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School's In: A Lesson in Hellman and Beran

A Lesson is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible has attracted a lot of attention with its vibrant, often extremely colorful art and its surreal style. This interview with its creators is very in keeping with the spirit of the webcomic.Al Schroeder rang up David Hellman and Dale Beran, the creators of A Lesson is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible for an online chat about their groundbreaking webcomic. After a few technical difficulties getting started, we found out that David and Dale share an appreciation for Carl Banks, Czanne and Zelda III.

So...you guys have been collaborating since Ninth grade? Aren't you two sick of each other by now?

Dale: Totally. These questions are kind of leading.

 

Well, yeah, but it's what most people would think - you guys have lasted longer than most marriages!

Dale: Um, that's because we're more petty and decided to never have children  Well, we've only been collaborating on the comic for about a year, or more, something like that.

David: Most of our collaborations consisted of hanging out in diners and reminiscing about our favorite scenes in Kafka novels, with the idea of someday shooting a movie. This is really the first one carried out to such an extent.

Do you guys co-plot, or does the writer just send the script to the artist, or what?

Dale: Sometimes we co-plot, but mostly I send a bunch of scripts.

Then, livid, David tears them up into pieces and lets them float down o�n his face like snow.

David: I lie on my back and the bits of paper that flutter down into my mouth become the basis of the next episode.

Dale: Mostly I send scripts, David picks o�ne, then we work through it , change it, etc.

I could see that... nice image. A lot of give and take on a script, maybe?

David: Giving and taking are Dale's and my credos, respectively. He gives and gives but it's never enough for me. Then there are moments like I'm spreading jam on toast, and I turn around to see Dale sobbing on the tabletop. When he gets that way he just needs space. We've learned to tolerate each other's eccentricities.

You've got a wonderful surreal style to your storytelling - who influences you?

Dale: My influences, let's see...

Scrooge McDuck.

I mean Carl Barks.

I always thought Barks did Indiana Jones with anthromorphic animals. Beautiful stuff.

Dale: I just went to a comic convention in midtown with my friend and bought all these Donald Duck adventure comics.

Man, in one, Scrooge McDuck's face is cursed to look like any other face he looks at so he has to flee to an uncharted land of faceless people.

I was like, "Can I steal this?"

But then I thought it was too good to steal

David: That sounds like an incredible story.

You wouldn't be the first to steal from Barks, believe me. I loved the one with the Harpies as a kid. Or the one where Donald sailed a Viking ship...

David: The Golden Helmet?

Yep.

Dale: Oh man that one's great.

Those harpies are really scary.

David: Remember the Jewish stereotype rat lawyer?

Dale: I remember that guy.

David: He had a huge schnoz.

Dale: A land of dogs and ducks, oh man�

Influences are taught.

Dale: I mean, these cute indy rock girls were at my house last night, and they kept pulling all my books off the shelf, you know they even took some out of the bathroom, and they were telling me all about how they loved this one and that one, and they're like, "Is all you do read little bits of books?"

I do pretty much, both me and my roommate do that, read little bits of six or seven books at once and never finish them. So they're all over the house bent open on the floor and stuff, so I asked the girls to marry me after one recited a Shakespearean sonnet from memory, and they said no.

I'm a bookaholic. My wife says I go into withdrawal symptoms without something to read. 'Tis better to have loved and lost...

David: Careful, he'll propose.

Dale: Don't spoil the moment, David.

I'd be a bigamist if I accepted, anyway.

Dale: I was about to pop the big question.

Just so long as you don't pop something else...

Dale: No promises, my friend.

David: BIGAMY - the act of going through a marriage ceremony while already married to another person.

Dale: Ah, Big Amy, she was my favorite of all my wives. Huge but loving.
 


Let's try one for you, Dave.  One of the first thing that strikes ANYONE on the site is your beautiful impressionistic art, very different looking from most other sites on the Internet, very un-Photoshop-looking - do you scan actual paintings, or are you going to disillusion me and tell me it's all graphic program trickery? C'mon. I can take it.

