Welcome back to Newsarama's Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at some of the best comics and creators online. You can check out our extensive backlog of interviews here.
We've taken this round to a whole new level by getting nearly a DOZEN interviews with some amazing creators - including three of this year's nominees for the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. And we're kicking things off with a dark SF series about getting to know yourself…just as you're trying to kill you.
This makes sense. We promise.
Charlie Everett had a gun in his mouth and was about to pull the trigger until he met…Charlie Everett, who introduced him to Charlie Everett, Charlie Everett and Charlie Everett. Together, they are the only force that can save the multiverse from…Charlie Everett.
That's the premise to Cura Te Ipsum (http://www.curateipsum.com/) by Neal Bailey and Dexter Wee, whose title is taken from the Latin phrase meaning “Physician, Heal Thyself.” Charlie (aka “Charlie Prime”) and his counterparts from various universes (including the female Charlene and the child Squirt) must battle the forces of the “Dark Everett” and try to keep the Charlie Everett of each world from meeting the same suicidal fate as others before him - in the process discovering his own value and purpose.
The fast-paced SF story has become a favorite of many fans, and we talked with writer Neal Bailey and artist Dexter Wee about their unique multiverse, creating the strip, and the realities of creating a webcomic in today's market.
Newsarama: Neal, how did the concept for Cura Te Ipsum come about?
Neal Bailey: It was a combination of a few idea germs that came together in a rather fortuitous way. In the wake of 52, after DC opened up the multiverse again, I was pretty jazzed. I kept expecting a whole bunch of books that would exploit the potentialities of a comic book multiverse in a cool, exciting way, and naturally my mind started coming up with ways that I would want to do it. One of the things I thought would be really neat was a team book featuring most of the different Supermen and women.
Then there was a period in my writing life where I felt I wasn't going anywhere. We all get those periods. I got depressed, and I started wondering what would happen if I killed myself (not in reality, just following the germ of that story, because that's what my brain does). I imagined another me coming in on myself and going "You IDIOT!"
And then I realized that if I could travel between the multiverse worlds, I might just go around saving myself and stopping evil versions of myself, and have my team of people who were all the same character, that concept I loved with Supes. Thus Cura.
Nrama: How did you guys come together on this project?
Bailey: I met Dex through Skipper Martin of Bizarre New World (A fantastic book, by the way) when I was looking for a great artist. He recommended Dex, and almost the very next day we started working together. We've been working together ever since.Dexter Wee: Yep. It's been a smooth sailing. When Neal pitched me his idea for Cura, I instantly got intrigued by it and the first script he sent got me all geared up for the book. It was also just at the right time as I was finishing my other obligations. Everything just fell into place.
Nrama: Tell us about your process for creating the strip, scripting and illustrating.
Bailey: I script the book way, way, way in advance. I'm doing the latter half of year three as we're just closing out the first half of year two. I send the scripts to Dex, and Dex sends me thumbnails, which are basically the pages roughed in.
After I approve the thumbnails, Dex draws them in pencil, and his pencils are so dark that we just up the contrast and don't even ink. It saves costs, and it helps keep the detail of his awesome work. After that, I go in there and letter, usually chopping up my dialogue so I can let the art shine (a fine, fun part of being my own letterer).
Sometimes, when that's done, we'll add a page if things haven't breathed enough, because sometimes Dex wants to draw something big, and sometimes I want to make a plot point clearer. Then I upload.
Wee: I read the script first so I could picture the scenes in my head, then I do drafts for Neal to approve. The drafts that I send to Neal are actual pages, I only do the thumbnails on the side of the script as I read it so I won't forget.
Once Neal approves of the drafts, I pencil the pages tightly, scan, then up the contrast in Photoshop. I would love to do ink someday, but right now my time is limited to doing penciling only. But I think it shows up on the printed pages neatly. Plus, I love the freedom that pencil work gives.Nrama: The major theme of the strip, as stated in the title, is the concept of overcoming personal demons and not succumbing to darkness -- literally trying to be the best version of yourself. What drew you to this theme?
Bailey: I've been working literally my entire adult life to write and not work, and with that comes a personal demon. You think "God, writing is so selfish." Especially when your pants are torn, your shoes worn out, or you can't take your lady out to dinner. And then you realize,
"Well, writing has a purpose. Writing does good. Writing is one of the most selfless things out there."
I often get down thinking about all the crazy, sad things I've had to do in order to keep writing. Right now, for instance, I'm about to start doing day labor in order to be able to keep doing this comic. If I say to these poor SOBs who have to dig ditches with me that I'm a writer, the response will be "Yeah, that and two bucks will get you on the bus."
