Today’s creator spotlight interview is with Ross Griswold, creator of the paranormal investigator themed webcomic Anchored.
D: Alright, Ross, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself.
R: I live in Des Moines, Iowa. I am married. In my day job I work as a classroom associate at a special education elementary school. I have two pets, a pug named Rose and a russian tortoise named Groot. My first child is due mid-October 2015.
I have worn a variety of different hats in my life, so many that I sometimes worry that people think I’m a chronic liar or something. If it helps however, I’m not claiming that I was any good at the various things I’ve done. I’m at heart a fairly shy person, but I do seem to have a knack for putting myself out there when it is what I want to do.
Once upon a time I was a very small time professional wrestler. I won tag team titles and an extreme title in a couple of local companies. That was a lot of fun, playing the lovable loser. It really was pretty much my real life self out there. I was horrible at the actual wrestling, but I entertained a lot of fans and I made people happy.
I’ve worked for a few years now as a ghost hunter. It’s a hobby more than anything. I have worked with a couple of different teams, but schedules just don’t work out for me to be more active in the field. It’s something that I love though, and I poke at it a few times a year.
I’ve self published two novels, both featuring Staff-Master, a superhero that lives in the city of Des Moines, Iowa. I know…That isn’t where you’d expect to find a superhero. That’s part of the fun. I’ve always planned on doing more, but since I started doing my webcomic it’s been very hard for me to find the focus to do another novel. The webcomic means too much to me.
D: That IS a lot of different hats and things! Do you have any pictures or good stories from the wrestling days?
R: I have some pictures, but a lot of them have been lost over the years. Here is one from the night I won the MXWA Extreme Title.
I used to have a promo pict that I loved. It was me with my hair long, holding a skull. I was wearing little stoner sunglasses that had a hologram of skulls in the lenses. It was the best picture ever taken of me, but I seem to have lost it now.
Most of my wrestling career was with a company called Impact Pro Wrestling (IPW). The first story that comes to mind was a very adult oriented show in a bar somewhere in Iowa. The crowd was drunk and rowdy and I was actually quite scared to be there that night.
In IPW I mostly worked tag team matches with a mute masked character named Thrillcat. We had a gimmick going where Thrillcat would grab the mic before a match and use exaggerated body language only to cut an “interview”. The crowd would yell at Thrillcat that they couldn’t hear him, and eventually Thrillcat’d hand me the mic to “translate” for him. That night, in that bar, I said some things so vulgar that I never thought I’d say to a crowd of people. The audience was so rowdy they loved it….but let’s just say that I’m never running for office in case somebody comes up with blurry cell phone footage of me that night.
Another story that I love for all the wrong reasons is a three-team TLC match. There were tables, ladders, chairs, and all of it legal to use. I got legitimately busted open with a chairshot to the head, and I bled like a stuck pig. It was so bad that as I was laying on the concrete afterwards, one of my opponents came over and started punching me. Then he saw the blood, and he literally said “eww” before wandering away to beat on someone else.
My car had broken down on the way to that show, so my wife missed the match. She showed up afterwards and one of the guys girlfriends just looked at her in horror. “Ross is backstage…but there’s a bit of his head over there.” It was an exaggeration of course, but my wife did walk in on me getting my head superglued back together.
D: So…ghost hunting. Do you think you’ve ever found any? Any good stories there?
R: I do think I’ve found ghosts (or something extranormal). I’ve captured some cool EVP (electronic voice phenomena) in the school building I work in. I also go to a particular campground here in Iowa often. It has a reconstructed pioneer barn that I’ve gotten EVP every time I go. I’ve also gotten very strong results doing a style of pendulum dowsing at that site. In fact, the character of Peter the ghost in my webcomic is based on that haunting.
A couple of early strips featuring Peter.
One night in that reconstructed barn, we were getting strong movement on my pendulum. I had my friends son on what I call BS duty; he was watching my hand and calling BS anytime my hand moved in a way that’d influenced the answer. The pendulum was swinging wildly strong that night however.
We had asked the ghost his name, running through the alphabet until it said yes, his name starts with the letter P. Then we guessed any P name we could think of, one at a time until the pendulum said yes to Peter.
We asked some more questions, roughly deducing the ghosts age by his interest in comics. He had no idea who Peter Parker was, but he loved Popeye.
Slowly, the image of an almost Tom Sawyer like trickster developed. He loved mocking my friend Chad (explaining some garbled EVP’s that would talk over Chad and only Chad on many, many occasions).
Picturing this trickster, I asked if he likes cuss words. This resulted in a strong yes on the pendulum. I was going to drop some choice words, to see if the shock value had any effect on the pendulum…but before I could Chad interrupted and asked “Do you like church?” Let me tell you, that pendulum changed directions so fast that there is no other explanation in my mind. Remember, I had a grumpy teenager watching my hand, delighting in jeering me with catcalls of BS at any movement that biased the pendulum. The pendulum went from a strong yes to a strong no with an immediate and powerful switch. In the years since I’ve tried faking it, and I just can’t do it without moving my hand.
Another story that is absolutely true got adapted into these two comic strips:
Just as the comic strip shows, we were on a stage at a haunted school, trying to see if entertaining would cause anything interesting to happen. In my case, a deflated soccer ball was perched on a lamp post. As my vent dummy said “Let’s make some noise in this hiz-ouse” the soccer ball was hit by an unseen force and went flying a few inches at least.
Moments later, a psychic that I sometimes work with told me not to turn around. There was something behind me. In real life it was a great guy named Eric, but in the fictionalized comic strip I substituted in the psychic character Victoria.
As shown in the comic strip, I stood still for a bit so people could take pictures. Then I had my vent dummy turn around and say “If you’re going to kick his butt, let me know first so that I can run away.” At that moment, the shadowy entity apparently fled.
