A Conversation with Robin Dempsey

Hey folks… a few weeks ago, Dawn “interviewed” me – actually, it was more like a conversation between friends that we just converted to a text format. Well, now it’s my turn to return the favor and give you all a glimpse into the wonderful world (quite literally) of Robin Dempsey, the other newest member of the Webcomic Alliance.

Chris: So, Robin, you and I are the “rookies” – the newest members of the Webcomic Alliance. It’s been about a month since we’ve joined. What’s changed for you since becoming a Webcomic Alliance member? Have you had to move into a gated community because of the mass groupies and fans vying for your undivided attention now? How has Robin’s life changed?

Mostly it’s lit a fire under my butt to actually WRITE the articles I’ve been talking about writing for years. I’ve been stockpiling ideas in a folder for “stuff I’d like to share with the webcomics community” for a very long time. It’s great to finally have an outlet to share them!

I’m really excited to share more long-form-focused material on WA, since I feel that area’s been under-represented on the web for a really long time.

Chris: I hear what you’re saying. It’s one thing to discuss techniques and ideas in a podcast but it takes a different mindset to put those same thoughts and ideas into a written article.

Now, talking about sharing your ideas and thoughts, I have a 17 year old daughter who is a fantastic artist in her own right. Before I started Capes & Babes, we would go to comic book conventions a lot and I made it a point to point out to her all the female creators who were suddenly growing in numbers. I think this is especially true in terms of webcomics. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and perspective on what it’s like to be a female creator in a genre that used to be so dominated by males.

Ooooh boy you hit on a rant topic of me, but I shall (attempt to) keep my responses (mostly) brief. The thing is, I didn’t grow up wanting to be the next Charles Shultz or Marvel/DC big-wig. I wanted to be a bizarre amalgamation of Carla Speed McNeil and Scott Kurtz. So a lot of the “domination by males” I have not witnessed. Women are EVERYWHERE online — Faith Erin Hicks, Dylan Meconis, Kate Beaton, Meredith Gran, Kaja Foglio, Lora Innes — and many of my webcomic peers are either solo-female creators or part of teams, like Dawn Griffin, Kambrea Pratt, Savannah Houston-McIntyre, Liz Stanley, Jules Rivera, J. S. Rowe, Laurianne Uy…I’m going to stop before this just becomes one massive list of names, but I’m sure you see my point.

I hardly thought about the supposed dominance until the whole Red Hood debacle months and months ago, which really opened my eyes to how behind the times the Big Two are. It’s one thing to focus on a single market, but it’s appallingly bad business to do so by alienating every single other market. Particularly since that “other market” is over half the population and steadily becoming more & more financially independent. BUT that will get me ranting and we certainly don’t have time for THAT particular topic in a single interview…

Chris: LOL! Hey, everyone needs a good rant every now and then. But I agree with you 100% about the fact that the web does seem to attract so many fantastic female creators. I mean, in my day, you had SOME female creators being published but they were so few and far between. Two female creators that I discovered during that period were Wendi Peni and Coleen Doran – just to name two that immediately come to mind.

Now, you mentioned to all of us in the Alliance that you just finished attending your first convention as an artist. Did you see the convention floor being indicative of the web? Meaning were there just as many female creators at your event as there were male creators?

Frankly, I didn’t leave my booth long enough to give you a proper answer to that — I think I had about 5 minutes of free time the whole convention!! That’s what I get for giving away free sketches!! I was in the “Webcomics Wizard” section of the Artist Alley tables, so in that area it was probably a 40% women to 60% men mix. At no point did I get a “let me speak to the REAL artist” moment. Every person that came to my booth easily accepted a female creator. They were more interested in the fact that I was a local than they were about my gender.

Chris: Ahhh… I’m actually seeing about the same 60/40 ratio of male to female creators in most artist alleys these days. I think it goes back to what we were saying before about the web affording so much more opportunity not only to females but to independent creators on a whole.
So, let’s talk a little bit about your process. I know in the coming weeks, you’re planning on writing some Webcomic Alliance articles about World Building. As a long form creator (see, I told you it was coming), let’s talk a little bit about how you personally go about creating your own universe.

