Interviews with readers and creators

03

Mar 2015

Creator Spotlight: Kyle Sanders

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Today’s spotlight interview is with Kyle Sanders, creator of the webcomic Carbon Dating, which I’ve previously reviewed.

CarbonDating

D: Alright Kyle, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself!

K: I’m an instructor pilot in the Air Force, and have been a hobbyist cartoonist since my college days ten years ago. My wife and I now live next to Pikes Peak in Colorado and have a four month old daughter. Most of my creative efforts now are guided by my passion for science, Carbon Dating is a character-driven comic strip about science geeks, I write illustrate full-page comics for Skeptic magazine, and I host live science outreach events in Colorado Springs that we call Super Science Mashup.

D: How did you get into being a pilot? Was that something you did before the Air Force? 

K: Well, after spending four years at a service academy I took the coolest job they could give me, which was pilot training.

D: Did you use to draw a comic for your college paper or anything? 

K: It was actually at the Academy that I began drawing for an underground student website under the penname Code Red. Being anonymous on campus, I would overhear positive feedback at meals or in class which encouraged me to draw a sophomoric college webcomic called Standard Deviation. Then, in my year before pilot training I recruited an art team and launched a sci-fi caper called Jovian Luck, which was cut short due to the demands of pilot training. I was surprised recently to learn that an older free hosting site is still active with the archives.

D: How is being a parent? Mine is ~8 months old right now. Hopefully yours has started sleeping through the night by now :)

K:  Contrary to my characters in the comic, we were very much looking forward to our daughter and being parents. She’s 4 months now and just started laughing which is hilarious and really gratifying. The only frustrating thing about parenting is the other parents, our facebook feed is filled with so much unscientific anecdotal advice for parents it’s maddening. How is it that in the entirety of human technological and scientific achievement, when it comes to babies the best we can do is – meh, you’ll figure it out. Oh, and don’t poke the soft spot! Parenting 101 should be a graduation requirement. But seriously, vaccinate your children.

D: So your bio just gives me piloting and cartooning. Where is the passion for science coming from? Any fields in particular?

K: I’ve always had it, from first reading Dinotopia to Space Camp. I majored in space systems engineering, and I’ve tried several times creatively to combine my interests in space and dinosaurs but never could get it to work. But increasingly as a pilot, I started going to schools to talk about STEM and careers in science. This led to hosting adult science outreach programs like Skeptics In The Pub, and reinforced the importance of science literacy in society. The measles outbreaks right now are evidence of this. Or alternative medicine peddlers who prey on people desperate for answers. There’s a big world of pseudoscience out there, and I’m pursuing a M.Ed about Science in the Public to help promote healthy skepticism about what you see in pop culture.

D: Why did you decide to start Carbon Dating?

K: I was established in my career and itching to draw again, but lacking a good theme or narrative. Then I attended a conference about scientific skepticism and that was it, that was the niche for me. XKCD and SMBC were new at the time but paving the way for science comics, and I wanted characters that could wrestle over these topics in conversation – much like the many arguments I often found myself in at dinner parties. It’s easy as a science-minded adult to be frustrated by some of these controversial topics, but it’s a lot harder to learn how to talk about them with your friends. That’s what the comic ultimately became.

D: Any good stories from your live events?

K: From the woman who told me that universities only taught evolution “for all that Darwin money” and the fist fight that almost broke out over organic produce. Yeah, live events make you think fast on your feet. The live events also drive most of my research for the comic, as a host I feel like I have to be prepared for these unexpected arguments. I’ve got a stack of studies from our event with genetic biologists for when the comic dives into GMOs. But that’s half the purpose of the comic, is to bring up these topics in a fun way. I spend so much time on the blog posts because I want readers to have good sources, especially if we hit on a topic they have questions about.

D: A big focus of your comic and blogs is on teaching science (and not pseudoscience) to the masses. Care to share your thoughts on this?

K: It’s important as a cartoonist to know what you’re trying to convey, what the driving theme of your comics is. Of course I try to be funny, but underneath is a deep concern for people who might be taken in by some dangerously unscientific ideas. It’s heartbreaking to see people burning all their money on fake medicine, or letting their kids catch preventable diseases. We have an obligation not just to make people laugh, but also to make them think. That’s what I’m trying to do.

D:  On your site you’ve previously shared some really good blog articles with tips and tricks for making and marketing a webcomic. What inspired writing them?

K: After ten years of cutting my teeth and watching the webcomic community grow, I thought I’d shoot for making a semi-professional comic strip this time. I put a lot of forethought and planning in, and my goal was to cut time off the traditional “you’ll draw for two years before anybody notices you” mentality. We’ve been live for a year and a half and doing pretty well, but it was still much more difficult than I had anticipated. I wanted to share what worked, because I see too many artists WAY BETTER AND FUNNIER than I, but they don’t get the response they deserve. It’s not because their comic isn’t great, it’s because they’re not marketing themselves like they have to. Unless you strike gold and get an agent somehow, 50% of your creative time and energy will have to go into building your audience.

D: How do you view the webcomic creator community, and what role do you hope to play in it?

K:  I’ve always found the community to be fragmented, and I’ve never enjoyed internet forums. However, through Twitter and a few Facebook groups I’ve really gotten to know some artists with similar interests. Yourself, Jeff of Ape Not Monkey, Ethan of Black Mudpuppy, Natasha of Tethered, these are all friends now. I hope that one day I can build an elite team of science-geek cartoonists, then use our combined powers for good. After all, some people just want to watch the world learn.

D: What is your long term hope and dream with Carbon Dating? Any other creative projects in the works?

K: The goal is to generate the $800 per month I need to keep my artist Elisa drawing a comic every day. Patreon really helps, but we’re still a long way off. My dream for Carbon Dating from the beginning was to help people take some of these irrational ideas a little less seriously. I’m having a great time with there characters and don’t want to slow down anytime soon. I’m hoping that this becomes a platform to promote science literacy and challenge bad ideas. There’s so much pseudoscience out there to talk about.

D: Any concise advice for comic creators you’d like to share, or should they just read your blog articles about it?

K: Find a good font, that’s a pet peeve of mine. But more importantly, don’t launch a webcomic until you’re well prepared. Webcomics are a long-term relationship with your art and characters, so make sure it’s you’ll still be excited about in a few years. Build a HUGE archive beforehand. Your update schedule is a promise to your readers, do not break that promise. And lastly, know who your target audience is and how to reach them, but always write for yourself.

D: Awesome, thanks so much, Kyle!

Everybody, go read his stuff and be prepared to laugh and learn :)