“I link,therefore I am!”
This is the quote that introduces the world to webcomics from Charley Parker’s Argon Zark!. Since then, a slew of new strips have popped up each day. Most of the webcomics, to be truthful, are not that great. It’s rare that you find a talent like Trade Loeffler the creator of Zip and Li’l Bit in the Upside-Down Me. Every Thursday and Sunday we are treated to a new webepisode of his strip.
Sandbox- I would like to welcome you to the Sandbox.
Trade- Thank you very much. This is my first ever interview so it’s very exciting.
Sandbox- Unlike other webcomic cartoonists, you already have a rich background in the type of work you are offering for free on the Internet? What made you want to go directly to the net as opposed to shopping around the idea till somebody buys it?
Trade- The way I look at it, putting my comic out there for free on the internet is a form of shopping it around. It’s been a great way for me to begin getting my work known and to meet both people who are interested in comics and people working in comics professionally. Living in New York, I’ve met quite a few cartoonists and comics artists since I started the website: a few who contacted me directly because they’d read Zip and Li’l Bit, and then others who those people introduced me to. And then I’ve talked to a lot of people online from all over the world. You mentioned Charley Parker: I traded e-mails with him when my comic started and he wrote some very kind things about Zip and Li’l Bit on his Lines and Colors site. That was exciting to me.
Sandbox- I noticed that Ross Andru as an influence, he graced many great Spiderman stories in the 70′s and of course the unprecedented giant size Superman/ Spiderman team-up . Did you know he was a pioneer? He attempted to self publish his own comic book company in 1951, 1953, 1970 and finally 1990. He failed because it was too expensive to operate your own comic company. So he had no choice but to work for both DC and Marvel. Imagine for a second if the Internet was created back then, do you think he would find success?
Trade- I didn’t know that self-publishing stuff about Ross Andru. I don’t know what sort of success he would have found if the internet was around back then, but it would have been really interesting to see what sort of stories he would have drawn and told if able to work for himself. One of the exciting things about webcomics is that an artist (for good or bad) is not restricted to creating work to accommodate what the marketplace is perceived to be. With so many talented artists today and the accessibility of the web, who knows what new genres will spring up.
One of the great things about those old Spiderman comics for me was that it was my introduction to New York City. A lot of the stories and the artwork were very specific to different landmarks or neighborhoods in New York in the ’70s. After I moved back here, I dug out all those old Spideys and re-read them. This was about eight years ago. There was one story where Peter Parker had lost his apartment (blown up by the Green Goblin, I think) and had to rent an apartment in Chelsea for $100 bucks a month. It was hilarious. The housing market has definitely changed since those days.
Sandbox- When you worked at Scholastic did you see them embracing ideas like Jeff Smith’s Bone and the great fame it has brought him recently and to Scholastic at the same time.
Trade- While at Scholastic, I worked in their internet group and wasn’t involved with their Graffix imprint, which does all their comics. I did get to do a little work on Scholastic’s website for Bone though, so I got to go to their corporate release party for the first Bone book. Jeff Smith was there, of course, and he’d invited all his comic buddies. Frank Miller was there, and Mike Carlin, Kyle Baker, and a bunch of other people. Unfortunately for me, I am a complete wuss and was way too shy to go up and talk to any of these people who I’d always idolized.
It’s really exciting that Scholastic has gotten into the comic book business. They have built up an incredible distribution network because they’ve been working with schools and teachers for so many, many years. With their Book Fairs and all, they can get their books right into the classroom. I think they’ve helped open the door for comics to a whole new generation of readers.
Besides Bone, their other titles are great as well. The Babysitter’s Club is fabulous. And the first issue of Goosebumps blew me away. It was like reading the old Creepy and Eerie magazines from the ’70s. They’ve also got Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi, coming out which I expect will be awesome.
Sandbox- What is your routine when you create a weekly strip. How long does it take to produce and what muse drives the main idea of the strip.
Trade- Part of my routine to create this strip and get it going was that I quit my “real job” for awhile and devoted myself full-time to working on Zip and Li’l Bit. I’ve only recently re-entered the workforce. Financially, it hasn’t been the smartest decision I could have made, but artistically it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Being able to draw every day, I’ve made great strides in my inking, the characters in the story have evolved nicely, and my figure drawing has loosened up considerably. I actually had to re-draw a bunch of the original pages I had done because I felt the drawings had noticeably improved.
I do all the writing first. Before I left my job, I had the whole story of The Upside-Down Me written and, I guess you could say, storyboarded out. When I’m writing I try to capture what the characters are doing as much as what they’re saying. I try to keep the drawing driving as much of the action as the text does. From there it is just a matter of finding the time to do the grunt-work which, for me, is the drawing. I really enjoy it, but it’s very time consuming.
Right now I’m a few pages shy of having the whole story of The Upside-Down Me completely finished. I’ve got a second story about halfway written out now. My goal is to take about a six-month break once The Upside-Down Me finishes and then start up the second story. That may change, though, depending on what happens between now and then.
Sandbox- What is the origin of an upside-down me?
