Wide World of Webcomics: The Futuristic DICEBOX Part 2

Our two-part interview with Jenn Manley Lee, creator of the acclaimed webcomic Dicebox (www.dicebox.net) concludes today. [Click Here for Part One!] In this installment, Lee talks about the major influences on Dicebox, the future of her universe, and more. 


Jenn, what's been the most interesting/gratifying reactions you've had to Dicebox over the years?

Jenn Manley Lee: How about mystifying? There's a space ship crash I decided not to show and I've never heard the end of it. I've gotten approval, criticism and confusion. Same for the fight leading up to said crash, which I also chose not to show directly.

Why did I decide not to show the crash and it causes? First, there's the matter of the pages it would have taken and how any satisfying build-up to the crash would actually drag down what was already a slow-paced story.

But more importantly, having the crash just happen as a matter of course, as what would just happen if you put Griffen and Molly and Donny and Rande together in an enclosed, cracked me up.

Now, if I could draw violence like Frank Quitely... Then I might have indulged in a good old crash and explosion. But really, what does depicting the actual crash add? (Unless you're Frank Quitely.) And how many depictions of crash landing do folks exclaim about and say, "That really added to the story!" (Again, excepting Frank Quitely. Or Yukito Kishiro.)

I do understand why people might get annoyed at me for not delivering the goods, as it were. Somewhere along the way, science fiction became to mean an action-adventure story.

The first book, Wander, certainly is not. It's a meandering slice-of-life story driven by conversation and relationships instead of plot, with the occasional fistfight and sex scene. I am laying groundwork for the other three books, giving myself a working norm to contrast with. 


How do you feel you've evolved as a writer and artist since you started doing the strip?

Lee: First and foremost I've learned to pick my battles, in all aspects of the process. To consider the whole before getting frustrated by how that hand you drew isn't perfect yet; accept it as good enough and move on. That goes for a line of dialogue, which can sometimes delay a page going up if it doesn't work for me or the story.

I've also learned to embrace the innate way I create art and work at refining that process instead of trying to force myself to fit into a "better" way to make art. I still seek out other artist's process explanations, even if their art isn't at all like mine. I can still learn a great deal from what they focus on and how they tackle it.

I think as a writer I grew the most when editing and revising Book 1 for print. Reading the story as a whole, deciding to axe 14 pages' worth of material, rewriting a whole scene, that really taught me about flow and considering the story as a whole.

And, weirdly, to take my time in the pacing if it calls for it. I still consider the page as a story unit, but I don't worry so much whether it's a satisfying chunk of story by itself 


What have been some of the biggest influences on Dicebox, both in comics and otherwise? I get hints of such authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and other SF authors who emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lee: Tackling it from a science fiction slant, beyond the couple of authors you have mentioned, other influences to include would be Starstruck, by Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta, the works of Octavia Butler, C.J. Cherryh, Samuel Delaney, Fritz Lieber, Neal Stephenson, Connie Willis, and John Varley, specifically his his short story collection The Barbie Murders.

I respond to authors (and stories) that are thoughtful yet playful. Meaning that I appreciate a firm sense of place, of a full world and culture, while at the same time realize that no matter how far in the future you go, no matter how advanced the technology, at the root of the story are humans—and once humans are involved, all bets are off.

You can probably guess, though, that it isn't just science fiction that has influenced me, but let's leave it at that.

Well, actually, let me share one thing; my thinking on science-fiction can be best summed up in a quote from Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando: “In the 18th century we knew how everything was done, but here I rise through the air, I listen to voices in America, I see men flying- but how is it done? I can't even begin to wonder. So my belief in magic returns.” 


What's coming up for Griffen and Molly?

Lee: Revelations and realizations, both for them and the audience. Many questions asked in the Book 1 will be answered in Book 2, the two biggest being how Molly lost her finger and why Griffen left her old life.

Nrama: Something I've been asking everyone in this series—what opportunities do you feel have arisen for creators with such new content delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what do you feel individual creators and larger companies can do to take advantage of these opportunities?

Lee: With the rise of iPads and other tablet computers I see more reading for leisure in a digital manner; the less obtrusive more flexible the tech, the more prevalent it can become. And buying and owing an ebook in whatever format now feels more like an object, something you can own and casually enjoy instead of just another file on your computer.


I've sold quite a few PDFs of Book 1, the content of which is already freely available on the website. But this way the buyer owns it as an object, and has it readily available regardless of Internet connection. And it seems to satisfy a lot of folks who want to support my work but can't afford or don't want a physical book. Or can't afford the overseas shipping.

The idea of folks reading Dicebox on an iPad pleases me, as it does a great job of showing my colorwork in both vibrancy and subtlety. Part of the frustration of a color comic online is knowing that the variation of color profiles and lightness levels aren't consistent from monitor to monitor, and not knowing if folks are seeing exactly what I intended. 

Nrama: What are some of your other favorite comics and creators, online and off? 

Lee: Keep in mind that this is just some, that I'm sure I'm going to forget someone, here are creators whose work I will check out no matter what the story:

Christopher Baldwin, Alison Bechdel, Philip Bond, Coleen Coover, Howard Cruse, Evan Dahm, Barry Deutsch, kris dresen, Patrick Farley, Jaime Hernandez, Yukito Kishiro, Steve Lieber, Dylan Meconis, Carla Speed McNeil, Erika Moen, Grant Morrison, Ron Randall, Frank Quitely and Gene Yang.

And I'm still discovering more, like Jonathan Case, Tony Cliff, Ben Dewey, Emily Ivie, Jane Irwin, Molly Hayden, Kel McDonald—plus all the talent at Periscope studio that I haven't mentioned. 


What's next for you?

Lee: If all goes well I'll be working on a short graphic novel that I can't talk about yet that'll be written by my spouse Kip Manley, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a good story and should be lots of fun to illustrate.

I'll also continue to color Carla Speed McNeil's Finder installments in Dark Horse Presents along with Bill Mudron and might be work on the color for a new story to be be published elsewhere, which I really can't talk about either

Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?


Though it delights me to be thought of as subverting the norm with my take on sci-fi, that really isn't my intent. It's more what's come from my own life experience, and wanting to speak to and reflect elements of that, which has led to a mostly female cast, say, or having women in so many positions of responsibility and power in my future world-building.

What interests me more is stories—how they are told, what forms they take, where you can go with them. Since some of the earliest authors I ever read include Angela Carter and E.L. Konigsburg, well, we're back to life experiences again.

Griffen and Molly’s adventures continue weekly in Dicebox at www.dicebox.net.

Next: It’s a supernatural revolution with Eisner-nominee Dylan Meconis and Family Man! And coming up: We talk with the creators of Gunnerkrigg Court, Red’s Planet, King of the Unknown and more!

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