Damonk Dances on the Head of Rodrigo Pin: an Alex and Ilia interview
Rodrigo Pin is one of the newer crop of webtoonists. Having recently snuck on the scene with his Keenspace-hosted comic Alex and Ilia, he wasn't able to keep himself or his work a secret for very long. Now a very prominent voice among the newer toonists, Pin can be found spreading his words on message boards across the, umm, board. His distinctive comic art and coloring, his ability to help promote fellow fledgling cartoonists, and his very popular lead characters have likewise established him as a strong new up-and-comer in the toonist landscape.
In this interview, Pin talks about his real love (which may or may *not* be webcomics, GASP!), addresses some challenges that newer toonists must face when starting out, spills his thoughts on the current manga-esque trends in webcomics, and spins off on Spinozisms...
Okay, let's warm up with a few questions about you and your work. First off, tell us a little more about yourself, Rodrigo...
Let’s see... I am 22 years old, I’m getting a Public Relations degree this year and pretending to start an architecture course. For someone this young, I have already worked at a lot of jobs, from McDonald’s staff to press assessor, and my current job is freelance webdesigning.
My relationship with comics started very early, I was (and still am) a big fan of Monica, probably the most famous brazilian comic character around the world. My early influences also include Warner Bros. cartoons and superhero comics. As a kid I always enjoyed spending time alone more than playing sports with my friends, so I read a lot of books and comics, and watched morning cartoons religiously.
Back when I was a teenager, I decided to take drawing more seriously, and it eventually earned me a job as an illustrator, which I quickly abandoned due to some disappointments. By that time I decided not to ever draw anything again. Two years later I regretted and resumed my artistic activities, and here I am now. It’s incredible the amount of stuff you can forget in two years. But one thing I learned from that experience is that I’m better off keeping art as a hobby rather than working with it.
What exactly were the disappointements with the illustrator job?
They were more annoyances with the particular job I got than anything, but they were enough to jade me against wanting to work with that again. I know that not every editor out there is someone who calls your home at 3am to brawl about something that was his fault on the first place. I had to start skipping school in order to finish my deadlines until it eventually reached a point where I had to choose between failing college or losing my job. I chose the first and never looked back. Although, children's books are still one of my great passions, and if someday I'm given an opportunity to try again upon different conditions, I would love it. But it's not something I look forward to.
Now say something about your comic for our readers.
Alex and Ilia tells the story of an unusual couple, a boy with superpowers and an alien girl. It’s a very simple plot as you can see, and whenever I think about it, the only thing I can tell about my work that is really unique is the approach. The distinctive thing about my comic is that I decided to tell it from the end. It brings a lot of problems, the biggest of them being the sense of ‘misleading’ my readers when they first come to my comic. But it has its bright sides as well, and A&I has an undeniable factor of mystery that keeps readers coming back, I think.
Alex and Ilia is also one of the very few works out there displaying love without relying on sexual tension. Although being a simple and unpretentious little story, it’s also a big protest to all fictional works out there. We all learned through Hollywood movies that loving is harder than it actually is. Those movies teach us how love can be the answer to all of our questions when in fact it’s not. Real life is not like that, and no matter how much we think our partner is perfect for us, every couple have to face the problems of sharing a life together. My comic is still very young, but one thing I can say is that my characters won’t be in love with each other forever.
I will definitely work towards turning their marriage more realistic (as realistic as a boy with superpowers and an alien lizard girl can get). My characters will learn that love is not about meeting your soulmate, the one who will make you complete. Love is about the joy this person can bring into your life, not the joy the possession of this person brings. I like to joke that while most comics out there are either Plato- or Aristophanes-like, mine is one of the only Spinozist ones.
What do you mean by Spinozist? And how are other comics Plato or Aristophanes-like?
I'll try to be as succint as I can here, but this is a question that really needs some deep explanation. I'm sure everyone has heard of Aristophanes's 'Stuck-Together People' myth at least once in their lifetime. It tells us what love should be, what we want to hear about it. Aristophanes believes we are incomplete beings wandering on the face of the Earth looking for the half that is going to make us happy again.
