Creator Interview: silverwordz of Panda Panda!
skoolmunkee at 1:56PM, Jan. 21, 2008
posts: 7,058
joined: 1-2-2006
Username: silverwordz
Comic: Panda Panda
Age: 29. Ask me again this time next year (and every year) and I'll still be 29.
In what part of the world do you live: Sebring, Florida, US. A cheerful place known for our abundance of the majestic snowbird.
Are you single/boyfriend/girlfriend/married: I have a boyfriend, Joe, who also has a comic on DD called Internet Superbuddies. It's pretty funny and sometimes I even appear in it. You'll spot me as the only one wearing a panda hat.
Day job: Currently the lead artist in the advertising department at the newspaper here in Sebring. Basically, we build all the ads in the paper.

Could you describe what Panda Panda is about?

It's all about why animals are the way they are, in both the mythology of the story chapters, and the information aspects of the factual mini-chapters.

I chose to interview you about Panda Panda because of its unique style. For those who haven't seen it, it's like a children's story book created with cut out paper, colored pencils, and other “school”-ish things. There are two things I find interesting about this- the storybook format, and the choice of medium. Could you tell us a bit about how you develop a page?

I classify the pages of Panda Panda two ways. There are story pages, and fact pages. Each is developed differently.

Starting out the story chapters usually involves sitting down in Word and completely scripting out the full chapter which includes re-writing and breaking the story down into individual sentences that can be illustrated in one page panels. If there's no obvious way to get the concept of the sentence across in the illustration, it gets re-worked again. And then there's writing in little additions to the story that kind of work with some of the re-occurring animal's personalities that have developed.

Once the scripting is done, it's all fun from there. Sometimes I'll sketch (stick figures!) pages out ahead of time, but mostly I'll just sit down and start cutting paper. After the scene is set up, the story simply takes place inside those boundaries.

Fact pages take much more work, in both writing and construction. A great deal of time is spent researching the animals being covered, then sorting through the facts, pulling out the ones I find most interesting and compiling them together into five individual aspects. Building the pages is much more time consuming as well, because each page is much more detailed than story pages and all the elements are usually brand new.

The physical development of a page is done by constructing everything using an x-acto knife, paper, and a glue stick, one piece at a time, working from the background to the foreground. Once built, the page gets scanned, brought into Photoshop where I can crop and clean up the scans a bit. I have three cats and you would not believe how often cat hair manages to find its way into a scanner despite every effort to keep it out. The final step is always adding text.

Do you re-use any of the bits and pieces between pages, or does each page stand complete?

There are very few pages that are still fully intact. I've had people get upset when I tell them this, since the original work no longer exists, but it honestly is the best and quickest way for me to keep things moving and consistent. Some of the more involved and delicate pages, fact pages mostly, do still exist in complete form, but that's more because they were each designed to stand alone, and most of the elements built into them have yet to be repurposed.

Most elements end up being cannibalized over and over again, especially the backgrounds and individual scenes in a story. Once an individual tale is over, the backgrounds are usually scrapped, simply because the re-stickable glue I use eventually discolors the construction paper.

Early into the comic I went out and picked up a magnetic photo album, which serves as a scrapbook for all the individual elements so they can be kept safe in case I ever want to use them again. Of course with all the different poses, I've ended up with a page or two for each animal in each story. And there are sections for greenery and background details that are usually re-used to add a little extra color or interest to a page.

As a side note, I also keep the sheets of paper that animal shapes are cut out of. They work as great templates or stencils when you need a similar shape in a different shade!

Why did you choose to do a comic about animal folktales?

It was mostly the result of a bunch of little things that happened one after the other, and the support and inspiration of people around me.

I had stumbled across Drunk Duck while looking for a place to put Internet Superbuddies up and after looking around, it seemed like a great place for web comic artists, not just because of the hosting, but because of the extremely supportive and interactive community. Once we got set up, I got completely engrossed with reading all the comics on the site, and hit up the forum a bit. As a joke when posting an introduction thread, I commented that I didn't have a comic, but if I did, it would be about pandas.

