Chad Bowers,a web comic writer, is starting to have success in print comics.
As an up and coming creator, he is still hitting the convention circuit. I was able to bump into him and sample his wares at a local convention. We arranged a follow up interview here on the Pryde.
I think most people will have read your work from the online Awesome Hospital or Monster Plus. You have been co-writing that with Chris Sims for quite a while now. How long have you and Sims been writing about Death Rays, mind control, teenage werewolves, dirt biking surgeons, and all the radness of Awesome Hospital?
Chad Bowers:Oh, man, I’ve been writing about werewolves, mind control, death rays, and dirtbikery for as long as I can remember. But specifically in Awesome Hospital, since early 2010. Not quite a year yet.
How long did you collaborate on the web comic before it was available to the public? Please, walk us through that process.
Bowers:In typical Action Age fashion, Chris and I created Awesome Hospital while we were having lunch at Taco Bell. We’d been kicking around a couple ideas for a big ensemble cast comic for a while – a GI Joe parody, a dysfunctional sea-crew, etc… — just trying to figure out how to do a “team book” but in our own over the top way. At the same time, I’d come up with an idea for a comic about a guy on a dirtbike who went around solving crimes with awesome stunts and stuff, kind of like Ghost Rider but with less Satan… so no fun at all. I guess somewhere along the way, those two things came together as Awesome Hospital.
That was early 2009 maybe, and we bounced ideas off each other for while, and came up with the main doctors and the broadstrokes for the first two arcs, and then approached Matt Digges to do the art.
Initially, AH was an 8 page submission to ZUDA Comics. We obviously didn’t make the cut, and I think that probably had more to do with them shutting down than us not being good enough, because c’mon — dirtbike surgery and bulldogs on a skateboards are practically a license to print money. Of course, when we got rejected, we thought it was because they didn’t like us, but we felt like it was pretty great and wanted people to see it. So Chris purchased the domain name and within a few weeks of getting the “No” from Zuda, we were doing it on our own. The first eight pages were in the can since that’s what we’d shown ZUDA, and those got us through the first month or so.
So long answer shortened, it took us about seven or eight months to get everything up and running.
AwesomeHospital.com is updated twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). How far in advance do you try to have finished so that you can maintain that schedule?
Bowers:Well, the back-log of material from the ZUDA submission gave us a good bit of lead-time on the first story, and I think we all really kind of miss those days.
Chris and I are always working on some part of a script, but we usually try to get Matt and Josh something the weekend before the first page is set to go up on Tuesday. I don’t know how other guys do it, but with us, the actual creation of the pages — from script to going live — takes about two to four days depending on our schedules. We cut it close sometimes, but at this point, we’ve got it down to a kind of poorly thought out science, I guess.
With the next arc, we’re going to try some new things and hopefully give Matt and Josh a bigger window and maybe keep things from getting so cramped. I know we’d all like to go back to having more time to work on it, especially the two guys who’re working the hardest (hint: that’s not me and Chris), so that’s our resolution for 2011.
Besides AwesomeHospital.com, you are also writing the webcomic MonsterPlusComic.com. Does it have a similar production schedule as AwesomeHospital?
Bowers:Monster Plus is a little different. We update once a week, and we made sure early on to get a good cushion in place. It’s early yet, and we’re still kind of figuring things out, but I think we’re going to be able to stay about a week or two ahead on Monster Plus.
How would you describe the art style difference between Matt Digges (Awesome Hosptial) and JoJo Seames (Monster Plus)? How did you pick these artists to work with on these projects?
Bowers:Man, I know this wasn’t the question, but let me just say that Matt and JoJo are both supreme beings in my book, and they work their asses off.
Writers should always feel free to praise the rest of the team. This is a collaborative medium.
Bowers:As far as differences in style, I’m kind of terrible at talking about that kind of thing. I’m the guy who usually defaults into “So and so really reminds me of so and so” or “This guy’s work looks a lot like this other guy’s work”, and I hate it when I do that, but I’m just not articulate enough to do better.
