This interview is of dueeast, who co-creates Due East and pretty much runs Off Hours!
(interview conducted by Aelwyn!)
1. Before we start on your comics; tell me a little bit about you, the creator.
Iâ€™m 41 years old and Iâ€™ve been writing and drawing comics since I was 10 years old. Iâ€™ve been married to my best friend (who happens to be African-American as well as part Apache) since 1995. Weâ€™re both musicians, singers and songwriters. Weâ€™ve been part of a nondenominational Christian band since 1998. And we have two sons, aged 15 and 12, and we are expecting a child in May 2011. I get paid to be a tech geek.
2. Allen, you and your wife have certainly created a charming story with Due East; what was the inspiration behind the webcomic?
For over 20 years, I wrote and drew superhero comics, usually one superhero team in particular that I created from scratch. But I brought that comic to a close in 2001 and wanted to create a comic with my wife, Angel. Iâ€™d had the initial idea for Due East in 1999 but it took until 2003 for us to flesh out the characters, their looks, story elements and initial script.
In September 1995, my wife converted to Christianity; I converted in January 1996. So when I wanted to write the new comic with Angel, I wanted it to be inspired by our faith and beliefs. At the same time, we had seen so many bad examples of “Christian” comics, we wanted to take a more subtle approach that still conveyed a clear message.
3. Reading your work, it becomes very clear how real and human the characters are. Would you say any of the characters are a reflection of yourself or the people around you?
Phira (Sapphira Hu) has a bit of me in her, but only somewhat. The other characters were carefully constructed for specific roles with specific personalities. I will also admit that the father figure, Douglas Hu, bears a slight resemblance to my late father, were he half-Chinese. It was very important to me and Angel to have the characters be believable and compelling, each in their own way.
4. What would you say the biggest influences have been on your art and writing styles?
I started reading comics in the late 1970s. My biggest influences had to have been the Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin team from The Uncanny X-Men; George Perez from The Teen Titans and Wonder Woman; Jack Kirby from his Captain America and Fantastic Four days; John Buscema from Silver Surfer and Conan; Frank Miller from Daredevil, Elektra and the first Wolverine limited series; and Walt Simonson from his amazing Thor stint.
5. In Due East; you weave spiritual messages into the story very well. Was this a challenge, or did it come very organic to the script?
It was a combination of sometimes being a challenge while sometimes being organic to the script. As I mentioned, weâ€™re very committed to the message but at the same time, certain elements of the story had to occasionally be dropped or rewritten to maintain either consistency in the message or believability.
My wife will tell me if she thinks something doesnâ€™t work and how it might be better conveyed. I tend to be more full-speed-ahead and sheâ€™s more a big picture thinker, so itâ€™s a good combination. We usually land somewhere in the middle, which makes for a good pace while still allowing for depth and development of story and characters.
Likewise, I definitely donâ€™t want to leave out prayer. While we absolutely do not want to “bang anyone over the head” with the spiritual messages, we have to acknowledge the source of the spiritual messages and inspiration, which is God, Jesus and the Bible.
6. Through the creation of your various works; what would you say has given you the most satisfaction? Was it a particular achievement in a story, artwork, ect…
Good question! A few things come to mind: drawing the storm sequence in Due East Book 1, where Brielle Mills (Phiraâ€™s sister) nearly dies but is saved by a miracle, followed by a very significant dream sequence while she is unconscious. That was our first serious emotional, artistic and spiritual challenge in the whole story and it set the stage for the rest of the series because this was a life-changing event for Brielle!
Another satisfying moment was completing another intensely emotional scene in Book 4 (the flashback issue) in which Carolyn Maye completely loses it and nearly kills a fellow student on her tennis team. The girl mocked Carolynâ€™s mother, who had recently died of a drug overdose, and that was still too raw of an emotional wound in Carolynâ€™s heart. It was challenging to convey the powerful rage and grief that had been pent up inside Carolyn for some time, even though she had tried her best to recover from her loss.
It was also controversial, because this is a Christian comic. However, at this point in her life, Carolyn was not a Christian. This incident made Carolyn realize how out of control she truly was. But her father was there for her and heâ€™s depicted as a Christian from the start. This incident helped her realize that she needed God's help. We wanted to show something believable, and grief over tragedy and loss has caused many peopleâ€™s lives to spin out of control.
7. What drew you towards using the comic media to portray your stories?
I enjoyed comics more than books, as a kid. And like many people, I started off trying to trace existing comics. But that got frustrating very fast. So I decided to draw my own comics, just for fun.
