Round 7! Ozoneocean interviews bravo1102 of Go A Viking!
skoolmunkee at 12:37AM, May 18, 2009
posts: 7,058
joined: 1-2-2006
This interview is of bravo1102, whose comics are Go A Viking: The Sword of Kings and Go A Viking: The Parody!
(interview conducted by ozoneocean!)

INTERROGATION …I mean: interview.
Ozoneocean conducting.

This interview will be conducted over a series of PQs.

I will ask questions and you will answer in whatever way you choose. The answer to each new question may or may not have some influence over the form of the next question.

Is that CLEAR?

Question 1.
Name, rank, and serial number?

A: Willoughby comma Stephen C; Private Civilian, former sergeant US Army, bravo1102. I am not putting out my Social Security Number because all those female stalkers would track me down and throw their nubile young bodies at me. My wife of 14 years wouldn't like that. I live in New Jersey in the USA, the most corrupt state in the USA, home of Bruce Springsteen, Lou Costello, Frank Sinatra and my exit off the parkway is 114. I'll offer some background, so long as it doesn't compromise security. :)
I'm currently 44 years old, a college graduate with a degree in History, certified teacher of Social Studies, graduated technical school with a certificate in graphic arts. Along the way I've worked in retail management, education, public works, security and those 10 years in the army.
In other words as I like to say: no one of consequence.
Friends and family think I know enough about history to besiege me with questions on a regular basis. I go through phases in regard to eras and topics. One year I went crazy about the American Civil War, most recently I've been reading biographies of powerful women in history. My constant love though is military uniform and then I love reading about weird stuff. Conspiracy theories, UFOs, occult, psychics, alternate archeology, monsters and watch lots of fantasy, science fiction and horror movies, classic anime; the more exploitive and bad the better.

Enough about me let's talk about those comics of mine.

You clearly derive material for your comic from your experience, reading, and interests. Many people do, my self included, but it's your interests we're interested in here! :)

Later I'll ask you about research and how your interests influence your work, but right now:

Question 2.
Why use action figures?

I grew up playing with 12“ tall GI Joe's who hung out with my sister's abandoned Barbies. However, I grew up at a time when GI Joe was no longer military in the least. Here I am loving military uniforms and there no uniforms for my Joes to wear. Fast forward to around 15 years ago. GI Joe released all new 12” tall figures and other companies started doing strictly military figures. So I snapped them up and put them on my shelf. Then I found out they did female figures. They weren't Barbies. They could actually bend their knees and elbows! So I started collecting them. Then I started customizing them after discovering message boards devoted to collecting these figures. (but not Barbies)
Then I discovered that some collectors photographed their figures and used them to illustrate stories. I bought some furniture and started writing little stories for some of my figures. Then a message board was started for collectors of non-military fantasy figures. I had already done some customs of my old Dungeons and Dragons characters and I saw someone start an epic fantasy comic. Out come three old novel manuscripts I had started about the characters.
Back in the 1980's I even was encouraged to build up a portfolio and pass it around to some independent comic publishers. I never got around to it. As for why I didn't draw these webcomics? I was already heavily involved with the figures and my drawing/painting had languished since I was in college in the 1980s. I hadn't drawn anything except some doodles while working as a teacher's aide. I went to graphic arts school and learned all about Photoshop, photography and digital art. So I never thought to draw my comic. I now regret that decision as I can draw a lot faster than I can set up figures and photograph them. But I have all these custom figures and costumes and props so I'm determined to use them. Now if I can just finish this story so I can get to the other ten scripts I've started.

Additionally, there is the advantage of seeing everything in three dimensions as opposed to pencil and ink on Bristol. I can walk around the set and look at the frame and blocking out the figures like you would on a stage or in a movie. Then there is the actual three-dimensional creation of the character with re-painting a face, putting together a costume and properties. Now there is a lot of 1/6th scale furniture out there, but it's all pink. So there is a lot of re-painting involved. That's a lot of fun. I've always liked painting figures as opposed to doing traditional portraiture. I guess you could say it's make-up? When a costume is put together it drapes like it would if someone was really wearing it with things hanging at angles or bumping around. There's a tactile element to it of being able to touch and physically change the figure as opposed to just taking out the eraser. Some costumes look great on paper but would never work on a three dimensional figure. Mine have to work on a three dimensional figure. I don't do a lot of costume making though, I just mix and match what is commercially available. It's like producing a movie. I shot one story out of sequence so I wouldn't have to strike sets and re-build them and had a shooting schedule by scene with annotations for costume changes. Sadly that wouldn't work for Go a Viking! as the story is just too long.

