While strolling along the banks of scenic Internet, USA, I ran into Chris Yates, a crazy inventor from Planet Earth. We dined on bits and bytes since we hadn’t the money for anything larger and he regaled me with bardic sagas, eddas, and put me to sleep talking about eco-friendly sculptors and navigating highways by mile markers instead of location signs… and then I asked him a bunch of questions and no one cussed and when we were all finished he read me a postcard from his Uncle Travelling Matt.
Ian K: There’s no link to your main site from the Reprographics page, is that deliberate or just an error yet to be fixed?
Chris Yates: The “Extras?” button above the comic will take you to chrisyates.net – I’ve been planning on updating all that business soon. There are so many exciting things I can do with the other content of the site, but I haven’t gotten to it yet, basically.
Ian K: You’re originally from New Jersey and attended college in Rhode Island where, in 2001, you recieved your BFA in Sculpture from RISD. What drew you to Colorado and what keeps you out there?
Chris Yates: As a strip a week or two ago illustrates, I first came out here in 1997, to live in a cabin in the hills with a gang of kids and a darkroom to run. As all my friends from art school planned their migrations to California or Brooklyn, I decided to relocate to Colorado. Why? The weather and topography is the best in the country for someone like me – Boulder, CO has 300 sunny days a year, low if any humidity, and a great quality/price of living compared to similar coastal cities. Boulder is a pretty small-business-friendly small city and is just good times all around. Shipping is also somewhat more cost-efficent when you are in the middle of the country. I like to ski too.
Ian K: How did your interest in geography and topography develop?
Chris Yates: I would say the earth itself has something I’ve always been very fascinated with. My awesome parents put up one of those enormous National Geographic wallpaper maps in the room my brother and I grew up in Chatham, NJ. Our backyard directly accessed a fairly large state park called The Great Swamp, which is just about the coolest thing when you are a little kid who likes exploring and making maps. I also had a lot of legos. Legos + Maps = Terraforms.
Chris Yates: My good friend and high-school-humor-magazine-co-editor Steve Carey alerted me to his enterprise, Poppycock Circus, in 2004, and after I linked him to my site, which at that point was just a show-off site for the Chris Yates Tracking System and the early Terraforms, I checked out his links and learned there were COMICS ON THE INTERNET. I’m not much of an internet dude, so I didn’t know. So anyway, I said ‘well I don’t have enough things to do’ so I decided to make a comic about my somewhat odd life I lead. Drawing comes in spurts to me and even then I’m not that great, so I decided to use digital photos. I’m still not really sure why I make this thing honestly.
Ian K: What are some of your favorite webcomics?
Chris Yates: Well, I have to say I try to limit my time on the internet as much as possible, because I spend enough time in front of a computer as is, and would rather be sawing or outside. BUT of course I read and cherish all of my fellow Playground Ghosts comics (Hey did you guys all see Wondermark is in the Onion now!), and the other main ones I really like to read are Scary Go Round, Overcompensating, Dinosaur Comics, The Perry Bible Fellowship, Cat and Girl, A Lesson Is Learned… and if I name more then I’ll get in trouble for not naming others. I like good art + intelligent. You’re not going to find me reading Super Mega but perhaps I will be reading MegaGamerz 3l33T because it is so ironic and meta and terrible it is genius.
Ian K: Who is your favorite band right now and why are you digging them so hard?
Chris Yates: Trans Am. They are the best 80’s electro outfit that never existed until the late 90’s. I cannot recommend “Liberation” highly enough.
Ian K: The early Reprographics strips fluctuate in their look and size a bit from the later strips, something you don’t often see in a photocomic. How did you decide what look you wanted and do you think you’ll try a new look again?
Chris Yates: It’s all just evolution, man. You’re always learning. A little tweak here, a little tweak there, in the end it’s all just ideas and photoshop.
Ian K: How are you finding the strip since rescuing the planet Tooty Tooty from Mensa?
Chris Yates: Oh I had almost forgotten about that. It’s been a busy year. Is it not as good now that that conflict is over? There’s certainly more shenanigans to come!
