Zap! Pow! Keen! An Interview with Chris Layfield and Pascalle Lepas
Zap! is a science fiction webcomic hosted on Keenspot. Written by Chris Layfield and drawn by Pascalle Lepas since 2003, the webcomic has continued to improve, particularly on the visual side. (Don't despair the lengthy archives, there is a great overview of the storylines for new readers who want to quickly get up to speed).
I got a chance to interview Chris and Pascalle by email this month.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Chris: My name is Chris and I write Zap! and Everybody Loves Robot. Born in Jersey, livin' in Oklahoma. Married with 2 kids.
Pascalle: I'm 24 years old. I draw Zap! and maintain the site among other real life things.
What's a typical day for you like recently?
Chris: Well, I work the graveyard shift, then come home and help with the baby. Then I try to unwind for a bit and maybe work on some webcomic stuff.
Pascalle: A typical weekday is generally me waking up, going to work building the Internet, coming home and then working on the site or comics, unless I go to hang out with friends or House is on the teevee.
Where are you located these days?
Pascalle: We're both in the Tulsa area. I just bought a house outside of Tulsa, and its big enough that I have my own office space. For the past few years I've been making comics from a small bedroom crammed with my computer desk. So I'm very excited to have an official bit of studio space. Here's hoping it helps me work faster.
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
Chris: Yep, Security Guard at a local hospital.
Pascalle: My work business cards say I'm a "Design Technologist," but that's just something fancy for 'a person who makes websites.' The other web-types at the office call it 'building the Internets.'
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
Chris: Not as many as I'd like to. I used to read a lot more but lately I've had to cut back due to time constraints, and pretty much all of them are online. A few of my favorites: Starslip Crisis, Indavo, Penny Arcade, and No Need for Bushido.
Pascalle: Yeah, I love comics! Right now, like as of five minutes ago, in print, I'm reading Watchmen, since Amazon had it on sale and I didn't have my own copy. Then, there's manga, Bleach being my favorite right now just because I'm enamored of the stylish artwork and I love action comics. I'm also about nine volumes into Ruroni Kenshin, at Alex Kolesar of noneedforbushido.com's behest. And it's another great action manga. Online, of course there's the obvious, and I can't list them all because that would be boring, but my favorites are No Need for Bushido, Starslip Crisis and lately Sinfest has gone political and it's been very sharp. But I read and look at a lot of webcomics. Tons of good stuff online.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
Chris: I sure did. Spiderman mostly, but I've read others like Batman, Xmen, one shot specials like Fight-man, Scud, and tons more. Today my influences are mostly online and way too many to list.
Pascalle: One of the first comics I can remember reading as a kid was Bucky O'hare, which is of course a space story, um, about a green alien rabbit with a ray gun. My brother and I were very into Nintendo, and I read a lot of Nintendo comics in my younger days. I didn't ever really read girls comics, and I still don't.
Lately I've been drawing from Bleach a lot, because it has some really great panel composition. It's a total page turner, so I spent several months dissecting what it is about the panel placement that makes you fly through the pages like that. See what a comic nerd I am? Oh well. I got way into Elfquest when I was a bit younger too.
When you create Zap!, how do you appproach 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?
Pascalle: Basically our process is that Chris writes out a loose script that I set to a scene. We wrote the story together, so everything follows a timeline of events we agreed upon. There's a lot of editing on my part, mostly because the original script was written years ago and needs a little work to make sure all the pieces fit together properly and remain consistent with any little story edits we've made along the way.
How much of the story have you plotted out -- I see you're on your fifth volume in the archives. There must have been lots of changes as you made the actual comics and got to know your characters better.
Pascalle: We've plotted out the entire story already. As we go, little here and there details get tweaked, but the overall large plot points are already written and I'm just plugging away at drawing the pages. A lot of the character growth has been organic. A good example is the upcoming pirate story line where Reona learns to rely on her own strengths instead of the strengths of the people around her. She finally comes in to her own, which is good because she's sort of an emotional wimp right now.
Chris: Yeah the characters almost write for themselves at some points. Since the plot is already pretty much written, the biggest challenge is if one of us gets a great idea that we want to work in or think of some fluff we want to take out and make sure it all still fits together in the grand scheme of things.
More specifically, how does the collaborative process work for the two of you? Do you physically meet up or do you have a lot of contact at all?
Pascalle: When plotting everything out we met a lot, and chatted late on Instant Messengers, but now we don't have to talk much about it. Chris gives me a lot of liberties with how I put things together. Mostly his scripts contain a basic scene like 'at the casino' and then dialogue. But I have a lot of freedom to move lines around, edit them, or omit them completely if it will work with what I want to draw better, or if I can tighten a joke by shifting things around. Chris and I have a common idea for the feel of the story, so whatever little things I end up changing are generally things that he would have told me to include if he had thought of it.
How did the two of you meet and decide to do a comic together?
Pascalle: We met in high school. We had algebra II together. I think I was either a sophomore and Chris was a senior, or maybe I was a freshmen and he was a Junior. It was some spread like that. I was a mega band nerd and Chris was friends with the band kids in his grade, so we had mutual friends through band. A couple years later he got me into webcomics by recommending Ian J's RPGWorld to me. Shortly after that I started making my own comics for fun and that's when he approached me about doing Zap!.
Chris: Also, at the time I was creating my own webcomic called EvolBara and asked Calle to do a few guest comics that turned out great! Then she was going to make some chibi version side story for that comic, I think we called it E.B. Chibi or something, and I decided we should just work on a whole new IP.
Pascalle: Oh, I forgot about E.B. Chibi. I was thinking of that generic elf comic I was doing, which it's actually a really good thing we started Zap! cause the Internet already has plenty of elf comics.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
Pascalle: I use photoshop, paintshop pro and a cintiq to ink. It's pretty much, scan, ink, then color. Nothing too fancy.
And I feel bad saying that because people ask me about it a lot. I use the paint bucket tool?
How has the strip evolved over time?
Pascalle: It has for sure moved from the standard shallow comedy into something a little more dramatic and complicated. It's actually very complicated. I think the fans will be very excited with where the story is going. Especially since it's about to get funny again. It's been very heavy for the past year. I've drawn a lot of scowling and unhappy faces.
You know, and it looks a lot better now than it used to. That's the thing everybody brings up after they finish the archives. I've also sort of fallen in love with it, since I first started drawing it as more of a favor to Chris. Now it's a very important part of my life.
Chris: I'd like to say the writing, but I think we all know its the art.