Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Last week, I wrote about the way webcomics end—sometimes with a bang, sometimes with a whimper. Unlike print comics and graphic novels, which almost always have a predetermined structure and pace, webcomics often flicker and die before their time. The reasons for this point up some of the structural and creative differences between webcomics and other media, so I thought it would be interesting to discuss the phenomenon with some creators.
The Process is not officially dead, but Joe Infurnari stopped updating it in mid-2008, right around the time it was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. The Process is thoughtful, well executed, and embedded in a stunningly beautiful website. So what happened? I went straight to the source and asked Infurnari, who was good enough to speak frankly about the creative and economic pressures of the webcomics creator’s lifestyle.
Brigid Alverson: First of all, what is the status of The Process? Is the story fully worked out in your head, as a script, as thumbnails?
Joe Infurnari: I would have to admit that the Process is on permanent hiatus for the time being. The story was intentionally loosely structured so that I could give myself room to meander throughout whatever story possibilities came up. The next two chapters are loosely defined (their objectives are set but how we would reach them is not fixed) and not written or thumbnailed. When I was doing the Process, I was very new to comics and was not approaching their creation with anything but my own intuition.
Brigid: Will you finish it, online or in print, or has it served its purpose already?
Joe: The Process was set up to be a very large epic story that tried to encompass as much of my imagination/psychology as I could get. It was an exercise that I created for myself to keep me making art and exploring new art styles and storytelling techniques. As such, the Process has been a success and has actually never stopped for me. I’m working on Ultra-lad, a character that comes directly out of the Process, and wherever possible the ideas that I had for the Process are incorporated into other projects. If I were to wax mythic/poetic about this, I would say that the passing of the Process is like the death of Orpheus whose dismembered head and hands continue to play and sing music as they float down then Hebrus. I’ve scavenged different pieces of it for different projects and its ideas still resonate with me and my work to this day.
Brigid: Are there financial factors involved? I.e., is it competing with paid comics or non-comics work?
Joe: Certainly. This webcomics model of giving it away for free to sell it later as a book is a huge speculative gamble and most webcomics are not going to be able to cash in. So that means that I have to take paying work. My paying work is currently comics and that means long hours doing a very time intensive project that doesn’t always pay a lot. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for other projects. Something that I have to learn to do better is juggling more projects and proposals.
Brigid: Do you think the fact that it is a webcomic, rather than a print comic where you have to worry about issues, page counts, etc., affects your planning process? Is it easier to be open-ended with a webcomic than a print comic?
Joe: I think that’s probably true. It’s also tied into the fact that many of the webcomics that I do and my peers at Act-i-vate do are their most cherished ideas. Most people doing webcomics are taking their own pet projects and making them a reality. This is truly a labor of love and without the limitations linked to print that you already mentioned, it’s likely that creators will meander a little and explore their stories. All artists should be open to new ideas so that their work can evolve in the process of it’s creation. For webcomics, that can happen very naturally. The experience of creating a webcomic for professionals means squeezing in your web project into leftover time. Chances are you are not 20 pages ahead of your updating schedule so pages are often made very soon before going online. Even if you have a full script for the entire webcomic, I think this structure makes it difficult to be completely hermetic. The influence and inspiration that comes from comments, peer interactions and life in general is pretty much inevitable.
Because of this, I’ve often made the analogy that making a webcomic is sort of like making your roughcut of your movie. It’s a way to open up your project to your audience as you are creating it and let the entire process inform and transform your story. I purposefully kept the structure of the Process so open ended so as to allow this kind of evolution to take over and sweep me up in its flow.
Brigid: Even if you don’t come back to the Process, do you feel that it has had value for you, in terms of exposure, experience, and other intangibles?
Joe: Absolutely. I was able to attract readers, get industry recognition, join a prestigious online collective and get more professional work and exposure. I learned a ton of things, too. It’s impossible for me to see this experience as anything but positive.
Brigid: What other things are you working on at the moment, and how does the Process fit (or not fit) into the mix?
Joe: I’m currently working on a graphic novel project for First Second with author, Glenn Eichler (Stuffed!). I have Ultra-lad! still in development and numerous proposals for future projects. One project I’ve very excited about directly relates to the Process. In my webcomic, I wanted it to be very personal and incorporate aspects of my real life as a Type I diabetic. I’m currently developing a book project with an author to tell her story about raising her son from a very young age with Type I diabetes. This is a very powerful story and telling it is very near and dear to my heart. I post about current projects on my blog all the time so the curious should visit me online at www.joeinfurnari.com/blog.
Brigid: Do you think of webcomics as your primary medium, or would you prefer to work in print?
Joe: Both have their advantages and I would be happy to work in either medium as long as it fits the project.