Now I half expect you to say: “And now for this commercial message”

And now for this commercial message…

AAAAaaaaannd now we're back. Excuse me while I put this can away. …I sure do like my Pinky TA cola. ;)

Well I must say your attention to detail with the figures, props and scenery in Go A Viking is pretty astonishing. And you manage to characterise them so well, you give personality and depth to these plastic figurines, making them INTO their characters, far beyond the knowing novelty we usually see in works done with this media.

Now for the interests part-

Question 3.
You're into history in a big way, into scifi and fantasy etc, a former soldier, a graphic designer, and an expert modeler.
I can see how the model making skills help in the creation of the comic (in the sets and figures), and the graphic design is useful in putting it altogether, but how has your interest in history helped contribute to and influence your story? How have your experiences as a solder helped to enrich your work?

A. I do research. When I was a kid I visited Old Tenet Church near the Monmouth battlefield. I walked in and was assaulted by the smell of the place. That was my first encounter with the smell of history. I've always been interested in how things worked once upon a time. It's the mundane things that often grab my interest. I look for the little stuff and how it makes the world work. Some examples from the recent pages: Why does a bunch of interlinked metal chains work as armor? How does it protect the soldier? Being chain it is pliable so what is the effect of the force of a blow if the edge is blunted by the mail? I like knowing all that stuff because all too often we just think it was just like today but the clothes were different. When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons I was in the midst of getting my degree in history and taking lots of courses on medieval history. I wanted to give period flavor to the game, so I did research and added all the little day-to-day details. After my gaming days were behind me I continued reading because when building a model it's the same thing. You're trying to recapture a time and place in history. That “smell of history” When you paint that figure in that period uniform what brings the figure to the next level is not just a perfect paint job but capturing what a soldier would really look like because of the life he lives day to day. An armored vehicle in combat is the tanker's home. I build a model of that I want to capture how the tanker makes it livable. What does he carry, how does he modify his gear to make it more comfortable. You can't carry everything; I've tried.
B. Having been in the military adds the additional dimension of personal experience. I was there in the field living on that tank. I read memoirs of a tanker in World War II and his life was the same. I read John Keegan's work on The Face of Battle and I'm struck by the experience of war fighting and how much is the same but at the same time so much is different. How did that haversack work as opposed to my “Alice” pack? Camp followers? Marching by foot with all your belongings on your back rather than in the bustle rack? Smelly wool uniforms as opposed to my carefully designed battle-dress uniform. The devil is in the details
C. That's something else from the military. Attention to detail. Look at the little stuff, as that is what makes the big picture in a diorama stand out. Anyone can throw a bunch of figures together, put them in their environment and surround them with a story. But is it real? Can you smell the sweat? Does it make the viewer/reader suspend his disbelief? I've been some places that were hard to believe, but there was always some little detail that reminded me it was real. So out come the books and I look to find the flavor of what was as opposed to just the appearance. That smell of history. Face it, before the modern era, stuff stank.

Extremely interesting answer! Your experiences really have enriched your work. It's some of the “realest” stuff I've seen in a comic, it's so easy to suspend belief and get into after making a start on it. Not in terms of the way out scenarios, but because of the relaistic portrayals and behaviour.

Question 4.
The converse of that is of course all those technical aspects behind the scenes. I've read a lot about how you work on the forums etc, so I have some background knowledge already, but there's always more.
let's see if I've got this straight: you have carefully constructed sets, props, furniture, clothing, and backdrops. You have a huge case of poseable figures and accessories for them. You take photos of the scenes with a digital camera… Already this sounds like a massive undertaking! What's the process exactly and how long does a chapter take to get through?

A. Are we discussing the same comic?
I can only talk about what I do, so here goes: It starts with the idea, then comes the brainstorming. During the brainstorming I start casting the parts. I have boxes of figures so I pick them out and do costume tests. I have boxes of clothing and gear and play with different configurations. Sometimes I take test photos.

