An (Extremely Brief) Interview With Chris Onstad

Categories:  Interviews

My PCMag coworker Kyle Monson and I recently launched a new podcast for our day jobs called After Hours. Each week’s episode focuses on a different issue in the world of consumer electronics. Last week, in honor of Book Expo America 2009 coming to our fair city, we took a swing at the world of ebooks and the future of print publishing.

Among the guests on that week’s show were Paul Armstrong of the fantastic (and utterly terrifying) Twitter feed, TheMediaisDying; The Onion’s features editor, Joe Garden; and Achewood mastermind, Chris Onstad.

Onstad and I discussed print vs. Webcomics, wordy text bubbles, and why the author doesn’t really care about the Kindle. Check out the full text of the interview, after the jump. You can also check out the latest episode of PCMag After Hours here.

Your strip is part of an increasing trend of starting online and moving into print.

Yeah, I’m really happy to see that. It’s difficult to monetize yourself if you’re online only. And I think that it’s proof that people prefer to read these things in print form. I can do a lot more with a book than I can online.

That was ultimately your goal from the beginning?

No, it was never my goal. It just happened. I never plan anything ahead, really. It’s totally a mess.

Personally would you prefer to read a book rather than something online?

Yeah, absolutely. We came up reading. It might be different in 25 years, but for now a book is the most satisfying thing. I can take it to bed, I can take it to the lavatory, I can take it to the front porch. I’m not stuck at the screen and the mercy of someone else’s navigation system.

Do you feel like you wouldn’t have been afforded the same opportunities, had you started out in print?

I never would have started at all, if that was the only option. I only started this because I started out as a graphic designer working on computers and I could draw that way—I could upload that way. If I had to go through the process of working with an editor and changing content and regular print deadlines, this just never would have happened at all.

And the distribution methods don’t compare at all.

No, I can post a comic and then people don’t have go to a store to buy it. They get it one second later, around the world.

And you’re doing a lot of other stuff with the site—you started character blogs, as well.

Yeah. In 2004, I started 13 different blogs for the main characters of the strip. And it was so liberating, because I could write and I wasn’t restricted to panels with speech bubbles. Now I can be much more verbose. I always went crazy reading comics like This Modern World, which are 90-percent text. And I found myself starting to do that sort of thing, and I thought, ‘well, it’s just not pleasant to read that much inside a comic strip.’ So the blogs were just like the floodgates open. I could really flesh it out and see who these characters were. But of course that also opened it up to shooting myself in the foot, because I’ve got a thousand blog entries from these characters, and I contradict myself all of the time.

Do you get that pointed out to you a lot?

Rarely, because I spend so much time reading and re-reading the backstories for everyone. But I don’t think I make too many mistakes. And I’ve been doing this for seven years. I get the fundamental engines inside each character, so I don’t usually have them contradict themselves. But still, there are always people who want to pick it, pick it, pick it apart.

Is that kind of a nerd defense mechanism?

I’m flattered by it, but I’m also annoyed by it. if I’m going to have a strip go up and there’s something a character is doing or saying in it that’s not true to themselves, I freak out and go crazy. I absolutely hate to have character inconsistencies in the strip. But after seven years, I know what’s going to happen.

Have you looked into other platforms like the Kindle and the iPhone?

My publisher Dark Horse is trying to get my books readable on their iPhone application. And I get approached a couple of times a year by different companies that are interested in doing it. I’m not that excited about it, so I haven’t really bothered with it.

Because you don’t own one?

I don’t own one and I’m kind of ignorant about the way it all works. The technology isn’t what excites me about doing this. What excites me about doing this is making stories and jokes and things.

So you don’t see the day in the near future when people aren’t really going to be buying books? When it will be necessary to have a Kindle application

No, I don’t see that day coming, but maybe I’ll eat my words in ten years. We’ll see.

–Brian Heater

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2 Comments to “An (Extremely Brief) Interview With Chris Onstad”

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