Killing Time with Kristofer Straub, Part II

Best known as the cartoonist behind web-comics "Checkerboard Nightmare" and "Starslip Crisis," Kristofer Straub is a man of many talents and in quick fashion has developed a small but devoted fan-base who enjoy not just his strips, but his podcasting, writing and music, all of which seem natural outgrowths of his uniquely quirky and creative personality.

Last week, in the first part of our interview, Straub discussed the genesis of "Checkerboard Nightmare" and "Starslip Crisis," and the growth he's seen in himself since he began web cartooning. In this second part of his interview with CBR News, Straub talks about his other projects as well as the frustrations and joys of building a web-comic from the ground up.

"Starslip Crisis" isn't necessarily an incredibly popular web-comic, although it certainly has a large and growing fanbase, including a number of professional web-comics creators who just love it. Do you think "Starslip" is, in a way, a web-comic for people who make web-comics?

Yes. I always said that the idea behind writing is that you trade off audience for humor. It's accessibility vs. impact. If you have a joke that's a bit of an inside joke, it might be really funny to the people who know what you're talking about, but the more inside it gets, the smaller your potential audience becomes.

Oh, yeah. That was frustrating, too. I think it was frustrating primarily because as a web cartoonist, on the business end, your goal is to attract audience. If only other web cartoonists read your work, even if there are 10,000 of them, they're all broke! They're all trying to make money with their work. They're not going to buy my t-shirts. But "Checkerboard Nightmare" was pretty satisfying, creatively. Not so much financially.

I used to think that there was no better type of fame. To be an author that's appreciated by a moderate number of devoted fans, but you can still go to the supermarket. Maybe the only place you'd ever be identified and mobbed would be at a convention â€" where you choose to go. Then you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can have a private life and then say, "Okay, I'm gonna go pretend that I'm awesome now and do a signing."

What's it like, then, being friends with someone in the business whose comic has a larger audience, like "PvP" creator Scott Kurtz?

We are good â€" best friends even. Well, he'd be offended at that. We're practically gay lovers. We're hetero life-mates. But more than being frustrated, if that relationship has hurt me in anyway, it's in expectations. I once asked another creator at a con, "How'd you do today?" and he said,"Oh, I did great! I had a great con!" So I thought I must have had a rotten con. I asked him how much he made and then said, "Oh, that's good? Then I did awesome!" But being friends with Scott and "Penny Arcade," people who are doing a lot of business, I do what in my pay grade should be considered a phenomenal amount of business, but then I go "Oh man, my friends are making so much more. What am I doing wrong?" But I could not expect to be at that level.

Tell us about "The Alterverse War."

"Alterverse War" is a Saturday-only strip that features the crew of the Fuseli, before any of the happenings of "Starslip Crisis." They get caught in some kind of a spatial rift and end up in a universe where a lot of other sci-fi web-comics characters have already been thrown. I approached a lot of creators and I said, "I want to do this thing and I'm going to write it but I want it to be fair." I didn't want it to be like "Starslip wins and is clearly the best one!"

The current storyline is "Future War." What's that about and what's up next for "SSC?"

Lord Katarakis [the villain of the strip] is a despot. [Recently,] a huge contingent of ships from the very, very distant future appear and say to them, "You must turn over the criminal Katarakis from us and if you do not, then we will declare war on the past." Which you can't possibly hope to win, but then also â€" how does the future declare war on the past? If you destroy it, then the future won't exist. So the future is just going to be really careful about what they attack. And that story should last the next year.

How far in advance do you generally have "SSC" plotted?

I had three major story events when I started, of which "Future War" is actually the third. I've got a couple of other ideas beyond that, but I'm thinking of the major plot very, very broadly. I'm guessing it will take me a year, but maybe April will come around and I'll say "I'm thinking I need to tie up that plot thread."

It's atypical that you ended a web-comic. Web-comics -- at least, moderately successful ones-- don't usually end. Do you see "Starslip" as ending one day, when it's run its course?

