"Dresden Codak" Digs Deep Into Life & Death, Pt II

Since October of 2007, when creator Aaron Diaz went full time with his webcomic "Dresden Codak," the strip has been making a splash with readers and critics alike. With each strip usually focusing on a concept or theory from science, psychology or modern and post-modern philosophy, Diaz has crafted a unique world that blends the surreal with the scientific and the existential.

In part one of his in-depth interview with CBR News, Diaz talked about "Dresden Codak's" characters such as Kimiko "Thunderbot" Ross, a scientist seeking a post-singularity solution to the everyday problems of human interaction. The strip's current storyline is the massively epic "Hob," in which Kimiko finds a post-singularity robot and in so doing learns what the future might hold for both herself and artificial intelligence.

In this second installment of our interview, Diaz discusses with us the unique fan-base that makes up the readers of "Dresden Codak," the possibility of a future collection of strips, and those instances in which his ideas have become bigger than himself or his comic.

CBR: Given the diverse nature of the strip, what are "Dresden Codak" fans like?

Aaron Diaz: I've been to conventions now and I've met a lot of fans and I would say, on average, "Dresden Codak" fans are people who are just a lot smarter than I am. Certainly better-read. They're very intimidating people. They're great they just know a lot of things. With a lot of them, every strip doesn't work for them, but there's two or three that are just right up their alley because I hit so many different topics. So there's a lot of people who show up who are mathematicians or physicists or computer engineers. So I've kind of hit this weird niche audience. It's not a very large one, but all the people who read the comic, it seems to be among their favorite comics because there aren't any other comics that appeal to them in that really specific way they're interested in.

Also, I've discovered from going to conventions that at least twenty to thirty percent of my fans are tiny, teenage Asian girls and I don't know why. I assume it's because I have a comic that's about a nerdy Asian girl and thus nerdy Asian girls like it. But I really don't know.

Do you get a lot of philosophy and psychology majors?

Yeah, it's really across the board. The only group that I didn't get for a while were English lit majors. That was true for a while and I was invited by a University's English department to speak at a certain event. On the whole, it's mostly hard sciences people. Generally, I have an easier time talking to the other people because all the scientists have very narrow fields of interest.

"Dungeons and Discourse" is a great example of the kind of varied academic fields the strip can cover, for instance. How did you come up with the idea of a D20 Philosophy Dungeon Crawler?

A lot of people are really surprised to hear that I've never played an RPG, but I haven't. But I had a lot of friends who were really into "D&D" and for all this time they kept trying to get me to play with them. It wasn't that I didn't want to play, I just didn't really understand what it was all about. Eventually I agreed to sit in -- I didn't play, but I just watched and I was absolutely fascinated by what I saw. It was essentially people bickering with one another about the rules in a really formalized way. I understand not every session goes like that but I really liked it, I thought it was really funny because it reminded me of a debate class.

That's when I realized how incredibly close it was to the debates people have in philosophy classrooms or even on philosophy message boards, which I was pretty familiar with at the time. I think it's an idea that's a lot of fun because it's pretty easy to lampoon a stereotype of someone who plays RPGs but it's also just as much fun, if not more fun, to lampoon the idea of a philosophy major. Combining the two makes it more fun.

Have fans of yours actually attempted to build a version of "Dungeons and Discourse?"

Oh, yeah! I think it was not even a month after the comic came out that I started to receive emails from readers who were asking if this was a real game and if they could have permission to make it. So I made a special forum on the message boards just for people who wanted to develop "Dungeons and Discourse." It's been over a year, almost two years now, since it came out. I never really had much of a hand in developing it but someone ran an alpha test of one of the versions in an IRC channel and I sat in on it and it was just really fun. It was hilarious.

That sort of thing really appeals to me more than anything else, when something I've made gives other really creative people a tool to make something else. Which is why I really like starting things like "The Historical Pre-Enactment Society" or "Pretend to be a Time-Traveler Day" was another thing and they really exploded.

