Hey gang, it’s interview time again!
Today, I’m speaking with the creator of Goodbye Chains, Ms. Alice Hunt.
Fleen: The main illustration credits the comic to “A.H./A.N.” – who am I talking to?
Alice Hunt: I’m Alice Hunt–I’m the writer, and letterer of the main comic, and the Sunday strip (Venus in Points) is all mine. The artist’s name is Aishath Nasir, but she’s shy.
Fleen: Tell us about your comic – what it’s about, where you’re trying to go, the whole deal.
A.H.: Goodbye Chains is about a Communist from Boston and the oversexed bank robber who ends up pressing him into service as his partner in crime. They are men of loose morals who thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, and who also thoroughly enjoy destroying key pieces of Western infrastructure. It’s less a webcomic than a graphic novel that you don’t pay for, and it’s an actual novel, rather than just a long comic. There are three volumes to it in total, running from early to late 1884, and to say any more would be spoiling it (especially given that the comic is still in early May). Also, it is as historically accurate as I can make it, right down to the version of the Communist Manifesto that Colin totes around. It’s a labor of love, and I’m very proud of it.
Unfortunately, it’s not a very commercial work, so I’ve decided to place it online to try and build an audience for an eventual print version. The change in the art style is in service of this goal; the idea is that the print version would be totally inked and finished as the first few dozen pages are, so that you’d have a real reason to buy the book beyond wanting to support us or having a copy you can read on the bus. We’re taking a page from DVD collections of TV shows, which seems to be the business model that bears the closest relationship to webcomics trying to make it into print.
Fleen: So you’d fold in your annotations from the forum, and add easter eggs like a pop-up panel or one of those sound-effect things like from the hallmark greeting cards – that kind of thing?
A.H.: No, not quite (though some annotations might find their way into the back if the pagecount allowed it). What I mean is that like webcomics, most TV shows are free, so why would anybody pay to have them in a quasi-physical form? Thinking of my own behavior, part of the reason is due to convenience (especially for older shows that rarely or never air anymore) or a desire to have all the episodes in one place so I can watch an entire season at once (like Arrested Development). But other shows, especially those in syndication, offer an additional value not just by adding deleted scenes and nifty little featurettes, but also by restoring scenes that originally belonged but that had to get cut for financial reasons, or by uncensoring some things that usually had been censored. I think if you can appeal to all three impulses–convenience, continuity, and completion–then you have a better chance of selling collections to more than just the hardest-core fans.
Fleen: What is the meaning of the name, Goodbye Chains?
A.H.: “Goodbye Chains” is the inscription on Colin’s first gun; it’s an adaptation of the last line of the Communist Manifesto, and it inspires Colin to go on his frankly pretty stupid mission to rid the West of capitalism by spectacular acts of domestic terrorism. There’s also some symbolic stuff in there somewhere, but spelling that out kind of ruins it, no?
Fleen: You’ve recently founded the Sugarskull collective. Tell us about your reasons for doing this, and how it’s working out so far.
A.H.: Sugarskull is a collective for comics that might not fit into any particular genre, but that are deserving of a wider audience regardless. For all the potential that the Internet has to connect readers with fresh new content, it can be damn near impossible to find an audience unless you fit into one of a very few genres (gamer, geek, or indie snob, mostly). Sugarskull is our way of making sure that good comics that don’t fit into these genres don’t fall through the cracks–and, while we’re at it, exposing fans of one quirky comic to others that they might like.
It’s working out very well so far. We got linked to by a couple of mainstream comic sites (and Warren Ellis watches us), and my audience has sustained a healthy bump. Plus, it’s nice not to work alone.
Fleen: What is the average size of your readership?
A.H.: It’s hard to tell; since the collective kicked up, it’s gotten significantly larger, and I have the feeling that a good chunk of my readers don’t check the site on every update day. If I had to guess, I’d say probably about 1000 readers? It’s very hard to say definitively.
Fleen: What’s your relationship with GirlWonder?
