Webcomic Spotlight: The Less Than Epic Adventures Of TJ and Amal – EK Weaver
Thanks to the success of WEBCOMIC RAMPAGE, an event I highly recommend to all of you, I was able to speak to many webcomic creators. EK Weaver of Austin, Texas was one of the many guest at the show. I was already familiar with her webcomic TJ and Amal and took the opportunity to ask her for an interview. EK is a full-time tech illustrator and in her spare time makes webcomic for her and other peoples’ enjoyment. Read on for the origin of TJ and Amal as well as other projects EK has in the works.
All-Comic: EK, Thanks for joining us. How were you first exposed to comics?
EK Weaver: I always loved the funny papers as a kid, but didn’t get exposed to comic books until the mid-90s, when a friend’s brother showed me his collection of X-Men comics. Around the same time, a classmate introduced me to Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed. I was officially hooked, and started snapping up translated manga and old X-Men issues from the 50 cent bins at the local comic shops. Soon I discovered indie works and started buying Strangers in Paradise, Berlin, Instant Piano, Dork…
AC: When did you decide you wanted to make comics?
EK: When I started on TJ and Amal, basically. Spring 2008. I tried to make comics several times before then, and had done some gag strips and fan art comics and such, but nothing longer than 5 or 6 pages. I kept forcing myself to draw the way I thought comics “had to be” –big splashy layouts, dynamic panelling– which made my art look stiff and unnatural. With TJ and Amal, I gave myself permission to draw and lay out a page in the way that felt most comfortable, and making comics finally became enjoyable; something I could do for years.
AC: How long have you been illustrating?
EK: Since I was a little kid. I’ve been doing professional illustration for about 15 years, off and on.
AC: Did you study illustration or are you self-taught?
EK: About half and half. I took art classes in school and majored in art in college, but it wasn’t really a rigorous education. I still had to learn a lot of the basics on my own after I graduated.
AC: Did you get a lot of support from parents and teachers?
EK: Yeah, I really lucked out in that department. My parents were very supportive, and my teachers never scolded me for drawing all over my notebooks (it actually helped me remember lectures better than taking plain notes).
AC: What was the first comic you remember working on?
EK: In high school, I tried to make a shoujo-style comic about me and my friends. Drew it on Bristol board with drafting pens, used zip-a-tone and an x-acto knife and everything.
AC: How do you describe TJ and Amal to those just starting to read it?
EK: I make sure to emphasize that it’s a very low-key, understated story. Beyond that, I’m still figuring out how to describe it, since it doesn’t really fit into any genre. My elevator pitch is something like “a down-to-earth road trip-comedy-stoner-romance story about two guys from very different backgrounds.”
AC: What inspired you to create and start putting up your comic online for free?
EK: I always intended to put TJ and Amal out in print, but after finishing about 150 pages or so, I got impatient and wanted to go ahead and share the story. It was more important to me that people be able to read the story than whether they read it on paper or on a screen.
AC: You mentioned a lot of your time went in to researching maps of the locations involved. How important was locale accuracy to you?
EK: Very important. I want the reader to stay immersed in the story, and glaring inaccuracies can knock someone out of that. If I were watching a movie that took place in Austin and the characters were, say, cruising down a wide-open I-35 at sunset (instead of stuck in traffic), it would take me out of the scene. That said, there are places in the story where I deliberately fudge some things for timing’s sake– Amal getting Doris Day parking and such.
AC: What has been the most surprising aspect of running this webcomic?
EK: That so many people enjoy it! I assumed only a few people would be interested. It’s still a very small, niche thing, but its way more than I anticipated.
AC: How do you get this drawn out? Physically or digitally?
EK: I draw all the panels individually on typing paper or Bristol board, then scan them and assemble the pages and do retouch, ballooning, and lettering in Photoshop.
AC: What are your preferred tools of the trade?
EK: Prismacolor Vermilion Red Col-Erase pencil, Copic Warm Gray sketch marker, Kuretake Brush Pen, G-pen, India ink.
AC: How much time does it take to go from a script to a completed strip?
EK: It varies. The script itself has been outlined for years, but I make tweaks and revisions up until the last minute. Each page takes about 15 hours, sketch to finish.
AC: Did you set up your own website or pay someone to design it for you?
EK: I designed it in Photoshop and set it up myself, but got help with the CSS for the homepage menu and I use ComicCMS for uploading and presenting the actual comic pages.
AC: Follow up: How do you maintain your website?
EK: I post the comic pages through ComicCMS’ interface, but everything else (like the fan art page, front page, and notes) is coded and updated by hand in Notepad or another text editor.
AC: Your store has a mention of “Kung Fu Hustlers” How far away is that from premiering?
EK: The comic itself has been done for a while (it’s contained in the Smut Peddler comic anthology, which came out from Iron Circus Comics in 2012) but I still need to tweak the layout a bit, add some extra sketches, and do the cover art for the stand-alone print. I hope to have it for sale in February or March.
AC: If you have time, what comics, manga or web comics are you reading?
EK: Shamefully enough, I haven’t read many print comics, manga, magazines, or novels since about 2009; I’ve been spending almost all my off-work hours working on TJ and Amal, so books get wedged into the little window between “lying in bed” and “falling asleep”. I’m looking forward to being able to just sit and read a novel or play a video game for longer than a few minutes. I miss that.
I keep up with a few webcomics– my favorites right now are Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell and Unsounded by Ashley Cope. The most recent print comic I’ve read is Ron Wimberley’s Prince of Cats, which I really enjoyed.
AC: Do you have an all time favorite creator? Be it music, comics or movies.
EK: I’ll watch any animated film Isao Takahata has directed. Currently, Elbow is my favorite band. I adore Fumi Yoshinaga’s comics; her work has been a huge influence.
AC: What’s next for you?
EK: I’ve got a couple of projects coming down the pipe that I’m not really at liberty to talk about yet. Been thinking about doing more TJ and Amal backstory and side story comics in the vein of “Whisper Grass” and “Kung Fu Hustlers”. I also have a couple of new original stories still percolating; we’ll see if those go anywhere.
AC: It’s always great to hear about new projects! How can reader’s best support you and your work?
EK: Spread the word! Tell your friends; tell anyone you know who likes comics.
AC: Thanks for your time EK!
TJ and Amal is on a short hiatus for the holidays but will return on January 7th, 2014. There is, however, quite the back log for all to enjoy, a store to browse through and several digital extras for free. EK herself is available on twitter for all comments and praise.