Sunday, April 18, 2004

Adis says: And now, for the final Quicksketch Spotlight, here's my interview with Amanda Hardy. Amanda and I met before either one of us belonged to Quicksketch, and I'd been looking forward to this.
What I Learned Today is a look at childhood, similar and different from my own, and I absolutely love it. So much, that I've done guest art for the site several times. Therefore, I felt the occassion called for something different, and here it is, a photo comic!
If you are a WILT fan, hopefull you won't hate it much. And in case you are wondering, that's supposed to be the big sister. But here's what Amanda had to say:

So... Amanda. For those of you who might not know you or WILT, introduce both of you
Hm. WILT is "What I Learned Today," a one-panel comic about a little girl, her sister, and their friends. It's basically about being a kid, and the way you can learn things in strange ways. And have a good time doing it. I've had people tell me it's everything from "not funny, but nostalgic" to "hilarious." I try and hit a kind of bizarre truth.
I'm just the person who makes the comic.

Sometimes people think "you" are the comic. How much of yourself is in your strip?
Hmm. Well, probably quite a lot. That isn't really intentional, but it's based on what I think is funny, or how I would interpret a situation. You can't really help it when you're making a comic, I guess. Not as much of it is based on personal experience as people think, though. Only a couple are taken directly from life. Most of them are just inspired in some way or another, not all of them inspired by me.

Sounds about right. One of the things I enjoy about WILT is how, despite it being very pleasant and sweet, feels different from other perspectives of what childhood was like, including my own, of course.
Yeah, I try and hit different types of experiences. I can't say that Big Sister or Little Sister is more like me, for example. I'm a little sister, but my personality is mixed into all the characters. They're also things that I'm not. Big Sister is kind of a roughhouser, Little Sister's pretty devious, Blonde Boy eats worms. I'm probably most like Pixie-Haired Crayon Breaker.
None of the characters have names. That's intentional. Not even the pets have names.

Why is that? Isn't it cumbersome for character recognition by readers?
Nah. They're all pretty visually distinct.
They don't have names because I wanted people to be able to identify with them. It's sort of like Scott McCloud's iconic pyramid, or whatever he called it. The less specific you make something, while still retaining basic recognizable features, the more people will be able to associate themselves with it. I didn't want to give the characters names because I wanted my readers to think of them as everyday kids.
And it kind of even makes the reader a bit of an author too. By not giving them names, they might associate the characters to, like you said, kids from their own childhood, and it feels very personal.
Yep, exactly. Big Sister could be anyone.
I have a friend who always tells me how much he loves Little Sister. He's a little brother. Whenever I do a comic where Little Sister gets back at Big Sister for something, I usually get a "YAY!" email from him.
It's pretty fun.

Because he feels it's him.
Apparently! Well, he isn't a girl. But most of the comics aren't "girl specific" anyway. Big Sister is kind of a tomboy. Most of the comics have her in them, she's sort of the main character.

I think she is too. As most people know, you do The Repository of Dangerous Things, which is quite different from WILT, not to mention the work you're most associated with. What was it that compelled you to start this little comic about children?
Hoho, I was wondering when RDT would come up. ^_^ I don't know that I'm most associated with RDT though. The comics receive about equal traffic. I'm not sure how many people read both. The audiences may be pretty different.
I did WILT for a couple of reasons. There were things I had ideas for, but couldn't do in RDT. I didn't want to limit myself to just monsters. I also was getting tired of the long-format comic (RDT is full-page) and wanted to try another difficult format... one-panel, which requires a different type of writing and humor. I also had a bunch of crayons and markers around that I wanted to do something with. I wanted to do a comic with an easy drawing style and that wouldn't take a long time to do.

On that topic, what is the process of creating a WILT strip like? How is it different from doing an RDT page?
RDT takes a long time. I'm not a very fast artist, and RDT is a much more realistically drawn comic, with detailed backgrounds, layout, etc. An RDT page from writing to posting takes about 9 or 10 hours. A WILT takes 45 minutes, an hour if I'm doing lots of stuff in the background.
A WILT usually starts with either a picture (the panel) or a punchline (the caption). The hard part is making a picture match a punchline and having it compound the joke somehow. The picture needs to be funny on its own, and the punchline has to be true but also add to the humor of the picture. If I can do visually funny things as well, that helps. The cartoony style helps with that.
I have photocopied blank panels that I sketch in. Then I ink on drawing paper with a Zig .05. Coloring is done with some crayola markers (foreground and important objects) and crayons (background). I also do the lettering and balloons by hand, which causes problems sometimes. Then I scan, move it into the .psd template, touch up, photoshop in the skin tone (from a pre-markered sheet... my skin tone marker is really expensive, so I just cut and paste the shape) and post. It can go pretty quick.