But it’s hard not to fall in love with Matt’s artwork. And I think it’s easy to look at it and think “oh, animation” but to me, it’s more classical than that, like Carl Barks or Walt Kelly (see, I did it… took me, what, two sentences?). I think a lot of that has to do with his storytelling choices. There’s something about the way he draws and lays things out that’s so perfect and familiar and clear. I’ve never wondered “what’s going on in this panel” when Matt Digges was drawing. So yeah, I think he’s probably one of the best storytellers I’ve ever seen, and the choices he makes – OH, MAN — so much better than anything we’ve ever actually put in the script, believe me.
And JoJo, she’s got a style all her own. It’s so unique and colorful, and just kind of explodes off the page. And I mean this as a VERY good thing, but there’s really nothing coming out right now that looks like what she’s doing. I mean, I can see shades of Vaughn Bode and Simon Bisley and Sam Keith in there, but it never actually LOOKS like those guys, y’know? She’s perfect for something like Monster Plus because of how kinetic and kind of ridiculous it can get. My favorite things are the faces and body language of her characters, and just how animated and motion-heavy she makes everything seem. Again, that’s not me writing that way, that’s her making it look like I write that way.
Are you collaborating with artists and letterers that live geographically close to each other, or did you embrace the power of the web’s world-wideness and pick collaborators from the far reaches of cyberspace?
Bowers:Chris and I live pretty close to each other, and usually get together once or twice a week. But most of the artists we work with are from all over, and are people we’ve connected with online.
Since you’ve been penning the awesome of Awesome Hospital, which toy-comic property do you think are the most awesome Transformers or GI Joe?
Bowers:I’m a GI Joe man through and through. But I’m not reading any of the GI Joe comics out there right now. I read the first GI Joe: Cobra and thought that was pretty good, but haven’t started the ongoing. It’s on my list of things to pick-up. I am buying the Classics trades and have been rereading that stuff, which I love today as much as I did when I was 10 years old. No kidding, and I can’t stress how serious I am about this, but I find a way to bring up the Snake-Eyes Trilogy in conversation at least once a week.
Funny story, but a couple years ago, before it was officially announced that IDW had gotten the rights and were going to be doing new Joe comics, Chris and I emailed them, and were like “Look, we know you’re going to do this, and we’re kind of nobodies in the comics world, but we’ve got this awesome GI Joe pitch that would make you millions… so give us a call.” Of course, the phone never rang, but we’re still hoping.
Oh, man, there’s quite a few, so let’s see…
Off the top of my head, there’s Dr. McNinja, Axe Cop, Hark! A Vagrant, The Abominable Charles Christopher, Achewood, World of Hurt, Let’s Be Friends Again, El Gorgo, Questionable Content, She Died In Terrebone, The Rack, The Lonliest Astronauts, Dinosaur Comics, Registered Weapon, Wondermark… and I’m leaving out a ton more, I know, but this whole interview could be me telling you what comics I read.
Oh, but my favorite right now is American Barbarian by Tom Scioli. It’s a damn hoot, and just the most amazing art and story. REVENGE!!!
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that JoJo and Matt both do comics of their own outside Monster Plus and Awesome Hospital, and I read those. JoJo has two — The Makeshift Man and Dis – and Matt has Sequential Life.
At the con, you mentioned that you were accessible to the Bowers fans through the online comics websites, blog, twitter, and the Action Age Comics site. Given that you and your thoughts are continually available to the fans online, what role does the convention circuit play in your job as a creator?
Bowers: For me, Cons are about meeting people and putting hard copies of my work in their hands. I guess after that, it’s just cool to get together with friends and see what else is out there, and look at what other creators are doing. I’ve been going to cons for about ten years now, and have never really made any money, so it’s certainly not about that. But I think that the community of artists and fans is pretty important, and something that seems a little cold on the internet and twitter and tumblr. Those are all great ways to get who YOU are out there, but it’s kind of one sided. I enjoy the handshakes and buying drinks (and having drinks bought for me) and finding out what people like and don’t like about my work more than I like just telling strangers what I’m doing or watching on Netflix right now.
Well, then next time we meet you can buy me a drink and I’ll tell you what I don’t like about you. If that’s what you want. Seriously, I understand what you mean about the dynamic of the conventions which is absolutely not supposed to be one sided. It seems like the collector market was built upon the hauled long boxes of the conventions that have went before. I could wax poetic about that. But I didgress.
How many conventions do you try to hit in a year?
Bowers:Usually five or six, but it’s looking like that number will go up in 2011.
