In Conversation with Sophie GoldsteinPosted: November 22, 2013
This post originally appeared on the Schulz Library Blog.
CCS Alum Sophie Goldstein (Class of 2013) is a comics powerhouse.
Although she only graduated this May, Goldstein has had an extremely productive year of cartooning. Her work has recently been appearing in a host of reputable venues. It’s been quite a year for her in terms of publications.
A slew of her extremely polished work began to appear in the world upon her graduation in May. Goldstein self-published part 1 of her psychological sci-fi drama, House of Women and exhibited it at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. After House of Women‘s publication, Goldstein got right to work and began to craft Edna 2, the story of one man’s determination to resist the society around him. This October Edna 2was published online by Study Group Magazine and in print in Irene 3, the comics anthology spearheaded by 2012 CCS graduates Dakota McFadzean, Dave Weinar and Andy Warner. If all that weren’t enough, in late October, The Good Wife, a short story written in 2012, appeared inThe Best American Comics 2013.
Just last week Goldstein launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the 360 strip long web comics series that she wrote and drew with Jenn Jordan from 2009 to 2013, Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell, into print. The campaign was successfully funded in 4 days. Suffice to say that Goldstein’s work is getting the attention it deserves.
“Darwin lives in Brooklyn, the borough of choice for hipsters, artists, deities and an assortment of mythological creatures. Darwin has a problem. Due to an unfortunate incident involving some intense snogging, an unbalanced high chair, and a framed image of the Buddha, he acquired a massive karmic deficit. Long story short, he’s going to go to Hell. Darwin doesn’t particularly want to go to Hell, so he’s doing everything he can to save his immortal soul.”
The forthcoming print collection of Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell(DCiGtH) will bring together the entire run of this series, along with behind-the-scenes commentary, concept art and other miscellanea. Those interested in copies should definitely check out the Kickstarter campaign to learn more.
I had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Sophie about her adventures in webcomics withDCiGtH.
Juan Fernandez: You started DCiGtH in 2009 and kept it going until 2013. During two of those years you were a CCS student. Writing a webcomic of a high calibre without missing weekly updates is tough. How did you keep DCiGtH going strong while you balanced the work load at CCS?
Sophie Goldstein: When I first applied to CCS and I was having my phone interview with James Sturm to test whether I was insane, you know, as he does, I told him that I was doing this webcomic. He said, “Oh yeah, you probably won’t be able to keep that up while you’re here.”
So, in anticipation of that we went from updating twice a week to once a week, which caused endless consternation among our readers that we just never heard the end of! I worked up a big buffer so the first semester of the first year was buffered. After that it was very stressful, but I had been doing DCiGtH for so long that I could do it a little on automatic. We had written far ahead and I was thumb nailing it far ahead, which is itself a kind of writing. The drawing, coloring and inking I could do even when i was under a lot of pressure. I think we only missed one update and it was because I forgot to load the strip. It wasn’t that it wasn’t there. It was just that I forgot to upload it. That made me die a little inside because we went so long and it was just one update! I couldn’t ever say that we had never missed an update.
JF: Besides other webcomics, what kind of comics were you reading in college, before you started DCiGtH?
SG: Mostly Vertigo. That was probably because my friend Steve who lived across the hall had all the Vertigos. He had them as trades. He had a lot of single issue stuff but that doesn’t fit in your college dorm room. There’s only so many long boxes you can really house in an NYU dorm room.
Then I started reading more of the indie stuff, like stuff D+Q publishes and Fantagraphics publishes, Fantagraphics particulary. I was into Jaime Hernandez and Craig Thompson and I was really into Dave Cooper, which probably says something about me.
Oh, Dan Clowes! I really loved Dan Clowes. And Adrian Tomine. The big names of indie comics.
JF: DCiGtH has such a strong central arc. Did you know how you wanted to wrap up the story from the beginning or were you just starting with an interesting premise and going from there?
