He makes a rich woman beg, he makes a good woman steal..
He’ll make an old woman blush, he’ll make a young woman squeal…
Ladies and gentelmen, today and for one night only, I give you the fabulous, sexy, astounding, Mr. Paul SOUTHWORTHHHHHHH
Fleen: Why don’t you start us off with some shameless self-promotion.
Paul Southworth: Man, I’ve never been very good at self-promotion. Just ask anyone who’s ever seen me at a convention. Kellett and Guigar are masters at selling their work and the work of others, sidling up to potential buyers and not only convincing them to buy the book, but also making lifelong friends and potential organ donors. When somebody asks me what my comic is about, I immediately call up the pre-written summary I’ve got stored away in my head, but all that comes out is, “It’s about, uh, monsters…”, followed by awkward silence, shuffling of feet, and leaving; sans book.
Suffice to say that I draw a comic strip on the internet, and maybe if you have time you should read it. If you want. No pressure. OH! And also I’ll be appearing at Vericon at Harvard University on Saturday, January 27th on the Webcomics panel at 1:30.
I think my self-promotion glands are officially drained.
Fleen: Other than that, what’s up with your bad self?
PS: Well! Ugly Hill is currently halfway through its second year as a comic strip, and still running five days a week in full color, despite my diminishing buffer. Back in May 2005 I started this thing with a 6 week lead, but now I’m lucky if I can maintain a paltry two-week safety zone. Every unexpected family function and national holiday gets me one step closer to the crumbling precipice of failure! I’m not one of those guys who can just work day-to-day, and it’s a constant struggle to stay ahead.
Also, I just signed a contract with Viper Comics to run Ugly Hill on their website and publish future Ugly Hill collections, which is pretty awesome and terrifying!
Fleen: How did that deal come down?
PS: I heard about a contest Viper was holding to find a new webcomic to add to their existing quality lineup, “You’ll Have That” and “The Horrible Pirates”. I certainly wasn’t looking to leave Blank Label, but I knew Viper printed some great quality books, and I wanted in on that. Turns out Ugly Hill will be running on its current site and the Viper website, when the time comes.
It’s been my goal since I started doing this to see my stuff in print form, and even though I’ve already done a self-published book, it feels a little different when a company sees enough promise in your work that they’re willing to sink real money into printing an honest-to-god book of your comic strip. It’s a nice feeling, which is immediately overtaken by sheer terror and stomach pains. I’ve only recently signed the contract, so the wheels are just beginning to turn. Be assured that Fleen readers will be second only to me in knowing when the next book is coming out.
Fleen: Where did you learn to draw like that? Tell us about your influences.
PS: If there was something cartoony on TV as a kid, I watched it and was influenced by it. I wasn’t so much into G.I. Joe or Transformers (sorry Willis); I was more of a Ninja Turtles kid, which is pretty much all I drew between the ages of 10 and 15. After that, I was really influenced by shows like Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, The Simpsons, Freakazoid!, Beetlejuice, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Eek the Cat. I think I stole most of my storytelling techniques from The Simpsons, but probably the show that most made me want to draw better was Ren and Stimpy. The range of expression John K. imbues in his characters is inspiring, and made me want to step my own drawing up a notch or three. Oh, and also I went to art school or something.
Fleen: Art School? Is that where you met your wife?
PS: We did go to college together, but we actually met in high school! Super-lame! We’ve been married for just over three years, but we’ve been together for ten. She was the first and last girl I ever dated, and vice-versa.
This is the part of the story where the eyebrows start to rise and the audience begins to snicker. But rest assured! My wife is the only one who settled. I’m just one of the lucky ones who got it right the first time.
Fleen: Why is rage such an important part of your artistic life?
PS: Probably because it’s such a non-existent part of my real life! I’m a pretty shy, quiet, mild-mannered hermit of a person. I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at anyone who was not a member of my immediate family, and I’ve certainly never been in a physical fight. I maintain a very calm exterior, but I do get a little hot under the collar at certain people occasionally, and it’s nice to have an outlet for that anger that won’t land me in a hospital or prison. Mostly I like the challenge of writing for a main character who is clearly the Biggest Jerk in the World, and trying to make him likable. It’s also fun to try to get to the roots of that anger, to make people understand where it comes from. I watched a lot of “All in the Family” as a kid, clearly. Give me a racist, loudmouthed, opinionated, pushy main character, and I’m a happy camper.
