Saturday Morning Webcomics: An interview with Monty & Kelli
Planet Saturday by Monty Kane bills itself as "adventures in childhood and parenthood" and it is a charming collection of tales of Emory (who is basically a stand-in for Monty), roughly half with him as a child and half with him as an adult, father of a daughter. It in some ways suggests that the comic is really about Monty himself but it doesn't feel biographical as the stories seem to be more universal than uniquely revealing of one person. There's a touch of nostaglia at times, but particularly in the stories with the Emory as father and the daughter Dot it's also very much about two well-drawn characters and their father-daughter relationship. Maybe it's simply because I'm a dad with daughters myself, but I do enjoy these stories.
I got a chance to interview both Monty and his wife Kelli Stevens Kane by email this month about the comic and its first collection in print.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What's a typical day for you like recently?
Monty: Well, I'm a dad and an animator, in addition to being a superhero. So my day is split up pretty evenly between stuff like making breakfast for my daughter, doing whatever contracting work is at hand, and striking fear into the hearts of criminals.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
Monty: Aside from the whole striking-fear thing, yeah, I'm an animator. Our company, Planet Saturday LLC, does art and animation for videogames and electronic toys.
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Monty: Planet Saturday Comics is a humorous fantasy autobiography about my adventures in childhood and parenthood. It's about a kid with a head full of dinosaurs and superheroes who grows up to be a happy, if somewhat hapless, dad. It is the feel-good comic of the summer; you will laugh, cry, AND hurl.
I think it's interesting that you shift perspective from you as a child to you as a dad from comic to comic. Both seem to work very well, but I wonder how you developed the idea to "house" both of those concepts within one comic. And I suppose also simply why?
Monty: In real life I shift perspective from me as a child to me as a dad all the time, so it seems perfectly natural to do it in the comic as well. I mean, there's a joke about how time was invented so that everything wouldn't have to happen all at once. But when you're in your forties, and you're at a park where you used to play when you were ten, and your ten-year-old kid is playing there, it feels like everything IS happening all at once; the whole idea of events being separated by time starts to seem like a big hoax.
Volume One of Planet Saturday Comics is out in print. What's the reaction been so far?
Monty: We've had a lot of really positive press, which is heartening. My mom really liked it, too, especially the parts with her in them.
How did the publication come about? Did you do all of the work in getting it out the door?
Kelli: We revised some of the comics we thought still needed work, and then Monty put the files together. We both worked on layout. I was in charge of coordinating production: doing the research on POD vs. traditional printers, running the numbers over and over again, figuring out ISBN and bar code stuff, communicating with the printer... It was a very long journey and we had no idea what we were doing initially. Leaning how to self- publish is definitely a long game of Whack-A-Mole-- one new problem pops up after another. Never announce publicly that you're almost done until the book at the printer! Volume 2 will be so much easier.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
Monty: “Cellar Steps”--a story in which, in order to get some comic books, I have to go down into my scary basement. Which is inhabited by, among other things, a severed hand named Hank. Also, “More Mud Men,” a Sorcerer's-Apprentice-like story in which I accidentally create life. As for the dad-and-daughter stories, “About To Ride” is a particularly funny one set in an amusement park. My daughter gets progressively more enthusiastic about the rides, while I get progressively sicker from riding them with her.
Kelli: “Loud” comes up most often from fans, and my personal overall favorite is, “Fight or ____.”
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
Monty: I mostly promote my work by putting it online when no one is looking. I've also tried closing the curtains, putting the lights out, and staying very quiet until whoever it is stops ringing the doorbell and goes away. It's a big pain for Kelli, I'm afraid, as it means all the promotional stuff falls in her lap. We've tried Project Wonderful ads, but we mostly rely on reviews and word-of-mouth.
Kelli: Good strategies for us have been networking online and sending out a ton of review copies of the book. We've also been lucky enough to have the support of our local comic shops--here's a shout out for Copacetic Comics, and Phantom of the Attic!
What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at? What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?
