COMIC BOOK YETI: Zach, thanks for making time to sit down in the Yeti Cave today. How’s everything going down in the Sunshine State?
ZACH STAFFORD: As of only a few months ago I am now a proud Virginian. I’m still trying to scrub the Florida off of me. I try not to keep abreast of goings-on down there. A piece of my heart will always be in Florida, getting stomped on by maniacs.
CBY: Congratulations on your successful relocation! With any luck, the alligators will leave you alone now that you're gone. But in the greater scheme of things, you’ve been working on Extra Fabulous Comics since 2011. I’ve gone through your new publication with Skybound, and dug into some of your old webcomic material and interviews. From the archive, you’ve got over 1,200 comics available to read, which means posting one on average every three days. What does your production process look like for each comic and what sort of schedule do you adhere to?
ZS: That seems like a lot of comics and my initial thought was, “there’s no way that math checks out” but I did the math and you are correct. However, you made the easy mistake of not taking into account just how bad more than 99% of those comics are. I have never been able to really keep a schedule. I have bursts of good creative energy from time to time that I try to be aware of and use. Usually I notice that creative energy about an hour after it came and went.
CBY: Ah yes. I can relate to the feeling of watching a wave of inspiration roll past, thoroughly un-surfed. You've clearly been inspired enough to assemble a hilarious collection of work over the years. To that end, webcomics definitely tend to show a stylistic evolution over their lifespan as their artists develop. When I went back through your archives, #1 (which I know isn’t your earliest work) definitely evokes Brad Neely’s work on Creased Comics. Is that a spurious connection to draw, or are you a fan? What other influences may have been part of your process over the years?
ZS: I have always loved Brad Neely. There was most definitely a lot of influence from him on my work. However, when I began drawing I was such a bad artist that any attempt at emulating anyone’s art would’ve ended my career before it began, so I drew what I could to the best of my abilities and it ended up being what it was, which was a pile of garbage. That’s not to say that by proxy Brad Neely’s work was garbage, because it was great. That’s also not to say I wasn’t influenced, because I absolutely was by Brad, Perry Bible Fellowship, Buttersafe, Toothpaste for Dinner, all the classics. I no doubt borrowed from all of them, and I still do from newer comics as I continue to change. I think it’s important to let yourself grow and be influenced by the good things.
CBY: It's helpful to know that new comics are part of your evolving creative process, and help keep you inspired with your material. One of my favorite themes you explore in a few of your comics is the reversal on Western tough guy imagery with moments of sensitivity. Upending expectations and conventions is clearly a key element of the humor you explore. Can you unpack for our readers what you think is crucial to writing a joke that paces itself effectively on the page (as opposed to delivering a joke verbally, such as during a stand-up comedy set)? How would you say your comic timing evolved over the course of your career?
ZS: I’ve never done stand-up, so it’s difficult to say how they differ, but I can say that the drawn comic has the benefit of having visual gags contribute to the joke. Sometimes the visual gag is a funny expression or the pacing between panels, whatever it is can contribute a huge amount to the joke. Stand-up has always seemed much more difficult in that way and I think doing it successfully deserves a lot of respect. With comics I like to imagine myself as a crappy director, because I’m trying to frame and pace and not be too wordy, etc. A dynamic comic like that will almost always outperform one drawn with static characters, at least in my experience. When I began, my goal was to simply write a joke in four panels and coupled with my unimaginative drawing style it was really difficult to make anything anybody wanted to read. Now, I enjoy the process much more, and all the elements (visual gag, pacing, a crappy joke, dynamic camera angles, etc.) usually add up to a much more entertaining comic, at least to look at. I also don’t always adhere to these principles because I am a hypocrite.
CBY: Oh, yeah. It's certainly important to acknowledge when you're willing to break the rules. You take the opportunity to parody all manner of characters from existing IP (Batman, Sesame Street, Super Mario, etc.) which for copyright reasons I presume wouldn’t have been able to appear in the collection published by Skybound. Were there any particular favorites from your comic run that you’d have liked to see in this publication that were precluded from inclusion? What did you most regret having to leave on the cutting room floor?
ZS: Well, some of my best works were Goku f*****g Spiderman, one where Sonic is c*****g in Eggman’s b**sy, those are the kind of comics I live for. Those are the comics I’ll die for. It hurts my heart to know that they’ll never in book-form adorn the hallowed walls of my local Barnes and Noble.
CBY: I wouldn't call Comic Book Yeti a "family" website, but it's probably good you included those asterisks. Unlike a lot of comic creators I’ve interviewed, you have a rather active Patreon account for Extra Fabulous Comics. Can you provide some insight into the posting process, the interface with fans, and how you find it to function as a revenue generation mechanism? In what context is it a platform you’d recommend other comic creators explore?