David: I paint everything directly in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet.

For the comic, at least.  Although I plan to break that pattern soon.

All change is beneficial.

David: Computers are good at making things exact and reproducing indentical things. When most people get their hands on computers, they use them to make their work look more polished, more like a product. But I like work that bears its history a little bit, that you can see is the result of a process.

It shows. It gives it more "weight".

David. Thank you. I erase as much as I draw, which is why it sometimes looks carved.

It looks unique compared to most of the other stuff out there. It stands out.

David: I like standing out.

What artists influenced you?

David: They're all dead.

The attack of the Zombie Artists...

David: Recently I've been looking at a lot of Francis Bacon.

Wow. Renaissance man.

David: Czanne is a guy I like, because he was kind of a hermit, but he was out there looking at the hills in France and figuring out his own system of organization. And then everybody had to respond to him. ... not to say that he wasn't classically trained, because he was, but his greatest influence seems to have been his own perception.

Right now my computer's desktop image is a map of the overworld of Zelda III o�n the Super Nintendo. I set it to dissolve between the light world and the dark world every fifteen minutes.

Dale: That's so meaningful.

David: If you're familiar with the game, you know that the light and dark worlds are similar in many respects; for example ...

Right, I knew that much.

David: Trees and rocks and bodies of water are mostly in the same places. But the colors are much darker in the dark world.

I like the way the map is organized.

The castle is in the middle.

Dale: Where is the princess?

That's always the question...

David: Inside of Turtle Rock in the Dark World.

Dale: She sounds difficult to deal with

David: She is inside a crystal.

Dale: I hate girls like that.

Interesting metaphor.

David: In the Dark World, the desert becomes a swamp.

In episode 15 of A Lesson Is Learned, Paul's apartment becomes a theater of spirits in the dark world.

Dale: hey, good call. I'm in Paul's apartment right now.

Yeah, I remember that one.

Dale: He says he appreciates the shout out.

David: He's a little premature there.

I'd hate to be stuck in an apartment for eternity....

David: Where would you rather be stuck?

Dale: Well the theatre is something which is a light and a dark world, I guess.

Were you guys surprised when you got the award for Best Design from the WCCA?

David: I was surprised that we didn't win more of them.

Dale: I was surprised.

David: It's very nice to be appreciated.

I liked your first answer better.

David: I was hurt, for example, that we weren't even included in the Anthropomorphic category.

Or best Action comic.

Dale: I think they didn't consider us to be "like human beings", which was insulting, because we often come close.

Hey, in some circles, it'd be a compliment. You actually had a continuing story in the last two installments... we going to see more of that?

Dale: Maybe, I didn't consider it too successful. I thought it was difficult for me to read it together. I'd like to do longer pieces but having them o�n two separate webpages is probably not the best format for that.

But I would expect us to keep changing our format. As soon as we do something successful we like to ruin it by changing everything

Sort of like Groucho Marx not wanting to belong to any club that'd accept him?

Dale: We don't have mustaches�

Yet.

David: To set the record straight, the last two comics were supposed to be o�ne, but I insisted on cutting it into two parts so that we could get something new up o�n the site quickly.

You could merge them into one long one, and set off Scott McCloud's Infinite-Canvas-Sense.

Dave: We've done some really long comics, not quite infinite, but in that range. Episode 18, about Christmas, was really long. So was 23, about the Alcoholic Rabbit.

Dale: I like things that go o�n forever.

I loved the Alchoholic rabbit. Also the toy bear by the bloody axe.

Dale: oh yeah, we were thinking of doing more one shots like that. That one was surprisingly sucessful.

Always keep us guessing...

Dale: That came out of us messing around, David would do drawings and I would caption them.

David: I was decapitating all day, and Bear came around.

And Dale just said, "Hold it. That's it."