Immediately someone replied that they'd love to read a comic about pandas and that's when the idea started growing. Several friends of mine have comics of their own, so I thought why not try one as well. Originally I chose to do a re-telling of the panda folk tale because I love it so much, and it continues to be a powerful story for me. The idea of doing a re-telling of the turtle folk tale came up in a conversation with friends and that's when I realized how much fun it would be continue to recreate all these amazing animal folktales.

Why did you choose to use papercraft instead of one of the more usual mediums?

Simply because I don't really think of myself as a traditional comic artist, at least in the sense that I have a really hard time sitting down and drawing anything, on paper or on screen. I can do it sure, but it takes me forever to come up with something I can be happy with. All these amazing artists and storytellers on Drunk Duck continue to awe me with what they are capable of, and all the styles. Some of them even updating daily! That's insane to me.

I can't remember exactly what the thought process was that went into deciding on construction paper, I think it was mostly the spur of the moment thought that, man, that'd be kinda fun. I always enjoyed being crafty as a kid and creating things with my hands out of random materials. Once I got started building pages, I got a bit carried away, and the bulk of the current comic was created and posted almost daily. I've slowed down since then, but still plan on continuing. There are so many more stories to tell.

What do you like about working in a storybook format?

One concept, one page. It's just a simpler way for me to do things. And I think it works best with the type of stories I'm telling. They are simple tales, told with one thought at a time, one action, step by step.

Are there any particular challenges to Panda Panda?

Besides the breakdown of my scanner which has now been replaced, my biggest challenge currently is finding time to work on the comic. October through December is the busiest time of the year for me when it comes to work, and family and social obligations, so the comic has had to take a backseat for a bit. But right now I'm gearing up to launch the next story chapter, and once it's up and going, things will start moving again.

Other than that, the scale of some of the elements being made can be quite challenging at times. Most of the animals being cut out are around an inch to two inches tall, which means the more detail added to them, the smaller the cuts have to be. Some scenes have even involved characters being cut out that are no bigger than a quarter of an inch.

I'm also glad to say I have yet to injure myself with the x-acto knife.

Do you have any aspirations to become a children's book author, etc?

The idea had never occurred to me, until Panda Panda was well under way. All the support and encouragement I've gotten from people who have read the comic has opened my eyes to the possibility. Over all the idea is still really new to me, but I've been shown that it just may be possible, so why not give it a shot. At the very least, I've created something that I can share with friends and family, I've learned a lot and had a really fun time doing it.

Since working with the comic, I've taken a closer look at the children's book section at the local bookstore, and the variety and scope of what's available these days is awesome really. So I'm even more encouraged to continue to refine what I've already created, and also work on some other ideas.

What's your favorite children's book?

The only children's book I still have from my childhood is a print version of Lambert the Sheepish Lion. Another book which stands out in my mind, though I don't think I still have, was a gorgeously illustrated collection of fairy tales. It had stories like the Frog Prince, the Princess and the Pea, and Puss in Boots, but I remember looking at it all the time because the illustrations were so involved and interesting.

Is there anything that specifically influences you when it comes to Panda Panda? If so, how do those influences come through in the work?

I think the main influences are animals and their personalities. Having pets my entire life and growing up in northern Wisconsin pretty much out in the great north woods, animals have always been around me. So I enjoy watching them and their quirks, and I try to get some of those fun quirks across in the stories.

Artistically there's nothing that I can really think of that influences the work I do on Panda Panda. Inspiration, on the other hand, exists everywhere.

Is there something you want to do with Panda Panda but haven't gotten around to? (Or can't?)

