Charlie "Spike" Troutman is the talented creator behind the well-received webcomic (and book) Templar, Arizona. The comic is a story about a town that may or may not completely conform to the regular laws of reality and features a growing assortment of interesting characters who both intrigue and intimidate the protagonist, a young man named Ben. Spike has also created other webcomics, including Sparkneedle, Lucas and Odessa and Playing With Dolls (which used Sims Online screen captures for the artwork).
I saw the story of your nickname in your interview with FLEEN last year so I won’t ask that again but if I met you in person what would I call you? Spike or Charlie?
Everyone calls me Spike! Except my husband, really.
Let’s start off with your webcomic Templar, Arizona. Earlier this year you put out a book called The Great Outdoors collecting the first chapter of the comic. How has that been received? Are you reaching people with the book that weren’t already reading the webcomic?
The reception for TAZ: The Great Outdoors has been great. Books are always headed out the door, I tote them down to the post office by the messenger-bag-full every couple of weeks. I’ve mailed copies to The Netherlands, Japan, France, the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany, and when I’m behind a table at a convention, I can usually count on selling between thirty and forty-five copies. A good number of those, maybe even the majority? Those go to new people, people who aren’t already readers. That’s because, as anyone who’s ever sat next to me can attest to, I’ve got my spiel down cold. I kinda do the hard sell.
Of course, as more experienced people tell me, it’s important to consider the fact that this is the book’s debut season. Next year, I won’t sell nearly as many copies… but hopefully, I’ll also have a new book by then! And since the book was just accepted for distribution by Diamond, I imagine I’ll be able to reach even more people who’ve never heard of me.
Now for the comic itself – when did you come up with the idea for this comic and what was that initial idea?
Aha ha. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this comic forever. It’s constantly evolving, honestly. There are some concepts and scenes I’ve kept since I was twelve, and then there are bits I added yesterday, literally.
The original Templar wasn’t called Templar. It had a whole slew of names, but I think "Port Royal" stuck the longest before I finally went with Templar. It was inspired by a lot of things. Television shows like "St. Elsewhere," my dad’s old medical textbooks, a children’s book I had about life in the future. And it used to be a lot goofier, more slapstick and surreal. The best comparison I can make would be to Toon Town in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". Remember the part where Eddie the detective is forced to chase a suspect there, and the town basically explodes in his face like a bad head trip? Templar was a lot like that, once. There were elements of magical realism, like the suggestion it was never where any map said it was, you could never leave once you found it, if it didn’t want you there you couldn’t find it at all, that sort of thing. I sometimes say the city of Templar is a character in the comic just as much as the people are, but that used to be quite literal. It had a will. Now it just has wacky subcultures and weird laws.
I think Ben’s a pretty quiet focal point for a comic that’s otherwise filled with large characters (personality and otherwise). You hinted in that FLEEN interview that wouldn’t always be the case so what can you tell us anything about the scope of Ben’s character arc in Templar? Is it primarily a story about him or about the location?
This is really good timing, since Ben’s "origin story" will be front and center at the beginning of the third chapter. A big flashback and everything. So hey, tune in, guys!
I think Ben and Templar kind of share the stage, because what winds up happening to him is… I dunno, directly the fault of the city? That’s an odd way to put it, but that’s kind of how I think of it. His role in the story is sort of a Lewis & Clark one. He’s figuring out life as an independent adult, life in Templar, dealing with whatever weirdness and baggage he’s brought with him, and deciding what he’s going to be. 21-year-olds are not complete people, if you ask me. They show up wherever they land as a mass of prejudices and limited experiences and wild guesses about what the hell’s going on, and Ben’s no different. He’ll be spending the entire comic attempting to start with a clean slate a completely remake himself from the floor up, with (wildly varying and contrasting) input from the people he hangs around with.
Shifting to your webcomic Sparkneedle for a second – what’s the status on that? I know we reviewed that awhile back at ComixTalk, but I don’t think it ever got the attention Templar has. Any ideas on why?
