Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Revue May 30th: Xibalba

Hurry, Hurry, Come See The Show!
Come Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Gods, dreams and visions. An epic unfolding. A fascinating tale. That is Xibalba, a tale of fates intertwining.
Penned by a creator by the nom de plume of Xibalbansleeper, the comic can be found here.

The Rating

Some clever ideas, but this traveler still has a long way to go.

The Raves

The first thing that impressed me was the site design. I would LOVE to be this good at site design. And design is the strongest point of this comic; a good sense of layout and page design helps move the story along.

There's also some interesting experiments with  intersecting storylines. Oh, and experiments with drugs by the characters; make of that what you will.

 The story delves into Mayan mythology, and takes it in several interesting directions; I always enjoy seeing people try out new things with myth, including poking fun at it. In this case, it's a rain god admitting that he keeps certain areas in drought to ensure worship, which tweaked my sick funny bone just a bit.
There's a good sense of momentum to the layout of this story, keeping it moving at a nice jog. It feels a lot like a movie, in fact; clean, simple and direct. The color palette keeps things moving as well, with a nice change in hues keeping clarity between the two intersecting storylines; a nice touch.

The Razzes

I can sum up my complaints about this comic in one unpleasant word: FLAT. FLAT, in both storytelling and art.
In storytelling, it's an issue of depth: we have two intersecting storylines, one about a girl lost in a desert and one about a hunter. But aside from a few action scenes in one and delusions in the other, we're honestly not given much of a reason as readers to care. I have a feeling strips to come will solve this issue, but as of yet, the story isn't doing much.
The flatness issue in the art is rather worse. The creator has great ideas, but they have yet to discover how to add depth and contrast to their art, and as a result, you get strips like these.

You get the feeling in these  strips that there SHOULD be movement. There SHOULD be a lot of emotion conveyed in these strips. But what you're getting is essentially flat still life's, impossible to connect with emotionally or humanistically. The drawing style lacks humanity, and it lacks movement.

BUT! Take heart, readers and creators, if that's the problem, there is a solution!

To the optical center of the eye, the whole world is shapes. What makes those shapes dynamic and full of depth is a two fold quality: movement, and depth. Movement and depth are what visually distinguish something like a concrete road from something like a flowing stream. Now, as comic artists, we can't directly capture movement, but we can convey it through two techniques; shading and gesture line.


Shading is to the comic artist what a chisel is to the stone mason. It's the difference between a living, dynamic object and a flat line.  Shade more, and you get a greater sense of depth. Shade in the center of two lines, add highlights on top, and you have a sense of deep water. Use shading to make your world pop.


To create more realistic and mobile figures, begin a drawing with gesture lines.
Every pose of every animal with a spine can be described as a series of curving lines, usually the line of the spine. A good rule of thumb is, rather than beginning with the 'pose', to begin with these gesture lines and build the pose around them. The lines help make sure that your poses seem alive and fluid rather than stiff.
The last thing I'd suggest is some serious study of human facial anatomy. Expressions lose a lot of their power when the underlying bone and muscle structure of the face is wrong.
I've attached links below for pages that I drew the above tutorials from along with a few extras; I hope they're useful.

The Revue

Xibalba has a long way to go artistically, but hang in, it'll get there!

The Resources

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday May 23rd: Piece Of Me

Ladies And Gentlemen!
                   Let Me Introduce You

                 To A Most Interesting Fellow!
Introducing, Piece Of Me!

I've always been one of those people who has to read something with their breakfast. Time and again as a child I was told to put the book down and eat. As an adult, morning is my time to catch up on my favorite gag-a-day strips.
But you really shouldn't sip your tea when you're reading 'Piece Of Me', because you will invariably spit out said tea when you burst out laughing. And cleaning spit and tea off a phone or computer screen is no fun at all.
This romp of a strip, the creation of  Lukas Draxl, can be found here. It falls into the slice of life category, but only barely; there are plenty of fun asides and dimensional jumps to keep things interesting. And the creator's takes on life are no slouch either; their takes on the creative life and life in general will keep you grinning.

The Rating

A wonderfully dry, clever and off the wall take on life.

