Yesterday, my conversation with Sin Titulo creator, Cameron Stewart, turned into a breakdown of the artist’s workshop, including techniques, processes, and inspiration. While this was fascinating to me, it’s not the meat-and-potatoes of the interview I meant to conduct.It was, however, integral to the understanding of ST, and so there’s a bit more of it here.
But in addition, in this second half I finally get Cameron to crack on the intent of the strip, including his drive to do the strip (hint: it’s not as sci-fi/mystically focused as you might think) and the personal investment an artist should put into his, or her work. Again, the dude’s a pro, so I basically just asked a question or two and let him run wild. Containment was not my intent and I think a very interesting explanation of the strip followed as a result.
Delve into the mystery with me, after the break!
The Midnight Cartooner: So you’ve got Transmission X up and running, Sin Titulo (ST) is the Sunday strip in the collective showing, how did the reader reaction from the first strip on affect you and how much does it gel with your expectations?
Cameron Stewart: I don’t know what I was expecting from the readers. I think if anything I’m surprised that it’s being received as well as it seems to be – I was very, very nervous about it when I first posted it. Another part of the exercise of doing ST every week is to force myself to draw quickly, and not be so precious about it.
I do each week’s strip in one day and I don’t have the time to fuss over the drawings and make them “pretty” or “perfect”. So one of my rules for myself is to just let the drawings stand as they are. I employ a very loose, rough style, and I wasn’t sure how people who were used to my print comics work would receive it.
I draw everything almost entirely straight-to-ink, and I try whenever I can to resist cleaning up mistakes in the drawing. If something is really wrong, to the point of being distracting, I’ll change it, but small little errors I’ll leave.
So I was very nervous about drawing this way, and also about my total lack of writing experience. But fortunately the strip seems to be well-received, and most of the comments reflect that. I’ve also had some very flattering reviews (yours included) that are gratifying and it keeps me going, makes me want to do one every week.
Sorry, I’m still on “each strip takes about a day”. When I read that, I wanted to jack-slap you.
C: Ha! I start Sunday morning, and it’s up usually by late afternoon.
M: That’s insane. You must be working really, really loose.
C: I do very rough layouts digitally.
M: Working that loose would scare the crap out of me.
C: Oh yeah, it scares the crap out of me. But as I say, part of this is to make me just man up and do it. So like I said, I do very rough layouts, and I mean very rough, like just scribbles, ovals for heads, etc. And then I print those off in light blue onto my artboard and then just hit it with ink and hope for the best.
M: Quite the quick and dirty process, but with a little tech thrown in. I like it.
C: I also do my lettering in Illustrator and include that on the artboard when I print it off. I like having the lettering directly on the board.
M: So your inking works around the balloons?
C: Yes. Here’s what my roughs look like:
And then ink:
M: Yeah, looking at your work after learning all of this, the shakiness of the line accounts for the rushed nature, but it’s still amazing linework employed here.
C: Well, the shaky linework is deliberate, not just a side effect of working fast. But yes, it does help disguise wonky drawing.
M: Thanks for the visuals, you’re right, your roughs are pretty sketchy. But it all comes together in the end.
C: They’re just there for me to work out pacing and mood.
M: Alright, so we’ve hit the art side, how about writing? Have you pretty much plotted out every beat from here to the end?
C: No, not at all. In fact it’s already taken some unexpected turns for myself. When I first joined the TX group, I was going to do an entirely different story. It was going to be a more action-oriented adventure story. Sort of a tribute to the old newspaper serials, like Johnny Hazard and Terry and the Pirates.
I won’t really go into more detail about it because I still intend to do it some day. But I was working on this story, and I attempted to sit down and write the entire thing, from start to finish. And as I was working on the script, I sort of began to get crippled by it. I was becoming terrified by it, I was worried that every single line of dialogue had to foreshadow something later, every scene had to be a setup for something that would pay off in the end.
And it became very stressful for me, and, crucially, not fun. And one of the main points of interest for TX for all the creators was to have fun. So I abandoned that idea (for now) and decided to do something more freeform. And around this time, I had seen David Lynch’s film,
I came up with the title Sin Titulo – which literally means “no title” in Spanish – as a sort of open title that didn’t tie it to any particular story element. And at this time I found out that my grandfather had passed away about a month previously, and I had not been notified.
