Saturday, June 26, 2004
Adis says: The Comic Spotlights are back, this time featuring Catherine Harrell, author of Jen Comics.
Catherine does a very brave thing I believe, she makes a coimc that doesn't have so much as an ounce of cynicism. Even CYS tries to get a little hip every now and again, but Catherine makes a pleasant, sweet comic that I can't help but admire. Here's my conversation with her:
So... Jen Comics. Describe your comic to the webcomic readers on the lookout for a new strip.
Jen Comics is a humor strip about four children named Jen, Madison, Sparkle,
and Avery. The strip follows their daily adventures and offers a kind of warm
and friendly look at the world. The comic uses a soft, pastel color scheme and
is updated daily.
Right away, your comic looks different from almost everything out there. Is
this deliberate, or is it just you? I can't somehow picture you doing a comic
I really didnít know what was out there when I started, so I suppose I was
original by accident. I didnít give much thought to characters or premise when
I first began, so the strip developed on its own for awhile based on whim.
Although lately Iíve been working more closely with where the strip is going,
Iíd like to keep some of that freshness. As for all the other stuff, Iíve never
actually owned a videogame. I suppose thatís why Jenís world has a pretty
Where do the idea for your comic come from?
I used to be very methodical about my ideas, and I would think really hard
and script everything out beforehand. But I find that the strip is much more
energetic and interesting if I keep a healthy sense of spontaneity. Iíll notice
something in a book or magazine that strikes me, or Iíll pick up a phrase from a
conversation I have. I try to choose a small topic, like a game of basketball
for instance, and expand on it as much as I can. Actually the problem seems to
be that there is too much to write about, rather than not enough. Itís hard to
pick the right idea from such a whole world of choices.
Tell me a little about your background in cartooning. Your approach feels
both expressionistic and traditional.
Iíve had a little bit of training in drawing from life, which is helpful even
for a simple style like Jen Comics. The strip isnít meant to be especially
realistic, so I try to get the idea across with quick, clean drawings. Thatís
probably where the traditional/expressionist blend comes about. I drew a lot as
a kid, naturally, but my background in cartooning is mostly limited to quirky
humor strips like this one. I havenít had much experience with other styles, to
be honest, but recently Iíve been taking more risks with my drawing style and
would like to try expanding on my cartooning ability.
I've mentioned this before, and I've certainly mentioned it to you: your
comic is so sweet and gentle, that put it up for the wild, untamed beast of the
internet hordes to see seems like actually a very brave thing to do! What has
been the reaction from the public at large? (small as you might think it is. I'd
like to know.)
Actually, the general response has been surprisingly positive. I posted on a
few message boards and got some nice feedback from other cartoonists, and I even
got a piece of fan art and a few complimentary emails. People seem to like the
quirkiness of the writing and the use of pastel colors in the artwork. Of
course, not everybody has liked Jen, but even the negative responses have been
incredibly helpful for improving the strip. Generally, I have been very pleased
with the honesty of the internet, and Iím working to expand my audience to
receive even more feedback and opinions.
Why do a webcomic in the first place?
I started out knowing next to nothing about the internet or webcomics. I
simply thought it would be fun to post my cartoons online, since the idea of
having my own website always interested me and I had been drawing for quite
awhile. Since then I have learned a great deal about internet cartooning, and
enough about web pages to piece together my own site, primitive as it is. The
internet is a great place for Jen. I love even the small amount of feedback I
have received so far, as well as the ability to easily show my drawings to
anyone. I especially like having a little place of my own for the strip, my own
In some instances, an author pours her/himself into the work. I got the
feeling, from the first time I read Jen, that reading it was like knowing you.
how much of yourself is in the comic?
I think a lot of Jen is vaguely autobiographical. Some of the stories are
based on real events of course, like the sunburn story and the prima donna, and
the characters themselves borrow traits from myself and people I know. In fact,
if you put all the characters together, you would probably get somebody like me.
I seem to have Jenís curiosity and energy, Madisonís quiet thoughtfulness,
Averyís bookishness, and Sparkleís optimism. The tone of the strip is something
Iím constantly working on, since I want it to reflect innocence and curiosity
without being overly cutesy. As the strip continues, I would like to express
more of my thoughts and ideas through the comic.
Due to how particular your comic is, I'd like to hear about your influences
(comics and outside) and your favorite webcomics.
My major cartoon influences must be Bill Wattersonís ďCalvin & Hobbes,Ē Bill
Amendís "FoxTrot", and Charles Schulzís "Peanuts". These were the strips I read
most frequently when I began drawing, and Jen naturally adopted some of their
techniques. Outside of comics itís difficult to say. A lot of books and movies
and such have probably influenced Jen, but I donít know if I can pick out
specific ones. It's almost as if I borrow a tiny bit from everything I see. I
would imagine that once the strip becomes more defined for me, its influences
will emerge more clearly. As for webcomics, Iím a fan of Count Your Sheep of
course, and I regularly read Sinfest and girly and Order of the Stick.
There are also a number of strips I read peripherally, looking around at new
comics when the mood strikes.
What's in the future for Jen Comics?
I think Jen is going to become more cohesive over time. The characters are
becoming more defined, and Iím starting to get a feel for what I want the strip
to look like. I hope to continue updating daily and maybe promote the comic a
little across the internet. I may also try new things with art and writing,
possibly drawing a few short comic stories in addition to Jen.
If Sparkle and Laurie went out for coffee, what would they talk about?
I imagine Sparkle would blather on for awhile about herself and her dreams
of becoming a big, famous movie star. Then they might find some common ground
in practical things like shopping or favorite foodsÖand now that Marty is in the
strip, who knows, they could even talk about boys. Sparkle would probably be
intrigued by Laurieís relationship with Katie, and she might go buy a doll or
puppy and pretend to be its mother for awhile. (Actually, thatís not a bad idea
for a strip.) By the way, Sparkle would also find Ship absolutely adorable and
would coo over him and dress him up until he became quite annoyed.
Thanks to Catherine for her time, and whenver the mood strikes, go check out Jen Comics!
Now go to bed!
Count Your Sheep is © Adrian Ramos.