Once the script is done, (I did one story without a finished script and it was a disaster. In fact it was the first draft of Go a Viking.) I separate the script into chapters and scenes based on the backdrops and figures involved.
I check the script to see what I need for the scene. I set those figures aside, and then I see what properties are needed. It's like shooting a movie. Props, sets, costume changes.

I do different set-ups and test angles and poses. I don't take pictures at this point; these are done with my eye to viewfinder to get a feeling for the content of the frame and where to put everything. Then I look at the script and set up the first panel. The figures are posed on stands, or if they stand up by themselves all the better. The poses are adjusted until they look natural. Most figures just have the one hand pose, trigger finger and grasping. If I have an alternately posed hand I use it. Unlike traditional fashion dolls these figures are very poseable. The knees and elbows bend; some are double jointed and can bend more than 90 degrees. Wrists and ankles move, waists bend and turn so I try to get expressive with their body language. I noticed that in most action figure comics all the poses were stiff and fake. I try not to do that. I even find myself adjusting certain characters because they wouldn't stand that way. Body language. The figures are shot against a blue screen because usually the background will be all digital.

So now I have two or more pictures of each panel in the script. All kinds of adjustments are made from shot to shot; angles, slight pose changes, it's like doing multiple takes in a movie. The pictures are uploaded to my computer and the fun begins.

Everybody still with me? All I have are a bunch of raw pictures taken against a blank background. I look at the pictures through the viewer and chuck whatever ones just didn't work. Then I put them into Photoshop. I'm back in the Stone Ages still using 7.0. The color and contrast is adjusted. I finally got my lighting right so there aren't that many adjustments needed anymore, at least to my tired old eyes. I used Auto levels a lot and at times it didn't give me what I needed.

Then I use the wand, pen and point selection and lasso to get rid of the blank background. I used to use the pen tool almost exclusively and it took forever. Then I experimented with the wand tool doing a bad B-movie script and life became so much easier. Along the way all the joints are blended, blurred or painted over. It's part of suspending disbelief. It really improves the look of the nude scenes. This can take as little as five minutes for a single figure to two hours for a group shot.

I'm left with the figures against a transparent background. Now along the way I've gone around the Internet and searched out interiors and exteriors and when I go on vacation I take lots of pictures. Chapter 6's background is all from my trip to Valley Forge. The modern stuff is edited out, as are bystanders and the like. Some shots have digital skies as the sky looked awful after using the clone tool to get rid of the telephone poles and suburban neighborhood.

So now I have cutout figures against a background. I usually blur the outlines of the figures 1-2 pixels so they blend, add shadows especially under the feet. If there can be grass or whatever I paint some in so they look like they're standing there as opposed to floating. For a camp or other exterior there needs to be people walking around. That's done whenever I feel like it. I've built up a library of shots of extras and spear-carriers and add them in as needed. It's all blurred so the reader won't notice. But I like the look of hubbub back there. Try 15 minutes to an hour per panel just for adding the background.

Compare the panels to the script again. Out of 10 edited panels at least 2 and as many as 5 will be cut during this process. Now comes matching the figures to what they're saying. I already have the body language, but now I do the facial expressions. Blur tool, select and move, select and transform even draw things in like open mouths and teeth. I move eyes and eyebrows the most. The effect is often very subtle because such expressions are very subtle. There is the occasional exaggeration for effect. So I have a finished panel.

Then I open up Comic Book Creator and using their templates drop the panels in. I'm still learning this part and at this step I really need the crutch of generic page templates and pre drawn speech balloons. I started out using broad screen frames and Photoshop speech balloons and it was pointed out how bad the page set-ups were. So I ditched using Photoshop and Pagemaker for page layouts, at least until I'm comfortable with paneling.

Whenever I get stuck or lacking in motivation I will shoot a whole pile of varied pictures usually recreating a bad B-movie I've seen and practice page layouts, blending and editing. Doing one of those I experimented with the settings on the wand tool and now use it. Before that I used to draw selections point by point with the pen tool.
The shoots take one-two hours per page of script. Then the editing process fifteen minutes to more than an hour to remove the background and blend joints (there was one group scene that took four hours but that was back when I still used the pen tool exclusively, joint blending for a nude scene takes forever and a day. It's those hip and shoulder joints) Then the background another fifteen minutes to an hour, then the page layout. I can usually race through the page layouts and speech balloons and even then finished panels will be tossed.
Anyone still reading?