Sometimes, when I work really fast on something, (say, an hour instead of four) I end up feeling guilty, even if the end result was good. Ever felt that, or am I just misplacing my feelings of guilt?
I don't think the short amount of time is what bothers me when that happens, it's the effort I've put into it, or how much I personally like it. I've disliked a comic for some reason the moment I've posted it, or known I didn't do as good a job on it as I could have, but people will come along and say they really liked it. That kind of makes me feel guilty.

That's a part of the job sometimes we (or at least I) forget about sometimes, that at one point, the comic will stop being "ours", and it'll be "theirs".
Yeah... I never felt too possessive about my comics, though. Right away in RDT I was having polls and stuff to determine what I would do next in the comic. With WILT it was my intention to make other people identify with it. But I try not to take the comics too personally or seriously. I think that helps. If I was serious about personally affecting people somehow with a comic I made, I would feel manipulative. Instead I just do things I think are fun... that seems to be what people like more. And then I feel free to do random things just because I feel like it, like making a macaroni noodle comic, or putting friends into a comic, or having a comic about how good you feel after you've thrown up. Those seem to be the comics that people like best, because they're unexpected.

I liked the macaroni noodle comic. what brand was that?
I have no idea. I was at my mom's house. She puts everything into Tupperware containers.
They were the noodles in the "Noodles" bin.
I love my mom. ^_-

Now that you've brought up family, what do they think, if anything, of this hobby/passtime/artistic endeavor of yours?
I didn't tell anyone about them, I guess just because I don't feel like they're anything special. My sister had seen me doing RDT, but she's never read it as far as I know. She likes that I do the comics anyway. She stumbled across WILT one day at work. I did a comic about that, when Big Sister caught Little Sister making comics. She prints them out sometimes and puts them up at work. We have a CYS printed out at my work! The Beat the Day one. It's in a place of honor.
Somehow when I was visiting family last Christmas they found out that I had comics. I had to write down my URL half a dozen times. I never heard back from them though, so I have no idea if they even read them, or what they think of them. They liked the idea of my doing them, too. My family's pretty open-minded.
My sister says I should do a WILT Christmas card next year, though.

I second that. Because, as I may have told you before, WILT is probably the webcomic I enjoy the most. It's certainly the only comic out there I wish I had thought of myself. But then again, it wouldn't have your slant on things. I mentione this, because I'm interested in knowing what's your reaction to readers' possitive comments.
I like the way you used "readers" instead of "fans." That emphasizes that the people like the comic, not me in particular. It would sound egotistic if I said something like, "MY fans." I always try and say "WILT fans" or "RDT fans" or "readers."
Hmm... I guess I'm generally disbelieving of people when they say I'm the best at anything, or they like best something I've done. Not in a hostile way or anything! Just that *I* know I have done things I like more, so I don't always understand the perspective.
I like positive comments, of course, but I also like negative ones, because they're honest. Most people just seem to say they really enjoy the comic and they're glad they found it, which is satisfying. I've gotten some e-mails where the reader has said WILT has affected them on a very personal level, changed the way they look at their childhood, even caused them to try and reconstruct their life. That hasn't happened often or anything, but it feels really strange to think that something I do for fun (with crayons no less) is something that someone can identify with so much. I'm glad they were able to do that for themselves. It was just pretty much accidental that something about my comic made them think that way.

But having a possitive impact on someone's life is an interesting byproduct, at least in my experience. Mostly because it's so obviously not what we set out to do.
Exactly. It's kind of strange to think about. I try not to dwell on it too much, just because I don't want that to seep into the comic somehow. If people like it because I'm doing it for fun and for myself, without caring necessarily what others think of it, then I'd like to try and keep doing that.
I think you've said people have sent you those types of emails also! Maybe it's something about comics about childhood.

Yeah, and it means so much to people. That's why I try to be very respectful of that, and it strikes me you feel the same way.
Yeah. I would never tell someone their opinion of my comic is wrong. Once I post it, it's anyone's to take however they want.

But what about you? Ever read a comic, or rather, a webcomic, that had deep of an effect on you? What are your favorite webcomics?
I haven't stumbled upon any webcomics that have a *deep* effect on me... usually my life-changing moments come from people I know or experiences I've had.
Hm, my favorites.... this is a tough one. I know a lot of webcomic people and I'm afraid of someone feeling left out! I always read The Gods of Arr-Kelaan by Chuck Rowles. It's some very insightful thought hidden inside a fantasy story. The same for Anthony Wu's WanderJive. His comic is nearly a novel all in its own, and it isn't even that long yet. Instant Classic by Brian Carroll is always witty and fun. Elf Only Inn by Josh Sortelli is just hilarious. I used to be in chat rooms like that. EOI is an extremely clever idea. I like Grand Blue Door by Bex because it's kind of a cross between RDT and WILT- a little girl in a really bizarre place. And of course Count Your Sheep (by some guy, I forget his name). I think of CYS as WILT's sister-comic. They have that same ring of what it's like to be a kid.

