Drawing a daily comic, Doug Tennapel, and how we “get into” the things we like

01 Mar

Since I’ve continually heard (and by that I mean “read online”) that doing something daily is the best way to build an audience for one’s website, I’m going to do a daily comic. Right now I’m building up a backlog of material, so that I can keep like fifty strips in a file folder and post them one at a time. Ironically, while I’m preparing myself to make daily posts, I won’t have much to post in the meantime.

One of my inspirations for this project was Doug Tennapel’s Ratfist ( Tennapel is the creator of Earthworm Jim and he’s a very skilled cartoonist, but much of his work had been relatively obscure (he writes explicitly Christian comics about aliens, and there’s blood and cussing in some of them, which makes for a VERY heady mix: it certainly isn’t for everyone). For years, he had been essentially self-publishing his graphic novels, which are well-loved by many, but hardly Amazon top tens. With Ratfist he tried a different model, posting a page a day, all free, for 150 weekdays. Up until this point, I had never heard of the guy. Then a cartoonist friend of mine “liked” Ratfist on Facebook. I clicked the link because of the ridiculous name, and based on the first page I read, I probably would have written it off as a well-drawn but didactic right-wing webcomic.

But the name “Tennapel” rang a bell, and I Googled him, and found out that he had been involved with some video games I liked in the early nineties. So I kept reading Ratfist, not as a “good read”, but as one of those curious internet finds (“Huh! The Earthworm Jim guy is like a weird Christian now? This is kind of funny, in a Stephen Baldwin kind of way”). It took me about ten or twelve pages to realize that it was indeed a “good comic”, and about thirty pages to become invested in the story and start caring about the characters. Tennapel’s views are central to the stories he tells: if you took “the political stuff” out of Ratfist, it would ruin the comic. As a “spiritual but not religious” unmarried liberal in my twenties, I am exactly the kind of reader Tennapel wants to piss off and challenge. He is heavy-handed and cheesy, but he’s also a deeply thoughtful guy with an active moral imagination. And from a storytelling standpoint, he is a near-masterful craftsman whose silly, exaggerated drawing style hides the fact that he really seems to know what he’s doing.

I’m a Tennapel fan now: I’ve purchased three of his books on Amazon, and he’s become one of my favorite cartoonists (when he’s not busy being my least favorite cartoonist). The point is: think about all of the variables that had to fall into place for me to even find out about his comics, let alone start enjoying them!

1. He made some video games that I played.

2. I Googled those games and found out that he made them, then forgot about him for like a year.

3. He made a bunch of comics that I didn’t read or even know about. (This one was important!)

4. He made a daily webcomic.

5. My much more savvy friend “liked” it on Facebook.

6. I followed the link.

If #1-3 hadn’t happened, #4-6 would have been meaningless. I know that I’m just one reader, but I think that in this case I’m a good example of what HAS TO HAPPEN for something to be successful. If Doug hadn’t labored for years in (relative) obscurity, working on other things, I basically wouldn’t have continued reading Ratfist when I found it, and I wouldn’t have become a fan.

These days, almost everybody under the age of 35 has a blog, or a band, or a webcomic or a startup or a something that they’re trying to pimp online. I look at many of these, since I’m always trying to find new cool things to “get into”: then I immediately forget about almost all of them, even if they’re really good. I get the feeling that a lot of people look at my comics, think they’re kind of interesting, and then immediately forget about them. This is totally understandable, since I do the same thing! To get real FANS, who will think about your stuff and reread it and let it simmer in their minds, and then maybe someday like your stuff so much that they’ll pay money for it so you can do it for a living (sorry, I can’t help daydreaming sometimes ;)), you need to stand out from the pack. And in order to do that, I’m starting to think that you need to reach a “critical mass” of content that you’ve been involved in. Doug Tennapel draws stuff that isn’t exactly “mainstream”, but he’s built enough of a niche for himself that he can do it for a living, which is just endlessly inspiring in this day and age.


2 responses to “Drawing a daily comic, Doug Tennapel, and how we “get into” the things we like

  1. Joseph MacKie

    March 16, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Great Post.

    Interesting to see someone who feels exactly the same about the man as I do.

    It baffles me, how someone whose views are so completely and utterly opposed to me on the politcal spectrum, can still make art and games that I enjoy.

    I think there’s a lesson there about not judging people based solely on their beliefs.

    • robertbrudos

      March 22, 2012 at 12:22 am

      @Joseph MacKie That’s a pretty good lesson to take from it. I also (as a good liberal) believe in an open society where people talk to each other. (Secretly, I believe that more people would be liberal in such a society, and thus our side would win. Bwoo-hah hah.) One of my favorite Douglas Wolk quotes is “(i)t’s comforting to see first-rate art that’s compatible with one’s own political views, but to see first-rate art that’s violently opposed to one’s own political views is necessary.”

      Thanks for reading!


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