Wide World of Webcomics: Eisner-Nominated OUTFOXED

Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the best of the web! Today, we take a look at a creator with a wide world of webcomics of her own, with a variety of acclaimed stories and series.

Dylan Meconis (www.dylanmeconis.com), a member of Portland’s Periscope Studios alongside the likes of Jeff Parker, Steve Lieber and many others, was recently nominated for an Eisner this year for Outfoxed (http://www.dylanmeconis.com/outfoxed/), a short story that offers a chilling variation on the concept of a talking animal that just might be a man.

Meconis, whose work can been seen everywhere from the Flight anthology to the graphic novel Wire Mothers, also has done numerous other webcomics, including the completed Bite Me!, a comic tale of vampires in the French Revolution, and its in-progress successor Family Man (http://www.lutherlevy.com/), which involves, yes, wolves. With all this going on, we caught up with Meconis to talk about her many creations, her love of history, and why it’s ironic that so much of her work involves supernatural creatures. 


Newsarama: Dylan, how did you get started doing comics?

Dylan Meconis: I've been making comics since...oh...elementary school? I have single-panel cartoons and short comics dating back to when I was a tiny lass in second or third grade. In middle school I actually drew an entire 80-page graphic novella. It's hilarious (intentionally so!) and I desperately need to scan it in and put it online.

Nrama: What's your reaction to the Eisner nomination?

Meconis: Well, the first thing I did was forward the e-mail to my wife, with about fifteen exclamation points appended. I hadn't actually submitted Outfoxed, so it was a complete surprise.

I've known about the Eisners since I was a teen, so it was a really lovely feeling of validation - I'm very grateful to the judges for their consideration. This is also the first year where I've looked at all the nominees in the Digital category and didn't find myself scratching my head over any of them. I would be happy and excited to lose the Eisner to any of the other comics on the list.

Nrama: How did you initially come up with the concept for Family Man?

Meconis: Originally it was going to be a bit of a prequel/spin-off about a character from my first book, Bite Me!; it was going to be a sort of high-strung romantic comedy with werewolf jokes, set at a university.

But as I researched and developed, it became a far more serious and dramatic story. A lot of the historical research material was too interesting for me to just toss away in favor of gags.

And I suppose that I was ready to do something very different from screwball black comedy. I get very anxious and uncomfortable when I'm not scrambling up a sheer vertical surface of creative challenge; I don't like to do the same thing twice.

How exactly I went from "wacky werewolf romantic comedy" to "historical fiction academic drama family thriller love story culture war with wolves" is still pretty impressive, though. 


Nrama: What sort of research did you have to do for the concept, and what's fundamentally appealing to you about history?

Meconis: I've done all kinds of research, although I think the trick with historical fiction is to do just enough research and know when to stop.

Some stuff I really needed to investigated. I've plowed through a few different books on the history of university life in Europe - it's harder than you might think to find scholarly material about it!

And of course I have lots of costume research books and screen captures from costume dramas; books on old guns, weird little small-press pamphlets on what American frontiersmen wore, biographies of a few philosophers, and a whole collection of books and websites on wolf behavior and biology. It's a very eclectic-looking library.

The really entertaining stuff I come across but don't really need for story purposes shows up in the Notes section on the website.

What's fundamentally appealing to me about history: my usual joke is that it means I don't have to draw cars. But more seriously, history to me looks like a giant cardboard box labeled "FREE TO A GOOD HOME" and inside is an endless supply of copyright-free world-building material and story ideas.

I love any story that suggests that people could live, or have lived, very differently from the way we do now. I find The Lord of the Rings to be only slightly more far-fetched than, say, any five-year stretch during the three thousand years of the Roman Empire. 


Nrama: Bite Me! has concluded, and you're 250 pages into Family Man — how long do you see that comic running, ultimately?

Meconis: I'm about halfway through, I hope. The story has a lot of moving parts, and I just introduced the entire second half of the cast.

The upshot is that a lot of the forthcoming action takes place in areas without much architecture, so I won't be painstakingly inking quite so many Baroque windowpanes.

Nrama: What's most appealing to you about working on a variety of comics/projects? Honestly, the hardest part of this interview has been keeping track of everything you've had coming out, because there is so much material in so many genres...

Meconis: I love a challenge. I love upsetting expectations. Once I've done something and done it well, I want to conquer something else. I like finishing things, too; I feel a sense of obligation to a story, once I've put it in the world, to conclude it. I think I'm a little bit of a jock when it comes to creative projects.

I don't really think of myself as being wildly prolific, though. I work with and know a lot of people who pump out way more material than I do, although maybe they do it in a more consistent style or genre. I get very focused on climbing this one tree (backwards, in high heels) and forget there's a whole forest around me.

Nrama: So you've done webcomics dealing with vampires and werewolves. What monsters would you like to do a twist on next? Mummies? Gill-Men? Skunk Apes?

