Since its debut in 1997, Jonathan Rosenberg’s Goats has been among the most popular webcomics that one can find while surfing the Interwebs.
Blending world conquest-obsessed megalomaniacs, metafictional commentary, and rapid-fire pop culture jokes, Rosenberg’s strip has managed to offer something for the media-driven readers of today. Twelve years later, Rosenberg’s Goats began its conquest of the Internet. Last month, the first printed collection of Goats, Infinite Typewriters began Rosenberg’s conquest of the print format.
We talked to Jonathan about his webcomic success, the transition to print, and exploring his very own multiverse.
Newsarama: How long have you been working on Goats?
Jonathan Rosenberg: I started the strip in April of 1997, so a little over twelve years ago. That's twenty-nine in internet years.
NRAMA: (laughs) The pop culture gags are very good, but I really love the black-humor and religious jokes (I guess there’s plenty of overlap among the two). Has anybody complained about turning God into a pork chop and eating him? Because I laughed my ass off – especially when that came back months later as a plot point.
JR: I get surprisingly few complaints about the content of the strip, regardless of how risqué it gets. I think webcomics audiences are self-filtering. If it's not your style of humor you're not going to stick around to critique it. You're going to go spend your time reading one of the thousands of other webcomics that's more to your taste.
NRAMA: How far ahead do you plot the strip? It seems that many of the shorter gags come back to play out later on in the strip.
JR: I have a loose sense of the major plot points I need to hit in each of the threads but I try and keep the planning of the fine details to a minimum. It keeps things fresh and topical and gives me the flexibility to play with last-minute ideas. It also keeps the writing interesting for me, since I'd get bored if I knew everything in advance.
If I'm riffing on an idea that I'm enjoying and I want to come back and explore it more later I'll leave myself a hook I can pick up again. That way I don't weigh down the pacing with self-indulgent universe building.
The self-indulgent universe building can happen more organically, as the story progresses.
NRAMA: You’ve created a really diverse and surprising cast. Does having such a range of personalities to play with help keep things fresh for you?
JR: Absolutely, when you're juggling a couple dozen characters at least a few of them are going to inspire you to write something at any given time. Writing a large cast sometimes feels like an act of voluntary dissociative identity disorder. You're always abstracting another part of yourself into some new character.
A large cast is also a natural part of the story; it's a big multiverse out there and it'd seem strange if we weren't meeting lots of people while exploring it.
NRAMA: A lot of those characters have an unhealthy fascination with world conquest. Is this an issue weighing on your subconscious?
JR: I'm fully conscious of the issue of world domination. It's one of my favorites! It's sort of a hobby of mine.
NRAMA: This strip is your career now, correct? When did it become a self-sustaining enterprise, and what advice can you give our aspiring webcartoonists!?
JR: The strip has been my full-time job for a little over three years now, which means it wasn't my full-time job for nine years or so. Short of going back in time twelve years, if you're an aspiring webcartoonist you're either going to need remarkable skill or incredible patience to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other aspirationalists. Or maybe you just have to be crazy? It seems just as successful as any other strategy.
NRAMA: Which members of the cast are easiest to write, and which are most fun?
JR: They're all a lot of fun, but the more self-centered and flawed and merciless they are the more I enjoy it. The infinite monkeys and Brock Stalkley are probably the most fun in that regard since they're artists.
NRAMA: Del Rey is now publishing book collections of Goats. Is there a different type of satisfaction in moving from the web to print?
JR: Any time I can make my comics available to more folks in their preferred format it's extremely satisfying. Del Rey brings a lot to the table. They're getting my comics in front of people who wouldn't be exposed to it otherwise. They're helping pay the bills so I can continue working on the strip. And the job they did with this first book is fantastic, it came out great. Their whole team has been a huge pleasure to work with.
NRAMA: What are you working on now?
JR: I just finished the last revisions to Book 2, titled The Corndog Imperative, due out in December. I'm working on cover and supplemental illustrations for Book 3, Showcase Showdown, right now. That one is due out in Spring 2010. And I'm drawing strips that will appear towards the end of the fourth volume, assuming such a thing will exist someday.
Is that enough? Probably not. I should probably be working harder.