D: Tell me about your creative projects.
R: For the past year plus, I’ve been working on Anchored. It really is my life’s work.
It came to my mind, almost wholly created at one of the worst times of my life, and it helped me survive. April 1st, 2014 – April Fools Day – I got the most horrifying news of my life. My wife had had a miscarriage. It really messed me up. Like most suffering, the pain made me feel a need to create. I was reading a ghost hunting book, as well as a biography of Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts”. My griefstruck brain started grasping at details and blending them together. I came up with a family friendly comic strip about ghosts and ghost hunters.
I have spent my life drawing, dreaming of doing comic books. I was never quite happy with my superhero art however. It was just never good enough. I found my place in newspaper style drawing however, where I can tell my story with a few loops and swirls. The imperfections in my linework actually serve the fluid movements of a ghost.
Anchored was my healing balm in a painful time. It is now the main outlet for my creative energy. From early May 2014 until New Years Day 2015 I published a comic strip every day. It was too difficult to keep up that schedule however, so with the new year I switched to publishing three times a week.
D: My condolences on the miscarriage. My son just turned 1, and I don’t know how this past year and a half would have been if we’d lost him :( Congrats on the upcoming addition to your family, though! That’s coming up pretty soon. How go the baby preparations?
R: The baby prep is going pretty well. We’re taking classes at a local hospital. We’re getting all out plans and stuff lined up.
Since Anchored is somewhat autobiographical, I’ve had the ghost hunter character Dana somewhat mirroring my wife’s pregnancy. This might not have been the best choice though because we’re naming our baby Lizzy after the character Lizzy already existing in Anchored. So when Dana eventually gives birth, I have no idea what to call the new fictional baby. I’ve kind of done an unofficial poll with my fans and friends, and I think I know what the answer will be, but I’m still considering options.
D: Tell my readers a little bit more about Anchored.
R: Anchored is in many ways my life. The characters are me. Yes, Peter is based on a ghost I sort of met in real life, but the more things go on he’s become more me than anything. Peter is my naughty, protective side. I tease my friends mercilessly sometimes, but woe to anybody else that ever bothers them.
Bookworm is me. Fat and generally content and nerdy. Although I don’t have a large nose like he does. I don’t know where that came from.
Sugar is me as well, my emo, overly sensitive side. I sometimes worry that people will think me sexist, having the main female character so emotionally unstable…but that is ME. It’s not my opinion of anything but my own overwhelming feelings.
D: Do you think you’ll ever come back to Staff-Master, maybe as a comic?
R: Staff-Master actually started out as a comic. I was never quite happy with the art. I kept telling myself that it doesn’t need to be up to the standard of a professional comic. Given the Iowa setting, a more homespun style would be better than something sleek and urban. But I was still never happy with the visuals.
That said, I have revisited Staff-Master in the form of a short story. I’ve been working with a writers support group kind of thing called Davenports Writes and I recently wrote a short story for an anthology they are putting together. It is not only another Staff-Master story, but it kind of serves as a backdoor pilot for another series I’m working on.
I actually have a lot of ideas for where to take Staff-Master. I’m just having problems linking the ideas together in a way that pleases me. At this point in my life, Anchored is flowing so much easier.
D: What are some of the most useful and important lessons you’ve learned as you’ve worked on Anchored this past couple years?
R: The first lesson was just letting go and letting the story and character channel themselves to the paper. With Anchored I almost never second-guess the artwork. I just do whatever seems right at the time. It’s been a huge freedom, considering I usually hate how I pull the story together in picture form. I nitpick the details.
On the opposite end of that spectrum however, sometimes I need to give up on what feels right and do what IS RIGHT. For the longest time I did hand drawn, inked, and colored work. It all-too-often scanned horribly and just didn’t look good. And my handwriting is like something from a nightmare, so even my best lettering work was embarrassing. I kept doing it by hand for over a year though, because I kept a series of scrapbooks of the original art. It was my pride and joy.
Eventually though I realized that my work was suffering. Some of the comic strips immediately before I switched to digital inking are some of the worst in my whole run. Some of it was bad artistic choices, but a lot of it was my scanner just not picking up the inked work as nicely as they looked in real life. So, I switched to digital, and my work has improved a lot.
D: What are your long term goals for Anchored?
R: I have no specific long term goals. I do however hope to still be doing Anchored for many years to come. Charles Schulz was doing “Peanuts” almost all the way up to his death. In a few decades, I’d like to follow that example.
D: Any pet topic or soapbox you’d like to stand on?
R: I guess I may as well take this opportunity to plug an organization that I work with. I am a local coordinator for the Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League. It is the official organized play for D&D. The League is specifically designed to teach new people about the game and how to play. It is really exciting to run a table where a dad and his ten year old kid come together to play.
League games happen all over the world. Ask for details at your local gaming store, or go to this website for more info.
D: I do love me some tabletop gaming :) Any advice for fellow creators or readers of webcomics?
R: Fellow Creators: Do what feels right for you. Do what you enjoy. That way if it never becomes the next big thing, at least you had fun.
Readers: If you like a comic, spread the word. Tell other people about it. Hit the Like and Share button. Retweet it. I can only assume that every creator has the same surge of pride that I do when a lot of people read my stuff. When my viewing figures spike up, I’m practically dancing in my chair.
Also, if your favorite webcomic has a way of fundraiser, a patreon or something similar….please consider giving them a dollar or two. It takes many hours of work to make art. That is time that could have been spent working a “real job” and earning money, but instead that time was used to create something that you enjoyed. If you can’t afford it, fine. But if you can afford it, you really should reward an artist if you like their work.
D: Ross, thanks for letting me pick your brain! Best of luck with the baby and with Anchored!