This interview is part of Up Up Down Down’s Associates series. There are a lot of awesome webcomics out there and these are some of the ones we love. You’ve probably seen their banners on our site. Check out the full list of comics in our Associates tab. The next webcomic in our series is Formal Sweatpants by Josh Mecouch.
I see Josh as the future of webcomics. In the webcomic world you find yourself “checking out the competition” on Reddit a given post day. That’s how I found Formal Sweatpants. The comic I read explains Reddit culture in a way people can understand, while humanizing himself and making a very, very funny comic all at the same time. Formal Sweatpants has a few recurring characters like Trolley the Procrastination Troll, variations of Josh the creator, God, Roger the Inner Critic Troll, and a guy I call “dude with the yellow ‘stash,” but largely the comic is focused on funny rather than a particular genre or theme. He sells t-shirts like the Downvote Rancor here and a fucking impressive Joe Rogan Experience poster here. Also, if you aren’t following him on Twitter you should. He gets it.
Click any of the thumbnails above for some of my favourite Formal Sweatpants comics.
How do you draw your comics? Tell us a bit about the process and what tools you use to create.
I do most of the rough drafts in a sketchbook, sometimes even drawing them as far to compilation as possible before coloring them using Flash. I have a hard time scaling drawings on a computer screen with a Wacom tablet so I almost always have at least a small sketch done by hand to form the comic around. I’ve been meaning to start using Photoshop or Illustrator but I started using Flash in college when I was doing some short animations and just stuck with it.
Where did you get the idea for Formal Sweatpants? How did you develop the ideas and characters?
Initially I was trying to make a single panel comic like The Far Side for possible syndication in newspapers. I quickly realized that newspapers were the worst possible route a cartoonist can take now so I put it online and started to experiment with length and style. I was thinking about changing the name of my comic awhile back because so many people came to my site thinking I was selling pants.
As for the characters and ideas I keep a sketchbook filled with dozens of awful ideas and try to pull the least awful ones out. I wish there was a formula for creating comics but mostly it’s just working on an idea till something comes from it. One strategy I’ve used a few times is to draw the most ridiculous character I can then form a joke around that. I’m always interested to find out how other cartoonists/comedians/writers come up with ideas because there seems be a mystical element to creativity. But what I’ve found is that writing/drawing as much as possible is the only way to get to good material.
A number of your comics posit you (or the comic version of you) actually drawing/conceiving the comic. What is your creation process like for these scripts? Are the comics about comic writing more or less difficult?
I’m not sure if they’re more difficult then the other comics. Once I have an idea for a strip whether it be about comic writing or anything else it’s just fun to work on finding the joke and the timing of the panels. What I find incredibly hard is sitting down to make a comic when I have zero ideas. Sometimes drawing that struggle or turning it into a comic is more cathartic than anything else.
When you reflect on Understanding Comics, what is it you think about the most?
The endless ways there are to tell a story through comics. Sometimes I think I’m limited by the amount of space I have to get a joke or idea across but if you look at just a single page from that book it’s incredible how creative Scott McCloud is when it comes to telling a story.
I think there’s certain books worth having to come back to when you need inspiration, help or just to learn from and Understanding Comics is definitely one of them.
Your art is unique. It never shies from body hair, mucous, pimples and seldom use “classically attractive” characters. Yet the art remains compelling. How did you find/decide upon your style?
Gary Larson’s style was innately funny and that’s what I strive for. Even if the joke doesn’t work I want characters or drawings to be entertaining or interesting on their own. It’s bit a of a loop hole too. Drawing a “classically attractive character” is much more difficult than drawing an unsymmetrical beast covered in back hair.
I’m always trying to improve my style so if I find another cartoonist or artists whose work I like I’ll try to incorporate bits of it into my own illustrations. I tend to get stuck drawing very similar looking characters over and over so I give myself mini art lessons by looking at artists who are better. Larson, R. Crumb and Dan Piraro are a few of the artists I’m influenced by.
How do you silence your own Trolley (procrastination) and Roger (inner critic)?
Imagining my urge to procrastinate or harshly criticize myself as filthy, naked, mischievous trolls helps me to detach from it. It’s easy to let emotions take you over so making yourself aware of them is a good start to defeating them. At least that’s what one of my self-improvement audio books said. I think the next step is to embrace those emotions but I’m not there yet.
Also finding motivation on a daily basis is important. I bathe regularly but find that I’m dirty the following day and have to repeat the process. Similarly, I’ll find inspiration through a book or another comic and feel motivated but a day later I’m wallowing in another pool of self-pity. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a great book to help break you of this cycle.
You’ve been featured on a variety of places: g4tv.com, Joe Rogen’s twitter, even RT’d by a subsidiary of Playboy. Where would you like to been seen next?
Maybe Lady Gaga’s twitter feed to get some of those followers. I’m excited to find my work posted anywhere because it means people are enjoying it. Marc Maron recently retweeted a comic I made which made me very happy.
Were you an artist or writer first? What about now?
I’ve been drawing most of my life but I’m very interested in writing. When I made the comic “The Watch” I had initially wanted to turn it into a short story but wasn’t sure how to do it. Now I’d say I’m a cartoonist.
We’ve spoken before about your love for this song. What is the appeal of and how on Earth did you find it?
I wish I could take credit for finding this but I think a friend showed it to me years ago. The performer’s commitment to the ridiculous dance is fantastic and reminds me of a Christopher Guest movie. One can’t help but appreciate how limber the lead dancer is. A lesser man might tear an ACL attempting this high level choreography yet he contorts his knees repeatedly all while dressed like a flamboyant Rasputin. I’m not sure what they’re singing about but they seem to be quite enthusiastic about Moscow.
Outside of webcomics, what media are you currently enjoying (titles)?
I listen to podcasts quite a bit (mostly while drawing). WTF with Marc Maron, The Joe Rogan Experience, and The Adam Carolla Show most frequently. Also Duncan Trussell has a great podcast called The Family Hour I just got into.
I try to avoid watching TV shows as much as possible because of how addicting they can be but Breaking Bad and Mad Men sucked me in. Those shows are so good you actually feel like you’re being productive while you watch them.
I saw in a tweet you cited Bill Watterson / Gary Larson / Nicholas Gurewitch as titans of comics. How do these creators inspire your work, and what other comics inspire you currently?
I think with comics if the writing is strong the way the artwork looks doesn’t always matter. But if the writing doesn’t work it won’t matter how impressive or detailed the art is, the comic will ultimately fall flat. I believe it’s one of the reasons there’s so many successful comics with stick-figures (although simple art can incredibly funny). For me personally I love comics that combine great writing with great art and Watterson, Larson and Gurewitch’s work I think are all examples of that. My goal with my own comic and how those comics inspire me is to always be improving both the artwork and the writing.
It’s amazing how many wonderful comics there are out there now. I use Stumbleupon and Reddit to find new ones all the time. Some that I come back to regularly: Subnormality!, Space Avalanche, Loading Artist, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Bizarro, and Erika Moen’s work,
What advice would you give an up and coming webcomic creator?
Let other’s work inspire you to do your own best work. Set deadlines for yourself and be open to criticism.