Do you maintain a journal? Do you have notebooks on your characters – kind of like a Marvel Handbook, if you will? I have a notebook filled with all of my original character designs for Capes & Babes and lots of notes about the Capes & Babes environment/universe but I think you’re talking about something much deeper than that, aren’t you?

A large portion of it is stored in my head, but I do have a massive art-book that’s bursting at the seams with sketches, descriptions, language fragments, and outlines. When I first started writing my story, I created character worksheets to have a quick and easy reference for motivations, history, and fears. I also created a topographical map that’s about 4 feet by 6 feet.

Add to that a searchable spreadsheet with my invented Pamaru-to-English dictionary (only 500 words right now, which seems like a lot, but isn’t even scratching the surface for a proper language). I’ve also consulted with meteorologists and volcanologists to make sure I have weather patterns and volcano/tectonic shifts that are at least plausible. That’s just the hard-copy stuff.

I have many, many data files for cultural components, such as the provincial crests, Blood Moth tattoos, Pamaru songs (you can hear one of them here: http://leylinescomic.com/Language/CorruptedLullaby.mp3 ) and reference of real-world inspirations.

People often think that world-building is a one-time event, but it’s not. If I had decided not to start storytelling until I had every detail set in stone, I would die before writing the first word of LeyLines, or every other story rattling about in my head. It’s a constant process with limitless iterations, which is one of the things I’ll be discussing in future WA articles.

Chris: Whoa. That’s a heck of a lot more research than I’ve ever done for Capes & Babes. My research pretty much is limited to watching old werewolf movies and going from there. LOL!

Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about your working method as a long-form creator (see, I told you I’d get to it!) I’m interested in hearing about your process. You talk a little bit about your writing, drawing and inking in the ABOUT section of your website but I was curious about something… since you write and draw everything, do you follow the Marvel way of creating your stories? For those that don’t know what that is, Stan Lee used to write basically story synopsis, hand it off to his artists who would layout and draw the pages. Then, Stan would go behind them and write the actual dialog for each page.

You’re a one-woman shop but I’m curious if you work in a similar fashion. Do you have your pages fully scripted before you start sketching, do you follow the Marvel way and script dialog after the art work or do you do a weird combination of both since you know where the story is going already?

It really depends on the needs of the story. I don’t use one single method. MOST of the time, I script out a scene in advance, lay down concept sketches in my “dummy book,” and then draw them. However, I’ve also had portions where I wrote out an entire chapter in advance rather than a scene and pieces where I didn’t write anything before I started working on the images. It all depends on the demands of a section.

Mizha’s dream sequence was written sketch-first. I wanted it to have a stream-of-(un)consciousness feel, to get that bizarre and flowing property of a dream. Chapter five, on the other hand, is constructed more as a mystery than a fantasy. I needed to know what clues would be revealed when, and how, and where the deductions would come in. I couldn’t do that in the confines of a 40-page chapter unless I knew how it was all going to fit in advance. Every method of writing has its advantages and disadvantages. I’m trying to expand the number of approaches that I can turn to. More tools in the toolkit is ALWAYS a good thing!

I really think Robin needs to re-title this her “SMART Book”.
It’s a great tool for all kinds of storytellers to use…

Chris: Robin, this has been a lot of fun but we’re going to wind this down with two last questions so these questions and answers don’t go on and on and on, okay? This one particular question might be the most “controversial” of all the my questions so far. I hope you’re ready.
In webcomics right now, there seems to always be two main debates:

1) Print versus web and
2) Long-form versus short-form strip form.

Personally, I think the first point is rather moot since so many webcomic creators end up putting their collections IN print after a while. So instead, I want to get your opinions on the second. What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of creating a long form strip versus a 2-5 panel humor strip? What are some of the specific challenges you face and what do you personally do to try and overcome some (or all) of those disadvantages in order to bring LeyLines to a larger audience on the web?