You don't have to go far to recognize Aristophanes around. Almost every romantic tale is about two wanting to become one, searching for their half, believing that once they find it they can finally be complete.
On the other side we have Plato (or Plato's Socrates if you want to get technical), providing us a realistic albeit pessimistic vision of love. To Plato love was about lack. To him, you could only love what you didn't own and desired to have, and you could only be in love with it for as long as you didn't possess it. People often refer to platonic love and unrequited love as if they were synonyms, but the big truth is that what characterizes a platonic relationship is not so much the distance between the lover and the object of his love as it is the desire of the lover to possess that object of love.
In short, while to Aristophanes's love was about completeness, Plato's was about the very opposite. Still, while they are opposite, they complement each other, and they both explain pretty much 90% of the love relationships, be them real or fictional. I'm sure no one here would have problems spotting thousands of webcomics where the love situations could be described as the desire of the protagonist for his/her love, until the conflict eventually resolves and they get together at the end to finally live happily after ever.
Spinoza believed there was more to love than that. To him, every human being has this force that drives them to continue existing. This force, this 'potency of living' could be raised or diminished by the contact with our surroundings. To put it short and simple, Spinoza's love is not about the desire for someone, but the joy (the idea of) that person brings into one's life. To Spinoza, if my potency was raised by the idea of something or someone, it was love. This represents a giant leap since Aristophanes's poems or Plato's philosophy, since the object of love was not the desire or the completeness anymore, but the very self.
Spinoza's love lies in the present instead of projecting itself on the future. It's not a love that is to yet to be, it's a possible love, a love that recognizes it cannot be anything else than that joy accompanied by the idea of its cause. Still, I don't think I could fit just one of those definitions into my comic. Every love is about the idealization, the desire and the joy altogether. But the thing about mine is that it doesn't end on the idealization/desire part. It's a love that lives in the present, and that makes a lot of difference when compared to other webcomics.
You have the distinction of being a webcartoonist from Brazil. Have you come across any other Brazilian webcartoonists yet?
From time to time, I try to run searches in order to find other webcomic artists from my country. I've only found six so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number did not surpass 10 comics. Most of those don’t even update anymore.
There are professional artists who present their comics on the 'Net as well, but those lack the “philanthropic” character of webcomic artists. I often feel some kind of loneliness, as I wish my compatriots to be more present in our little community. But somehow it’s also good. For one, I can say I was there at the beginning, and the fact that webcomics are just starting to catch on in Brazil may still open a lot of opportunities for me. There’s a legend that says the lag time between Brazil and US is about four years. The blog phenomenon, which took place in the States years ago, just surfaced here in 2003. I wouldn’t be surprised if out of nowhere we start seeing a bloom of Brazilian webcartoonists. My people are very talented, they just need to discover our media first.
Since you're a new webcartoonist yourself, it has to be asked: why did you start in the first place, and what exactly inspired you to do so?
The first and most important reason for me to start a webcomic is that I want to improve as an artist. I always loved telling stories, and although drawing is not one my favorite hobbies, I still give importance to knowing how to express myself through pictures. I’m still pretty new to our media, and only recently I decided to explore all the possibilities hypercomics can offer. Every time I look through my archives I realize how much my comic changed already, and in the next years I expect it to keep changing even more. I still need to find my place when it comes to webcomics, but I’m taking my time to do it. Popularity is not my main drive, and I’m not in a hurry.
You say that drawing is not one of your favorite hobbies, so what IS your favorite hobby?
After I first quit drawing, I started to take interest in the culinary arts, and decided to study and practice cooking. Although, webcartooning is really taking me away from it lately.
It kills your social life, isn't that what they say?
Some would say that pursuing a hobby that is not your favorite is wasting time. So I want to ask: if drawing is not your favorite hobby, why do you devote so much time to it?
I wouldn't call it a waste of time. I do enjoy drawing a lot. But cooking, jogging, or playing games are more suitable hobbies for me.
I suffer from hyperactivity and short attention span, I can't sit on the drawing table for too long. The reason why I take so much time to finish a single page is that I can't sit to draw it straight without losing my concentration. I found that it works best for me to draw while doing something else, like listening to a lecture or surfing the Internet.
