Thursday, May 06, 2010

Interview with David Malki!

Here it is folks! An exclusive interview with Wondermark! creator David Malki.

Can you walk us through the process of coming up with a new strip? Is it methodical? Or do you just wait until an idea hits you? Where does the artwork you scan come from?

Different strips are born in different ways!  I have a collection of old books from the 1800s that are full of old engravings and woodcuts. Sometimes I start with the images -- looking through the books until I find some images that strike me as particularly evocative, or playing around with elements until I find a combination that pleases me.  Then it's a matter of figuring out, "What is this man saying to this bear?" And the strip grows from there.

Other times I'll start with an idea already in mind -- I'll write the strip like any cartoonist might, and then it's a matter of building the images to match.  If it's something easy like a conversation, I'll just look for characters who look like they might be having that conversation (gestures, facial expressions, etc).  If it's a more complicated scene, I often have to build everything pretty much from scratch, finding or building props, settings, specific characters in specific poses, etc.  That can be a much more difficult process (especially when it comes down to paging through book after book just looking for something highly specific, or even pieces or shapes or textures that can be made into something I've conceptualized) but it's also very constructive and fun, and those are usually the strips I'm proudest of.

The ideas in this case can come from anywhere -- over the years I've sort of trained myself to think in comics, so when I encounter a situation in life or have a conversation that bends in a certain way, my mind sort of automatically spins it out to the absurd extreme to see if there's a joke in it somewhere. And on days when that well is drier, I have an advantage over other cartoonists in that I can just start assembling an image and see where it takes me.  Often in those cases I don't know where the strip is going until it gets to the last panel, and sometimes not even then.

How did Wondermark come to be? Where did the name come from?

The term "wonder mark" is archaic slang for an exclamation point, which I've written as part of my name for over ten years. I registered the domain without much thought of what might go on it. Around the same time I found a clip-art book of old engravings and started to wonder if they could become somehow become comics. I made ten or twenty strips as an experiment, put them on the website just because why not, and just never stopped doing it I guess! But I dropped the clip-art pretty soon: I don't like using images that other people can just buy a clip-art book and obtain.  That's why I started hunting down primary sources.

Now that you're more well known, has it in any way affected the quality of your strips?

I guess there is a little more pressure to deliver each time? But I always have a certain standard that I hold myself to: it has to pass my internal test before being good enough to post, and at the same time, I feel like I want to continually push myself to do better. I'm not satisfied with the same approach all the time, or the same joke construction, or even the same images or characters.  So just by virtue of how long I've been doing this, I feel like I continually want to top myself, which can be somewhat of a challenge.  And since people seem to like it when I do good work, it's continually encouraging.  Beyond that I just try and stay true to what I personally think is interesting without worrying to much about what people will think -- although over time I think as I've grown and matured as a person and as a storyteller, the subject matter of what I choose to write about has changed and matured as well.

Do you have any personal favorites from the site?

My favorite strips are the very ambitious ones -- the ones where I know I spent a ton of time and energy in pursuit of a really precise goal, and pulled it off -- as well as the very straightforward ones, the ones that fit together simply and easily and are (in my opinion) just good examples of how to use the comic strip medium to tell decent jokes.  Examples of the former: #550, #569; of the latter: #260, #442, #326.

Aside from your own, what other webcomics do you read?

I appreciate and respect a ton of other comics, and I read loads of them in spurts, but there are only a
few I read regularly.  I will get in trouble with my friends if I mention which ones they are though!

When you first upload your newest strip, aside from your regular fans, who are you the most anxious to get a reaction from?

I guess antsy billionaires?

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