An Interview with Willie Hewes

(Mole note: all relevant website links are at the end of this column – enjoy!)

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Comic Mole:  At the moment you don’t have a particular webcomic in production, however many of your comics can still be read for free online and you are the creator and editor of the webcomic anthology site ‘Webcomic Shorts’ – so having had quite a bit of experience with the medium, what role do you feel that webcomics have within the genre of sequential art?

Willie Hewes:  I think webcomics have been (and are) really great in getting a diverse group of people into drawing their own comics, including me.  It’s made it so much easier to get your stuff out there, and get people reading it, and get feedback, and get communities of comic creators to feed you enthusiasm and share ideas.  Costs for publishing a webcomic start at 0, and I think that’s very important for new creators.

Running a comic on the web can also be a useful indicator of whether a concept is going to work or not.  Drawing a graphic novel takes a long time, and we can’t all afford to take a year out of our normal schedules to work on something that may or may not find an audience.  The web allows you to test that, more or less.

CM:  An interesting thing about your work is that some comics are available online and others are only available in print.  You have also recently set up the new small press publisher, ITCH, which has preview pages for comics on the site with the entire comic available to buy in print.  How do you decide which comics to put online and which to keep as print-only editions?

WH:  For the most part I put the comics on the web that aren’t available in print.  ITCH is about printed books, and I do think it’s harder to sell books if the content is also online, although I’m aware there are compelling arguments to the contrary.

That said, for the collected Amaranth, which will be out as a graphic novel later this year, I plan to run the entire story as a regular webcomic, as well. I want the book to come out first, so I can sell the book alongside as the story unfolds on the web. The web is a great way to reach a wider audience, and getting stuff out there is what it’s all about, so I want to try that combination to see how it goes.

CM:  How did you get into creating comics in the first place, and when did you first put them online?

WH:  I started drawing comics in my uni gap-year where I wasn’t doing anything except role-playing and lounging around with friends (those were the days). I was reading webstrips like Sinfest and Ozzy and Millie, and thought it would be fun to do something like that.

I started putting GothBoy online early in 2002, on what was then Keenspace. Keenspace was a massive collection of webcomics ranging from cool to what-is-wrong-with-you in quality, so I felt the standard wasn’t too high for me to get involved, even though I couldn’t draw very well.  I’m still learning to draw now. Once I get good enough I’ll throw a big party.  Ha!

CM:  Your work shows that you have a sampled a range of different drawing media – what are some of your favourite materials or techniques for creating comics?

WH: When I started, I worked with charcoal, because that was what I had (no really, that’s the reason).  I stuck with it for a long time because it gave my work a unique look, and I enjoyed working with it.  I gave up on the charcoal a while ago now, because of the mess it creates, and also because my tastes have changed.

I like clean-looking work now, with sharp lines that are in just the right place, so I’m trying to draw like that more. Charcoal really doesn’t work like that though, so it had to go.  More recently I’ve worked with manga tones from Manga Studio.  They’re cool, but also a bit limited. Either I need a lot more tones, or I need to come up with something new again.

In the same time, I’ve also gone from using brush and ink, to using a brush pen, to using marker pens, sacrificing artistic bragging points for speed.  I always feel like I’m not getting enough done fast enough. But then I produced GothBoy: Something Big in a very short time, and in the end I wasn’t too happy with how it turned out visually.  So there’s a tension between spending ages and ages, and turning out sloppy work.  I’m still not happy where I am, so I’ll keep trying different ways of working and different media.

CM: As well as drawing your own, you often collaborate with other creators as a comic writer –  who, or what, would you say are some of your biggest inspirations and influences for both drawing and writing comics?

WH:  When it comes to writing, I write about stuff that moves me.  My life is the biggest inspiration. I recently found myself proclaiming I don’t do fantasy, but then I realised that all my comics have fairies and vampires and angels and crazy stuff in them.  So actually, fantasy is all I ever do!

It’s not escapism fantasy though; it’s about situations and feelings that exist in the real world.  It’s all just a big metaphor, like Ivy says in Amaranth.

There’s a distinctly gay streak in my work as well, I guess, and it’s not just yaoi fangirlism.  Many of the people close to me are gay or bi, and I waste a lot of time on the gay blogs and watching gay films and what have you.  There’s something about the coming out thing that really fascinates me, all the working out who you really are, and the conflict with yourself and the angst and the drama… there’s just so much material.

Or maybe I feel left out, because I didn’t have a difficult coming out at all.  It went like this:

Me: Actually, it’s a girl. I think I’m bi.
My mum: Oh, OK.