Fleen: What’s the worst mistake you’ve made in Ugly Hill?
PS: Ooh, good question. Probably the story where I had Eli and Snug meet “Matt Black”, an ex-Halloween store employee who got trapped under some boxes, and now haunted the stockroom as a ghost. It was the only time I really dipped into the realm of fantasy in the strip, which broke my unwritten rule about keeping the stories completely down-to-earth and realistic (to contrast the brightly-colored, Muppet-looking cast). Looking back on the story now, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and the ending is really sloppy. With every story I tell, I like to reveal something about the characters, and I don’t think that ghost story really cut it. Also, I tend to pick long surnames that take up a lot of space, like “Krauthammer”, and a new character I’m working on named “Ned Gooseberry”.
Man, if we’re gonna talk about mistakes I’ve made, we’ll be here all day! Let’s move on!
Fleen: How’s your ear?
PS: Ha! It’s fine, thanks for asking! I thought I had a wax buildup because my hearing has been pretty muffled over the past few days, but it turns out I have an excess of glue-like fluid behind my tympanic membrane. Gross! Now that I think about it, it has sounded like I’ve had a seashell glued to the side of my head for the last week. They’ve put me on a regimen of pills and things to squirt up my nose that should help with the drainage. Actually, I’m working it into a storyline! It’s all grist for the mill…
Fleen: A famous comedian once said “Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much much better.” How do you respond to this thought?
PS: Let’s not get into a comedian-quoting contest, Jeff. I’ll fire up the Mitch Hedberg Quote Machine. You’ll laugh harder than you ever thought possible, and then I’ll follow it up by telling you that he is dead, and that will make you incredibly sad. Then I’ll do some Brian Regan and you’ll laugh again. Eventually, we’ll both vomit and fall asleep in each other’s arms.
Fleen: Why do you think you’re hilarious?
PS: I don’t, but I HOPE I am. There’s a big difference! There’s not a comic I write that I don’t agonize over; adjusting the wording, making sure the timing is right, checking Google to see if the joke has been done before. I’ve re-typed this response about three times now, and I’m not even trying to be funny!
I think there’s a clear difference between people who think everything that drops out of the hole in their face is comedy gold, and people who constantly doubt themselves. It all comes down to self-criticism, and how much of it you’re willing to do in order to put out the best product possible. Sadly, without editors, the quality of webcomics (as opposed to newspaper comics) depends on artists and writers being honest with themselves about what’s good and what’s not, judging their own work more harshly than any reader would before it even gets in front of another pair of eyes. Unfortunately, there seems to be a shortage of that particular quality in webcomics, and that’s why we have 99% of them starring anime-ripoff characters rendered in ballpoint pen by what appears to be an arthritic blind hobo, with more jokes stolen from The Simpsons than the last three seasons of Family Guy combined. No wonder nobody takes us seriously!
The day I start thinking I’m hilarious is the day I quit drawing comics forever.
Fleen: Tartakovsky, Murray, Kricfalusi, or Hillenburg?
PS: You can’t possibly expect me to choose. I won’t name my favorite, but I’ll list why I love them all equally, you insensitive philistine.
Joe Murray because he always managed to sneak obscure adult jokes past Nickelodeon into Rocko’s Modern Life (like that time Rocko thought he was grabbing some berries off a bush but it was really a gorilla’s nuts). Also, whenever I read a comic book, I can’t help thinking to myself, “Turn the page, wash your hands.Turn the page, wash your hands…”. John Kricfalusi, of course, who I mentioned above, for his sheer genius in character design and range of expression (even though he seems like kind of an eletist tool in real life). Hillenburg… man, don’t even get me started. If you saw how much Spongebob merchandise I had in my house, you’d think I was either mentally handicapped or trying to lure kids into my Pederast Mobile. And Tartakovsky… well, he’s obviously great, but I was never a fanatic about either Dexter or Samurai Jack. So I guess he’s my least favorite of the four.
Now I feel bad.