I believe that every type of comic, regardless of short or long-form, has an audience that will love it. The issue is that most long-form creators have not yet figured out how to connect with their audience yet. Or perhaps, we have not found the technology best suited for it yet. A comedy strip is easy to consume, share, and spread. It can go viral, without context, and the strip finds its eventual success by sheer numbers alone.

Short-form is the potato chip of the comic world – it’s easy to access, consume, and surely just ONE more won’t eat up too much of your time…until three hours later you look up and wonder where your day went. Long-form comics, on the other hand, are the five-course meal of our industry. Where you have to commit to sitting down for a long time, and you don’t know what’s on the menu, and you may have to wait for years before they wheel out the dessert cart and you can go home satisfied.

There is no “right” or “better” when it comes to short-vs-long-form comics. Just different. Long-form consumers are coming to the comic for an entirely different experience than they’d get at a gag-a-day strip. It’s up to the creators to figure out how to connect with their unique audience.

My greatest challenge is figuring out exactly what my audience wants. Not to change my story — that’ll remain the same regardless — but to figure out what kinds of additional information to share. For example, I love dreams and psychology, but for the longest time I assumed that I was the only one. Then a few readers started writing reviews and comments, and nearly every single one of them talked about how much they loved those elements. It really opened my eyes to the fact that people LIKED those things, and I started sharing more about how I write dreams, or what the symbols meant, or how it tied into the cultural and personal elements for the characters.

For my work, I try to make things personal. I like engaging with readers directly, whether that’s through comments, Twitter, email, or at conventions. I try to make things special for the people that support me, which is why I write little messages in every book I sell, or record Pamaru songs, or shout-out to readers that have gone out of their way to share my work with others. I’m not going to win this by playing a numbers game. I don’t expect to ever have millions of casual readers. But if I can work my way up to a few thousand friends, companions, and patrons, I may just be able to make this crazy dream work one day. 🙂

Chris: Okay Robin… so now on to the final question – which is really a two-in-one deal. The first part, you touched up a bit in one of your previous answers – and you may have gotten a similar question at your very first Convention you attended a while back – but I’m going to ask anyway. What would be your advice to those that might be reading this article and thinking about starting their own webcomic but not really sure how to go about doing it?

Start. Just start. Pick up pen and paper, right now, and start making a story or strip. It doesn’t have to be your master work. It doesn’t even have to be “the” story that you’ve always wanted to tell. What it WILL be, is a beginning, and you can’t have much of anything in life without beginning it. Don’t worry about skill. Worry about LEARNING, CHALLENGING, and DELIVERING. Skill will develop naturally if you do those things consistently.

If you want an in-between stage to test yourself, I’d recommend joining an Original Character Tournament (OCT) on DeviantArt. They have a set world for you to work with, so you can focus on character. They have deadlines, so you can learn to work within a schedule. They force you to work with the characters of other people, so you can experience new ways of telling a story. And, most importantly, you’ll have the chance to meet new people that might support your creative journey. The two assistant colorists I have, who help me with flatting, I met while competing in an OCT. Printing volume one as I did wouldn’t have been possible without them.

That’s part of why I run an OCT every year, because I want to give other people the chance to have the positive, creative experience I did when I was a competitor. We’re actually auditioning right now for our newest tournament. It’s called Project Hades.

When the ferryman goes missing, gods and mortals alike are trapped in the Greek Underworld. Will your character help find the missing ferryman, or join up with a more nefarious agenda? In Project Hades, no one gets in alive!

You can find out more about that project here: http://moko-oct.deviantart.com/

Chris: …And then the second part is… before we end this interview, where can people read your strip, buy your books or see you in person? After your first con experience, have you started planning for any new shows and if so, what might they be? If I left anything else out, feel free to add it here.

You can read LeyLines at http://LeyLinesComic.com

You can purchase the book, as well as buttons, posters, and bookmarks, online at http://MokoPress.storenvy.com

As for in-person, this year I’ll be attending Denver Comic Con, Comic Fest, Wasabi con, and possibly a few other local conventions. I’m trying to grow my convention appearances gradually, so I won’t be doing any out-of-state cons until 2014, starting with Emerald City!

And that’s a wrap, folks!


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