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Jeph Jacques Answers Questions About his Questionable Content

Jeph Jacques is the author of Questionable Content – a Web comic about a frustrated music nerd named Marten, his walking-and-talking PC named Pintsize, and his mysterious roommate Faye. It’s about finding a purpose in life, indie rock, and drinking with friends.

Jeph, 24, is originally from the town of Rockville, Maryland. After graduating from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in music, Jeph has settled in Northampton, Massachusetts with his girlfriend.

Hey there Jeph! How did you get started in online comics?
About a year and a half ago, a band I had been in broke up, which was really frustrating for me. I was sick of having to depend on other people in order to do creative things, and was looking for something I could do on my own that would be an outlet for my creative impulses. I was a long-time reader of a number of webcomics at that point, and thought to myself, "you know what, I bet I could do a webcomic of my own." I spent a couple months working on story ideas and building a small backlog of strips, and launched Questionable Content on August 1, 2003.

How long has QC been online?
Pretty much exactly a year now. It is crazy how far I have come in that time!

Why the name Questionable Content? (with permission from Jeph Jacques from his interview with Luallen)
When I was looking for a domain name/title for the comic, I had a tough time trying to think of a good one. I didn’t want to do something lame. Questionable Content is my little way of letting people new to the comic know that I write about boobs and farting and getting drunk sometimes. It is not a PG comic and “dot net” just sounds cool to me for some reason.

Is this your first stab at Web comics?
It's the first one to actually make it onto the Internet. I had a couple premature ideas prior to QC but they never panned out.

What do you do for a living?
I do graphic design, web, and administrative stuff for a local alternative newspaper.

As I read in your interview with Luallen, you "look at banner ads as a necessary evil” and don’t have any banner ads on your site. How do you fund your comic to stay online?
Well, right now I am really fortunate to have free hosting thanks to my friend Nihilist who helps run a company called S2G-Limited, so that cuts out the vast majority of potential expenses. QC eats a LOT of bandwidth each month so I am really lucky that I do not have to pay for it right now. The main expense for me at this point is time, and my wonderful readers help compensate me for that time by graciously donating or buying t-shirts and other merchandise.

Why do you do it? I mean, I’ve interviewed a lot of people about their Web comic, and it’s their “passion” and they’re into graphic design or computers. You graduated with a bachelor of music and are doing a Web comic three times a week! What drives you to do it?
Wow, this is a tough question – there are a lot of reasons! For one thing I just have this insatiable desire to always be doing something creative. That is what got me started doing the comic and remains one of the major motivations. Another reason is that I have a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder – that's probably why I've been so regular in terms of updates and stuff. I like the constant challenge that drawing a comic like this one presents – I am always trying to improve my art and writing. The fans play a big part in it too – I've repeatedly said that I'd still be doing QC if nobody read it, but it is still wonderful encouragement to know that so many people enjoy my work.

Mainly, though, the reason I draw QC is because I have these characters that I love almost as if they were my children, and I really want to see where they end up.

You gave really good advice to Web cartoonists in your interview with Luallen. So, are you saying you started this comic out of mere fun, to stir things up a little in the Web comic world?
I didn't really go into it thinking "yeah, I'm gonna show these people how it's done," that would have been way egotistical of me. I just had an idea of how I thought a webcomic could be created and presented, and stuck with it. I wanted to tell a story and deal with aspects of life and culture that I thought were interesting, and I just did what felt right.

You say that if you aren’t a great artist or don’t have the writing ability, you should find a partner that does so you can compliment each other and create a good comic. Do you have a second half? Have you ever?
I think QC is too personal a project for me to ever really "share" it with another writer or artist. I have such particular ideas about the story and how the characters should look and act that I'd probably just make the other person miserable. I do think I could work on another story with someone else doing the artwork, though, if it was someone whose art style I really liked. Sometimes even for a lone wolf like me, great things can come from collaboration.

If this is not your career path, would you say it’s more of a hobby? Like reading is for others?
I hesitate to call it a hobby because I feel so dedicated to it. It's definitely not paying the bills right now but I feel like it's something more substantial than a hobby.

