Al Schroeder Sits A Spell With Tauhid Bondia
Tauhid Bondia has been doing several different webcomics over the past few years. His Spells and Whistles draws many readers daily, and Susie View, the comic he draws with another author, has been accepted by comics.com as perhaps the first step towards syndication.
Often controversial and outspoken, he recently got a deluge of hate mail for having one of his elven characters show his prejudice against black elves--which is ironic, since Tauhid himself is African-American, and he was exposing his character's bigotry, not endorsing it. He was kind enough to grant us this interview.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where were you born, where were you raised, how did you get interested in cartooning?
I was born in Langley Airforce base Virginia but was quickly swept away to Brooklyn, New York, where most of my family stays. My mom was military (Army) so as you can imagine i didn't stay there long. I'm told I spent a while in Germany and while I'm sure I did my child's mind did not register ever leaving the United States. My mom finally got out of the military at Fort Knox Kentucky and I've been in that area ever since--Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to be specific.
I became interested in cartooning very early, although I did not know that's what it was. I just liked drawing. However, all I knew was i did not enjoy drawing for realism. In fact the first cartoon I remember drawing was this picture of Spiderman that I copied from my bed sheet. I showed it to my mother and she seemed sincerely impressed. I think that may have been what pushed me in that direction because the woman is not easily impressed with anything.
You have a very clean and crisp cartooning style. Who are your cartooning influences? Whose art do you admire, who has influenced you?
Mainly I draw my influence from several comic book artists. That was my first love. I wanted to draw for Marvel, but it didn't take me long to discover that I wasn't fast enough. I still don't know how those guys can pencil, ink and color an entire 21 page book in the space of a month (perhaps the secret is that most times they don't). For my cartooning I drew on a lot of inlfuences: Samurai Jack, Ren and Stimpy and Mike of Penny Arcade fame. In the early strips you can see me leaning heavily on that influence but i think I've stepped away from that over time. Every time I draw Rakne she's just a little bit different than the last time and I'm pretty much disgusted with the way E'los looks in the first strips. I don't know what I was thinking making his head so top-heavy.
Who are your humor influences? What sort of shows, books, movies, etc. strikes you as funny?
I like black comedians. The good ones. The ones that know how to tap into the things about the black community that are universal but have not yet been driven into the ground on Comic View. They're raunchy and blunt. Delivery and the actual sound of their voices are much more a factor than constructing a punch line would be. It's the difference between Eddie Murphy and Sienfeld. Both very funny but worlds apart. I dig Futurama, Family Guy and Spongebob Squarepants. There is something very volatile about all those shows. you really can't tell what the hell is coming next. I think the Simpsons did it first but I haven't watched that show in ages. As far as literature I don't read much that isn't by Stephen King and he's not the funniest guy in the world. However the Calvin and Hobbes collections are like books of the Bible to me. Also Dilbert is just funny as hell. It's the only newspaper strip I laugh at almost every day.
What caused you to come up with the idea for Spells and Whistles? Were you a big D&D enthusiast, or fantasy reader?
I enjoy the fantasy genre. I play fantasy computer games. The original Final Fantasy for Playstation has yet to return my soul to me. But I could never get into the who pen and paper D&D game. I wanted to, but I was just the slightest bit too cool for it in school. At least I thought I was. The kids that played it were my secret friends. I was too scared to commit to complete nerdhood. I wish I had though 'cus those guys were my people. It was too damn hard to try and act cool all the time and keep up with the clothes and the latest catch phrases and justify my presence at the cool table when I played nothing even remotely resembling a sport. I think I missed out on a lot of fun. but I get my fun now with my adult nerd friends from the MMORPGs and I've even turned a few of my former "cool" friends onto it. Fun is fun, man, I don't care who you are. I think the Lord of the Rings movies proved that.
Which characters are based on you or people you know? Why do I get the feeling Darryl's Advocate (the one besides Suzie View that you've tried to get syndicated) is very, very, personal?
God I don't know these people. I'd hate to know them. An elitist bigot, a clepto and a lunatic? No thanks. A holy terror with split personality dissorder? Keep it. A ten year old girl and her seven year old brother who are both smarter than I am? I'll pass.
But seriously, I pull my characters out of thin air with an ear toward taking established cliches and breaking them into a million pieces then taking the larger peices and using them to further smash the smaller pieces. Also I should mention that Erik McCurdy did the initial character development for Suzie View? I just drew the pictures. Since then we have both had a hand in deciding where the characters go as well as creating new characters.
Why did you choose webcomics as a medium? What do you see as the future of webcomics?
