By Sean Kleefeld
Michael Mayne got his big break in comics last year when Red 5 began publishing his Bonnie Lass as their initial digital-first comic offering. It was successful enough that printed versions will begin hitting comic shops later this month. In August, he took over the art chores on the webcomic Possessed! from Eryck Webb. We recently caught up with Mayne to talk about his new(ish) gig and how creating webcomics compares to creating digital comics.
MTV Geek: Let's start with your current gig and we'll circle around backwards from there. You recently picked up the art duties on Possessed! taking over from one of the strip's originators, Eryck Webb. How about kicking things off with just an overview of the comic in your words?
Michael Mayne: "Possessed" is a modern-day, supernatural thriller, with dashes of dramedy here and there. A group of friends gets swept into this web of supernatural conspiracy when a spirit shows up at their apartment. Right around the same time, some mysterious deaths start peppering the news and other forces are brought into the mix as the friends try to keep themselves together.
Geek: You're still working with the other original creator, writer Bryan Burke. How did you come to start working on the comic?
MM: To my surprise, Bryan emailed me out of nowhere and was very interested in picking me up to continue where the previous artist left off. He was very eager to get me started right away, and after working out an agreement, his enthusiasm propelled me through the first several pages very effortlessly. Bryan's been very professional, amiable, and coherent in our communications over the last month or so, so deciding to work with him was pretty easy to do.
Geek: Well, it would certainly seem that your reputation preceded you! Did he mention what prompted him to contact you?
MM: Haha! So it would seem! I honestly don't know for sure what got me on his radar. Right around that time I had posted on deviantART and a couple other places that I was free to take on some new work, so as far as I know the timing just worked out right.
Geek: It's an ongoing strip with something of a history by the time you joined. While you've certainly got your own style, how much are you working with/back to Webb's style? Obviously, you don't want to change the character designs too radically, but where do you draw the line (if you'll excuse the pun) on what to keep and what to discard? What were the discussions like, if there were any, with Burke to that end?
MM: That was my first concern—trying not to totally leave behind the already established look of the comic yet still bringing something of my own to the table. Bryan was adamant from the get-go that I pursue the project with an open mind and not be afraid to employ creative freedom.
I've been allowed to slightly alter character designs to fit with my style standards, but I've enjoyed these characters so much already that I'm trying to adapt my style more to the characters. Eryck Webb's art for the comic was already similarly cartoony like mine, so I don't feel like there's been much of a strain in getting the styles to match.
In fact, going back through the last few weeks' strips, I've second-guessed myself as to which strip was Webb's last/my first. Even in the few updates since then, I think I've slowly imbued a little bit more of my flare into the overall look to where there's a noticeable difference. But if that gradual transition helps readers segue better to my take on the art, then I'm all for that!
Geek: What's your reception been like as "the new guy"? I did see a "the new artist is amazing" comment, but has everyone been that enthusiastic?
MM: This answer may seem a little boring, but I'm rather in the dark in regards to the reader feedback. I've actually been talking with Bryan in the last few days about ways we can not only broaden the readership, but also open up more inroads for the readers to let us know what they think and share with others. Hopefully we'll be making the "Possessed" experience a little more interactive in the near future!
Geek: Given that some of the "standard" webcomic interactions are already available for the strip (comments, Twitter, etc.) I'm intrigued to see what else you might be doing here. Can you say anything more about this yet?
MM: We're entertaining the idea of having portals on Facebook and Twitter dedicated to the comic—little destinations where the fan community can more casually discuss the comic without feeling like it's too detached from the casualness of their other social interactions online. Because it shouldn't be! We want to be able to facilitate fan interaction across a number of social networks, to get the fans talking with each other, not just us!
For instance, with Bonnie Lass I've got a Facebook page set up where fans can see and comment on incidental artwork (including fan art!) and catch snippets of news pertaining to the property as a whole. During production of the mini-series, I was even posting work-in-progress and concept art. And through there and my own Twitter account I've even had little giveaways now and then. That's the kind of stuff (and more!) I'm hoping Bryan and I can offer with Possessed on the various social networks. Most importantly, I'd like for the fans (of both Bonnie Lass and Possessed) to inform and shape their fan experiences on these outlets themselves—the more they want to interact the better! We'll be able to provide more worthwhile, fan-directed content when the fans bring their own expectations to the forefront.
Geek: What's the creation process like for you on Possessed? How does a day's comic get put together?
MM: I actually requested that Bryan send me at least a week's worth of scripts at a time. I like to be able to sketch out a few strips at a time, to get a better sense of continuity between them (if necessary)—if nothing else, being able to sit down and work on the same project for longer stretches of time helps keep me in the zone!
