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Playing With The Queen of Wands: An Interview with Aeire

Queen of Wands is about Shannon and Felix and Kestrel. Shannon and Felix are married but Felix and Kestrel used to date. Felix and Shannon used to be married to other people. Kestrel liked Seamus but Seamus liked Angela. Angela told Kestrel that she told Seamus that Kestrel liked Seamus. If this sounds like a webcomic about relationships and romance and just real life, well, that's because it is.

Queen of Wands creator Aeire spent a few minutes at the keyboard recently answering some of our questions.

Is Aeire your given name, a nickname, handle? What does it mean and how do you pronounce it?

It's a pen name that was originally a nickname that I picked years and years ago because I needed a name that *wasn't* taken. It doesn't really have any meaning as far as I'm aware, since I just made it up on the spot. *g* Usually if I'm talking to people I'll just tell 'em it's Celtic - it's a lot easier than having to explain the whole story to them, and most people will say 'Oh, okay' and leave it at that. It's pronounced 'eye-ree', two syllables, no real accent on either syllable. It's hard to pronounce unless you've actually heard it, but that gets it close enough for most people to get by.

How old are you? Where are you from and where do you currently make your home?
I'm 27, and I was born in Michigan but moved to Colorado when I was about six years old and grew up in Grand Junction. After moving out of my parents place, I moved to Denver with two friends of mine and we lived there for about two years I think before I decided to relocate. I'm currently living in San Diego with a gaggle of other people, most of them cartoonists.

How is it living with other cartoonists? Is it a good environment for creativity or just utter chaos?
Little of both, but much more the former than the latter. I live with six other people in a big 'ol two story home in San Diego. Out of the seven of us, six of us are either currently involved in comics, or have been involved in comics - there's myself, Scix of Psychic Dyslexia Institute, Filmbuff and Elvengrrl of 24FPS, Tony, who used to do the art for PDI and still does occasionally, and Le, who was writing a comic called Hi-Octane at one point, a superhero comic, but he's lacking an artist right now so it hasn't re-started.

Then there's Lynn - he doesn't do a comic at all.

However, he reads a lot of them, and he's good at giving input back on storylines and story ideas, and he gives us input on designs and that sort of thing as well. The house itself is more than large enough for all of us, and it's really, really fun to live with these people - we're constantly asking for feedback from each other and bouncing designs off of each other and just talking comics. You want to talk webcomic community, we have one - we're living in one. *g* I've lived here a little over two years now, and it has to be the best place that I've lived so far.

How much of the webcomic is autobiographical? Do you identify with one or some or none of the characters?
It varies, but right now I'd say it's about 80% or so autobiographical, or at the very least loosely based on real life. Kestrel is loosely based on me, and Shannon and Felix are loosely based on my two roommates from Denver - I use the word loosely because they all started growing their own personas the farther along I got with the strip. Honestly at this point, I think there's at least a little bit of me in every character I write - but I think that's true with a majority of webcomics out there.

I guess in part I identified with the comic because I had some good friends in school who were married but still had a third roommate (another woman) living with them. Did you base this premise on something from your life or did you just imagine this would be an interesting premise for a webcomic?
A little from column a, a little from column b, actually. I was living with my friends, the couple that Felix and Shannon are based on, for about four years total I think. So the living situation in the comic is something that I've been through - but the stuff that I had been through seemed interesting to me. A lot of weird, random, stupid and silly shit.

And I realized that there weren't a lot of comics out there that dealt with life after college -when you're 20-something and attempting to simply get by. It's not really a part of a person's life that they tend to remember, but with my audience and with a lot of the webcomic audience, it's something they're actually living through right now. So they identify with it, and they care about what's going on. I have an audience of all ages, but the majority of them fall into that age range.

I think that's an interesting point. There are a lot of webcomics with characters in school and a number of webcomics with characters in workplace environments but it seems like there are not really that many dealing with that in-between period that a lot of people go through where they are out of school but not quite settled into anything permanent yet. It seems like an appealing period of life to tell stories about characters going through tremendous changes.

Do you think your webcomic appeals to just that age group or to a broader age range of fans?
The feedback that I get ranges anywhere from teenagers to people in school to people in their 30s and 40s - I even have some in their 50s.

I think the comic itself appeals to people of all ages - they're either going through their twenty-something years and can identify, or they're teens that have been in similar situations, or they're older than that, and wiser, and the comic strikes a different note for them - yes, it's funny, and yes, they can identify, but they can also see the really silly choices that are made and the events that are happening from an older perspective, and it's twice as funny at that point because you've not only got the humour from the strip, but the knowledge of what's going on from the other side of the mirror so to speak.