The Raves

Here's a good explanation of how much I enjoyed this comic: as I wrote this piece I jumped onto the page to check the url for adding here....and got distracted by the comic. Twice. I read a few strips each time before a lightbulb clicked on: 'hey, I was supposed to be WRITING about this, not READING MORE of it. I'm addicted, aren't I?' and at this point I indeed am.

From the beginning, the strip has had a wonderfully deadpan sense of humor. The oneshots usually follow a similar formula; an intelligently worded setup, followed by a witty payoff out of left field.

Though occasionally the humor is a bit more direct.

I especially recommend this comic for other comic artists and writers in the crowd, because the creator often reflects on things that fellow creators will definitely identify with. The strips regularly comment on drawing problems, writer's block, and all the other embarrassingly or painfully funny issues of living with creativity. It was one of those that made me spit out my tea laughing, by the way.
The art, despite the creator's often illustrated opinions to the contrary, is wonderfully crisp and well done, capturing scene and moment in a few graceful lines. The use of color is vibrant and lively, but I think the best feature is the slightly exaggerated facial expressions. The creator borrows a bit from the anime school of exaggeration when it comes to expression, and in 'Pieces' that works to wonderful effect, underlining jokes beautifully. But their more natural expressions are also one of my favorite things about this piece.

Oh, and as an aside, have I mentioned the Lukas is also a coder and a geek? The jokes for those two groups are just as good as the ones for comic artists. And as a quick aside, the site for 'Pieces' is GORGEOUS. I particularly covet the design of the archives page, which makes finding things wonderfully easy. It makes me wish I could do more with code than...well....

The Razzes

Beautiful as the site design is, one thing CONSTANTLY got on my nerves. Webcomics have trained us to a universal truth: hit the comic image, see the next one. When I find a comic that doesn't do this, I can hear my own mental gears grind. And ESPECIALLY on a gag-a-day comic, that extra half second to scroll up a bit and use the nav buttons IS A PAIN. Note to creator: Please, please use those coding-god superpowers and let the reader click the bloody strip to go forward.
Aside from that small coding glitch, I found the occasional joke just tried too hard and didn't pan out, though that does happen to everyone occasionally.

 And I hope the creator's girlfriend is really, really understanding, because she ends up looking like a twit more often than not in the comic rendition of her, and it's a little sad to see. At the beginning of the comic, there was a little more variety of joke, with some recurring features: Fun With Hitler and The More You Know, for instance. But over time, they petered down to a single feature, 'Actual Conversations With my Girlfriend'. I'd really like to see some of that variety come back. Give the poor lady a break!

The Revue

Definitely one that goes on my personal reading list. But I'll set my teacup down first...

Monthly Mattinee May: The Dragon In Your Head

Ladies And Gentlemen!
  Boys And Girls!
               Come One,            Come All! 

This Month: Be Amazed And Terrified, 
By The Dragon Of The Mind!

"Why do they hate us?"
Have you ever had to answer this for a child? Or maybe you had to explain when asked 'why am I different?' 'why are the other kids so mean?' My own mother was faced with the terrible question 'why can't I be like everybody else?!' asked by a tearful seven year old.
So why do we ostracize the different? Why do racial slurs continue to be popular even in this enlightened era? Why do people continue to be beaten and killed because they're the wrong color or love the wrong person? Why do people join gangs 'just to belong' and then kill somebody who's wearing the wrong color? Why do ethnic wars go on for HUNDREDS of years?

Oh, and why am I writing about this on a blog dedicated to the craft of webcomics?

Unfortunately, all these disparate questions have the same answer...and it's hard wired in.
It's called tribalism, and it's one of the base functions of the reptilian brain. And I'm writing about it because it is, sadly, one of the driving forces in storytelling today, shaping characters and plots in many stories. Maybe it shapes the characters in your own creations as well.

The reptilian brain, or brain stem, sits under what makes us human, the neocortex and the mammalian brain.