Sure. I know that there's kind of a hunt with a lot of the people I'm friends with who are web-cartoonists, where they're doing a strip right now that they don't feel is their baby. It's not their "Garfield" or their "Peanuts" â€" the one that they're going to be doing for the next thirty years. "Starslip" is awesome and I'm very excited about it, but I can't think beyond five years from now. If I run out of juice or it's a good place to end it, then I would end it. I don't have any hard feelings about it. Cause you can always resurrect it. But some stories have endings and I think that is cool.

Do you have an ending in mind for "Starslip?"

I do. I have a vague, vague ending. It might not be an ending, but I know something that absolutely must happen, and that kind of makes me excited because if I do a good enough job after four or five or six years, I can say "Oh, I'm gonna blow 'em away with this."

You've done theme songs to your comics and others. How did you start with music?

I had a friend in college who played the guitar and he wrote music. I do so many things because I see somebody else doing it and I say, "I wanna do that, I think I could do that!" I've done six-to-eight songs for other comics and some related projects. I put an album out last year, "The Precise Moment of Failure." There's about 16-17 songs I've done for various things on there. I did one for "Something Positive," one for "Starslip," a couple for "Checkerboard Nightmare," one for Scott [Kurtz]'s comic "Truth, Justin and the American Way."

Fans seem to enjoy the "PvP: The Series" theme, "Pop-Culture Hero."

The DVD of the "PvP" series is going to have Bill Roper, from the studio that did Hellgate London, do the new vocals. Apparently he sings.

Speaking of "PvP: The Series," you're co-writing that with Scott Kurtz. What was that like and what are the chances of a second season?

Scott and I are writing the scripts and I do the backgrounds for the show. It's been a lot of fun. Blind Ferret is doing an awesome job with the animation. We're going to hold off on Season 2 because we're trying to figure out others ways to present it and see how the DVD does as well.

We're looking forward to doing more Blamimations in the mean time. We did a couple of them where we just threw them together in Flash. It just became really fun and exciting. I would love to revisit it. I want to do a DVD of the ones that we've done as well. We were always on the phone together and making up bits so we thought â€" why not just throw some Flash in front of it and make it something you watch?

Have you considered writing in other mediums? Would you be interested in mainstream comics or television, for instance?

I would love to. I've written a couple of comic book scripts that I haven't done anything with. It's a very different process.

If Marvel or DC called you up tomorrow and gave you carte blanche on any character, which would be your choice?

Iron Man. I am a huge Iron Man fan. So I would jump on that and of course that would never happen. They might throw The Watcher at me. And I would take it! I'd do a strip about The Watcher's Kids. I would love it.

You recently started the Halfpixel label with Scott Kurtz. What was the reason for this? Why did you leave Blank Label Comics?

I wanted to expand and the way I use "Starslip" tends to be pretty inorganic. I reuse art and sprites and stuff. Also, I would come up with ideas that I couldn't use in "Starslip." So I needed a place where I could throw those ideas out, whatever they were, and not worry about it. That's what Halfpixel was, originally. So when Scott and I became partners, I decided to expand the site to include him and it became our work together. And now with the addition of Brad Guigar and Dave Willis, Halfpixel has just kind of become our hub. But that just grew out of me being restless originally.

What was the impetus for doing creating the "Making Web-Comics" podcast?

Scott very much had the idea. He wanted to talk about "the craft." So that's what we did, and we talked about it from a perspective that we really hadn't heard much of. You actually had four web cartoonists answering questions and talking about their learning curve and what they really do for their problems. So he asked us and we were like â€" yeah, and it turned into this very organic thing. That was actually the seed of Brad and Dave coming to work with us at Halfpixel. We all worked so well together. Scott and I thought, "Why does this just have to be the two of us? We have a lot to learn, too."

When can fans expect the next "Starslip" collection?

I would love to have it out by San Diego Comic Con. That's my deadline for new projects. The first collection was just solicited so we'll hopefully see it in comic book stores soon.

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