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Comixpedia Meets Boy; Or a Hardly-Hostile, Friendly Interview with Sandra Fuhr

Sandra Fuhr has been delighting readers, first with the romance webstrip that just happens to be gay, Boy Meets Boy, and has since gone on to another strip, Friendly Hostility, both ironic, urbane, touching, and utterly engrossing.

Recently Frank "Damonk " Cormier caught up with Fuhr online. Additional work for this interview was done by Al Schroeder.

What came first? The urge to create a webcomic, or the urge to create a romance story?

Romance stories, but o­nly by virtue of the fact that I was raised o­n Mexican soap operas. It was a family thing, and I regret to inform you that it still is. The great thing about novelas are that they end after a few months, so no matter how ludicrous the story gets, you get the loose ends tied in o­ne way or another. This probably goes a long way to explain all the insane plot twists I’ve done, doesn’t it?

Still, I’d watch and think "I would’ve ended it differently" or "I would’ve killed the villain off this way." So I began to write my own (very bad, but hey, I was in the third or fourth grade) scripts. Around the same time, I became addicted to comic books. The two didn’t actually collide until I started Boy Meets Boy. Two great tastes that taste great together.

What's the genesis of Boy Meets Boy and the later Friendly Hostility? How did they develop, and why did you choose the relatively profitless medium of webcomics to do it in?

I just really wanted to do a comic. Boy meets Boy formed from a (very badly written) story I’d written, and Friendly Hostility just took two characters out of Boy Meets Boy so I can tell their story. Simple as that.

I’m not doing this to make a profit, is the thing. The comic will always be free, because I’m just doing it to take the stress off from classes and such. Not that I’d complain if I was offered money, hence why I accepted the offer to join Keenspot, and why I’m selling prints right now. A little extra cash is nice, and helps me buy school books and breathe a little easier when it comes time to pay my tuition. But I’ve got no illusions about the medium becoming my sole source of income. It’s a slightly lucrative hobby.

As a followup question, have you always been financially suicidal?

I’m a college student. I don’t even remember what money looks like anymore. I think it’s purple. Besides, o­nce I’ve got the neurosurgeon thing down, I might get to see money again.

What's your background?

Right now? A computer lab in uni. I’m filling this out between my Biochemistry lecture and my lab. Then I’m going to print out and answer the rest while my TA pretends he knows what he’s doing.

I come from a very big Mexican family. I’m an o­nly child, but I was raised in a house where there were always at least two or three aunts out of seven (and o­ne uncle. Poor man.), numerous cousins and cousins-a-few-times-removed, and o­ne grandmother. We’re a very close-knit family. My family’s always been very supportive with all my creative ventures, though, a fact for which I’m grateful. I live in the US, where I’m studying microbiology and chemistry, my two favorite subjects, and I’m about ready to graduate soon and move o­n to medical school. Lord knows how I’ll keep up with updates then.

I notice in your Boy Meets Boy links page that Aeire, creator of Queen of Wands, is your ....sister? Literally, or in a "all women are sisters" sense? Sounds like an interesting family. Or psychological study in family dynamics and/or creative sibling rivalry. Or something.

Aeire’s my sister in the way that we’re friends, and she sends me Angelepisodes, and I send her warm scarves. I actually have to get her slightly-late birthday present out sometime this week. Besides, she’d kick my butt in all creative rivalry senses. ;)

Concerning Boy Meets Boy: So why a guy-guy romance?

Because people really need to quit seeing homosexuals as disgusting, something to make fun of, or jokes o­n prime time TV.

As to why guy-guy romance specifically, let me put it this way. You turn around and you’ll bump into someone’s badly-written Hot Slutty Bi Chick Stereotype. They’re everywhere, like kudzu. Less numerous but still pretty common are well-written female characters who like the ladies. Their existence gives me hope for the world of webcomics. Lately there’s been an increase in the strips featuring guys who’re into guys--and three cheers for the cartoonists who’re brave enough to do so. But despite this, it’s a little harder to find comics actually dealing with relationships, or who have the relationship as a central theme.

Besides. Guys who kiss each other are kind of hot. Think about this for a second before you say "ew". Embrace the equal opportunity exploitation.

You yourself are involved in a pretty serious relationship – want to discuss it?

I’d say no, but who are we kidding, it’s like asking a kid if they want more ice cream. A. is the best thing to have ever happened to me. Since we’ve been together, I’m (slightly) less stressed, a whole lot happier, and the world is generally better. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us, which is the important thing. True love’s a wonderful thing.

Did your real-life relationship ever spill over into Boy Meets Boy? Does it spill into Friendly Hostility?

Not really, for either. A and I weren’t technically together for most of Boy Meets Boy, for o­ne, and for another point, I keep my life quite separate from my characters. If they have a fight with their significant other, it doesn’t mean I’ve had a fight with mine. Unless you’re writing an autobiographical comic, it’s probably a bad idea to project every nuance of your relationship with someone o­nto your characters.

I will admit that Fox’s desk with the sentient Pile of Stuff bears a mysterious resemblance to A.’s desk and its sentient Pile of Stuff. I swear it tried to eat my hand the last time I touched it.

You have had many interesting, varied, and wildly funny characters, both in Friendly Hostility and Boy Meets Boy. Are any of them based o­n people you know in real-life? And how much did they pay in blackmail money to say "no"?

Ha. There are people out there who’d pay me to say "yes". Every so often there’ll pop up someone claiming that they were my neighbor/hairdresser/best-friend-from-fourth-grade and that I based X character o­n them. Let me make it easy: My neighbors are gang-member-types, my hairdresser is my aunt, and my best-friend-from-fourth-grade isn’t into webcomics. Unless I mention it in the LJ community for Friendly Hostility, your friend is not the basis for anyone.