Comics were also my therapy. I had major surgery (twice) in 1983 and even when I was in a hospital bed, I was drawing my stories. In fact, that experience led to my developing deeper, more involved storylines involving the characters I had at the time. It was both satisfying and healing, in a way. I could channel my feelings onto paper and release them in a relatively healthy way.
By the time I got into high school, I had been working daily on comics for almost 2 years straight. I was determined to improve myself, even though I only had a handful of friends to get feedback from.
My wife (then my fiancee) helped edit and even co-write a number of my superhero comics by 1994. Thatâ€™s where I got the idea that we might work well together on a brand new series.
8. What upcoming projects can we expect from you?
I have developed scripts for a new webcomic here on Drunk Duck, which has an artist who will be announced at a later time (some time next year). Itâ€™s different from any other comic Iâ€™ve worked on before.
It involves a super-powered alien (his whole species is super-powered) who narrowly escapes death by teleporting to Earth, where he encounters a human woman who helps him recover from his injuries. She gets pulled into an adventure that covers two worlds and has elements of comedy, romance, sci-fi and superhero. But donâ€™t let the name fool you: Super Chibi Girl!
Iâ€™ve also scripted a six-page webcomic that Pitface (Putrid Meat) is illustrating. Half of it is online at Drunk Duck. Itâ€™s called â€œBones & Chance.â€ It uses one of the Off Hours actresses (Chance Powers, who portrays Sapphira on the Due East â€œtelevision show.â€) teamed up with Bones from Putrid Meat. Itâ€™s kind of alternate reality meets parody.
9. In Due East, you are both the writer and artist; but in Off Hours you are primarily a writer. How did the creative process between the two comics differ?
Significantly! In Due East, it was just me and my wife. We would discuss things, Iâ€™d write scripts and sheâ€™d edit the scripts. Iâ€™d sketch pages and sheâ€™d either approve them or make suggestions for improvement.
In Off Hours, we started out with 3 main writers: myself, Tantz Aerine (Without Moonlight, Wolf) and Vickie Boutwell (Used Books, Gelotology). We constructed the main story for the first chapter and the rough outline of the second chapter. I contacted various friends on DD and other artists whose works Iâ€™d only read and invited them privately to be a part of the project. We decided to let the initial artists script and do the art for the pages that introduced their characters, and that worked well.
As the Off Hours story continued, I took a more active role in maintaining script consistency. But it was a challenge working long distance with all the artists. We had comic creators from all over the United States, Canada, Poland and even Athens, Greece! I was always impressed how everyone put their very best efforts into their pages; it made me very proud of the look and feel of the pages.
There were occasional challenges, such as an artist sometimes confusing characters and drawing a different character saying or doing something than what the script depicted. But we adapted to each instance and made it work.
Towards the end of Chapter 2, I decided to recruit almost entirely new artists and was very grateful for their help. To the initial teamâ€™s credit, everyone had done multiple pages by this point, so it was time to give them a rest and get some fresh talent involved to wrap things up.
10. Through the creation process of either comic, what has been the biggest hurtle youâ€™ve had to overcome?
In Due East, it was making time to do the art. Between an active work and family life, it can be a challenge. I used to have a job where I could draw at work. I really miss that sometimes…
In Off Hours, it was being the Editor, the â€œbad guyâ€ who always nags the artist (hopefully, nicely) to send in their pages or find out when they can send in their pages. It was also sometimes a challenge to match up artists with pages. I tried to get a feel for what style would work best with the script elements of each page. That generally worked out extremely well.
11. When a reader finishes your works; what one impression would you want them to carry away? What inspiration do you hope they find in your stories?
I would like them to feel satisfied with what theyâ€™ve seen and read, and to want more.
In Due East, I hope theyâ€™re inspired to consider what theyâ€™ve read, consider the characters and identify with them in some way. And to get the spiritual messages, hopefully without offense.
In Off Hours, I hope the enjoy the totality of the story, to laugh at the silliness and to be intrigued by the more serious elements. I hope that when they finish reading both chapters, they feel satisfied, that things have come full circle.
12. Do you have any last comments to share with your readers, before we bring this interview to an end?
Iâ€™ve really come to enjoy collaborating with other comic writers and artists. Itâ€™s helped me understand better how other comic creators work and deal with deadlines, funky writing demands and the normal craziness that happens while making webcomics.
Oh, and very important – Due East is coming back! Angel and I are working on a re-write of Book 5 and making a Book 6. No timetable yet but it is in the works! things get rough.
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