Time? It depends on the content of the panel. Some take only an hour, others eight hours or more. Multiply that by 4-8 panels per page and as many as 20 pages in a chapter. I'm going to be doing shorter chapters from here on in.

My GOD what a massive answer!
I didn't realise you used digital images for most of your backgrounds, it's done so well that I just assumed they were custom sets. If I look closely I can see of course NOW, but because it was done so well I didn't think to examine like that before. :)
You have a good process going there, it sounds very professional ans streamlined. I'm impressed at how well you integrate your digital work with your photographic imagery.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:42PM
skoolmunkee at 12:38AM, May 18, 2009
posts: 7,058
joined: 1-2-2006
Question 6.
Go A Viking is a very “mature” comic, with sex and violence throughout . What's the sort of audience you're aiming for with it? And do you have any “morals” or messages in the story for your audience?

You asked for how I do it. I'm kind of hoping it'll make those who don't take photo comics very seriously to reevaluate their opinion. Like I've often said, I wish I had decided to draw it. Pencil, ink on Bristol seems so much easier in retrospect. But all those action figures I own. Lol!

What kind of audience? I like stories that bother to include the nasty stuff that occur in life. I hate bowdlerized tales. They always seem to be edited for sex rather than violence. So I retain the nudity. Besides I put all that effort into customizing the bodies of the female figures, I might as well show it off. One influence of mine was the original Medieval Arthurian Romances. It's full of explicit nudity and violence. I also like Hentai and B-grade exploitation movies so there's that too. Just look at Attack of the Robofemoids. Lol! I'm still working on how to do tentacle sex with the action figures. ;-)

As for audience, I just look at my stats. I have an audience? I do what I'd like to see and don't see anyone else doing. I beat myself up when I get no feedback because I think that no comment means I'm being spared harsh critique. So I tell myself that I write for me. ;)

As for morals and themes and all that: let me just quote Mark Twain:
“ PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. ”
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Well it's refreshing to see work that doesn't pull the punches, it's not like it's too exploitative (well robo femnoids is), but it deals with a subject where sex and violence is part of the story and you're not afraid to show it.
Now here's a question I should have asked first, but it only just occurred to me now:

Question 7.
Could you give me a broad outline of what the story of Go A Viking is about? Who are your favourite characters?

is an epic fantasy. Epic for me means BIG SWEEPING STORY with a BIG CAST. At the center is the conflict of good and evil, or at least how they're defined in the story. The definitions hopefully come out a little gray. The Good guys aren't 100% good. On a lower level you have the quest. Whether it is the quest for forgiveness between Searsha and Aleeka, the revenge between Searsha and Glorreaka, Glorianna's inner conflict about her duty, Aleeka's inner conflict over her identity or the lost magic item in the title. Glorreaka will steal the Sword of Kings along with the princess betrothed to Falkimir and Halfdan and friends will go off to retrieve them. Along the way there'll be magical infiltration, Dark evil and flashbacks to clear up some relationships including Searsha's background and her prior relationship with Glorreaka.
Glorianna, Alemir and some spear-carriers will also go off separately because of their personal involvement (Glorianna's sister and Alemir's intended). There will be the huge battle that decides it all and people will die.
Along the way the reader will become more familiar with the world, how different and how similar it is to our own and care about the characters. So far a lot of time has been spent on characterization and that is important to me as opposed to the plot of the stolen princess and Sword of Kings.
Favorite character? Searsha. The original script was supposed to be about Halfdan and the Norsemen and she just stole it away. Her part grew and at times it almost felt like she was dictating the script. There's a lot to her and the same with Aleeka. Glorreaka and Reah are a lot of fun to write being so deliciously perverse and I wish I could spend more time with Kulland. If the facial sculpt is a celebrity it means I like the character. Sean Connery, John Wayne, Arnold Schwartenegger, Terry Jones etc. The female characters aren't portraits (no one makes any and I can't sculpt very well) though Searsha does bear a certain resemblance to Maureen O'Hara.
I guess in the end I like them all, but Searsha remains my favorite. Though she is annoying. I've tried to make her unique as far as a fantasy heroine. She is not perfect, she's disabled (no left hand), she's moody and she is not supposed to be a great beauty.
My second most favorite character is Belinda Brandon; the busty Countess Orshia and Major Vronska from Robofemoids. She appears in every story I write and I like to do behind the scenes tales where she steps out of character and is herself; a B-movie “Scream queen” who just happens to have a sorceress as a good friend…(Searsha). They have an existence outside of the story and that's fun to write. But it's not fun to reformat into comic pages.