Now, as for why I'm so devoted to it: I never finished anything in my life, and I need to prove to myself that for once I can do it. My comic will hit one year on October 6, and if I can make it without missing one update it would be a great victory in my life. I want to finish the stories I started to tell.
Your website navigation is quite unique. In fact, I've heard that a lot of people never quite figure out how it works – they even joke about that in the message boards. Want to comment?
The only hatemail I received so far came from someone complaining about my old navigation. Comparing to this new one, the other was even more confusing and misleading, so I decided to take some of the requests into account and apply those changes.
A lot of people hate Flash and look down on my comic because I decided to place a dynamic navigator. But I have some experience with Flash, and I felt it would be better to condense all my links into one little bar in order to save space. The problem with trying different kinds of webdesign is that not everyone is bound to like them, so trying something innovative is always like shooting in the dark.
Some put accessibility and simplicity above everything else, but I felt if I did that, I would be cheating myself. I feel that some compromise into deliver a content that pleases your readers must exist, yet they should never decide how you need to run your comic. It’s a balance, where the “me” side tends to be a little heavier than the “readers” part.
Ilia herself is also quite unique – though at first glance you'd think she was a cat-girl, she is in fact something entirely different. Want to elaborate for our readers?
Back when I first created her, she was in fact a cat-girl. The first scrapped ideas of A&I are about a boy who meets a cat-girl and discovers he’s destined to save the world, with a lot sexual tension involved until they eventually discovered they love each other in the end. While changing the focus of the story, I realized it’d be cooler to make her a lizard-like creature rather than feline.
One thing I find interesting about my comic is that people often have trouble telling if it’s a furry comic or not. Ilia is an alien who happens to have zoomorphic qualities, but she’s still an alien nonetheless. That would make quite an interesting point for discussion, actually: where does one draws the line? If any comic with an anthropomorphic character will be rated as furry, then we’ll have to change the rating of a lot of comics, starting with Calvin and Hobbes.
While you usually update twice a week, you essentially only update the story once, with filler material appearing the other installment. Why is that?
My real updates only take place on Mondays. Back when I was still planning my comic, I felt that I could keep two updates, but soon I realized that with my schedule I wouldn’t be able to. I still hope to find some time in the future to draw two comics a week, but with work and college there’s not much free time left for me.
As for the fillers: while in the beginning they were attempts to make one-shot jokes, lately they have been gift arts that people send me. I feel that I can put them up as they were real updates, mostly because I’m too lazy to update a gallery just for them. And with the new navigation, it’s easier for everyone to skip those fillers as they wish. So far I got no complaints about my habits, but if in the future it starts to become an issue, I may have to move them somewhere else. But I’m happy where they are now, and my readers don’t seem to mind, either.
Your story has only just begun to get off the ground. And aside from the short prologue that is nestled in a page separate from the comic archives proper, there isn't yet much backstory offered into the characters. Any plans to eventually draw "the origin story" for your readers?
There are plans, yes. But a lot is still going to happen before I start the background story. At my actual pace, that won’t happen till 2006.
Okay, now let's move on to something a little larger in scope. What challenges do you find exist for newer webcomics creators starting out now as opposed to a year ago, three years ago, etc.?
The sooner you start off in the webcomic biz, the better it is for you. Those who started five years ago were the pioneers, and while they had to struggle for recognition of a media that was still setting its foot, they didn’t have to fight their own in order to stand up from the crowd like we do. Nowadays there are tons of different options of webcomics you can choose from, and everyone starting today will just face the fact that somewhere around the world someone is going to start off a webcomic better than theirs and try as hard as them to promote it.
But to be completely honest, I do not see that as all that much of a challenge. In my opinion, the biggest challenge for new webcartoonists is themselves. Popularity is harder to achieve every day, and if you start a webcomic with the purpose of becoming famous and making a living from your work, chances are high you won’t. It happens to very few of us, and the great majority will have to deal and be happy with its 100 readers.
It’s no wonder that most webcomics stop updating within three months: those artists were not sincere with themselves about what they really wanted from webcomics. I think that, compared to three years ago, the webcomic universe in general is in a much better situation for new artists starting comics for fun now. Yes, so it may be harder to able to make money off your work. But on the bright side we have Comixpedia, the Webcomics Examiner, Sequential Tart, comic listings, communities, portals... Everything is happening towards the settling of our universe as more serious, respected, and professional, and that is beneficial for everyone, be they newcomers or veterans.
