Bill Barnes is best known as the artist behind Unshelved, one of the biggest and oddest webcomics success stories, a long running and successful series about librarians. Last fall, Barnes launched a new strip that he's writing with cartoonist Paul Southworth on art. Southworth is no newcomer to the webcomics world, either, having written and illustrated the popular "Ugly Hill" which ended a long run last year, as well as "You Are Dead" on Crispy Gamer.
"Not Invented Here" focuses on the exploits of software developer Desmond and program manager Owen. The strip hit its stride last month with a long series about Desmond's horrible user interface for a new piece of software. Far more complex and involved than just a series of in-jokes, "Not Invented Here" is a great workplace comedy with well-drawn characters and laugh out loud punch lines.
CBR News spoke with the duo about the comic, how they work together, and what will happen to the strip in 2060.
Let's start at the very beginning , here - how did the two of you meet?
Paul Southworth:Â Bill and I knew of each other, and I think we had emailed briefly before we started all this nonsense, but I'm pretty sure you just emailed me out of the blue one day to talk about collaborating on a project. Is that right, Bill?
Bill Barnes:Â I had followed your brief foray in drawing "Ding!" for Scott Kurtz. I emailed you like ten minutes after you two parted ways. I had been planning the comic strip that became "Not Invented Here" for a couple of years, and eventually decided I wasn't the guy to draw it. I tried out another artist, but I dropped him like a hot potato when Paul became available
Southworth:Â I was just bringing "Ugly Hill" to a close, coincidentally, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to entertain any gentleman callers
Paul, what was it that made you interested in collaborating with Bill after working on strips solo for so long?
Southworth:Â It was Bill's pedigree that piqued my interest. I knew he had been doing "Unshelved" for years, and that it was how he made his living. If that weren't the case, I don't think I ever would have agreed to a partnership of any kind. But I figured this guy knew what the hell he was doing, and since I was soon to be fresh out of projects, I found myself considering a long-term comics collaboration, which surprised me.
Bill, what was the initial idea behind "Not Invented Here?" I know you worked in the software industry for years before becoming a full time cartoonist, so I assume that that's where the concept came from.
Barnes:Â I first started writing comic strips as an adult while I was still working in software. So pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was think about it when I got home. After Gene Ambaum and I started "Unshelved," people kept asking me when I was going to start a software comic, and it always annoyed me.
Then, as I was getting ready to leave my day job for good, I started thinking about it and it didn't annoy me. So I started taking notes and sketching characters. Eventually it felt ready.
Why didn't you think you were the right guy to draw it?
Barnes:Â Drawing "Unshelved" and running the business doesn't leave much time. I also really like working with a partner. And I liked the idea of it looking better than I could make it. I was also worried about it looking, visually, like "Unshelved 2." I don't have a lot of variety in me.
Once you decided that you were going to have to get someone else to draw the strip, did you have a style or a person in mind?
Barnes:Â No. First I went with Mark Monlux, who is a friend who lives reasonably close. I always liked his style, but he couldn't really give the strip the time it needed. Also, he never really got the jokes, and I really wanted someone who would work with me on the writing.
What was it that made Paul the right guy?
Barnes:Â Honestly? I really enjoyed tweeting back and forth with Paul. I felt like his and my senses of humor meshed nicely. Twitter is the baby mama of "Not Invented Here."
Both "Unshelved" and "Not Invented Here" are collaborative strips, though on the former you're the artist and on the latter you're the writer. How do the creative processes differ?
Barnes:Â First of all it's completely reversed. I'm used to getting scripts which I hack to death until they're unrecognizable, and then drawing whatever I want. Paul is very nice about the scripts I send him. He makes good fixes and helps make everything funnier.
Southworth:Â And Bill is an excellent liar.
Barnes:Â I have learned (the hard way) that Paul and Gene are very different people. Gene writes very stream-of-conciousness, and expects big edits. Paul writes pretty polished stuff (thanks to years of writing his own strips) and I can't just rip it up and start over. I think we're settling into a nice groove.
Southworth:Â And I'm learning to be more flexible, and not to be married to everything that spills out of the soft spot on top of my head.
Barnes:Â I will say that Paul writes more material than I originally expected, and that's excellent.
Paul, you mentioned Bill's experience and background as why you wanted to work together, but what about the idea did you like and what did you think you could bring or add to it?
Southworth:Â I liked the dynamic between Owen and Desmond that Bill had in mind, the surrounding cast of characters and the potential for the dynamic between them. Plus, it represented a challenge for me. I've never drawn a strip with a human cast before, believe it or not. It's always been monsters and animals for me, but I've always wanted to tell stories where I could make pop culture references and other jokes that people could truly relate to.
What goes into putting together an average strip?
Barnes:Â Recently we've started breaking stories together. Working out the beats before scripts. Basically if it's about software, I wrote it. If it's about the characters complex inner lives, Paul wrote it. But hardly a single strip goes out that doesn't have input from both of us.
Southworth:Â Usually Bill will send me scripts, but recently I've been coming up with stories and we reverse the process. I send Bill scripts, he edits and sends them back, etc.
Paul, is this how you like working, having some say and not being just the artist?
Southworth:Â Oh yeah, I could never be just the artist. I always have to put in my two cents. If I didn't have input into the writing, I'd go insane. I've been spoiled by working alone for too long.
Barnes:Â I have a strong personal conviction that two people are better than one when it comes to writing humor. Sometimes I'm just not as funny or clear as I think I am.
How autobiographical a character is Desmond, and how did you guys design the characters?
Barnes:Â Owen and Desmond started off as different parts of my personality. I've been a clueless program manager (Owen) and a developer (Desmond). But as we started writing the strip, Desmond has taken on characteristics of Paul. It turns out the program manager/developer relationship maps really well to the writer/artist relationship.
Southworth:Â It's actually how I've learned to understand the dynamic between the two of them, since I've never worked in software