Webcomic Wonders: Natalie Riess

Dungeon Critters #1, Natalie Riess, Sara Goetter

Curious about webcomics and where to start? Get insight from those on the ground floor. Now a significant focal point in terms of queer comics and readership, webcomics have flourished over the last few years as a diverse community. Curious about the creators’ perspectives, our intrepid reporter interviewed several at Flame Con 2017, Brooklyn’s annual LGBTQ comic and pop culture convention.

You may best know Natalie Riess for her comic Space Battle Lunchtime, which was published by Oni Press, or her recently-completed webcomic Snarlbear. She also writes and colors Dungeon Critters, with Sara Goetter (pencils, inks, and letters). She’s also an awesome interview subject. You can find Riess on Twitter @snarlbear.

Space Battle Lunchtime, Natalie Riess, Oni PressI am planning on starting a webcomic myself, but I need to get an artist, because I can’t draw. Or, I can draw, but not to the level of which I need in order to draw this story.

I know a lot of people who start out in webcomics, and they don’t really know what they’re doing. And then they learn as they go, and they get exponentially better. That’s the really cool thing about webcomics, because you can just start and go. A lot of people see the growth as they go through their webcomics, which is always fun. Well, for the artist you look back and it’s painful because you’re like, “I’ve learned a lot since then. I sure have grown. I sure have learned how to draw a tree or a hand or something.” But I think that’s cool to see for a reader.

Did you start that way, figuring it out as you went along?

I think I learned how to be a better writer more. I mean, obviously I got better at drawing comics by drawing comics. You get better at art period, because with drawing comics, there’s so much art you have to make, and it makes you draw things that you normally wouldn’t. So you could avoid having cars in your story—Snarlbear doesn’t have any cars in it because it’s a fantasy—but you have to learn how to do environments and put figures in it and draw figures from angles that you normally wouldn’t. So comics is the, I would say, one of the best ways to get better at art.

Is that why you chose webcomics as a medium?

I chose it because it was convenient. I didn’t have the means to self-publish, and I didn’t know how publishing worked in order to pitch. And had I pitched to a publisher, I wasn’t good yet. So webcomics was a good fit for me.

What was the first webcomic you ever read?

Inverloch by Sarah Ellerton. It has elves in it and furries, and there’s a twist at the end. I got a copy at the bookstore, and there was the URL on the back. And I went online and read it and it was really good!

Go-oda did a comic. She was a teen at the time. It has dragons in it and some of the dragons were sad. It was really good! I don’t think that one is online anymore, but it was a really big inspiration.

The Meek by Der Shing Helmer is really cool. That’s still going. I think they’re up for an Ignatz this year for that [Editor’s note: and they won!].

That’s a weird thing. The Ignatz has a webcomics category, but it’s like every comic that’s online is considered a webcomic, so there aren’t really categories within that. So there’s The Nib stuff and then The Meek. Which are both really good pieces of comic work, but also completely different! Oh well. Awards. Awards don’t know how to deal with webcomics, that’s a long standing fact.

You would think that the Ignatz would by now, because it’s all about small press and indie comics, but nobody ever seems to have figured out the organization of this yet. Maybe we need a webcomics award.

There might be one out there? I don’t know. Obviously not any good ones, because I haven’t won them. That’s a joke! I’m being vain as a joke!

So, you’re reading The Meek right now. Are there any other webcomics you’re reading?

Cucumber Quest by Gigi D.G. is really good. There’s a lot of stuff that my friends do that are really good. It’s not really a running webcomic, but anything Emily Carroll has ever done is my favorite. She’s so good! I think she’s doing a thing now with a vampire lady and a cat lady and it’s like horror.

She’s stunning. How do you feel that webcomics have helped you express your queerness?

In webcomics, there’s nobody to say, “this is gay, this is too gay, you gotta dial it back.” So you basically can do whatever you want and that gives you a lot of freedom as a queer person. I’ve also met a lot of really cool queer folks that are doing webcomics, because there’s a lot of us. Obviously, we have this incredible con [FlameCon] for it!

I feel bad because Snarlbear, none of the characters are straight, but I had a vague romantic subplot, and it wasn’t even a thing. I feel bad that I didn’t make that explicit or talk about it. Like, these two side characters have crushes on each other! And there was like a piece of lore in the backstory about two lesbians who were super mad at each other. When I get back to webcomics, I would like to do stuff that is explicitly queer as opposed to “these characters are gay but it’s not part of the story.” Not like every gay person has to make stories about being gay! But I just want to.

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.