Interview with Hannibal and Sherlock Fanartist Reapersun

The Dirt Crown by Reapersun

Reapersun is a popular fanartist known for her comics within many fandoms, but particularly those of the television shows Hannibal and Sherlock. After gaining a strong following on Tumblr, the demand for her comics grew, and she set up a Patreon in order to financially support herself while making art. Now earning over $3000 a month from about 300 pledgers, Reapersun is a shining example of the power of fandom. You can support Reapersun and get access to many of her comics at her Patreon, although she intends to post them all up for free on her Tumblr in the future.

The cover to The Dirt Crown, Reapersun’s original comic.

I’m really interested in your history. Are comics a medium you’ve read or loved for a long time? When was the first time you drew your own comic?

I’ve always loved stories, and for a long time, comics were just another kind of storytelling I was interested in. I actually went to school for animation, because I was obsessed with ’80s and ’90s anime and thought I wanted to be an animator, but I was disappointed when I realized how little I could get done on my own with animation and that a career in animation meant more than likely working on other people’s ideas for a long long time, maybe for my whole professional life. I actually got my first job animating monsters in an online flash game, and while it had its own rewards, it wasn’t what I was really passionate about. Comics became my passion projects, since I could tell the stories that I wanted to, how I wanted to, in a much shorter amount of time. When I lost my job doing background and concept art at a mobile game company earlier this year, I decided to treat it like an opportunity and take a shot at doing comics full time.

I was making all kinds of stuff for as long as I can remember, including comics. The earliest comics I remember doing were a series of strips called Matt the Rat, a bunch of really gross comics about a really rude, dirty rat with an earring. I was probably ten-ish when I made those, and it was super inappropriate. My dad still has some of them I think, but he’s sworn to secrecy, heh. In college, I tried drawing some more serious manga for Tokyopop’s Rising Stars contests and ended up working for Dramaqueen on their Rush anthologies, but unfortunately only published one chapter. After that, I worked on games until I was given the chance to work on some comics at Gaia Online, and looking at that work now, it was really amateur, but I feel like that experience really taught me a lot about comics and how to finally take them more seriously.

Your fandoms are pretty diverse, but based on your Hannibal and Sherlock fancomics, I feel like you kind of have a taste for 19thcentury, gothy kind of works. Were you into these kinds of shows or comics before you got into these fandoms?

One of my core fandoms in my teens was The Vampire Chronicles; it shaped a lot of my preferences for the kind of media I wanted to engage with, including supernatural horror, murder, morally ambiguous antihero protagonists, and of course, m/m romance. I actually consumed a ton of really trashy supernatural stories around then, and if they had mystery and detectives and vampires in them, those were big bonuses. Then I went through a big anime phase, but my favorite anime were still the gritty dark ones with lots of ultraviolence; it took some grotesque and horrifying things and made them very lovely. Throughout college I was obsessed with the Death Note manga, a supernatural crime story. I started diversifying my tastes more as I grew out of my emo teen phase, so I can enjoy almost any genre now, as long as it’s entertaining and well written. It still takes a special combo to make me a big enough fan to create art for something though. Like, I love shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, but I don’t really feel compelled to create art for them, because they don’t have that good combination that makes me want to make things.

Do you have a favorite thing you like to draw? Or maybe one of your comics is your favorite (I promise not to tell the others)?

I like to draw men; I’m on a quest to develop my style to the point where I can draw really beautiful yet still masculine men. I also really like to draw horror, blood, and monsters, and maybe-not-so-secretly I love drawing flowers and plants. And horses, because I’m still twelve apparently. (And my favorite comic right now, to be honest, is the coffee shop AU; I haven’t drawn a lot of Hannigram [ed note: Hannibal Lector/Will Graham, from NBC’s Hannibal] comedy or fluffy stuff and I’m really really enjoying it.)

A page from Macchiato, one of reapersun's Hannibal fancomics
A page from Macchiato, one of reapersun’s Hannibal fancomics.

Now that you’ve been doing this for some time, do you find anything about your work getting easier?

I’m actually finding some things getting harder; I’m second guessing myself more than I used to, because now that people are paying money to make this work happen, I want to make it good and worthwhile, and so I’m spending more time on everything than I used to. I feel more discouraged when a piece doesn’t turn out as good as I’d like or when people don’t react to it that well. I think these are issues I just have to work through, and I think I’m doing okay at that, since I’m still making my own decisions on what to make and how to make it. But there’s still an underlying insecurity that wasn’t really there before, basically from recognizing that most people don’t feel that my work is worth money. It’s not a reality I had to face when I was making stuff for fun.

But while I don’t feel it’s easier, I feel that maybe I’m improving more than I have when I worked on things as a hobby. I get to spend more time learning how to draw things rather than trying to slam it out as fast as possible at the end of a work day between dinner and bedtime. I’m practicing capturing the likenesses of the people I draw, and I’m producing a lot more work than I have in the past year. When I finish a comic and print it in a zine that I can hold in my hands and page through, that’s one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had as an artist.