What's "Pretend to be a Time-Traveler Day?"

The rules are simple. On a specific day, you dress up as though you were, just for example, from a Star Trek episode and were trying really hard to fit in to modern day society but with a limited understanding of the style. Just a stereotype of some of the fashions. At one point in the "Hob" storyline, Kimiko makes the comment "if re-enactors fifty years from now were portraying the present, this is how they would dress."

So you have one guy dressed like a cowboy, one dressed like an astronaut, just really absurd things, assuming they would fit in very well. That's the general idea of "Pretend to be a Time-Traveler Day." And then of course you can pick different eras. You can be from the Star Trek future, like the guys in "Hob." Or you can try the dystopian future where you can have a weird hairstyle or pretend you have to find a specific person and save them. Really, the sky is the limit with this. The videos people sent me of their renditions were just hilarious.

That is a wildly unique fan-base, for sure.

The funny thing is that I am very certain that the idea of "Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day" is much, much bigger than my own comic. Most people who participate in it don't even know about my comic. I did an interview for a radio station about the day and they didn't even know I had a comic. So on the one hand, I'm thinking that's great that it's gotten so big, but on the other hand - I need to advertise better.

You mentioned that you grew up reading superhero comics. What comics do you read these days, if any?

I've been reading "Fables," "Ex Machina," and "Hellboy." I recently picked up "Bone" by Jeff Smith, which I'd never read before, and I really love it. Around fifteen or sixteen-years-old, I burnt out on comics and stopped reading completely. Then when I started doing "Dresden Codak," I figured I should pick something up but I really didn't know where to start. Of all things, it was Grant Morrison's run on "New X-Men" that was what I picked up.

I learned very quickly that any time Frank Quietly and Grant Morrison get together, it's just a masterpiece. Ever since then, I've read everything they've done -- "All-Star Superman," "We3" -- so I'm a big fan of Grant Morrison.

Also, at the continued insistence of my readers, I picked up "Transmetropolitan" by Warren Ellis. I've only just read them, but a lot of fans ask if the "Hob" storyline is based on that. It wasn't, though I really enjoy it now that I've read it.

That could just as easily be people seeing William Gibson in both of your works.

Yes! And I'm an intense William Gibson fan, so that should explain things.

Given that "Perry Bible Fellowship" was an inspiration to "Dresden Codak," how does it feel that Nicholas Guerwitch calls you one of his favorite comics?

It's really weird because I knew [creator] Nick [Gurewitch] in a really unusual way before I started doing comics. I was making short student films with my friends and we'd post them on this site called Studentfilms.com way before YouTube. One of the primary guys on there and getting attention was Nick Guerwitch. That's how I knew him, actually, I didn't know about PBF until someone linked me to it one day. Then I thought, "Nick Guerwitch. God that name sounds familiar!" Then I realized who it was and emailed him.

Soon after, I happened to show him some of the strips I was working on and it was really because of his encouragement that I kept doing it.

Does "Dresden Codak" have a regular update schedule?

It should but it doesn't. I'm slowly getting a better understanding of how it should work. When I started, I wanted to do it every week and be very consistent about that, and once I went full time I thought I could pull that off. But my main inadequacies as an artist started to arise as I got more ambitious with the strip. Right now, it's in between about one-and-a-half to three weeks sometimes. Which for a professional artist I would say is inexcusable. But sadly enough, I am not a professionally trained artist.

I did a drawing one time as a sketch at a convention and I was pretty sure a couple people fell asleep waiting for me to finish. It was really sad. I'm ridiculously slow, but I'm getting a little faster and I recently got some tips from some concept artists and I've learned that you don't have to take days to draw somebody's hand -- which is good.

Any interest from publishers in a "Dresden Codak" collection?

Not right now. Right now, I don't really have anything to be picked up. But I have talked to some people and I'm not going to say anything official yet, but I have talked to a number of big name publishers about a book edition of the "Hob" story and there's been a lot of interest. The hope would be it would be in the over-sized, coffee table book format.

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