Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the coolest comics on the web. In today’s installment, we talk to the creator of some of the darkest of dark comedy out there.Since 2002, Zach Weiner’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal or SMBC has entertained and occasionally offended readers with its raucous takes on science, religion, relationships and more. It’s proven to be one of the most popular single-panel comics on the web, winning a slew of awards and recently spawning “SMBC Theater, a live-action series of short sketches.
We recently spoke with Weiner, who also does the all-ages comic Snowflakes with James Ashby and Chris Jones, about SMBC, dealing with his audience, doing the live-action sketches, and the opportunities of doing comics online. We even got him to share the script for a strip too dark for the site. You’ve been warned.
Newsarama: Zach, how do you feel you've evolved as a writer and as an artist since you started doing the strip?
Zach Weiner:: Having to do a daily strip has been a major driver in my writing development. I'm a much smarter writer, with more command of subtlety. Plus, having to do a daily strip forces you to do a lot of reading, which is the fodder for good writing.
As an artist, my development has been a bit more limited, though I've certainly improved. One of my goals for the next few years is to learn how real artists do it (laughs)
Nrama: What do you feel is the biggest challenge in presenting intellectual/academic and/or religious t opics in the strip?Weiner: There are a lot of pitfalls to working with academic material. I don't want to be someone who just presents information and references. That's the pretense of intelligence. I'd like to offer insight, humor, and synthesis.
As a person who tries to read and understand a lot, itc an sometimes be hard to tell where the line is drawn between showing off your intelligence and actually making intelligent things. I don't want my comics to be a bauble for pseudo-intellectuals to show off - I'd actually like to provide smart people with insight.
The religious stuff isn't so hard these days. I have no censors, so the only real trick is not to be preachy. In a sense, it's another version of the above problem: It's easy to get love from some communities by knocking religion.
It's harder to have a new perspective. I hope I accomplish this to some extent in my later work. Judging from recent emails, I've done a decent job at this. In fact, a priest wrote me to say he'd used my comic on Theodicy when talking to some teenagers.
This is exactly what I want - I don't desire everyone to have my views. I just want people to do the heavy thinking required of intelligent people who want to have strident opinions.Nrama: Has the strip gotten easier or more difficult to plot over the years, and why?
Weiner:: The act of writing has gotten much easier, now that I have a far better sense of how my brain works. I used to just sit at a screen and stare and hope for an idea. Now I have a very involved workflow to try to maximize time, output, and quality.
On the other hand, the strips are generally much longer now. So, time consumed per strip is higher. That said, I've gotten quite a bit quicker with a pen, so that marginalizes the loss to some degree.
Nrama: So you've had enormous success with the SMBC Theater Kickstarter campaign, raising more than three times your initial goal. What have you learned from this experience, and what advice would you give to other creators using Kickstarter?
Weiner:: I feel a little weird advising on that, since it's really James Ashby's boat. I mostly helped publicize through my site and a few friends'. We had the advantage of having a large audience of whom we'd never asked much financially.
So, perhaps that's a thing worth considering if you're doing a Kickstarter. Unless you have something instantly awesome (like those guys who made snap-together trebuchets!),you need to build your audience first. SMBC has been running ten years for free and SMBC Theater 2 years for free.Nrama: With the campaign nearly finished as we're doing this interview, what's your plan for once it's done?
Weiner: Again, that's more James' boat. My role is as a producer who's also helping a bit with the writing, especially the jokes. But, it's James' story and production. Although, I am hoping to make a cameo in there somewhere...
Nrama: Has there ever been a punchline so dark you wouldn't use it in the strip, and if so, would you do us the honor of sharing it with our readers here?
Weiner: I had a recent one that was pretty bad. I actually didn't realize how dark it was until I started drawing it. With the big smiley faces it was just so creepy I decided not to:
woman on street in smiley mask talks to man on street in smiley mask.
around them are other people in smiley masks
can you spare anything? i’m so cold.
yeah, but you gotta... spare something fer me.
smiley day turned out to be a bad idea.Nrama: That…that was…oh my.
