Back in 2009, Ethan Young dove headfirst into the world of webcomics with his semi-autobiographical story, Tails. He’s been working on the story diligently and consistently since then, and has attracted some attention that’s warranting a handsome collected edition via the acclaimed Hermes Press. I was able to catch up with the artist, and am able to provide this exclusive interview.
MTV Geek: Let's dive right into the meat of things, Ethan. What's the big news in your own words?
Ethan Young: Thanks, Sean. In short, Tails is finding print life over at Hermes Press, home to many classic reprint collections (The Phantom, Dark Shadows) as well as original titles such as Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Hermes is committed to the first 2 volumes of Tails, which is really exciting for me.
Geek: Now, this actually strikes me as a pretty interesting and somewhat unusual announcement. It's not just a webcomic that's being picked up by a publisher for print, but it's actually a three-issue print comic that was collected as a graphic novel, re-worked as a webcomic and re-worked again as a series of graphic novels. Can you explain a bit about the road this story has taken?
EY: Well, the main purpose of the original mini-series was to get my feet wet. At the time, I was a headstrong 22 year old eagerly throwing my hat into the comic ring. Although I'm really proud of the original work, the art and execution felt somewhat crude and amateurish, hence its reincarnation as a more polished webcomic. Syndicating Tails online also enabled me to reach a wider audience while simultaneously rewarding fans of the original series. And now we'll be getting printed editions of the webcomic, helping the story reach an even wider audience still.
Geek: We should probably stop a moment to catch MTV Geek readers up to speed about the story in Tails, and not just of it. How would you describe the story?
EY: The misadventures of a vegan hippie with super powers. Tails originally started off as an autobiographical comedy, detailing my exploits as an animal rescuer / aspiring cartoonist. It has since evolved into a more surreal and fantastical fable (which is fairly NOT autobiographical). There are equal parts slice-of-life romance, comedy, drama, and epic fantasy. I wouldn't go as far to say 'there's something for everyone', but you definitely can't pigeon-hole this book.
Geek: If it's actually somewhat autobiographical in nature so, in theory, you're not likely to run out material any time soon, right?
EY: In theory, no. However, I'm not sure how much longer I'll be doing stories about my cartoon facsimile (which is something I say every year). After this upcoming story-arc I have planned, I may want to veer away from Ethan for a while and focus on ancillary characters, or different stories altogether. I always pictured Tails as an all-encompassing series, tackling numerous stories in addition to its central characters (like Sandman). But, we'll see.
Geek: You're in the midst of a story online right now, and you just mentioned that you've got another planned. And I seem to recall reading at one point that you were drawing at least a couple chapters ahead of what was showing up online. How far out are you working?
EY: Sorry, let me clarify a bit. Right now, the website is in the middle of Chapter 12. I've already completed an additional story-arc (Chapters 13 – 15), and I have one more big story-arc planned. I just have to keep myself organized and make sure there's enough time between the creation of the pages and the date it goes live.
Geek: The story has actually been re-worked a couple times already. I was talking last week how you'd made some minor adjustments to what was posted online, but you had changed that already from the original mini-series. And it seems you're making some more changes for the Hermes edition. What's getting changed around and why?
EY: The path from the indie comic to webcomic was more of a total reboot. The Hermes Press edition will be more of a 'Director's Cut', if you will. The main concern from publisher Daniel Herman was narrative structure, and he wanted to make sure that the story flowed smoothly in book form. With the adjustments we've made (a couple of new pages, reworked pages, minor rearrangements), I think the final outcome will enrich the overall story. It definitely won't be as jarring as the chasm between the original series and the webcomic.
Geek: Are those changes/updates going to be added to your site as well, or are they going to be unique to the Hermes edition?
EY: Most likely not. It would just be a hassle at this point to go back and update those pages, especially with the inherent problems in the Comicpress program, as I'm sure you know. And who knows, this might give readers more of an incentive to purchase the printed edition.
Geek: Any fear of George Lucas-ing your story to the point of turning off long-time fans?
EY: Ha, no. Although when you think about it, that would be the ultimate gesture of flattery. A fan who loved Tails so much that he or she actually decided to protest any revisions to the story.
Geek: How did Hermes Press become interested in Tails? Why did you choose to work with them rather than producing an independent or print-on-demand version?
