Sunday Sitdown ~WITH~ James Randell, Creator of Newspaper Comic Strip

As one of the first round contestants of the 3rd Annual Bomb Shelter Comics Webcomic Idol contest, James Randell, the creator of Newspaper Comic Strip (NCS), found himself ousted along with four others in the first, massive swath cut through the ten finalists. However, NCS had an uphill battle from the opening bell, with a highly experimental storyline involving real-time sequential art and a very small cast of characters.

As a proponent of trying something different, I wanted to give James another few minutes in the limelight to make his case for NCS’ place in the webcomics world and to maybe get a few more eyes on this oddball yet intriguing comic strip.

Digital Strips: In the About section of the Riotfish site, you list Newspaper Comic Strip as the “story of a comic strip character who becomes self aware.” With such a new and experimental style of storytelling as this, what did you figure your audience’s reaction would be to the strip?

James Randell: Hopefully curiosity. At first glance, some readers see it as a daily gag strip that doesn’t make any sense, or worse, isn’t funny. I hope that the longer people look at it, the more their curiosity will start to win over.

Newspaper Comic Strip Copyright 2008 Riotfish.com

Unfortunately, this is a normal day for NCS guy.

DS: And once that curiosity sucks them in, what will keep them reading? (In your opinion, keep in mind my mind is already won over.)

JR: There’s some suspenseful situations in the comic, and it can be funny – sometimes NCS guy does surprising things. There’s also a momentum to it, because it’s told in real time.

DS: Thus far, have you found the idea to be worthwhile to provide enough ideas for the “story” from day-to-day?

JR: There’s no shortage of ideas! Choosing which ones to use is sometimes difficult. Since the strip is so continuity-grounded, and long ranged, any path taken affects the whole thing, sometimes retroactively.

DS: Any instances that come to mind? Things that didn’t work because of the ramifications they would have?

JR: We planned to have the Sunday logo headers work as an animation flip book, with the man in the chair changing the channel a couple times, then getting up and walking out of the room. We had to drop it cause it would freak out the protagonist too much (other examples are either too mundane or too spoilerly to recount).

DS: In some instances, another strip is placed beside the main one to show that the main character can see into the strips beside his, causing the reader to horizontally scroll their screen to see the whole thing. While this is a great side effect of the character being self aware, it uses a method of viewing the web that is universally maligned. Do you think there’s a better method to achieving this effect and what might it be?

JR: I can’t think of a way of doing it that wouldn’t be worse, like pop-up windows, or alt text that somehow has a comic embedded in it. Larger computer screens could solve this, one day.

DS: Maybe a slight shrinking of the image size for those strips? With the web offering such ease of customization and interaction, it seems there has to be a better method than the horizontal scroll.

JR: Well maybe, since there’s an even more awkwardly sized update coming up… I could post a slightly shrunk version that links to a normal sized image in a different window? I’m not convinced that sidescrolling is never warranted though!

DS: Many creators believe the meta storyline of any strip to be the jumping of the shark for comic books/strips. What would you say to these critics about NCS which bases its entire story on a meta lifestyle?

JR: There’s a difference between shark-jumping meta storylines and Newspaper Comic Strip. Meta storylines usually break character and disrupt continuity, or they exist outside it so they don’t matter anyway. It’s like saying “Hello, this is irrelevant!” Newspaper Comic Strip doesn’t do this. It doesn’ t break the fourth wall.

Escapist drama this is not, NCS is more akin to the type of torture a character in one of the many SAW movies is subjected to.

DS: Going in against other, more traditional strips in the Webcomics Idol competition (or as traditional as webcomics can get), did you think NCS stood a good chance at winning?

JR: I thought it had a good chance at getting into the first 10, but I didn’t know what to expect after that. The first round cuts a pretty big swath through the finalists. However, just entering Webcomic Idol is pretty much a win-win scenario. Even if you lose, your comic gets talked about, and you gain insight into how it is regarded. And I’ve come to appreciate the competitor strips, particularly SCP [Simulated Comic Product], which I hadn’t looked at closely before.

DS: Has NCS been syndicated in any papers thus far and if not, would you like to see that happen someday?

JR: No, I’ve never seriously considered submitting it to a syndicate, because they couldn’t print it! It would get really complicated once NCS guy started looking at the other strips around him.

DS: The greatest thinkers of our time have said that to have great successes, you have to have great failures. Would you consider NCS a successful experiment if it never really went anywhere in terms of readership or support from the community at large?

JR: Yes. It’s achieved some milestones already, even if they only mattered to a handful of people. I’m pretty satisfied with how it reads as a whole… except for a couple weak areas. I consider the experiment a success, because in my mind, the format melts away once you get a couple weeks into it, like a proscenium arch effect. It’s a page turner when it’s in an accessible form!

DS: The God-like propensity for throwing new ideas at this guy to see how he’ll react has a certain kinship with The Truman Show, a movie lauded for its critical eye at society and the desire to control everything we possibly can. Do you see NCS as a larger, socio-political message to the world or simply an attempt at doing something different with comics?

JR: More doing something different. If it has a critical eye towards anything, it’s the real newspaper comic strips.

DS: Are there any challenges you’d like to mention that NCS guy will be facing in the near future?

JR: Soon he will discover that he can see the entire funnies page at once. Which should be interesting, because there’ll be satires of a lot of well known newspaper comic strips in it – some of which are pretty weird. Beyond that, I don’t want to give too much away, but he will be interacting with the other strips in future. Probably the “Hobbled” guy.

Thanks to James for answering my questions and go check out Newspaper Comic Strip to support a comic doing something little bit different than anyone else!

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