With the exciting launch of Making Comics 3.0 and our awesome merge with the Comic Underdogs, I wanted to kick this new era of comic-making greatness off with a #TalkingComics interview spotlighting one of the pillars of the Comic Underdog community – artist and writer behind the webcomic Piece of Me, the hilarious Lukas Draxl.
KEVIN CULLEN: Where were you when you thought to yourself, “You know what? I think I should make a webcomic.”
LUKAS DRAXL: I don’t think there’s one particular event that made me go “Y’know, I should really draw a webcomic” … it was born out of boredom, mostly. Back then, I worked as a museum guard for the Hofburg Innsbruck (lovely building by the way), and as you might imagine, I was bored out of my mind there, not gonna lie. So whenever I had the opportunity I would take my sketchbook with me and scribble away, until I noticed how weird the mundane can be. I think that’s when I thought I should use that to tell stories, maybe even on a regular basis. I was already a huge fan of webcomics like PvP, Penny Arcade, Girls with Slingshots and the like, so I figured I could try that too, see where it takes me; It’d also be a nice opportunity to use those drawing skills of mine (I’ve been drawing ever since I was able to hold a pencil I guess) and some programming knowledge I acquired over the past two years. And since I suck at writing original characters and stories (there, I admit it), I kept mostly to ordinary situations with a silly spin on them.
KC: Where some folks tend to shy away from bringing their somewhat personal life into the spotlight, you embrace it – sometimes even adding a twist of surreality and absurdity to the mix (a personified writer’s block? Brilliant!). Are there any aspects of your life that, when you started your webcomic, you specifically decided to blacklist?
LD: Hm. I think my sexual life is off limits.
Nah, just kidding. I wouldn’t pass up comedy gold. Haha … hah … oh dear.
In all seriousness though, I didn’t limit myself when I started and I have yet to find something about myself that I can’t joke about, but I tend to avoid some topics these days, especially political ones. The internet these days has gotten extremely dangerous when it comes to those things, I won’t turn my comic into a bloody minefield. At least not when I can avoid it. I think, off the top of my head, there’s only a single comic where I took a somewhat political stance:but that’s about it. I think. (I have to admit, I don’t know every single strip like the back of my hand like some of my readers do. Fun fact, they often reference a gag in my comics and I’m sitting there like a doofus, having no idea what they are talking about. But I digress.) As I said, the mine field situation is one of the reasons why I don’t want to pick one particular side of an argument, another reason is that there’s already plenty of negativity around. I don’t want to change the world, I don’t take myself seriously enough to step up on a soapbox, I just like to make people laugh. And if I have to make fun of myself in order to do that (which turn out to be the funniest comics I think), all the better. It’s like, we’ve got enough sticks up our arses already, it’s about time to pull ’em out; I’ll start.
KC: Releasing two comics a week is quite a task. Is there anything that you discovered after having done Piece of Me for so long that makes your workflow speedier?
LD: Oh yes, definitely. Way back, I bought a tiny Wacom Bamboo (remember the models with the touch ring? I miss that thing.) just because I wanted to try going digital, I made my first few comics on that thing. A while later, I upgraded to a mid-sized Bamboo Pen&Touch, then to a large Intuos 4, which I used for about three years, I loved that damn thing. However, a while ago, I started to look into monitor digitizers, y’know, those bloody things with price tags that make your blood curl. But I found a rather great alternative in the brand Yiynova, so I got myself a MSP19U+ – I’ll just say that I’ll never go back to regular tablets. Ever. That thing sped up my workflow so much, it’s ridiculous. You know what else is really beneficial to a proper workflow? Using something else than Photoshop. I used that damn program for years, but I’ve never been quite satisfied with how my inks turned out, the pen pressure in that program always seemed ro be all over the place (with lines jumping erratically from thin to way too thick, with really ugly transitions inbetween). So I switched to Manga Studio 5 Ex. Amazing program, lovely inking engine, line smoothing etc, couldn’t be happier. Also, having a device for travels (in my case a Surface Pro 3) and a silly girlfriend that delivers tons of comedy gold sure help keep up the pace.
