The webcomics blog about webcomics

Breaking Walls

I don’t know too many people that do webcomics under pseudonyms any longer — it was once pretty common, as an outgrowth of gamer/message board handles, or just nicknames; in most cases those weren’t meant to obscure identity as much as establish it. Sometimes they came about gradually, such as how the main characters of Penny Arcade spent six months without identities before becoming Jack and John, and only later being actually identified as Tycho and Gabe, but the names Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik were always there in the copyright info. You were more likely to find such in days gone by in the comics that featured boning (such as Sexy Losers, credited for many years to Hard, and eventually the mononymic Clay), but that’s gone by the wayside, too.

So I’ll be perfectly honest with you when I say that upon first encountering Surviving The World, I had no reason to suspect that Dante Shepherd was a pseudonym¹, and even once I realized it was, it didn’t make much difference — he was writing under a pseudonym to keep his comic life and his professional life separate², something that authors have done with pen names since time immemorial³.

Once “Shepherd” announced that he was moving into academia and he let clues drop in public about which school, it was pretty trivial to figure out his actual name (if such was your desire) by checking the faculty listings of the Chemical Engineering department at Northeastern University and looking for the guy that looks like this, only minus the lobster hat (funny thing, first time I went looking for him I missed him, because he wasn’t wearing a hat in the faculty photo; I’d started to think of that Red Sox cap as part of his actual skull). No need to bring up that info in public, though, since he found it valuable to maintain the fiction, despite mentioning more and more on social media that his students recognized him immediately.

Dante Shepherd, meet Lucas Landherr:

The pseudonym served me well — turns out many/most/almost all academics don’t use the internet, so while my students recognized me pretty quickly, I flew under the radar for years with the people who had real influence on my future career prospects — basically allowing me to do years of comics work without it influencing my professorial chances. At this point, with my students making hash of what had been a secret and with my colleagues all in on it, the pseudonym isn’t needed anymore, so I may as well be honest about it.

Truth is, I’m still gonna think of Herr Doktor Landherr as Dante for a good long while, because that’s how I’ve interacted with him; while I’m not going to go so far as to think that Landherr is the pseudonym and Shepherd the real person (à la Batman/Bruce Wayne, or Superman/Clark Kent), I will say that the lobster hat picture would do pretty well as an official portrait on the faculty page4. Give him a couple of years on the tenure track, and they’ll let him do a photo without jacket and tie, I bet5.

All of this is to say, if you show up for Shepherd/Landherr’s talk on Kickstartering next Wednesday in Boston (refreshments provided!), you can decide what to call him and he’ll probably answer, as long as you don’t call him a Yankees fan.

¹ Not that “Dante” kept the fact that it was a pseudonym secret; it only really became obvious when he mentioned his wife, The Swede, and eventually his kid, Cannonball. This isn’t too different from how Howard Tayler has had a policy of not naming his kids online until they’re adults or close to it. Heck, I tweet under the identity of Fleenguy, but that’s only because both Fleen and Gary Tyrrell were taken.

I’ve tweeted back and forth with Gary, by the way. Nice guy.

² I suspect that Gene Ambaum, now removed from day-to-day librarianing, need not keep up the wall of secrecy, but at this point the pen name is too valuable to give up.

³ I still have a moment of confusion when I get email from the actual real-life name of Xaviar Xerexes.

4 The lobster hat photo is objectively better; there’s too much shadow on the face in the faculty photo.

5While I haven’t been in academia, I recall being a very junior member of an instructional staff when I was younger than Landherr, and feeling like I had to break out the jacket and tie. Now I’ve been doing the job for more than 20 years, I’ll use any damn picture of me I feel like. There is at least one official professional forum where my headshot is supplied by Principal Tyrrell/Cousin Gary.

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