Learning to play the piano is a hobby, this is something else.

Your comic is not PG whatsoever. Your title “Questionable Content” speaks for itself. What is your most R rated comic to date?
I don't think I've done anything that I would consider very risque. My characters will say "fuck" and "shit" sometimes, and make jokes about anal sex, just like people do in real life. I think Faye's hand gesture in panel 3 of comic #18 ("Children Do Not Belong There") is probably the most profane thing I've ever drawn.

I mean there are far XXX rated comics online than QC ever is, but I have to ask, have you ever had any complaints about your comic?
Sometimes my dad or some other family member will complain about the language or whatever, but I just tell them "this is how people talk and act in real life." The average 10-year-old will hear more profanity and sexual innuendo in a day's worth of cable TV than if he read through my entire archive.

You are quite young, but seem to be organized (“having a regular schedule and sticking to it”). Do you have a five-year plan?
Part of that is just obsessive-compulsive disorder (haha), and part of that is just being in the routine of working on the comic three times per week, every week for a year straight now. I don't have a five year plan, mainly because I don't think the current incarnation of QC will last that long. The current storyline definitely has a climax and resolution at some point in the relatively-distant future, and once that happens I have a few ideas on where QC could go from there. Nothing's set in stone yet, though- you'll just have to wait and see!

What are your goals for the future?
Just to stay alive so I can keep drawin', basically! I am having a lot of fun doing this so I don't plan to stop anytime soon.

QC is getting quite popular. Do you know how many fans/readers you have?
As of July 9th, it looks like my site gets between 10,000 and 13,000 unique visitors on update days and slightly less than that on off days. That is roughly 1000 times more traffic than I ever expected to get! It completely blows my mind that so many people enjoy what I do- I am just some music nerd who draws pictures in his spare time! It is incredibly humbling to think that I bring even a couple seconds of happiness into the lives of so many other people.

What are some of the best comments you’ve had about your comic?
Hell, every email or instant message I get that says "I like your comic" is great! It gives me an extra-special feeling when someone emails me to tell me they really enjoy a band they discovered thanks to my comic- I love the notion that I can introduce people to good music through my work. It's also wonderful when someone whose artwork or writing I really admire says something nice about my work.

What is your favourite QC strip to date?
Artistically speaking, my favorite strip is always the most recent one. I can't go back through my own archives, it's too painful for me to look at the older artwork. In terms of overall quality, I honestly can't pick a single strip as my favorite. I do tend to like the comics where Faye and Dora are interacting with each other and being smart-asses more than the rest, though.

Are you a loyal fan of other Web comics? Any specifics that helped you develop yourself as a cartoonist?
The biggest single inspiration for me, and my favorite webcomic out there, is Scary Go Round by the wonderful John Allison.

His sense of style and his skill with dialogue routinely amaze me. I take little bits and pieces of inspiration from all sorts of places, be it fan art that readers send me or a particular pose or line in someone else's comic. All of my Dayfree Press brethren do wonderful work, I read all of their stuff regularly. Some other comics I really enjoy are Wigu, Diesel Sweeties, Dinosaur Comics, Achewood, Fallen ...there are too many good comics out there to list!

Are any of your comic strip ideas from personal experiences? An anecdote would be ideal here...if there is one.
Sometimes one of the characters will do or say something that reflects a personal opinion of my own, but generally they are their own people. Comic #16 ("You're Ruining the Moment") represents everything I hate about indie-rock shows, or concerts in general really.

Whenever I go to a concert it seems like there is always one idiot who tries to start a mosh-pit (bonus asshole points for the dudes who try moshing during quiet songs- NOBODY LIKES YOU), there's always some girl directly behind you yelling to her friends over the music, and there's always some drunk dude who is knocking people over so he can get to the front of the stage, where he promptly pukes on the guitarist's effects pedals which then short circuit, electrocuting the guitarist and starting a fire that eventually burns the entire club down...okay maybe I am getting a little carried away there but you get the point.

