Emelie Friberg and Mattias Thorelli are the creators of the relatively new webcomic What Birds Know. WBK concerns the adventures of three young women. That may not sound like much actually, but the art and writing are so sure-handed that readers can already sense they are reading something special. Most recently, Friberg and Thorelli entered their webcomic in the now suspended Webcomic Idol contest which brought them some additional exposure and praise. We interviewed them to find out a little more about the creators of this wonderful new comic and what's in store for What Birds Know.
What are your backgrounds?
Emelie: I was born in 1983 in southern Sweden. I have always drawn comics – I even wrote school assignments in comic form – and I've always loved comics as a medium. But since comics always seem to be looked down upon (at least where I come from), I forgot about comics for a few years, and tried to focus on more serious, career-oriented stuff. But one day I found a leaflet from a place called The Comic School of MalmÃ¶, and I was all: "Huh? You can study to become a comic creator? You mean, like a real job?". I applied to it just for fun, and to my surprise, I was accepted. I really enjoyed my time there, and the best part of it was that I met my soul mate there – a certain Mattias. We started comicking together almost immediately, and we found that our respective strengths complemented each other very well, and well… We've been a team ever since.
Mattias: My background is pretty much the same as Emelie's, so I won't bore you with it. I've wanted to be a comic artist since I was eleven, but I've never really made anything good until Emelie came into the picture.
Emelie: That's not true.
Mattias: In comic school, we worked together on a few fanzines. Later, we made a small comic book called "Bestseller", that was actually published. It's still on sale on our website, if anyone's interested.
Who are your writing influences?
Emelie: Gee, I don't know. The way I write comics isn't really influenced so much by comics as by movies. Disney movies in particular, but then again, I guess their way of telling a story is very classic, and that dramaturgy is used in many movies and books. But of course, we'd like to present our story with a twist – our characters will certainly do things no-one would do in a Disney movie…
Mattias: But as a side note, we both love "Lost" and it's intricate way of laying out it's story. That's given us a lot of inspiration and, I think, changed the way we were going a bit.
Who are your artistic influences? I love the deliberate slow pacing of your comic– you feel like you're really there with the hikers. Like Tolkien, you get to know them as ordinary people long before the odd stuff starts happening. Also reminds me a little bit of Jeff Smith in Bone… there's a sense of history and of the everpresentness of the forest.
Mattias: Except for the aforementioned Disney influences, I grew up with Elfquest and loved it. I used to read a lot of manga, which made a huge impact on me, but I got a bit tired of it after a while. Now I just pick out the best parts of it (like the slow pacing) and try to develop something a bit more personal, together with Emelie. As an individual comic though, Bone is our greatest influence, both story and artwise. We're always glad to hear that people are reminded of it when they read WBK!
Of the three main characters in What Birds Know, who's your favorite? Or do you have one?
Emelie: Oh, I hate to be terribly clichÃ©, but it really is impossible to choose. It's like choosing between your children. I love them all, but with that said, I find myself having a lot in common with Dores – mostly because of her background, which will be revealed later. Hopefully within the next 200 pages, haha. Also, because of her curves, she is absolutely delicious to ink, and that's another reason for me to like her.
Mattias: I don't know. Which is YOURS? Actually, if you put a gun to my head and asked, I'd still have trouble choosing between Vandi and Dores. Not to freeze Elia out or anything…
Emelie: Yeah, I like Elia, sure. She just happens to be the one I can relate to the least.
Are any of them based on real-life characters or experiences? Or, to put it another way — do you do a lot of hiking? *Grin*
Mattias: As for hiking, we live in a city, so we don't get out in the woods much, unfortunately. But we take long walks every day, and we love nature (I have this thing for fairies, too) so… we would if we could. Actually the whole idea of What Birds Know was born during one of these long walks, and we didn't go home until we had come up with a full plot.
Emelie: Yeah, we walked around all night. Like I said before, Dores' backstory will have some similarities to my life, but other than that… hmm. Actually, I think the answer is no. We just made up a story from scratch. But of course there are parts of ourselves in all the characters. Anything else would be impossible, I think.
Innovative and interesting web design to the comic. Are either of you professional web designers?
