Multiple Email-Based Interview conducted by Fes Works.
This isn’t something I’ve done before (a email interview), but hey, why not try something new?
I’m sure many fellow artists and comic creators have seen the so-called “Drawn Girl”, aka “Can I Be Drawn Better?”, comic on Tumblr or through twitter in the past month or so. It was drawn by “Pseudofolio” on Tumblr and depicts a stick figure being drawn, and then asking to be drawn better. Subsequently the character is drawn better, into a girl, who then asks if she can be pretty. She is drawn more elegantly and then asks if she can also be smart. She is finally drawn with a diploma, and then thanks “dad” as we get a shot looking up at a male artist looking down at what he has created.
Obviously words can only describe the comic so much, so please check out the comic before continuing reading.
There have been comments ranging from how adorable, cute, and uplifting the comic is, to how offensive and sexist it appears to be. … And I’m sure that there are some people that thinks it’s just OK.
I made a comment about the comic, suggesting that it is just innocent and face-value, but that we can never know for sure unless we ask the artist directly. I remember when I was back in school, and in art class we were supposed to interpret was the painter was trying to express in a painting. I thought it was stupid we were graded on that, because how would we know without asking the artist directly? … Wow, even in an article I tangent! Let’s get back on topic.
Recently, I have been granted an interview with “Psuedofolio”, so we can get to the bottom of some of the concerns some people have been having.
(Fes) Hello, “Psuedofolio”, How are you doing? Is that really the name you go by, or is there something a little less… “screen-name” that you also go by?
(Psuedofolio) The name “Psuedofolio” is a couple of things that aren’t my name. One, I’d intended it as the name of the blog but I didn’t quite understand that Tumblr has your blog name appear like a username. Now that I have, it’s far too late to undo the “brand recognition” Psuedofolio brings me. Second, it reminds me how bad I am at spelling the word Pseudonym. I’ve gone by the handle, Psudonym at a few places. And Remy Cambridge at a few others. Neither of which are my real name. I prefer anonymity. My online friends call me Psu.
(Fes) I heard you were caught in Hurricane Sandy’s path? You doing alright?
(Psudonym) I’d like to thank everyone again for their concern. I’m fine personally, though the town was hit fairly hard. I know others who are worse off, and at the time of this writing the neighbors still don’t have power. Their basement remains flooded and the house is unsafe to turn back on. I’m reminded how just a few feet made the difference between me being able to speak to you now and well… unfathomable circumstances. If I may, can I direct your readers to the Red Cross? www.redcross.org
(Fes) Hopefully you and loved one’s stay safe, and get electricity and services back soon. We’ll also plug a link to your commissions page, which can hopefully help out, too.
(Psudonym) I was only comfortable in answering these questions after I could get a decent sit down at my computer, so the non essential services like electricity and internet are already back for me.
On the subject of commissions, I would very much appreciate that as I did lose my car in the disaster. Money would help and I’ll be taking commission slots again shortly. But in the immediate aftermath I’d like to see what I can do about raising money for victims left homeless.
(Fes) I do really like your art style. What kind of training or art background do you have?
(Psudonym) Art School, which I have to say was equal parts an amazing irreplaceable experience and a prohibitively expensive sham. I have been making comics for many years though, paid and unpaid. That includes having had the best high school job ever.
(Fes) What are some of your inspirations, for you as an artist, and for your art style?
(Psudonym) I’m always afraid of this question because the temptation is to make myself sound more culturally educated than I really am. I’d love to say that my ideal coloring masters were Georges Seurat or J.M.W. Turner. And then there’s the elegant storytelling of Bill Waterson or Norman Rockwell. But none of those greats probably had as much of an influence on me as when I as a kid drew from Sonic the Hedgehog, Robert Liefeld, or Final Fantasy. As I grew up the inspirations always changed, I’m more inspired now by the likes of Becky Cloonan and Ryan Kelly than I was by Masamune Shirow. And of course, if I were to talk about non artists that inspire me we could be here all week.
(Fes) I see you have a webcomic (Question Duck) under your belt! Could you describe the comic for our audience?
(Psudonym) What is Question Duck? Well that’s a question that has many answers! Primarily, I pictured it as a fun little comic that stuck to its absurd format for the vast majority of its lifespan. The eponymous Question Duck is traveling with his friend, and in a few wordless panels they went around the world together. They’d see beautiful places, do wonderful things, meet simple interesting new people, and just get to see that our real world is full of wonders. Eventually, the Duck will spoil the mood and ask a very unlikely question.