You are doing a mini-comic that will be available at Connecticon. Is this a QC mini-comic? What inspired you to go print?
The mini-comic is indeed a Questionable Content story, it basically focuses on a little slice of Marten and Faye's daily life. I had always planned on doing printed collections and stories for QC at some point, but visiting the MoCCA convention in NYC this summer really lit a fire under my ass to actually get something printed in time for Connecticon as well as to sell on the site. People (me included) like having something tangible to associate with comics they read, and this mini-comic is the first of what will hopefully be quite a few QC-related publications to come out in the future.

You are a creative guy. What other "creative" things do you do other than your Web comic? What else do you enjoy doing – be it outdoor activities, etc.?
I play guitar and bass a lot in my spare time, and have a small home recording setup where I will compose and record original music. It's primarily for my own enjoyment but other people seem to like it as well. Lately I've been riding my new bike a lot, it is good to save gas and get a little exercise while you do it. I read voraciously- mostly sci-fi lately, but also lots of history books and fiction.

Are the bands that you mention in your strip real? How do you hear of them? What is your favourite indie band(s)? And, what would you describe as indie?
All of the bands that I mention in the comics (and on Marten's t-shirts) are real, with the exception of the band I mention in the mini-comic. I don't really have a "favorite" band, there's too much good stuff out there to just pick one or two bands that are somehow better than all the rest, but lately I have been enjoying the heck out of Mogwai, AC Newman, The Album Leaf, and Ratatat.

Indie rock is really hard to describe because it's not one specific genre or style or scene. I think of the term "indie rock" as a convenient generalization – when someone asks me what kind of music I listen to, it's a lot easier to say "oh, mostly indie rock" instead of listing a million different bands and genres that they probably haven't even heard of anyway. Everything from standard guitars-drums-bass bands like Guided By Voices to post-classical groups like Godspeed You! Black Emperor to computerized pop bands like the Postal Service can be considered indie rock. It's too broad a term to really make any specific statements about it.

Other than being mildly obsessive-compulsive, what kind of person are you? :)
Well for starters I don't look like Marten :). A lot of people assume I am some little skinny dude when in reality I am 6'3" and look more like a football player than an indie hipster. I'm pretty shy in real life but this whole webcomic thing is sort of forcing me to come out of my shell a little more, since I am meeting so many new people all the time.

A lot of people tell me I'm a really nice guy, which is good to hear because I definitely try not to be an asshole to people. Really I'm just a regular guy who just happens to draw some pictures in his spare time that a lot of people seem to enjoy.

Out of all your characters, who is the one that most resembles you? Have you modeled any of the other characters after people or personalities you have come across in life?
I think all of the characters resemble me to some extent, as they're all filtered through my personality before they end up in the comic. Marten most frequently says things or voices opinions that echo my own, but even he differs from me in quite a few ways. Pintsize is a direct extension of the more random aspects of my sense of humor. None of the characters are really modeled on specific people, I just sort of start with an archetype and build up around that until I have something that hopefully resembles an actual personality.

Why does Faye have such a guarded personality? What makes her so guarded?
Faye's personality and little quirks are largely due to her past, which is still pretty mysterious at this point. She's got this relaxed, affectionate side to her that she tries to keep under tight control, but every so often it gets out – especially after she's knocked back a few. I'd love to explain her reasons for this, but that would spoil the mystery.

There are clues scattered here and there throughout the comic, but nothing that completely explains her origins. Man, being cryptic is fun!

You introduce all your characters in the "About" section of your site except for Dora. Could you give her a brief bio now?
Actually I just added a little blurb about Dora. One thing I didn't mention in the blurb is that right now I think she's my favorite character. There's just something about her playful sense of humor and her generally open personality that I think is the perfect foil to Marten and Faye, who tend to keep things more bottled up.

In three sentences or less, describe QC in your own words.
Questionable Content is a webcomic about indie rock, romance, and anthropomorphic computers. You can read it at http://www.questionablecontent.net. This third sentence serves no purpose, why are you reading it?

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