Were you intimidated by the number of webcomics out there before you started your comic?
When I started I had a rough idea about the number of webcomics out there; I just didn’t know there were just as many. But I never felt intimidated by it. You can say the opposite happened actually, I love seeing so many different webcomics out there.
What are your thoughts on the fact that there are tens of thousands of webcomics out there? How does that affect the community? How does that affect the quality of the work out there?
The thing about webcomics is that anybody can be an artist, regardless of talent or money. As a natural outcome, most of the works will rank a below amateurish level. Does that drag the whole community down? I don’t feel so. We’re still gaining ground in the comics field, and much is still bound to change.
The Internet has proven to be a fertile field for talents to develop, and more and more aspiring artists are going to take advantage of it. With time and dedication, those newcomers will prove to be just as vital to our media as the pioneers that first posted their comics on it. Maybe the webcomics will never lose this amateur nature it has now, but I can tell that in a few years we will be just as (or even more) respected as the paper comic artists.
What kind of things have you tried to get your name out?
Honestly? There’s very little I do with the sole purpose of getting the word of my comic out. I never drew art for popular comics, never asked for links, and never spent a dime on advertising. I was lucky enough to have readers that added me to every listing out there (except for OnlineComics.net which I had to do myself), so I didn’t have to worry about that kind of thing.
But there are indeed actions that I take in order to get my name out, and that’s where I let my PR formation kick in. The difference between PR and advertising is that the first one can’t bring you results in the short run. The step I took that has been showing the most results so far is the decision of being an active member of the webcomic community. I post on several webcomic-related forums with a link on my signature in hopes that I can prove to other artists that I exist. I love webcomic discussions, and genuinely believe I have some contribution to add to them. If people like what I write, they will check my comic. If they get used to what I am and they like me enough, they will link my comic and plug it. But it takes time to build such relationships, and because most people aren’t as patient as I am, they will likely to give up and stop caring about letting their reputation build over time.
Having started on Keenspace, do you have hopes of one day being invited to Keenspot, or do you have other plans for your work?
I never started my comic for money, and for the most part I still hope to keep the two separate. If I start feeling that I have the obligation to draw comics, chances are I’m going to give up on it just like I did before. I think it’ll be greate to sell merchandising someday, and I also have plans of going Indie someday (and maybe building a community of my own). Being on Keenspot was never one of my plans.
Although, granted, I don’t think I’d refuse an offer if they made it. But it’s not like that’s something I expect to happen.
You seem to be an active participant in the Keenspace forums. What do you think of your fellow posters? Do you feel that there is a sense of community or friendship there?
The Keenspace forums are one of the most active comic-related communities out there, and one thing that differs it from other communities is the sense of partnership that goes on that place. Certain forums, like the BuzzComics one for instance, have a distinctive tune of rivalry going between the members that allows simple discussions to develop into ugly flame wars. From the Keenspace forums came many of the big names of our universe, and a lot of important news and events started and took place there as well.
To relate the last question to the earlier question about your filler material – I notice that you've posted some fan art, and have even interviewed some of your fellow 'Spacers. Any particular reason why you've been offering these interviews as part of your comic?
Part of the feeling comes from the fact that at least for a day every week I like to turn my comic into something else. As I said, the gift art goes in the archive for now because I’m still looking for an easy way to manage galleries. And the interviews, which I put on hold for the moment and plan to resume sometime, are an attempt to do something else with my comic, along the lines of what Adrian Ramos of Count Your Sheep does. I decided to offer those as a way to be friendly with my peers and share them with some of my traffic recommending them. One thing I love to do is push my readers to comics I feel they would enjoy.
So here's a chance right now: what webcomics would you tell Comixpedia readers they should go and enjoy?
