Superhero stories come and go, but the best stories are ones that we have something in common with. The Image series Li’l Depressed Boy follows the ups and downs of the titular character through romance and rock music, and can give anyone with a heart something to cling onto. Even if you don’t happen to be a ragdoll.
First created as a webcomic series, Li’l Depressed Boy was recently ushered to a home at Image by its writer/creator S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace. In last month’s third issue, Li’l Depressed Boy (known as LDB for short) ends up thrift store shopping with the girl of his dreams and also manages to run into a real life concert by L.A. songtresses the Like. It’s this mix of reality, rock and the peculiarities of having a ragdoll as a lead character that make this freshman print series stand out from the rest.
With Li’l Depressed Boy #4 scheduled for release next week and a trade paperback collection due on June 8th, we talked with the series’ creators for more about this inventive and evocative series.
Newsarama: This comic is a boy-meets-girl kind of story, but one where the boy happens to be a ragdoll. Tell us about the series and how that works.
S. Steven Struble: At it's core, the Li'l Depressed Boy is the story of relationships in the LDB's life. There is the boy-meets-girl relationship, yeah. But there is also his relationship with his friend, the relationship with his record collection and ultimately, his relationship with himself. The book starts out with him not being happy with that last relationship, and starts taking steps to change that.
Sina Grace:: That's even one of the reasons you went from blue to color, right.
Nrama: Steven, you said the story’s more than just about LDB’s love life. Who else is in the picture?
Struble: LDB has been cutting himself off from the world for awhile. His social world is more or less non-existent. He has one friend by the name of Drew Blood, who LDB has been neglecting. In the first issue he meets a strange girl who kind of forces her way into his life. She perplexes him, but he quickly falls for her.
Grace: He gets rewarded for stepping out into the world, so to speak. You put yourself out there and you meet this girl with really sick tattoos.
Nrama: What are the big struggles LDB deals with on a regular basis?
Grace: Coming out of that shell of his!
Struble: LDB is very shy. He has trouble interacting with other people. Because of this, he spends a lot of time shutting others out of his world. The biggest hurdle of his life is the threshold of his front door. However, he is lonely. He likes other people, he just doesn't know how to interact.
Nrama: One of the many interesting facets of this series is the depiction of real bands in your pages – you’ve featured both Kepi Ghoulie and the Like in the past. How does this happen, and do you have to work with them for approval?
Grace: It's always been "which band do we like?" mixed with "can we actually get them?" The nice thing is, U2 or Coldplay wouldn't play a house party, so for us to get smaller bands makes more sense.
Struble: Honestly, we just ask them. Kepi stops through town about once a year to play a show at one of my favorite venues. He's one of my favorite musicians and one of the nicest guys in the world, so after one of his shows I asked him if it was okay for him to show up in an issue and he said yes.
Grace: The Like I had actually known since high school, and when Struble pitched the idea of a band playing a house party, I sent him a link of them playing a house party at South by Southwest (where, if you look closely, you'll see Bill Murray running around with a tambourine), and said: "You're probably going to hate them, but they're cute girls with a fun party sound." Turned out: he'd been listening to their record for months. Kind of serendipitous. Z and Laena loved it, and they were totally great through the whole process. And fun to draw, too!
Nrama: And why’d you decide to go with real music acts instead of fictional ones?
Grace: So I could have photo reference! A lot of what we like about this comic is how a lot of it comes from personal experience... so why not put a real band in it?
Struble: I grew up watching the Young Ones reruns, and I've always loved that randomly through an episode a band would just show up and start playing. These are bands we love and hopefully ones our readers will check out and fall in love with, too. Plus it creates a multimedia aspect to the book.
Nrama: Steve, you’ve said in the past that the stories from the series are inspired from some experiences you had personally. With those events being so personal to you specifically, how do you take these true stories and translate it into a fictional story for general audiences?
Struble: Honestly, I don't try too hard. Drew Blood is a real friend of mine. I didn't even bother to change his name! I re-sequence. I make up conversations. I create composites of real people in my life. I punch up the jokes with the tags I thought up way after the conversation. Though, I try to keep the emotions true, even if not everything happened the way it appears in the book. For instance, while I have been kicked out of bowling alleys for throwing fireballs, they've never taken away my shoes.
Nrama: More to the point – would you say you’re in fact, Li’l Depressed Boy, Steven? Or was?
