Today’s interview is with fellow SpiderForest member Denise Randall of Darwin Comics. She has a lot of experience and a lot of fun thoughts to share, so buckle in :D
(Note: Darwin Comics may be considered slightly NSFW, so, you know, viewer discretion and stuff).
Dan: Alright, how about you tell everyone a bit about yourself.
Denise: Hi! I’m Denise Randall and I’m the creator of two long form webcomics The Only Half Saga and Gemutations: Plague both found collectively on Darwin Comics.
I retired from the United States Navy after 21 years of service back in 2009, and am currently working full time as a Multiple Subject Teacher working with thirty-two sixth graders. I am married to my husband of 22 years and have a daughter who just turned 21… O_O that makes me not the youngest creator on the block here.
I have been drawing since I can remember – Kindergarten at least. When my day in kinder was finished, I would sit in the back of my sister’s second grade class drawing stuff my mom was teaching. I’ve never looked back. I draw daily even today (even if they’re just doodles on a scrap sheet).
I also have a passion for writing, which is why I tend to be my own creative team because it allows me to combine my two passions together.
Dan: What did you do in the Navy? (Thanks for your service btw)
Denise: I was an Aviation Structural Mechanic, and was specialized in metal-working when I was first trained. However when the Navy transitioned from metal to composite, my signature moves were pretty moot (Though came in shockingly handy on a few cruises… can’t order the part – sure I’ll make it – let’s go!). Through on the job training, I learned how to work with hydraulics: flight controls, landing gear, you name it and I removed and replaced the part. I even learned how to bend and fabricate tubing. Through the course of my career, I also branched into Quality Assurance, which allowed me to cross train in other ratings, learning everything from how the engines worked to how the avionics worked (Think electronics for airplanes). Though I was no expert in those other fields, I did learn a lot, most of which I still remember to this day.
Dan: 6th graders, and 32 of them! You have my condolences ;) My mom taught 6th grade for a couple years, and didn’t enjoy the beginnings of teenage angst. How about you, though? Any good stories?
Denise: I won’t say 6th grade ISN’T a challenge, because it is, however I like working at a grade level that is starting to really think independently and form their own opinions. It’s also nice to have them at the age where reason can be employed (in most cases). Spring is the hardest, because that seems to be when the majority of the drama occurs – whether with friends, or “boyfriends” (PULESASE YOU’RE TOO YOUNG). Seems this year, spring has sprung WAY EARLY! *HEADDESK*. Naw, really I have a good group of hardworking students this year.
Stories…. hmmm let’s see. Well we did have a wedding at lunch a month or so ago… does that count? :P
Dan: What does your daughter think of your comicking?
Denise: Well, hmmm… I know she’s supportive of me, that she thinks its cool… but my stories aren’t exactly her favorite genre. So there’s more of passing interest than a full time commitment to the comics. Because c’mon where would be the fun in thinking your mom’s cool. I will say she brags about me to her circle of internet friends, and that I seem to be supermom to them… <_< >_> Who me?
Dan: Any kindergarten doodles still around you’d like to share? XD
Denise: Oh gosh. Well I don’t think anything from 41 years ago still survives and if it does it’s at my mom’s house. *GOES TO THE ARCHIVES*…. Here *Flings Scan of Optimus your way* The paper it’s on dates at ‘83 (I would have been about 14). I was bad about dating my images back then. That is a more recent convention! I know I did a lot of drawing back then, but where it is now I would have little clue!
Dan: Tell us about your creative projects.
Denise: Sigh… where do I begin? Hmmm…. well the webcomics obviously. But I can’t really start there.
I mentioned that I love to write, I have report cards dating all the way back to fifth grade talking about my passion for creative writing. In junior high and high school my imagination continued to develop through a small “Star Wars” fan club where my friends and I wrote our “adventures” as characters in the universe and passed them to each other between classes (and yes, I won’t lie, sometimes in class).
When I graduated, I got into writing about the comics I was into as well as movies I loved… see my fanfiction page for proof. :P I wrote about Ghost Rider, Darkman, Predator, Robocop, not to mention the lesser known 90’s comics such as Darkhawk and the like. Ahhh…. fan fictions before they coined the term. HEH.
This list also gives away my love of Science Fiction as a whole!
In 1991 I decided I wanted to try my hand at original works in science fiction, and so Tom Martin, Mira Stevenson and “Forgotten Ties” was born. It was eminently harder, but also exponentially more satisfying to do!
My universes grew, expanding (and then intertwining) into what is now The Brothers Martin, The Only Half Saga, and into the Gemutations family. All three stables now have published novels chronicling the decades of writing I’ve done in their names!
(Gosh this seems to be getting long! LOL!)
And THIS is what led to my becoming a webcomicker… in 2004 or 2005, I got to know KEZ (of War of Winds and What it Takes Fame). She and several others on Phantasy Bar Online (RIP) convinced me I needed to turn my stories into graphic adaptations. In April and June 2006 respectively, I began my now nearly decade old dedication to two full time long form comics!
Dan: Can you tell us a bit more about your current comic projects?
Denise: I have two comic projects running at the moment, both of which are based off of my novels. (Wanna spoil the ending to Plague, the novel’s on Amazon.)
Gemutations: Plague began as a graphic novel in April 2006. It is a science fiction webcomic about mutants trying to stop a killer virus with the help of some cyborgs. That’s the (overly) simplistic synopsis.
