Creator’s Corner: Interviewing Jason Gurley ←
If you haven’t noticed yet, WE LOVE WEB COMICS! Not just the comics though, but the creators who share their work with us. This week we sat down with the creator of the web comic Eleanor, Jason Gurley, to get a glimpse behind the curtain.
I’m a husband and father-to-be first. After that, I’m a creative director, and then, finally, a comics creator. I’m a displaced Alaskan living in California. I’m a movie fanatic and I can relate almost any situation to Sports Night or Contact. Contact and Carl Sagan actually feed very heavily into what I do. My character’s actually named for the protagonist of Contact.
I’ve always thought I was a pretty decent third baseman, but in my thirties I’ve discovered an ability to stretch that makes me much more effective at first. When I’m not falling down.
What lead to the creation of your web comic, Eleanor?
I wrote and illustrated my first graphic novel at the age of six. Of course, it starred the Hardy Boys and a ghost. I wasn’t formally trained in the arts. I’m a three-time college dropout who sort of fell into a design career, and discovered that I was not so bad at it.
More importantly, however, I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first novel at eighteen. That was the easy one. It took three months. I wrote my second at nineteen, and that one took about six. I wrote my third at twenty-one, and that book took me a year.
Eleanor is my fourth novel, and I’ve been writing it since 2001. Ten years, and still not finished! And to top that: after ten years of writing it… I decided to start over, and make it a comic.
I’m the son of a Pentecostal minister. I was raised to believe in god. I attended a Bible college… for all of one semester. And the older I got, the more I began investigating everything I’d been raised to believe. In my mid-twenties, I walked away from my faith and my church, and began to explore.
Eleanor was initially my vehicle for that exploration.
When writing Eleanor do you write from real life experiences?
Ah, that’s a very good question as well. The answer, of course, is yes and no. No, in that I’ve never leaped off of a cliff and broken almost every bone in my body. But yes, in the sense that I’ve searched deeply for any aspect of ‘god’ that I could find… and have always felt that any true answer was untouchable, just as the very question is unanswerable.
Also yes in the sense that I’ve learned how to knit, which readers are seeing Eleanor do in the final pages of the prologue right now. But unlike Eleanor, I’m not very good at it.
Eleanor‘s dislocation is really about that search for truth: pawing around in a dark void, sometimes hopelessly, sometimes finding brilliance, looking for anything to hold onto. Her conversation fills that void for her.
When I write — especially when I write those scenes — I do so in the dark. Occasionally with some mood music, but mostly just me and the screen, trying to put myself into that space of sensory deprivation. It’s not easy. Instead what I find myself remembering are all of those times in church as a boy, hiding my face in my arms while everyone else around me prayed, trying to find god somewhere in the dark space created there. Listening to my breath, in and out. Listening to the muffled sounds around me. Usually I would fall asleep, but in that time before I did, even as a child I wondered: if god was there, then why wasn’t he talking to me? Clearly he was talking to everyone else.
It didn’t occur to me until many years later to wonder if perhaps it wasn’t me. Perhaps it was god. Perhaps he wasn’t there. Perhaps people find it easy to hear a voice when they’re listening so hard for it.
Which would you say is harder writing or illustrating Eleanor? Why?
Well, now it’s the illustration. But that’s only because so much of the story is complete, and I’m lifting the best parts for the graphic novel. That’s not easy, but only because there’s so much of the manuscript that I really love. It’s painful to cut entire scenes because they’re not necessary in comic form.
The illustration’s the hardest part because I’m not classically trained. I’ve never illustrated a comic book before. I’ve drawn for my entire life… but I tended to draw hyper-real characters, in a very loose and fun way.
Trying to draw characters that are passably realistic is a regular challenge for me. There are a few pages in Eleanor‘s prologue where I’m really not so happy with the bodies — and I’m pretty sure the characters might have broken necks or dislocated hips if they actually tried to move around in the shapes I drew for them.
But the book looks better and better with every single page. Chapter 1 (which is complete and just waiting to be published, page by page) looks dramatically better than the prologue. And Chapter 2 will look better than Chapter 1.
This is one thing I’ve always loved about webcomics, though: you get to watch the artist and writer grow. In a couple of years, you’ll go back to the first chapter of my book, and you’ll be stunned by how far it’s come. I hope that’s the case with everything I ever do — that I’m always getting a little bit better each time I come to the plate.
Any plans of getting this published into a graphic novel?
Plans — none. Hopes? Absolutely!
One thing I am doing, however, is creating an iPad app for Eleanor. I want people to be able to read the book easily, in sequence, without always having to click through pages on the site. I know how tedious that can be when I’m gorging on someone else’s comic.
