World of WTF: An Interview with Gianna Masetti
Gianna Masetti is the creator of The Noob, which started back in 2004. It both presents and parodies the MMORPG genre of video games. I got a chance to interview Gianna via email between her travels to Italy last month.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What's a typical day for you like recently? Where are you located these days?
I’m an Italian woman who’s been living in London, UK for the last fifteen years. A typical day… I try to wake up early so I can go to the gym before work, but that happens a lot less that I’d like. I’m a night owl with a nine to five job, which is a curse: I stay up until 2am – 3 am and wake up at 7am so I’m a zombie on weekdays. Work and cycling commute (plus gym every other evening) take up most of the day and often I don’t have time or energy to work on the comic when I get home, so I end up doing marathon drawing sessions at weekends.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
I work full time as a tech writer for an IT firm to support my elderly cat’s luxurious lifestyle.
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
I used to be an avid comic reader as a child and a teenager. These days I don’t have much time. The UK has a lack of comics in print at newsagents that is very different from the other countries where I’ve lived, Italy and France.
When I moved to London (and had no internet for the first few years) I had to make do with 2000 AD and Viz, which had comics that went from the very good to the abysmal. I don’t know why comics are considered just “funny pages” (to quote Vito Corleone) in this country, and grown-up entertainment just across the Channel. It’s worth exploring the topic when you talk to a native Brit author.
You can still find comics in specialised stores, but it’s mostly manga stuff that I don’t like. Printed comics that I really like are some of the stuff written by Allan Moore, such as Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Online, I prefer webcomics that are not story-driven because: a) I can read a couple of pages during lunch break; b) a lot of story-driven webcomics are abandoned by the author after a while and it sucks reading the first 100 pages of an interesting plot just to discover that it wasn’t brought to a conclusion. My favorite webcomics are SMBC by Zach Weiner and Horribleville by KC Green. I also like Dr McNinja, Perry Bible Fellowship, Dinosaur Comics, Penny Arcade and Dilbert. The best story-driven comics that I’ve read to date are Gunnerkrigg Court and The Rainbow Orchid.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Convention pitch!?! Are you crazy? That means talking to strangers! Just a second, I need to breathe in a paper bag…
OK, I’m fine now! The Noob is the story of the adventures of Ohforf’sake (naming error at creation), a newbie in the online game world of Clichequest, Valley of the Grind. /end-of-pitch
I have always been fascinated by the very different types of people that emerged in online games right from the start, especially in Ultima Online where they had to share the same world no matter how different their goals and mentality were. You had the sociable roleplayers who wanted nothing better than talk in ren faire aulde English in player-run taverns, the player killers who wanted them dead, the “good guys” (like those with white hats in mute western movies), also known as anti-pks, who tried to keep the pks at bay, etc. etc.
These days game publishers know that they need to cater separately for these groups and make player-vs-player fights consensual if they want to make a profit, but back then it was Lord of the Flies online, and it was glorious. Never again we’ll be able to witness some guy go from “Forsooth, top of the morning to thee, good sir!” to “Motherfucker, why did you kill me?!? Hey! HEY! That’s MY stuff!” in the same breath. I’d like to think of my comic as a tribute to those wild early days of online gaming.
How has the strip evolved over time?
I try to write episodes that advance the story while still being funny (hopefully) in their own right. At the beginning there wasn’t much of a story yet and I used to manage this in four panels, these days I write episodes that are much longer. Downside: I update once a week instead of two-three times a week and sometimes get told off by impatient readers.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
The all-time favorite with fans is episode 25. I’ve printed and mailed more copies of it than of any other episode combined. I guess that the comic just went downhill from ep. 26 onwards! (Well, with at least one exception: 300 is a fan favorite too).
It’s hard to say which one is my favorite episode. I have favorite and hated story-arcs though.
Favorites: Ohforf kidnapped by Clan O, Cyrus and the PvP fight night, Lord Saxon and the Nerfageddon, Sir Bob and his uber guild and raiding memories.
Hated: Ohforf in the land of the elves (it has some good episodes, like 151 or 158, but in general it makes me cringe).
Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
I love Clan O, especially D34dly-D34dly. Their script just writes itself. It seems that most of my gaming friends are PK oldtimers - so I can leech, er, be inspired, by their conversations (obligatory shout-out to my gaming buddies of Covetous Crew, who are kind enough not to charge me royalties when I quote them in the comic).
It’s a lot harder to write script for roleplayer characters for lack of first hand experience. I’m not quite sure if roleplayers actually quote Shakespeare all the time like Sir Darkblade Wolfeyes Orcbane Raislin De Urden Von Strudel.
Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?
If I keep having fun doing it, and people keep enjoying it, that’s good enough for me!
