Unbound: Talking to Josh Alves

Josh Alves's all-ages comic Araknid Kid, started out on Zuda, built a following, and then, when it didn't win, moved over to Sugary Serials, to complete the story. Araknid Kid is a cheery little comic about a superhero with spider-like powers—he walks on the ceiling and shoots webs out of guns—but it is set in the Old West and bears absolutely no resemblance to that other comic about a guy with spider powers. Araknid Kid is definitely a kids' comic (the main character speaks in rebuses and someone gets punched out by a boxing glove on a spring), but the goofy humor and splashes of wit make it a good read for adults as well.

After wrapping up Araknid Kid, Alves launched a new comic, Heropotamus, last Christmas. When I saw that go up, I decided it would be interesting to talk to Alves about his work and the challenges of all-ages webcomics in general.

Brigid: Let’s start with a quick "comics biography": what comics did you read as a child, how did your tastes evolve, and how did you start drawing comics?

Josh: I was a big fan of the comics pages growing up. The Far Side was always the first strip I'd look for (it was on the front page of the entertainment section... bottom left corner. For some reason that position has stuck with me), then to the back for Calvin and Hobbes and the Amazing Spider-Man dailies. I didn't read many comic books growing up... it was later when I started picking up trade paperbacks.

Not sure how much my tastes have evolved... I'm still a big fan of those strips I read as a kid. I guess you can say my appreciation for them has evolved.

Like many other artists, I've been drawing/doodling for as long as I can remember. Making my own comics as a kid, drawing out word problems on math tests (that earned me points for creativity in high school), doodling on scraps of paper on my desk at work. I think I started taking it more seriously in 2002. I was looking for a job when my wife suggested I start a comic strip. Zeek And Dent first started on the web and after a chain of events, it ended up being published starting in 2004 in the local newspaper. It ran for a year and a half (500 strips) before I ended it.

I had the chance to talk with a syndicate editor who suggested I explore my single panel gags so I started Tastes Like Chicken the day my first strip ended.

Brigid: Are you making a living as a cartoonist right now?

Josh: Currently cartooning is something I do on the side right now. I'm a graphic designer by trade, "Creative Services Manager" by title. I also freelance design and illustrate as well.

Brigid: I notice you list “father” prominently in your bio. How has having children affected your work?

Josh: If anything it's given me more of a passion to create all-ages material. I love drawing with my girls and trying to tap into some of their creativity and how they see things. Kids are pretty observant and it's fun seeing what they put together. They definitely serve as inspiration.

Brigid: What are the challenges of creating all-ages comics on the web? How do kids find your comics?

Josh: I think it's pretty similar to the challenges of creating any comic on the web. Finding an audience, connecting with the audience, etc. Part of it is dealing with the stereotype of webcomics in general, and another part confronting assumptions on what "all-ages" means.

Kids usually find my comics through their parents, teachers or librarians. And their friends.

I've also been fortunate to participate in a few kid-friendly cons and most recently part of the "Kids Love Comics" area at the Baltimore Comic Con.

Brigid: Where did you come up with the idea for Araknid Kid, and why did you decide to have him talk in rebuses?

Josh: Araknid Kid was an idea that evolved from a character I created in high school called Bug Boy (an animated series I had created). He originally started as a sidekick to Bug Boy, then as a sidekick to another character and eventually became the web-shooting-trapeze-bar-swinging western hero

The picto-speak came a little bit later... the character never talked until I started using symbols to show expressions. As it progressed I thought it'd be a fun challenge to try to communicate what a character was saying using a picto-puzzle. It ended up tying together with the character's origin and so I've gone with it.

I enjoy brain teasers and thought that it might be a fun addition to a comic to encourage creative thinking and problem solving. Plus, I enjoy trying to convey what's being communicated in a way that other people would understand.

Brigid: What did you learn from your experience with Zuda?

Josh: Zuda was a fantastic experience for me. When I first heard about it, it motivated me enough to take a character and concept I had created and actually DO something with it! I was really encouraged by the response and was excited that it had the rare opportunity to have a second chance in the Invitational. I think the most important thing I learned was how important marketing and promotion is.

Brigid: And what did you learn from being on Sugary Serials?

Josh: It sounds kind of basic, but I learned how to break my story up into a beginning, middle and end.

The way the publishing schedule was set up, I had three 8-page installments posted over three months. For me, that meant that that 8th page of the first and second batches needed to tie up that particular segment while leaving a bit of a cliffhanger to lead into the next one.

I think it really helped me to section things out. Again, it sounds so basic, but that's what sticks out for me.

Brigid: I see from your website that you are involved in two Christian projects, Parable and Mecha Manga Bible Heroes. Can you talk a bit about that side of your work?

Josh: My faith in Jesus Christ is a very important part of my life and these projects are a couple that I've had the opportunity to be part of. Parable is a fantastic collection of stories about faith, love and grace from creators all over the world (quite unlike what I think people might think when they hear "Christian comic"). And Mecha Manga Bible Heroes is a fun re-telling of classic Bible stories.

Brigid: OK, Heropotamus. What inspired this comic?

Josh: Well, it was pretty spontaneous! A couple weeks before last Christmas my girls and I were listening to the novelty song "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas". It's been a fun favorite of mine for years and this was the first time I introduced it to my kids. It's a silly song and as I was listening to the words, there's a line that goes "And see a hippo hero standing there" and I thought "Hey! This little girl is looking to get a SUPERHERO hippo for Christmas".

Anyway, this idea of a little girl and a superhero hippo bit me and I couldn't shake it. All these ideas started popping up and a few quick doodles later it all seemed to click for me.

I've been itching to do another strip for a while and thought "Why not" - a couple weeks later, I had a handful of strips drawn and with the help of some creative friends (Jamie Cosley, Eric Merced, and Tommy Flick) I had the strip's name, and with my brother's assistance, we had a site up and running!

Brigid: What are your goals for Heropotamus?

Josh: Right now I'm just looking to have fun with it and hope it finds readers that enjoy it too! Unlike Tastes Like Chicken (which I'm hoping to get syndicated) or Araknid Kid (which I've been querying in hopes of finding a publisher) I don't have any definitive aspirations for it. I'm sure that will change as I delve deeper into it.

Brigid: Do you have any forthcoming projects you want us to know about?

Josh: None that come to mind, I've got a few things in the works ranging from my own personal ideas to a couple of collaborations. Nothing ready to plug quite yet...

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