Just like that. 🙂 Homophobia and ignorance make me really angry, and I like to write stories that have gay characters just as a normal thing.  It’s like saying “Look! Gay people! Deal with it!”

Also, I enjoy drawing hot guys getting it on.  For the obvious reasons.

CM: You created and now edit the anthology website ‘Webcomic Shorts’ – could you tell us a little about it and why you chose to create it?

WH:  Webcomic Shorts is a handy collection of short comics on the web.  I like short comics, and I think it’s a shame they’re not very popular on the web, it seems.  Most webcomics are ongoing and have an endless quality to them, like they’ll always be there, moving but never getting to their destination.  I like things that have an ending.  I enjoy closure, whether the ending is happy or sad.

Part of the reason short comics are not very popular on the web is that all popular webcomics update regularly, they have to to get the traffic, because that’s just how the internet works. Short comics can only update a set number of times, and then they’re done, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to be forgotten. So I thought it would be a good idea to string a lot of short comics together in the same place, so you get regular updates AND complete stories. That’s the idea.

Webcomic Shorts is on an updating hiatus currently, because I’ve been very busy setting up ITCH and finishing off my own comics. It can start up again as soon as I have more comics to put up though, so if any readers are sitting on a short comic they should get in touch. It doesn’t matter if it’s been published already; Webcomic Shorts is like an archive of short comics worth reading, wherever they’re from.

CM:  What advice would you give to someone who wants to start making their own webcomics?

WH: Start with a short comic! And get it hosted on Webcomic Shorts! Ha ha!

I do think it’s important for first time creators to start with a project that has an end. And not an end after three volumes and 56 chapters, but after, maybe, 1 chapter. 3-4 scenes, 2-3 characters, THE END.

Drawing comics is fun but it’s a lot of work. There seems to be no shortage of young, ambitious creators starting or trying to start on a full-scale digital graphic novel, with little appreciation for just how much time and effort that’s going to take, or how much they’re going to change while they’re working on it (even you will grow up). There are so many webcomics that are drifting, on hiatus, or abandoned because it was just too much for the artist to keep going, and I think that’s sad.

I think that if some of those people had paced themselves a little, started with smaller projects, had those smaller successes to build on, maybe they’d still be making comics now. It would also save people from having to put the “I’m sorry the early art is so awful =_=;;;” message on top of their archives. If you’ve never drawn a comic before, you’re going to learn a lot over the first few pages. Don’t make those mistakes in the early parts of your magnum opus, that’s just dumb.

Oh, and to writers looking for artists: chances are learning to draw will be quicker than finding that special person. You CAN learn to draw, you can do it in a couple of years if you’re really trying, especially if you’re young. Just my opinion.

CM:  Do you read any webcomics yourself?  And if so, what do you like most about them?  Are there any webcomics you would recommend others try?

WH:  I’m really behind on my webcomics reading, actually. I have a big folder in my favourites of webcomics I should be reading, that I don’t get around to. The only ones I regularly read and Questionable Content, although it annoys me, and Planet Karen, although that’s been updating sporadically recently. I also love Templar Arizona, Gunnerkrigg Court, Teaching Baby Paranoia, Darken, Rainbow Carousel, and others. Much of the list is a bit predictable, sorry. ^_^

What I like about webcomics is their great variety and immediate accessibility. There’s a lot of really great stuff you can find just by surfing around. What I hate most about them is when you catch up with the current page and there’s no more, and it’s the middle of the story arc. It’s like when the DVD schizes out in the middle of a film you’ve never seen before, and you can’t watch the rest. Graaargh!

CM:  What are your plans for the future, comics-wise?

WH:  Draw MOAR!

I don’t really have any long term plans, I’m drawing a short comic for a contest and one for the Ahead anthology. I want to do another GothBoy mini, because it’s easy, laid back work. And then… who knows? I’d like to collaborate more with other artists, work on my drawing style, keep busy.

I’m also working with other people to publish their comics, which I won’t say anything about yet but you’ll hear the news on the ITCH website first. And I’m working with Karen Rubins (artist for Dark) and John Aggs (artist for Philip Pullman’s John Blake) to pull an anthology together that has a manga style aesthetic, but is aimed at a mature audience. A lot of manga fans are growing out of kiddie manga and finding there’s not that much to move on to. We’d like to offer those folks a “global manga” book they can enjoy.

It will be called Ahead, and is set to be released at the start of the next year. We’re taking submissions now, so get in touch if you’re interested.

CM: What is your favourite dessert?

WH:  Dessert?  Um, I like cheese. Cheeziz R my savioR.

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Useful links:

Willie’s webcomic page

Webcomic Shorts

ITCH Publishing

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