yet wish I had time to read more.  My favourite webcomics would have to be Sarah Ellerton's The Phoenix Requiem (along with her completed work, Inverloch), Nicole Chartrand's Fey Winds, Sam Logan's Sam and Fuzzy, Stef's Sarah Zero, Kawaii Not, Thunt's Goblins, and, of course, OotS. That's only a small gleaning of my reading list and I feel bad for leaving so many out, but such is life.  As for the print variety, I haven't indulged myself lately, but I'm an old school comic fan.  Give me Batman, Spiderman, and Xmen any day.

 

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

"Okay, well... uh, the planets are alive, y'see.  And conscious.  And they have sentient beings living on their surface that they call their children, only something goes wrong and the some of the children start to gain incredible powers, but at the eventual cost of their lives.  Not only that but the planets start dying because of it.  So it's up to one planet to save them all by removing the dangerous children to her surface.  They have to stay there until it's safe to go home and so all these alien races are interacting and since they can't completely remember what's happened when they go home, they make up myths and legends to explain their fragmented memories.  So that's why we have myths about fairies and demons and what have you."

And then the poor unsuspecting person's eyes go wide and they slowly creep away, afraid to break eye contact with me until they're sure of their escape.  I usually spend a good five minutes lambasting myself for giving such a horrible summary of my comic, but there's really no pretty little concise way to do it.  Serves me right for creating such a complex universe.

 

How has the comic evolved over time?

I actually rewrote and redrew the entire thing when I received a publishing contract for it back in 2006.  I'm still redoing parts of it now, but thankfully I'm almost finished and I'm looking forward to getting back to new material.  So it's evolved quite a bit over time, both artistically and the characters' personalities as well. 

 

Any plans for a print collection?

Been there, done that, have the battle scars to prove it.  I'll be self publishing the next volume (if I decide to do it at all).  Working with publishing companies can be... "fun" sometimes.

 

So the first volume of the webcomic is in print from publisher Seven Seas?  It doesn't sound like it was an entirely pleasant experience.  What advice would you have for a first time author working with a publisher?

My advice would be to go into it with your eyes open.  You're obviously not going to know everything when it's your first time, but ask any and every question that you can think of.  It's really annoying to have to resize an entire volume of work because your publisher didn't bother to tell you ahead of time what they wanted.  Also, be sure to keep in constant contact.  Chances are, if you're not making the effort to keep it up, they're not going to either.  And if things go sour in the end, as they often unfortunately do, keep your head up and be a professional, even if they aren't returning the favour.

 

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

Most people think she's kind of a jerk, but I love Nanashi.  She's cold, hard duty and honour right to the core, but there's layers in there too that a lot of people don't see.  I suppose that's the author's advantage, eh?  You know your character's entire history even if it hasn't come out in the comic, if it ever will at all.  You can see what's going on behind their eyes, and so characters endear themselves to you in a way that your reader might not pick up on until far, far down the road.

 

How do you go about promoting your work?  What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?

The toplists are by far my best resource for new readers.  Aside from that, advantageous link swaps are great too.  I've never done any paid advertising for Earthsong though... maybe one day.

 

Any collectives you're working with? If so can you tell us about what kinds of things does the collective do and how does it benefit everyone in it?

I founded the all-female webcomic collective Tomgeeks with the help of a few of my other colleagues late last year.  Not only does the collective serve as a linking hub for the "founding" members, but we provide a banner link for *any *female webcomic artist or author who wishes to join our ranks.  We have a very active and friendly forum community and even do comic reviews from time to time. The mission of Tomgeeks is to create a positive environment for females of the geeky persuasion, via our forums and links to other useful sites, regardless of whether they are a comic creator or not.

 

What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at?  What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?

FanExpo in Toronto is great fun, and the San Diego one is just mind boggling.  I've only been to three cons as an exhibitor so far, so I'm not sure what kind of sage advice I can offer here... oh, gridwalls.  Get yourself a gridwall if you can, they attract SO much more attention to your booth than just you sitting at a table.  I go to cons with Sarah Davis of The Awakened and we rent one each time.  Cheap and so worth it.

 

Do your fans bring you cool things at shows?

I have one fan who's cosplayed as two of my characters at the cons.  She's the BEST.

 

When you create a comic, how do you appproach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?

I have a written script, though it's hardly set in stone, and I do the pages as they come - which is to say that I don't storyboard them out ahead of time.  I probably should, but I just can't bring myself to do it.

 

What tools do you use to make comics?  Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?

Photoshop CS3 is my software of choice.  I draw, ink and colour all with my Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. How's that for brief? ;)

 

Did you do your own website?  What software are you using on it?

I use Dreamweaver CS3 to create my website. I've done it myself for the past 4 years, but I've recently enlisted the help of a friend to impliment some niftier things into it.

 

How would you describe your relationship with your fans?  Do you engage in a lot of online interaction with your readers?

I'm absolutely horrible with keeping up with emails.  So I'm sure I've alienated a few fans that way, though I hope most of them understand.  My forum unfortunately blew up early this year, but luckily most of the members came back.  I have a /very /loving and supportive fan base.  When my computer died this past spring and took all my software down with it, they donated two times the amount I needed to purchase the new versions.  I LOVE my fans.

 

Did you read comics as a kid?  Which ones?  What are your influences from comics today?

Heck yes.  Classic superhero comics FTW.  I've still got them all too.  As for today's comics, I'm sadly out of touch.  Though a friend of mine did get me the first volume of Sandman by Neil Gaiman, which was very interesting. 

 

Other non-comic influences on your art and/or writing?

I think I've watched more cartoons than read comics.  If I had cable I'd probably still spend all Saturday morning watching them.  My most recent favourites and influences are Samurai Jack, Avatar, and anything with any variety of Batman in it.  As for writing, I'm two books away from finishing Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and while I certainly wouldn't compare myself to him, (or anyone else really), he's certainly an inspiration.

 

What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?

Well, I have to admit that there's many days when I wish I DID just write the story as a novel rather than a comic.  It would be so much easier to just say what happens rather than show it.  It takes me 5+ hours to do a single comic page and that usually gets through less than 10 lines of dialog per.  But in the end, it's a story that's just meant  to be told with pictures as well as words.