What would you say are the biggest things you've learned from doing longer stories like Snowflakes and Captain Excelsior? Does writing comics for children serve to only further unleash the darkness in your soul for SMBC?
Weiner:: Snowflakes is a bit different, since I'm mostly just the joke monkey there. James does the story writing. That said, it has been interesting to work within the confines of a story for kids that has lots of characters. It's tough to do big broad comedic characters without them becoming parodies of themselves, but I think we've done a solid job.
Captain Excelsior was a lot of fun, and remains one of my favorite things I've ever worked on. I learned a lot about story writing and about how a successful collaboration should work.
Nrama: For that matter, what are the biggest things you've learned from doing SMBC Theater? Is live-action comedy something you'd want to do full time eventually, or do you see yourself keeping a foot in comics?Weiner:: Potentially, I'd love to do it again. But, I've learned I'm no director and not big on production. I prefer being behind the scenes, mostly doing writing. I'll probably always have a foot in comics. I love it as a medium for doing interesting things.
Nrama: What's the angriest/most surprising reaction you've ever gotten for a strip?
Weiner:: I don't get a huge amount of anger, and none of it's terribly interesting.
In terms of surprise, I recently got an email from a creationist who is(believe it or not) a big fan of the strip! I'm not sure how that works, but we ended up having a long but polite discussion of evolution. Not sure how much real headway I made there, but I think I got at least a few points across.
Nrama: For that matter, what's the most gratifying reaction you've ever gotten for a strip?
Weiner:: As many cartoonists will tell you, there is a form of email you get occasionally that is very gratifying. It goes like this "I was in a really hard time in my life, and your comics helped me pull through it." The favorite particular case is usually those emails you get from military guys.
You get so used to dealing with the vocal part of the Internet that you forget there are a lot of nice quiet people who draw joy from your work. Being reminded of that is extremely satisfying.Nrama: Something I've been talking about with many people I've interviewed in this series are the increased opportunities allowed by digital delivery systems, and what creators can do to take advantage of these possibilities.
I'm curious as to what you feel are some of the new avenues that have opened up for cartoonists online, and what creators -- both individuals and larger companies -- can do to take advantage of the opportunities they present?
Weiner:: Digital delivery is awesome. A lot of people early on thought the promise of the Internet was that you could do cool stuff on a computer screen. The more boring reality is that it's just a different distribution method for what is, in many senses, the same product.
However, because it's such a democratic distribution system, there's been a real flowering of genres (some old, some new, some long dead) inthe last ten years. In terms of comic strips, almost all the new popular comics are online.
Nrama: What indeed is the finest breakfast cereal for a Saturday morning?
Weiner:: Count Chocula... if I still had the stomach for it...
Nrama: What are some of your other favorite comics and creators, online and off?
Weiner: Too many to name, but... I love Glen Baxter, Daniel Clowes, and Alan Moore. Online, XKCD, Explosm, Space Avalanche, PBF, Buttersafe, The Parking Lot is Full, A Lesson is Learned... there are so many great artists.Nrama: What else are you currently working on outside SMBC?
Weiner: I just wrote a story for Skullkickers #12 (Image). I'm writing a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel for Breadpig, due out next March. I just finished a Victorian-era style comic book script that I'm hoping to shop around or self publish soon.
There's the new SMBC Theater project. Oh, and I and breadpig will be debuting the world's first single-use monocle for the on-the-go gentleman in October. It'll be available from Breadpig and through my store.
I also have a number of other irons in the fire, but nothing that's far along enough for me to mention juuust yet.
Get your Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal every day of the week at www.smbc-comics.com, and check out the new hard-copy collection, The Most Dangerous Game, which just premiered at NYCC!
Next: An Adventure Time animator takes us on a twisted trip through the universe in Forming! Be there!