This is Charlie. All of his life he's wanted to act. He wanted to be something. He wanted to have a calling. Because he couldn't, because he spent his days telling other people how to live their lives when he didn't know how to live his own, he felt so morally bankrupt he (most times) kills himself.
I've worked construction, caregiving, all kinds of crazy, factotum kinds of things to keep doing what I'm doing. I think, therefore, of "there but for fortune" quite a lot, because sometimes I am, literally,
I also think that everyone spends a lot of time thinking about what might have been or what could be, and that just resonates well for me. It's what the compelling part of a multiverse is, in my opinion.Nrama: What's been the most interesting reaction you've had to the strip so far?
Bailey: One thing I've experienced with Cura that I haven't with any other projects thus far is the people who are speculating as to how the varying plots and mysteries will resolve.
People are very excited, and interested, and that really makes things fun. I'm always surprised when someone says something they know with certainty about the plot that is entirely wrong, and then sometimes people will crack wise in the comments with something they don't realize is dead on.
Nrama:You're doing some hard-copy TPBs -- how do you feel the story plays differently in this format, and what are some of the challenges of doing it in this format vs. online?
Bailey: I find that the biggest challenge of doing the paper format vs. online is the sheer daunting fact that it's nearly impossible to get a book into stores without the rubber stamp of a major company or a huge quantity of books.
A lot of people will ask how the book is doing, and I'll explain that it's broken even (each has), but we're still not anywhere near paying for the art, because there's the fact that Diamond (and retailers, reasonably) want a HUGE cut off the top of the cover price, on the order of fifty percent, as I recall, plus prep costs, so for an indie book to be in a store, I have to either lose money or make the cost so high it would be prohibitive for average folks.
Ideally I'd love for it to be purely digital and finance itself, but we're in bad economic times. The reality is, people like things online to be free and some will get mad if you hold your hand out, even if it means you have to or the thing they love will go away.
That said, I've been incredibly surprised at how willing diehard people who get it are willing to shell out and help keep us alive (and by "it" I mean that art costs money and just because a thing is published doesn't mean the creator is swimming in dough and doesn't need your contribution).
Nrama: How do you feel the strip has evolved since you started doing it?Bailey: Process-wise, I've learned a lot (I'd hope) about long term storytelling in the medium (previously I'd worked on single issues more), so I have a longer, broader outline, a lot more of a sense of how to do six month's worth of stories.
Also, thanks to Dex, I have more of a sense of how the hell to get out of the way of the art and cut my own dialogue, or at least make it more concise. So essentially, the strip has gotten less episodic, and more like one continuing story, I would hope, in a good way.
Wee: Art-wise, I would like to think my drawing and storytelling has improved over the years. I have grown as an artist on the two years that I spent on Cura. It's probably evident if you check Trade One and Trade Three. It's always been a learning process, and I strive to do my best on every page I work on.
Also, Neal is very easy to work with, and he gives me plenty of autonomy to craft the pages as long as I don't mess with the story.
Bailey: I tend to tell Dex to feel free to change the paneling as suits the flow of the story, and if he wants to add a detail, I'll write around it. So our initial process is traditional, then we go to Marvel style for the improvisation so he can stretch.Nrama: Do you have a favorite Charlie to write/draw, and if so, which one(s)? Also, what are the biggest challenges in keeping the universes and characters straight?
Bailey: I really, really like Charlene. And the Nerd. Charlene is my favorite, though, because she's the Charlie, at least I think, that has her head on straight and who isn't that mucked up or sad.
There's a reason for that the story will explore, but by far, her assertiveness, her wit, and her ability to be a de facto team leader impress me. Nerd is more like me, though, so I have a soft spot for him.
As for the universes and characters, that's really easy, because I thought out the nuts and bolts before I started page one, and wrote it down, so I know how, for instance, time travel, alternate timelines, alternate universes, and even the overall plot will function.
It's complex, but it's really manageable, too. I could make a dichotomous key that would be maybe ten lines long to explain it all.
Wee: I enjoy drawing Dark Everett and Undertaker for some reason. They are just cool to draw. Charlene and Charlie are always fun to draw, too. Random Charlies are always a treat also.Nrama: How long do you ultimately see the series running?
Bailey: I had a teacher once tell me a piece of writing should be like a dress - long enough to cover the subject, short enough to keep things interesting. Given that I have no editor telling me how long it could be, it could go indefinitely, but as things stand now, the story has a beginning, middle, and end, and should run five to seven years.
If the comic gets a sudden influx of cash or numbers increase, I have a side story that is related, a spin-off, if you will, I'd like to get going, but currently that's not realistic. Which is not to say the comic is going badly, it's certainly not, more that I'd need another artist, money to pay that artist, etc, and those things are tough without a company.
