One of my favorite webcomics is by fellow Michiganian, Jim Anderson: the all-age-friendly Ellie on Planet X. The colors are rich, gorgeous, and minimalist all at once. The storyline is unique and funny. The dialogue is perfecto. I was thrilled to be able to interview Jim earlier this week.
When you first started Ellie on Planet X, what other webcomics influenced you?
Webcomics were new to me, so I wasn’t reading a whole lot of them back then. The few that really got my attention were Scott Kurtz’s PVP, Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher, and especially Chris Sanders’ Kiskaloo. I really love how he draws – like everything is made from clay. Since then I’ve discovered so many good webcomics and have been lucky to have made friends with a lot of creators.
What are some of your favorite current webcomics?
There’s so many. A few of my current ongoing faves are Katie Rice’s Skadi, Tom Dell’Aringa’s Rock and Tin, and Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona. I also just found Stand Still, Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg. I haven’t read it yet, but the artwork is beautiful and I love the presentation. I’m just looking for the right time to sit down and catch up. That’s just scratching the surface. Those four have a common fantasy theme, but much of what I end up being attracted to has little in common other than just being really good. And I never know what’s going to attract me, though I’m usually pulled in by the artwork.
What made you first decide to make the transition to an online comic from print?
There’s no barrier to enter. Nobody can tell you, “Sorry, your money’s no good here.” I had thought about doing Ellie as some kind of book, but I didn’t have any real plan. Producing it as a webcomic worked out because I didn’t have to plan anything at all in advance. I just had the basic idea and let it go wherever it wanted to. The whole strip is very stream of consciousness. I can change gears in the middle of a story and if today I feel like writing about what’s going on at Ellie’s Mission Control instead, I can do that too. There’s no one I have to answer to but myself.
You’re putting together an Ellie on Planet X graphic novel! What has that experience been like?
It’s very different from doing the strip. It took a long time to go from writing a bunch of things that just happen, to forming everything into a plot that’s interesting and makes sense.
It can be frustrating at times. I’d run aground on some plot point and couldn’t figure out how to get around it. So I’d just keep picking at it until I’d find a solution. Maybe it would be just switching a few things around, or adding just a line of dialog. It’s like a puzzle that you keep at until you find what works. I’m really happy with what I’ve come up with.
I also had to think a lot more about the characters’ personalities and what they each want. I don’t think I defined them as much as I should have in the webcomic. In the book, however, there have been times where I’ve had one of them doing something which I thought served the story, but then one of the people reviewing the script for me would point out that they were acting out of character. It really helps having other people look at it as you go. When you’re working up close on the details, you need someone else’s perspective so you don’t miss the forest for the trees.
One thing I appreciate is that now that the story is written, I can concentrate on the drawing.
Do you plan to do more graphic novels following this one?
I’d like to. I have ideas. We haven’t gotten a publisher yet for this one. We’d like to send out about fifty pages for publishers to get a good idea of what to expect. I’m still a ways from completion. What happens next is contingent on that.
Have any plans to start a new webcomic in the future? Deets please!
No imminent plans. I have…something…it’s sort of an idea based on a puppet my girlfriend and I are making. Nothing concrete though. Ellie is taking up a lot of my time right now, along with my day job.
In a previous interview you said that your cartooning routine consists of waking up the morning the strip is due, freaking out, and pulling it together at the last minute. I like this. Do you think that having a deadline rushing at you can make you more creative?
I certainly don’t recommend it. It makes me all crabby. I would say it does help me to not fuss over things as much. To accept the mistakes, leave them, and move on to the next strip, being mindful not to make the same mistakes again. As for creativity, I think that comes from consuming stories (reading or watching), looking at things from other perspectives, and asking a lot of “what if” questions.
If you could have breakfast with anyone who has ever lived, who would it be? And who for lunch? And who for dinner?
I think I’d start by having breakfast with myself, but me from about twenty-five years ago. Just so I could reassure me that all the little things that I fussed about were no big deal and that there are more important things I need to concentrate on. I really had my perspective all backwards. Then I’d say something like, “Okay, it’s still early. Quit being lazy and go get something done today that you can be proud of. I’ve got to go. I’m meeting Bill Watterson and Dr. Seuss for lunch.” And then I’d have dinner with Julia Child because she could really cook.
What is it about the Mars Rover that speaks to you?
Right now, more than 35 million miles away, there’s a couple of remote controlled cars tooling around a place that nobody’s ever been before. And on the other side of every hill they drive over is a new landscape full of discoveries to be made. And one day, if we discover life there or somewhere else in the universe, it’s probably going to be one of our little robots that does it. It’s pretty cool that we can do that.
What are you reading right now?
Bodie Troll by my good friend Jay Fosgitt. It’s like the Muppets meet Dungeons and Dragons meet Loony Toons. And right after I finish this sentence, I’m going to pick up The Return of Zita The Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.