And that was it for well over a couple hundred strips!
(Fes) Where did you come up with the idea for such a comic?
(Psudonym) 4chan. I’m dead serious.
Unlike most things on that site, this was an entirely innocent and happy accident. I believe it started with someone posting a picture of a tiny adorable duck and asking a question about some comic or other. And then everyone answered, noting that, “You are a duck. What are you doing on the internet, or asking questions.” And then the idea came around, what if there was just this duck that asked questions. Or what if you were traveling and then out of nowhere this duck has this question for you.
I drew 8 strips right there in ‘bout half an hour. Swearing to everyone, I’m going to run this idea into the ground! A year later, it becomes a webcomic. A year after that, it becomes one of my proudest achievements.
(Fes) Do you find Question Duck to be an avenue to vent those odd, nagging questions that pop into your head throughout the day?
(Psudonym) Sometimes! But mostly, the real joy came out of getting to explore a world by proxy. I got to draw so many things, and spent so much time learning about places I could never afford to be or find the time to go. And I got to share that wonder with my audience. The questions were just another outlet for expressing my curiosity.
(Fes) I tend to use Twitter for that myself…. but people would probably pay attention more (or answer me) if I put it in comic form. Do you get people answering your duck’s questions? Do the comics get a lot of commentary?
(Psudonym) Heh, for a short time I interacted with my audience like some disembodied Dumbledore declaring house points for people answering questions correctly. But that proved a bit unwieldy, not to mention the spirit of the comic isn’t about winning or getting the right answers. It’s asking in the first place which is important.
This might interest you. There was one short stream of comments that lead to the startling revelation that the equally remarkable Jenny Everywhere made an appearance in one strip. ( http://questionduck.smackjeeves.com/comics/1007759/063/ )
(Fes) Jenny Everywhere! And you didn’t email The Shifter Archive that she made an appearance??? (I run The Shifter Archive, by the way).
(Psudonym) Heh, I just recalled you ran the Shifter Archive before starting this interview. That’s where I first learned about Jenny. Since that week on Question Duck was an unofficial art themed week, I figured Jenny Everywhere was a truly unique concept that deserved a similar showcase to other great art.
I also just believed that if Jenny found her way back to the Shifter Archive on her own, it’d be so much more satisfying to me to see that journey. So I avoided e-mailing you directly.
(Fes) It always gets me, when I see people that have used Jenny, and link to the archive, but never tell me about it! Then again, I’m still behind on updating the archive… Anyway…
(Fes) Are there any other comic projects under your belt? There is a short sequence of comic pages on your portfolio.
(Psudonym) Yes. Many. But my writer, Gunwild, would kill me if I didn’t mention our comic, Salamander, that we’re slowly shopping around to publishers. But he’s my friend now, and likely wouldn’t want to imperil my drawing hand. It’s far and away a different sort of comic than Question Duck, being a dangerous and exciting story of medieval combat with a young fire eyed woman discovering she can be more than what she is.
I have numerous other passion projects, and a couple of short stories I’d like to get to work on soon with other writers. They’re early yet, and it’d be a mistake to bare them too soon. With the exception of “Amazing /co/ventures” which is yet again a 4chan generated project. One particular board on the site houses an amazing number of comics and characters, and creating something that brought them all together into something readable has been a terrifying and enjoyable challenge.
(Fes) Is that available for people to see anywhere? – or – Any time frame for when you might have more/or when that may be completed?
(Psudonym) If I can let people know, the blog will be the first place I tell them. The time frame is… generous.
(Fes) With the advent of Tumblr, it seems to be a great haven for artists for both sketch arts as well as portfolio pieces. Not to mention art guides and tutorials! Did you ever utilize deviantArt as a portfolio website or blog?
(Psudonym) Actually yes, I have used deviantArt. And, in fact, my online portfolio is housed on dA’s spin off site dAportfolio. But I don’t use my old dA account anymore. The site, “psudonym.deviantart.com“, however, never belonged to me. It’s apparently quite a commonly misspelled moniker.
(Fes) What do you think is better? Tumblr or deviantArt? And Why?
(Psudonym) I bet if you asked certain people, they’d be glad if both their inter-web houses burned down to the ground taking their communities with them.