How do the convention goers tend to react to your table?
Bowers:Favorably, I guess. No one’s knocked over our table or anything, or accused us of ruining the art form yet. Our print version of Awesome Hospital tends to do really well at shows. We’re kind of becoming known as the “Dirtbike doctor” or the “Skateboarding bulldog” guys, so it’s made an impression.
At the con, you pointed out the size difference between the print version of Awesome Hospital and Monster Plus. You mentioned that while you have a love for the standard size comic in your hand, you felt that the other size worked better for a web comic. Could you explain that distinction?
Bowers:You’re talking about the “screen” format of Awesome Hospital – being printed to be about half the size of a normal comic, and seemingly more “wide” than “tall” – and yeah… we found out we could get it done like that, and it just made sense to try and give readers as close to a one-to-one reading experience as we could. If we’d kept it standard comic size, it would have physically been handled and flipped through like a calendar instead of a comic, and we didn’t want that.
One of the ongoing comic discussions of the past several years has been web versus print. You have an insider perspective on the web industry. So, what advantages do you see to web publishing versus the traditional print industry that we all grew up with on the spinner racks?
Bowers:Two things really. First is variety. Because anybody can do a webcomic, which means there are all kinds of new ideas and stories popping up out there, and that’s awesome. There’s no editorial approval process and really no waiting period beyond how long it takes you to make the thing, and that’s got its upside and its downsides, sure… but what you end up with sometimes seems more intimate than a lot of print comics. And that’s not me being down on print comics, because I love them with all my heart, but it’s the difference between buying something at the record store versus picking up an EP from an indie band at a show. One’s meant to be one kind of thing, and the other, hell, might not even know what it is, but if it’s fun and speaks to you, who cares?
And the second thing is they’re mostly FREE!
Overall, your webcomics are variations on comic strips and comic books even though they are viewed online rather than in print. They tend to fit into packages that could be printed. Have you thought about using more Flash or non-traditional methods (like http://www.webyarns.com/brainstrips.html explored)?
Never considered it, really. But now you’ve planted the seed…
I think you’ve covered the next question already, but just to hear your reply I’ll ask was it the work on the webcomics that allowed you to get a chance to work on the backup story in Resurrection by Oni Press?
Bowers:Actually, no. We were pitching a few things to Oni before the webcomics stuff, and that led to us getting the Resurrection back-up story.
From your perspective having written for both online and traditional comic industry, what differences exist in the processes?
Bowers:From a purely writing and plotting standpoint, I guess pacing considerations are probably the biggest differences. With things I write for the web, it all depends on how often a strip updates, but you’re always trying to write for the day or that week, and for the long term as well, if that makes any sense. Like, Monster Plus has to be a good single page because it only hits once a week, but also a single piece to a larger story. And I’m not speaking here in absolutes, but writing for print comics, I tend to think about those as a twenty-two page thing, or however long the book will be. So I might have less on a single page because there’s another one right behind it – you don’t have to wait a week – or, I might have a scene go on for a little longer because the reader’s got the book in hand and are ready to devote more time to a single scene or beat.
Also, you can’t really do a double page splash on the web… at least, I haven’t figured out how to do it with the right kind of impact. And as much as I like working in webcomics, nothing quite beats opening up to a perfect double page splash.
Also at the con, you had several other comics on the table that you had worked on. I liked your quick summary of The Hard Ones. What other projects are you working on regularly?
Bowers:Glad you brought that up, because The Hard Ones is kind of THE Action Age book. It’s what brought me and Chris together, and probably the book we want to do the most, so it’s cool that my quick “Power Man and Iron Fist: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” pitch got your attention. Makes me feel like we’re doing something right with that one.
Awesome Hospital and Monster Plus are my two regular gigs, and they keep us pretty busy. I’m looking at launching maybe another web-series in the middle of 2011, I think. Without giving away anything, it’s a zombie apocalypse comic through the eyes of a bunch of animals and pets… think Watership Down meets Dawn of the Dead.
And I can’t really get into too many details about this nest thing, Chris and I have a graphic novel project for Oni Press that should be out sometime this year.
Nice tease on the Oni project. Make sure that when you (and Oni) are ready to announce that you let us know. Based on your other work I’m sure whatever is your sleeve will be all aces.
