Saturday, 16 February 2013

Digital Canvas - an interview with Ryan North

In my continuing efforts to interview creators with the unique perspective of working both in print and web comics, I’ve managed to steal a bit of precious time away from Ryan Q. North, the legend behind the ever popular and the rather superb Adventure Time print comic!

Todd Marsh: So for people who don't know, how did you first get into webcomics?

Ryan North: I started in 2003, when we had a class assignment to "do something interesting with a website". My group didn't really do much so I said "WELL I WANT TO MAKE A COMIC" and put up the first comic over the weekend and that was it!

TM: And how did that lead to writing print-comics? Was one a stepping stone to the other?

RN: Yep! Almost literally. The editor for Adventure Time liked Dinosaur Comics and thought it'd be a good fit. Web comics are great because they're so accessible: people who wouldn't otherwise see your comic can see it. Plus it shows that you can meet a deadline and tell a joke, which I guess are useful skills that editors of comedy comics will look for?

TM: Do you find the different mediums affect how you write? For example with readers seeing one page of webcomic at a time rather than a whole issue of print-comic?

RN: Well yeah, for sure. The medium affects what's being told in lots of ways. The nice thing about Adventure Time (which kills me in ordinary superhero books) is that there's no ads interrupting the story. That's super critical, because that lets you as a writer know what page you're working on AND where it's situated physically on the page. I love to know if the next page is already visible or if the reader has to turn the page to see what happens next. It's a small thing, but it lets you structure the story so a mini cliffhanger can last longer and be a surprise! It's less of a surprise if they can glance over and see how it's resolved.

Of course if you're doing a stand-alone webcomic that's less of an issue, but there's still ways you can control it. Visit in a browser and you'll see the whole comic, but visit on a mobile phone and you'll see one panel at a time. That was for space restrictions but I've gotten emails from people saying they prefer it that way, because then they can't spoil the punchline for themselves!

TM: Is one medium easier to write for than the other?

RN: They've both different.  I'm not sure if one's easier: it's like skateboarding vs riding a bike.  Both are fun and will get you where you're going, but you're exercising different muscles.

TM: Is it OK to talk money? Is it easier to make money from print comics?

RN: Sure! But "easier to make money" is super wide open. Lots of people make money without going online, and lots only work online and don't do stuff in print. It depends on your model, right? Like, most webcomics are put online for free and you WANT them to be shared, because that might lead people to become fans and then they might buy a shirt or a book collection. So you turn the fact that computers are really good copying machines into something that works. But if you're trying to sell JUST a print book then you're terrified if it shows up online, because that's your content and you've lost control of it and why would anyone buy the book now?

Anyway my Dinosaur Comics books are all collections of stuff available online and people still buy them, which is awesome!  Maybe it's because you can give a book as a present and it's a nice gift, but you can't yet write down "check out" on a piece of paper, wrap that up, and have it be just as nice.

TM: Do you agree with the perception that webcomic creators are closer to their fanbases due to things like page comments and social media? And is this a good thing?

RN: We're certainly very accessible. And I think that's a good thing! Honestly the people who read my comic tend to have my sense of humour, so when we're all hanging out on Twitter it's really fun. I tell a joke, people riff on it, we retweet the best of them and it's all really fun and easy. Someone with a business hat on would say that this is "organic engagement with pageview creators" or something but it's really just hanging out and having fun with pals. Who is not in favour of pals?

TM: Should regular comics and webcomics be competing or sharing the marketplace?
Do they even have the same "customers"?


I don't think they're competing. People who like comics will probably like webcomics too, but there's a difference between reading one comic a day on my site and buying a trade paperback of print comics from someone else.  It's not the same thing, right? And there are people who read webcomics who'll say "I don't like comics" because they see them as different things (unfortunately) and there's people who read only print stuff.  I don't think there's a great conflict between the web and print worlds.

TM: What do you think of digital copies of regular comics, are they the future of the industry?

RN: Was radio the future of plays? Was television the future of radio? They're different beasts, I think. Both can coexist easily, but it may take some marketplace adjustment.

TM: What with various TV and film, print comics are very much in the popular mindset at the moment. Will webcomics ever get that recognition?

RN: Sure! Why not? But I'm not sure what that recognition is worth. When Twitter accounts can become TV shows, the idea of being "tapped" by some god on high to enter The Mainstream kinda loses its appeal, a little? And then you see it as just "oh a company wanted to make money off of this synergistic cross-platform media francise, I get it now" instead of "wow TV, how does that even happen??".

TM: Think about your favourite print comics and webcomics. Would they still work if they were in the opposite medium? Would you like to see a webcomic companion series or spinoff to a print-comic for example?

RN: Sure! I mean they're obviously different things, but I don't see any tension between the media. You call them "opposite mediums" but I think the opposite of a print comic is like - an audio recording of an opera? Maybe? Print and web are siblings, to me, not opposites. And there have been print comics hat have web comics as tastes or teasers for the book - Faith Erin Hick's Friends With Boys for example  - and web comics can move to print easily too.

TM: Finally, please use this space to plug anything you want to plug.

RN: Um, I'm working on a choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet that just became Kickstarter's most-funded publishing project ever! But this is a bad plug because the Kickstarter is over and you'll just have to wait till the book comes out for real now. But it's gonna be great, honest!

TM: Thanks again!

Todd Marsh would like to thank Ryan North for humouring my stupid questions with wise words.

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