My own personal preference has turned towards Tumblr, which honestly I’ve learned is terrible for a showcase gallery. People visiting your site are hit first with whatever your latest posts were, whether they’re crappy sandwich shop napkin doodles or stories about your roommate’s Guitar Hero fixation, instead of your best and brightest work. And then there’s the strange behavior of frequent Tumblr’ers where you lose track of what any one person is saying or who said it or why after the incessant reblogs.
In that sort of atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to disappear. For quite a while, I liked to just drop something off on Tumblr and track where it goes. It’s sorta beautiful, and serene. They’re talking about the work, and you the artist are often a non entity. Less of the comments are, “you are so amazing.” More of them are, “This is so cool.” The distinction is slight, but it is important to me.
Such anonymity was bad for getting jobs though, which is something I’d like to do with my art. deviantArt is by far the better structure for displaying your best work, and getting people interested in getting you to make more. None of this is commentary on the communities each site has built, just what I’ve gleaned from how each site was designed.
(Fes) Well, I think everyone has been waiting to hear more about the “drawn girl” comic. So let’s move on to that. I’ve got a few starter questions: What was the inspiration to even do a comic like this?
(Psudonym) Here we go.
The answer is, again, much more mundane than people might expect. And it might frustrate some people expecting a big deep secret. I’m not sure if there was some kind of magic behind it that I wasn’t aware of, but the first time I made the comic, I put it together in roughly twenty minutes. And that’s including the time I took in the shower where I thought up the stages to it. The initial prompt was a post, on 4chan again, where someone challenged everyone to make a comic in ms paint. You can find the original in this post. http://psuedofolio.tumblr.com/post/25873005651
I’d initially just wanted to get a small laugh, and thought a lonely artist drawing a beautiful girl is inherently funny and sad. Then somehow this little MS Paint comic struck a chord with loads of people, being reposted again and again. I started understanding the implications I stumbled on and what it can mean to people. A year or so later, I decided to redraw it, which is the version hundreds of thousands have apparently seen.
(Fes) What was the actual intent, theme, or message you were trying to deliver, by the end of the comic?
(Psudonym) Another question I dread, even if I think it’s one of the most important questions an artist can ask themselves. The danger is, that if I start explaining too much, then I take away from all the wonderful various interpretations I’ve followed across the internet. I’ve been messaged from so many people, saying that the comic had reached them or made them laugh or cry. In the interest of their privacy, it’d be unfair if I told their stories. But if they’re reading this now, I can say they touched me as well.
I get the feeling that’s not a satisfactory answer. Let me just add that most every interpretation I’ve seen has merit. In particular, the most popular line of thinking relates that it’s a short story about the relationship between a creator and their creations. To that end, I felt I needed various stages to describe how an idea evolves. You’ll start with only the idea of a person. But then they change, or sometimes they surprise you. The story needs things from you, so you accommodate. But often, you’ll grow an affinity for them. Caring about your favorite characters, long after the story is over.
The act of artistic creation has so many parallels to other aspects in human life, that the themes it touches on became nearly endless. The second most popular line of thinking, tended to be that the girl represented a literal daughter for the artist. And this opens up a whole ‘nother metaphorical can of worms. But it’s just as valid an interpretation as the first. When I had a chance to remake it, I was careful NOT to write this interpretation out, so people can still read into it that way.
I guess I’m saying that if I was thoughtless in the comic’s inception, (I just wanted to get a quick laugh), I’ve been thoughtful in not stepping over people’s toes. When I redrew it, I had an opportunity to expand upon the artist’s personal story or alter the stages of her drawing. But instead, I was mindful I needed to let the reader read it however they wanted. The stages of her growth as a drawing, merely show a character becoming more complex in their creation.
There is one thing I feel like I should point out. I was very particular about leaving the dialog in the comic to appear only on “paper.” The interpretation I’ve seen the least, but is just as valid as the others, is that the artist had only drawn her dialog. And he is categorically insane.
(Fes) What was the initial reaction to the comic after you posted it?
Even counting the original ms paint version of it some years ago, the positive reaction was immediate. I slowly realized I’d stumbled onto something that interested more people than just a bunch of goofballs on an image board. That doesn’t mean I did much to push it, people re-posted it on their own for months. It was much later that I decided to take an evening and redraw it.