ZS: Patreon has been my primary income for the entire time I’ve been drawing comics. Most of that income comes from the letters I send each month to patrons in a $10 tier. I post comics there before I post them anywhere else, and oftentimes I will only post them there as they’re too terrible to share anywhere else. My advice to other artists is that while Patreon is excellent as a means for people to simply support your work, it can be even better as a way to really connect with your audience and give your work a bit more meaning in that way. Every time I post there I walk away feeling super encouraged by my patrons and super fortunate to be able to do what I do, something that is easy for me to forget when I’m just posting to social media or wherever.
CBY: Knowing how it serves as a positive feedback mechanism is useful, and hopefully it provides a means of encouragement for other creators building their fan base outside the traditional publishing route. Not every comic creator provides opportune context for this topic, but let’s talk butts - bathroom humor is certainly not taboo for Extra Fabulous Comics. You’ve mentioned your fondness for some of your posterior-focused comics - has a butt-based idea ever let you down? Which have fallen flat, and which have gone bigger than you anticipated in terms of audience response?
ZS: So far I’ve never been let down by a butt joke, because I have enjoyed making every one of them. If people don’t respond well to one then that’s okay since I know in my heart I was true to myself when making it. I did make one where a flower buries its face in and deeply sniffs a dude’s ass which performed a lot better than I thought it would. That brought a bit of joy to my heart.
CBY: Sounds like a strong track record! After years of webcomic posts, can you provide some insight into the process of putting together this publication with Skybound? How’d everything come together to result in the title you’re now offering to the general public?
ZS: I was fortunate to have an in with Skybound through my friend J.L. Westover, who had recently finished a Kickstarter with them for his book (Mr. Lovenstein Presents: Failure). From the get-go it was pure cronyism which allowed me to bring this book to market. Skybound has been an amazing group to work with, they have all the passion of a small-time company with the resources and know-how of a more-bigger-time company. I couldn’t have done it without them, and I probably wouldn’t have.
CBY: It looks like it's worked out splendidly thus far! You have some wonderful guest material from some of the most well-known webomic creators out there, responsible for strips like Cyanide + Happiness, Perry Bible Fellowship, The Oatmeal, and more. What was the process for soliciting contributions from other cartoonists for your book? What does the community of webcomic creators look like these days, and how separate does it seem from the long-form print comic and graphic novel sector of the industry?
ZS: I am very fortunate to have deep, personal, and intimate relationships with all of the guest comic artists. We converse with each other more than probably 2 or 3 times a year and they are my most meaningful friendships in my life. The webcomics community has been incredible to be a part of. Everyone is so supportive and kind. There’s rarely any infighting or drama, and if there is, we settle it in the old ways by fighting in a Chili’s parking lot until the police show up.
CBY: It's comforting to know that Chili's can serve as common ground when it comes down to the nitty gritty. One final curiosity of mine - the eyes popping off your characters’ faces; you weren’t doing it in your earliest work, so can you unpack that stylistic choice, and when you find best to employ it? I know there are various examples across the history of cartoons, but what comes to mind regarding how you first encountered that sort of boundary breaking with character design being employed?
ZS: I remember vividly the first time I did it, I was sitting in a local coffee shop in Jackson Mississippi when I drew a character at 3/4 view and realized I didn’t know where to put the far eyeball because in theory it should have disappeared on the other side of the head. I really wanted to convey a certain emotion in the character that couldn’t be done with only one eye, so I just kinda put it out there in the space next to the guy’s head. The moment I did that, I felt powerful waves of hatred emanate from the internet and I knew that if I continued on this path, my life would never be the same. Ever since I’ve spent my days looking over my shoulder. But do I regret it, yes, I regret it. I realized later that I definitely subconsciously ripped the design off of the cartoon “Ed, Edd n’ Eddy” so I don’t feel as bad.
CBY: "Ed, Edd n' Eddy" is good company to keep, so I agree with the sentiment. On the note of other inspirations, I always close with an opportunity for creators to share unrelated work they’ve been enjoying lately. Zach, what other comics, film, art, music, etc. should our readers check out once they’ve read Good Comics for Bad People?
ZS: I just finished the anime “Pluto” (based on a manga by Naoki Urasawa) that was really good even though I rarely watch anime. There’s also a show I’ve watched several times called “Baskets” starring Zach Galifianakis. Louie Anderson plays his mom and is identical to my mom somehow and it is incredible and I can’t look away. There’s a great EDM artist called “Ross From Friends” that I’ve really been enjoying while I work. And I’ve been reading tons of comics from Dave Contra and Neil Kohney’s, “The Other End” and a bunch of other comics on Reddit lately. Check em out!
CBY: Awesome! Zach, thank you for joining us today. If you have any portfolio, publication, or social media links to share beyond what I’ve included above, please feel free to include anything you’d like our readers to check out below!
ZS: Thank you for having me! You can find all my comics and more on my patreon at www.patreon.com/extrafabulouscomics. Bye!