SG:Well, vaguely, to avoid spoilers, I think that when we had first talked about it, I remember we wanted to start a story arc right away. That would be the one story arc and then we started posting and we had shorter story lines. Our first ones were 4 strips long then our next one was 8 strips long and they just grew and grew. We enjoyed it, so we decided, “Well, we’ll just play around in the world and you know we’ll get to the longer arc later.” We always had a vague idea of “Well, darwin’s on this redemption path. that’s the big story. Darwin Carmichael is going to hell. He needs to try to avoid that.” I think in the back of my head I knew how it would end. I don’t know if Jenn had different ideas, but in the end we agreed that the ending was the only one that could be satisfying from an artistic standpoint
JF: It seems that there was a really strong creative back and forth between you and Jenn in the writing process. How did the two of you split the creative responsibilities when working on the strip?
SG: Well, there’s some strips that are called “Skittles’ Owner” and those particular strips are drawn by Skittles in crayon. Those strips are drawn by Jenn, but really by Skittles.
I did all the art for the regular strips. In terms of writing, we really wrote it together. We used a shared Google document. We would talk about the plot and would figure out what was going to happen in each strip. We would divvy up the strips and then we’d check each others stuff. It was a really collaborative process to the point that a lot of the time I don’t know who wrote particular strips or who wrote particular lines. The lines that I really remember are the ones that Jenn wrote that I find hysterically funny because those really stuck out. There’s a strip that we have about these unicorns with some very lewd language and it was the funniest. You can watch someone type in google docs, which is very weird, and I watched her write the line, then erase it. I typed “NONONONO, we absolutely have to keep that line!”
JF: DCiGtH has an extremely strong and loyal fan base. How did you build this kind of audience?
SG: When we started, really early on, Project Wonderful was a thing. It was, and still is this thing created by Ryan North, who does Dinosaur Comics. Basically, you bid on ad spaces on other webcomics. That was helpful. When you’re readership is just your mom, any more readers is a bonus.
The other big breakthrough that we had was by doing guest strips. I got introduced to Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya (Johnny Wander) IRL. Then I ended up doing a guest strip for them. It was really great. Somehow Spike from Templar, Arizona found our comic and linked to it and that was really big thing. My boyfriend Carl read my strip before we met and he found it through spike. I met other people who found my comic through Templar, Arizona. So, this link did everything for my life! I think that having that was the first really basic thing. Then you hit kind of a point where things gather their own momentum.
JF: When web cartoonists package their web comics for print, it seems that many of them retouch their early art. Are you doing any touching up of colors or redrawing of any kind? Are you redoing any strips?
SG: Oh god, I don’t think I want to even start with that because, literally, where would it end? We’re doing some color retouching because the early strips were done in RGB and a book is printed CMYK. My ignorance of that is coming to fruition right now. Then we’re going to add white panel borders to all the strips. They’re not in the early strips. We were doing black borders, that now look tacky to me. And we’re copyediting because there are some serious spelling and grammar errors that need to be rectified. They’re not charming and they interfere with the reading experience.
JF: I heard you’re no longer actively seeking to make money off of illustration or work for hire comics. Could you talk a little more about what your current relationship with comics making is now that you’ve graduated from CCS?
SG: Well, when I first came to CCS I had an attitude, that wasn’t necessarily career oriented, rather a kind of knee jerk one where I thought, “If i’m making money, then I’ve arrived.” So the idea having people pay for my comics, pay for me to do comics seemed like the goal. That’s what I wanted in my life. And then, as I did some of that, it was great, they were paying me, they liked my art, but I wasn’t proud of those comics They were not rewarding to me. It’s a huge time suck. No matter how much they pay you it’s not worth the amount of time you spend and time is a finite quantity.
So my current thing is that I have the day job and I can count on my rent and everything else. When I’m drawing comics it’s comics that I’m doing specifically for me. I have done stuff for money but it’s the kind of thing where it’s not someone who doesn’t know my work. It’s someone who is familiar with my comics is approaching me because they like my comics, not just my art. So that sort of stuff I’m still into, but there’s not enough money to really compensate for not having the time to work on the stories that are closest to my heart.
JF: On that note, are you chipping away at House of Women right now, or have you put that off to rest for a while?
SG: It’s on the back burner. At the moment, I’m working on a 72 page science fiction, story that is unrelated to House of Women. It’s more related to some of the other stuff that I’ve done. The kind that could be set in the same world. It’ll be in six twelve page installments. Which doesn’t seem very long, but it’s good, It’ll give me a deadline to get things done.
JF: Wonderful, I can’t wait to see the story unfold. Thanks for your time, Sophie.