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An Interview with 1/0's Mason "Tailsteak" Williams

After three successful years, Mason "Tailsteak" Williams recently ended his metatextual webcomic 1/0 at the 1,000th strip. He currently produces comics and miscellaneous ruminations at his new site, http://tailsteak.tk.

COMIXPEDIA: Okay, a little on your background. What did you draw and write before 1/0?
TAILSTEAK: Not much. A little amateur fiction, but nothing I'd want anyone to read. 1/0 really taught me everything I now know about writing consistent characters and making decent art.

The only really significant thing I did was a short piece of Dragonball Z fanfiction entitled "Peripheral Vision". Rather than focus on the main characters of the series, I extrapolated a story out of the background characters in a single episode. I was originally planning to make a webpage of Dragonball Z fanfiction... but I stopped watching the series. Thank God.

CP: Why did you choose the pen name “Tailsteak”?
TS: That came from DBZ as well. It's an extremely obscure quote made by Gohan. I kept it because it was unique. To me, it no longer symbolizes anything DBZ-related. It's just my online name. I may very well keep it forever.

CP: In exactly twenty-five words, tell us what 1/0 is about.
TS: Aware of their status as fiction, a handful of characters debate philosophical concepts and attempt to form a civilization in a universe devoid of backstory.

CP: Whence came the inspiration for 1/0? What made you want to produce it as a webcomic?
TS: I honestly couldn't tell you. I've always been a comic junkie, and have wanted to have a comic strip... Keenspace just provided the opportunity. It didn't matter, really, what the comic was. I just knew I wanted one.

I suppose Triangle and Robert was my biggest inspiration, though never on a conscious level.

CP: What tools do you use to produce your comics?
TS: Mechanical pencil, pens, whatever paper is in the printer, a flatbed scanner, Photoshop 4. The earlier strips were done in a Photoshop ancestor called Photostyler, with the text done in Paint. Sometimes.

The really stupid thing about the way I produced 1/0 was that I would print out templates from a basic .bmp file and draw on them. For panel borders, that can be a good thing. I used it for text, though, and that was stupid.

CP: Much of 1/0 is devoted to various philosophical, theological, and sociological debates. How much of this material reflects your own opinions, and how much is based on the personalities of the characters?
TS: In the beginning, most of it was me. I was really rationalistic about my faith and my beliefs, and I wanted to engender debate and thought where once was ideological complacency. These days, I'm more mellow about that sort of thing. I'm able to look back and laugh at myself.

In the latter days, a lot of things were determined by the characters' personalities. There are whole storylines I had to scrap because the characters simply refused to play along.

CP: Not many webstrippers can stick to a daily schedule, and yet you seldom, if ever, missed a day of 1/0. How did you do it?
TS: Let me just clear something up, here – I never missed a day. Keenspace missed days. Keenspace lost files. Keenspace neglected updates. I had a comic available for every single day from August 28, 2000 to May 26, 2003. It just wasn't always on the site.

I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, though. Keenspace was a great host. Without them, there's no question, I would not be a webtoonist.

Things are changing now, though. I'm paying for a site, and I'm not keeping to a daily schedule. I'm just putting stuff up as I draw it.

As to how I did it.... I don't know. It helps to establish paranoia about it. If I skipped a day, demons would eat my family. That sort of thing. It also helps that 1/0 is really easy to produce.

CP: Do you have a favorite character in the 1/0 cast?
TS: I should say no, but.... Zadok. Zadok is my favourite. I don't know why... he sure as heck doesn't deserve it.

I would say he's the most well-developed. He has the most complex personality of all my characters. Maybe I was subconsciously mimicking my conception of the Old Testament God.... we have a Jewish character who's conniving and violent and greedy and who defies me at every turn, and yet I choose him to come out on top, get the girl, vanquish the Jebusites, etc.

CP: What development in the strip (not counting the ending) inspired the most response from readers?
TS: Hard to say.... really hard to say. A lot of people never found my email address. (I didn't put it on the site on purpose. I made an oblique reference to it in one of my Incoherent Ramblings, and I consider it a kind of intelligence test. If you can derive my email from that, you may email me.)

The Death of Max, maybe.... or the breaking of the three walls. I got far more response to the Incoherent Ramblings than to the comic.

CP: What development in the strip most surprised you?
TS: The percussion storyline. That just came out of nowhere. I wanted to make an MP3 of it called "Calling Terra", but I don't have the right microphones or sound software.

CP: Have you ever felt that the characters genuinely got out of your control?
TS: Not completely. There was resistance in some areas... but I could push through that if I had really wanted. I just chose not to.

CP: In one of the early strips, you tell your characters that your purpose in drawing the comic was to get a girlfriend. Did 1/0 succeed in this respect?
TS: Indeed it did! I have obtained an American significant other known online as Miss Mab, of Mab's Land fame. Although 1/0 did not directly cause the hookup, I can say with confidence that had I never begun it, I would not be the person I am today. I would be devoid of certain maturities that were fundamental in the establishment of the relationship.

CP: Why did you decide to end 1/0 at 1000 strips?
TS: 1000 is a cool number. You walk in, drop a grand on the table, and walk out. It's saying "Webcomic. Yeah. I can do that."

CP: What kind of reader response have you gotten to the end of 1/0?
TS: Quite a bit. People email me to tell me they'll miss it, I did a good job.... I got more people responding to something on the new site that was actually asking for input.

CP: Now that you’ve released your characters from the tiny, stinky 1/0 universe and teleported them to Portland, Oregon, what kind of life do you imagine for them?
TS: They'll get jobs, get an apartment or two, establish relationships with others (while staying in contact with each other, of course). Zadok and Terra will raise Theodore. Mock will look after the Running Fish. Andy and Ribby will attend public school together, and will be looked after by all in a sort of commune arrangement. It's not perfect, but it's good.

CP: After three years of 1/0, what have you learned about cartooning?
TS: Don't steal other people's characters. Randomness is not the same as wackiness, which is not the same as humour. Don't scan in text-- do it in the computer. Be original. Don't quit. Ever.

CP: With the demise of 1/0, you’ve started a new website, tailsteak.tk. What can we expect to see there?
TS: Several stories running at once, interspersed with art, essays, and whatever pops into my head. Worth a read, I'd think.

 

Shaenon K. Garrity is a contributor at large for Comixpedia. More Details.