Besides comics, what other writing experiences have you tackled?
Bowers:Just some blogging here and there. I’ve done technical writing for my job, and I was in advertising and wrote a lot for that. I used to be pretty active in music and bands, so there’s that, too… songs and stuff. But yeah, mostly comics.
Besides comics, what other media would you like to write for?
Bowers:I don’t know. Television, maybe? Haven’t given a lot of thought to it.
So far you have worked mostly on your own creator-owned projects and web comics. What established industry characters would like to write?
Bowers: Again, this entire thing could be me blathering about what I’d die to write for the big boys, but I’ll try to maintain a little decorum here…
Decorum is completely overrated. Blather away.
Bowers:Dream project would be Superman. He’s my absolute favorite character, and has been since I was seven years old and read Man of Steel. But he’s been all over the place for the last decade. And not that I’m the guy who could make everything right, but let’s face it, I AM. Seriously, I’d like to make him the most fun comic on the stands again. Batman’s the coolest, but Superman should be where you go to read about all the crazy adventures that’re bigger than anything you can do in real life. Fighting dudes? Taking a walk? Moving in with your family? C’mon, that’s all stuff we do ourselves and see on the news. Superman’s got to be better than the six o’clock report. He should be helping pregnant galaxies deliver baby solar systems, and fighting entire cities that want to kill him, and filling-in as a judge for a dinosaur murder trial, and having interdimensional pie-eating contests… that sort of thing. To me, THAT’s Superman.
Don’t’ get me wrong – I love it when there’s action and danger in Superman’s comics, and enjoy seeing him throwdown with Darkseid and Luthor in his Super Powers suit, but not twice a year, and certainly not every month. And good god, how many times has he cried in the last ten years? It’s like almost every other issue. Chris and I have had this conversation more times than I can count, but Superman is a character who got through most of the 1950s and 1960s without throwing a single punch on a guy. He enjoyed punking Jimmy and Lois just as much as he did matching whit’s with Brainiac. Again, I’m not saying that it should be Silver Age Superman all over again, because that stuff had its day and I know modern audiences wouldn’t take to it. But the spirit of those stories inspired Grant Morrison to write the best Superman comics in twenty years, and I think there’s a lot that the core DCU comics could learn from.
No need to redefine what Superman means every month, DC. Take it easy, guys, people know what he’s all about, I promise. Most of the time folks just want to be entertained and have a good time with these things, not read a hack-kneed thesis.
Whew… okay, wow.
Other than Superman, though, and in no particular order, I’d love a shot at the Fantastic Four, Death’s Head, Power Man and Iron Fist, the Flash, Guy Gardner, Deathlok, the Defenders, Namor, the Creeper, the Question, Shade the Changing Man, Beta Ray Bill, the Silver Surfer … I mean, you name it, I’ve probably thought about what I’d do with ‘em.
I’ll also plug GI Joe back on your list, since you’re still waiting on them to call you back.
If you were trying to coerce the companies into letting you pen that character, how would you sell yourself? What do you see as your best point?
Bowers:That’s tough, because I rarely think about what kind of stories I write. I guess I tend to try and come up with stories and ideas that are outside-the-box. Bascially, what haven’t we seen this character do before, and how can we get to something like that without alienating anybody. I’m all about the big moments, too… stuff that’ll make both kids and adults just flip out. I always seem to get complimented on my ideas and concepts, so I guess that’s where I’m strongest, and would probably rely on that kind of getting an editor to think out loud “Wait, that sounds kind of awesome” approach to selling myself.
In closing, what advice would you give to the next generation of comic writers?
Chad Bowers: Well, this is advice that I could honestly take to heart more myself, but WRITE! Write all the time, and about everything, not just what you want to write about. And read a lot and take in as many different kinds of stories and ideas you can. Don’t read just what you like to read, or watch only what you know you’re going to like watching. Try everything. Branch out. I don’t care if Darren Aronofsky scares you – watch his damn movies.
In post-holiday final conclusion, which of your projects do you think makes the best stocking stuffer and why?
Chad Bowers: Since I’m running late on this one, I’m going to just say Awesome Hospital Vol. 2 will be out next year, and we’ll make sure it’s small enough to fit in everybody’s Christmas sock!