Wee: As long as Neal keeps the vision burning, I'm in for the ride. Honestly, I really would like to finish this book, though there's really no telling what the future holds. But as long as the drive and the support of the readers are there, I am always up for the challenge ahead. Charlie and company are a part of my daily life now, and I hate to break away from them.Nrama: What's your favorite alternate history/parallel universe story, and why do you feel the concept is so enduring?
Bailey: I wanted to make Cura more a character drama, if I could, than a plot wheel. I had the same problem with the multiverse stories (there were exceptions) that DC told. I thought "Yeah, it's neat to see a Superwoman, but what would that do to the Superman character?" It was played more for novelty than make character hay, and we never saw these multiverses (other than Tangent) for more than a few issues at best.
Lost, Back to the Future, and the Dark Tower series were all pivotal in helping make this story what it is, but mostly from what I learned from them as opposed to specific devices. I wanted to come at a multiverse story from another angle, and take the best elements of all of those things and add my little spin to them.
Nrama: What's coming up for our Charlie(s)?Bailey: Portal combat. The Corporate Charlie. A portal to a very bad place. The coolest football game ever. A return to the universe that got nuked. A little bit of insight into why Dark Everett is so corrupted. An exploration into the potentiality of power that Charlies have. Oz, the great and powerful. The Multifarious Charlie. And my favorite moment in the last few years of writing, Nerd chaneling Dirty Harry in a post-Apocalyptic Mad Max style scene
And, of course, tragedy and loss. But I don't want to spoil any of that.
Wee: And more crazy cool pages.
Nrama: Have you ever imagined what versions of yourself you might encounter in a parallel universe? Tell us about some of them. It might prove therapeutic.
Bailey: Oh, yes. There are so many points of potential timeline splits in my life. In one world my mother is dead because of a decision I don't make. In another, I'm with that girl I should have asked out in high school. In my favorite, though, I get to write Cura and I have good friends, people I call family, and a hell of a cool audience. That's this one.
Wee: I always wanted to travel and take photos so maybe there's a Traveler Me in one world. Then a musician on another. A filmmaker . A writer. A twin. And like Neal, my favorite, drawing comic books.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite comics and creators right now, online and off?
Bailey: I've always looked to Greg Rucka as a personal and professional mentor for the work he does. There's not a thing he's put out I'd turn my nose up at, not a bit of it I've read that doesn't reek of craft. His Punisher is kicking my ass.
I like Eric Trautmann, Jen Van Meter, Brandon Jerwa, Matthew Clark. Skipper Martin's always got an idea that knocks me over. Nunzio DeFillipis and Christina Weir make me happy. I LOVE The Goon. I read Walking Dead. Matt Fraction. Kelly Sue DeConnick. Almost anything Oni does.
Novelwise, Greg again, and I'm diving into Robert Crais, more Lawrence Block, Nero Wolfe, Bernard Cornwell... I love a LOT of stuff, those are just what I'm into of late.Wee: I haven't been reading much lately but I'm enjoying Greg Rucka's The Punisher, and Scott Snyder's Batman and Swamp Thing.
Nrama: What's next for you guys?
Bailey: More Cura for now, though we want to do some pulpy noir stuff at some point. Dex you can find doing other stuff too (he's very prolific). He's done Swerve, Bizarre New World, all kinds of great stuff.
I'm working on a few comics I'd love to get off the ground, if I can find an artist as steady and good as Dex. I'm pitching to a few companies. I've got something coming out with Image in an anthology soon. I'm also working on an action thriller novel featuring a guy named Carter... you'll love him.
Wee: Aside from Cura, I'm doing a couple of projects for other writers that will see the light of day soon.
Nrama:Anything else that you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Bailey: Well, I'd like to say thanks for helping us to get the word out about the comic, and stress the absolute importance, if you dig webcomics, of telling a friend. Cura's survival absolutely depends on if we can get people to support the work, and so far people have been wonderful, but I have to keep saying tell more friends, in the interest of seeing the story through.
I'm not trying to profit, I'm trying to break even, and I need to get there, and to do that, I need help. And that's not just me. That's everyone putting out work you enjoy. Help 'em!
Wee: Same here. Neal said it best. Thank you again for the support. For those who haven't read Cura yet, I invite you to check the site, and I hope you'll enjoy Cura Te Ipsum as much as we do.
Cura Te Ipsum updates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at www.curateipsum.com.
Next: The West gets very, very wild in Next Town Over! Then uncover murder and mystery on the mean streets of San Hannibal! All this and Max Overacts, Hominids, Delilah Dirk and more to come in the return of Wide World of Webcomics!