As promised from last time, I said that I would be changing the format, and this week, I’m delivering on that threat! I am glad to say that I have a very prestigious accomplice in this goal, the very talented and prolific Ursula Vernon, creator of Digger. I’ve mentioned her work before, but I consider Digger to be truly a masterpiece in the webcomic space, and it definitely deserved to have more focus put on it beyond the small blurb it was given before. Evidently some people in high places agree, as it just so happens to be a nominee for a Hugo Award, and well deserved too!
Ursula is also the creator of the Dragonbreath series, Nurk: The Strange Surprising Adventures Of A (Somewhat) Brave Shrew, and Black Dogs. Ursula was a great interviewee, so I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
Brian Vo: Hi Ursula, thanks for taking the time to answer questions for ComicBooked. You mentioned coming back from travel before you were able to do this interview, was it anything exciting, perhaps comic related?
Ursula Vernon: Nothing really comic related–I had an art gallery opening in Beaumont, Texas, at the Dishman Art Museum. Took the opportunity of being in Texas to go do some birdwatching on the Gulf Coast, which has some of the best birding in North America this time of year.
UV: Well, I was trying to decide on a character design–just noodling around, trying to come up with something to draw one day–and I had the TV on, and a wombat took a chunk out of Steve Irwin’s leg. I said “Sold!” and Digger was born.
BV: Wow, that’s one hell of a way to pick an animal. Do you like seeing Steve Irwin get mauled on the TV?
UV: Heh! No, not really. I am already a walking encyclopedia of disturbing animal facts. Once Digger had been going for awhile, I did contact some wombat rehabbers in Australia to ask about their critters, and they were extremely nice and provided me with some extra details that I hadn’t known.
BV: Digger has a rather splendid looking vest jacket(?), is there a story or inspiration behind that simple but snazzy bit of attire?
UV: Lord, I don’t know. Probably not in the story. There’s a few places where I might tweak the art, or take a week or two to work up a better character design for a minor character–sadly, a tight deadline doesn’t leave you a lot of design time–but the story I’m pretty pleased with.
BV: Reading through through the series, it is impossible not to notice that you have a very active readership hanging on your every image. Would you say that their commentary affected Digger as you wrote it?
UV: Hmmmm. Hard to say! To a certain extent, I generally knew what was happening or going to happen well in advance–with a few exceptions–but there were occasionally times when people would start speculating and I would realize that I needed to clarify something because nobody was picking up on it, stuff like that. I never changed the plot based on reader commentary, but I did occasionally tweak a thing or two if it seemed like I wasn’t being clear enough.
BV: Now on to the elephant in the interview. How does it feel to have Digger nominated for a Hugo award?
UV: I still kinda don’t believe it. When it occurs to me, I giggle a bit. But it doesn’t seem real.
BV: Have you noticed a swell in interview requests after the Hugo Award nomination?
BV: Well there goes my special snowflake tag. Okay moving on then. What got you started in publishing content online?
UV: Well, I’d been blogging for a few years, and I’d been posting art online forever, so it didn’t seem like a big leap to start doing comics. For awhile I even posted them the same way I’d been posting art–it wasn’t until some time later that I realized I was doing this Webcomic Thing.
BV: Any advice for other aspiring comic artists out there?
UV: Don’t overthink. Start doing it. I have met a number of people who keep planning and talking about it and never actually take the step of doing the damn comic because they want to make sure they have exactly the right hosting and exactly the right story and so on and so forth. Nothing is more important than actually STARTING. And then finishing, if it’s something with a finish. That’s also very important.
BV: Do you have a favorite color?
UV: I’m fond of purple.
BV: What are you working on now, any future projects you’d like to talk about?
UV: Well, my bread-and-butter these days is the Dragonbreath series for kids, which is published by Dial Books. I’m also working on a couple of other projects for kids–one about Viking battlesheep and one about a hamster warrior-princess–that are making the rounds. We’ll see if anything pops!
UV: Heh! Actually the strongest influence, weirdly enough, was a class I took in college some years earlier. All the art classes, all the classical mythology classes, and it turns out that the one that really made an impact on me was about Brazilian Indians. It was taught by this very engaging professor (who is now actually a governmental head of Indian relations down in South America these days) and it basically just went through a number of different tribes found in the Amazon, their myths and cultures and so forth. It was a quick overview kind of class, but so much of that got worked into Digger–the endocannibal hyenas, the skin-lizard’s weird little mythology, a lot of just kinda the flavor of the mythologies–that I consider it one of the greatest influences on the comic. (And part of the reason I don’t grumble too much about having majored in Anthropology. Digger paid off my student loans–eventually–and that class did a lot of the heavy lifting.)
The Good Man mythology is based on a weird children’s religion that started showing up among homeless kids in Florida, and various other tidbits got gleaned from various sources over the years.
BV: That was definitely a very cool inspiration, and definitely unexpected. You know, since we’re on the subject of inspirations and you being a genuine article in webcomics success I am curious if there are any other webcomics you keep up with?
UV: I’m sadly out of the webcomic loop these days. I stop by xkcd occasionally, and I do enjoy Oglaf (Editor’s note: Google this yourself at your own discretion, it’s rather NSFW). My boyfriend follows every webcomic known to man, and he occasionally points me at one that I need to read.
UV: Thank you to all the fans, both who kept up with Digger–there’s nothing quite like the fans who were reading at the time, and who lived with the story for seven years, as opposed to now, when it takes maybe two or three days to go through the archives! I couldn’t have done it without them!–and who voted for Digger for the Hugo. I had no idea it was even eligible, and it came wildly out of the blue!
BV: Thanks so much for your time Ursula, it was a pleasure.
UV: Thanks for taking the time to interview me. It was a pleasure!
That closes out this week’s Webcomics Wednesday. Here at ComicBooked we are wishing Ursula some great luck in the soon to come decision for the Hugo Award.