Wide World of Webcomics: Eisner-Nominated SARAH AND THE SEED
Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our tontinuing look at the best of the web! Today, we talk to an Eisner-nominated creator whose surreal works have built him a loyal online following.
On his website, Ryan Andrews (www.ryan-a.com) has posted a variety of unique and eerie stories in a lush style that combines cartoony figures with layered shading and surreal situations. His biggest hit has been Sarah and the Seed, the tale of a couple that gives birth to a seed…and what that seed yields. It’s received acclaim across the net and received an Eisner nomination for Best Digital Comic this year. We spoke with Andrews about Sarah and his other works.
Ryan Andrews: I copied lots of anime when I was a kid. I was obsessed with anything Japanese. My friends and I would draw comics that were blatant ripoffs of Dragon Ball Z. This was 20 years ago, and only a few people at my school even knew what Dragon Ball was, so nobody caught on. It was great!
As an adult though, I moved in a totally different direction and studied fine art with a pretty heavy emphasis on life drawing and impressionism. My dream at that time was actually to be a portrait artist with giant paintings hanging in prestigious galleries.
I trained pretty hardcore, really developing my skills, and then lost interest in it, and pretty much gave up on an art career. I traveled to Japan for a few years, and it was really there that my love of cartoons was rekindled. It all came around full circle I guess. It sounds so romantic.
Nrama: What led to you deciding to do your work online?
Originally I just put the panels on my blog and a few art forums as I drew them. It wasn't until a big ol' wave of people started reading it that I thought, man I gotta make a site for this stuff!
Nrama: You're one of the few creators I've interviewed for this series who has really experimented with the form of online comics, especially with how Sarah and the Seed uses vertical formatting and negative space. Why did you go with this format, and what were some of the unique challenges of putting it together?
Andrews: When I'm online, I have a really short attention span. I also have horribly slow internet. It's pretty rare for me to click next more than two or three times on the same story.
I've tried reading a lot of long length webcomics, but can only read a few pages before I get antsy, so often I just hope they'll put out a book someday. It's a bummer, cause I bet there are a lot of wonderful stories I'm missing out on because of that.
I guess the way I present them came from a desire to not need to click next too often to get to the end of the story. I want each online page to feel full, to end on a beat. That way, if you have a really slow internet connection like me, the next button can give you a moment to think about what you just read, and maybe, hopefully build anticipation for what's going to come.
I actually drew Sarah and the Seed to fit into a proper page format, but then rearranged the panels to better suit someone scrolling down to read it. Changing the spacing of the panels allowed me to somewhat control how fast the reader sees what's happening.
And then of course there were some parts designed specifically with the vertical scroll format in mind. It'll be interesting to try and get those bits to work in print.
The only real challenge I came across with doing it this way was making sure the images line up correctly and that they connect. I'm terrible at coding for the web, but I kinda have no choice but to suffer through it. It took a long time to figure it out. Way too frustrating, but totally worth it in the end.
Andrews: haha well...the story was originally a poem about young newlyweds who had just moved into an old house in the countryside. They can't have a baby, and when a witch comes by to give them a seed guaranteed to grow into a child, they take it and plant it right away. Eventually the thing grows into a giant monster under the house and eats them both.
I was pretty excited about it, but when I told my wife about the story, she kinda freaked out. What with us being young newlyweds who had just moved into a house in the countryside and all, the story hit a little too close to home. So I sat down and decided to rewrite it into a happy story, but some of the creepier elements from the original hung around.
I'm sure I'll use the monster under the house in something one day.
Nrama: What was your reaction to the Eisner nomination?
Then I probably danced.
Nrama: Do you see yourself doing more short-form online comics in the future, or perhaps a longer series? What do you feel are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of each form?
I'd love to do a longer story one day, but it's so intimidating. I feel like I'm slowly working up to it though. So far, each story I've written outdoes the previous one in terms of panel count, so if I keep that up, I should be writing 1,000 page epics in a few years.
Nrama: Tell us about your creative process, in both writing and illustrating.
Andrews: I try to write a new short story everyday for about half an hour or so. Most of the time, these turn into nothing. But every once in a great while, I come up with something I really like, and so I just keep going with it. And just when it's going amazing, I get stuck. Frustrated. And consider trashing the whole thing.
When it gets to this point, it’s gonna sound weird, but, I go to this nearby Indian restaurant, and I dunno...there's something about that place. I sit back down at the computer after getting home from some delicious curry, and somehow the bit of the story I was stuck on is magically solved within minutes.
