Friday, June 27, 2008

Shotgun Interview #2: Eli Parker of Unwinder's Tall Comics

A Shotgun Interview with Eli Parker

Q: What web comic (not by a friend) do you think deserves wider attention, and why? 

A: Hitmen for Destiny by Øyvind Thorsby. It's a really strange case, because it's the most hideous thing I've ever seen, the writing is mostly exposition, and it's riddled with typographical errors. And yet, somehow it's immensely appealing once you've read a few installments. The in-comic world is incredibly imaginative, with a bizarre, but strangely logical ecosystem of strange creatures. It has potential to become the Star Trek of webcomics. You know, low production value, bad acting, and corny scripts, but with a mythology deep enough to keep geeks coming back to it for decades.

Q: Is there a web comic you are always excited to read, the minute it updates? 

A: Achewood is probably the only comic that I can't go a day without checking. Even if it's an off-day and I know there won't be anything new.

Q: What web comic by someone you know would you recommend?

A: Terror Island by Ben Heaton and Lewis Powell. I wouldn't recommend it to everybody. Only to people who appreciate quality, and prefer to read good webcomics.

Q: What blogs do you read?

A: Not a lot. I keep up with The Comics Curmudgeon, and Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad just to remind myself that there are a lot of people out there who I'm better than.

Q: What do you say to someone who just wanted to try their hand at a web comic, maybe share it with their inner circle and whoever else wanders by, who finds themselves savagely reviewed on YWCIB?

A: I don't support that blog in everything that it does, because it very occasionally picks on people like the ones you just described. But more often than not, it rips apart comics for the author's attitude as much as for the comic's actual quality. It's at its best when it's targeting authors who refuse to improve themselves, and treat their fans badly.

I don't think I've ever loved absolutely everything an author produced (Exception: P.G. Wodehouse), and I would never claim that YWCIB is perfect, or even particularly good for the most part. But there are arrogant, greedy, untalented people out there with zero tolerance for criticism. And it always feels kind of good to see somebody calling them out on it.

Q: Is there a moral issue in that the writer of the blog is anonymous?

A: Identity doesn't mean what it used to, and everyone has their own concept of identity ethics. It'll be a long time, perhaps infinitely long, before people agree about how you should use your identity and how you shouldn't. I've taken on a variety of personas, and I'd be a hypocrite if I said that people shouldn't use pseudonymns. I've been pretty intentional about leaving my online identity fairly fluid, crediting myself inconsistently as "Eli Parker" and "Wilson Parker."

My personal code is that it's good to hide your identity to play a character, and sometimes to hide yourself from people who you don't want snooping around, and it's bad to hide your identity to impersonate someone. Hiding your identity to prevent backlash when you're speaking your mind is a little thornier, I suppose. It's downright necessary when you're ticking people off at a YWCIB level.

I personally don't see it as wrong, because I don't think that anybody is obligated to take credit for what they write unless they're writing threats. Their identity is irrelevent, and the only reason that somebody would seek out their real names is to get revenge, which is not a good way to react to a bad review.

Q: Introduce your Unwinder's Tall Comics to new readers in a few sentences.

A: My work is a sort of a cynical look at popular cynicism featuring a freak show of characters in a midwestern suburban setting who talk about ideas a lot and never seem to do anything. Also there's kind of a graphic design element, and everything's pretty loose structurally.

Q: You make frequent use of found objects -- notebooks, X- ray films -- in your comic's graphic design. How did that evolve?

A: I had seen that sort of idea used in some of my favorites (Achewood and Thinkin' Lincoln come to mind), but both of them do it on a sort of now-and-then basis. When I was getting Tall Comics started and I was deciding just what sort of stuff I wanted to do with it, that seemed like a natural choice, because I wanted to do something that would be kind of graphic designy, and give me the opportunity to do crazy stuff with structure and pacing.

Also at the start there, I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle making my comics really tall without some big "show stopping number" panels.

Q: What promotional tools have helped you find new readers?

A: Stumbleupon has been invaluable, bringing in a pretty decent chunk of my traffic. Also notable is Ryan North's Project Wonderful, which has enabled me to advertise cheaply. The best promotional tool is word of mouth, though.

Q: What's the best thing you've recently heard from a fan?

A: The things that I like best are when people notice little things in the strips that I was afraid nobody would catch. I've been getting a fair amount of comments on a lot of my little throwaway gags that I've been really pleased with.

Q: What's the worst thing about the state of web comics today?

A: The low, low standards that readers maintain, and the unwillingness of webcartoonists to improve themselves.

Q: What tip would you offer someone launching their first web comic?

A: It's a lot easier if you have some connections! Build a reputation for yourself in a webcomics-centered community, and soon you'll have buddies to back you up whenever you should happen to need something.

Q: What merchandise item would you love to offer if the economics allow?

A: Plush toys or action figures would be pretty cool. I'd like to do a book, but it'd be tricky considering I make my comics as tall as the situation demands. If I do a book, it'll probably have to be all original. I intend to create an in-world music scene featuring a number of fictional bands, and it would be really cool to release a compilation album by them someday. I'd also like to sell "I'm going to kill you" scarves.

Q: I'm sure I could find someone on my holiday shopping list who would enjoy a scarf that is no ordinary scarf.

What's new in your life that has nothing to do with comics?

A: Just job-hunting. I got out of school for graphic design, and now I'm a bit lost, and don't really have any leads. Maybe I should blame the economy and feel better about myself.