Aw. Poor Sparkneedle, it’s an orphan. It’s one of those comics I’d love to finish, but don’t have the time for at all. And wow, there’s just so much to it, too. I know a lot of comic artists say this about their projects, but I haven’t even gotten to the good part, yet. There’s a whole WORLD, there.
And I dunno, I think it’s pretty obvious Sparkneedle was never really built for primetime. The nudity, the lack of text, the really bizarre setting and plot… It’s not an easy read. There are just so many ways to get totally turned off by it. Templar may be slow and talky and less colorful, but at least it makes sense.
Your Blikada comic has art that while familiar seems looser, sketchier. What’s the work breakdown between you and Ainsley Seago?
Nonexistent, unfortunately. Ainsley is a great artist and I was really looking forward to getting Blikada relaunched, but she’s also a postgrad student with a really busy work schedule. She travels, she has papers to write and lab work to do, she’s in the field a lot; it didn’t really work out. I’m a little sad about that, because I love her style, and the sketches were great, but I never got any completed pages out of the deal. All the pages you see up are ones I’ve done, and they’re pretty old.
You had some good advice on promotion and marketing in this interview at Comicon – I wanted to ask you about conventions. How do you approach those? Any advice for fellow creators?
Conventions are especially important, I feel, for webcomic people. They’re an opportunity to find readers you might otherwise never have access to, like people who don’t read online comics or people who have established a routine set of webcomics they check out and never look beyond that list. Webcomics is a crowded field, and any chance you get to talk up your work, you should take. You don’t even have to have a table; if you print up some postcards and pass them out like business cards to fellow creators, that might do some good, too.
When you DO get behind a table, be aggressive! Not rude, loud, or obnoxious, but enthusiastic. I’d suggest being prepared to call people over and ask them to check out your stuff. Get a spiel down, be able to describe your comic in a couple of quick sentences. And even if they don’t buy anything, have something they can walk away with, a postcard with art and the URL.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a big, big fan of those promotional postcards!
Congrats on the Rising Star Award at this year’s Glyphs. You seem to have been getting some love from the WCCAs as well the last couple years (last year’s nominations including one for Outstanding Comic) – has Templar been up for any other awards yet (paper or pixel version)? What does the award stuff mean to you?
Thanks! Yeah, it’s always flattering to be nominated for anything, and I’m thrilled whenever I win. I sometimes hear awards and competitions like that dismissed as popularity contests and meaningless and this and that, but… eh, I don’t agree that they’re without merit. They’re a way of showing appreciation, if there’s a popular vote involved. And they draw attention to the winners and nominees. Some people are more likely to look at an award-winning comic than just any old comic, and that’s always good.
Beyond the Glyphs and WCCAs, Templar hasn’t been nominated for anything else, yet. But I’m greedy, so I’m always hoping for more.
Thanks again for doing the cover art for ComixTalk this month. I really liked the concept. Which is only tangentially related to my question which is whether you’ve done any straight artwork on someone else’s project? Would you ever consider that for the "right" creator or project or are you only interested in projects you write and create as well?
It would take a really, really special script to convince me to do the art chores for a comic and nothing else. I would have to love the concept and the writer. I have a pretty good idea of what I’m like, creatively, and that’s selfish; I have a ton of my own ideas waiting to hit paper, too many to casually consider helping anyone else out with theirs. I am, however, looking into hiring artists for projects! I’ll let you guys know how that goes…
I saw you’ve lived in DC before – was that just when you were very young or more recently? (I live in Northern Virginia myself right now) Are you still in Chicago now?
Ha, saying I’m from Washington DC is horribly misleading. I am, I was born there, but i grew up in the DC suburbs. A town called Potomac, specifically. i lived there until college, which was in Atlanta, and I moved north to Chicago after that for my abortive attempt at art school. Chicago definitely wins out of the three.
Thanks. You can read more about Spike and her current projects at her website Iron Circus.