The webcomic creator is never far from their audience. Be it through social media, public email addresses, Discord servers, or simply the comments section beneath a page, there is a rapport and a conversation that is developed that is unique to the medium. We’re continuing those conversations here, albeit a little more formally, by interviewing webcomics creators to pick their brains about craft, storytelling, and their personal experiences with the medium.
This month, after an impromptu break last month for NYCC, we sat down and had a chat with Sophie Yanow, creator of the Eisner award winning and Harvey award nominated “The Contradictions”. Much like our interview with Petra, eagle-eyed readers of The Webcomics Weekly might recognize the comic from my, semi-frequent, check-ins. It’s a real gem but you’re here for Sophie so let’s get on with the interview!
Tell us about your experiences with webcomics prior to starting “The Contradictions.”
Sophie Yanow: I’ve read comics online since middle school (so probably around 1998). My favorite “classic” webcomics are probably “Cat and Girl” by Dorothy Gambrell and A Softer World by Emily Horne and Joey Comeau. More recently, I love Tillie Walden’s “On A Sunbeam.” It’s a great comic and Tillie is a friend; I take a lot of inspiration from her and the way she put “On A Sunbeam” online really affirmed ideas I had about putting The Contradictions online.
This isn’t your first comics project, having two previous graphic novels and short form works at The New Yorker and The Nib, among others, but it is your first webcomic. What about the webcomic serialization process attracted you for this particular project?
SY: This is the longest project I’ve ever drawn. Previously I posted comics on a blog and on tumblr, but they weren’t serializing anything, they were just single, self contained journal comics. Eventually I would collect them into zines and sell the zines. Then I made a couple projects that were only available in print, not online. But for this comic I wanted it to be able to find an audience outside of the indie/alt comics scene, and I think serializing comics online is one of the best ways to do that. So I decided that I would publish it online and then have someone collect it.
Do you find the rhythm of the weekly page by page release to be a help, a hindrance, or something else altogether to the shape of the story?
SY: When I was keeping up with it, I found it very helpful! I’ve had to pause things for the moment because I decided to pencil to the end before I get back to inking. I would like to serialize something in the future again where I don’t have a pre-written draft, where I’m just posting weekly and coming up with the story as I go. But we’ll see if that happens.
Do you work digitally, physically or a combination of both? What about your preferred format do you find works best for you?
SY: I do a combination. I pencil on slightly fancy acid free printer paper and then use a lightbox to ink on bristol, then I scan and fill in the big black spaces digitally and do some digital clean up. I’ve come to really like the imperfections that come with working traditionally and I leave a lot of the imperfection in.
What have you found to be the most challenging part of the creation process? Is it the idea generation, the scripting or is it a function of the art, or the lettering?
In writing a long piece I think the hardest thing is keeping track of everything that is being set up, and figuring out the ebbs and flows of tension in the story. I have to read and re-read the story to maintain an understanding of the rhythms. And then, a lot of my work comes from tackling and dissecting difficult feelings. Staying in that emotional headspace all the time is exhausting. But it’s also very rewarding. As far as the drawing goes, I’m not the best drafts-person in the world, but I find that if I put the work in I see improvements. The toughest thing in regards to drawing is making progress every single day. Shifting gears a lot – looking for reference images and then drawing and then editing some text. Task switching is hard for me. I’m forever trying to improve my workflow.
Your work on “The Contradictions” has garnered you an Eisner award and now a Harvey nomination, as well as a print run from Drawn & Quarterly once the book is finished. Does that add any pressure to your going forwards or do you feel it has allowed you to focus more on the work, knowing that people are digging what you’re doing?
SY: I think there is a little pressure, but I feel way less pressure in my life right now than I did even just a year and a half ago, when I was teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies program. There, it was like: do tons of preparation, show up, teach twenty adults for six hours, and pray that you are giving them what they need to succeed. That was pressure! I moved back to California from Vermont to be closer to my family, and the pressure is just absolutely different. I don’t want to let down D&Q, or fans of the work, but the thing that is most driving me to do a good job is myself. And I love that kind of pressure. I’m honestly excited to see what I can make; most days it’s fun. The book isn’t going to be perfect – I’ve never made anything this long before, I am still learning as I go, working in a tighter style than I have before. But when the work is done lovingly, even if it’s imperfect, I think the reader can tell. But yeah, hopefully I won’t mess up the ending!
All memoir is fictionalized to some degree but you make it a point to specify that fact with “The Contradictions.” Did you do that to distance you, the author, from you, the character? Or is it a function of the way you wanted to approach the themes of the work, such as the ways we grow and how we find ourselves when confronted with the new and the different?
SY: Yeah, The Contradictions is really fiction. I wanted to try a story that is less narrated, and to do that and try to maintain “the truth” would be really hard. I started out planning to just do a fictionalized version of my life, but as I began to take liberties, it snowballed. It really just became fiction. It’s fiction that originates in my life, but eventually I wanted to be able to smoosh people together and change scenes around and play with time as much as I wanted.
Has the process of fictionalizing this experience allowed you to approach that time in your life with new eyes?
SY:Definitely. I started drawing a version of this story ten years ago. So my perspective on myself and my friends at that time has shifted a ton over the years. I think I’m way more empathetic to my past self and to my friends from that time; I can see a little more clearly why we were each doing what we were doing. And that makes a different kind of story than the one I would have made ten years ago. It’s definitely less raw, but it might also paint a more honest picture with more empathetic characters.
For the comic, you decided to go with a bespoke website that, honestly, looks like very little else out there in the webcomics sphere. It’s sleek and somewhat minimalist, which reflects your art style and the whole site is a joy to read on. Why did you decide that this was integral to the reading experience?
SY: Thank you! I really appreciate that you ask about that. Well, I dislike the way most webcomics are posted online. Flipping pages makes sense for a book, but we all know that scrolling is the most fluid and natural way to read on the internet! I have enough of an understanding of WordPress and basic coding skills that I was able design and hack the website together myself. It took me a while (and a lot of posting code questions on forums) but I’m very happy with the results. Visually speaking, maybe my desire to have things this way comes from publishing books. I want the whole package to be a unified aesthetic experience, so for a webcomic that means the website better match the content. Folks with strong coding skills might look under the hood and cringe, but hey, I think it’s doing its job!
To close us out, what are three webcomics you would recommend for fans of “The Contradictions?”
SY: Leaving Richard’s Valley by Michael Deforge
Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster-Dimino
The Nib (not exactly a webcomic, but a free online comics publication with excellent content)