Art by Antonio Menza
It is deep and hard and old, and it is ineffably patient. It doesn't forget. It is the dragon of our psyche, coiled around our roots. There it lies and growls to itself; 'this is mine, all this is mine, and if you touch what is mine I will tear your flesh and break your bones. No one touches what is MINE."
And like a dragon, it's strong. It's frightening how much of our actions, our hates, and our wars are under the dragon's control. It's terrifying how many rivalries are STILL going on based on things like this:
"They took my grandaddy's farm. After the war, we had nothing." -kkk
"This is our land, and they're taking it. God gave it to us." -Israel/Palestine
"They took our home from us and made us slaves within it."-The Irish Troubles
The list goes on. And why? Because it feels good to belong, to have a tribe, and even to have a tribal grievance. Look at the Wailing Wall if you doubt me.
The Brain Works Project sums it up nicely: " One of the most primitive ways reptilian coping brain seeks to protect us is joining forces with others. Among teenagers or adults it might be joining a gang. Or we may desire to compete so we “win” or dominate another school in athletic games. College or professional sports teams are examples of how the reptilian brain urges us toward tribalism...Reptilian tribalism also strengthens our social identity, by being part of a social group, nation, religion, political party, etc. Another type of territorial behavior is excluding and criticizing others who are different from us and outside of our group."
And because it feels good to belong, we make a point of excluding 'the other'. They are OUTSIDE. We are INSIDE. That's why racial slurs stay popular; it's a way of forcing another human being to be an object, a 'lesser' being, which makes the user 'greater', right? Yeah. That's what the dragon's whispering in your ear. No one wants to say 'they're different, and that scares me.' The dragon never wants to look weak.The dragon in us makes itself strong by making others weak, morally, culturally, or physically. Any way it can. When you look down at somebody else, it's so easy to feel taller.

For those of you who think it's all about skin color,
 here's a tip: not all that long ago,
 the Irish people weren't 'white' either.

Because it is such an integral and driving force in our phsyche, the dragon rears its head in thousands of stories....but some handle it better than others. As creators and as readers, the trick is to find stories that fight the dragon rather than feeding it.

When comics began in America in the 1920's, it was one of the WORST media forms for feeding the dragon. Because it is a storytelling form based in pictures and lending itself towards clean, simple ideas (and because our culture at the time allowed it) comics and cartoons regularly used racial stereotypes, treating them as a given and acceptable part of life. Naturally people of German descent had big bellies, replaced every 'w' in their speech with a 'v', and fell down a lot. Of course anyone with African ancestry had lips like inner-tubes and wasn't very smart. And anyone from the Emerald Isle was by their very nature hot headed, drunk and lazy. Comics like Jiggs, Happy Hooligan, Tin-Tin and Lil' Abner perpetuated stereotypes for endless ad nauseum slapstick.  
World War II didn't exactly encourage cultural understanding and respect either, and neither did our comics. As Japanese-Americans were carted off to internment camps, people read Captain America and Beetle Bailey.  The message was, basically:


Minorities were used to fill roles: servants, enemies, amusing sidekicks to great white heroes. But they weren't treated as people.

It wasn't until the 1960s that race was brought up as an issue in the comic industry. Stan Lee (say what you will about his other issues) made great strides with the Xmen comics, but there's still a long way to go.
But today, there are are a plethora of comics that explore race and ethnic issues in powerful ways.  Just in print comics, I can list:

to name only a very few.

In webcomics, the exploration has exploded in thousands of directions penned by thousands of artists.
But there are good ways and bad ways to go about it, and some approaches, made by well meaning people, actually encourage and perpetuate stereotypes in subtle ways.
So how do we fight the dragon as readers and creators?
Here's some tips. 

 *Person First, Concept Second

It's not a hard rule: never, ever, EVER create a character who's just there to look interesting. Never create a character only there to prove a point. And NEVER create a flat character.
Too often, characters are added conceptually, in a burst of aesthetic interest. 'oh, I want to draw an aztec princess. Aztec princesses look cool'.
Okay, an idea can START that way. 'I'd love to draw an aztec princess' is a fine first thought. But the following thought should be 'I wonder where  I can get the research I need' rather than 'I wonder what she'd wear...' Too many characters have been created simply to look exotic, and that leads to terrible cases of cultural appropriation and cultural disrespect. Disney is one of the most widely known culprits in this area, but it happens all over the place. You want to work with a culture? Fine. Get to know it on a deeper level. Get beyond 'looks cool'.
WRONG WAY: Aladdin
Right Way: Habibi 