A lot of the things that troubled me when I was in middle school and high school now seem incredibly ridiculous and petty, and it's just so funny that they affected me the way that they did, or that I took them as seriously as I did when in truth it wasn't anything direly important at all.

I think that there are some people that read Queen of Wands and get the same from it - some people look and identify, some people look and file the information in the comic away for future reference, and some people look at it and see that really important thing that was bothering them years and years ago, and realize just how ridiculous that situation was, and then they laugh.

I also had a friend who was just like Angela who got called "Button" a lot (as in "cute as a button"). I amazed at how well you've made shortness a part of this character as opposed to just using it for a quick joke. I noticed that you haven't done a cast page yet – care to give a quick sentence for each of the four main characters?

Angela was an interesting character to write - she's based off of three or four people that I've known in my lifetime, and was actually meant to be just a one-shot character for the first storyline she appeared in. But she grew on me, and she grew on everyone else, so she's turned into this interesting character that's become a lot of fun to write. As far as the cast page goes, it's more of a 'I need to get off my lazy butt and make one', which I intend to get around to but it's not high on my list of priorities.

Kestrel; she's a smart girl that makes very, very stupid choices - strong and yet at the same time incredibly fragile, childlike and yet adult at the same time, she tends to be a contradiction to herself and it confuses her.

Shannon is the wise one, the one that is the most 'straight man' of all of the characters in my comic, she's smart, she's self-possessed, she knows what she's doing and she's very much an adult - but that doesn't stop her from having worries and doubts, she's just slightly more capable of handling them.

Felix is the loving husband/comic relief/stupid guy with amazing moments of brilliance when he just opens his mouth and the right words come out, and no one knows if it's by accident, or if he's been smart all along and he's just hiding it.

Angela is a small blonde pixie of merry meddling who traded in height for temper, she's got a wickedly evil sense of humor and realizes that her size is more of an advantage than a handicap - unless she's trying to reach something on a high shelf.

How much of the plot of Queen of Wands did you have worked out when you started? How much do you have worked out now?
The way that I figure out the plot for Queen of Wands is a lot different than my usual route. I have story 'chunks' - little arcs here and there of things that have to happen by a certain point in time, and it's all in my head.

When I started Queen of Wands I was unsure of what precisely I wanted to do with the strip. I had all the plot points and the little stories, but I wasn't really sure what point I was trying to make with them all. The storyline, the events, and the ending have all been plotted out since the beginning, but they really solidified in February of 2003, the flashback storyline - that's when I figured out exactly what I wanted to do with it, where I wanted it to go, and what it needed to say.

Since I have all these little plots running around in my head, it's relatively easy to shift them around when necessary either to clear up character confusion, or add in something extra to the story that I hadn't thought about before, or to add in crossovers and things like that.

You have a number of cross-overs and cameos with Something Positive. What's going on with you and Mr. Milholland? It's actually a pretty good fit in my opinion as the sense of humor and the cast of characters mostly seem to exist in the same type of universe. Did you both decide you wanted to do a crossover at some point or did one of you see an opportunity in one comic to weave in the other comic?
Randy and I started talking when Something Positive hit its stride and he got forums for the comic, which have since shut down - I was thinking about Queen of Wands at the time, and bringing it back, and I realized that his characters and mine were fairly similar in age ranges and temperament, so I asked if he would like to do a crossover, and suggested the original Choo-choo Bear story arc because it required very little effort on his and my parts - all I had to do was draw a boneless pink cat, and all he had to do was have his characters look for him.

It was a lot of fun, but there were a few loose ends that were left with that crossover, and on a whim I brought up one of those loose ends, which was batted around awhile and then left alone, and then brought back again with the second crossover because Kestrel needed to figure out some things, and needed to have some things pointed out to her, and honestly the best character to point out all these things in a manner in which she would listen was Davan.

I didn't really mean for our strips to intermingle as much as they have, but Randy is a total blast to work with and the crossovers are a lot of fun to do - I really enjoy working with him, and he's a good friend.

I also noticed you've had some cool guest comics, including one from Megs of Eat The Roses. Do you talk to a lot of other artists who create webcomics? What, if anything do you get out of being an active participant in the "webcomics community"?
You know, I had this really long answer typed out about the resources and the support and the sense of family that I get from being in the webcomics community, because I figured that's what the world would like to hear. But it's not really being truthful, and honestly, I'm not as much of an 'active participant' in it anymore, and I haven't been for awhile.

I have cartoonists that I talk to, and I have cartoonists on my friends list that are my friends, but I don't really get into as much of the 'community' aspects of everything nowadays. What I HAVE gotten out of the community is a lot of good friends, and a lot of good resources for information and help if I need it, and input if I need it, and I greatly appreciate that and I love all of my friends dearly.

