Meet Your Creator: Alex Norris Of 'Webcomic Name'by Caleb Goellner
Alex Norris has the soul of a poet, the hand of a cartoonist, and the self-awareness of a really, really self-aware person. That's why Webcomic Name succeeds where so many other meta comics might not. Norris loves the sequential art medium and he's endeavored to explore its power across numerous series including Dorris McComics and others. He's an expert. So when he decided to parody gag strips with a series of his own, his love radiated with integrity. Just as the surface of the sun burns hotter than its core, so too does the juxtaposition of relatable experiences with a running gag of deadpan despair.
That was our assumption, anyway, before we hit up the British cartoonist about his recently-launched GC series. Fortunately, he confirmed it across a range of questions. Read on and be enlightened. Just note I didn't edit his Queen's English spelling. I insist you read his answers in a British accent. It's only proper.
GoComics: What was the impetus for Webcomic Name and did you expect you'd take the series this far?
Alex Norris: My other webcomic series, Dorris McComics, was a very laboured project where I usually tried to push the boundaries of comics. This meant it was updated sporadically and a lot of effort went into each one. For April Fools 2015 I thought it would be funny to go against people's expectations of Dorris McComics and update 8 times in one day with really bad relatable comics, and the punchline was always "oh no"! I had such fun writing those "oh no" comics that a while later I realised I could probably make a whole series of them. My aim is to make it last forever- I love doing a daily comic because the series itself becomes this morphing, ever-changing thing with new elements added all the time, and it is a cool challenge to try and keep it interesting while having the same limitations.
GC: Webcomic Name can be perceived as inherently meta -- a sort of satire on "relatable content" that's also "relatable content" on its face. How would you personally classify how it works for you as a creator?
AN: Over time Webcomic Name has become the thing it is parodying- if you do something ironically for long enough it becomes hard to distinguish it from sincerity. I like that, and I keep playing with it, like a parody of itself. Even though relatable humour gets a bad ride, I do not think it is inherently low humour- Shakespeare or Chaucer found humour or drama in lived experience and much of it still connects with us today. They used to call it "universal" rather than "relatable" and I think the way to keep it interesting is to search for general truths in specific situations, rather than just pointing out the specific thing. Overall this is what I am aiming to achieve, but often the relatable subject and the predictable punchline means that I can focus on telling the joke in an interesting way, because the joke is already there. I guess I am enjoying playing with how relatable humour is framed (making it either poignant or absurd) and that's what I am trying to reach more as the series continues.
GC: Walk us through your Webcomic Name creation process from idea to publication. How do you get from idea to final comic?
AN: I usually sit down and thrash out pages and pages of tiny situations or feelings from my life and see which ones stick, or I ask my friends for ideas from their lives and see if they would make good comics. I have lists and lists that just say things like "exercise is hard" and "can't see without glasses". Then I make them into comics and play with how the joke is told, and generally if I make myself laugh then I am happy. It is a great freedom to have 5 updates a week, because not every comic has to be amazing. At the least, it will be relatable, but at least twice a week I try to have comics that are more than that.
please stop following me— Alex Norris (@dorrismccomics) June 1, 2017
this is too many pic.twitter.com/Yf6WKeTeey
GC: The social media response to Webcomic Name has been considerable. How has it performed compared to your expectations?
AN: When I first visited the USA to see other webcomic artists, I was amazed to hear them talking about trying to make popular things. Obviously, I have always wanted my work to be popular, but it never occurred to me (maybe being British?) that you could make something so flagrantly where the main aim was to be popular. At one point I realised Webcomic Name could be very popular (my April Fools "oh no" comics were by far my most popular comics at the time) and that I could make it into something with enough layers of irony that I could sell out and still keep my integrity!
GC: Do you have a personal favorite Webcomic Name strip? One that's maybe more personal?
AN: I think it might be "Different", where pink blob smashes everything. It is very much how I live my life -- I frequently realise I am content and then decide that means I need change. I used to think it was because I was always clamoring for something better, but often it is just cleaning the mess I have made and trying to feel normal again. It's still something I do and I'm trying to make it a positive thing rather than a destructive thing. The great thing about the comic was that I decided to post it the day that Trump got elected, and it connected with a lot of young people who felt people had protested against the establishment and messed everything up in the process. A lot of people also posted it in relation to Brexit for the same reasons. The comics I am most proud of are ones that say something general that can be applied to a lot of relatable situations.
GC: On April Fool's Day a bunch of your friends and peers created webcomicofart to effectively parody your parody. How flattered were you?
AN: I loved those! They were amazing. Since Webcomic Name started out as an April Fools prank I never quite know how people would parody it, but that worked so so well. It was such a stupid idea taken so far that it felt both mocking and celebratory and I was very impressed by the dedication to fart jokes.
GC: Some creators imagine precise tones or even voice actors for their characters -- particularly those with catchphrases. What does your blob's "Oh no" sound like in your head?
AN: People ask me this a lot -- I suppose it would be like someone reading from a script, or at least like saying it for the hundredth time. Disappointed, but used to being disappointed. I've been meaning to do a Webcomic Name video series at some point (with animation, or live-action with elaborate costumes, or hand puppets) and this would be a major thing to work out.
Do you dig my new con table aesthetic pic.twitter.com/pMJxkjsEQW— Alex Norris (@dorrismccomics) May 26, 2017
GC: You make comics and travel with a plastic hand called "Johand," which you've drawn a face on. How does Johand earn its keep? Does it help you like a manga assistant or anything?
AN: Johand is there for moral support. In times of trouble look into his flat, expressionless eyes and he always knows the right thing to not say.
GC: You use poetry or otherwise poetic devices in a lot of work, whether it's Dorris McComics, Hello World! or Webcomic Name. Where does your inclination stem from and how do you think it's helped you as a cartoonist?
AN: I studied English Literature at university and poetry is probably the biggest influence on everything I make, even more than comics. My biggest influences are probably William Blake, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Browning -- the poems they write are like riddles. When I first started making comics I always wanted to achieve this poetic tone, to make things seem literary in a silly way. Over time I started taking those poetic ideas and presenting them in a very silly, low-art sort of way, because that is funnier. Poetry at its best uses language to its fullest, every element becomes a way of expressing something. This is my attitude to comics, everything must be there for a reason and I take no formal element for granted. I want to develop the things I make until I can make something that is completely analogous to poetry but in a comic form, so keep your eyes peeled for that.