Any plans for a print collection?
I’ve self-published the first 200 episodes in four books at Lulu.com (to make them available to readers rather than for profit because it’s a very expensive service and I have to keep royalties to a minimum). I have enough material for two more books now, so I should really get my act together and get them printed! (I keep saying that…)
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
I haven’t done any promotion in a very long time because I am not able to update more than once a week and I feel that I should be able to post new episodes more often before trying to get more readers.
If I’d been drawing the comic when I was a student, rather than now that I work fulltime, I’d be updating it three times a week and pimping it like crazy.
When you create a comic, how do you approach 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 script several episodes in advance, and have a general idea of the composition of main scenes. It’s very rare for an episode to be actually driven by a visual idea rather than the script. For any scene where the characters are walking, talking, and not doing much I try to come up with various angles and details as I draw, to avoid boredom (both for me and for the readers).
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
I draw directly in Photoshop with a Cintiq tablet. It’s expensive (like a very good PC) but it’s worth every penny for comic authors who spend many hours a week drawing digitally.
I work at 300-400% magnification and then reduce it to 50% before saving it for the web, to make the lines look sharp enough.
I set four main layers: borders, bubbles, sketch, and flats (i.e. colours). Then there are the text layers and occasionally layers for shadows, highlights, etc.
I draw the sketch with a 3 pixel hard brush. Tools that I use a lot during this phase are Free Transform and Layer via Cut, because it’s easy to get proportions wrong when you are drawing at high magnification and didn’t make a stick figure shape as a guide. If I draw a body part that’s out of proportion I select it, cut it to a different layer and resize it with free transform. If that ruined the quality of the line I retrace it on a new layer. I draw in many different layers (which I combine into sketch at the end) so I can rearrange elements by moving them around.
When the sketch is done, I take a copy of the borders layer, hide the original one and merge the copy with sketch. I roughly colour inside blank areas with a couple of macros I made:
- Select the space within an area with magic wand in the sketch layer;
- Move to the flats layer, expand selection by 1 pixel and fill with colour.
This is not enough though because many small and corner areas need to be filled by hand, which I do with a 5 pixel hard brush.
On the bubbles layer, I just use the circular path tool to select, fill with white and trace with black an area around the text.
Did you do your own website? What software are you using on it?
The current website was created by a friend who works as a web developer, Rob Rochwick. He did an amazing job! I think that he did the webpages in CSS. He’s also created an admin interface which lets me upload and edit everything from a webform in seconds – a life saver. It used to take me half an hour when I had the old site. Another friend, Andy Smith, did the Flash menu graphics and drew the navigation map. Thanks, guys!
How would you describe your relationship with your fans? Do you engage in a lot of online interaction with your readers?
It’s quite good these days! I think that by now most gamers know of the comic’s existence, so if they like it they read it and if they don’t they avoid it. It was occasionally harsh at the beginning because on one hand reader numbers were going up very fast, but on the other hand there were many more trolls and haters than today.
I keep a tagboard on the website where people can chat and leave comments. They’re a good crowd and I like the fact that they don’t suck up to me – I get some useful criticism from them. I have to watch my replies when I disagree with someone because I risk raising a lynching mob if I argue on the tagboard – which is very unfair for the other guy. I censor myself much more than I would if I wasn’t the author.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
I grew up reading Asterix and Disney comics, that are (were?) a huge hit with Italian children. As a teenager I read some Marvel comics, as well as an Italian weekly magazine called Linus, which was a compilation of Peanuts, Wizard of Id, Doonesbury etc. Then I became a hippy and lived on a steady diet of Freak Brothers. I lived in Paris for a while in my teens and their comics scene was amazing, I could have spent day and night in their bookstores poring over all the amazing comic books and magazines that were published back then. They were incredibly creative. I don’t know how things are these days there, but I hope that they’re still going strong.
I’m old enough to have barely missed the japanese cartoon revolution. Mazinga and Goldrake (who may be called differently outside Italy) appeared on TV and at the newsagents when my interests had already moved from comics and cartoons to boys and makeup. I think that as a result my drawing style is strongly, but not deliberately, influenced by the comics that I used to read as a child, i.e. Asterix and Disney comics.
Other non-comic influences on your art and/or writing?
Several readers have said that Ohforf, the main character of my strip, makes them think of Fry from Futurama. Again, even if not deliberate, it’s quite possible that I may have been influenced by that cartoon, because it’s by far my favorite.
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?
I started drawing comics when I was five, who knows? I can say that I enjoy the fact that it’s a laid back activity that I think of as a craft, rather than art, so I don’t get stage fright when I post my crappy drawings. I would love to write fiction, but I am scared to start.