One of the most curious and most original webcomics around is "A Softer World." The comics are funny and strange, dark and touching, featuring zombies and cute babies and death and obscenities. The format of the comic has remained essentially the same for more than five hundred strips; three photographs that sometimes directly relate to the text and sometimes does not. Within those formal considerations, writer Joey Comeau and photographer Emily Horne have crafted something so unique that it's hard to pinpoint any precise influence they've had.
The creative duo have also published comics on Tor.com in addition to their own separate projects. Comeau has written four books, including last year's "Overqualified" and the upcoming novel "One Bloody Thing After Another," coming out in May. They recently released the second collection of the "A Softer World."
CBR News: How did the two of you meet?
Emily Horne: We met through our mutual friend Tim, in 2000. Tim worked with Joey at the phone company in Halifax, and went to school with me. He thought Joey and I would get along, so we went to meet Joey on his "lunch break" - at 4am! Later, we dated.
Joey Comeau: Even later than that, we stopped dating, but kept doing the comic!
Horne: Joey started making comics in, maybe, 2001, using pictures cut out from magazines about royalty (this is a thing that happens when you have a Queen; there are multiple magazines about The Royals). When yet another King Edward abdication comic got dull, we thought maybe we could use my photos instead. I'd started taking photos on shoots (usually involving costumes and props) with my university friends, so I had a pretty significant backlog of shots. I don't really recall any moment of feeling like making photo comics was a dumb idea, neither do I recall feeling like we were being particularly innovative (and of course, later we learned that there was a whole tradition of photo comics). It was just a thing that seemed like a good idea!
Take us through the process of a typical strip, if there is such a thing. Emily, do you create a triptych of photographs and send them along to Joey. Joey do you write based on what Emily sends you or how do you work?
Comeau: Emily and I talk about the strip's humor, and if we're both not on board, we don't use a particular joke (or photo) on the site. But we both have an idea of what the comic is and should be, and we try to keep the idea in our head balanced with what we make for the site. The idea of having comics that were funny and sad started right at the beginning, too. Our first comic was the one with Wednesday the cat, asking god if her parents are ever coming home. I remember we sent this and some others to a science fiction magazine here in Canada, and they liked most, but they wanted us to change the last panel of that particular comic to read, "Can I have my testicles back now, please?" We did not do it, though on April fools a couple years later we changed dozens of comics so they all had that for a punchline.
Horne: Our process has evolved considerably since we started. We worked on comics together in person when we were both in Halifax, then when I moved to Victoria, things had to change. I would scan a few photos at a time, then put the comics together and send them to Joey. He would then write text for them and upload the finished comics over the next few weeks. Usually I'd be able to look them over before they went online, but sometimes they were a complete surprise! We got so used to working that way that when I moved to Toronto, we kept it up (minus the time-zone difference). Joey did a lot of traveling to promote his new book "Overqualified" this year, which meant that often he was sending me ideas and I was finding appropriate photos and uploading them myself. That's where our process is right now. We are usually creating strips the day before or the day of posting. I envy those webcomic-makers who can be ahead of the game, but that's rarely us.
Writers and cartoonists often compare the comic strip format to haiku, but very few, it seems, really play with formal constraints the way you do in "A Softer World." Was that always the intention, and what do you both enjoy about establishing these constraints and playing within them?
Comeau: We didn't really come into this with any intentions. Formal constraints are fun to work with, because they make the act of writing even more of a puzzle than it already is. Instead of just coming up with a story and a joke, you have to find a way to fit that into three panels and keep it from being too wordy. You have to make it seem like that's the natural amount of space for the idea to need, too. You also have to figure out how to make that idea about lesbians, dead moms and zombies. You know, to make it Art.