Although faithful to the original shows, your comics sometimes stray from the original tones. Your Hannibal comic seems a little sadder, in a quieter way, than the show. Your Sherlock comic, in contrast, I would say is a bit funnier than the original first season. Is there something that influences these changes?

It’s mainly that there are certain things I’m more comfortable writing than others; I could never write a really highbrow story like Hannibal or a really clever story like the earlier Sherlock episodes, because I’m just not on that intellectual or literary level, so when I make fan stuff for it I try to keep the tone and the essence, but make it more human and less high concept, focusing on the emotion of the characters. It’s the same with humor; humor lightens things, and I don’t have to take it as seriously or overthink everything to try and make it smart. When I see something I made really connect with readers, it’s usually something emotional, or something fun, so I figure those are my strengths, and I try to lean on those whenever possible. It helps that those are things I really enjoy making too.

You’re a natural at running your Patreon. I never get updates as frequently nor do I get as excited when I see them from any of the other Patreons I support. You have a very open-door policy with your readers, even on the rare occasion one of them grumbles about something. But even then, you’re open to criticism too! What is your outlook when it comes the online portion of your work? Do you feel that there are skills you’ve learned as a fanartist that have made running a Patreon easier?

I learned that frequent and consistent updates are absolutely necessary for success. There are so many things on the internet for people to consume. You can be an absolutely brilliant creator, but if you only update once every few months or miss a lot of deadlines, people forget you exist or get bitter that you’re breaking too many promises, and they don’t stay engaged with your work. If you update often, even if you have average work, you’re reminding people that you exist, and they’ll remember you better. My work is not brilliant; I see dozens of artists on Patreon who are much better, technically speaking, but I’m doing decently, and I’d contribute it to delivering on my promises as much as I can, just as much as the work itself.

As for criticism on my Patreon, I really want my patrons to feel like they can talk about a concern they have with my work, since this is essentially my business now and I want them to be happy. It would be really bad for me if I started a new project and suddenly lost half of my patrons because they’re not interested in the new work. On the inverse, even though I always welcome criticism and want to make people happy, I know I can’t follow through on every comment I receive. But it’s always useful to hear, so I keep it in mind for future works. Plus, if I’m about to start releasing something I know many of my patrons are not going to like, I can better plan for it financially if they’re honest with me about whether they like it or not. So, I really want everyone to feel comfortable sharing their feelings. There’s also an extra aspect to this; no artist can view their own work objectively. If they only hear positive things, they might feel good, but they won’t improve; they already think they’re hot stuff and everyone loves it. If they hear negatives too, even though it can hurt, it helps them recognize potential weak spots in their own work that they might not be able to see. Since this is my livelihood now, and may end up being my long term career, depending on how the next several months play out, I want to keep getting better at it.

A page from reapersun's Sherlock fancomic, A Study in Black.
A page from Reapersun’s Sherlock fancomic, A Study in Black.

Do you feel that there is a difference between what you do and what a professional comics artist does?

I think professional comic artists are pretty varied in how they work, depending on what projects they work on, so I couldn’t really say. There’s certainly technical differences in how they create their work for print and how they release it, creating larger batches at a time rather than single pages and working with publishers and so forth. I try to stay very close to my readers, but different artists have different levels of interaction with their fans. Some invite it and get very engaged, and some don’t tolerate any of it. I’ve done some professional comics for publishers, and really the only differences are tech specs and workflow, getting approvals and so forth. I suppose it’s nice that I don’t have to get my Patreon work approved by anyone, and I don’t really answer to anyone, which is a level of freedom most professionals don’t have. I can just make what I want, and I don’t have to defend my decisions or pitch it to someone else who gets to make the call; I decide for myself what the best choice is and then I just do it. I feel like I’ve spent most of my career fighting that instinct to just make the decisions on my own and forcing myself to let someone else make the call even if I don’t agree with it, and it’s a bit exhilarating, and frightening, to finally just let myself go.

Ray Sonne

Ray Sonne

A comics reader since the first Raimi-directed Spider-Man movie, Ray now works as a copywriter. When not writing or training in Krav Maga, she likes to expand her queer comics knowledge and talk with fellow nerds on twitter @RaySonne.

One thought on “Interview with Hannibal and Sherlock Fanartist Reapersun

  1. So glad to read this interview! A great artist and by the sound of it a great person. I am in awe of how much art she produces without compromising quality and how regularly she updates. Her artwork (Wayfinding) was the whole reason I even got a Patreon in the first place and then became totally addicted to Macchiato! I love that the interviewer mentioned how excited she gets when she sees those update emails! Same girl! haha Lovely to see someone doing what they like. 🙂 Rock on!

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