Alex’s Guide/Garanos Interview

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Our interview today is with Alex Heberling, creator of the epic fantasy webcomic Garanos which she wrapped up last year and is currently working on her semi-autobiographical webcomic Alex’s Guide to a Life Well Lived. I suspect anyone interested in starting up their own webcomic may find her comments on her first comic, Jigworthy, to be worth glancing over as it helps illustrate the benefits of practice comics to hone skills before starting on more serious works.

What got you initially interested in creating your own webcomic?

I’ve been a reader since 2001, and and artist and amateur writer since long before that, and at some point in high school, I knew I wanted to do comics, so it seemed like the obvious place to be.  That, and big comics publishing houses looked like scary places.  I started my first comic in 2005, during my freshman year of college.

Could you tell us a little about the different webcomics you’ve created, and what was the inspiration behind each of these comics?

Jigworthy, my very first webcomic, can be described as The Webcomic Anyone With Experience Will Tell You Not to Make.  It was autobiographical, it starred all my friends, and the comics were lots of inside jokes.  I was young, I didn’t know what I was doing!  But for the year and a half that I did Jigworthy, I taught myself a lot of the mechanics of comics, since I wasn’t getting any formal training in sequential art in school.  The most simple things like leaving space in a panel for word balloons, and the like, were things I figured out myself.

Anyways, after Jigworthy petered out, I started up Garanos, my fantasy comic.  Garanos was originally a short story I wrote when I was a senior in high school, and its basic plot comprises what is now the first volume of the comic.  Originally, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue the comic after I covered the volume I material, but in the end, I did decide to continue the story of Garanos’ search for her fiance, Ethreden.

Meanwhile, I had the chance to flex some other comicking muscles for my coursework.  I went to Ohio State University for art school, and while they don’t have a sequential art program, I did find a home within their Art and Technology program, being primarily a digital artist.  For my independent studies, I created two more comics; The Shepherd, which is a fairytale type story about the Shepherd of the Seasons, who falls in love with the Winter Goddess, causing a long winter; and Corner on Main, a comic which I plan to revisit one day, which experimented with non-linear storytelling and infinite canvas.  Many stories all happen and overlap at the same time in Corner on Main, though I only ended up finishing two overlapping “tracks” of the story during the ten-week quarter, so there’s much more I’d like to add to it.

For my last quarter of college, I also set myself to the task of completing a 24 Hour Comic, Scott McCloud’s challenge for creators to make a 24 page comic in 24 consecutive hours.  I ended up completing FOUR of them, one of which became my current comic, Alex’s Guide to a Life Well Lived.  In many ways, Alex’s Guide is the spiritual successor to my first comic, Jigworthy, and I think I’m doing a bit better with an autobiographical comic this time around.

What do you hope your readers get out of your webcomics?

Honestly, I hope they can just get some simple enjoyment from my work. I don’t try to put a whole bunch of big, epic morals out there, but what I do write about are things I really care about, so I hope it shines through for the reader.

If someone asked you for advice on creating their own webcomic, what are a couple pointers you’d suggest?

Well, it’s very easy to start a webcomic; the hard part comes afterwards, with maintaining your comic.  A rule/tip I read somewhere long ago said to decide on what your ideal updates per week would be, then subtract one day from it, which is why Alex’s Guide updates twice a week instead of thrice.  You can always add days if you find that the workload is manageable, but it’s best to start off going easy.  Crawl before you walk and all that.  I, myself, have had a lot going on in the last year, so I’m not yet at a place where I can bump my updates up to thrice a week, so I’m very glad I eased off from the beginning.

Do you have a mentor? Would you consider mentoring a new webcartoonist?

I’ve never had a mentor, but I do have a lot of cartoonists I look up to and admire greatly.  Ian McConville, the artist of Mac Hall and now Three Panel Soul, was a big influence on me early in my cartooning, and later on, I fell in love with the work of Sarah Ellerton, who did Inverloch and The Phoenix Requiem.  More recently, I’m also really impressed by the work of Yamino, who does a comic called Sister Claire, and she’s just a phenominally cool person.  I aspire to bring myself up to the level of these folks, and eventually, I will!

Mentoring another artist would be an interesting experience, I think.  If only there were more hours in the day!

Have you tried to insert subtle elements into your artistry and storytelling? What are your concerns with increased complexity with the comic possibly cutting into your time for updating regularly?

There’s always a balancing act when it comes to update schedule versus production time, and for now, I’m doing pretty well at managing that with two updates per week.  I’ve been trying to push my artwork for Alex’s Guide to be better and better lately, so naturally, that means the time I spend on each update has been slowly increasing.  I’d like to get back to three updates per week eventually, and I’ll hopefully be able to do that once my readership grows to what it was when Garanos was at its peak.  Until then, I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, since it seems to be working out!

How do you feel now that your old epic fantasy comic Garanos has come to an end, and do you have any intentions on revisiting the world you created?

I may return to it one day, but I’m not sure how or what scope it would be.  I can always continue the story in a linear fashion with the Caywien civil war, which was set up at the end of volume III, but I’ve also had ideas to illustrate some of the moments in between volumes, or explore other characters’ backstories.

And finally… why corn? (For those of my readers who’ve not read Alex’s current comic, various corn-related objects are a recurring theme in the strip.)

Oh, the corn.  I made a big stuffed ear of corn for my Halloween costume last year, which was of the actress Lori Beth Denberg.  She was one of the cast of the Nickeloden show “All That,” and the show had this gigantic, 8-foot tall prop ear of corn that would come up from time to time, so it seemed like a fun prop to have to possibly help someone recognize my costume. (They didn’t.)  So I took the corn to Youmacon, an anime convention in the Detroit area, and corn became a running joke over the weekend with my roommates and I, who were my neighbors in the Artist Alley.  Then I made a couple comics about corn jokes, and suddenly my friends are now sending me pictures of corn airplanes and my mother is buying me caramel popcorn shaped and packaged to look like an ear of corn and it’s just out of my hands, now!  So I guess corn is my thing whether I like it or not.

-Alex Heberling
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