I did a joke interview with my friend Luallen for April Fool's Day, but liked the questions he asked so much that I decided to provide some real answers for them as well. Enjoy!
Why the name Questionable Content?
When I was looking for a domain name/title for the comic, I had a tough time trying to think of a good one. I didn't want to do some lame “Marten & Pintsize” or “Hipster Comics” thing, those are dumb ideas and way over-used naming conventions. I liked the humor behind Something Awful and Something Positive's names, they do a good job of summing up those sites and have a sense of humor about it. “Questionable Content” is my little way of letting people new to the comic know that I write about boobs and farting and getting drunk sometimes, it is not a PG comic. Also “questionable content dot net” just sounds cool to me for some reason.
When you came up with the idea of QC, what made you go on with it, and make it into a regularly updating comic strip when there are already so many of the out there? Was it intimidating?
It wasn't really intimidating because I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. For the first month or so I only did two strips per week, just to see if I could keep up with a schedule and retain interest in the project. Once I figured out that I really enjoyed it (and started to get better at drawing) I moved up to 3x per week and it's stayed there ever since. I'm currently on 108 strips without a missed or late update, so I think the current schedule is pretty workable.
How far do you have the story of QC mapped out in your head? All the way to the end or just a storyline or two ahead of the readers?
It’s mapped out in a very vague and shifting sense all the way to the “end” of the current overall story. It could go a couple of different ways in the long run, I am really not sure which will happen but I think one outcome is more likely than the other. Basically I have an idea of what I think is going to happen to Marten and Pintsize and Faye et al in the long run, but I'm not sure exactly how it will get there, and it's not set in stone.
In terms of specific storylines, it varies. Generally I never work more than one actual written strip ahead, but I keep a little BBEdit file full of ideas for future comics and storylines that I just haven't fleshed out actual scripts for. I can only seem to write dialogue for a comic the day before it has to go up. I work best under tight deadlines, I guess.
Your artistic style has changed somewhat from the original strips, was this change something hard for you to do or was it the natural evolution of you as an artist?
All drawing is challenging for me, I don't think I have any inherent talent for it so everything I do is a result of years (literally) of practice. Switching to the Wacom tablet was a huge change for me because I basically had to learn how to draw all over again. I think I'm making progress though.
People seem to like how the art has evolved over time, I get repeated requests to never re-draw the earlier strips (even though I really wish I could) because people like seeing how the art has improved. Personally I can’t look back through the archives more than five strips past the most recent one, or my eyes start to bleed.
What are your thoughts on having banner ads on webcomics? Do you feel that it somehow interferes with the creative process, self censoring to prevent pissing off your sponsors or is it merely a good way to make extra money?
I look at banner ads as a necessary evil. QC is fortunate in that I have not had to solicit any advertising to keep the site running, which means I don't have to worry about “sponsors” or any of that junk. I may have some sort of banner links on my site at some point in the future, but I would never link something on the site that I didn't personally think was awesome and worth checking out.
As far as putting pressure on the artists, I doubt that happens in 99.9% of cases. I’m sure the Penny Arcade guys get some pressure from their advertisers because they're so huge, but I also doubt it sways them in any conscious way.
Who is the ideal reader of QC?
A literate human being who enjoys listening to music, likes looking at drawings, and is a sucker for sexual/emotional tension in a comic strip.
QC is getting to be extremely popular, to what do you credit this popularity?
I have no idea. I never expected QC to be anywhere near as popular as it is, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger [knock on wood]. I guess people just like the story and characters, also the fact that it talks about indie rock, something that not many other webcomics deal with. QC is a little different than most webcomics, I think people appreciate that. I try to maintain a personal relationship with my readers, too, and I hope that is some of the reason that people keep coming back to the site.
What would be your advice to other web cartoonists to mirror your success?
Oh man, this is gonna be a long answer. Step number one is not to think in terms of “success”. It will just make you frustrated and bitter, and the last thing we need more of are frustrated, bitter people on the Internet. You have to think in terms of making yourself happy by doing a comic. The bottom line is that if you don't enjoy it, odds are nobody else will either.