However, I think there's a lot more that the community could be, but I don't think it's quite gotten to the point where everyone can simply let bygones be bygones and just get along, which I find kind of sad. Everyone in the community has a veritable wealth of information as far as techniques and materials they use, ideas for stories, input on writing and drawing techniques, business plans and marketing strategies, all of the things that go into making a webcomic - but no one seems to want to share their information or be willing to hear someone else's opinion without getting horribly offended, and no one seems to be able to phrase an opinion without it coming off as tactless or insulting.

There's a lot of creativity out there, and there's a lot of really common minds out there that all seem to be working on this webcomics thing for the same basic reasons, but things like negative comments or accusations of theft or bad press or name-calling or gossiping seem to get in the way. I'm sure it's the same with any industry out there (heck, look at the movie industry - it's FULL of drama, no pun intended), but I think that the community could work together as a whole to create something much more than just a bunch of artists plugging away by themselves, trying to create something that people will read and enjoy.

I noticed that it seemed like after the first guest week your art work improved significantly. Did you make any changes at that point or did it all feel like a gradual evolution to you?
That particular 'evolutionary jump' was born out of the flashback storyline from before the guest strips - I had to find a way to tell that particular story arch, and the four-panel layout that I had been using just wasn't working for me anymore, I couldn't get enough information across in four panels no matter how hard I tried to trim it down.

I've been a fan of 'infinite canvas' style comics for awhile, and I gleaned a little off of that - by floating the panels over a solid background, I could arrange them however I wanted. And I started using 'eye guides' in the background – if you look at any of the strips from after the original flashback you'll notice that the background is two-toned, and the lighter parts of the background follow the floating panels - sort of something to lead the reader's eye around. It's subtle, but it works for me.

The art style itself has always been a gradual evolution that looks like giant leaps when I go back and look at it. I'll find something to latch onto stylistically and work with that until I find something else that works for me and keep adding different techniques to my repertoire of...well, art stuff.

An exploration of religion, belief, actually a skepticism of organized religions generally seems to be part of the themes in Queen of Wands. How did you come to make that part of Kestrel's character?
Actually, that particular strip you're referencing isn't a comment on religion, it's more of a comment on l33t-speak than anything else. For some reason I find it twice as irritating when religious organizations use the stuff than when AOLers do. I think it's because religion is supposed to be a sacred and personal thing, not 'THE HAXX0RZ UF KEW RIST R0XX0RZ UR SOUL' or whatever.

As far as religion and the exploration of Wicca in the comic – as I've said before, Kestrel's loosely based on me. I'm not really what you would call a religious person. I don't necessarily have a lot of skepticism towards organized religion, what I have is a healthy respect for various religions and the knowledge that it isn't really for me. Kestrel's still at the point where she's figuring all of that out and deciding where she stands – and that decision is one of those important ones that make up who she is as a person.

I think that a lot of people go through that same period in their lives where they start questioning what exactly they should believe in, and what is the 'right' way to go with that.

I love the grammar nazi strips. Is this a personal pet peeve? Is grammar a big part of your day job?
Personal pet peeve. 'l33t-speak' irritates the hell out of me. If I have to decipher what I'm reading, I don't really want to bother reading it. And the lose/loose thing is another sticking point - more and more people are using the word 'loose' as a substitute for the word 'lose'. They mean two different things.

I read a lot, I tend to speed-read, and nothing annoys me more than a typo in a book or story, especially a printed professional novel - it trips me up. It's like throwing a rock in front of me while I'm running down the street. It's just jarring to read, and I'm afraid that these errors that are becoming more and more common are going to gradually be accepted as 'correct', when they are not. I think I spend too much time worrying about it though, and the Grammar Nazi is part mythical woman who should exist, and part me poking fun at myself for taking grammar and spelling a little TOO seriously at times. *g*

There are all kinds of porn-related jokes in webcomics. I actually laughed at yours. I hate to ask, (especially after all the emails I got over Comixpedia's May issue) but what do you think about your characters attitude to hentai – are you making fun of it, embracing it?
Porn is funny. Anything involving two naked sweaty grunting bodies groping each other is absolutely hysterical. I think hentai is even more ridiculous than regular pornography, because it's all drawn out. Someone went to the effort of not only coming up with a story about naked sweaty grunting bodies, but they actually went to the trouble of getting someone to animate it, and got voice actors to make sexy sounds into a microphone. I just think the whole idea is pretty goddamned hysterical, and it makes it fun to watch - to me it's not sexual, it's just sheer entertainment.

