Our two-part interview with creator Karl Kerschl on his Eisner-winning webcomic The Abominable Charles Christopher (www.abominable.cc) concludes today. In this conclusion, Kerschl talks about how he’s evolved as a creator since starting the strip, his upcoming projects in other comics, and what real-life forest inspired Charles Christopher’s Cedar Forest.Newsarama: Karl, it sounds like you’ve been pushing yourself throughout the making of this strip, and I’m curious about how you feel you’ve evolved as a writer, artist or even a person since you started doing the strip.
Karl Kerschl: I’ve dabbled in writing here and there over the years, but I guess this is the first time I’ve helmed anything on my own for an extended period of time. I think if I’ve learned anything as a writer, it’s that it requires a lot of patience.
It’s less about planning and plotting than it is about listening to what the characters want in any situation, and potentially writing yourself into a corner to face whatever comes from that.
That’s been pretty much how it’s been over the last four years. I might have a direction for the characters planned, but when I got up in the morning to work on the comic, it felt wrong.
The characters established their own direction, and while that’s scary, it’s extremely rewarding when a few weeks or months or even a year down the road, everything that you did instinctively plays out in a much stronger and emotionally and thematically resonant way.
That probably applies to life as well – I don’t like overthinking anything. It usually takes you down the wrong path.
As a person, I think I’ve learned a lot of discipline, having done it every week for the last four years. It’s probably the longest I’ve stuck with anything, and when I started this project, I wouldn’t have thought this would be the case. I think that’s something I can carry over to other projects now as well.
Nrama: What has been the biggest challenge with balancing Charles Christopher with your other projects?
Kerschl: Well, all my other projects have suffered. (laughs) The work-for-hire I’ve done has been fun, and it allows me to pay my rent and eat and feed my family, but I’ve done less for other people because there’s such a freedom of expression in doing my own work.
The longer I do it, the more I realize the business model of doing one’s own work and putting it online for free and making money off self-publication of one’s work are far more rewarding than anything else.
It’s certainly irresponsible to take on work from other publishers and not finish it on time, but I’ve finished all the work I was contracted to do when I started the webcomic, and now I’m more careful about what I choose to do, because I don’t want to put myself or anyone I work for in that situation. So if I do work-for-hire, it’s short-term work and ideally something I’m very interested in.Nrama: Anything in comics coming up outside of Charles Christopher?
Kerschl: Yeah. The work I’ve been doing the last year, and am continuing to do as paying work, is the collaboration with Cameron Stewart on the Assassin’s Creed comics for Ubisoft. DC published three issues of it that were collected into a trade paperback by Ubisoft’s print division, and Cameron and I are doing three more issues of that.
That’s what I’m working on now. I almost don’t think of it as work-for-hire, though it is, because we have a tremendous amount of creative freedom to tell the story we want to tell, and create the characters we want to create. We work closely with the people at Ubisoft to tell stories in the Assassin’s Creed universe, but they give us so much freedom to do what we want.
Nrama: That’s got to be quite a 180, going from adorable Yeti/Sasquatches to time-warping assassins.
Kerschl: Yeah, it’s really different! But it’s good. Doing both of those things kind of keeps each one fresh – you don’t want to do the same thing over and over. It’s nice to do something different and touch different levels.
Nrama: Regarding the background of Charles Christopher – did you grow up near or currently live in an area like the Cedar Forest?
Kerschl: I don’t anymore. I did – I grew up in Southern Ontario, in the Niagara region near Niagara Falls. There was a big forest in our back yard, and I spent a lot of time there and in forests up in Northern Ontario. The Cedar Forest is heavily based on Canada’s deciduous forests, and the wildlife that live there.
I’m definitely nostalgic for that environment. Right now I live in Montreal, but I’d like to move out to the country. Maybe that’ll happen in the future.
Nrama: You’ve gotten a lot of cool people to step-in for guest strips. What’s been the most flattering or exciting part of the reception this has gotten from artists in the print and webcomics community?Kerschl: At first, I didn’t think there was any crossover – the print, or at least the mainstream superhero comics community of both readers and creators, were not really interested in what was happening on the web. It was like two different worlds.
In the last few years, that’s changed, and I think it’s because of the level of quality of what’s happening on the web right now. There’s a lot of amazing work being done on the web, often by people who’ve only worked on the web, and are telling stories you just can’t find in print right now.
I’m fortunate enough to have some contacts in the print comics industry, so I reached out to a few people whose work I admired, and to my surprise, most already knew of my comic. I’m always surprised when I find out someone’s actually heard of it, because my readership is not that big compared to the more popular webcomics out there.
It’s gotten to the point now where when I go to a show and have a table there, I’m approached by more people who are fans of the webcomic than are fans of what I have in print. That’s a nice surprise. I’m always tickled when people are excited by the work that’s personal to me.
So to answer your question – I’ve had some great people do guest strips, and I’m extremely grateful for their work, especially since they’re doing it for free as friends. I try to return the favor whenever possible and, hopefully, I can continue that trend.
Nrama: You were talking about the potential of the type of stories you can tell online, and one of the standards questions I’ve been asking creators in this series about the potential of the web as a delivery system for comics. What potential do you see for the web as a way to deliver comics?Kerschl: I think no one’s gotten it quite right yet. I think the iPad is an amazing device, and print comics look amazing on that screen. But I still don’t love the reading experience. I feel like I’m reading comics that were written and formatted for print, and transferred to a digital device.
But I think webcomics aren’t quite perfect yet either. I think that there is a marriage of comics and digital devices that is more elegant than what we’ve yet seen. We have these amazing devices that are portable and have these amazing screens, and the comics in print and the web are being shoehorned onto those devices, and aren’t taking advantage of the benefits these devices offer. I think it’s something we’re going to see more of in the future.
I think part of the problem is, at least in the mainstream superhero market, that publishers are still creating material for an aging audience who grew up with traditional print pamphlets of superhero comics.
They need to be actively developing content for a new young audience, because there is a huge audience out there they’re not reaching out to. But you need to have that material available to look through, and if you’re just reaching to your current readership, you’re not taking advantage of it, and there’s a huge opportunity that’s being ignored.Nrama: Well, what are some comics you’re currently enjoying, both on the web and in hard copy?
Kerschl: I haven’t been reading a lot of comics yet. I just got Ray Fawkes’ One Soul through Oni, and I’m looking forward to digging into that. On the web, I dabble in different things here and there. Like the rest of the free world, I’m enjoying all of Kate Beaton’s comics. There’s a bunch of stuff I read here and there.
Read The Abominable Charles Christopher every Wednesday at www.abominable.cc.
Next at Wide World of Webcomics: Let’s all head to the library with the guys from Unshelved! And later: Frank & Becky talk Tiny Kitten Teeth, Tom Scioli fights for the red, white and blue with American Barbarian and much more!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!