I think anyone who wants to be doing comic for a living in the future would be very smart to at least familiarize themselves with webcomics. Comic books were too demanding and newspaper comic strips were too limiting for me. Webcomics were the obvious answer. all I had to do was learn a little html and I had a way to show my work to millions of people. I had no idea when I first got into it just how popular some of these comics got though. I just wanted to be able to tell my friends that I had a comic on the web. It's funny because some of my friends think I'm already "famous". They think you have to be to even get on the Internet. If they only knew. Course I'm not telling them.
How is Susie View doing, the comic you do with Erik McCurdy at comics.com? You took a vacation from S&W for a while to build a good backlog of that. It's an interesting premise--ten-year-old filmmaker, cynical and amoral stuffed bear... a very varied crew.
Suzie View has wings. Erik is going to be the next big thing in comic strips. Once people realize what he's doing they won't be able to deny it. The guy comes at you on so many level but wraps it in a nice daily package so that even if you don't have the depth to realize how far he is inside your head you still get to chuckle at the superficial joke he's prepared for you. I'm serious. Even I had no idea at first but when I read the entire body of work I am always amazed at how precisely executed his stuff is. In fact i sometimes think it's my job to be the "dummy" that says "I don't get it" then he pats me on the head and waits a few minutes for the lightbulb to appear over it. I feel a constant pressure to make my art live up to his words and characters. it's a good thing.
I LOVE Spandex Mythos, your new bonus comic for the pay the entire site does. It's a nice incentive that doesn't limit the reader. How'd you come up with the idea of doing it as a pay-incentive?
It's not really a new idea. As you know, there are plenty of pay comics. But my readers, man, they've been through so much crap with me and they keep coming back. When I know that there are people out there who enjoyed my strip but stopped reading it because of certain events just to spite me, it makes me appreciate the ones that stayed all the more. of course when I quit my job many readers suggested that i make S&W a pay strip. Can you believe that? They were basically telling me that they'd be willing to pay for something that I promised them for free just to help me out. Unbelievable.
Well I would never do that but it occurred to me that I could do the next best thing. Spandex Mythos came to me after playing a lot of City of Heroes and finally seeing The Incredibles. It taps into my old love affair with comic books and lets me flex that muscle a little. it's fun as hell to draw too and every strip helps me sleep a little better with the money I make off of just doodling around on my computer.
How much longer before we finally see Sophia, Nakota and Kuskan in S&W? Who are your favorite characters?
Nakota and Kuskan will be introduced early next year. and the party will be complete probably by next summer. I really wanted to let the readers in on the whole forming of the band of heroes. if there is one thing that always bugged me about the fantasy fiction I did manage to read it's when you are thrown in the middle of an already formed party with the relationships and cliques already solidified. When one of my characters puts their life at risk for another I want you to understand why and not just assume that that's what heroes do. Maybe Rakne owes E'los twenty bucks and he's decided she's not going anywher 'til he gets it. Plus this way i don't have to mess with a lot of cheesy flashbacks.
If I have a favorite character it would probably have to be Grayle. He has that randomness about him that I like. All I have to do is feel silly to write for him. He's in his own world so much that he doesn't even hear what the other say when speaking to him sometimes. His mental filter will turn entire sentences into whatever he wants to hear so it easy to justify his outlandish reactions.
What are your plans for Spells and Whistles, Susie View, and Spandex Mythos? Full syndication for Suzie, if possible, I would think.... what else?
S&W: I'm going to finish the story. Yup, it ends. but then another story begins. All of the characters will be a part of it but there will be new characters too. Then when the next story ends there will be another. I hope to have it span generations. The ridiculous thing is the story of Spells & Whistles is so secondary to the gags that it really makes no sense for it to
be such a long term thing, but I just wanna see what happens.
Suzie View: Hopefully we'll get into the newspapers. After that the fun really begins. I can't wait for people to see some of the ideas we've had come to fruition. When people ask me about the strip I often tell them "You haven't seen anything yet" and that's not just hype. Some of the stuff Erik has run past me shows me just how dedicated he is to making this thing truly different. You'll see... hopefully.
Spandex Mythos: Who knows? maybe once I hit a certain number of strips I'll print a collection and stop drawing it altogether. Maybe If I find the time I'll give it it's own website and update schedule. I really have no idea. Right now it serves it's purpose and that is to stimulate income from the site and reward those who can or would like to help the site out with a
little cash flow. That's good enough for now.
Al Schroeder is the Interviews Editor for Comixpedia. He has more Interview-Fu then Larry King Live. He also makes a super webcomic.