Hmm, you're right.
She does look like Maureen O'Hara!

Searsha is my fave character in the story too. There's a lot too her. Looking at those images it's amazing the way you can do that with her expressions!

Question 8.
How do you do that?
Also, what you've said about your attitude to Searsha and the massive scope of your story is interesting. Do you find yourself deviating much from your set storyline so you can broaden the role of any particular character that you like (like Searsha), or to further explore and have fun with any little plot points that've come up along the way?

Thank you, but you use Photoshop; you know the tools that can manipulate images far better than I do, including facial expressions. Use the blend tool to pull up one side of the mouth, select the eyes and narrow or expand them, select the eyebrows and move them where ever, paint in a smile and so on. Teeth are hard. Pretty rare I get them to look right as separate teeth instead of a little white line. An open mouth is hardest. Plates of teeth, inside of the mouth, tongue, uvula… that's after I copy the jaw and manipulate it so the mouth looks like it's really opened. Before I started doing the expressions the stories seemed dull. It difficult for me to read an action figure photo comic that doesn't have them. I think it adds to the Suspension of disbelief I'm a show-off. Hey look at this; I can put in facial expressions! I want this to be a story about people, not a showcase for my doll collection. Well at least it's supposed to be a story. The expressions are supposed to help with that. And some characters' expressions don't change. Look at Halfdan; Arnold is not known for his range of expression. ;-)

Deviating from the storyline? That's why the comic is 150 pages long and nothing has happened. Lol! Falkimir got the sword over one hundred pages ago, Glorreaka said she'd steal it soon after. The last 50 pages had little mention of anything about that. Honestly I've deviated too much. The original script had all kinds of subplots and was longer by a third. That was all cut. The chapters since the beginning of Book 2 have had about a fifth of the dialogue cut. I've already romped around too much. Someone said something about telling a story in 100 pages that could be told in 30. Looking back I'm afraid that's what I've done. I kept in whole chapters because of a couple of cool lines. I cut one chapter recently after I saw how long the current chapter was going on and on and on.

I have tried to tighten the subplots that remain. When I finished the script I realized I had to go back and explain certain things. I started writing some other pieces that fleshed out characters and found a few subplots that needed to become part of the main story. Explanations for why a character had done something, or explaining why they're not doing something. Then there is finding excuses to add sex and violence. The whole battle with Ragnar, Searsha and the spiders was added just to have a fight scene there. A reader pointed out that it seemed that way and I admitted that yes, it had been done for precisely that reason.

And just to be a pain in the ass the reader better not expect all the subplots to be wrapped up when the main plot is tied up. Life is not like that and frankly I don't know how to wrap some of them up.

Hmm, are you following the rules of the Philosophy Depaatment of University of Wallamalode? “There is NO question 5”? (Depaatment is not a typo, that is how Graham pronounced it. :) )

Of course! No pooftas either. You're not a poofta are ya Bruce? lol!

That's another time I've been fooled and befuddled! I truly though t you had multiple heads for them, or that you used plasticine, or cleverly made paper cut-outs stuck on (for the mouths).
Fooled again! You're better than you give yourself credit. ;)

Question 9.
What will be the future for Go A Viking? Will you really continue it all the way through to the end and then stop it to start on a new project? Just decide to continue indefinably? Or work to transform and tighten the comic when you're done for publication, or submission as a movie script or something like that?