And go beyond race too. NOBODY should have an identity based solely on their ethnicity. It can be important, crucial even, to their personality, but make sure they HAVE a personality. Make them people with lives, interests, creative ideas, loves and hates. NOBODY should be simplified down to a stand in for their race, a plot point, or a bit of atmosphere.
And never, ever, EVER,EVEEEERRRRRRR create a character 'because my story needs some diversity.' It's a noble idea, but characters created for this reason often end up flat and painfully empty of any real meaning, which can come off as an insult to the very people they were supposed to represent and respect. That, to me, is the absolute WORST result you can end up with: a cultural farce protected by the thin veneer of 'diversity'.
My main point here: write a person with a history, not a cultural idea attached to a face.

* R-E-A-S-E-A-R-C-H!!!!!!!!!!!!

Write What You Know is a golden rule. But too many people take that to mean 'write less.' NOOOOOO! LEARN TO KNOW MORE! 
Do fantastic research. And not just Google. Go to the library. Don't just read the history and sociology stuff; that's often written by academics and outsiders. (but do read the boring sociology stuff, it can be surprisingly useful) Read the novels of the group you're interested in on your spare time. Interested in the Navajo culture? Read Tony Hillerman. Interested in Mexican culture? Read 'The Sea Remembers'.
Here's a personal example: I co-write and illustrate the webcomic Parmeshen, an alternate-earth  fantasy based around two main characters.
One of the characters comes from a culture I based loosely on the Romani people. Yes, the idea did begin as 'cool! Gypsies!'. Most ideas are pretty weak in their infancy, like any baby. But then I did my research, starting with googling Romani musicians, artists and writers. I read every history I could find, read Romani poetry and stories, and got ahold of Romani music to listen to while I'm drawing. I tracked down discussions of Romani life written by the people themselves. I joined a Roma Rights facebook group and if I'm ever unsure I go there and respectfully ask questions.
It's hard work, but it's worth it. And I ended up with a culture which, while it definitely isn't Romani, also isn't a badly thought out and thinly veiled stereotype. Even if your world is fantasy, do your research. 

*Know Your Character's Relationship To Race

Once you know all the details, decide: how does your character feel about them? No group is homogenous on a topic as fraught as race. Not all blacks are indignant, not all Indians are proud. Know how your character's ethnicity has affected their character, their outlook, and their actions. Because whether you know it or not, how you look does effect you, through other people. If people have looked at your character with scorn all their lives, how has that made them feel? Some people get angry, but some just get self conscious, scared even. Or maybe they were raised in a part of the world where race isn't an issue, and they're being faced with discrimination for the first time. How much of a shock would that be? How would your character react to this sudden injustice?
Get beyond the 'my people' point of view, and find out how your character really feels.

*Know YOUR Relationship To Race

Now here's the real toughie. How are you really feeling as you read this? How are you really reacting to writing a culture? Are you bringing your own baggage to the table? Well, of course you are. The dragon in your head  is down there, whispering 'they're not like you, that means they're a threat.' But if we consciously know that, we can face it. Be aware of your own story as you tell others'.

I try to be very aware of this. I'm half Irish and half Menominee tribe, and was raised on the
Menominee reservation to the age of 11. Throughout my childhood, my Irish skin was a distinct badge of shame. Nobody tried to be cruel (okay, some kids, but kids are universally evil) but conversations and comments were regularly passed about 'the whites' and I very quickly got a personal narrative of being somehow 'watered down', a defective version, tainted by white blood.  To this day I feel anxious talking about race, afraid deep down that I'll be called an imposter, a mongrel. I also got a cultural narrative of oppression. So when I write, I have to consciously THINK 'don't write another noble person oppressed by the cruel world story. And don't write another freak cast out by the cruel world story either. This is a person, they aren't all good or all bad.'  I watch out for my own personal assumptions creeping into the story. Not all cops are bad, I remind myself. You don't need to walk around with a chip on your shoulder just because you have history, I tell myself. I examine myself as I tell a story, to make sure I'm telling THE story, not MY story.
Be ruthless with yourself. Examine your assumptions, your cultural views. Where did you get them? Are they still valid? If you find an answer you don't like, fix it.

