Interview: Neil Swaab Pt. 2 [of 3]

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In this second part our interview with the Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles author, we discuss the evolution of the titular teddy bear, the trials and tribulations of being a Webcartoonist, and how long we’ll have to wait for the t-shirts.

[Part One]

Has Mr. Wiggles grown as a character, over the years?

He’s definitely gotten more defined. In terms of personal human growth or teddy bear growth, he really hasn’t grown much. He hasn’t really learned his lessons. But definitely in terms of figuring out what he’s about—for the first year or two I was just flailing about, doing any comic that seemed funny, and not thinking about what was in the character’s nature. I sort of have this ball in the back of my head about what the character is.

You can chalk a lot up to the idea that he’s a character that will potentially do anything, so you can really toss a lot of stuff at him.

Yeah, but now I’ve really defined his ideology. I have a set of rules and laws—ways of thinking about the world that are purely his, so I know, when I come up to a situation what he would say about it. what I know about him is that he’s always going to be the devil’s advocate. He’s always going to advocate the opposite of whatever people think is right. He’s going to find a way to flip it on his side to make that acceptable and try to tell you that you’re wrong about what you think.

Is the television character at all different from the comic character?

No, he’s the same character, although he doesn’t do any child molestation jokes.

So it’s a little tamer.

Yeah, a little tamer. I’d like to see it air. I would like it to actually get made.

Is it difficult to develop a character when you’re essentially rebooting him, week to week?

Yeah. That’s part of the reason I’d like to explore a longer format. The character essentially becomes a caricature. You’re given four to five panels to explore this character ever week, and essentially boils down to the same things. You can’t have that arc. A traditional story structure is: you’ve got a character who’s got something wrong in their life, even if they can’t quantify what it is. They’ve got this problem, and they get something that sends them on a journey, and then they overcome their personal struggle that helped to create that problem to begin with. You can’t do that with a four-panel comic. You can do that over a series of time, but I just don’t think you can do that with a weekly comic strip. So I definitely want to explore that more.

Did you ever think that you were going to be doing a daily strip?

No.

That was never an option?

No, that was never an option. I don’t think that I’ve got what it takes. And I don’t like sitting around, drawing, for eight hours alone. I do so many different things in my career, that it works to do a weekly. I can focus on the other things I like doing, as well.

And if you’re going to be in a “real” newspaper, you can’t really have syringes sticking out of characters.

Right. And I’m glad I’m not, because daily papers are dead, anyway. Alt-weeklies are doing slightly better, but even that market is drying up. It seems like the guys that are doing well in Webcomics are doing, like three to four comics a week, at least.

And people don’t really have the patience to read syndicated books online, for the most part. The comics that really seem to be gaining traction are largely strips. Nick Gurewitch is a good example.

Yeah, of course. But he’s in, like, 50 papers. He did phenomenally.

It’s interesting that, at this point, you can be syndicated in a number of papers, but still be recognized as working primarily online.

Yeah, because he wins a lot of online comics awards. I think that’s more telling about online comics and where people are getting their comics from. Before print comics were in print and Web comics were online. Now print comics also have an online home, so people are getting their comics from all places.

And more and more we’re seeing books that are born online and then get collected in print.

Right. Exactly. and that’s the whole way the Webcomics model is working now. They’re not making money off the comic strips themselves. The money comes from the ad revenue that’s generated, and then it comes from book purchases. You have to make that physical product to make the money, which is a little different model, because you’ve got the print publications, who are traditionally footing that part of the bill. But everyone’s looking at these Web models now, trying to figure out how to get that—especially the print cartoonists. I was talking to Ted Rall now, and we were having this conversation, too, about this transition, trying to figure out if there’s a way to make it work for weekly comics.

Are you on the Web outside of the newspaper sites that run your strip?

I have my own Website, MrWigglesLovesYou.com, which is updated every week. I’ve been doing that for as long as the comic strip has been around, for ten years or so.

It’s primarily built around the strip?

Yeah, it’s all the strip. There’s not extra bonus material or other things. I do the Facebook stuff, but it’s not really the art.

If you had to point at something as being the center of the Mr. Wiggles universe, would it be the Website, the print strips, the books?

Well the content in the newspapers is the same that goes online.

But when people ask, you don’t tell them that you’re a Webcartoonist.

No, I don’t. I don’t make a living off of the Webcomics stuff, because I’m not in the business of merchandising—which I should be. If I was smarter about it…

Well, you get the TV show and then you start making the t-shirts and stuffed animals.

Yeah, yeah. I would love to, but the thing is, I don’t get the same joy out of making the t-shirts and stuffed animals. I just want to make my comic and books. For me, I still consider myself a print cartoonists. I’m still in enough papers that I can call myself that. But it’s a name that doesn’t mean anything.

[Concluded in Part Three]

–Brian Heater