M: Opening story… cemented.
C: Exactly. It may sound crass but, quite aside from my own personal problems, it felt like a compelling opening to the story. And so I started to work out a plot based around this idea. So the story is not completely made up as I go, but there is a certain amount of improvisation going on, that directly reflects what’s going on in my life at the moment. I can read back on the strip in its entirety and it sort of reads as a diary of my life. And I am allowing my subconscious to occasionally take over and direct the narrative.
M: With freaky monsters and mysterious cabals thrown in for good measure. ‘Cause if you’ve actually seen that thing before, in real life, then I’m suddenly glad I’m not you. Is this where I get to find out what the smoke monster is?
C: Well the monster is actually one of the autobiographical bits. The flashback that Alex narrates in Room 3, that is a true story from my own childhood. Actually, its a conflation of three separate events that I combined for sake of drama but I did see that monster when I was a kid. My rational mind now tells me that it was most likely a dream, but at the time I remember it being quite real and I’ve never ever forgotten it.
Most people tell me that that flashback is one of the most powerful scenes in the story, and I think that’s because it’s one of the most sincere. Despite being the most overtly fantastical, it’s one that came directly from my heart.
M: While I can appreciate the autobiographical nature, this feels like giving away the secrets before the work is finished. Since you’ve got mystical and mysterious notes throughout, ala LOST, are you afraid the audience might get bored if you reveal too much, too early?
C: Oh s***, delete this interview!
M: WHAT HAPPENED TO MY HARD DRIVE?!?
cameronmstewart: Seriously, I don’t think so. I think, or I hope, that the narrative will be compelling either way. Again, it’s not completely made up as I go, but it falls somewhere between being pre-scripted and being a product of my subconscious.
M: That’s an intriguing direction to take things in and I hope it pays off for you.
C: Thanks! Me too. [laughs]
M: One more question: Is the non-existent video camera another subconscious thing, or is that some sci-fi trickery we have yet to learn about?
C: [laughs] Well, I can promise you that there’s nothing in the story that I would consider to be “sci-fi.” There’s plenty of “supernatural” but no “sci-fi.”
M: “Supernatural” I can handle.
C: We are NOT going to find out that Alex is actually in some kind of virtual reality chamber aboard a spaceship. [Ed.- Damn!] This is a story about dreams, and memory.
M: Right. I had something more supernatural in mind, so you hit the nail of the head on that one. Well I will admit that this interview has changed my perception on the strip but I am still very engaged and invested in seeing it through.
C: Changed it for the better, or worse?
M: Neither, just… altered.
C: Well I hope it doesn’t affect your enjoyment.
M: Truthfully, I am addicted to LOST and if anything seems remotely like that, I’ll check it out. This story had elements of that (which you’ve hit on yourself in your comment threads) and so I immediately fell for it.
C: Well I can promise you that the LOST guys don’t have it all worked out either. [laughs]
M: Don’t you say that! Don’t you dare say that! If I find out that whole thing has been an introspective journey and not a mythical place where time stands still, I’ll have some heads on sticks.
No, with ST, it’s like I fell head over heels for the pretty girl, only to find out she wasn’t as pretty as I originally found her to be but could have layers of depth if I worked a little harder at it.
C: ….Alright. I don’t know quite what to make of that but sure. [laughs] I think any true piece of art is introspective.
M: If that’s true, then ST might be the truest piece ever.
C: I’m doing something very personal here, and I’ve cloaked it in genre conventions which, to bring it back around, is why I think All-Star Superman works so well. I think Grant [Morrison, writer of All-Star Superman] is telling a deeply personal story about experiencing middle age and the fear of death, but wrapped up in Kryptonian clothes.
M: And with my mind officially blown, I think my CPU just melted.
C: [laughs] Is that the end then?
M: I think I’ll end it there, yeah.
So there you have it. Sin Titulo is not LOST, and though I didn’t think that exactly, I was fairly certain there were some big mysteries to be unraveled within the confines of it’s shaky panels. And while I will admit to being disappointed at this discovery, I am equally intrigued by the explanations and conventions that Cameron has laid on me.
Regardless of intent of the work, ST is a quality webcomic, a solid addition to the TX line-up, and the best part of my Sunday outside mornin’ worshippin’ time! Make it a part of yours as well and thanks to Cameron for taking the time to entertain me for a while!