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Dangerous Skirt: An Interview with Meredith Gran

Meredith Gran is the author of Skirting Danger, a webcomic that has appeared both on Graphic Smash and later, Keenspot. She gives her opinion on insecurities, the Keenspot vs. the Modern Tales model, and the relative lack(!) of Internet drama and webcomic in-fighting in a delightful interview.

Tell us a little about yourself that we don't know already. I know you used to do Not Gonna Take It, a webcomic that started as a gag-a-day and became a science fiction-adventure strip. What else should we know?

I'm a 20-year-old human female from New York City. I attend the School of Visual Arts as an animation major, and enjoy drawing the same exact picture 1000 times. I don't read superhero comics and have very little interest in doing so.

I am also part of the Bagofchips collective, a group of lovable scamps who draw comics and loiter on street corners.

This is your second webcomic (and there's Actionkiwi, your journal comic)---why did you decide on webcomics as a medium? What do you like, and what do you dislike about the online medium?

I'm sure the obvious answer here is that webcomics are a bold new medium that is dying to be pioneered. It is so full of artistic potential and represents an overflowing pool of untapped talent, etc, etc.

But the truth -- for me -- is that webcomics are a cheap and easy way to tell a visual story. As much as I'd like to make an animated motion picture for every idea that pops into my head, such a thought is just ludicrous. Man, who does that? Statistically, very few. So the obvious answer is webcomics. Your budget can be as low as ZERO dollars or as high as FORTY dollars and you can still churn out quality (haha) work in a fraction of the time animation takes. Not to mention the whole internet can see your work on a regular basis. It's like Livejournal with drawings.

What do I dislike about the medium? Well, the biggest thing for me has a lot more to do with the community itself. There is definitely a lack of honest criticism between creators. Everyone likes each other and everyone thinks their comic is great, and everyone takes commentary on their comic so PERSONALLY. So it's rare that you can give or get real, critical feedback. A lot of the time the "webcomic community" is just a giant pool of egotistical people with undeveloped potential fellating each other. I'd really like to see more genuine support -- I think the quality of work would be higher.

You have a very engaging, cartoony style. Who are your artistic influences?

Growing up I was heavily influenced by Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Bill Watterson. There's too many to name nowadays. I get a lot of influence from my close friends Ian J (http://www.rpgworldcomic.com), David McGuire (http://davidmcguire.studio-zoe.com) and Josh Mirman (http://www.punksandnerds.com). We all go to school together, so a lot of things seem to rub off and get mixed together.

Who are your storytelling/writing influences?

I base most of my writing on daily observation. The characters, relationships, problems and jokes tend to come from things I've witnessed or experienced first-hand. With a lot of exaggeration, of course.

Skirting Danger as a concept is influenced by a mixture of superhero franchises and cheesy teen dramas. There's also some inspiration from Legally Blonde in there. If you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about.

It seems to me that this sort of started as a fairly even handed superhero-satire/fashion "student" slice-of-life combo and progressed into a little more emotional and down-to-earth (if slightly gonzo) look at an aspiring, if usually clueless, NYFU wannabe. That the superhero theme/parody has sort of ....disappeared. Do you feel the comic has changed over time, or is it just showing different facets of Courtney's personality?

The themes weave in and out depending on the story. I always intended to write a superhero "soap opera", where the focus was more on the lives of the characters than their professions. In every episode there's some kind of climactic fight, but ultimately it's about what the characters say and learn. I'm not particularly interested in (nor good at) writing actual "action" genre stories, so I ain't trying.

You have a lot of really varied characters: Janet, Courtney's brilliant and beautiful alligator-wrestling mother, perpetually sad Dale, who nevertheless has everything Courtney yearns for, enrollment in NYFU, super-powers, etc. Courtney's the star, but besides her, who's your favorite? (Sidhe's probably my fave, although I wonder what an elf's doing in urban NYC.)

Courtney is my favorite, but I like writing Sidhe, too. Her character is based loosely on my own experiences when I started college. I had a lot of her social anxiety and blatant cynicism towards obnoxious roommates. Bad roommates definitely make for good stories. Sidhe is in NYC for the same reason any college kid is - to learn and study. (haha)

You were on Graphic Smash for a while, and then went to Keenspot with Skirting Danger. What were the factors in making that decision? How has your experience been with both?

Ha ha... loaded question.

The ultimate reason for moving was that I wanted more people to be able to have access to the comic. It was interesting to try out the subscription-based model, but I don't think it works for SD. I was fencing away the comic from thousands of potential readers. It was reaching a point where I wanted to sell merchandise and get more feedback on potential products. I just didn't see merchandise working in the pay model, where your viewers (in dramatically smaller numbers) are already paying just to read your archives.

My experience with Keenspot's ad-based system has allowed for a much larger fanbase. I get lots more feedback, and sell lots more T-shirts. Believe it or not, the ad-based system pays better, too. And the Keenspot newsbox is a great promotional tool, in my experience, all controversy aside.

Unfortunately, they do lack a real business sense. There are so many ideas that never happen, and so many ambitious ventures that are now dead in the water. Keenspot has a lot of potential and I'd love to see it go so much further, but I guess that's a whole 'nother discussion.

So, did you ever want to go to NYFU? Or someone else close to you? Is there anything autobiographical about this?

NYFU is a made-up college. It's based on a combination of two New York schools - FIT, for its focus on fashion, and NYU, for its reputation. I've never had Courtney's problem, but I do base some of her doubts of self-worth (as a result of NYFU rejection letters) on my own. When I started college, I was pretty intimidated by the wealth of talented artists around me. I'm sure we've all felt that way at one point or another.

What are your future plans for Skirting Danger? Do you have any plans for other projects?

If all goes well, there'll be a Skirting Danger book by this coming summer. It'll have all kinds of extras you can only imagine in your wildest fantasies, or read in this book. It will start at the introductory Eisner Awards price of $140 and certainly will skyrocket me into the sun-drenched Solar System of Success.

I just recently finished a short story called "Emo Bot 5000" for an upcoming comic anthology called Disposable Parts ( http://www.bagofchips.net/robots). Who knows what projects will come next! I have tons of ideas but most of them become a reality on an impulse. Skirting Danger itself grew from an in-joke at Comic Con '03.

What do you think the future of webcomics will be like? What would you like to see more of in webcomics?

With every passing year, I see more and more of my friends getting closer to making a living from this stuff. A lot of them already do. It's very exciting.

I'm really not sure what the future holds. I can only imagine the audience for webcomics will get bigger. At least, until Internet 2 comes out. Then it'll all just get confusing. Yeesh.

I'd like to see more webcartoonists fighting with each other. Seriously. I feel like we're catching the same re-runs of PvP vs. Penny Arcade, Kurtz vs. Keenspot, Squidi vs. The Internet, and Crosby vs. Crosby. These classics are old stand-bys, but some fresh and original controversy is in order. I love watching internet drama unfold, and I feel that it really keeps the webcomics community active and thinking outside of the "panel". It's also good publicity for all involved. So I ask that everyone reading this please go out and pick a fight with other webcomics. For the community! 

Re: Dangerous Skirt: An Interview with Meredith Gran

I miss Not Gonna Take It. I want it back so badly....