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Webcomic Spotlight: Balderdash!

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Hello webcomic aficionados! Long has it been that I’ve come to you with the good word of webcomics. Today those dark times end! I have sailed the vast and deep web looking for wonders to amaze and astound you. Today we are joined by Miss Victoria Grace Elliott hailing from Austin, TX. Victoria has a gorgeous art style that lavishes on backgrounds and remains uncomplicated allowing the reader to bask in the little moments she constructs with characters, colors and line work. A truly wonderful piece of craftsmanship Balderdash! is the tale bold youth looking to master the arts of baking. 

Not to be tied down by anything or any one Victoria lends a hand at House of Orr all the while working on her own stories. Please read on to get some background on Balderdash! and Victoria as well.

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All-Comic: Victoria, thank you so much for joining us. How did this all start for you, how were you first exposed to comics?

Victoria G. Elliott: I really got into comics from multiple avenues. When I was a kid I loved my dad’s collection of Conan the Barbarian comics, and sometimes he would let me borrow some or read some to me before bed. Honestly, I really, really liked cartoons – anything that was on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon from Cartoon Cartoon sorta stuff through Toonami. So it was more or less something that visually looked like the stuff I loved, but in book format. I think the first comic I ever got for myself was an old edition of Dragon Ball, it was one of the larger Dark Horse(?) editions, read right-to-left. From there I picked up some random volumes of Dark Horse’s imprint of Oh! My Goddess, because the art was so lovely, and I really liked the humor and the characters, and I loved the fashion of it all. Then the Tokyopop boom hit around the time I was in middle school, so I picked up a BUNCH of shoujo titles like Dragon Knights, Marmalade Boy, Mars, Sailor Moon, Kare Kano, stuff like that, with my friends at a Barnes and Noble on the weekend and we’d have a sleepover and read whatever we got that night.

AC: When did you decide you wanted to make comics?

VGE: I was making up fantasy worlds and playing pretend on the playground easily around 8. I kept it up a little too long – maybe like 12 or 13? – and it began to bleed into AIM roleplay chatlogs and invisionfree forum roleplays. Comics more or less came from that – I would want to clean-up and retell the stories me and my friends had created, and I kept coming up with stories of my own – my imagination really easily got away from me – and so I just compulsively drew pages. They weren’t very good, but I just sort of…never stopped?? I remember seriously agonizing about wanting to draw comics around the age of like 13, convinced I’d never be good enough, but even as I grew up and had back-up career paths planned, I never stopped drawing them. It was only once I was out of college looking for jobs, I realized that all the connections I’d made in college were in comics. That’s more or less when I was like, oh, I should probably admit that this is what I really want to do, haha.

AC: How long have you been drawing/illustrating?

VGE: Forever. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s true!! I started drawing stories as a child, and thankfully I had artistic parents, so they encouraged me and I never stopped. I drew on notes in class and on printer paper outside of school and kept binders of characters I’d made up. I’ve been getting paid to draw since about 2010, when I joined the Daily Texan newspaper staff – it’s the college newspaper for University of Texas and has a lot of ridiculous alumni like Walter Cronkite, Chris Ware, and Robert Rodriguez.

AC:  Did you study illustration or are you self-taught?

VGE: I never went to an art school, if that’s what you mean. I did take art in grade school as long as I could choose to, and my mom let me borrow books she owned for her students. She was an art teacher when I was growing up, so she had a lot of educational materials. I always desperately wanted to go to art school but I was either rejected or thought I was good enough, so I never applied or went. At the end of the day, I was still practicing a lot in my own time, so I figured as long as I kept that up, I didn’t ultimately need it.

AC: Did you get a lot of support from parents and art teachers?

VGE: Oh yeah, absolutely. I was always a really compliant kind of kid, so I was a teacher’s pet, and weirdly some of my art teachers were kind of bullied?? So they adored me. Again, both my parents are artistic – my dad had a band and played a lot of gigs when I was growing up and my mom was a middle school art teacher. From my mom and other art teachers I had, I learned a lot of art classes in middle school and high school are used as blow-off classes for football players that need an elective, stuff like that. My teachers liked me because I really really took the class seriously and took them as teachers seriously. Sometimes I got the sense my teachers were annoyed with how anime and cartoony my artwork was, as opposed to fine art, but I was pretty undeterred despite their best efforts, haha. It’s been great having an artist mom, too, because we share a lot of inspiration with each other. Her interior designs and decorations influence a lot of how I conceptualize home environments in my comics (which is super important to me), and I’ve shown her a lot of shoujo sparkle effects that she incorporates into her paintings. And I’ve always been able to ask her for critique and, as I’ve gotten older, vice versa.