Once I've got something worth drawing, I try to get the whole thing drawn out in a couple of days. If it takes longer, I tend to get bored, or I start to think about it too much and realize it's a dumb story and start writing something else.
Sending that rough draft to a few people I trust to give me super honest criticism is probably the most important part. I love getting compliments, but when something is in the rough stages, I want to hear all the bad stuff.
I get excited waiting for the harsh, brutal comments, and am actually a little disappointed when there aren't any. Though once a story is done and online, my spirit gets crushed hardcore when I read a negative comment. So I try to avoid reading through comments in forums.
Once I'm happy with the overall structure of the story, I just go for it. Setting a deadline is crucial, otherwise I will never ever ever get it finished. Even though I have it all planned out though, nothing is set in stone. It still changes a lot, all the way through to just before I put it online.
Andrews: Hayao Miyazaki played such a huge role in my childhood, and still does today. I used to watch My Neighbor Totoro just about every night. I hope one day I can make something as incredible as he has.
But the people who got me drawing again, after years of just the occasional doodle in a sketchbook, were fellow illustrators, Cory Godbey and Sam Bosma. About two years ago, I was living in a tiny apartment in Japan, and was at this strange crossroads in my life.
I was kinda sick of doing nothing but studying Japanese all day everyday, and was really nostalgic for the days when I would fill up a sketchbook every week. I started looking at illustrators online, and ran into Cory and Sam's work. I was super inspired!
I wanted to create stuff that beautiful. To create images that told a story. That was something I hadn't done since I was a kid. A little after that I started taking drawing seriously again, and really experimenting with finding my own style.
Nrama: There is a distinct mix of whimsy and menace in your work. What's most appealing about that combination for you?
Wow... you know, I've never really thought about it. Why what I do ends up the way it does. I mean, there's no real plan going into a story that I want it to have a little bit of this here, and a little of this here. I guess maybe whimsical by itself is just boring to me. I need something in there, like trauma, or fear, or death to spice it up a little bit.
Nrama: What have you learned from doing webcomics?
Andrews: This stuff is hard work!! I had very little idea how much energy and heart really went into comics until I tried it myself. Also, it sounds obvious, but I've learned that if I just sit down and do the work everyday, I can finish a lot!
Nrama: If you republished, say, Sarah and the Seed or Nothing is Forgotten in hard-copy form, how do you feel the effect would be different than the online versions?
Andrews: I'm actually working on that right now! I'm putting together a Kickstarter to self publish these stories in an anthology that I'm hoping to launch in a few weeks [Newsarama Note: the Kickstarter is live through August 1 at This Link].
There's a few bits in Sarah and the Seed that just aren't going to be quite the same, but I'm trying to utilize page turns on some areas that in the online version would have been done with a scrolling reveal, or a large blank space or a next button to create a pause. I'm pretty excited to see my work in print for the first time.
Nrama: Something I've been asking everyone in this series -- what do you feel are some of the opportunities afforded to comics by such delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what do you feel individual creators and larger companies can do to take advantage of these opportunities?
Andrews: It opens up so much for the independent creator. None of us really have the money to drop a couple thousand to print out books, but anyone doing webcomics can publish a PDF and sell it online. I haven't tried it myself yet, but I'm eager to do something.
That could be the venue I use to produce a longer story, maybe? As for what larger companies can do? I dunno, lower their prices for digital content? That'd be pretty nice.
Nrama: What are some of your other favorite comics and creators, both online and off?
I love Emily Carroll's storytelling. Her tales are beautiful, and often dark, and they just grab you and completely suck you in. And she uses the scrolling format of a web page so effectively. Also Rumiko Takahashi's older work is still some of my favorite. I go back to Urusei Yatsura,Ranma 1/2, and her short story collections often. Her comedic timing is such a joy to read.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Andrews: First up, publish my book! That's been taking up a lot of my time lately. I've got some more short stories in the works too....and maybe some not so short stories?
Discover Sarah and the Seed and Andrews’ other works at www.ryan-a.com, or support his Kickstarter collection on this page
Next: In trouble? Pray Wonderella doesn’t try to save you! We talk with Justin Pierce about his horribly dysfunctional female superhero. Then, Lilith Dark battles the forces of evil, a special two-part look at the intergalactic saga Dicebox and much more!