If we write like this, we can fight the dragon rather than feeding it. Maybe one day, we can help people see all of humanity as 'one of our kind'. That's worth striving for.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday May 17: Doomsday, My Dear

Ladies and Gents! Grab the Popcorn

You're in for a show with 'Doomsday, My Dear'!

Okay, I'll begin this review with a warning: hide the kiddies, this one's mature. Not only is there blood and gore (for some reason our culture has defined indiscriminate killing without thought of consequences as 'mature') but the themes are deep, dark, and convoluted. This isn't ameture hour, ladies and gentlemen. This is V for Vendetta without the easy moral rights and wrongs.
You were warned.
The story revolves around a genetic mutation that causes a disease in the offspring of those who carry it. These 'carriers' are immediate targets for cultural terror and hatred, for their disease costs not only the lives of their children, but of every infant who comes in contact with them. You can imagine the social turmoil. And unfortunately when a culture is stirred up, all the nasty stuff comes floating to the surface.
In Doomsday, we follow several interconnected lives and trials as people try to navigate a new and terrible reality, one where the government has awful powers given to it by terrified mob rule, and the wrong dna will get you killed, or worse.
This fascinating, intriguing and disturbing comic can be found here.

The Rating

A tour de force

The Raves

I don't often find a comic that handles dystopia quite this well. The exposition that is used is done with intelligence and such a strong sense of humanity to the characters. Too often 'dystopia' is a fig leaf for 'blow things up because there really is no tomorrow' but you don't see that in Doomsday. Instead, there's a terrible, helpless sense of menace that cinches your heart strings, aided and abetted by really well used exposition and characterization. These characters are all nuanced, well rounded members of the human race rather than plot points. Their internal struggles are integral to the story, and as strong a motivator as the world acting upon them. It's one of the strongest things about Doomsday; the fact that it allows all characters their humanity even as some of them deny it to each other.
The plot walks the dangerous territory of the multi-pov structure, but it pulls it off seamlessly, keeping the storytelling tight, forward-moving and energetic by depicting realistic characters making difficult decisions.
The art carries that sense of dynamic movement through a strong use of color to denote mood, a quick brush-stroke style to the line work, and extremely expressive body language and use of pose. The character design, posing and page layout work together to draw out the constant theme of impending menace. Oddly, the watercolor-esque style of the comic actually enhances the mood rather than detracting from it; had it been done in a more gritty style, it would have been too easy for the work to devolve into another vigilante piece. But the art style forces you to see all characters as people, not good guys and bad guys. It also underlines the sense that the emotional and mental struggle the characters face is just as valid as the physical one, which is truly unique in the dystopian genre.

But don't worry, this heavy material is leavened by a deliciously snarky wit that will have you bursting out laughing at the oddest moments. What impressed me was that the humor also strengthened the world the artist was trying to create, because it shows normal people trying to use gallows humor as a coping tool to deal with impossible situations. In this comic, even the snappy one liners become an integral part of the storytelling.
Oh, and did I mention that the creator gives you a really wonderful head of this terrible new government to despise? Trust me, you'll love hating her.

But it's the insidious, world war 2-reminiscent anxiety that will stay with you when you close the browser window on this comic, a numbing dread that the creator has instilled in this piece with an almost painful clarity.  This isn't the Mad-Max adrenilin fed terror that lets people blow up other people without a qualm. No, the fear in this comic is the slimy, entrapping, insidious kind that turns authority rotten, that pulls friends apart, that isolates people in their own private bubbles of terror, so afraid of becoming the next target that they dumbly watch atrocity without raising a hand.  It's the kind of numb fear that lets normal people become monsters.
Doomsday not only reminds you that the world can go wrong, but shows you with painful clarity just how easy it is for good, normal people to do evil things.

The Razzes

I've got very little to complain of in this piece, if I'm honest, except for one odd quirk; when the artist depicts blood, it looks like washed out Kool-Aid. I'd like to see a little more reality there; it'd be good to be slapped in the face by that reality, especially given the circumstances.