AC: What was the first comic you remember working on?

VGE: Oh my god. Ok, so, there’s this game called Graal – it’s like a blatant ripoff of assets from a Link to the Past, and it’s SUPPOSED to be an MMORPG, but I always had dail-up so my internet wasn’t fast enough for that. Instead, I downloaded a game-editor version of the game and spent a LOT of time making levels (which were more like, making cute houses and shit) and playing pretend within the game with my best friend and neighbor at the time. I got really into taking all those stock-characters and writing a whole doujinshi about our adventures. That was probably the first comic I got a lot of headway on – probably half a notebook full of? Everything else around that point was half-started ideas, but this was simple enough to actually draw out.

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AC:  First off, Balderdash is a great story with beautiful, beautiful art and gorgeous colors.

VGE: Ahhhh, thank you!! That is exactly what I’m going for, haha.

AC:  How would you describe Balderdash to those just starting to read it?

VGE: The best way to describe Balderdash! to new readers is that it’s a fantasy story about a group of friends coming of age and growing up. I usually sell it on the main storyline – the witch girl who goes to learn how to bake without magic at a bakery – because Georgie’s storyline is the most concise. But it’s supposed to be about many more girls than just Georgie. It’s also a lot about the world, politics, and magic, but only insofar as they relate to the characters. I want to tell a grand story but in the context of a small town. That’s really important to me, because most people’s’ lives aren’t so decadent.

AC:  What inspired you to create and start putting up your comic online for free?

VGE: I guess it was a process. Balderdash! originally started as a weird online story with illustrations, rather than a webcomic. But when I initially launched it, I wasn’t quite satisfied with what it was. I wanted to have the reader be able to explore storefronts and character sheets, but also read the story as a whole. So I eventually just kept trying and trying to create a better comic. I started putting it up in 2012. I dunno, it just seemed right, like the thing to do. I wanted to make something for myself like I did as a kid – create a kind of video game environment and build personal stories from there – and that’s what I ended up doing.

AC: What has been the most surprising aspect of running this webcomic?

VGE: Sheesh, honestly, the kind of personal confidence it’s given me. Looking back on the pages I can see exactly where I was and the worries I had with each page. I was really uncertain when I was publishing the first chapter – I was sort of just emitting this thing out into the void, hoping for people to find it but not really knowing how to go about that. And when more and more artists I admired came to my comic and told me they liked it – and I mean like artistic idols of mine, stuff like that – I felt more confident. I realized, as I went on, that I had to follow my gut and stop holding back. I always make jokes about how the emotional arcs Georgie and Afia go through are similar to my own emotional arcs while I’m publishing it, but I think that’s really true. In a really bizarre way, Balderdash! is kind of a secret autobio comic.

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Every so often Victoria illustrates a recipe.

AC:  How do you get this drawn out? Physically or digitally?

VGE: I start off with a physical sketch – sort of a mix between a thumbnail and a sketch – and then I go from there. I take a pic with my phone since I don’t have a scanner, and I place it on a template and move the panels around. Then I re-sketch the whole page, and start laying the flat colors. I’m mostly digital with b! but I find having a physical sketch to work from is the best – I have a hard time gauging spacing and framing with digital media.

AC: What are your preferred tools of the trade?

VGE: For my planning and sketching, I use a really simple lab notebook. It’s basically got printer paper inside, because let’s be real, that stuff is great. Otherwise, Photoshop CS6 and an Intuous 4 tablet. I started off with Photoshop CS3 and an Intuous2 and just upgraded since then.

AC: How much time does it take to go from a script to a completed strip?

VGE: That’s a little hard to say. My process is really free-flowing. I can write scenes anywhere to months in advance to the day I’m drawing the page itself. Typically I do the sketches within a week or two of actually finishing them up. To actually draw a page, it only takes me about a few days’ worth of drawing spread-out. I don’t know how long it takes start-to-finish though. I try not to think about that stuff because it makes it more clinical and less fun for me. I like having a messy way of doing things.

AC: What is the most time consuming step for you? Writing? Drawing coloring?

