In the spirit of honesty, I have to say that webcomics typically don’t really do it for me. Being a lifelong lover of comics, the introduction of self-published, Manga Studio-centric webcomics made me uneasy to say the very least. It’s the ol’ double-edged sword: on one hand, the web made publishing comics accessible to everyone. On the other hand however, the web made publishing comics accessible to everyone, literally everyone, or at least what feels like everyone.
Everyone I know is working on a web comic (myself included). The market is oversaturated and more often than not, the comics aren’t totally awesome. It’s for these reasons and more that Battle Creek, NE was such a pleasure for me to read.
Created by writer Mike Steele (great name) and artist Julia Philip (less great, but only because you can’t trust someone with two first names), Battle Creek, NE is young but promising regularly updated web comic. I won’t give too much away because you can head over to BattleCreekNEComic.com right now and check it out for yourself, but I can tell you that an intergalactic battle of the bands may be involved.
It’s great stuff (this Geeks of Doom review written by a staggeringly handsome young journalist says as much), which is why speaking with the comic’s creators was such a blast. I caught up with Steele and Philip to speak about the finer points of web comics and getting noticed in the brutal world of digital publishing.
Why did you decide to put out Battle Creek, NE as a web comic instead of pitching it to publishers?
Julia: I personally read more online comics than I read comics I buy. I also think that doing it as an online comic we can more easily build a fanbase, and maybe then consider selling it, knowing we’ll have people buying it.
Mike: The idea of pitching the idea to a publisher never even crossed my mind. Maybe it’s just me not knowing how I could even start a process like that, but in my head, this was always gonna be a web comic, down to the way we structure the pages and everything. (if you were to put all the pages in a regular 24 page comic type format, I would imagine people would notice the gaps in time that sometimes pop up between pages).
How did you and Julia start working together on this comic?
Mike: Julia was dating someone that was a regular listener of my weekly podcast (jim and them) and so she started listening to it as well. We eventually became friends on Facebook and I had complimented her on her art in the past, even asking her to do some art for the show a few times. She eventually asked me if I’d ever be interested in doing a comic with her at all. I was thrilled when she asked because I’ve always enjoyed writing, comics, and web comics but never had the art chops to do anything about it. I pitched her the idea I’d had for a while that became Battle Creek, NE (at the time I just called it The Battle of the Bands) and it kind of went from there.
Because there are so many web comics online, it is often hard for creators to get noticed. How are you making sure that Battle Creek, NE gets out there and gets noticed?
Julia: I mostly make posts about it on my Deviantart and Tumblr etc. and hope that people will notice it.
Mike: It helps that we both had existing audiences from the get go because of her presence on Deviantart and the existing listeners of my weekly podcast. Having had a bit of a built in audience from the get-go made spreading it around social networks like Facebook and Twitter a lot easier. I’ve also made sure to get us on a few of the more popular web comic portal websites (Comic fury and Smack Jeeves), which has done a good job of giving complete strangers a place to find our comic who would be unlikely to stumble across our website. Everything else I’m sort of just winging it on: Requesting reviews online, befriending other artists online and most importantly continuing to update the comic on a regular basis.
Mike, you’ve focused heavily on character development in this comic. Why is this so important to you, especially in the medium of web comics, where characters are often neglected?
Mike: Well, you pretty much said it yourself right there. I think there is a bit of a web comic renaissance going on these days, where you can find professional quality stories and art in web comics, and I wanted to be a part of that. You can close your eyes and randomly type a word into google and find a 3-4 panel gaming comic, and don’t get me started on how annoyed I am the amounts of garbage rage comics there are flooding the web, but you have to try a heck of a lot harder to find someone telling a good story. On top of that though, it’s just always been the way I wanted to write. Whether it’s short stories, message board RP’s, D&D or whatever, I’ve always enjoyed the character creation and interaction part of writing. Since I have no formal training in writing, outside of what I learned in high school, I don’t think I’m great at it just yet, but it’s nice to know a LITTLE bit of what I’m trying to do with these characters is coming through.
Julia, how did you come up with the designs for the various alien species in this comic?
Julia: I try to just do whatever comes to my mind. I know that Mike and I both kinda agreed on that we didn’t wanna go too crazy with the alien designs, keep them mostly humanoid. Mike wanted to have the characters of them shine through rather than just having them be interesting because of how they looked. I like keeping the designs pretty simple. Just including features to a basic humanoid idea or a funky skin-colour is usually enough. I know Mike’s only concern was that we make sure they don’t stray too far into the realm of “Fantasy” looking characters, but I think we’ve done good at avoiding that so far.
How do you guys work as a team? Julia, do you prefer Mike write out direction in detail or leave room for you to stretch artistically?
Julia: I like it when he describes the things with a lot of detail, as much as he can give me. I hate making mistakes because I might have misunderstood something. Usually I handle more of the environment based direction myself though, since as a writer there is really only so much you can say to convey the blocking of how a page is set up. I know Mike always says he feels like I can read his mind though, because so far he says stuff tends to look exactly how he pictured it. I also love pages that have very little dialogue, it leaves more room for me to do more fun things with the characters.
Mike: For the most part we use Skype, Livestream and Facebook. I won’t lie and say its exactly like being in the same room, but as far as the fact that I live in Las Vegas, NV and she lives in Sweden, I feel like we have a nice utility belt of tools that that allow us to work on stuff together in a way that definitely doesn’t feel like were on opposite sides of the planet. When we can hop on Skype and she can stream her Photoshop on Livestream for me in real time, it becomes pretty easy to work on laying out pages and designing characters together with nothing lost in our distance from each other.
Mike, how do you usually write your scripts? Similar to the way traditional comics are written or different for Web?
Mike: I basically write them like a mix between a short story outline and a screenplay. I break out out dialogue and directions of characters, facial expressions, their more subtle feelings, and position of the characters when its important. When I feel like that stuff should be more organic though, I’ve found that Julia is very good at taking a little bit and filling in the holes the way she see’s fit in a way that I’m always okay with. Julia is excellent with body blocking, facial expressions and expressing emotion in the ways she draws our characters, so sometimes it can be a strength to let me leave that stuff to her.
Any advice for aspiring comic creators?
Julia: Try and keep moving on. Your first comic pages will always look terrible, so don’t go backwards and try drawing the first ten pages over and over, you won’t get anywhere. Try and push yourself to do things you’ve never done before, and don’t avoid drawing the backgrounds (people always ignore backgrounds!) Your readers can easily lose track of where the characters are.
Mike: Don’t kill yourself over the small stuff. Take your idea, break it down into a few broad pieces and just go with it. You’re always gonna end up wishing you did something different (I can’t count the amount of things I think are awful in some of our early pages that I’m sure no one EVER noticed) but the more you put put there, the more you’re gonna just naturally get better and feel more comfortable doing. Also, don’t be afraid to try something different. There is no better feeling of satisfaction, than to be told that you’re doing something creative and unique.