Monty: My advice for anybody just starting to show work at conventions would be to ask somebody besides me for advice...
Kelli: I'll have to second that since I will be doing our first cons this year and am in need of advice myself! I'll be doing our local cons at the least: Steel City Con and Pittsburgh Comicon. I'm also hoping to attend San Diego Comicon with my ToonSeum cohorts. Possibly more. We'll see.
When you create a comic, how do you approach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?
Monty: I tend to start from written material rather than visual material. My feeling about writing stories is, who needs to make anything up? It's all lifted directly from life. When I started doing the comic, I grabbed a notebook and scribbled down fifty or sixty ideas for stories. I'm still working my way through them, and adding to the list.
I suppose you can't get mad at yourself for writing about your own childhood experiences, but how does your daughter react to the stories she is in?
Monty: I think she likes them. The humor is pretty gentle, and to the extent that anybody is shown in a slightly ridiculous light, it's usually the dad more than the daughter. I haven't come up with anything yet that she's objected to. I try to be protective of her privacy, and to stay away from anything that she might someday be embarrassed to see.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
Monty: Well, the process starts with my list of story ideas. I pick one and draw it in some very sketchy form, like thumbnails or loose pencils. Then I show it to Kelli.
Kelli performs the vital, and thankless, job of telling me how what I've done could be better. As unwilling as I usually am to hear about it -- because I usually think that what I've done is perfect to begin with -- long experience has taught me that my comics get better when I listen to her.
It's been really hard to get across how much the comic is a collaboration. I conceive the stories, and I draw them; I'm there at the beginning and the end, so it looks like it's all me. But there's all this work that happens in the middle that is hers as much as mine. With both the writing and the art, she stops me if I'm doing something that doesn't work, and points me in the right direction. Even if I'm doing something that's good, she can see how it could be better, and she'll keep me going the extra distance. There's no name for her role besides 'editor', but that doesn't really do it -- makes it sound like she checks my spelling, or something, when it's so much more vital than that.
Anyway, she gives me her critique, and I make changes, usually after arguing about it and threatening to hold my breath until my face turns blue and so on.
Kelli: Editing your spouse's work is a minefield. But he does the same thing for me on my writing projects, and when the roles reverse I don't like it either! That said, he's also usually right, and I also usually listen.
Monty: So then I go ahead and ink my drawings. My contracting work means a lot of sitting at the computer, so I try to use the comic as an opportunity to stay in touch with real media. I used to do a lot more digital fussing with the pages -- using Photoshop to lay marker textures or ink splatters or other scanned elements over the backgrounds, for instance. Even then I made a point of generating the added elements on paper, just because natural media has a depth and a tactile quality that you can't really duplicate with software. But nowadays I find I'm adding less at the digital stage -- I'm trying to just draw the page, scan it, and be done.
Did you do your own website? What software are you using on it?
Monty: I did the HTML and CSS myself, and I'm using a modified version of an open-source CMS.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
Monty: When I was a kid, comics were a quarter. It's impossible to say that without sounding like Grampa Simpson talking about how he used to wear an onion on his belt, because that was the style at the time. But they were--they were a quarter, and there wasn't even anything else you could do with quarters, because video games hadn't been invented yet. You kids get off my lawn.
Anyway, I read stacks and stacks of Peanuts paperbacks, and boxes and boxes of 70's superhero comics. I liked some obvious stuff like The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Hulk, and some fringier stuff like Kamandi, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur... I wish I could say, as an adult, that my tastes have become mature and sophisticated, but in my heart I really just want to see The Good Guys beat the crap out of The Bad Guys. Nextwave was right about on my level, and I'm a big Hellboy fan, too. I loved Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes when they were in the paper, but I haven't read them in years -- I avoid seeing them, because they're so close in some ways to what I try to do. I think those two strips have a worthy spiritual successor in Cul de Sac, a strip I've only somewhat recently discovered. And Ernie Pook's Comeek is heart-breaking, and Jim Woodring's Frank is mind-blowing... I could go on.