From the Peculiar Pub to Infinite Typewriters
Jon Rosenberg has been entertaining readers of his webcomic Goats since April 1st, 1997. What DON'T we know about you that you can give out without being arrested and/or lynched?
The government has used reverse-time engineering to eliminate most of the "facts" of my existence from the Bose-Einsteinian timestream. From what I've been able to gather over the last four years of espionage and adventuring, I was once in line to become the emir of Kazakhstan until American oil barons decided it wasn't in their best interests to see me sitting on a vast, untapped field of fourth-quarter profits.
I might also be George Clooney, but I've yet to find any real, hard evidence for that.
Your art, to put it mildly, has improved since the first strips. Who has influenced your art?
My influences have changed over the years. When I was but a wee webcartoonist, it was the newspaper greats of my childhood -- Breathed, Watterson, Larson, the usuals. But as I've gotten older, I find that I'm more and more influenced by my contemporaries. Professional jealousy is an extremely effective motivator.
John Allison's art, vector or hand-scrawled, is about the best there is.
Gabe from Penny Arcade released a video a couple of years ago demonstrating his creation of a comic, obsessively drawing and redrawing and shaping his lines on his tablet. I watched it about three dozen times.
Other folks whose art I really admire include Meredith Gran, Ian Jones-Quartey, Dorothy Gambrell, Fred Grisolm, Andrew Bell, Chris Baldwin, Kazu Kibuishi, Kean Soo, and Vera Brosgol. Vera is so talented it makes it a little difficult to breathe near her.
Many webcomics remain static. I try to keep improving mine by trying little innovations here and there, keeping what works and ditching the rest. It's hell for consistency, but if consistency means you're consistently terrible you're not doing anyone a favor.
What writers/humorists/novels/movies/tv shows/the occasional commercial have most influenced your writing?
There's a difference between an influence and something you've merely stolen from. There's a lot of stuff that I try to emulate because I admire what the writer is doing. And there's a lot of stuff that I crib ideas from because they're good ideas and need to be liberated from the terrible fiction they're trapped in.
So I'm listing a bunch of stuff, and you can try and sort out which is which. Stephen King (particularly the Dark Tower series), Douglas Adams, Stargate, Sliders, The Matrix, Woody Allen, Monty Python, Star Trek, Jack L. Chalker, Back To The Future, Mayan mythology, Easy Rider, and CNN all had a huge hand in shaping the material for the last year or two. I'm missing a lot, this list will never be complete.
But again, like the art, it's my contemporaries that influence me the most. In particular, Jeff Rowland and John Allison have pushed me to try and excel by constantly improving their own work. Jeff Rowland in particular is masterful at writing these bizarre, sprawling epic stories that still manage to capture essential human elements. Oh, and R Stevens knows exactly where to find the pulse of webcomics readers, which is arguably the most important element in attracting and maintaining an audience.
My writing was also heavily influenced by Stewart O'Nan, an incredible novelist who I was lucky enough to study under for a year back in college.
How do you approach doing this and keep it fresh after doing this as long as you have? The latest story arc proves that you're a LOOONG way from jumping the shark, in any sense.
The latest story arc is exactly how I am attempting to keep it fresh. If it gets stale, reinvent it. Tear down your earlier work and use it as fertilizer for something new. When the current angle gets boring after a few years I'll probably do it again. Or maybe I'll scratch the whole thing and start something new. There are always new challenges as long as you're willing to take a chance and do something a little crazy once in a while.
I really, really, REALLY liked the "Infinite Typewriters" storyline. I think you're really stretching your storytelling skills. What's been your favorite storyline so far?
"Infinite Typewriters" is my favorite as well, although I think it's to be expected that you're the most invested in the work you're currently involved in. I don't even think about the old material, really, except for reasons of continuity and to steal ideas from my younger self. Storylines are really arbitrary divisions at this point.
Sometimes I ask creators who their favorite characters are. Screw that. I want to know what inspired the creation of Diablo, the satanist chicken, because he's MY favorite character.
Diablo is more of a lapsed Satanist at this point, I would say.
I created Diablo because I needed a character that would motivate story. Jon and Phillip are essentially lazy and would never get into any trouble if left to their own devices. They would just drink. Action isn't really in their nature. So in order to force them into situations where they would get into trouble and have to remedy things, I needed someone that was very effective at causing trouble. Diablo loves chaos.
But I think we're going to see a lot of changes in his character in the next few years. He's a father now, he's travelling the multiverse, that does things to a chicken.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, which one is YOUR favorite character? (I think Megan was a really good addition to the mostly-male cast.) Neil and Bob? Gregor Mendel? (I think we can say categorically that this is the only comic in the world that has Gregor Mendel as a villain.)
I think Fineas is probably the character I'm most interested in writing for at this point. He's had the biggest transformation, the most interesting story. Phillip is also fun to write for because I'm never really sure what he's going to do at any given moment. But I don't have favorites the way that a reader might. I'm a bit too close to the strip to enjoy it the same way that someone else does.
Do you regret any of the story arcs you've run? "Good Hitler vs. Space Hitler" comes to mind. Or wish you had changed the length or direction of some of them?
For certain, I can look back and see things that I could have done differently, but "Good Hitler vs. Space Hitler" wasn't one of them. I had a blast writing and drawing it and from the responses we got it's safe to say that it was one of the most popular arcs to date. It was a fun challenge to take someone so universally reviled and try to find a way to get the audience to root for him. My only regret in regards to "GHvSH" is that I don't have time for a spinoff strip.
How has the webcomic scene changed since you first began? What do you see as the most hopeful trends happening currently in webcomics?
Well, for one thing, there was no "webcomics scene" when I first started. Goats rose from the primordial ooze, long before I was aware that there were any other webcomics (before anyone had probably used the word "webcomic" I believe). There were probably less than five regular ongoing webcomics, and I only learned about them later.
So, to answer your question, the "scene" has changed in that it has started to exist.
Trends are for sheep. I'd rather see a person innovate and fail than see a thousand people glom on to a trend.
What are your future plans for Goats---any other media being contemplated? (Goats on Adult Swim would be a dream come true...) Any other projects you have planned, non-Goats?
I have learned that is it best not to talk about your plans until you're done with whatever it is you're planning. To boast of your future conquests is to invite disaster.
But the present conquests? Boast away.