Talking Comics with Tim: Joey Weiser

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Joey Weiser is giving readers a variety of choices in order to read his latest work. In catching up on Weiser's work, you currently have three choices: Cavemen in Space (distributed by AdHouse [PDF preview here]), Mermin (his  mini-comic series with two issues released so far about an adorable fish-boy); or Monster Isle (his weekly webcomic, which he told me, was "inspired by Japanese Kaiju monsters, and it’s a lot of fun to make"). The bulk of our interview focuses upon Cavemen in Space ("A caveman named Washington and his prehistoric tribe have been torn from their era and placed aboard 'The Wheel,' a futuristic space laboratory...")--but we also touch briefly upon the initial response to Mermin. My thanks to Weiser for taking the time to discuss his work.

Tim O'Shea: The main appeal to Cavemen in Space (for me) is that many of the Cavemen--transported to a future time, become accustomed to the new world/dynamics to varying degrees. Had you always intended to have that juxtaposition--or was that a nuance to the characters that evolved as the story developed? I was really pleased with the character arcs for Madison and Jefferson.

Joey Weiser: In this case, I came up with the characters first, and the story just formed around them. I wanted to work with a large cast and give them all stories that intertwined. The goofy concept of Cavemen in Space is obviously playing with opposites, so that was a core part of the characters and from that I realized how they would interact with each other and what developments I would want them to have by the end of the book.

O'Shea: Speaking of Madison, were you trying to do some commentary on contemporary art, sequential art and the struggle of the artist with the character? Or were you just goofing on the pursuit of art with Madison?

Weiser: Probably closer to “goofing” than anything else. When brainstorming characters, a cave artist was one of the first things I thought of. Cave paintings are a common bit of iconography associated with cavemen and are often referenced when talking about the history of comics.

O'Shea: How and why did you come up with the idea of having the professor name the cavemen after presidents?

Weiser: Often when naming characters I just kind of let my mind drift and something comes to me that fits. However, I always enjoyed when character names have some meaning put behind them. From reading Bill Watterson’s commentary on the Calvin & Hobbes names, to the frequent pun names in manga, to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I always find it interesting and fun. I thought using U.S. presidents and first ladies would be a fun idea, and it seems like a naming system that might actually happen. If Casimir’s project was funded by a world where United States history is important, I could see a founding fathers/pioneering cave-people comparison happening.

O'Shea: Any chance you want to do more with the Dapper Duck character (the story within the story)?

Weiser: I’ve been nudged by some friends to do a Dapper Duck mini-comic. Hard to say if that will ever happen…but I kind of doubt it. I don’t know, I do kind of wish that I had written more DD scenes into the book. There’s a short CiS story that I posted on my website (and was originally a mini-comic) that has a few DD panels in it. The story is in color, and I think the DD section in particular worked out pretty well.

O'Shea: You do realize that you could do a whole miniseries with Martha & M.O.N.A--right? Any interest or are you done with the Cavemen in Space universe?

Weiser: I think the whole cast have a pretty strong potential for lots of fun stories. If I did a sequel book, there might have to be some pretty dramatic developments in order to continue, and I’ve thought about that. But I’ve always felt that the characters would work really well as a more episodic, prequel series. But who knows if that will ever happen. After finishing The Ride Home, I felt like I might like to write more stories in that universe, but haven’t really been motivated to. I guess my brain closes its doors on characters once I’ve finished the story I’ve set out to complete, so returning to The Ride Home or Cavemen in Space seems unlikely unless I start to feel really reflective on my career some day.

O'Shea: Were you hesitant at first to do the fundraiser to make printing Caveman possible? Do you think you will try fundraising of that type for future projects?

Weiser: I had no idea how the fundraiser was going to go. Big thanks to folks like Liz Baillie and Greg Means for pushing me to do it. To be honest, I didn’t really think that I had a great chance to meet my goal, and that’s why I decided to run the fundraiser myself rather than go with Kickstarter. I decided that I was dedicated to publishing the book, and was willing to use whatever funds people were willing to give me, even if I didn’t meet my goal.