The Revue

This is MOST DEFINITELY  one to read.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Review May 2nd: Kexx

Open The Cabinet Of Curiosities

Come Take A Peek Inside!

And here we find a strange specimen of the comic species, known as Kexx. This odd and alarming creature is a puzzling thing, but it has its moments of disturbing beauty.
You're never quite sure what's going on in this piece. What you do know is that they are gods, and that they are not kind to mortals. If they care at all, they destroy those they care about. And things get worse from there.
The creation of a fellow by the pen name of Fig, Kexx can be found here.

The Rating

Interesting, even clever at moments, but a little short of the mark.

The Raves

I have to say it, this story aims high. When it begins, it's in short, sharp jabs of image and word, clean and sharp as new knives. The themes it deals with are some of the darkest, and in the first few pages you keep reading the same way you watch a car wreck. It's sharp, incisive, and draws you on page by page. It doesn't let you look away or find the pleasant bits; even when there's 
humor, it's of the blackest sort.
The ambition is impressive.

The Razzes

Unfortunately, that wonderful ambition is somewhat hindered by an experimental streak that's been allowed to get way out of hand. There's a serious disconnect between the art style and the subject matter, giving the whole piece the feel of a bad acid trip or a fever dream. I mean, one of the main enemies occasionally has a green duck's head for no discernable reason, and when cute chibi characters start saying 'you need to die now' you begin to feel really, really off kilter.
It wouldn't be so bad if the storyline was easy to follow, but it's not. At all. I've rarely read a story that went in so many different, disconnected directions. Some of those directions are good, even interesting, but you spend so much time trying to make sense of it that at times it feels like more trouble than it's worth.
The fight scenes really don't help either.Very pretty, yes. And also very, VERY confusing.
The site design for Kexx could also use some serious work. Aside from some very minor changes of color, NO work appears to have been done on the site design, which really doesn't help the comic look good. If you have a nice piece of art, you don't hang it in a rickety plastic frame. The creator would do well to do a lot of work on their site in order to get it look classy. It's hard to be impressed by a site that's in default font and no format work whatsoever.

The Revue

If you want a trip down the rabbit hole, this is were warned.

Friday, May 1, 2015

May Backstage Pass: Stephen Leotti

Pssst! C'mon, I'll sneak you backstage!

 This month, meet Stephen Leotti

The Creator Of

So, tell me about yourself!

Okay, well I was born in Lynchburg, Virginia – where I still reside. 

Since I was homeschooled in grade school before I went to Christian High school (plus I lived kind of in the boonies), I spent a lot of time alone. So I developed my ability to entertain myself without the need for friends. Drawing was one of those things I took to. But, I also was interested in movies and writing and stuff. When I was about 13 I started watching bonus material on DVDs like The Incredibles and getting fascinated by the behind the scenes stuff. 

After playing around with 3D animation programs that were horribly unsophisticated, I decided to try 2D instead and fell in love with it. I made little shorts in high school (one was about a Snowman who dies from drinking alcohol). 

After graduating, I didn't really want to go to college because I hate spending money (we were poor, so I learned to be frugal). I ended up working crap minimum wage jobs (and being unemployed) for about two years before I started getting animation jobs. I started Stardust in the interim between unemployment and employment.

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

I have a blog called “Matters of Great Pith and Moment” ( where I write about media and culture, and do inteviews. It's kind of like Idea Channel meets meets Nostalgia Critic. I did a post about Satanic themes in Disney films (as in Laveyan Satanism) and I reviewed the entire Fifty Shades trilogy and the movie (spoiler alert: it's not very good).

It originally started under another name for some friends and I to make comedy skits, but that kind of withered and died. I'm still open to doing that again though.

I think in some way everything I do is related. So, I like learning about a lot of obscure things that then somehow end up making their way into a project. I love documentaries and interviews (if you couldn't tell). I like knowing the story behind the story. I was addicted to the History Channel before it was all: “not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens”.

And I like sex. A lot. 

So how did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures? 