KC: So with all these sweet devices, I’m curious as to what your workspace look like.
LD: Yeah, here’s my workspace, mostly. Nothing spectecular there I think.
KC: Did you set it up that way on purpose, or has everything migrated over in that direction?
LD: Yeah, I did set everything there on purpose, and yes, it did migrate there through trial and error. Still does, in fact. I think my desk reflects my workflow really well, as clean and tidy as possible, but ever changing. Man, that got so deep, I think see Adele rolling down there…
KC: Let’s hope she stays down there. Hopping back all the way to comic number one, it’s easy to see that you’ve made some seriously great growth as an artist! Was it just having done the comic for so long that your style naturally changed, or was there something you did (take a class, practiced with friends, etc.) that accelerated your skills?
LD: Thanks, it’s something that I’m personally also really proud of. Hopping back to #1 and comparing often keeps me motivated to push the envelope even further. I think it’s mostly the practice that comes along with drawing for so long, but better equipment and some research sure didn’t hurt. I’ve still got things to iron out though, mostly anatomy and backgrounds.
KC: What are some of your favorite tools when it comes to making your comic? Photoshop Vs. Manga studio? Pens and brushes Vs. digital painting?
LD: I’m working on Manga Studio 5 Ex on my PC with a Yiynova MSP19U+ hooked to it (as already mentioned I believe) and on my Surface Pro 3 on travels and outdoors. I still scribble occasionally on paper, but only for practice. Working fully digitally is just a lot more convenient if the comic’s going to end up online either way, so I consider it a sound investment to cut out the middle man, or step, so to speak. I’m not saying that working analog is a bad thing (The Hanged Man by CB Webb is an absolutely gorgeous looking comic, dear god), so to each their own.
KC: Are you working on any other extra-curricular comic or art projects?
LD: I do work on some last paid commissions for a friend and on one rather big project that I can’t really show you much of: Artwork for AM2R, “Another Metroid 2 Remake,” but that’s about it for the time being. I’ve got enough work on my hands with my day job and my own webcomic, so I’d rather have some extra time to spend with my girlfriend than some extra money for now.
KC: By the time this interview is published, you’ll have more than 250 strips online, which is amazing! If you were to collect them all into a book, would you try to fit all 250+ strips into the book or would you pick and choose?
LD: 250 feels like a rather significant milestone, doesn’t it? Funny you would ask this though, because I already did – I self-funded my very first book a while ago, only 100 pieces of it for the time being. Also only in German, since I wanted to have something to sell for my first comic con in Vienna. But to answer the question, I did pick and choose most of it. For instance, I left out almost every strip up until #145, in part because I wanted to revisit my older storylines for upcoming books and because the older ones didn’t age particularly well. #145 was the exact strip I switched from Photoshop to Manga Studio, so it made sense to keep that consistent. I also left out a few strips that only made sense at the time (one of the reasons why I try to avoid comics about pop culture or games – those things tend to add an expiration date to gags). But otherwise, there’s pretty much every strip from #145 to #233 in said book, including a few of my personal old favourites, spread over 60 pages.
KC: Oh, very nice! If you come out with an English version, would you go back and redraw earlier strips that you put into your book so that the style stays the same or do you think showing your progression as an artist is something you highlight?
LD: Funny, I also already did that for my first book to add a purchase incentive without alienating those readers who can’t afford or don’t want to buy a book. What I did was to hand-pick ten strips and redraw/rewrite them to keep the style consistent AND to improve the gags – some of them fell a little flat back then due to lack of experience. However, as I mentioned, I did include a few of my favourite old strips in a seperate chapter to show some progression. I’m not too fond of omitting older content, it feels kinda ingenuos to me. Also, showing artistic progress within the book itself is a nice touch I think, so I think both approaches are valid. Valuable even. I’m going to rewrite and redraw one of my older storylines for the next book, because holy crap, those were all over the place and are in dire need of improvement.