The app (which is about 98% complete) is going to be a lot of fun. Readers will be able to buy it — probably for $2.99, but I haven’t settled on that part yet — and they’ll get the first chapter of Eleanor right then and there.
Then, each time I complete a chapter on the web, the iPad app will be updated with the full new chapter as well… for free.
In the end, my readers will get 10 chapters (about 220 pages — in other words, the entirety of Eleanor) for just $2.99. I think that’s a pretty fair deal. And they’ll be able to read it all from start to finish, almost like a real comic book.
Still, if Archaia or Dark Horse or IDW or someone wants to publish Eleanor, I surely wouldn’t run away from that.
We’ll help drum you up some attention :0)
Thanks! Neatorific has actually done quite a bit already, it’s been really cool to be a part of it so early.
Honestly, I wish I had known how easy it is to create a webcomic. If I’d known that, I probably would’ve saved myself years of agonizing over drafts of the novel, and turned it into a comic much earlier.
Easy is subjective, though. I get that. What I mean is that creating a webcomic has never been easier. Access to free services that can help you create a comic blog, for example, is there for the taking. Some of the greatest comics are all bad art, and terrific writing. YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO DRAW.
Which is why I can get away with not knowing how to draw a human being sometimes.
The advice? Just start. Jump right in. Figure out the fine details as you go. Because you will. And if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy the interaction with your readers, particularly in the beginning, when you treasure each and every one of them, and hold your breath waiting for them to say something about what you’ve created.
Just make shit. If it’s not good, you’ll get better. Just make it.
But some comic book purist think that web comics are the end of the comics, genre, because of how “easy” they are to make. What are your thoughts on that?
You know, I didn’t actually read comic books until late 2010, when my wife started bringing home Superman books for me. I’ve become a comics fan, but I consume my comics digitally as well as traditionally, and I’m okay with that.
Speaking as an uninformed reader, and an amateur creator of the pure evil that will demolish the traditional comics movement, I’ve got to say that I just don’t see webcomics as a threat to print. If printed comics are the real world, and webcomics are the matrix (and you can reverse the metaphor if you so please) then there are always going to be those who can move between both worlds, and stitch them together. Webcomics will become printed books. Printed comics will go digital. Learning to enhance one experience with the other is clearly the way to add relevance and value to your property.
I’m thrilled to be working exclusively in digital. I’m a digital creative director by day. Turn me loose on a magazine or billboard design and I’d be clueless. Give me a mobile app or a web campaign and I’m in my element. I’m having a hell of a great time publishing online, and plotting a mobile app. The full experience is under my control. There are no middlemen or vendors or project managers or printers to deal with. If what you read doesn’t look good, then it’s my fault, and mine alone. I kind of like that responsibility.
Purists exist in any field or genre of entertainment. At their heart, they’re just good people who love a familiar and tested experience. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But it also doesn’t mean the rest of us are whippersnappers who won’t get off their lawn, either.
Without social networking, Eleanor would go unread. That’s really the bottom line.
What really convinced me that Eleanor could take off — eventually, over time — was the fervent response from the DeviantArt community. Eleanor‘s small but growing group of Facebook fans, and my followers on Twitter, are gently spreading the word. Sites like Neatorific, or Ink Outbreak, or The Fabler, bring additional attention to wet-behind-the-ears comics like mine, and give them a bit of prominence they otherwise wouldn’t have.
When Eleanor launched, I think I had around 40 visitors check it out. The next day, there were only 9. But with steady engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and other communities such as Reddit or Ravelry, those numbers are growing. On new-comic days, Eleanor sees about 450 visitors now. On the days in between updates, that number drops to the 150-200 range.
But I’m a sharer. I love feedback and interaction. On Eleanor‘s Facebook page, I share sneak peeks of new pages I’m working on, or sketchbook drawings I do of the character. On Twitter, I talk to other comics creators and share my favorite work that they’ve created. All of this creates a very rich world for people to engage.
And the more people who engage, the more fun it becomes. One of my favorite parts hasn’t even happened yet, but it will soon. In October, I’m inviting other comics creators to share pinups of Eleanor — some really cool artwork that I can put on the site between new comic updates. This will hopefully keep my readers coming back, and send a few of them off to discover new artists that they hadn’t ever seen before.
It’s all about the back-and-forth. I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing this for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and for the great feeling I get when someone tells me that my book hit them right in that spot that artists are always hoping to hit.
Got any favorite web comics you are currently reading?
Oh, boy, do I ever. Tony Cliff’s doing great things with Delilah Dirk – he’s running out four new pages every Saturday, and they’re unbelievable. Sarah Mensinga’s Wellington Division is exceptional — her page layouts are the most organic and natural I’ve seen. I’m loving Bird Boy, by Annie Szabla, and of course Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher is humblingly (is that a word?) excellent.