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Infinitely Innovative: An Interview With Tymothi Godek

Timothy Godek has been producing some delightful comics with the new Infinite Canvas software on his Yellow Light Comics website. His
Tree City
was praised by Scott McCloud, and another favorite is his Everybody Loves Chris Ware webcomic.

Tell me a little about yourself. I know your sister is a writer, but other than that, there is hauntingly little about you on your website.....wait, I take that back. From your My Life with Pets I see you've moved a lot in your childhood, are married, and have quit smoking....and obviously, like a large variety of pets. Care to fill in the gaps?

My Life With Pets is my attempt at some kind of autobiography and there's not much to tell, other than that. The whole pet thing got kind of out of hand in recent years and I found the situation kind of funny. We'll have to curtail the menagerie though as my wife and I are expecting our first child this year.

I'm not trying to be mysterious or evasive with this answer. it's just my life isn't really all that interesting.

You are an enthusiastic user of theInfinite Canvas software, but any software has its own peculiarities and pitfalls. What is your least favorite part of the software, the most frustrating? What is your favorite part?

Infinite Canvas came around at the right time for me. I had been aware of webcomics for some time and had some ideas that I wanted to try out but I had no web programming experience. IC provided a easy way to present interesting comics on the web without even knowing a lot of html (my html is still a mess. Check out my source code some time). The ease of use and the variety of options it presented to an inexperienced webcartoonist impressed me quite a bit. As you say, any software has its limitations. There are some readability issues with IC, particularly on Windows browsers, and still some glitches in the program. Some features available to other forms of webcomics are not possible, such as embedded links and animated panel content. But I think that the benefits and options the program offers far outweigh the drawbacks.

One important thing to remember is that Infinite Canvas is a still developing program. It's creator, Markus Müller, is actively looking for input from cartoonists on future developments. It's the first publicly available program designed specifically for webcomics use and webcartoonists can have a say in how it will eventually turn out. That kind of opportunity is an exciting prospect to me.

All your projects are fascinating, but I have an especial fondness for Everybody Loves Chris Ware. What inspired that?

First off, thank you. There doesn't seem to be a huge audience for the type of comics I do, and I'm glad you like them.

People do seem to respond to this particular comic. Especially people within the comics community. I think this speaks mostly to the fact that Chris Ware really is held in so much esteem. I have a lot of respect for Chris Ware's work and, obviously, he's a much better cartoonist than I am (or ever will be, probably). But at the end of the day that's all he is: just a cartoonist. That's kind of the idea I took into this comic. Really, the strip is a very cynical little piece of work.

ELCW came from being a comics geek and reading a lot of articles and reviews of Chris Ware's work, and noticing that many of them are laudatory almost to the point of worship. At the time I had also been thinking a lot on the concept of literary caricature (or literary parody) and how that could be applied to comics (which is also pretty geeky, I guess). The two ideas kind of collided one night in the form of a comic about how everyone seems to love Chris Ware done in a style and tone reminiscent of his own work.

Short answer: I'm a geek.

What are your working habits? Is it hard to storyboard the sort of comics you do?

I usually work things out in my head pretty well before I even put pen to paper (or mouse to mousepad).

Most times I'll jot out the basic idea or a working script first and then work out the layout and panel breakdowns from there, revising the content as I go. Sometimes I use thumbnails and sketches to work out the layout before hand but other times I just kind of wing it. The process really varies depending on the project.

Is it hard to do? No, I guess not. Mostly I rely on intuition and gut feelings as to what will work or not. Not to say that sometimes I don't agonize over decisions I've made or certain problems with the layout, though. And how can I be sure that what I think will work will make sense for someone else reading it?

Never mind. I guess it is hard.

Is it intimidating to try to tell a story in a new way, with new ways to tell a story? Is it frustrating when some readers see Infinite Canvas as a trick, an effect, rather than a way to tell a story? What's your favorite answer to those who say infinite canvas is "just a gimmick"?

Do you mean Infinite Canvas the program, or the concept of infinite canvas in general?

Anything beyond the realm of familiarity can be a little intimidating. The perception that infinite canvas is a trick or a gimmick is probably due mostly to the novelty of the process of reading it. I think, though, that enough people have done it and done it well now. It's becoming not so much a novelty anymore.

The people willing to make infinite canvas comics are going to find better and more effective ways of using it. Infinite Canvas (the program) simply presents another way to utilize the format in a way that actually makes it a little easier on the reader.