I felt the same, from the first time I saw WILT, it felt it was unlike any other webcomic. Here was a person who was into the same things I was.
Most people think I'm a girl at first, too. Hoho, I couldn't help it.
I remember when you e-mailed me! And then I looked at your comic and thought "oh my gosh!"

It was sistership at first sight.
*glee, flap hands around*
Nah, I always thought CYS was great. And you've done a great job of giving the comic a lot of depth past "a girl and her imaginary sheep friend." I actually identify with your comic a lot because although I wasn't an only child, my mom raised us on her own after my dad died. So I think your comic is very honest.

Thanks! The disclaimer being that, contrary to popular belief, I'm a guy. An interesting phenomena I've seen occur in this subculture of ours is that of the artist's online "persona", or at least others' perception of it. What about you, how are you perceived, accurate or not?
For the record, I never thought you were a girl. I win!
Hm. I think people for a while identified me with Ms. Harper, which isn't very accurate. I try and present myself honestly online, but it's simply impossible to be yourself, really, in such a limited medium. There's only so much you can get across. I used to make an effort to "get myself out there" but that kind of backfired... when you become TOO accessible, people take advantage of that. So I've withdrawn from my comics a bit and tried to let them stand alone. I really only post information about myself in forums now, or in IMs and emails.
I probably didn't really answer your question... but I have no idea how I'm perceived unless people tell me, which they usually don't. It tends to be an awkward conversation topic.

It's alright. If it helps, I've discovered that certain voices, and yours is one of them, bring a lot of intelligence to a discussion. Forums-wise, and everything. JB of Catharsis (and our fearless leader) is another one, by the way.
Flatterer. Yeah, she's great. My favorite forumites for that sort of thing are Chuck Rowles (Ronson), the guy who does PC Clips (I don't know his name, gah)[Adis' note: She's referring to Bob Balder, author of Partially Clips], JB from Catharsis, Squidi from A Modest Destiny, and Matt Genier, who did 64 Demons and is working on Dominion now. He's also got a comic up on Graphics Smash, which I haven't read. All very intelligent people who are good at defining an issue and saying what needs to be said.

How important it is for an author to put him/herself "out there", and be an active participant in the community (forums, message boards, etc)? Sometimes I feel I don't do it enough.
Hm. It's really a form of networking, I think. You're also sharing advice, but you're only as valuable to others as you make yourself. You don't have to be on forums to have a successful comic, but you'll be making yourself known to other webcomickers and establishing yourself as someone who cares about the medium. And it's just fun being part of a group of people who have the same interests. But it can also be time consuming, and it's easy to get too caught up in putting YOURSELF out there, and not your COMIC.

That's true. In your words, where is this little webcomic culture of ours going?
This is a hard question. I don't really know. I know it's going to get bigger, and that means it will probably develop into more distinct groups. How those groups happen I don't know... based on site of preference (Drunk Duck, BuzzComix, Comixpedia, etc)? Based on success? Maybe not really based on anything. I think it's pretty good now. There's a good mix of everyone most places you go, and people realize that as long as we all have the same interest (webcomics) we can get along. Overall people seem really interested, supportive, helpful, etc. So I hope it doesn't really change.

What about WILT (even RDT), where are they going? any long term plans?
Wow, I don't even know. I just keep doing them because they're fun. I work quite a lot and still go to school, so the comics are one of the only things I have time for otherwise. I didn't write up business plans or anything, I don't even plot ahead most of the time. They'll stick around as long as I have time to do them and I think they're fun, I guess! It would be cool to get RDT into a group like DayFree Press, but I know I don't have a chance in hell of that kind of thing. And in a way that makes it sound like I'm focused on my comics' success. Really I just like that others enjoy my comics.

I feel like I should have already asked this: why make comics in the first place?
'cos... you want to?

Good answer. Let me scratch my head a bit.
Go ahead.

Done. Ok, usually, I ask a last question that relates the other person's comic with CYS, but now I'm struggling. It's like trying to outwit your big sister.
Can I give an answer anyway?

Please.
Yes, I do think they live in the same town, but I don't know where that town is.

A million thanks to the lovely Amanda Hardy, for her time, and for making What I Learned Today!
Now go to bed!
Adis!

   
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Count Your Sheep is Adrian Ramos.