Trade- I hate to admit this but I don’t really have an origin for an upside-down me. I made a decision very early on when developing this strip to intentionally not get too involved in trying to explain a lot of the rather odd goings on at Zip and Li’l Bit’s house. It really freed me up creatively to just go with any idea I had and see where it led. For example, I could include things like Zip’s Octopus Arms for no reason other than that they were fun to draw, and not have to drag the reader through any sort of explanation of how something you would slide on your arms would suddenly animate and behave as a real octopus tentacle might. Also, I felt that the idea of asking the reader to just accept these things, instead of saying that they live in a magic house or something, added more of a sense of play to the strip and makes it more kid-like.
Hopefully, I’ve done a good enough job establishing the tone of the strip that after reading a couple of pages the reader doesn’t think of anything that’s going on as unnatural or out of context with the story.
Sandbox- How much does your son play as an inspiration to your strip?
Trade- He is an inspiration in the drawings. I’ve never sat down and drawn a picture of my son but there are certain poses which I’ll draw for the comic and then realize that I’ve drawn them in the same way my son might stand, and Zip’s skinny shoulders when he’s not wearing his pajamas definitely belong to my son.
From a writing standpoint, I don’t think he’s that much of an inspiration. He’s got his own personality and I think Zip and Li’l Bit have their own personalities. When I’m writing I’ve always followed what Zip or Bit would do in a situation and not thought about how my son would handle it.
Sandbox- Dennis the Menace and Peanuts are early childhood influences of yours, It is very hard to find comics that come close to those two strips till Bill Watterson came along and really updated many of the early work of the two strips. I really miss Calvin and Hobbes. There are too many strips that let kids speak on world issues with subtle humour. Do you to capture some of that magic with your strip?
Trade- I miss Calvin and Hobbes too. One of the things where I think a lot of writers miss the mark with kids is that they create characters that have way more experience than a child actually would, and wind up with characters that don’t have the same acceptance of things that a child might, or make the kind of mistakes a child would. Bill Watterson was able to capture that sense of innocence with Calvin.
You know who I really admire nowadays is the guys who write South Park. One example that comes to mind is a hilarious episode where an announcer at a Sea-World type park tricks the kids into thinking that his voice is that of a whale who has been kidnapped and needs to return to his home on the moon, and the kids just accept that this is true. I suspect people don’t often give Trey Parker and Matt Stone props for how well they portray children, but they do it very well. All the kids that live in my building love South Park, but of course that may be because of the bad language.
Sandbox- What advice can you give to somebody who wants to start his own webcomic and have a real job that pays the bills? Do you find it hard to give time to a strip that does not generate money.
Trade- I’m very lucky with Zip and Li’l Bit in that they’ve grown into something that while I really enjoy it, it’s also something I’m kind of driven to do. It’s hard work. The time for me to work on my comic now is after my son goes to sleep at night, so my working hours for the strip are from about 10 pm to 2 am. I think that that is pretty common for most creators, at least I notice a lot of comments from them on their sites mentioning posting stuff very late in the evening.
Sandbox- Many webcomics depend on Adsense or some kind of other type of revenue making scheme to attract both readers and a little cash to pay for hosting. Unlike numbered issues sold of books, what do you consider a fair number of hits for a webcomic site and to continue doing it. I do applaud your site, so not plastering it with all kinds of ads. It’s a friendly site and really focuses on the strip.
Trade- I have no idea what would be considered a good number of hits for a webcomic site. I’m afraid that if I compared my numbers with other sites, it would be depressing. If I were selling ad space and such, the number of hits would be a concern and I’d have to devote a lot more time to promoting it, but my goal is to showcase the comic so I’m comfortable with it the way it is now.
Sandbox- When you are finished your 62 page comic, do you plan to keep it on the web?
Trade- That is my plan right now, but that could change depending on what happens with the comic. My ultimate goal is to get The Upside-Down Me published in printed form and find a way to do a couple other books with these characters as well. For myself, I would love for the comic to exist in both printed and web form, but I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Sandbox- Any webcomics on the net do you feel are going to go the next level and go print form soon. Anthologies like Flight and other smaller companies are taking note of guys like you. Have you been approached by any of them? Do you feel most of them are looking for raunchier and weirder stories.
Trade- I’m not sure what webcomics will be going to print soon. My favorite comic on the net is Beaver and Steve by James Turner which I would love to see break through in print. I think we’ll definitely be seeing more and more artists with a big web presence who make the jump to the print world and become very successful. I think people like Kazu Kibuishi, Dean Trippe, and Hope Larson are already doing well and I expect that’s just the beginning.
I haven’t been approached by Flight or anyone else like that but Kazu very generously wrote some stuff about Zip and Li’l Bit on his Bolt City blog when my comic first started. I’ve gotten e-mails from a couple of the artists that have contributed to Flight. Obviously, that would be a huge feather in someone’s cap to contribute to the Flight books but they’ve got so many talented artists already.
Sandbox- I really like the premise of your story and I hope to learn more about the characters. Any surprises for them and do you have some kind of shocker for us at the end of the story. Keep up the good work, it’s my favorite site to visit each Thursday and Sunday at http://www.zipandbit.com/. Thank you for joining us in the Sandbox.
Trade- The ending of The Upside-Down Me isn’t really a shocker, but I am very happy with it. I hope that everyone reading it will enjoy it as well. Thanks so much for inviting me to the Sandbox.