Friday, August 26, 2016

Backstage Pass August: Hanne DeWachter

Hey Look, I Snitched Us A Backstage Pass!

Let's Go Round The Back And Have A Cuppa With

Hanne DeWacther!

*Pours the Tea* So Hanne, tell us about yourself!

My name's Hanne Dewachter. I'm a Belgian comic artist, currently living in Antwerp. I studied Animation and graduated with a Bachelor degree in uh.. I think 2010? Since then I've been doing various jobs in animation, illustration, comics, storyboarding and just your random regular stuff.

Main Project 

My main comic project right now and for the past 4 years has been Dork Toes! To be ogled at
It's an autobiographical webcomic that started in 2012 and updates every Tuesday. So far I've been able to uphold that schedule relatively well. I've been making autobiographical comics for years before I got Dork Toes up, as a lot of other comic artists do, until I thought it was really high time to collect them somewhere neat and coherent.

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

If we disregard all things artsy for a moment, people who've read my comic in the last year or so probably know that I'm very fond of snails. Really, any creepy crawlies/slitheries you'll find when you have a random grab through the grass interest me a lot.
 I also dabble in amateur taxidermy, liqueur-making and I like to bake things that give you caries.

So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling
stories in pictures?

Oh, very early on. I've always been an avid reader and image-browser. I'm not sure where the interest specifically came from, most children are probably interested in pictures, but I remember taking it close to an obsessive level.
Images that told stories just popped out of my pencil naturally, as if that was the way to go. I remember one of the earliest kinds of comic I drew, when I couldn't have been more than 7 years old. It was a kind of life-cycle of a person. It included being born, growing up, having sex, having kids, and dying in a car accident. Uh. Yeah. They were very basic drawings, but that sequence could be described as one of the earliest comics I ever drew, I think. And the thematics are.. pretty telling of what I was interested in, I guess. I haven't really stopped since then.

What media and programs do you work in to produce your project?

Dork Toes is generally drawn in Photoshop or in ink on paper. Especially in the early days of Dork Toes my comics were usually drawn on paper, with staedtler ink pens and sometimes aquarel paint. Ever since I got myself a Wacom Cintiq my comics have become increasingly digital, though sometimes I do get the need for something tangible and draw a couple on paper again. I generally use some kind of brush pen now and draw on paper a little smaller than A3-size. I am a tiny person. A3 is literally too big for me to be comfortable.
Excerpt from the comic 'Scribbles'

Can you tell me about your typical day or strip-creation session? How does your
working process flow?

Generally throughout the week I'll scribble in my sketchbook and I try do draw out sketches of possible updates when I get the idea. I've found that if I keep the idea in my head for too long without getting anything on paper it tends to dissolve in my brain and be gone when I actually try to draw. Rarely when I have the time and energy I start drawing my comic on the weekend, but usually I start the comic of that week on Monday evening, and it goes live the next morning. It takes me about 2 to 5 hours to finish my comic, depending on how long it is. And it can be long. The comics generally vary from only two rows to 4 or 5 full pages in one update.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

Ooh boy. Erm. This is a difficult question, actually, since it tends to vary from period to period. I guess you could say that updating social media and advertising myself is probably the most difficult part.
 I'm notoriously bad at selling myself, also because I don't see it as a very important part of what I do. Or rather, in a perfect world to me, it wouldn't be important. But really, being able to reach out to your fan-base or expanding it or contacting publishers or seeing new opportunities for your project to grow is a pretty dang important skill to have.
Apart from that I'm painfully perfectionistic. Curiously, in Dork Toes that part didn't really cripple me that much, maybe because the webcomic medium that updates once a week kind of forces you to let go and grow with time. I haven't started a stand-alone comic in a long time because I want the thing to be perfect from the get-go, which is a really good way to never make anything ever.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your
stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

Well this is kind of different for me because of the autobiographical theme. I wait until something happens and then I uh, draw it.

I never script my Dork Toes comics, I find that very uncomfortable for these types of comic. Instead I just make a relatively quick sketch in my sketchbook, which is most often “right” the first time in pacing and look, and use that sketch as the base for my final drawing. For other comics I tend to at least try to write a kind of script, but I noticed that I work better when I just start drawing instead. Less thinking, more doing.

How much of a buffer do you like to keep?

None, really. The first year of Dork Toes I tried to make some comics up front but I noticed that I find it hard to upload a comic I made previously when by that time something else has taken over my attention. I DO have multiple sketchbooks full of first sketchy drafts though, so if I'm really strapped for comics, I'll look through my old sketches and pick one that I've wanted to make but haven't gotten to.

Your comic is a very interesting cross between slice-of-life and social commentary. What gives you ideas, and how do you record them until they become strips?

Ha, thank you. I sometimes just notice when something grabs me by the back of my brain and my reflex is to turn it into a comic as a way of dealing with it. In that sense, when I'm distressed I tend to make more comics because I have stuff I need to get out and process. Making a comic is, for me, a really good way of processing what happened. It's like ruminating.

 I've often throughout my life have had the impulse to write when something is whirling around in my brain, to put it on paper gives it structure to me, and in a way making comics does the same. Giving it humour is also an easy way to make difficult things seem less serious. But like I said before, I try to just draw down a first draft in a sketchbook the moment I have the idea.

 I've recently tried out writing some short sentences as mini-scripts or reminders in my sketchbook since I sometimes don't have a lot of time to draw (also, when you work in animation you can be a little “drawn out” at the end of the day, which is sad, but it can make you draw less at home).

Your work often features your personal life;
how do your friends and family feel about appearing in your work?

I kind of make it a point of asking people if they're okay with appearing in my strips. Sometimes I forget, but over the years I've only had one person who afterwards explicitly told me to never draw them in my comic again, even though I had gotten their permission up front. But, no problem there. I would really feel uncomfortable to feature someone if they weren't on board. Also, I'm normally pretty careful with how I present people in the comics. If I draw a comic about my mom it's with a very different tone than one about a friend, at least to me.

Has anyone told you that you'll never be a successful artist and you'd be better off studying a real field and/or getting a real job?

Haha, no, actually. The opposite. Ever since I was a kid people have been telling me that I'd be “famous one day” and people have been encouraging me to keep it going all my life. .. That might have something to do with the sometimes crippling perfectionism. But really, both my parents and especially my mom are vocally of the opinion that you should always try to study something you find fun and interesting, otherwise it's kind of a waste. I'm thankful for that. And so far my studies have provided me with decent jobs, I don't think anyone right now would have the idea to tell me I should get a “real” job. Or I haven't met them, at least.

What message do you hope readers take away from your work?

Oh dear. Uhm. I try not to think of one overlapping message. I kind of hope they find pleasure in the little and big things they find recognisable and know they're not alone in many ways.

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?

Honestly, it's almost compulsive. I know that I'll keep making comics like these even if I quit the website, so I might as well keep it going. I'm someone who does well with deadlines. Open ends make me postpone and procrastinate and overthink. Setting this weekly deadline forces me to DO. Dork Toes has been a great way to try out new styles and give me the confidence to go places and do things I otherwise wouldn't have. I'm certain I've grown a lot in those 4 years. Plus, people can be really kind. I've gotten some really wonderful reactions and messages that remind me that I'm not just imagining it or something, people really do enjoy these little comics. And that's a big drive.

Rock On Hanne! Your work makes so many readers happy, and it was lovely to get a peek behind the curtain!
Oh, and thanks for the tea!

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