Which goes back to my earlier question about how you collaborate - glad to hear it's all drawn from real life.

Dale: Oh, yeah, its all true. I have to warn you guys I'm about to eat some really old pumpkin pie out of Paul's fridge, so if I grow incoherent, start to laugh.

How would we tell? (It's sort of like my brother's question about the old Steve Ditko Dr. Strange stories..."If Dr. Strange ever went insane, how could he tell?")

Dale: Hahaha! That's great. I'm a big Dr. Strange fan. I love the eye of amantido, the crimson bands of crtyyk, the whole deal.

By the Glittering Gob of Gitcheegoomee... I was going to ask you guys each to tell us something we didn't already know about you, but I think I'm afraid of the answers.

Dale: Hahaha! With good cause! I am thinking of something people don�t know about me.

My son's watching Family Guy and American Dad while I'm doing this interview... somehow, it seems oddly appropriate.

Dale: He's watching both at the same time? You're an awesome dad.

He's old enough. Besides, I love Stewie. What are you thinking of? And is it illegal in all, but five of the United States?

Dale: So, something the world doesn't know about me�.

I imagine there's a LOT to choose from.

Dale: Well, in fourth grade I had a crush on a girl named Jenna. In retrospect she was kind of snooty.

Her last name wasn't Jameson, was it?

Dale: She was very clean, her mother brushed her hair everyday and she played the harp.  One day she played for the whole auditorium. (I'm so glad her last name wasn't Jameson. That would make this story much more horrible.) Now that I think of it. I had crushes on a series of very neat looking snooty girls up through middle school. In any case�

It could be worse. You could have a crush on the ugly, but slutty ones...

Dale: No, I think that would have been better.

My sister, being shrewd and cruel, realized I had a crush on her since everytime she mentioned her name I blushed, so she began a series of very cleverly forged love notices written from me to her. No, wait, the other way around. It was, nothing short of a stroke of genius. In any case she eventually got her prize which was a love letter back responding to all the false promises Jenna had never made to me�

--And this, I believe, was my first and probably best literary accomplishment.

Good story.

Dale: thanks

David: Very few people know that I once had a closet full of porn stars. Before I left for college, I put them all in plastic bags and hurled them into a dumpster behind the sports equipment store. I could have sold them on eBay, but it would have been too much trouble.

One last question. You guys going to go to print with this? Are you going to be "graphic novelists", and get reviewed by the New York Times? Or do you feel this sort of irreality is better suited for the Internet?

Dale: I'd love to do something in print. I like both the internet and print as a way of making comics. The advantage of the internet is that we can just put up what we like and if people like it, then they come. The connection is immediate.

Yeah. If we could just get more people aware of webcomics - but the instant feedback is gratifying.

Dale: Yeah, I guess so. I find myself bored on the internet all the time, and I'm looking to it to waste my time with entertainment. So I felt like if I had that need, then many other lazy people had it to, and we should start making webcomics.

But I think a print run would ultimately make us more money, and really, the ultimate goal for both us is to get paid to do our creative work.

And you might get reviewed by the New York Times!

Dale: Yeah, being reviewed by the New York Times would be nice. What surprised me a lot when we started doing webcomics is how much the web is genre organized.

Oh, yeah. Sprite comics. Gamer comics. RPG comics.

Dale: So if you like Star Wars, you have a site where Star Wars fans meet and you can advertise Star Wars merchandise there, and it surprised me how webcomics kind of organized themselves along similar genre lines, so if you're a fan of something, then you read a little comic about it. I think that's somewhat new for comics.

Yeah it's almost like a webcomic is a different way to explore your interests. Like a graphic blog or something.

Dale:Yeah, very much so.

David: I'm hungry.

Dale: OK, great, thanks so much doing this, it was fun.

David: Well, I can never say no to you, Dale.

Yeppers, it was. Thanks a lot....and blame the Internet for the technical difficulties.

Dale: I blame the internet for everything.

You're probably right to do so.