In this third and final part of our interview with the Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles artist, we discuss Superjail, writing Hollywood screenplays, and why Neil Swaab is in hot water with the world’s Webcartoonists.
Is there still prestige in being a print cartoonist?
I think so. Because I think a lot of Wecbartoonists grew up reading newspapers. I had a little dust up about six months ago. I said something silly about Webcartoonists. It was just a stupid little thing. I did an essay about how print was dying and about how it was effecting print cartoons. I talked a bit about the business model of Webcartoonists and why I didn’t like certain things about it. I don’t think I was very tactful about it. And also, a little ignorant about a couple of things.
You weren’t attacking anybody’s work?
No, no, no.
It was the model.
It was the model and where the money’s coming from. I just didn’t set about it in a good way. But what was great was that a lot of Webcartoonists e-mailed me. A lot of big ones—the guys with the highest traffic right now. We really had a good discussion, where they helped me out and really set me on some paths to help me make some things better. It really ended up being really great, which says a lot about them.
Part of what came out of that, is that these are people who grew up with newspaper comics. They got rejected by newspapers, and that’s why they started putting stuff online. They looked up to print cartoonists, and when I said the stupid thing—which I apologized for, of course—they offended a lot of people, because here’s somebody that they look up to, saying, ‘I don’t really like what you guys are doing.’ So I think there really is that kind of prestige that comes from print.
I really think it’s great—I love books, I hope they never go away. In my other life, I’m an art director for children’s books and young adult novels. But I think if Webcomics are going to prosper and grow, and become a viable medium for more than a dozen people, they need to find a way to monetize without product and without the reliance on print.
At the Brooklyn Book Fair, Dean Haspiel was talking about Act-I-Vate, saying that all of the artists were successful because of the book deals they got out of the collective. To me, all of the examples of success were tied to publishing. But to really grow and prosper, we have to get beyond that. The Web has to be the final product.
But even when you look at some of the people who do successful comics—that itself isn’t the ultimate goal. They want to do a TV show or write a book. There’s always some other medium people are striving toward, which, in a sense, is the same with what you’re doing. You’re hoping to do a cartoon.
Which is true, but then, I don’t think I’m a successful cartoonist. I’m a successful TV person. It’s the same thing with comedians. A lot of comedians get into standup because they want to end up in TV, or they want to write for TV. But there are comedians out there who don’t want that. Their love is going out on tour. Look at Jerry Seinfeld. He did the TV thing and he didn’t want to return. He went back to doing standup. I know he’s working on some TV now, but I think that’s why he stayed away for so long. His goal was to be a successful standup comic. To me, there are a lot of successful cartoonists who just want to make comics. I think it’s all great for everyone who wants to do whatever. In the end, I think everyone’s just trying to figure out how to make a living—not just the Web cartoonists. 95-percent of the artists in independent comics are not making a living at it. Ninety-five-percent of the books published in trade market don’t make money, which is why publishing is hurting.
So why is a cartoon one of your ultimate goals?
It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. My goals are very diverse. I’m writing screenplays now, which aren’t related to the comics. I’m trying to get those made. I would love to do one—if for no other reason than I would like to do one.
And you feel like you’ve got the chops?
I hope so [laughs]. I definitely think so. I’m learning a lot and taking a lot of classes. I always just find a project that I find exciting, and I just try working on it. that’s how I’ve always found work.
When you’re working on a project like Superjail, with other people’s characters, do you find it as rewarding as working on your own stuff?
No. I don’t think anything’s as rewarding as doing your own stuff. But I’ve worked with some of the most amazing people on Superjail. One of my friends there, this was his ideal job. If I could draw like this guy, and do the comics I could do, I’d probably be immensely successful.
What’s his name?
His name is Hal Lee. He’s amazing.
Is he a principle artist?
No, he’s my level. He’s another character artist on there. He’s since been working on other things for other studios. And for Hal what’s great is, he didn’t have those big ideas—he just wanted to come in and draw every day. He didn’t have to think about the stories. He just came in a drew awesome stuff every day. I’m not like that. I have something inside me that I want to communicate.