I honestly can't remember how I first discovered the online comic "Elf" but I was hooked right away. "Elf" follows the adventures of Blackfeather, an elf adventurer, and her friends. It's funny, it's emotional, it's easy to get into, and the art is great. And there are a ton of easter eggs for readers who are fans of classic gaming, both RPG and computer. Songgu Kwon, the creator of "Elf" recently launched a Kickstarter for a print version of the comic, and took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions.
------First off, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. How long have you been working on/planning Elf? What drew you to this project? I know you’ve done something in the past that had elements of D&D (Magus Orbis). Did the idea for Elf come out of that?
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my comic! Back in the Spring of 2012, after coming off of working on Season 4 of an animated show called Metalocalypse, I felt a strong desire to make something for myself. Comics have always been my favorite storytelling medium, so naturally, I knew it was going to be a comic.
I had previously spent a considerable amount of time developing a new fantasy and D&D themed animated show called Magus Orbis (“magical world” in Latin). My partners in the venture were my friends, Jon Schnepp (director of Metalocalypse), Chris Prynoski (owner of Titmouse Inc.), and Rob Grbavac (old gaming buddy & writer). The project didn’t pan out as I had hoped. The desire to do something with the fantasy genre was still strong within me, so I decided to make a fantasy themed comic.Elf is a web-based (for now) comic. Is this your first foray into this format? Any particular challenges or benefits to it?
Yes. Elf is my first web comic. The concept of publishing a comic on line, a page at a time, for free viewing seemed a bit strange to me at first. I had heard that some web comic authors eventually managed to actually make a living from such a model, so I decided to give it a try, uploading just one page per week, so as not to put too much of a dent into my weekly schedule.
The challenge of this format was trying to achieve some resolution in every page, while telling the overarching story. The main benefit was the instant feedback from my readers. I’d scan the latest page as soon as the ink dried, add some tones in Photoshop, and bam, it’d be on line. Often times, within minutes of finishing a page, a reader would comment on it. This is pretty cool!
My work ethic as a professional illustrator kicks in when I’m on a job but my productivity working on my personal stuff can take a hit from any number of sources like… video games and… just plain procrastination. My regular readers were there to provide me with the motivation to keep posting new content every week!I’m a big fan of the art in Elf. One of the things I really like is the creative page layouts you employ. It reminds me of the old Spirit comics. How do you go about drawing an “episode” of Elf? Do you draw it manually, or digitally? Do you storyboard a few weeks in advance? How do you color the non- black and white strips?
Each page is first “thumbnailed“ in my sketchbook, usually minutes before I start penciling on a sheet of Bristol board. After the pencils are finished, I’ll ink the word balloons, letters, and panels first and then the art. It’s all old-fashioned pen & brush work right on top of the pencils. When that’s done, I’ll erase the pencil remnants and scan the page. Shades of grays and color are added digitally in Photoshop.Early on, Elf was mostly one-page stories, but you’ve on to a story arc type of narrative. What prompted the change?
At first, I was just goofing around with various fantasy genre themes. I was never interested in making so called “gag a day” (or gag a week) comic strips, however. I wanted to tell stories. The story arcs became longer and more complex. You have to be careful with this though. If you add too much complexity to the plot, it’ll take more and more pages to arrive at a satisfying resolution!OK, nerd question. When I played D&D it was mostly the 3.5 edition. When I read the rules for older versions of D&D, they are fascinating in how much they leave up to the imagination of the players and Dungeon Master. For example, in 3.5 and beyond, there are hundreds of Prestige Classes to pigeonhole players into a certain role. “Elf” seems to take some of its flavor more from “old school” Dungeons & Dragons more than 3.5+. Was that a conscious decision? What prompted it?
I played 1st edition AD&D back in the 80’s and I’ve never tried the later editions. All of the influences and references to gaming in Elf are decidedly “old school”! I really like the more open and “primitive” aspects of the old system. I even really like the art in those old books. They have a raw quality, which reminds me of medieval depictions of mythological creatures and such. This allowed me to let my own imagination flesh out the details. I think when they try to make everything too specific and too polished, it kind of kills some of the wonder of it all.You’ve sprinkled some technical details about sword fighting in the series. Do you have a background in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)?
