The Fourth Toon Teller Rides Into the Sunset?
Brandon "Srubbo" Sonderegger is the creator of Silly Cone V, Filthy Lies, and most recently Inside the Box. Sonderegger recently announced an indefinite hiatus to work on Filthy Lies to finish work on his PhD and tie the knot with his long time girlfriend.
Hi, Brendan. Thanks for this opportunity to ask you a few questions about how you got your start in comicing. I'm looking forward to hearing your history, your perspectives on those "good ol' days" and where you see online comics now and where they're going. Let's begin with how you started out. What's your story there?
I started webcomicing back in September of 2000. I wasn't aware of too many webcomics at the time. I read User Friendly and Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet. What happened was I got REALLY bored at work one day when there was nothing to do so scanned in a Dilbert cartoon, erased all the words and art, and printed off a bunch of comic templates and started drawing. That was how Silly Cone Five started. It got on the web because I started posting it on some webspace I had left over from a college account. It was semi-autobiographical in that the main character Tom moved to California and got his heart broken, just like I had. (My wife had left me for another guy that year.) And Tom was a big ol' dork, just like me. And I had a womanizing roommate like Reese and a cooler female roommate like Cat. But after the original set up, I just had fun with the characters and plotlines. A little too MUCH fun, I think.
You obviously made the leap from your personal webspace to the just-blossoming Keen. What precipitated this and what was the community like back then?
Shortly after I started SCV, I found KeenSpace/KeenSpot. Already annoyed at having to cobble together an update and archival system, I leapt at the chance to have automated updating. Boy, I was feeling my oats then! Of course I immediately applied to Keenspot and of course never heard a thing. But at that time the number of artists on Keenspace was minuscule, and you could pretty much know everybody who was active on the forums.
That's where Trout, Pauly, Damonk, Joe, and eventually Meaghan all met each other. The advent of the Four Toon Tellers as a way to link each other's comic was pretty funny because we realized we wanted Trout to be part of the group, and that ruined the four in FTTs, so we added him as our Evil Nemesis. It was funny at the time. We didn't know it, but there were a few other artists who formed the ANTI-FTTers and they all picked a personal nemesis. Meaghan was originally one of those. Trout was ORIGINALLY supposed to be in that group, but we invited him in right before we went 'live' with our dropdown. So he had the reputation as a turncoat! All this drama over a little dropdown. That's all it really was was a dropdown. Funny.
The one thing that the FTTers really DID accomplish was giving us a sense of closeness before meeting each other at the first Comicon convention we went to. After that, we were pretty much inseperable. Except for Joe who refuses to hang out with us because I smell of garlicy fish. Or at least that's what he says. That closeness we got from comicing together on keenspace eventually led to Frank and Meghan's wedding, and we (mostly) were all at Pauly's wedding, and hopefully everyone will make it to my upcoming wedding. (Even Joe! I still hold out hope!) These guys (and gal) are the best thing comicing gave me. A bunch of new good friends.
That's not meant to be a slight at anybody else. Matt, Nick, Meridith, Amber, Jim, Aeire, Chris, and many others I've met are also highly cool and valued friends.
You then took a "leap up" online as it were at Keenspot. What's the story behind that?
Eventually I got 'Spotted'. It came when I was at the point of having given up all hope whatsoever on ever getting spotted. It was a surprise and a half. In fact, I had been working on leaving Keenspace when it happened. All of the Four Toon Tellers were, actually. Well, the ones who were updating. Pauly eventually had to quit his comic to focus on his art and work. (His caricatures are AWESOME!) And Joe was MIA for awhile then. Anyway, the Keenspace server issues were at their absolute worst, and we had started looking at making the Tellers an acutal collective group and setting up our own hosting and archiving, etc. But before we had the details figured out, Keenspot offered us all 'spots. We accepted. And I achieved the honor of becoming the least popular Keenspot comic. Seriously. Comics that had ended years ago got more page hits than me. It was both tremendously exciting to be asked in and tremendously humbling to see how puny my comic's readership was. And of course, it was a little bit of a disappointment to realize that millions of readers weren't going to flock to my comic just because it was on Keenspot.