I guess I just never liked reading novels all that much. There are a few I enjoy (Fight Club), but in general I like SEE it rather than just listen to it being talked about. It's not as interesting to be told a character is angry as it is to show it. I think it was Bob Godfrey who described animation as like opening up the top of a person's head and dropping the ideas straight in. I think that goes for comics too, provided you're not going overboard with the narrative captions like some comics do. My favorite film of all time is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, because that film says so much with just the visuals. You don't need to explain to the audience that Marion is afraid of the cop when he pulls up to her. You don't need Morgan Freeman's voice in background explaining what you're supposed to be feeling. The look in her face and the angles and cutting tell you everything you need to know. That's the kind of storytelling that I love the most because it's the simplest and most direct.

What were some of your early influences?

I think the biggest influence on me is probably Abbott and Costello. 

Abbott: “Say you had $5 in one pocket, and $5 in the other. What would you have?”
Costello: “Somebody else's pants on.”

You see, it is funny because he's so poor that to have $10 would be so unlikely... yeah, you get it. That's the thing I learned most about comedy from them, that it's all about expectations. They were masters of flawed logic.

In a similar vein, I love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Three Stooges, Red Skelton, and pretty much anyone old. They all had a classic style that I think I picked up.

And then of course, Disney and Warner Bros. I also loved Fleischer Bros cartoons like Popeye and Superman. Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon shows like Dexter's Lab and Spongebob. Batman The Animated Series and Tim Burton's Batman I also loved. The first Ninja Turtles movie was huge as well as the 80s cartoon. Another huge film was Toy Story. Saw it when I was about 4 and it changed my life.

I also played video games back when they were fun (Ocarina of Time, Starfox, FFVII). Now they're just hard and require deep religious devotion.

How long have you been drawing comics?

I think the first comic I ever drew was when I was 10. But really I never did it much because I looked at most comics and thought I could never draw like that. And I still can't really. Also, I never really thought I was that good at writing stories. And I'm still not either I guess.

But I started getting into Jeff Smith and Doug TenNapel and realized it didn't have to be one style. I think the first time I really drew a comic was in 2012 when there was a power outage so I had nothing to do. 2 or 3 months later I created Stardust.

What was your first attempt?

The comic I drew when I was 10 was a bomberman fan comic. It was stupid. The comic I drew during the power outage was called Purgatory. It was also stupid.

Can you tell me about your typical day or drawing session?

If I'm working on a video, then I'm animating during the day and doing comics at night. If not, comics during the day. Either way, I get up. Make coffee. Start the computer. Watch Youtube. Read articles. Work. Eat lunch. Work more. Take a break. Work more. Call it quits and read or watch movies. Eventually get tired and go to bed.

Music is very important. It's lately either Marilyn Manson, Gorillaz, The Cure, Pink Floyd, or a podcast. I also listen to audiobooks occasionally.  

How does your working process flow? Does your production process for a finished piece follow specific steps?

After I've got my script written, I like to break it down into shots if possible, but it's not always. I might do thumbnails, or not. It depends how much I can visualize it ahead of time.

I open up a blank page template (Stardust was standard size).

I make my panels and rough in the characters and BGs.

Then I do the lettering and balloons. I'm always tweaking the dialogue for what works best on the page.

When I'm happy with that, I go back and finish off the artwork.

Stardust was all digital, but my new comic is being colored by hand with watercolor. I print it out sans lettering and balloons, paint it, and scan it back in. Do some color correction and re-apply the lettering. I hate comics where the balloons don't look like they fit with the artwork, people have their faces half covered because they didn't have space. I avoid that by lettering it first and drawing around it. Like animating to dialogue.

What media did you work in to produce Stardust The Cat?

It started on paper, then switched to digital around #7.

What made that your main media choice for the project? 

I just felt I needed to learn how to use Photoshop more and I wanted to experiment with as many of it's features as I could. I didn't know what I wanted it to be, so I tried everything. I still would be changing the style if I were working on it again because I don't like using the same style twice. I'm like Picasso that way.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? 

It all starts with an idea. “What if...” and so on. I keep spiral notebook with hundred of ideas that I write down. I do this until I have at least a beginning and end. When I do...

Then I work on an outline to try to get bullet points for the main beats of the story. It has to feel like each story point is leading into the next one. It's cause and effect. If one changes, they all change.