Emelie: Thank you. No, neither of us have ever done professional web design, but I've made personal websites and fansites since I started using computers, which was around 1997. Most of them probably weren't very pleasing to the eye, though.
Mattias: So have I. The funny thing is, the WBK website may look interesting, but if you look at the code behind it, you'll see that it's all very basic HTML. That's all the HTML we know, actually, which I suppose forces us to be extra creative. Also, we want even the oldest browsers to be able to open the site.
What's the best part of putting this on the Web, as opposed to other media?
Emelie: That people all over the world can read it instantly and give us feedback, of course. It's great to know that we already have hundreds of readers even though the comic is not even finished yet. I also love the fact that color is not a problem or a money issue, which it could be in printed form. Also, being a comicker can be a pretty lonely job, but when you're part of the online webcomic community, you all of a sudden find yourself having colleagues you can talk to. Wow.
Mattias: Putting comics on the web gives them permisson to exist and be read, even if no one is willing to invest money in them. It's wonderful.
What's the most frustrating part of putting this on the Web as opposed to other media?
Emelie: That we don't get any money, heh. And that the poor readers have to put up with loading times etc. It could ruin the flow of the reading. Also, I think it would be much more fun to see our comic in printed form, to be able to hold it in my hands. But one day maybe I will, who knows…?
Mattias: Yeah, even though we like the webcomic form as such, that's the ultimate goal for us – getting it out in printed form. And I think that shows in the flow of the story. Whether it happens or not, it's good to have a goal to strive towards.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from readers on this?
Emelie: To be honest we've almost only gotten comments and reviews ranging from positive to very positive. We're of course super excited about that, and it really keeps us going. Even if we had no readers at all, we would continue the comic until it was finished because we believe in it, but I can't deny that we dance around in joy every time somebody gives us a nice comment. The only real negativity we've noticed is when some people have said "the comic is not my cup of tea", but well, what can you do about that? You can't win them all. So we don't really mind when people say that. People like different things.
Mattias: Actually, some people have told us that it's too slow paced, and that the website is hard to navigate through. But even if someone has something negative to say, there is always someone else who doesn't agree. We like the pace, and we think it helps the comic in the long run. As for the site, we are working on expanding it a bit.
Did the Webcomics Idol contest increased your general exposure? How was that experience for you?
Emelie: Yes, I guess it has. We've definitely gotten more readers and we've been mentioned a little here and there, in blogs and such. The Idol experience in itself has been tremendously fun and exciting, and we are happy that we've stayed for so long in the competition without getting voted out, because we honestly haven't been all over the web advertising for the contest, begging people to help us win. Now that the contest is over it of course it was a big anticlimax that no winner was chosen, and we definitely feel the contest needs some kind of closure, but whatever. At least we got the exposure.
Mattias: Yeah, it was exciting while it lasted, but I sort of suspected something was fishy with the votes before anyone told us. They just swayed a lot over the weeks. The most annoying thing was that the way things were going when the competition ended, I had just started thinking "What if we could actually win?". I had set my expectations to ending up in eighth place, in the beginning…
What are your future plans? How many pages would you estimate we have to go in What Birds Know? Any plans for print editions of it? Do you have other projects on tap?
Emelie: Like Mattias said, What Birds Know actually was intended for print from the beginning – isn't that what all webcomickers dream of for their comic? – so it's not really meant to be a webcomic per se. We just thought it could be fun to post our progress online instead of having hundreds of pages in a drawer, not to be seen by anyone until the whole thing was finished. We'll see what happens once the comic is done. I think we might land at around 350-400 pages, but I'm not sure.
Mattias: We definitely have other projects on tap, we just don't know when we're gonna get the time to actually start them. What Birds Know takes all our time now, but when we're done with it we have a graphic novel inspired by a story of H C Andersen in mind. We also have plans for a children's comic and an anthology book with comics by ourselves and some other young, Swedish comickers. Very talented people, all of them.
Emelie: Actually, with April 1st as the deadline, we're doing another comic for Komika, the publishing house that published Bestseller. It's going to be about a sheep. I don't know how we're going to manage, but somehow we're going to have to work on it alongside What Birds Know.