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Fear and Loathing in Woodley Park II March 13, 2008

Posted by Lindsay in Anime, Commentary, Writing.
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Part Two: The Line That Blurs

I happened upon a group of college-age convention patrons sitting on the floor of a merchandise room and decided to see what they knew about webcomics. They were open to being a group interview, which would make for good “round-table” discussion sort of tape, so I sat down with them and began to ask them questions.

Aysha Nasir’s favorite webcomic is Questionable Content, a slice-of-life comedy about a twenty-something musician and his many sassy female friends. She thinks the publishing on the web and in print have their merits. “It’s nice to be able to hold something in your hand but I think webcomics are definitely a big part of the industry because their free and they reach so many people,” she says. I later learned that her father is a science fiction novelist.

“You don’t need to find a distributor or a publisher,” adds Gaylen Fabick. “People just come to your site and that’s your publishing right there.”

“And if you want to get really environmental, you don’t waste a bunch of paper!” says Aysha.

Sarah Zimfer likes Megatokyo, a webcomic with an art style influenced by manga, or Japanese comics. It’s set in a fictionalized Tokyo, and revolves around Japanese and American characters who are video game enthusiasts. “Once I found out that [creators Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston] actually started publishing the books and it wasn’t just online anymore, I went looking for it … I couldn’t find it for a couple of years because it’s not big, but I love being able to take it with me where I’m going.”

They not only had read a wide range of webcomics, they seemed to also be generally knowledgeable of creating webcomics from the perspective of the cartoonist. It’s not too surprising. On webcomic sites, the cartoonists tend to maintain blogs, with entries appearing right underneath their comics, allowing their readers into their lives. They discuss politics, annoyances with the comic and film industries, announce their plans to visit upcoming conventions, and relate anecdotes explaining where they get their ideas.

With art in any medium, they knew that trying to find comics that they enjoy takes time and a lot of clicking on links. They’re certainly not snobs though. Gaylen appreciates the comedy of Cyanide and Happiness, even though he says the art style is simplistic.

Lorna Drackett points out that with webcomics, the pull is more often the ideas and humor than how well they are drawn. “If they can get across their idea clearly with whatever they’re using it doesn’t matter. Sometimes simpler art can get across something in a funnier way.”

After I finished the interview, I answered the usual post-interview questions like ‘When is this going to air?’ and ‘ Aysha also asked me why NPR wanted to do a piece on webcomics. I admitted that it was mostly my baby. Being an avid reader of comics and a webcartoonist myself, I’d decided to make my Intern Edition piece something I already knew a lot about but wanted to know more about. I decided to shamelessly self-advertise, borrowing a piece of paper from Sarah, and quickly sketched my main characters, then wrote the web address in the corner, and she showed me the drawings she kept in her folder as well.

It was quite late at night by this point, and I was thinking about moving on to interview other patrons of the con. I saw, though, that I was running out of space on the flash card I had brought with me, and that I would need it in the morning when I returned to record a webcomics panel which would include Rob Balder and Jamie Noguchi, the two webcartoonists I’m profiling for my piece. I had already seen most areas of the hotel that were open to con-goers, and when I looked at the schedule, none of the remaining events for that evening looked all that appealing. And as I chatted with the people I had just interviewed, I found that they reminded me of my friends from college. The line between journalist and subject blurred. I stuck around with them, trading jokes and memories about classic animes like Dragon Ball Z. We went to the art auction room to see the fan-created art of popular characters that the artists were selling, lamenting how so many of the artists’ suggested starting bids undersold their talents.

The night wore on though, and as much fun as it was to hang with them, I needed to get home and get some rest because I would be back early in the morning. I didn’t see anyone from their party again until around the same time the next night, when I happened upon them at a nearby McDonald’s that was pretty much packed 24/7 with people from the convention. Sarah had her laptop, and she and her friends were looking at a Word document she had full of quotations from movies, books, and people she knew that she found funny or compelling. She invited me to add one. I couldn’t think of anything other than something from my own webcomic, so I put that in, with the URL once again, hoping that maybe somewhere down the line, long after the convention was over, I’d get an e-mail from someone I had met here that said even something as simple and to the point as ‘Hey, great comic!’ so I’d know I had been more than a mere observer and recorder for that long weekend.

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