Publish it in print. I've been trying to get the first panda story reset to put together in a print version. Unfortunately the initial pages aren't formatted correctly for print. The whole project was started as just something fun and the idea of publishing wasn't part of that. So I have to go back and basically reformat every page. Luckily the original un-cropped and untouched scans are all saved to disc. But in many ways it's like starting all over. I've since changed the page creation process so that all future pages are already formatted with a possible print version in mind.

I've also got a spin off project in mind that involves using the Panda Panda characters and format in more of an educational setting.

What about something you want to do outside of the comic?

Skydiving! …Oh artistically?

Digital painting has been something I've wanted to try more and more these days. I have an idea for a project in that medium combining it with my love for music, but right now the project is on hold because I don't have a tablet. It would be a much slower moving project than Panda Panda, just something extra to do on the side as more of a learning project.

What satisfies you about Panda Panda?

The fact that people are enjoying it and that I'm able to share all these interesting stories and facts about animals. When the comic started I assumed that only a couple people I knew would be reading it, and that once the panda story was finished that would be it. I'm still amazed at the support I've gotten from all kinds of people about the comic.

It also makes me very happy when I hear about people's children who are reading the comic and really like it.

My favorite of your pages is Laika's page- it isn't the most visually interesting or impressive, I just have had a long love of Laika and I'm always thrilled to see something with her. Which of your pages do you like the most and why?

The Laika page is one of my favorites as well, because I became so absorbed into the history and facts surrounding her story. It's the most effort I've put so far into collecting and compiling information for the comic, as can probably be seen in the massive post that went along with the actual page.

Visually I really like the page titled Arms and Legs in the first chapter, with the big panda hugging the little panda. I think it really came out cute, and the paper texture and dimension are well defined. Most of the fact pages I enjoy a lot because of the amount of details I was able to add into them, like the map pages, and the aquarium scene, and particularly the class dismissed pages.

How far in advance do you plan your stories? Are there things you have in mind, or do you just work on them as they come to you?

It's different every time, usually midway through one story, research starts into what story to do next, but scripting the chapter out doesn't happen until right before work starts on it. Once it's scripted, there's very little change unless inspiration suddenly strikes. Visually quick sketches might be made for a sequence of pages, but there's a fair bit of it that just gets made as it comes to me. Most of the details on a page are improved on the spot, with just the main scene staging planned out ahead of time. I guess it's 50/50 really.

There are a few instances though where midway I'll have an idea for something I really want to do visually and I'll end up warping the story around that.

Aside from animal folktales and comics, what else do you like to do with your free time?

Nothing too crazy. The lack of free time makes it hard to get too involved into anything overly. Most of my interests revolve around geeky things like anime, gaming, SciFi shows and movies, Asian kung fu flix, and everything panda related.

Recently I've also been big into cooking and nutrition.

What's your favorite animal?

Ailuropoda melanoleuca.

And if you were an animal, what would you be? (Versus what you would LIKE to be, perhaps?)

Wow! I have no idea! My mother says I'd be in the monkey or big cat family. And my boyfriend says I'm a cougar… very funny.

I think I'd like to be in one of the cat families.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:40PM
SpANG at 6:54PM, Jan. 21, 2008
posts: 3,105
joined: 1-1-2006
Very nice. And informative! :-)
“To a rational mind, nothing is inexplicable. Only unexplained.”
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:53PM
Awesometown at 9:05AM, Jan. 22, 2008
posts: 7
joined: 6-5-2007
Awesome! Way to go Silverwordz! I hope to see some more stories in the near future. :)
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:13AM
Jamezorz at 7:52PM, Jan. 28, 2008
posts: 2
joined: 6-9-2007
I really love the over all style, and I happen to also love animal folk tales.

GO turtle.

Great interview. Great work.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:07PM
Brock at 3:41PM, Jan. 29, 2008
posts: 100
joined: 5-10-2007
Good interview. I had been intensely curious about her process and now I know. I can see the sense in reusing elements from the pages. The work would get quite tedious, otherwise.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:35AM

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