Having a regular schedule and sticking to it without fail is the most important concrete thing you can do. Don't assume that just because Megatokyo has such an erratic schedule you can get away with it too. It frustrates your readers and makes you seem unprofessional. I really can't emphasize this enough because it is probably the #1 mistake that people make.
You have to have decent-looking art. Art is what initially grabs new readers' attention. Good writing is what will keep them coming back. If you can't draw, find someone who can, or do what I did and bust your ass to get better in a hurry. Nothing makes me want to read a new webcomic less than if its art is bad. Yeah yeah, I know there are exceptions to this rule, but there are exeptions to every rule and odds are your comic is not one of them.
By the same token, if you're an incredible artist with a lousy sense of humor (or drama, or whatever your comic focuses on), I'm not going to come back to your comic very often. Penny Arcade is a good example of what people in this situation should do- if you are a kickass artist, find an equally kickass writer whom you get along with, and start from there.
It can be really helpful to establish friendships and connections with other cartoonists. This DOES NOT mean you should email every single author you can think of and whore out your comic. Trust me, we don't like that very much. Be a fan of other people's work, hang out on their message boards (again, NO SITE WHORING), talk to other creators about their work. You'll learn some invaluable things and over time make some connections that can really help you out in the long run.
Advertising, ranking lists, and all that stuff is optional. I don't pay for advertising or beg for link exchanges ever- QC has become popular entirely through word-of-mouth and from being voluntarily linked by other, more popular webcomics (see previous paragraph). Even though I'm in the top 10 on Buzzcomix, it only generates 1-2% of my monthly traffic. It's free advertising, but it's not crucial to having a popular comic. The best advertising you can possibly do is just to have a kickass comic strip that people will enjoy.
Finally, you have to be a nice guy. There are a couple comis out there that I might read, except that their author is a complete, flaming asshole. Don't be arrogant, don't be petty, don't pick fights with other comics you don't like. Be nice to your readers, because it's not like they HAVE to come to your site.
This one question could basically be an interview in and of itself, but the bottom line is that you have to enjoy what you do, do your absolute best all the time, stick to your schedule, and don't be a dickhead.
Do you ever feel that you will eventually move from webcomic to actual comic in a newspaper?
I think newspaper comics are on their way out the door. The publishing syndicates basically cater to grandparents now. I could never relinquish any of my creative control to an editor.
What do you feel of popular newspaper comics such as Family Circus?
Family Circus has been in the papers forever because there is essentially no chance that it will offend anyone ever. Editors and syndicates love this kind of strip because they never have to deal with complaints or censor it. I think it goes without saying that 99.95% of newspaper comics are unfunny, unreadable tripe, and it is all because editors and publishers reward safety and blandness instead of creativity and risk-taking. The best newspaper comic out there right now is Get Fuzzy, which sidesteps most complaints and censoring (I’m guessing) by having really witty writing about an inherently inoffensive subject (silly household pets).
What is the hardest thing about writing and drawing the strip?
The drawing itself tends to be the most challenging aspect for me, because I am constantly trying to become better and more consistent with my artwork. Some days the writing is a piece of cake and I'll have an entire script written in two minutes. Other days I'll be sitting in front of my computer for two hours before I can finally drag a decent comic idea out of my brain and onto the keyboard.
Why did you decide to sell tee-shirts as your first merchandise?
Because T-shirts are something that pretty much everybody likes. Also they were fairly simple to get printed, because I happened to know of the best goddamn printing company in the world (Brunetto T-Shirts) thanks to RStevens of Diesel Sweeties fame.
So, when are Marten and Faye going to hook up?
ARE they going to hook up? I think out of everyone who reads this comic, I am the least certain of this. That should instill fear and doubt in the hearts of all you Marten-loves-Faye people. ;)
What do you say to people that compare your character Pintsize with Invader Zim's Gir?
I don't really mind, it’s not like I can control the associations that people make in their brains. I loved Invader Zim but I do try to make Pintsize as non-Gir-like as possible. Gir is insane and possibly retarded. Pintsize is perfectly sane and intelligent, he just has an odd sense of humor due to years of constant exposure to the Internet.