It takes place in a partially flooded Earth ecosystem. Rising sea levels gives rise in turn to panic that the world will drown. Scientists create Gemues (genetically-mutated humans) who are DNA spliced with aquatic mammals (and in some cases fish) to help them survive. When the rising waters don’t actually drown the world completely this segment of the population is scorned and persecuted, mostly for being “stupid” in believing the worst.
So when this already tense environment is disturbed by the idea that there are mutants around who can spread mutation like a cold (And kill most who contract it in the process), things get even worse for the gemues.
David “Tigershark” Scott and his girlfriend, Angelina Cortez, set out to stop the virus before it causes a war between humans and gemues.
The story has a mere 4 chapters left (which will probably take at least two years to complete) before the tale wraps up.
The Only Half Saga is an Urban Fiction/Science Fiction mash-up about a half-vampire, Cabal, who survives a nuclear holocaust only to have to learn how to survive in the aftermath. At first he has his vampire mother for company, but events eventually leave him isolated between the vampire and human societies.
The graphic novel spans much of his 600+ years in a series of smaller tales and extends the tale to include other dhampirs from around the world. (including Garrett from the current tale “Of Dhampirs and Warlocks”)
Also begun in 2006. TECHNICALLY? I finished it when I completed Endgame. However with the plethora of stories I have written in this world, I have much more to offer readers in future years.
Dan: What are some lessons you’ve learned as you’ve transitioned from doodling and storytelling to making graphic novels?
Denise: Oooooo… yeah lots of lessons learned. I was a sketch artist, it was what I knew. Yeah I could color (sorta), I could come up with some nifty designs for both original characters and fan arts, but I realized how little I actually knew when I decided to pick up a digital tablet and program.
Lesson one? One challenge at a time….
I jumped feet first into not only trying to create a webcomic, but to do it digitally when I’d never touched a computerized art program before (I mean not even MSpaint!). I bought a cheap little tablet and was given a working copy of Photoshop CS and had at. I didn’t even really practice how to draw lines and color outside of creating those early (GOD AWFUL) pages. My art took a serious NOSEDIVE. I was really pretty good as a sketch artist, but with the steep learning curve inherent in Photoshop, working with a brand new medium, and having to learn to look at the screen and not my hand all conspired to make those first efforts painful and tedious! Layers? What are those? Yeah didn’t discover them for almost a year.
I’m much more familiar with the tools and how to apply them these days, but I don’t really think I will EVER know everything there is to know about what Photoshop can do!
Lesson two? Word Walls and Data Dumps are not your friend.
My art wasn’t strong in those early pages, and so I compensated by putting the readers inside EVERYONE’s head. LOTS-O-NARRATION. Have since learned some more solid techniques to convey emotion and plot progression without the characters spoon feeding it to readers. Data dumps, I knew were no good because my writer friends beat me up incessantly about it, but they still managed to find there way onto a comic page or two. Heh….
Good thing I’ve gone back and cleaned most of that out! :P
Dan: What are some of your long term plans and goals for your stories? Or, you know, crazy “it would be so awesome if” dreams?
Denise: My craziest “Wouldn’t it be awesome” dream is to get into a big publishing house and get my works out there for real. I like the control of self-publishing, but don’t have the funds to really make the most of it in the advertising department! It would be really fun to find myself getting the Rowling Treatment, y’know?
Other than that I intend to continue putting my works out there, both in writing and graphically as long as I can. TOHS has a huge wellspring of stories attached to it I can draw from, so I know that comic is going to go on until I REALLY tire of it all. While Plague is grinding steadily to it’s conclusion I have plans to put a follow up comic set about 17 years after the final events in Plague.
Dan: What is some advice you would give other storytellers and creative types?
Denise: One of the best things I EVER did was share my work. For decades no one got to read my stories and all because I never thought they were good enough. To my surprise complete strangers were drawn to and loved the things I was putting up. If not for Fanfiction/Fictionpress… if not for PBO’s great group of writers and artists, I would never have built the confidence I needed to go that extra step – to make that webcomic – to write and publish that book. Some of my best friends these days have come from those early years sharing on that fledgling internet.
Caveat? Be careful to share with people you trust (or through a place that helps you protect your copyright)…there’s nothing worse than being taken advantage of by a supposed “friend”.
Dan: Do you ever think you’ll “retire” from telling your stories or making your comics?
Denise: Honestly no… At least not the story writing – I’m rather a writing junkie… I’ve always got ideas in my head and I truly get withdrawals when I can’t write what’s happening up there. Comics? MAYBE… Though I don’t think it will be soon. I like the feedback and being able to share with others. If I ever got to the point where money wasn’t an issue I might consider hiring an artist to help me, but give it up completely is unlikely.
Dan: Here, have a soapbox. Tell us something you think is REALLY important for everyone to think about or know.
Denise: Oye, grand speeches? UUUUUHHHHHHH……..
Okay… Don’t be afraid of critique. I know it stings, it’s painful and embarrassing, but even the nastiest, most brutal critique has a mote of something you can learn from. I am still learning this lesson.
Also, don’t answer a critique right after you read it. That’s an emotional response not a rational one, and you can really burn bridges that way. Read it, let it sit, let the anger and embarrassment die a little, come back a few days later and reread it with a more objective eye. Pull the things you can use and toss the rest. A critique is just someone’s opinion and by no means the end all be all of how to do something.
Dan: Thank you, Denise, for sharing so many great thoughts!
Everybody, you should go check out Denise’s comics. After all, it IS her birthday today :D