Greg Dean has been delighting readers with scenes from his real life for years now in the webcomic Real Life. He reflects on changes since he's started, both personally and for the webcomics world in general.
Considering that your webcomic Real Life is more-or-less an autobiographical webcomic (or autobiography-springboarding-into-fantasy), is there anything we don't know about you that you'd care to tell us?
Not a whole ton, really. I tend to be very open with my interests in the comic. Hell, I even let slip that I enjoy a good musical from time to time.
Okay, here's one I guess – I'm sort of a spelling geek. Sure, I'm well known for my numerous typos in the comic, but that's due to bad typing skills – not spelling skills. I often spell Pneumonoultramicroscopicsiliconovolcanoconiosis out verbally without pausing to amuse (annoy) my friends. It's just one of those things I learned I was good at at a young age, and I sort of kept the interest with me.
When something bad and/or exciting happens to you, do you think, "Boy this will make a GREAT comic strip?" Do you live your life — or observe it?
A little from column A, a little from column B. I don't really walk around searching for comic material. I just sort of go about my business, trying to stay afloat. Sometimes I'll do something that really stands out, like buying a scooter or moving to San Francisco, and I think "I can get some good material out of this", but usually it's not the case. Most of my ideas come after the fact, when I'm sitting at my desk in the evening.
"What happened today that struck me as funny?"
What writers or works of fiction (books, movies, videogames, etc.) influenced your storytelling? I think we can safely say Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, given the "Sky Jackass" storyline in your webcomic, but other than that…?
The storyline was "Sky Dumbass", actually, but that's neither here nor there. I wouldn't count them as influences, per se… more like just the guys who give me my material to work from. I guess the closest thing I have to an influence would be guys like Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan) and Steven Brust (The Book of Jhereg). Not because I think I write like them — far from it, they're FANTASTIC writers… but because their dialogue strikes me as unique. Ellis for the way he crafts memorable phrases, which is always my aim, and Brust because he writes dialogue so naturally. It never seems forced. I read Terry Goodkind books (I'm ashamed to admit) and the dialogue is so FAKE. People give long diatribes in ways no real person ever would. I try to take after Brust – cutting unnecessary exposition, making sure the dialogue flows like a real conversation. I'm not always successful, but I like to think of them as sort of my guideposts.
I also pull a little bit of inspiration from my fellow cartoonists – Jon Rosenberg (Goats) and John Allison (Scary Go Round) especially. Again, my inspiration is mostly just in how to write – the subject matter is all pulled from my own life.
What artists influenced your style?
Ability. Originally, it was the first thing I drew in illustrator that looked good. I was new to the program, and I saw it and thought "Allright. That'll do." Since then I've tried to just see what needed tweaking to make it more visually appealing. I guess I probably pulled a bit of stylistic influence from PvP and EtherLife (now "Shaw Island"), but I've since tried to define my style more as my own. The backgrounds are my new place to shine, but again, style is all essentially utilitarian to me. I've often contemplated changing the base visual stuff, but it always ends up looking foreign to me. I've grown used to the beady little eyes, dammit. Ah well – at least they're shaded now.
Do the real-life friends who are represented in the strip sometimes make suggestions on what to put into REAL LIFE? Does the real-life Tony relish being the evil overlord/Lex Luthor of the strip?
Honestly, we don't really see each other that much any more… but yeah, he dug it pretty hardcore back when we were roommates. I'd often go to them for ideas if I was feeling a dry spell coming on. And I still do with the people I hang out with these days… especially Liz. That's why you see so much more of her lately – our life has become pretty well focused on just the two of us. Married life is certainly a change.
How has your creative process changed since your early comics?
Mostly just that I try to think of ideas ahead of time, now. It used to be that the comic was a strictly after-11 thing. I never did it early, and I never thought about it. Now, I prepare. I have ideas for strips floating around in my head all the time.
How do you keep this fresh, going into six years of doing this?
It's TOUGH. I feel like there's very little new ground to break – either I've done it, or someone else has done it. If I must rehash an old idea, I try really hard to present a new spin on it. There's still new material out there, but it's not uncommon for me to make a comic only to realize I did an extremely similar joke 2 or 3 years back. Like I can remember that far.
Has marriage changed any of your working habits on the webcomic? Does your wife have any veto on how she's portrayed in the comic?
Well, in a way, yes. It's called a couch, and it's where I end up if I do something wrong. 🙂 She lets me get away with so much, though. I do seem to kind of make her character the straight man, though… which is probably a failing on my part. I should really try to expand on her character more. Coming soon : Liz decides to take up the life of a working girl on the streets of San Francisco! Hilarity ensues. (I'm probably going to be on the couch tonight for that one.)
How has the webcomic world changed since you started in 1999? What do you see as the most hopeful trends in webcomics these days?
GOD yes it has. Back in '99, I was one of maybe 70-100 webcomics out there. It was fresh – the whole "everyone in this comic is a real person" thing was fairly new. Audiences overall were pretty small, and there were maybe a few webcomics with any sort of established archives. Maybe 10. I think some of the best got started around that time, too… Kurtz started back in '97, so he's grandfathered in, but quite a few of the top names in webcomics popped up out of nowhere around that time. It was a golden age.
I think the trends I'm liking to see right now are the collectives that are springing up. I'm biased of course with Blank Label, but I like that these smaller groups are forming to help support the artist. One, because it keeps people more or less independant (and it shows a level of seriousness about what the cartoonists are doing that I like) and two, because for the most part, people with similar tastes band together. The upshot of that is I can find a collective like Dumbrella, and after checking Scary Go Round, be more willing to try a comic like Goats, Wigu, or Diesel Sweeties. The general rule is that a crappy comic isn't as likely to be a member of a collective… unless it's a big, nonexclusive one. *shrug*
What other media would you like Real Life to appear in? What other projects would you like to work on?
I'd always LIKE to see Real Life in other media, but I just don't know if the story is suitable for things like TV or Movies. (nor do I think enough of my own work to ever see it as worthy of such.) I think I'd really just be more interested in a show or something that was LOOSELY based around the lives of people like me and my friends – the average everyday computer geek. Not the over-the-top, "built-my-own-robot-girlfriend" media geeks, but something much more down to earth. A sitcom with guys that enjoy MMO's or something.
The right writers can make anything good. I think the premise is solid. But really, I think Real Life is made of the web – I'd never really want to see it in newspapers or anything. It's not really the place for it.
And actually, truth be told, I've always had kind of a fantasy about making a road movie based on me and my friends. Something totally out of the late '80s, early '90s. You know, like The Wizard, only updated, and with a much more handsome leading man. *wink*
As for other projects beyond simply Real Life, I've had a few rolling around in my dome for quite a few years now. One is a long-form graphic novel I'd want to write and have someone else do the art on, since there's no WAY my art skills would ever deign to do it justice. I've had a video game premise or two that have come to mind, but there's very little chance of those happening. And one of these days, I'm going to find the time to sit down and actually write a fantasy book I've had in mind for about 7 or 8 years. Truth be told, my other stuff is far less humorous… i tend to have fairly serious tastes. But it would certainly be fun to do a collaborative project one of these days, working from the concept side of things and not so much the production side.
I'm much more reliable as an idea man, believe me.