I suppose I came a bit late to the Drew Weing party. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t familiar with the cartoonist until a copy of Set to Sea landed on my doorstep, a few months back.
Like countless others, however, I was immediately charmed by the contents of the little square book—a nautical adventure, crafted in an ornate, heavily hatched style with cartoony figures heavily indebted to the likes of E.C. Segar. It’s simultaneously a swashbuckling adventure and the tale of a poet’s struggling for inspiration.
In many ways, the book is not so subtly about the creative process and the need for affirmation, and like other tales similar in that respect, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the eternal question of where the art ends at the artist begins.
Naturally, I jumped at the chance to interview Weing at SPX in Bethesda.
You were just on a kids comics panel.
Yeah. I mean, I’ve done comics for kids before. I did comics for Nickelodeon Magazine, like every other cartoonist. And I was also doing a series for Disney Adventures, right before it got canceled [laughs].
How long have you been working on Set to Sea for?
I started it January of 2005. I can actually date the first panel, because I posted it on the Internet right after I drew it. The title of the post was “Who Knows Where This One is Going?”
You were drawing it, panel by panel?
Yeah. The intention was to draw a panel every day and post it. It was supposed to be fun, quick side project, “it’s the end of the day. I just draw this one, quick, small panel.” And every day it got more and more detailed and complex. By panel two it was too complex to knock off in an hour or two.
Is there a noticeable difference between panel one and panel two?
The first panel is just a giant closeup on the guy’s face as he’s sleeping. Closeups are just faster to draw, because there are fewer lines. Panel two it pulls out and you see his whole body and the room. Panel three, another character shows up, and then he goes outside and there’s all of the architecture and cobblestones and crosshatching and all of that.
Are you just not capable of doing something simple?
I guess not.
It was supposed to be an exercise in simplicity?
Yeah. But I don’t really regret it, because what would have been the equivalent to a one-person jam comic or and exercise, it became a final thing that I’m really proud of, but I do have to figure out some way to speed myself up for my next project [laughs].
Did you really just get tripped up with the art, or did you become invested in the story?
Well, it didn’t actually take that entire five year stretch to do it. I took a year off while I was helping Eleanor [Davis, Weing’s wife] with her book, The Secret Science Alliance, which I was inking. That was a big, long ordeal for both of us [laughs].
Did it test the bonds between you?
I mean, it was hard, but not in a way that was—it was sort of back-to-back, face together.
Did it bring you closer together?
You were both doing it full-time?
For the majority of a year, yeah.
When you started the first panel of Set to Sea, it was an “end of day” project. Were you working a day job at that point?
I was still, I think, graphic designing. It was a work-at-home job where I would put together this coupon book. The kind you get for free at cash registers. Someone’s actually got to take all of the information and put together a book. It paid my rent.
Did it suck out your soul?
It was kind of—I was kind of whiny about it, but it was a pretty easy job that I did from home. I could have any schedule I wanted.
So you had plenty of time to cartoon.
Yeah. I’d get a call and would have to throw together a sample thing real fast, but then I could just go right back to cartooning.
You weren’t taking Set to Sea too seriously when you started—were you doing any serious cartooning at that point?
I’m not entire sure of the chronology. I was working on a bunch of different projects back then. I’m not sure—I think I definitely ended the daily journal comics that I was doing by that point. But I think I was still doing Pup, which is an online strip that I was doing for a while. And then I would do things for Nickelodeon and then I did the Disney comic for a while.
Had the thought that Set to Sea might be collected in a physical form occurred to you?
I guess not. No. I mean, well, you never know. I might have had some idea that it might be a nice minicomic or something.
Given the one panel per page format, it seems designed to be consumed on the Web. You don’t see too many thick books that are a single panel to a page.
Yeah. There are some examples. Jordan Crane’s The Clouds Above.
I always think of that as a kid’s book. The panel a page format is certainly logical given its content.
Yeah. I guess it is kind of like a picture book. I think it’s because I did some exercises for one of my SCAD classes. James Sturm would have me draw panel after panel.
It was a continuation of an academic exercise for you.
Yeah. It was definitely a variation on something he had had us do. Though I don’t think it was intended to be one panel per page. It was one panel at a time comic.
Did you ever envision sticking, say, four on a page?
Yeah, actually, for a while I would print them out as four on a sheet of paper. The size they’re at is a quarter-sheet or paper.
They’re drawn at the size they’re printed at?
Yeah, on Bristol. Four to a sheet of paper, like a mini-comic.
Is it difficult to maneuver on that size of paper?
It’s pretty easy. It was useful to work pretty small for me, because of the amount of detail I put in. If I made each panel a full comic size, I’d still put in the same amount of work. Literally, the amount of mileage your pen would go would be the same per square inch.
How long would the most detailed panel in the book—something like a cityscape—take?
Probably a day to pencil and then another two or three days to ink for the most detailed ones.
[Continued in Part Two.]