A.H.: I’m a friend of the people spearheading the initiative, and very grateful to them for the opportunity they’ve provided. The site is designed to improve the lot of women in comics (both mainstream and not so much), and part of that mission consists of providing resources to people who want to create but might not have the wherewithal to do it. In case you were wondering, they don’t have any editorial input into the comic; there is no sign reading, “You must be at least this feminist to have bandwidth here.” I’ve got the lever; Girl-Wonder gave me the place to stand. (And, I’ll note, access to an audience that might not normally seek out a webcomic, much less a Western.)
Fleen: Why did you decide to make a Communism based Western?
A.H.: Obviously, because I wanted to make the most popular comic of the early 21st century.
To be honest, I had the idea for Goodbye Chains so long ago (over five years, at this point) that I couldn’t really say; it just seemed like the thing to do. It’s certainly not because of my politics or my love for the genre, so I suppose that this was my attempt to create a Communist Western that I would like to read.
Fleen: What other kinds of things do you like to read? How does that influence what you do with your comic?
A.H.: I don’t read too much for pleasure because I’m busy and picky, unfortunately. I like One Piece and Death Note, as well as a few other Western comics (like Joann Sfar); John Hodgman‘s “The Areas of My Expertise” was probably the last prose book I had the time to pick up. I do love the Colbert Report, though, which does have a bit you read in the beginning and so should likely count.
I’m not really consciously aware of my influences, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Usually, when I read or watch something I like, it inspires me to work harder on my own stuff, instead of stealing characters or situations or jokes. As an artist, I don’t want to copy what someone else has done, even if I admire it; I want to write stories that only I can tell, and following someone else too closely diminishes my chances of saying something truly new. That comes up a lot when I’m doing Venus in Points, actually; I’ll hit upon what seems like a good punchline, but upon further inspection it’s too easy and too close to a hundred such jokes of that type, so I have to keep reworking the joke so it’s novel and therefore (hopefully) funny. I could go into further detail, but I suspect it would be boring.
Fleen: Why do you like to read stories about men with loose morals? Or, on the other hand, why do you like writing stories about men with loose morals?
A.H.: Well, probably because bastards and the unhinged are more interesting to read and write. Who would you rather watch a TV show about–Al Swearengen or the fat guy who runs the newspaper? One gets to drown junkies, while the other just combs his mustache.
Fleen: How do you think your comic compares to other Anarcho/Communo/Socialisto/Libertario-Western comics out there?
A.H.: It is superior to them in that it exists.
Fleen: What are the odds of a Pirate showing up in your comic? Are they better or worse than the odds of seeing a Ninja?
A.H.: Ninjie McPirawesome will be appearing roughly one month after the introduction of Fligsy, the megalomaniacal cyborg Chihuahua who wants to rule the world and tell Linux jokes in the offing (spoiler: he’s sarcastic!). His appearance will kick off a long time-traveling arc where Colin and Banquo must find a Wii nunchuk at retail or risk triggering the heat death of the universe.
Fleen: Why comics?
A.H.: The interactivity, mostly. Comics allow you to control the pacing of a scene better than books do, while at the same time allowing the reader to linger on those parts that he or she finds fascinating (which can’t be done with a movie). There’s also an immediacy to the visuals that a book can’t quite convey, and you can do some neat juxtaposition and formal tricks if you know what you’re doing. Jokes turn out especially well in comics; even if the punchline is kind of weak, a good drawing can save that, and since most of my writing is tongue-in-cheek I figured I may as well give myself the extra insurance that brings.
Fleen: What else do we need to know about you?
A.H.: I work the hardest to be the smartest?
Really, I got nothin’ right now. I’m working on a couple of other comics projects right now, including something with my sister Meg Hunt and another something with the lovely and fabulous Dean Trippe, but there’s not too much to discuss about them just yet. Other than that, I like miniature pinschers and tiny edible replicas of much larger foods.
Fleen: Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, or Castro?
A.H.: Trotsky, if only because his death should serve as ample warning to Colin to not let Banquo hold the axe.