I'm not clever enough to make the paper cutouts. ;) I tried the plasticine but with all different skin tones it was really hard. I tell myself that someone's expressions never quite look the same twice. I do have a couple of effects masks I made up for Robofemoids and another up-coming B-movie story (with the lurid title Interstellar Blood Beasts )

As for not giving myself credit…I don't. I just do what I do. Like anyone though I prefer others to give me credit. I've never been comfortable with self-promotion, which is why whenever I do it; it sounds like a B-movie coming attraction. I'll describe how I do things and try not to sound like I'm bragging. Anyone can do this, you just have to be willing to make the effort for what in the end is for yourself and not expecting accolades or feedback.

I've given up on Go a Viking twice in the past. Now I'm trying to stay committed to finishing it. As for finishing it, there are two sequels half-written. That is why I added the subtitle “The Sword of Kings” to differentiate this one from the possible sequels. But indefinitely? As Michelangelo said to the question: “When will you make an end?” “When I'm finished.” And I need that light at the end of the tunnel, when I can sit back and sigh and thank all that it's finished at long last!

I'd really like to finish this. There are three more books to the “Sword of Kings” story arc. Though the scripts are nowhere as long as Book 2. As far as publication, I hope this thing is never published. As for a movie script? Maybe, though a prose novel manuscript is infinitely more doable. I'd rather see “Robofemoids” published (and its two projected sequels). At the rate I'm going Go a Viking should be done in another two years or so. If I speeded up I might finish it in one year. Or I'll abandon it one last time and go back to my B-movies.

Speaking of endings, it's about time I wrapped this up, but first some more comment and one final question.

You see a lot of appeal in B movies? I always thought of them as “not good enough to be A movies”. But I suppose there's that fun deliberite exploitation element in them and freedom to explore softcore sex and Sci-Fi fantasy elements with a lot more abandon than any mainstream project could ever attempt. That must be it?

The real final question is…

Question 10.
All these comics must be a significant part of your life now. From what you've described your comic work must be a huge commitment… a bit of a burden, but also a personal glory. What would you do if they were suddenly no longer a part of your life? Would you rejoice , being free of the commitment? Or would it leave a huge empty great aching hole?

For me the appeal of B-movies is the violence, the nudity and often the wild abandon of all sensible story telling. However there are plenty of true gems. Hammer and Roger Corman are considered B-movies and some of the most innovative filmmaking happened on Poverty row in Classic Hollywood. And they're fun! Writing them is great because you can really take off with a crazy over the top idea. Like Interstellar Bloodbeasts or Attack of the Robofemoids and the twenty plus other ideas I have outlined and written.

Personal glory? Are you absolutely certain we're talking about the same comic here? If it disappeared tomorrow (it would take a lot of work getting rid of all those figures) Lack of time wouldn't do it. It has always amazed me that the less time I have, the better I manage it and the more work I seem to get done. If it all went away, I'd rejoice, but only at first. I'd feel the ache of wanting to tell stories. This is working for me, but if it stopped I'd have to find some other way to tell stories. Ways that are a lot more expensive and hard to do. You'd probably see the super-cheapo indy video production of Robofemoids.

I've already stopped production on Go a Viking three times but every time I've restarted. I'd go into another one of my many hobbies but the story telling bug would always be there nagging at me. Now if only I could get someone to bother reading it. lol!

And that concludes my interview with Bravo1102, aka private civilian Stephan Willoughby, aka Sergent Willoughby!
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:42PM
harkovast at 8:51AM, May 18, 2009
posts: 5,197
joined: 10-12-2008
The thing that stood out most here was the emphasis on “BUT NOT BARBIES!”
I hadn't considered before, but now I've got this image of Smither's house from the simpsons….

Remember, they aren't dolls! Girls play with dolls!

Men, MANLY MEN, utilise action figures and highly realistic models!

Great interview, lots of insight into the thinking behind the comic.

For more Harkovast related goings on, go to the Harkovast Forum
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:43PM
bravo1102 at 12:15PM, May 18, 2009
posts: 3,223
joined: 1-21-2008
Damn, I talk a lot.

Funny how in all those walls of text of mine what still stands out is the doll versus action figure thing. lol!

No matter what you do with a Barbie she always looks like a department store manniquin. :)

She only has six points of articulation (neck, shoulders, waist, hips) Can't do a whole lot with a figure whose wrists and elbows don't move and those feet! lol!

However, I do use a lot from Barbie's wardrobe.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:33AM

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