Planet Karen Interview

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This week we’re joined with Karen Ellis, creator of the diverse and varied journal webcomic Planet Karen. I have to admit, PK is perhaps my favorite of the journal webcomics I read, partly due to Karen’s rather enjoyable way of looking at the world. Of course, it also helps that she’s matured tremendously as an artist and is able to craft an artistically pleasing comic as well. Karen also has a print compilation of her comic out, and a second volume that will be published in the near future.


Could you tell my readers a little about yourself and what inspired you to start Planet Karen?

Planet Karen was initially an art exercise for me.  I’d been getting bogged down in redrawing the same images over and over and never getting anywhere.  One of my rules for Planet Karen was that I was only allowed one day for each episode, so I couldn’t get stuck in that obsessive spiral.  As I explain in the first comic, the idea of a day a strip diary was prompted by my hearing about someone who was working on a similar day per comic for a year project.  I don’t know if she ever completed her project, but mine’s now been running (though not every day) for five years, and will shortly reach its 700th episode.


What are some things that have influenced or encouraged your comics in the past, and why do you find them inspirational?

I find pizza encouraging.  It’s always there for me when things get difficult.  I think I’ve been influenced a lot over the last few years by the rise of feminism in comics fandom.  But that’s been fraught with frustration.  Which is where the pizza comes in.  Also Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.  Mmm.


How much time goes into each comic, and what steps do you take in making your comic?

As I said, it was originally one a day, but I don’t feel like I need that discipline right now so I don’t stick rigorously to it.  I keep a bunch of little notebooks and carry at least one around with me wherever I go, so that if something happens that I think might make a good comic, or someone says something witty I can note it down for future use, by which time they’ll have forgotten they said it.  Then I’ll take an incident or an idea and work it up to fit my four panel format and sketch it out in pencil.  Originally, as part of the exercise, I allowed myself only one rough pencilled version and one redraw to tighten it up.  Then I ink it on the drawing board, or sometimes I scan it and ink it in Photoshop, add in the text and grey tones, and try and think of something witty to post in the blog entry that will go with it.


If you were to take a critical look at your own artistic talents and storytelling skills, what aspects would you consider flawed and how would you go about improving it?

I know I should get off my ass and go to a regular life-drawing class.  I don’t care what anyone says, drawing from life (people and everything else) is not just a basic grounding for drawing skills, it’s something you really need to keep in practice.


Could you tell us a little about the Planet Karen print compilations and what went into bringing Planet Karen to print?

I always intended to do print collections, but I also didn’t want to be arranging them myself.  I’ve worked on the publishing side before, and you end up spending more time doing admin than drawing comics.  So when Soaring Penguin offered to do all that for me, while giving me complete artistic control, it was just what I wanted.  Distribution on the first volume was a bit limited, but fingers crossed, this time around it’ll be more widely available.


Given the hiatus that Planet Karen emerged from in April of 2011, what were some of the elements that led up to your hiatus and how did you overcome it and start updating again?

I needed a break.  It had been winding down for a while, and then when my house burned down it was important for me to write about that experience, but once things settled down and I had my new flat, I needed to take some time out.  I did virtually no drawing for the best part of a year.  I’m not really sure how I started again.  It just felt like the time was right.


What can you tell us about your Octobriana project, and do you have any other webcomic or print projects in the works?

I’ve wanted to do an Octobriana story for ages.  She’s popped up in Planet Karen a few times, and at one point I describe her as my imaginary friend.  But I always wanted to do something more with her, so I’m drawing a short Octobriana story written by Trina Robbins for the Womathology book that will be published by IDW in December.  This is definitely not the only Octobriana story I will do, but I can’t tell you anything about where it goes from here yet.  Mostly because I don’t know.  I’m focussing on getting the first one done right now.


I am also drawing a new short story written by the wonderful Gail Simone for my upcoming collection Planet Karen: Second Thoughts.  It’s a great little story and had me giggling all the way through when I first read it.  I don’t have a firm release date for the book yet, but I believe it will be published around September/October.