Ian K: It seems to me that the strip seemed less cohesive but certainly maintained the same level of quality and energy. Glad to hear that there are more shenanigans on the way.
Chris Yates: The initial idea was for it to be a one-year strip and I wrote a lot of scripts and planned stuff and made lots of props and costumes, and after all the whole Tooty thing was over, I realized Repro is certainly fun to make, but is often easier (and perhaps more entertaining) when I just let the goofy one-off ideas take charge, rather than force long-winded stories all the time. This year it’s a little more about having a few different plots that happen over the course of months, as some characters’ exploits will only show up so often in a comic that updates three days a week. Think of it as a very slow, painful, bewildering year-long Seinfeld episode. With lots of commercial breaks for Pringles.
Ian K: Has your sculptural background influenced your approach to making Repro?
Chris Yates: I just have to make things. It’s my nature. Having Repro as an outlet for making goofy things that are less sellable art, and more a funny concept is really nice.
Ian K: So it’s more that you have a need to create rather than your education influencing the method?
Chris Yates: I’ve had some great teachers in the arts, but the more formative ones were in high school and summer camps, who helped me develop my very first print or trusted a fifteen-year-old with an arc welder. At RISD, I was benefiting more off of my peers’ energy and skills, as well as the amazing facilities that allowed me to develop a profiency with a wide variety of equipment. My teachers (with several exceptions of course!) in the Sculpture Dept. were mostly New York based, and it was all about putting something in a white room to be critiqued and that was art. As that is not really my thing obviously and I am making lots of run-on sentences – yes, the former.
Ian K: After 115 strips, you became a founding member of the webcomics collective the Playground Ghosts with David Malki!, Colleen “Alternating Frequency” Venable, Chris Dlugosz, and Steve Hogan. What on Earth made you think that was a good idea and how has it been working out for you?
Chris Yates: F’Sakes, this was the best idea we ever had!! We have amassed a great forum full of hundreds of swell folks, been able to afford going to comic cons like STAPLE in Austin, and MoCCA in New York so far this year, because there is power in numbers. We can split the bill. And these folks are really excellent! You can check out Colleen, David !, and possibly Steve and Chris D at SPX in Maryland this fall – and I’ll be out at Stumptown with Coll and David ! in Portland, Oregon on October 27 & 28. Also if it wasn’t for Playground Ghosts, I would’ve never made ghost toys.
Ian K: For the more business minded digital strippers, how does that work?
Chris Yates: Find a convention you want to go to, if it’s popular, like MoCCA or SPX you will want to register at least 6 months in advance, and have money. We communicate through “EMAIL” and decide who wants to go to what and split the table and hotel cost accordingly. It’s a hoot! Especially because we Ghosts are all somewhat unique in what we bring to the table. You want to make sure you have cool stuff to bring and show off and sell, otherwise, what is the point. I’m not sure if that is really what you are asking…
Ian K: I was looking for something more along the lines of the business of being a part of a webcomics collective. I probably should have asked something like “What is different about the business end of Repro since you became a Playground Ghost?” but I didn’t. My bad.
Chris Yates: I would say the business end of things is still pretty much the same. A portion of the proceeds from the Ghost toys I make helps pay for some of the convention fees for all of us, and Colleen has been making buttons (and possibly t-shirts in the future) to help with those fees as well as hosting costs for the PG forum. Another advantage is that even though David ! and Steve weren’t able to make it to STAPLE in Austin, Colleen and I had some of their merch and promotional materials to sell and give. Same thing with the upcoming SPX – I won’t personally be there, but since we’re one big happy collective, some of my goods may be. I imagine we are all boosting each others traffic a little bit with cross-promotion as well.
Ian K: How is Vinyl Ball?
Chris Yates: VB is the pace car for the Indianapolis 500.
Ian K: You were nominated for Best Slice of Life Comic for the WCCA’s. How cool is that?
Chris Yates: That felt really good. More photo-based comics should get nominated for these things.
Ian K: From conception to posting, how do you make a Reprographics strip?
