The Underfold Comic Interview – Brian RussellOctober 21st, 2011 |
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.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 The Underfold by Brian Russell.
Brian is my webcomic guru. If I have a comic idea I’m unsure of or a marketing endeavor I ask him first. He is “The Dude” of webcomics in my eyes – gotta make sure he abides. Largely his series follows four main characters: Brian (fairly normal, minus the tentacles for arms), JB (a guy with a brown paper lunch bag on his head and also tentacles for arms), Fred (a talking brown paper lunch bag and JB’s son) and Eye (Brian’s Eye). Amidst The Underfold’s storylines are one-off comics about pop or geek culture. Brian has a section for new readers if you’re wondering where to start. Click any of the thumbnails above to see some of my favourites.
Where did you get the idea for The Underfold? How did you develop the ideas and characters?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. It’s one of the first dream jobs I can remember having. But, I’d sort of given up on it, went to school for other things, and was on my way to completely not being a cartoonist.
I honestly created the first Underfold strip on a whim. I had been writing jokes on the underside of folded index cards which were being used as labels for drinks at my church (regular, decaf, hot water, lemonade). I got bored only writing stuff. I figured I could have more fun drawing little comics on the spot. I was right.
For a while, every Sunday morning was a rush to write the first set of four panels I could think of. I think the first nine were about how I was too tired to think of anything because I’d been up all night playing Halo 3. It was a bit of a diary comic, but with a heaping portion of embellishment and hyperbole.
The characters were initially caricatures of people I knew. As time went on, I decided to embrace how weird my brain thought, and out came JB’s bioelectric face-bag; Fred, the sentient bag puppet; and Eye, the well, eyeball.
How do you draw your comics? Tell us a bit about the process and what tools you use to create.
When I started the comic, it was with a ballpoint pen (or if I could find one, sometimes a little golf pencil) and 4 index cards. I wrote one panel at a time, and wrote the story as it unfolded to me. Mistakes were permanent. I moved to penciling and inking after a while which greatly improve the quality. Nowadays, I draw the comic digitally (for the most part) with a drawing tablet which is nice because you can undo things that are utterly wrong instead of making them a part of the strip.
I’ve been experimenting with my process a lot over the past few years. I’ve tried a bunch of different things, but mostly, if I have an idea I try to write it down somewhere. Generally it has to do with the dialogue first. Or a random funny phrasing of something that I try to make into a four-panel strip. Then I sketch and ink. And between you and me … sometimes I skip sketching.
Was Calvin and Hobbes your first comic? What inspired your shift to four panels and why did you do it?
Calvin and Hobbes spoke to me. I was an only child with a favorite stuffed animal (he was a ninja bunny) and a wild imagination. Any time I want to remember my childhood wonder, I flip through my Calvin and Hobbes books (I usually pick through Weirdos from Another Planet first because I find the cover especially attractive).
One day while doing that very process. I couldn’t help but note all the things that Watterson was able to do in four panels. He was able to create a continuing storyline with a punchline (of sorts) every fourth panel so that people could drop in and out of the story as needed. It was funny by itself, and more funny with the story. It amazes me to this day.
What is the secret to jokes in comics that have a continuing story?
One thing that I try to focus on is that there needs to be some sort of punchline every four panels. Something needs to happen. One thing about the internet, is that people aren’t always necessarily following your comic as devotedly as one might a newspaper comic, so you have to keep that in mind. It’s tough to write jokes that build on the history you’ve created in a strip while catering to new readers too, but I enjoy challenges.
How do you foster your community?
I try to be myself. I want to interact with people. If they have stuff to look at, I try to look at it. We’re all busy, but it only takes so long to look at a website. I just want to give other people the chance they deserve. If I like it, I share it. There’s nothing better than finding something new, sharing it and then watching it do well.
Over all, community is about relationships. I’ve met a lot of cool people doing this, and some of them have become pretty good friends.
There’s a large window between your characters’s understanding that they are in a comic and the audience. How do you go about playing with that window and how do you decide what you want an audience to see?
I honestly try not to think about it too much. A few people along the way have told me that I shouldn’t be as open about everything, but… why not? I think it’s funny.
For instance, I caught a clip of some reality show the other day. This little girl was throwing a tantrum. The mom bent down and whispered in anger, “Do not do this to me. We are on TV right now. There are cameras filming us.” It cracked me up to think that the mom didn’t think the producers of the show would sit there and caption that whole whispered conversation. It’s that sort of situation that I love to toy with.
Does your family know about your comic? If so, are they ashamed or proud? :p
My family knows about my comic. My wife and my parents are some of (if not the) loyalest fans I have. As for whether or not they’re ashamed depends on what I’ve written about. My wife is amazing, but often reacts humorously to some of my more questionable material (like when I compared Darth Vader’s genitals to a burnt hot dog, I came home from work and the first thing she said was, “Burnt hot dog!? Really!?” And I just laughed and laughed), whereas my parents share the same comics on Facebook for the world to see. It cracks me up. I love them. I can’t wait for my daughter to start reading one day.
Are you an artist or a writer first?
Writer for the most part. Occasionally, the random idea that I jot down throughout the day is a visual thing. A random sketch of something I thought would look funny, and I will write a strip around that visual gag. But for the most part, my comic is dialogue driven.
What previous work inspired you? Online and offline (print, books, tv), or even a person?
Calvin and Hobbes was a great early inspiration. Later, Scott McCloud’s books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics really helped me remember why l love comics as an art form. I’ve also been inspired by nearly every movie and television show I’ve ever watched or game I’ve ever played, and that seems to come out in little bits throughout my comics.
What currently inspires you?
You’re a gifted marketer. What advice do you have for upcoming webcomic artists for marketing?
Remember that marketing is your responsibility. I read the perfect quote the other day that said, “Marketing is not a department, it’s the sum total of everything you do.” With the internet and social media, you are selling yourself as much as you are your works. If you’re awesome to people, they will respond well. The inverse is also true.