Infinite canvas is a tool. If you're aware of a tool which allows you to tell your story more effectively then why not use it?

Who are your artistic and design influences?

I suppose, like a lot of cartoonists my age, Scott McCloud is a big influence. Maybe not so much in style or design but in the way I think about comics in general. Understanding Comics is an important book that has had a huge impact on cartoonists of my generation. Also, on the webcomics front. Reinventing Comics did not introduce me to webcomics but it did get me thinking seriously about producing my own. As far as design goes there's a whole bevy of cartoonists that I admire, from Kirby to Crumb. Recently Jordan Crane has made an impression on my comics design. Chris Ware (obviously). Art Spiegelman's MAUS made a big impact on me when I was young that I still carry to this day. From webcomics there's Neal VonFlue (who has been amazingly supportive of my efforts thus far), Cat Garza, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, among others. People that really work to push the form to new areas.

It seems a lot of people are not experimenting as much in webcomics as a few years ago, hoping to get things published as a trade paperback, so everything is geared to be eventually printed. What are your ambitions for your webcomics?

Comics and webcomics are, necessarily for me right now, more of a hobby or a vanity project than anything else. It would be nice to make a little money off cartooning, so as to justify spending so much time at it, but I don't see that as a possibility on the web right now (with the kind of comics I'm interested in doing). So in that way, I do have some print ambitions. But it would be remiss to ignore the possibilities that the web allows for comics storytelling. There are so many options open on the web that aren't translatable to print. Exploring these options, and finding new ones, is necessary for the growth of the form. It's also a lot of fun for me as well, which is important since I don't get paid. I'll continue to tell stories in whatever venue is open to me and whatever way fits the story. If the form should inspire the content (and vice versa) then so much the better.

What webcomics do you like or approve of, if any? Which regular comics?

I tend to be drawn toward the more experimental artists. The ones willing to try new things in either content or form (or both). The aforementioned Neal Von Flue has some pretty great comics at his site. The mostly Flash based comics delivery systems such as Merlin's Tarquin engine are very interesting to me. That's not to say I don't like the more traditionally designed webcomics out there. Cat And Girl has to be my favorite comic anywhere right now. If the content is original or interesting than a webcomic doesn't necessarily need all the bells and whistles. I don't have the time or money to follow print comics like I used to. I follow the trend of buying more graphic novels or paperback collections than individual issues of a comic. I do feel bad because it's a market that I loved as a kid and that introduced me to comics in the first place. There's something appealing about getting a new issue of that comic you like every month, but it's gotten too expensive and time consuming for me to support that kind of a habit.

What are your future plans for your comics? What's your next planned project?

Right now I'm working on more of my Tree City USA story. I'll probably do that in installments interspersed with other one off strips as they come to me. It seems that I really shouldn't expect any kind of return on my efforts so I don't feel a whole lot of outside pressure to produce anything. But I love making comics and the web affords me an opportunity to do so and maybe get a few people to read them. I've got a lot of ideas on how to utilize the opportunities of webcomics but not really a lot of time to do it. My free time will probably shrink to almost nothing once my daughter is born, but I'll keep plugging along as long as I can. It's something I love to do.

What do you see as the future of webcomics? What would you like to see more of in webcomics?

I can't really speak to any predictions of the future. What I'd like to see is more good quality, thoughtful comics succeeding on the web. The internet allows anyone with a connection to hurl their thoughts and opinions at the world (myself being no exception). The sheer volume of comics available on the Internet is inspiring in a democratic sense but also intimidating to sift through. It would be nice if there was some kind of system to allow the cream to rise to the top, so to speak, and get noticed. Part of the answer may be collectives. There's a subliminal strength in numbers effect there. Also, grouping together can help with the money matters, as the comics subscription sites have shown to some degree. Comics review sites and serious discussion on
webcomics are a necessary boon as well.

Comics has always faced a lack of respect and general mainstream apathy. Comic books are really only starting to gain any mainstream respect and webcomics still have a long way to go. It's hard to say, now, whether there will be enough people who will stay dedicated to this form, with little to no compensation, to allow it to grow into something worthy of respect. There are a lot of great comics available on the web, and great opportunities for comics storytelling. It's just going to take a lot of hard work, creativity, and thankless dedication to get people to notice.

Al Schroeder is the Interview Editors for Comixpedia.