My taste for webcomics is very wide and tends to change every once in a while. But they can check my links page and reading list for some of the ones that caught my attention the most lately. In fact, readers should always remember to check the links page of the comics they like, they are sure bets of find quality readings of similar taste. But since you're giving me this opportunity to pimp someone, I'd like to give my support to comic listings like the The Webcomic List, Comic Nation, The DragonWire Webcomic Database, and Onlinecomics.net. They are really useful tools for readers to keep track of their favorite comics and find new ones as well.
There are some people who argue that newer creators are often imitating the older, "bigger" names, rather than come out with new ideas. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Inexperienced artists often hold on to a degree of inspiration from their idols and influences that makes it hard to distinguish if they are copying them because they want to base their style upon those bigger artists or are just following a trend or even shamelessly longing for a piece of their marketing power.
My guess (and that’s where I find myself now) is that over time, those artists with a honest feeling towards their influences will let those be just what they are meant to be – influences. As they become more familiarized and experienced on cartooning, they will realize the importance of creating a unique style. As for the others, more often than not they will just vanish their way to forgetfulness because they will always exist on the shadows of the originals they are copying.
If I ever come across another story of a boy with an alien spouse, chances are I will simply not care. If the work is better than mine, great, I will come to read it. If it’s a shameless rip-off, people then will still prefer mine. The way I see it, we get nothing to lose to the imitators, except when there’s money involved. But even then , those creators will always have to deal with the reputation of being plagiarists, and that’s honestly something nobody should aim at when they are creating. I know I wouldn’t like such a reputation upon my work.
There seems to be a trend in newer webcomics in that many of them are drawn in a more manga-esque influenced style. Do you think this is true? Do you think it has an impact, positive or negative? Does it matter?
The number of manga-influenced works among webcomics is very significant. Be it will to copy the works they love, follow a fad or just plain laziness to create a style of their own, the truth is, those artists are proving manga is not something that should be enclosed or restricted to Japanese, or even be considered a separate genre anymore.
I think it’s time to put down the barriers some of us created upon manga-styled works and start seeing them as the unique works they can be. Yes, some may dislike the big eyes and spiky hair, and as long as they are personal choices I’m absolutely fine with it. But manga itself is not 'good' nor 'bad'. It’s just a way of doing comics that influences artists (some more, some less) just like American or European comics do.
To shut yourself from some comic just because it’s manga (you can replace manga with every other generalization if you feel like) is just as negative as liking it just because it is manga. They are all comics, and if you are going to refuse looking at some genre because it’s been done to death you will risk yourself to lose some real pearl of cartooning that could go as far as change your whole views on it.
If it does matter? Hardly. I still keep high influences of the Japanese style upon my work, but one thing I’m trying hard to do is give it my personal imprint. I don’t know if I’m achieving such a goal, yet I feel this is something I cannot rush. With time and dedication I will be able to make my work more unique, something people can recognize as mine when they see it. I’m incorporating a large range of influences upon my work as well, and if those don’t show up now, someday they will. I do not want people looking at my work and raking it as manga. I’d rather have they ranking it as “Rodrigo”.
There also seems to be a major shift from comic strip format to comic book story/serial format. Why do you think that is?
Stories are easier to tell than jokes. I tried both, and I know humor is not my thing. There are still a lot of people telling jokes on the Internet, but the ones making real humor are very few. Sarcasm, irony, and sitcom-esque lines can be amusing and entertaining, and I certainly get a chuckle out of some, but they should not be taken as humor. When you laugh at someone else’s expense, it’s not humor. I realized that I don’t have the capability to do a legitimate and honest humor like Woody Allen, and the best I could come up are said sitcom situations.
The serializing nature of a great part of the works on the 'Net is evidence of our desire to put our characters on situations we wish we could be as well. Some of us may take Mary Sue-ism more seriously than others; still, every one of us is creating our little fictional worlds and putting our characters on them to suffer, fight, and love because we want to see them change, we want to see things happening to them.
More than the humor argument, I think this explains better why people are making this leap. Telling a story is about developing a conflict and resolving it. We already live our little boring cyclic lives, our comics are just a way to tell the world that life can be much more.
Okay, last question: as a fairly new creator yourself, if you had any advice to people thinking about starting a webcomic now, what would it be?
Do it for yourself, and if your work is good enough, don’t worry. Others will come to read it sooner or later.