This interview is of Gunwallace, whose comic is Character Development!
(Interview by doodstormer!)
Alright Gunwallace, let’s start this disorganized jumble of question marks off with some good old fashioned generic tradition. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, for those of us who refuse to read your “about me” page?
I'm a forty-mumble year old stay at home father who writes comics whenever the kids let me. Back in the nineties I wrote for and edited a New Zealand comic called Pistake, which had some notoriety and the talents of some wonderful, creative people involved in it. But then I went off into the world and got a job, until I realized that was a bad idea.
It seems going by the quality of your pages that you have at least some photographical experience. Did you have any experience with photography before starting work on Character Development? (I’m getting paid by the syllable)
Nope. No experience with cameras or photography. Well, I did date a photographer for a while. Does that count?
Wow! You certainly have a knack for it then. In Character Development, you use Playmobil figurines as your characters. Do you ever have technical difficulties with them, like the figs repeatedly falling over, or the limited poseability preventing something you want them to do in the story?
Oh, yes. I have a knack for knocking things over with my fat stubby fingers. However, I find a little Blu-Tack (sticky gum-like stuff) on the feet or hands of the Playmobil really helps. My kids and cats also have a tendency to nudge/steal/hide bits. One of the biggest problems is finding the props you know you have somewhere in a box, but which box? I need a better system for filing the bits away.
As for the lack of movement and expression in the toys, that's something I have to work around. I like the fact the Playmobil are always smiling, no matter what is happening to them. Lately, I seem to be writing more complex scripts that demand a lot of trickery. There's a bubbling swamp coming up, which my wife thinks we can do with some thick pudding and straws … and a dance number that will require large numbers of toys in identical poses.
What gave you the idea for Character Development? Did a plastic Christmas ornament visit you in a dream?
Watching Arrested Development one night I just redid the opening credits voiceover in my head as a roleplaying parody … the next day there were script ideas in my head and Playmobil toys scattered on the kitchen bench.
Do your kids influence the story any? After all, you're stealing their toys to do strange and terrible things :P
I have had to ask very nicely to borrow my daughter's Playmobil on a few occasions (when I needed some fairies, for example), but the majority of the toys predate the arrival of my kids and so she considers them fair game.
The only time she's really been worried by the use of the toys was when I did a Secret Santa page for Drunk Duck that involved a Playmobil Father Christmas and fake blood … but rather than conclude I was a serial Santa killer she just shrugged her shoulders and said I was just being weird (which I was).
Oh, and she did ask why I had a Playmobil face down in a toilet the other day (we got a Playmobil bath set, complete with sink, tub and toilet). I could provide her with no better answer than “It's for a comic”, and she accepted that.
Understanding is always a good thing. So do you have an entire story written out, or do you just write chapters as you go along?
I try to stay well ahead in the writing (currently I'm about 20 episodes/weeks in advance) … but I don't have the whole thing worked out. Sometimes I write a themed episode or episodes. Sometimes I get inspired by something I've read, seen or heard … the one I'm currently scripting is based on an off-hand comment from a friend. Also, I like to re-use little themes and ideas … so things mentioned in passing in earlier episodes often turn up as fully-fledged plot points later on.
I have a rough idea how the whole dungeon crawl ends up … I had an idea for the ‘final’ confrontation only yesterday, but when that ends who know what will happen next? After all, in roleplaying the dungeon crawl is just one part of the adventure.
Did you originally intend to create such a long story, or was it just a one-off thing that caught on with you?
Yeah, I did want an on-going strip.
I was writing scripts but no-one was reading them, and no-one was drawing them. So I wanted an on-going strip that I could create myself without the need for an artist. (I can't draw … really, I know they say anyone can draw, but not me).
My wife suggested taking photos of toys. We tried it out, and it worked (sort of), but I needed a decent, ongoing storyline. I ended up writing two very different stories, but I've put one on hiatus until I can get 100+ pages/days ahead on both strips. Then I'll start putting up a page a day for that one as well. (It's a rural New Zealand police drama … sort of like a comic-book version of a non-existent local tv-show), and it will be on-going as well.