I have no formal training in sword fighting, but I am a big nerd and have studied and trained on my own in European and Japanese styles of swordsmanship. For a long time, there was very little information available to the general public about European medieval sword fighting techniques. To train actors in films like the 1982 Conan the Barbarian and Star Wars, they brought in instructors trained in Japanese swordsmanship, for example.
In more recent years, scholars and martial artists have greatly revived the lost knowledge of European sword fighting systems. This is a very exciting time for those who are into this sort of thing.Pieter the Idle… Love that guy. I don’t know if he’s really lucky or really unlucky (though I was surprised to read he has CHA of 14.) Please tell me he’s based on someone you know in real life.
Ha ha! He’s not solely based on any specific individual. I guess it’s often the case that an author’s characters represent different aspects of the author him/her self. Pieter might represent my nervous, fearful, slightly insane, yet clever and resourceful side. You’ve shown us some of the back story of Blackfeather. Do you have any plans do the same with Pieter or Clarence?
In the final story arc of the book, readers will get a very detailed look into the mind and history of Pieter the Idle. He will function as the vehicle for a major plot development that will force the reader to question the very reality of the world in which the story takes place.
The bonus origin story, which will only be featured in the print version of Elf, will give the reader some insight into who Clarence the Wombat is and what he represents to Blackfeather.Do you have any other Elf-related spoilers that can safely be revealed?
No. It’s all a SECRET!! :pEvery few years it seems like the Death of Comic Books is right around the corner. Certainly, the medium has some issues – an aging reader population; costs that are prohibitive for younger people to get involved; competition from other forms of entertainment; such as movies and video games; etc. Yet comics, and comic books, have proven to be pretty resilient. What do you attribute this resiliency to? Where do you see comics (both Internet and print) being in ten years?
There’s really nothing like comics, as a story telling medium. Films use time to convey a story. The viewer is locked into this linear format. A comic uses time AND space. The way the panels on a page are laid out creates a unique way of perceiving a sequence of events. Video games are great because of the interactive aspect, and they certainly demand a good amount of attention from potential comic readers. But once again, they’re not comics. I don’t think comics are going anywhere. They are eternal!It’s pretty weird how the success of the Marvel movies have made comic books so in vogue in a way I never would have imagined they would be as a kid. Do you see this having a positive impact on non-superhero comics as well?
I think superhero movies are popular because that genre has had a significant and constant influence on modern culture since the early 20th Century. It has taken on a mythological aspect that fires our imagination and desire for escapist fantasy.
With the advent of computer graphics, films are finally able to convey the “superness” that they couldn’t before. I think it’s good that mainstream culture is becoming more accepting of comic book related materials, and surely, this couldn’t hurt other types of comics, could it?What would you say your major influences are? Not just comics but artistically in general?
I’ve always been in awe of artists with excellent draftsmanship. Later Picasso and Warhol may have made important breakthroughs in the way ideas are expressed visually, their work never floated my boat quite like Degas and Klimpt, for example.
The comic artists who have influenced me the most? John Byrne, Milo Manara, Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Mike Mignola, to name a few. They’re all masters of the craft. You’ve also worked a lot in animation. Can you tell our readers about some of these projects?
The one project that I’m known for the most is the Adult Swim show, Metalocalypse. I was invited by my friend Jon Schnepp, back in 2006 to join him and his pals Brendan Small and Tommy Blacha to work on the newly green-lit show over at Titmouse, Inc. in Hollywood. As the lead character designer, over the course of 7 years and 4 seasons, I’ve designed probably thousands of characters for that project. I drew all of the main characters and it was neat seeing how much love the fans had for them... that was the best part!
During one of the season, my assistant and I drew the entire Metalocalypse art crew as characters in one episode, where they all died horrible deaths. Good times! It was a cool experience.Do you have any upcoming projects outside of Elf?
Elf is my all-consuming passion right now but I’m planning on revisiting some old unfinished projects. I’m also planning on making some shorter comics, possibly in the science fiction genre. I really want to start focusing all of my time and energy on making good comics, from now on. I hope I can!
Thanks you for this opportunity to talk your ears off!
Check out Elf and the Kickstarter campaign:
Elf - http://elf-comic.thecomicseries.com/
Kickstarter campaign - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/330163472/elf