Then I script it out. Usually I'm going back to the outline and making adjustments to it, that's kind of like my road map for this trip. I may go off side roads, but I know where I'm going and what points I have to hit. If it seems the journey is pulling me in one direction, I may alter the point itself. Same goes for when I'm drawing it.

Then I start drawing it. Again, I'm also tweaking stuff. But I need to know what the point of a scene being there is even if I completely rewrite it. As long as it's advancing the story in the same way. I change the dialogue right up until the end.

Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between? 

Gotta have a script. The first Stardust script I wrote by hand, but I still needed something to work from. I can't do stuff in my head, which is why I can't do math or write fantasy/sci-fi. 

What gave you the ideas to start work on Stardust the Cat? 

I guess I just needed something that was relatively easy to get. A simple two character situation. Like Abbot and Costello. So a cat and a mouse seemed easy enough. Since you need contrast, one should be happy, the other not. I know people probably thought I ripped off Garfield, Tom and Jerry, or Grumpy cat -- but that was never intentional. I had never even heard of Grumpy cat until I had drawn the third episode. With Tom and Jerry, they didn't really talk. So I thought I'd try to inject more irony and social commentary into it.

I guess a proto-Stardust was a little cartoon I drew a few years earlier of a guy holding a cat with a bubble that said “put me down asshole!”. I had a friend with a cat that was kind of like Stardust, very grouchy. So I also was thinking of that I guess.

How long did you work on the plot and ideas of Stardust the Cat before you set pen to paper?

About five minutes.

I mean, I had no plot in mind when I made the first one. I was just making it up line by line until I got to 24 pages. Then the details started to build up and the world got bigger. It's like how they developed The Simpsons.

By the end I was writing stuff months in advance though. The last episode when through 15 drafts and was even rewritten after I was half way through drawing it. I'll never do that again. I need the whole story before anything gets drawn, I learned.

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?

Umm, no. More like everyone told me I WAS going to be successful and then I wasn't. So I felt lied to. In the words of Fight Club: “raised by television to believe one day we'd all be media moguls and movie gods and rock stars. But we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. We're very, very pissed off about it.” I've been called a genius all my life, and so for a long time I was a narcissistic asshole about it. “I'm an ARTIST! I am BRILLIANT!”  When I got out of high school I expected to just become an animator at some commercial studio. Not Disney, I'd have to work up to that. But some indie place where I could get experience. But I sucked. I was not a beautiful, unique snowflake. I was the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.  Sure, I could make a drawing move, but it was still a bad drawing. So I had to get better as an artist and comics were a way of honing my drawing skills. I was so focused on animation, that I skipped all the basic drawing lessons. I mean, look at those first pages. They're god awful.

How do you cope with that kind of criticism? 

As far as the people who told me I wasn't good (mostly on message boards), I finally listened and owned up to it. In the words of Louis CK: “Life's too short to be an asshole”. I just try to be honest with myself about it. If I'm sucking at something, I try to go out and get better at it so I don't suck as much any more. That's why I'm so self-deprecating now. Because I don't want to be that person anymore.

And maybe that's why Stardust started out as such a pompous ass, because I was trying to pour that part of myself into him that's a whiny, pretentious douchebag. Then the character ended up learning the same lesson that I did. That being an asshole just makes you lonely and unhappy. So, you might see it as cynical and nihilistic. But I see it as getting through feeling like that, and learning how not to be. I think it's actually a very positive message.

Now that Stardust The Cat is finished, can you talk a little about upcoming projects you're considering? What's next? 

My next thing is a graphic novel project called Harlequin Jack & The Absinthe Bunny. It's a kind of high school romance with a magical twist. Think John Hughes meets Calvin and Hobbes, with some Scott Pilgrim thrown in. I don't know when it'll be launching. I'd like to get at least a year's worth of comics done, and I'm also submitting it to publishers. In the quite likely event of being turned down it'll be web. It'd be nice to get it out by the end of this year. We'll see.

Other project ideas include a mother/daughter story. A detective story with zombies. A story about a guy who has a one night stand with a porn star and gets her pregnant. And I'd like to remake an animated short I did in high school. But that's all a long way down the road. Right now I'm just focusing on getting this book finished.

Rock on Stephen! We'll keep an eye out for your next big thing!