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King of an Infinite Canvas: An Interview with Demian 5

Demian5's wordless When I Was King drew rave reviews from many critics, including Scott McCloud. Now he has numerous new projects on his website despite taking civil duties in lieu of military service, in addition to his graphic designer job.

1. I understand you think in pictures, not words, which explains much of your work. Have you ever struggled to express in words what you could so easily picture or draw? Do words come easily to you?

I feel very comfortable with writing, but I don't feel half as comfortable with writing in English. Translation trouble is the main reason why most of my comics are without words. Irony, style-elements and subtexts are hard to translate, and I'm glad if people understand my comics the right way, around the world.

If I had to choose, I'd rather be a comics writer than a comics artist, though.

2. You're one of the few creators who seems content to leave much of their work on the web, rather than getting it published as a graphic novel (although I know SQUARE FICTION is published in the Zurich Express). What attracts you to the web as a medium over other media?

Honestly, I've just been too lazy to look for an appropriate publisher until now. It's just so much easier to put my stuff online and observe the visitor and subscriber-numbers. Actually, most of my newer comics have been made for some print project first. "Minute 92" has first been printed in an underground magazine in Berlin called "Mogamobo"; "Square Fiction"/E-mail for the dog" was my newspaper series for the meanwhile no more existing Zurich Express; "Life code o-0" was meant to be printed in the official magazine of Zurich's university (until some scientists thought it would increase some people's fear about science); *Chemical Pack" was conceived for some nightlife-magazine in Zurich which never came to exist; and finally, "The Truth about Elephants" is meant to be a small, horizontal-formatted book-series, I'm also working with print-colors instead of the nice glowy screen-colors on this one.

3. As a graphic designer in Switzerland in real life, and currrently doing civil service in lieu of military service, I'm sure there are a lot of demands on your time. Do you derive much income from your other series since WHEN I AM KING, such as THE TRUTH ABOUT ELEPHANTS, LIFE CODE, the aforementioned SQUARE FICTION, EMAIL FOR THE DOG, CHEMICAL PACK and MINUTE 92? (Three dollars for one year seems extremely reasonable.) Do you think you will ever be able to devote full time to comic creating? Would you even want to?

I haven't earned a living yet with my site, I sold about 293 1-year-accesses since I started with this in August 2003. But the steady flow of new buyers, even in a time without updates, makes me assume that this system might work very well one day, with more often updates and therefore more visitors.

In the meantime I'm planning to launch a new magazine or newspaper-series again somewhere, as soon as possible. I'd love to devote most of my time to comics creating.

4. What is your background, your early life---and what comic first got you "hooked" on the medium?

I was raised in a small 9000-people village in the agglomeration of Zurich, where I've been reading lots and lots of comics in my teenage years. French comics where the first ones to attract me to the medium, first the funny stuff, later mostly fantasy-stories, like "Ballade au bout du monde" by Makyo and Vicomte, which was maybe the first comic to give me a sense of comics as an artform with more possibilities than just to make people laugh.

5. THE TRUTH ABOUT ELEPHANTS seems to be mainly done in the WHEN I AM KING mode, but you experiment in format quite a lot more in some of the others, especially in LIFE CODE. Which of your new works is your favorite?

It's hard to pick a favorite. The Truth About Elephants is still in the beginnings, and chemical pack has some great potential for future episodes. I'd name those as my favourites, because those are the projects I'm planning to work on in the future.

6. Which webcomics do you most admire---if any?

Generally, most of my admiration still goes to print comics. Nonetheless, I find some inspiring things in webcomics, now and then. Ethan Persoff's "A Dog and his Elephant" was one of the most intriguing webcomics I read in the last few years. I also liked "Headcase" by Sam Chivers.

7. Which of your many characters do you most identify with?

The naked ones.

8. One of your many themes seems to be "desire". We tend to see the characters most in terms of what they desire, what they long for. (Of course, since many of the comics without text, it may be hard to show anything else.) What are your main desires in life?

My desires are very basically. Mainly, I desire to eat or to sleep. :)

I think desires and aversions/fears are the main drive of most stories, of most people's lives. I'm just trying to reduce things to the essential in my comics, so I'm cutting away the small talk.

9. What future plans or projects do you have in mind?

I'm planning to continue "The Truth about Elephants". And I'm also thinking about continuing "Chemical Pack" as a new weekly series, maybe with another title, though.

10. What do you see as the future in webcomics? What would you, personally, like to see more of?

I'd like to see a bigger range of modern/digital illustration styles in webcomics. It seems to me that most good illustrators RATHER STICK TO ADVERTISING than to comics, which is a pity.