Struble: When I was a child, I was very moody. When I'd get into a funk, my older brother used to taunt me by calling me "The Li'l Depressed Boy." As a nickname it stuck. So, yeah, I am. Always have been, always will be. The fear of people, the reluctance to speak, it's all there. The stories I tell are how I deal with it. I expect I smile more often than he does, though.
Nrama: How’d Li’l Depressed Boy go from a webcomic to a printed comic series?
Grace: We love the Internet, and we love what kind of access you get putting a web comic out there, but we're both such gluttons for the floppies, that once we had enough of the first story arc done, we decided to find a publisher.
Struble: It was always our intent to take it from web to print. We printed up a short 100 copy run of the first issue, which we referred to as our "demo tape." That way, when we showed it to publishers they could see how it worked in print.
Grace: I showed the first issue to Eric Stephenson at Image, mainly for advice. He said, "yeah, I'll take a look, and if I like it, maybe Image will publish it." The story kind of has an obvious ending from there. The whole time that we were up in the air, I was freaking out. I didn't tell Struble until I knew for sure.
Nrama: The printed series collects the webcomic strips – how far behind is the print comic from the online installments?
Grace: They're about even now, right Strubies?
Struble: As of this month, new pages will appear in the books first and on the site later. Our current schedule has 52 pages being posted a year. That's only a little over two issues. The schedule with the printed book has at least 8 issues coming out this year. By the time the site readers have finished the second arc, the book will be past issue 16.
Nrama: Steve, you started this off with a guest list of artists but settled down with Sina Grace in 2008. What did Sina bring to the table that led you to offer him a permanent spot on the series?
Struble: When I started working on the Li’l Depressed Boy, I was editing an anthology book called A United Front. Because I was working with all these artists, and didn't have any drawing ability of my own, I thought it would be fun excuse to get to write for artists I loved. When it moved back to the web, I just kept the rotating artists thing going. The stories at the time were mainly disconnected moments, so switching out artists every other page didn't seem too jarring. After awhile, I decided that I wanted to tell stories. I did an experiment where I kept the rotating artists but tried to tell a more traditional narrative. It was okay, but it became apparent that I needed to go exclusive. I told Sina about the new direction and he volunteered for the job before I could even offer it to him.
I heart Sina's art so much. He can take the ideas in my head and translate them into something better than I could have imagined. When I get back the pages, I have the best time just colouring them. After working with so many artists, you learn that this kind of relationship doesn't happen often.
Nrama: Sina, How did you first become aware of Steve’s webcomic?
Grace: Struble had colored covers to my very first comic: Books with Pictures. We met through a mutual friend (and now Li’l Depressed Boy Editor, Nicholas Brandt). At some point he asked if I would be willing to do a strip for his web series. I thought: "This is it! I've made it! I'm doing multiple projects!" It was pretty exciting, and it was the first time I'd worked with a writer instead of writing and drawing my own stuff.
The series was so smart, and Struble had such a good list of talent on his side.
Nrama: Sina, although you’re on Li’l Depressed Boy as the artist, you also moonlight as the editor for Robert Kirkman’s Skybound titles. What’s it like spearheading that, and working with such a vastly different genre with this and those books?
Grace: The Kirkman stuff is phenomenal, and crazy, and awesome. I've learned a lot about how comics work, and I've seen how great Robert is with fans, and how important they are, and how important retailers are, and how important everyone in production is... I think he taught me to be more gracious to everyone!
His stable of artists is phenomenal. Charlie's pages do a lot with darkness, and I totally grab that from him. I always have an issue of Invincible and Super Dinosaur on me for page layouts, or panel staging. Don't even get me started on that beast, Cory Walker. Everyone in the Skybound corral has been so supportive of me doing this comic, and they've all helped out in little ways.
Nrama: Is it different creating new pages for Li’l Depressed Boy now that it’s not only a web comic but also a print series?
Grace: Not yet it isn't. Struble was always aware of pagination and where major reveals will fall.
Struble: As I write, I've been keeping the three major audiences in my head. First is the readers online who read single page moments. Secondly, there is the monthly readers who get 22 page stories. Then the third audience buys the trade, and they are reading a 4 issue arc. I've lucked out by thinking like this. So far, the transition isn't that jarring.
Grace: I think the one thing we're excited about doing for print: DOUBLE PAGE SPREADS!
Struble: Yeah, Sina keeps trying to convince me we should do double page spreads. I don't know, I'm not convinced.
Grace: Read The Walking Dead #83, and you'll see why double page spreads are so awesome.