EY: I went through all my options, and returning to independent publishing was very enticing, but ultimately too daunting at this stage in my life (getting married, house hunting, those kinda things). As for hooking up with Hermes Press, I have Chris Irving (GraphicNYC) to thank. I first met Chris in 2009 while promoting Tails (the webcomic). We kept in touch and I called Chris up earlier this year to inquire about promotional work, in case I decided to return to indie publishing. One thing led to another and he introduced me to his boss, Daniel Herman of Hermes Press. And Viola, here we are. The best thing about having a dedicated publisher is that I don't have to deal with the business side of comics. As an introvert, I was always terrible at stuff like promotion, networking, organizing with distributors, etc. It's nice to have others handle that.
Geek: That marketing end of things is certainly a different beast than the actual comics creation. And within that, different between print comics and webcomics. When you first started Tails as a webcomic, how did you approach that side of things? Did that change appreciably as you've been working on it?
EY: Well, since it was a webcomic, I didn't have to mail out hardcopies for reviews, which saved on postage. Other than contacting bloggers and such, I mainly relied on Project Wonderful to draw in readers. The only change over the past 2 years is my increased prudence when it comes to spending. I've also made more contacts with fellow webcomic creators, which has also helped.
Geek: Like you just said, Hermes Press will be handling that type of thing with the book. Will that have an impact on how you (or they) market the webcomic?
EY: I might have a stronger ad presence on the internet when the book is being released, but not much other than that. My goal is simply to draw as many readers and (potential) buyers as possible.
Geek: What about the future of the webcomic? Is it safe to presume you're going to continue releasing pages there?
Geek: Has the agreement with Hermes given you reason to re-think how Tails continues to develop? Either in terms of the overall story direction or the specific execution of individual pages. Going forward, are you going to be doing anything differently?
EY: Very little, if anything. I won't change my focus, but I'll keep the structure of the graphic novel format in the back of my mind. But all in all, the webcomic lends itself to book reading very well.
Geek: Tails won't be published until early 2012, but you've actually got some other print work hitting the stands between now and then. Tell us a bit about Comeback Kings.
EY: Comeback Kings is a 4 issue mini-series written by Gabe Guarante and Matt Sullivan, released through Ardden Entertainment. It's an action satire in the vain of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only instead of Victorian literary figures, you've got dead celebrities: Bruce Lee, Tupac, Elvis, and several other deceased icons. Issue 1 sold out in a week and a 2nd printing is in the works. Issue 2 should be coming out soon.
Geek: There are a number of differences between Tails and Comeback Kings, but I'd like to focus on the format. Comeback Kings was designed from the start as a print comic, but Tails -- at least the current iteration -- was more focused on for the web. How did that alter how you approached the work, if at all?
EY: Not much is really different because of the format, but the style is different because of the genre. For Comeback Kings, I employed a grittier look, and it's digitally inked to capture the looser quality of the pencils. If someone picked up Comeback Kings and looked at Tails, they wouldn't be able to tell it's from the same artist, at least not right away. You'd have to examine the work closely, like the way I draw hands, my storytelling, backgrounds, etc.
Geek: So the story itself influenced your artistic take on the book moreso than the medium. Was that something you discussed with Matt and Gabe extensively, or did you just say something like, "Hey, guys, I might do this a little differently than what you've seen in Tails"?
EY: Gabe and I had several phone conversations about the style and approach before we started. The writers' main concern was that the characters / icons were instantly recognizable. With that in mind, I lobbied to use digital inking in lieu of traditional inking, which could make the drawings look stiff (especially when you're dealing with portraits of real people). I showed them samples of traditional inks versus digital inks, and we came to a consensus.
Geek: I was going to ask what you've got planned next, but you just moved, you've been keeping Tails going online regularly, you've got Comeback Kings books rolling out through the rest of this year, you've got a somewhat re-worked print version of Tails coming out early next year, somewhere in there you're getting married, and it sounded to me like you've got some freelance work in there as well. So I think the bigger question is: how do you find time to feed all of your cats or, for that matter, yourself?
EY: Wait... cats need food? Ok, all joking aside, I'm just really lucky to have a supportive partner who cooks meals for me (even though she has a full time job herself). She cooks, I clean. Then the cats just lay around and mooch off of us.
Geek: Thanks very much for your time, Ethan, and congratulations again on getting Tails picked up by Hermes!