My characters' attitude towards hentai and porn in general pretty much mirror my own: it's fun to watch, sometimes it's exciting, sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's just plain gross. It's just porn. It's sex. Sex is funny. That's why I enjoy reading Sexy Losers - because there seems to be this buildup and mystery surrounding sex and pornography, and Hard does a very clever job of de-mystifying it. His comic isn't a pornographic comic, it's a satire of what a pornographic comic should be, and it continually points out that sex isn't anything high and mighty or magical or sacred, it's something that when you get right down to it is just raw, base, animal instinct, which is pretty gross, and funny because of it.

I've got the same kind of question for you with the strips about Felix dressing in woman's clothing. I thought it was great that it was both funny, but much more three-dimensional about it than just a quick joke. And yet as opposed to the use of paganism with Kestrel, I never quite got how this fit into Felix's character and you haven't come back to it. What do you think it revealed about Felix and what do you think about it?
Oh, this is a good story. See, the cross-dressing thing with Felix was meant to be a one-shot gag. That's all. And I made that comic, and after I put it up I got a veritable deluge of email asking if Felix was gay. Because he put on a skirt and made himself look like a girl. I couldn't leave it be, so I went into it a little further and it ended up being a small storyline because of that.

The only thing it revealed about Felix is that he doesn't have the hang-ups about gender roles that everyone else does. There's no other mystery around it, there's no big 'secret' about Felix, there's no mysterious revelation waiting to be uncovered, and it was funny watching people get so worked up over it - it's just a guy. In a skirt. There's nothing wrong with a guy putting on a skirt, or makeup, or fake boobs. It's just a guy dressing up.

Doesn't mean he wants to be a woman, and definitely doesn't mean he's gay - all it means is that hey, he likes putting on a skirt every once in awhile. I would recommend that every guy put on a skirt at least once in their lifetimes - they're kind of floofy and fun.

Hey, has Wil Wheaton seen this webcomic? You do know he has hordes of web-minions at his command, don't you?
Yes, he has seen it, and I believe his reaction was something along the lines of 'OMG, Kestrel thinks I'm teh hawt' - he thought it was a funny strip. He's a very nice guy, very smart, and a wonderful writer, and I'm glad he took the gag as it was meant to be - just a tongue-in-cheek poke. He's still reading the strip, as far as I know. *g* The readers on his forum seemed to enjoy it as well.

Here'a trivia question for you based on a funny parody strip you did. What "celebrity" voiced a character from the D&D cartoon and what character was it?
There's actually several actors on that show that did voicework and acted in other series - Donny Most did the voice for Eric and he was Ralph on Happy Days, and Presto and Hank both had voice actors that came from Eight is Enough, oddly - also Uni is voiced by Frank Welker, better known as Freddie from Scooby Doo. I think one of the more interesting bits of information about that show is that Paul Dini of Batman: The Animated Series fame was one of the writers for it.

Wow. I think you more than answered the trivia challenge. I'll have to ask Damonk what you won. Is The Queen of Wands your second comic after Xenith? How long have you been actively making webcomics?
Technically, QoW is my third comic. There was a first version of Queen of Wands that ran for a whopping six or seven whole strips before I gave up production on it - I was in between homes after just moving to Denver and I had to go to Kinko's to scan the strips and get them online, and when we finally got an apartment my scanner died on me, at which point I decided that fate was telling me that QoW was just NOT meant to be, at that particular point in time.

This was back in December/January of 2001. I started Xenith after I'd gotten my act together in March of that year, worked on that one for awhile, and then got very tired of working on it - Xenith isn't a happy story, and it's very involved, and it was very draining to work on. I decided to try bringing QoW back - only instead of my original story idea, I'd go with the second story idea, the one that I'd decided not to use the first time around. That one took off. I've been actively making webcomics or working on them since about November of 2000. It doesn't seem that long!

What are your influences art-wise both in comics and out of it? Any other influences on your work?
Bruce Timm - I love his work, and I love how he manages to turn the human figure into a very stylized and simple form. I also really dig how he draws eyes, obviously. Wendy Pini from Elfquest was a big, big influence growing up - there's a lot of my artwork that shows hints and influences of her style. Disney as well - I was a child of the re-birth of Disney, and when The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast came out, I started paying more attention to human form - any of the Disney films are still useful to look at for facial expressions and gestures. There's a ton of others, but those would have to be at the top, I think.

You mentioned there will be a QoW book coming on your website – can you tell us a little bit more about it?
It's a collection of the first 'half' of the series - the second book will be a collection of the second and final half. There's also a story in there that is not available and will not be available on the website - a prelude to the strip that does a much better job of setting the stage than a simple 'Here's Kestrel, she likes pancakes and bothering her roommates' strip, and there's some commentary as well.