In this second part of our interview with the Set to Sea author, we discuss Web serializing, the importance of physical objects, and the art of [not] planning ahead.
I was thinking a bit about Kevin Cannon’s book Far Arden when I was reading Set to Sea. I think he took a similar approach to his storytelling, to just see where the book goes.
And obviously they both have the nautical adventure theme in common.
Yeah, for sure. And his was, like seven different 24 hour comics, which is crazy. They don’t look like any 24 hour comics I’ve done.
Do you think there’s something about the subject matter that lends itself to that sort of exploration?
I guess any kind of adventurish tale, if you’re writing a complex plot, you have to figure it out ahead of time, but if you can just have your guy roaming… I don’t think I’ve read the whole thing—I’ve only read about half of it, but I feel like he’s introducing elements and then having them payoff later.
There’s some of that in your book, as well. There are elements that are called back at the end.
Yeah, but it was only really a thing I was not planning at all for the first couple of panels. And then it was something where I had a rough idea of where it was going—which he probably did, too—and then, by the second half, it was more or less written out.
You’re posting Set to Sea online—are these new pages or are you serializing the old stuff?
I wanted to finish serializing it online. I had been posting and people were following it online. And I kept having these massive stalls and hiatuses, and then I’d get back into it. I didn’t know whether or not to start over from the beginning.
Why were there stalls if the work had already been created?
There would be hiatuses when I had literally not been able to work on it for months and months. I went on one of these massive hiatuses, and I said, ‘all right, it’s time to get back into this. It’s about halfway done. What I really need to do is figure out the rest of the story and then pencil it out—at least loosely.’ So I did that and finished it all.
And then I re-launched the strip on my Website from panel one. And then I posted it all the way to the end.
If the whole thing exists online already, why would you go back and re-post it?
I guess I figured that enough people had read it online and given me a lot of support. I wanted to finish it for people who had started reading it online.
And Fantagraphics was fine with that?
Yeah, they were surprisingly cool with it. And I feel like it didn’t hurt it at all. It’s such a weird time where so much stuff is available online, though I went out of my way to make the book a nice little object. And I feel like it does read better in book form, because it’s a format that you can more lovingly pore over the detail.
It’s one of those rare long form works that works well both as Webcomic and book. I think that has a lot to do with the single panel format. You’re not scrolling through a lot of pages to read it.
What’s funny to me is that you and other readers have more of a conception of it being a Webcomic, because that’s all you would have seen up until the book came out, whereas I was keeping the little papers it was drawn on.
It was always a physical object. [Pulls out an album full of original pages] I was keeping them in books like this. I was keeping them in these little portfolio cases. I would read them every day.
You would go back?
For reference and stuff. Not, “I’m so great, I have to read it every day.”
You’re not someone who can’t look at something you’ve created one it’s finished?
Um, well, I’m definitely not reading it for the sake of reading it. Just for reference. But for me it was a book already. It was never a Webcomic. And I went out of my way—if there was a new dialog patched over on top, I didn’t just do it over in Photoshop.
What are you looking at, in terms of referencing? The way characters look?
You don’t really have model sheets on your wall, Marvel Comics-style?
[Laughs] No. And also, toward the end, I was trying to do callbacks, like you were saying. I was trying to have the end mirror the beginning. I was trying to structure it to fold back into itself.
You didn’t go back and re-do anything?
I did. A lot, actually. That’s part of the reason that I wanted to re-launch it online. It had changed a lot from the first version. I had added some panels and taken others out. In the end, I feel like, even though I was making it up as I was going along, it has a tight little precision of unfolding in a certain way and then folding back up. In order to make that work, I had to trim out some bits that were too long and adding some more information in some parts.
There’s a pretty clear message in the book that, in order to make art, you have to experience life.
Yeah, but it’s interesting—that is the message you take away, but I haven’t actually sailed on a boat, and I’m writing this comic about a character that is. The take away is to “write what you know,” so I wrote about sailing and I haven’t ever sailed. I feel like I was trying to send myself some messages while I was writing.
The character in the book is thrust into this situation without choosing. And you can’t wait around. I’d have to thrust myself into some adventure.
[Concluded in Part Three.]