Meconis: The funny thing is that I'm not really a huge Magical Creatures fanatic. I don't watch every TV show with a vampire in it. I'm more specifically interested in the idea of transformation - how a person handles becoming something foreign, or scary, or powerful; why you might choose to become something else, or what you do when it's forced on you.

I did just finish a rough script for a ghost story. I think every writer should do a ghost story at some point. 


Nrama: You've written and illustrated a lot of your own work -- do you see yourself doing more work as artist-only in the future, or possibly as writer for another artist?

Meconis :I think I do my best work when I'm only inflicted on myself. I do enjoy writing for other people and one of my goals is to do more of it; I have a few friends in particular I'd love to work with, and I have an internal mental alert for ideas that might be a good fit for So-And-So's style.

I seem to have a harder time getting emotionally involved with work that somebody else has written for me. It feels a little like babysitting - fun, tiring, I can love the child dearly, but at the end of the day it's not my kid.

That said, I learn a ton anytime I draw from somebody else's work. I'm always astonished how much my work changes and improves after one of those projects.

Nrama: If you could visit any time period, what would it be?

Meconis: My usual line is that I'd love to visit just about any period in history, provided I could visit in the body of an upper-class man with a lot of cash. I think Elizabethan London would be pretty amazing; Edo-era Japan; Augustan Rome; Voltaire's France; Egypt under the reign of Hatshepsut... 


Nrama: Periscope is obviously a large and very creative center for comic creators — what have you learned from working with your studio mates, particularly about doing material online?

Meconis: I think part of the reason they let me in the door at Periscope is that I already knew a lot about doing material online, but was adorably clueless about a lot of other stuff.

Most of the original members here had well-established print careers, wide-ranging art skills, a solid understanding of professional practices, etc., but didn't necessarily have big online presences.

So the deal is that I'll spend an hour explaining WordPress to somebody and then they'll turn around and show me how to, you know, ink with a damn brush. It's a wonderful environment and I'm just sickeningly lucky to have it.

Nrama: What's been the biggest advantage of releasing your material on the web? Have there been any disadvantages? 


Meconis: Well, online, the audience reaction is immediate, and there are no distribution problems. Nobody is taking a cut. There are no shipping fees or lost royalty checks or print errors.. Your work can spread like wildfire and draw in a new audience within minutes. You can do exactly what work you want to do and nobody has any real power to tell you to change it.

The disadvantage is that the connection between the creative work and the paycheck involves several more steps, and nobody is going to volunteer to do any aspect of that work for you. And, if you do work that's highly personal, like autobiography, it's much easier for people to attack you for it.

There's also a persistent perception that to be printed by a traditional publisher or syndicate is a mark of legitimacy for which there is no substitute, and that anything else is "less" legitimate.

And there are people doing stunning work online that a savvy print publisher could make a bundle off of, but there's still a fear at some imprints that nobody will buy material in print if it's already online.

It's going to take awhile for the digestive system of the marketplace to break down that particular bundle of fiber.

Nrama: Something I've been asking everyone in this series -- what opportunities do you feel have been afforded creators with such new delivery systems as the iPad and smartphones, and what can individual companies and larger companies due to take advantage of these opportunities? 


Meconis: I think in a few years it will make a big difference in that "digital publishing isn't real publishing" barrier. If you're reading an e-book you don't need to know or care what person or company put it there.

For now, all the distribution systems and cost scales and issues of device compatibility and rights-management are still being worked out. The time that I might spend optimizing current work and investigating platforms and licensing deals is time I'd rather invest in creating a big back catalog of creative material.

I think Graphic.ly is doing something brilliant now - basically saying "hey, busy indie creator. You want people to be able read your stuff on these nine bazillion devices? Just upload your PDF here, and we'll do allllll the rest for a small fee." And they're doing it for comics, and in a far less obnoxious or exploitative way than other digital distro companies.

Nrama: What are some of your favorite comics/creators these days, online and off?

Meconis: I really love the work of Colin Bunn and Brian Hurtt on The Sixth Gun. I don't normally buy individual issues of comics, but I will do it for them, because it's just murderously great and deceptively thoughtful pulp that assumes its readers are intelligent human beings who want to read something wild and fun without switching off their brains.

We need more of that in comics. I think that substance and excitement can be present in the same story, and that comics as a medium can be particularly great at it, when you allow it to happen.

Nrama: What's next for you?

Meconis: I should have a whole bunch of my work back in, or newly in, print later this year. That's exciting - I love putting work online but I also love bound books, and there's nothing quite like physically handing a beautiful physical manifestation of your work to another person while they hand you money. That feeling never gets old.

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

Meconis: The secret to homemade pie crust is to put ice water in a plant mister and moisten the dough that way. I learned this last year and it changed everything.

Check out Meconis’ comics, including Outfoxed, at www.dylanmeconis.com and the saga of Family Man at www.lutherlevy.com.

Next: We talk to creator Tom Siddell about the magic and mystery of Gunnerkrigg Court! And latter, we’ll take a trip to Red’s Planet, solve mysteries with the King of the Unknown and get witchy with Serenity Rose! All this and much more as Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics continues.

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