Chris Yates: Um, sometimes they are planned out and sometimes they’re not? There’s a lot of taking pictures and a lot of monkeying around in photoshop while I drink beer and contemplate what I’m doing with my life.
Ian K: So, for the more writery-minded digital strippers, sometimes you look at a bunch of pictures and say something like, “Man, it would be funny if this were being said…” and you make the strip based on that, and other times you have an idea for a strip and take a bunch of pictures based on that?
Chris Yates: It’s actully is more about a concept if I’m going to script something out. I’ll be driving somewhere and for some reason think “Wouldn’t it be funny if the entire of province of Saskatchewan was a character – well, what would he say?” or “What if there’s a really long line of red yarn tied to my toe and I follow it up the mountain”. When I plan it out these days, it’s usually coming up with a strange idea rather than a witty punchline. Perhaps that will be my eternal failing. But yes certainly, as evidenced in the MoCCA/roadtrip strips of late, I sometimes just take a lot of pictures, pick my favorites and try to write something that is somewhat entertaining.
Ian K: After the infallible Yates Test, the secret of which is in the micro-sips, which beer stands triumphant?
Chris Yates: I am still a huge fan of the top two in the Repro ’05 India Pale Ale Taste-Off (comic #51) – Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA out of Delaware, and Avery IPA of good ol’ Boulder. Also good on a hot summer day is Dale’s Pale Ale, out of nearby Lyons, and Sierra Nevada, of Chico, California. I am lucky enough to have at least a dozen quality microbreweries within a 60mile radius of my location – especially the Southern Sun which is two blocks from me now. They don’t bottle their beer, so you’ll have to come out here if you want to experience the Colorado Kind or the Illusion Dweller.
Ian K: Between your sculptures and Reprographics, you currently make a living exclusively by creating “things” and you run no ads on your site. Goodness gracious, sir, how did this fanciful dream become a reality?
Chris Yates: Oh god, I don’t wish this lifestyle upon anyone. I make a lot of commissions as well as the things you see on the site. but still it is a handful to juggle, and as much as I love doing it, I barely get by. But to really answer your question: hard work + patience!
Ian K: Deep down, you kinda want the DeLorean, don’t you?
Chris Yates: Do you know how much parts run for that thing?
Ian K: At the MOCCA Festival, you and Colleen were telling me of some arguments about whether or not photocomics counted as comics but we didn’t really get to finish that conversation. What the heck are these people saying?
Chris Yates: That goes back to the WCCA award nominations. There was a thread on their discussion board about whether photocomics should have a category in the awards. As it turns out, there are as different photo comics as there are drawn comics. The medium is not necessarily the message.
Ian K: What does Reprographics have in store for us in the future?
Chris Yates: Lots of sleeping.
Ian K: What advice do you have for webcomic artists just starting out?
Chris Yates: Get a little crazy. Will it entertain other persons than your friends? Why will people want to look at it? Have you spent time playing around with the concept? Is it any good? Well then tell some people! And if they agree maybe they will tell some people! And then it snowballs and bang! you are an extremely minor celebrity who gets anonymous marriage proposals quarterly.
Ian K: Where do you think webcomics are headed and what is their potential?
Chris Yates: I rarely read or even peruse print comics, I never even thought I would be making comics, but I have to say there are a lot of excellent artists in this weird little community that is “webcomics” that make it a leading case for why you look at your local paper’s comic page and say “this is a pile of refuse’. Our potential is about 934928756932 give or take a few dozen.
Ian K: Are there any mistakes you’ve made over the course of Reprographics that you think the Digital Strippers could learn from?
Chris Yates: If you’re making a photocomic, make sure everyone you feature is game. Early on, I ran a series of “Ex-Girlfriends” strips that didn’t go over so well when one ex-lady took some offense that could have led to a lawsuit if I did not do exactly as she pleased. When you get linked from Questionable Content, someone who knows someone you know is watching, apparently. So much for obscurity.
Oh, and also don’t buy a PogoBall from NostalgiaMan17 on eBay. You will