Few are based directly off actual people. Most of them have touches of my own quirks here and there. Fatima’s science-geekery, Collin’s misanthropy, things like that.

I admire people who know when to end something, when it's time to move o­n. How did you know the time was right to end Boy Meets Boy?

Thank you! Towards the last year, Boy Meets Boywasn’t as fun to make as it used to be. Making it was starting to add stress rather than reduce it--and my disenchantment with it began to show in the quality. If I had continued, the art/story quality would’ve gotten even worse, and I’m sure it would’ve disappointed a lot of readers. I couldn’t do that, couldn’t let that happen. So I went for the quickest, cleanest break I could. I think it was a decent ending, and I hope the audience feels the same way.

Why did you go from Boy Meets Boy to Friendly Hostility? What inspired it?

In the last year of Boy Meets Boy, the most fun I had was when I was writing Fox and Collin, two minor characters. I started thinking of their supporting cast, their stories, and realized it’d be hugely irrelevant to feature in Boy Meets Boy, since they were just minor characters. They deserved their own comic, and I was more than happy to provide it.

What is the biggest similarity (if any) between the two comics, in your mind?

Not every joke involving the same-sex couples depends o­n their sexuality to try to get a laugh. That is, they’re comics about same-sex RELATIONSHIPS rather than SAME-SEX relationships. They’re just guys who happen to be in love with each other. Quit staring and pass the chips.

And as a follow-up, what is the biggest difference?

Art style. I’m more comfortable with my style now. Heck, I actually sort of have o­ne now. When Boy Meets Boystarted, I was just testing the waters, trying to find this fabled "personal style". I think I’ve got it, but I don’t mind evolving further if it’s for the best. The years doing Boy Meets Boy really helped.

What has been the response from your Boy Meets Boy readership? Did you lose many readers? Did you get angry letters?

I think it was split evenly between people who didn’t think it was ready to end and people who did. I did lose a few readers, but looking at my stats, and compensating for doing a thrice weekly rather than a daily comic, it seems I’ve gained about 30% more readers. Huh. The things you learn while doing interviews. Comixpedia is very educational.

The emails I got weren’t so much angry as hysterical. People who couldn’t believe it was ending wrote in to ask me what right I had to end the comic. I’m grateful they feel so strongly about it, but wonder what to reply when someone tells me they’re so upset they’re going to throw their monitor out the window. If they’re missing a monitor, though, I imagine whether I replied or not would be irrelevant.

Who are your artistic influences?

Bosch. I love Bosch. I’d be thoughtless if I didn’t mention Gorey. o­ne of my favorites and quite underrated comic book artists is Chris Bachalo. His style is so unique, so quirky.

Who are your writing/storytelling influences? I know Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett from Good Omens (why am I not surprised?) is o­ne. Who are the others?

Is it that obvious? :laugh: I love Gneil and Pterry’s work. Brilliant men, both of them, but I have to say my favorite author is James A. Gardner. I’m a sci-fi fan, and he writes beautifully. He creates original and fully fleshed out alien species, worlds, and traditions. He’s o­ne of the best in the field, I think. His characters are well-written, and not too many men can write a female viewpoint as well as he can. To this day, I enjoy Laurell K. Hamilton’s writing style, even if I don’t like the actual stories she’s telling these days. And the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, goodness, who doesn’t love that?

What has been the most fun and satisfying part of doing a webcomic? And what has been the most frustrating and migraine-inducing?

It’s fun meeting interesting people. Giving/getting fanart is pretty cool, though I keep forgetting to put my new email address o­n the website. And the big thing, the comic makes me feel much less stressed. Like I said, I’m doing it to give the science half of my brain a chance to relax and the artsy side a chance to play. It’s also really nice to know that I’m giving a few people a quick grin in their mornings.

Frustrating, migraine-inducing. Keeping o­n schedule, I’d say. I wasn’t so concerned with it the first six months of Friendly Hostility, but now I am, and most of Boy Meets Boywas daily. There were a couple of days that I realized it was 10:30 pm and I still hadn’t done the comic and oh my lord that meant I’d miss a day and the world would END.

I’m more relaxed about it now. I promise.

How do you create your webcomic? Do you storyboard? Do you write dialogue and then draw, or vice versa? What tools, software and processes do you use?

I carry around a notebook that’s small enough to hide between the pages of my school notebooks. I pretend to take notes when really I’m writing out the comic. I think in terms of panels--that’s how I see the action progressing inside my head. It’s helpful when writing out the comic. I imagine what it should look like as a whole, scrawl down some dialogue to remind me, and later, when I get the chance, I’ll sneak a sheet of paper o­nto my notebook and sketch out the comic.

I’m terribly low-tech. I use regular printer paper, mechanical pencils, and gel ink pen. I’m o­nly picky about the pens: I use Pentel Hybrid Gel Ink pens. I love them. I’ll scan in the comic, polish it up in Adobe 7.0, and that’s that.

I get a surprising amount of studying done. I absorb knowledge through osmosis.

Of all the characters you've created, which o­ne is your favorite, and why? (Yes, it is a sadistic question to ask a creator. I've got this beautiful she-devil o­n my shoulder who made me ask it.)

I think I rotate favorites. Everyone gets a chance, then. Currently, I’d pick Rafi. He’s a five foot tall satanic conman who has a need to be loved and owns way too many bad suits. Despite his inherent sleaziness, there’s something about him so earnest that most people like him anyway.

What question from readers and interviewers do you least like answering? And what question is the o­ne people should be asking, but don't?

I’ll cheerfully answer any comic-related question, but grilling me o­n my personal life is a job better left to my aunts.

People should be asking me why Padma has a NASA shirt. The answer is pleasantly disorienting.