After sketching a batch of strips in Manga Studio, I send them to Bryan for approval, then go ahead and work them to completion (utilizing some of that creative freedom he's allowed me)—digitally inking from the roughs, coloring, and then laying in the dialog balloons. So far Bryan's been very pleased with my visions of the story so we're off to a great start! Bryan usually makes a few tweaks to the dialog after I send him the files, but I use his scripts at least for dummy dialog so I know how to place the balloons. It's a pretty expedient, concise process per strip, which I definitely like!
Geek: How does your development experience on Possessed compare with Bonnie Lass, which was solely your own work?
MM: Well, as I said, working on a couple or three strips at a time and getting them all done usually in just as many sittings makes for a nice, easily-manageable workflow. When I was working on Bonnie Lass, I would often pencil seven to ten pages at a time before committing any of them to inks. In general, pages on Bonnie Lass stayed in limbo much longer than individual strips on Possessed. Transitioning from phases to phase on the full pages usually feels a bit more daunting and tasking.
But Bryan's scripting style is quite similar to mine, but more polished (which I can really appreciate!)—simple, uncrowded panel descriptions, concise dialog. Bryans' scripts come to me ready to go, whereas when I was scripting for myself on Bonnie Lass, I would leave certain pages very scant on detail and just leave the pacing and sequencing for the roughs/sketching phase. I think that dragged production along, and I'll definitely be avoiding that kind of workflow in my own future endeavors!
Geek: Speaking of Bonnie Lass, that was produced first as a digital comic. What are the most note-worthy differences you've experienced so far in developing a digital comic versus a webcomic?
MM: When I was producing the interior art for Bonnie Lass I really wasn't concerned with adhering to specific digital comics presentation standards. It was always on the back of my mind, and never just ignored how it would potentially look panel-by-panel, scaled to a monitor or phone screen. There's actually a little bit of art evolution throughout The Legend arc of Bonnie Lass—as I gave more credence to the notion of it being presented digitally, I opted to keep the panels a little more conventional so they could be effortlessly displayed on rectangular screens. But that was about it as far as specifically tailoring the art for digital presentation.
When making strips for Possessed, I do feel more relaxed and allowed to let the action breath in the space it's given. I'm really liking the almost purely horizontal flow of action across a webcomic strip. In trying to keep the strip layouts uniform across every update, I'm actually feeling like the sequencing benefits from the no-nonsense, linear flow. There's no question which panel comes next, so I can concentrate more on the content of each panel, instead of how the reader might or might not follow them.
Two very different approaches to comicking, each with their own quirks. And in the end I can't really complain about either! I enjoy the variety they both offer.
Geek: How much of that formatting comes from Burke's scripts? He's obviously conscious of the more horizontal format and pacing for a strip, but that that could theoretically still be open to artistic interpretation. In fact, the strip that ran on September 1 does break away (slightly) from the strict horizontal format. How much of that is you versus Burke?
MM: Bryan pretty much leaves the layout/composition of the panels up to me, which is a huge plus! His scripts aren't picky at all about panel description, but that said I do feel like Bryan writes for "the potential" of the scene. He knows how much space the sequence can/will take up, and the varying brevity of his panel descriptions tell me that he has an intuitive sense of visual storytelling and pacing, even if he's not the one putting the final images down. That's what I think makes his scripts so easy to work from! I can pretty much tell when Bryan has in mind to present something in a small, quick and simple panel, or when he wants something truly dynamic and eye-catching.
And as far as the September 1 strip goes, expect more of that. Lots more. In fact, that "double-height" format is pretty much going to be the norm from here on out, unless we feel a need to downplay the weight of a particular sequence every now and then. The visual flow should stay pretty linear and non-confusing, as at the most we'll only be presenting things in two rows. I'll just be utilizing more space to draw so I don't feel too cramped by the monotony of fairly uniform, square panels.
Geek: So what work do you have lined up at the moment? More Possessed, obviously, and I believe Bonnie Lass is getting the print treatment?
MM: Possessed is definitely on the plate for the next foreseeable while. I'm also working on a project called Mac & Trouble with Rusty Gilligan. I finished up my end of the work (pencils, inks) on another independent title called Massively Effective a few months ago—the creators/writers on that one have a Facebook page for their collective projects under the banner of Atomic Rex Entertainment. That one should start making a splash in the near future!
Bonnie Lass: The Legend is hitting comic shops on September 21! All four issues should be out by mid-December (which I think is a nice way of coming full circle, seeing as how it began its premiere digital run in December of last year). Red 5 has been awesome with the handling of the series, and I can't wait to see it in print myself! Seeing as how I got unexpectedly (but pleasantly) busy with Possessed recently, I've had to put the future of Bonnie Lass on hiatus again. But the instant I start making some workable progress on a volume two, you can bet I'll be posting about it on the Facebook page and Blog!
Geek: Thanks very much! I appreciate your time.
Kleefeld on Webcomics #28: The Feedback Loop
Kleefeld on Webcomics #27: Where To Begin
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