Monday, November 7, 2011
Interview: Ben Chamberlain of Supermassive Black Hole A*!
Hello, and welcome to another interview, this time with Supermassive Black Hole A* and The Princess and the Giant creator Ben Chamberlain! We'll be keeping any webcomic questions on Supermassive for this interview, but who knows about the future? Read on to probe this guys brain like he were an abductee, and I were the little grey alien dude jabbing him with sharp, shiny things...
1. So, tell us the gist of your comic, and why this idea appealed to you, as a writer.
The basic idea is telling stories of people living at the center of our galaxy, which is in theory an area of relatively close-together star systems and intense energies. I thought this would be a fun setting for adventure stories because a) you can have people travel to other stars without having to resort to completely made-up stuff like hyperdrive, and b) it's a harsh yet potentially highly profitable environment, and that's just the thing for gritty adventures!
2. Why go the black and white route, as opposed to full on color?
It's faster! ;) It also suits the sort of noir space theme I'd like to hit. I suppose though the real reason is that when I started the comic, it was an animated thing that was basically composed in animated .gif format, which only supports 256 colors, so you need to be black and white--or at least monotone--to be able to do that smoothly.
3. Your comic has a pretty unique approach to storytelling. What made you decide to use this
Before A*, I was the live game designer for an MMO called "The Matrix Online." Over the course of that project, the budget we had for our periodic, story-driving cinematics ran out, and to fill that void I started making the cinematics myself, as (really big) animated .GIFs. After that project, I thought I'd try something similar on my own, so A* started out as an animated webcomic; but I found it hard to reach an audience in that format, so eventually started putting out my daily animation work as still screenshots, essentially, in static webcomic format, and in the end that worked so well that doing the animated side just wasn't worth it at all by comparison. But I've stuck with the essentials of the cinematic format, ie the wide cinematic aspect ratio, and single subtitled panel, because...well because I like it, I suppose; it lets me really focus on the artwork image-by-image, and I think it has a sort of naturally dramatic quality that
lends itself to the "serious" nature of the stories.
4. If you could read only one webcomic, other than your own, for the rest of your life, what would
I was going to say that if it implied it would update regularly forever, then "Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life" ( http://www.bohemiandrive.com/comics/npwil.html ), but I see that one has just ended. ;_; So I suppose I'll say "Bad Machinery," ( http://scarygoround.com/ ), since it has consistently good, intelligent writing and art, and definitely seems like it *could* go on for ages more and not bore me.
5. Tell us the artistic tools that you use to make your comic.
Until recently I was using the Lasso Tool in Photoshop, along with GIMP for some effects such as star fields. I just made a switch to traditional media though, so now it's a da Vinci "Maestro" size 3 brush, Japanese India ink, an ancient 0.5mm mechanical pencil with "H" hard leads, and Strathmore "vellum" Bristol board. I scan the ink wash paintings into the computer using an 11x17" Mustek 1200dpi scanner. Oh well I suppose I still use Photoshop for processing the scanned images and adding subtitles! And it's the super-old Photoshop 4, because I'm used to it, it does what I need, and is much less bloated than modern Photoshops.
6. Promotion-wise, what do you do to gain new readers?
I do a bunch of stuff I suppose but mostly it's advertising on Project Wonderful that seems to reach new people. Other than that, I cross-post comics to places like deviantART, ComicFury, Drunk Duck, and Smack Jeeves, post on The Webcomic List message boards, and unsuccessfully try to go viral by posting updates and news on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
7. About how much time per week do you think that you work on your comic, and does it ever interfere with the rest of your life?
I work on it full time, and what is this "rest of your life" thing? =o
8. Any other projects you're currently working on?
It's pretty much all comic and comic-related stuff for me at the moment. I do a Sunday comic, "The Princess and the Giant" (http://princess.smbhax.com), I do art commissions for my readers, and I've got some displays of my artwork at little galleries in the local Seattle area.
9. Any advice for fellow webcomic creators?
I don't know if I'm in any kind of reliable position for giving advice, but ehm if I was, I suppose I'd say work hard at it, trust your instincts and don't be afraid to change what you're doing, and once you think you've got something reasonably presentable, advertise!
10.Last question: why should readers give Supermassive Black Hole A* a chance?
It's easy to read! And anyway where else are ya gonna get a cinematic daily noir hard sci-fi webcomic adventure these days? (But if you find another one please let me know, I want to read it!)
Many thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer a few questions for us, and hey, why not give his comic a chance? He gave us one? Thanks for reading!