VGE: Honestly, I’d say writing. I write throughout the entire process. It usually starts with a moment I think up a scene or moment during work, or in the shower or bath, or while I’m driving, and then as I think about it more, I hammer out the kind of dialogue I want. I end up writing it down SOMEWHERE eventually, and then I write and rewrite that moment until I like it in prose from. AND THEN, because I’m not doing prose, I have to adapt it – usually my dialogue is too long for the speech bubble space I can have. In this process I typically turn to a couple of my friends – one who is a really big Writer and the other who is an Editor, and they help me with the intention and meaning and flow. Once I get the page done itself, I write and rewrite the dialogue until it’s boiled-down and simplified from its original wordiness. That’s easily the most complicated part of the process – the art itself is fairly simple and easy.

AC: Are you considering publishing this comic in a physical form?

VGE: Yeah! Not really sure when or how, but I would definitely like to do that. My comic runs really slow so I need something more meaty before I think about publishing. Once I finish up Afia’s journey into Löffel, I could probably start planning a book.

AC: Did you set up your own website or pay some one to design it for you?

VGE: I did it all myself with the help of a few coder friends. I’m big on editing CSS and HTML to make Cute Websites, so this was a lot of fun for me. There were some things I was totally unaware of how to even do – namely PHP since I’d only worked in CSS beforehand – so I got a friend of mine who is a coder to help me out with it.

AC:  A follow up question on that subject, how do you maintain your website?

VGE: In terms of hosting and stuff – I use bluehost and wordpress.org (it was an easy switch, since b! was originally hosted via wordpress.com). I just set up a couple things so that I maintain it like any other blog. I didn’t like the way any of the webcomic themes looked, so that’s why I built my own theme.

AC:  Balderdash is not the only webcomic you work on, you also work with a few other people on House of Orr. Can you tell us a little bit about this and why you decided to work on two comics at once?

VGE: Oh my god. So last year I quit my really awful call center job, which paid a LOT of money but made me insanely miserable, with enough savings to last a month. I was desperately searching for jobs (mostly retail and part-time work, since full-time was hell) and out of the blue Roll20 and Nolan T Jones (the writer) were looking for an artist to do paid comics work. I contacted them immediately and we got the ball rolling from there. Nolan is more or less a Longterm Freelance Client at this point, so that’s actually my main job, which is fantastic.

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AC: If you have time, what comics, manga or web comics are you reading?

VGE: I obsessively keep track of Cucumber Quest, Monster Pulse, and TJ & Amal, three of my favorite comics of all time. I also have been re-reading Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa recently – she’s an absolute genius. And of course, Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura, which I absolutely love. I also have a couple old volumes of Love & Rockets my friend lent me because I love the hell out of Jaime Hernandez’s work and I haven’t read nearly enough of it.

AC: Do you have an all time favorite creator? Be it music, comics or movies.

VGE: That’s way too hard!! The easiest I can say now is Naoko Takeuchi and everything that’s come from Sailor Moon as a franchise. I have so many influences – They Might Be Giants, Danny Elfman/Oingo Boingo/Mystic Knights, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, any number of mangaka from Akira Torishima to Akiko Hagashimura, Hayao Miyazaki, Jason, and a ton of my friends who make webcomics. I get obsessed with a New Thing like every week, so it’s almost impossible for me to chose a single formative influence.

AC: What’s next for you?

VGE: Oh my god – I guess STAPLE! which is the expo this weekend in Austin. I can’t really think more than a week or so ahead!! Oh, well, wait – I have a short in the upcoming Spera!! I also have sort of a back-up story I’m working on for Sfé Monster and Rachel Edidin’s Beyond Anthology.

AC: How can readers best support you and your work?

VGE: I’ll be putting up a paypal donation button on Balderdash! within the next week or two!! But right now, the best way to support me is by contributing to my Patreon – http://www.patreon.com/balderdash . My readership is still growing, so honestly just spreading the world to people you think may like it, stuff like that, that’s a huge help!

AC: We’re more than happy to help spread the word. Thank you for your time Victoria.

Well folks if you’re not reading Balderdash! or haven’t caught up you can jump over to the archive to catch up. The House of Orr is also on line for your enjoyment. If you have any kind words for Victoria she can be reached on her twitter and if your gratitude should happen to extend in a monetary direction please look to Victoria’s Patreon page. As always, spread the word and help this little comic grow. 

Thanks everyone! I hope to see you back here next week!

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