It felt awesome to meet that goal. The fundraiser was cool because news of it spread enough that it introduced a lot of people to my work, and made readers feel closer to the book by contributing to its publication. However, asking for money for three months straight was really exhausting. Hopefully I don’t have to do it ever again! It will be interesting to see if this fundraiser/Kickstarter model continues to be strong as time goes one.

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O'Shea: When did you decide that every Mermin issue would sport a Mermin sticker? How long does it take you get those stickers on the covers?

Weiser: I wanted something to make the covers pop a bit, but wanted to it be a bit more hands-on than just color printing. The first set of stickers I printed were just printed on white label paper and I tried cutting out each Mermin…but cutting around his little fingers and head things was insane!! I don’t know what I was thinking! I only had to cut one or two out before I realized that there had to be a better way. The opaque stickers on clear vinyl ended up looking really nice. Someone said it was like hand-made spot-gloss! There still is a little cutting involved though. The stickers are printed on square sheets and I cut around them a bit so they are more organic looking.

O'Shea: You already sold out of issue 2, will you adjust the number of issue 3 that you will produce--or are you trying to play the numbers on the conservative side--just to be safe?

Weiser: Yeah, I keep my print runs relatively conservative. I never think that I’m going to get rid of them so fast, but it happens. Between fundraiser rewards, conventions, website sales, reviewer copies, etc. it goes fast! I think, technically, I’m already approaching my 3rd printing of issue 1. I don’t really keep track, because with minis I just print a batch up before a convention or something and then see where I’m at before the next show. Conventions are when the most sell (after the initial batch sent to subscribers, press, etc). San Diego is approaching though, and I need to be stocked for that!

O'Shea: Did a lot of kids come to your table at HeroesCon to check out Mermin? How gratifying is it when you see a child's face light up when your story connects with them?

Weiser: Yeah, I had a lot of kids check out Mermin at Heroes. I don’t specifically aim for any audience in particular when I’m working, but kids seem to be responding to Mermin a lot more strongly than any of my previous work. FLUKE was really fun, because I had already been selling copies of issue 1 through the local comic shop a week or two before the show, so it had some time to circulate a bit in the hip kids community in Athens. So kids were coming up to my table already familiar with Mermin, and it was really fun. One girl told me, “I want a Mermin toy!” and all I could say was, “Yeah! Me too!”

O'Shea: So any chance you'll do a Mermin toy? You're based out of Athens, which is a pretty crafty town to a certain extent, isn't it?

Weiser: Well, that certainly would be exciting! My incredible wife (Michele Chidester http://www.michelechidester.com and http://drogochideseter.livejournal.com/) makes these plush soft-sculptures that will blow your mind. She has talked about making a Mermin one. Maybe some day!

O'Shea: Speaking of Athens, you already mentioned FLUKE--but how much of a benefit is it to be based out of Athens, a college town that fosters creativity and to have a comics store open to selling mini-comics?

Weiser: Athens is typically known for its music scene.  The art scene is smaller, but it's growing.  There are regular craft fairs that are filled with tons of great stuff, and then there's the FLUKE mini-comics festival which is always fantastic.  Michele and some of our friends have founded a puppet troupe that has done some great stuff.  The comics scene isn't incredibly huge, but the folks who are here are very talented.  We moved here in part because our friends Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing live here, and then there's David Mack, Patrick Dean, and a few others.  We all see each other a lot, and it's great to have an awesome group of friends/cartoonists to share your work with.

O'Shea: Do you have a set number of issues you see for Mermin--or could it be a long term project for you if response is strong enough?

Weiser: I have a solid arc planned for the first 5 issues, which could then conceivably be “Volume 1.” From then on, I have some definite plans for more. We’ll have to see if it will continue as a mini-comic series or what. The future is a mystery!

O'Shea: Anything we should discuss that I neglected to focus upon?

Weiser: If people would like to see me in person, I’ll be at the San Diego Comic Con, hanging out at the Flight table. And then SPX in the fall, where Mermin 3 will be debuting. I guess that’s basically it. I’ve got a Twitter, and an online store, and that kind of stuff, but folks can find links to all of that on my site http://www.tragic-planet.com

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