It seems, just from personal observation, more and more artists are beginning to recognize that belonging to what is essentially the "name brand" (Keenspot) in webcomics or joining a collective doesn't spell instant success. So, after a time, you let SCV languish and began your next project, Filthy Lies. Tell me about that, how it started and what directions it took you in.
So, Filthy Lies. It came about because I thought up a HORRIBLE HORRIBLE joke about masturbation, Jesus, and pedophilia. So I made some characters to tell that joke. And I had a lot of fun doing it. So I kept doing it. And I kept having fun. I never thought it was a better comic than SCV, though. But it certainly got more popular than SCV. And I kept coming up with tasteless, horrible jokes to make in it.
About half a year after I started that comic, things got REALLY tight at grad school. I had started dating Alison, the easy classes were past, and the research was really piling up. I didn't have much spare time at all. I was drawing every night for hours after spending hours in the lab and more hours in classes and on homework. Something had to give. Even though I liked SCV more than FL, it was hand drawn. It took way more effort and time. Filthy Lies was scribbled hastily out in Flash on a tablet. No problem.
Of course, I was producing FL under a pen name (Scrubbo). It wasn't on Keenspot. So when I ended SCV, I asked Keenspot if they wanted FL on Keenspot. It wouldn't make tons of money on ads for them, but it would make a little. And I like Keenspot. I got some of my best friends because of Keenspot, so I wanted to stay. But honestly, I thought some people would object to my comic being on there because of the massive crapfest that occurred when Sexy Losers was being considered. But nobody objected. Apparently only POPULAR comics that are blasphemous, degrading and offensive ruffle those feathers. I kid, I kid! My comic never had anything past R ratings, so I guess it was okay. (Note: the whole preceding paragraph is my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any Keenspot artists or the Keenspot Four.)
Of course, after I quit SCV, my 'fast little comic' starting taking more and more time. Since I wasn't doing it as a goof anymore, but as my main comic, I started worrying more and more about how it looked and what I was writing and drawing. I think the comic improved by leaps and bounds, but it also started consuming more time. It never got as bad as SCV time wise, but it definitely creeped up. A strip took about an hour when I first started. They were taking me 2.5 hours by the time I ended.
When Keenspot started the Newspaper Page, I wanted to do something for it, but had no ideas. Twice a week I figured I could do. But it needed to be family friendly, so FL was right out. Eventually a spot opened up for a single panel comic. Those things are a cinch! And so Inside the Box started. I soon discovered that nothing is as hit or miss as single panel comics. Stuff I loved nobody I knew liked. And I had people saying they loved the ones that I thought were embarrassing. But I liked it, it gave me a chance to hand draw things again, and it wasn't a big time commitment. So off I went.
So, what about the here and now? You made the announcement on January 13th (a Friday, no less! Ooo!) that you were packing Filthy Lies in for now to pursue life on a number of fronts. Want to fill the readers in?
As 2006 started and I started looking at what all I needed to get done for the upcoming wedding, how much research I need to get done for my PhD., and just how little time I've spent doing other things besides comicing. Having a regular comic is a lot like having a second job. One that doesn't pay. (Or at least doesn't pay me.) Having had a short break of Christmas, I realized how relieved of stress I felt during the break. So I made the hard choice and pulled the plug on FL for now. I might come back to it after the wedding is done, or after the PhD. is done, but it's definitely dead for now.
So can your fans look forward to anything from you until the day when you hopefully restart Filthy Lies?
I'm keeping up on Inside the Box because it's really fast to draw one panel. Coming up with ideas is the hard part. Drawing is fast. I don't go for a lot of detail because it goes in a newspaper (and also because I'm not that great of an artist.) I hope to keep on doing it for some time to come!
Looking back over the history of online comics as you see it and have been involved in, what are your reflections and thoughts on the genre as a whole?
Over the last five years, the number of webcomics exploded. It's staggering. It's great. It's simply amazing. Some blame/credit Keenspace for it, but I think it would have happened anyway, but probably not as quickly or as extensively. And it's a very good thing, because when I started, you could read a handful of comics. Now you can find comics for just about every taste. And lots of the newer and lesser known comics are really quite wonderful. Maybe now I'll have enough spare time to read some!