Of course, now I have people wanting to draw stuff with me, which is great, so I'm writing a lot of material for that. And I've started doing some one-off ideas in Playmobil as well; from short one-page ideas that will end up in print, to a 24-part epic (144 pages) that requires doing some very nasty things to Playmobil toys, and lots of fake blood/intestines. My wife is keen to do that one with me.
Hmm, I seem to have gone away from the question there. Yes. I wanted an on-going comic!
Do you think that your comic would have been done any differently if you were an artist?
Yes. It would never have been written. It was an idea specifically tailored to Playmobil toys. Unlike the other photo-toy comics I'm doing, which are stories written to be drawn, but I realized they could be done with toys.
If I was an artist I'd be drawing one of my better ideas … but at least I now have other people doing some of those, in part due to the Playmobil-photo comic that is Character Development.
What would you say is the better part of writing in the fantasy genre?
I can draw on my misspent youth playing Dungeons and Dragons, and suddenly all those terrible fantasy movies and TV series I've watched were for research purposes.
But while Character Development is set in a fantasy world it has modern references and elements from other genres. I'm writing a Locked Room mystery two-parter at the moment with Sherlock Holmes and other references, and there's a sports storyline coming up. Basically it can accommodate anything within the fantasy setting.
When Character Development was featured, did it affect your attitude about your work? Did you feel compelled to advance the story quicker or add more action/humor due to the increased audience?
Ha ha! I'm going to have you ask you this same question now!
No. I was about 10 weeks ahead in writing and photos, and I was already posting at a page-a-day, so I didn't feel the need to change anything about the strip.
The way your comic is written, it’s easy to jump in and start reading at any chapter you want. Which chapters would you say are the “best choices” to start off with?
Hmm. I'd say the first one, even though I thought it took me a few episodes to really get the hang of the comic. I was going to go back and change the first 5 episodes, but I'd based so much of the later plot twists on little elements in the early episodes I found it impossible.
Episode 10 was a personal favourite, so maybe people should start there. It was the high point (low point) of poo jokes in the strip so far.
Episode 23 was not one of my favourites, but again, I used ideas from it in many later episodes (where they are funnier) so I'm stuck with it (so don't start at 23).
Once the current storyline ends might be a good time to start … episode 27 … but if you wait until then you'll miss out on a crossover episode at 26. Yup, there's actually a crossover coming up!
Where do you think Character Development is going to go in the near future? More… character development, perhaps?
Well, there's certainly much plot development coming up, and yes, there are some interesting developments and changes ahead for a some of the characters. Big changes. Relationships will be formed and broken … secrets and motives revealed … hidden talents exposed … dogs will chase cats … and maybe they'll even get to face the demon-god Adal at some point.
Is there an ending planned for Character Development? How much longer do you expect it will go on?
I have no idea … I'd like to keep it going for a while, as it's fun to write and fun to photograph. I can write a week's worth of script in a afternoon, and do the photos the next day … so as long as I have a day-and-a half a week free I'll keep going.
While the current quest WILL come to an end at some point, that doesn't mean the adventures of the lil' plastic toys needs to end.
I know it’s a common question, (Where would we be without them?), but what advice would you give to anyone out there interested in making their own comic?
Get me to write it for them!
I will write for food!
I guess the best advice is to do something YOU like … don't try to do something you're not really interested in just because it's popular or trendy. Passion is what will keep you going … especially on those days when you check your stats and realize that you only got 10 pageviews and you were 9 of them.
This is the same advice I gave to students when I taught at university. Don't do a course or degree just because you think there'll be money at the end of it… Do what you like, or you'll be stuck doing something you hate for the rest of your life, and all the money in the world won't help you then.
Keep at it. Try to improve. Don't be afraid to start over or change to something else if you think you need to begin again. Don't be embarrassed about your early work, just build from it.
Now that I’ve run out of cue cards, is there anything else you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked about?
Um … I guess I'd like to mention that I'm always up for collaboration with people on things, even if you just want some critical feedback (I can be brutal, but fair).
I'm also on the lookout for crossover opportunities with DDers, although I realize the nature of my comic provides some interesting challenges.
Alright then Gunwallace, that should be all. Thanks for your time! (And money, but you don’t know about that)
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