I finished that cleaned up version some random Sunday morning, and anonymously posted it to a tinier image board. Someone re-posted it to 4chan. Then other people posted it to other boards on 4chan. Then it got to Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon. And it got remixed, and redrawn, and re-posted again and again. It has a knowyourmeme article that covers that. ( http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/can-i-be-drawn-better#fn1 ) I couldn’t have been more impressed.
It was a couple years later that I finally had a blog, and I just posted it. ( http://psuedofolio.tumblr.com/post/2078647333 ) It was the first time I posted it for myself, as “myself.” And because I hadn’t figured out how Tumblr worked, it got roughly a mere dozen notes. And that was just fine! But then, sometime earlier this year, someone found it and it got re-posted a bunch more eventually getting a few thousand more hits. And someone else asked if I had a better version of it. I mentioned I was going to format it better for Tumblr. (http://psuedofolio.tumblr.com/post/25863240761)
And that’s now the post we’re talking about, which exploded again, and eventually brings me here.
(Fes) Were you surprised to see it get over 117,000 reblogs and comments? Or are you just that popular?
(Psudonym) I will never, in my life, know 100,000 people. To know that more than that count of people around the world have read something I’ve done, fills me with humility at the connections we have made as a species. And what I feel like is the most amazing thing, is that I feel like I did the least amount of work on it. People posted it to their own blogs, or shared it with their friends, or took the time to comment happily and angrily. Somewhere around 70,000 notes I stopped getting personal messages and the comic was again taking a life on its own. The reader’s words, not mine, carried it along, and I can contentedly let it do its own thing.
I try to read everything that’s said about it, though it’s oftentimes so much to keep track of. It was only luck that I was sitting in a cold dark room with a tiny shared portable 3G hotspot that I noticed the Webcomic Beacon’s Tumblr which I didn’t even know you guys had one, brought it up in the middle of the latest round of controversy. I suppose this is the first time I’ve ever elaborated on it, or myself, in any kind of fashion. I am clearly bad at this self promotion thing.
(Fes) Were you completely surprised by some of the negative comments?
(Psudonym) As much as I was surprised by the positive reaction to be sure. But for a time though, I was pretty baffled at how people zeroed in on the long hair versus short hair argument. I read a lot of those comments and it just seemed so petty to me. But I’d come to understand it better, which in turn made it easier for me to accept. There’s been a recent spat of much more angry comments though.
(Fes) Let me just say that I initially found this comic to be absolutely adorable, and I love it. But I do have to say… if you really read into it… there are things that people can interpret negatively. Let’s go into some of those negative comments, because I think this is a great way to see the difference of intent versus interpretation! Now, the first negative comment I see is when the girl asks if she can be “pretty”. Personally, I thought she looked cool before she got the longer hair and… I think I said a more “elegant” look? Well, I’ve seen some comments bringing up commentary about an idealized definition of being “pretty”. Would you like to comment on this?
For one, I prefer the short hair version myself. If I can find it, I’ll attach the little side drawing I did just mocking my own work for my friends. But yes, there are certainly things in the comic that are fair to interpret it negatively.
(Psudonym) On the notion of me as the comic’s creator personally defining an “ideal” version of pretty, I know the thought crossed my mind while I was putting the drawing to paper. I do know I had to sit down and think for a bit, does this really make sense as “prettier.” But I was coming at it from a storytelling point of view, and I wasn’t attempting to make an actual value judgement. What I was looking for was the stick person to evolve into something else older and more detailed across a minimum of panels, and I wanted broad easy to read icons that defined that. I used what were essentially generic signs of “prettier” and “smarter” with the hair and makeup and graduation hat. They are ridiculous cartoon versions of “prettier” and “smarter” where the only goal was to show the reader that a change happened and the drawing was becoming something more.
Should I have instead of having her ask, “can I be pretty?” she would ask, “could I have longer hair?” That might’ve made a better, more clear comic, but it doesn’t quite sound as… resonant. I think that suggestion was made well after a few thousand people declared the comic offensive. I’m a little saddened that some people seem genuinely hurt. But I’ve said this before, editing a comic again this old and established feels kinda silly.
(Fes) To me, both of the versions of the girl look pretty to me, but I also have a very odd or complex opinion, and perhaps sentiment, on the “attractiveness scale”…. but we don’t need to go into that…
(Psudonym) Oh c’mon. I’m sure your readers here are just as curious about you as they are me. I’m ready to bet Penny Arcade’s readers love hearing about Tycho Brahe’s “attractiveness scale.”
(Fes) That’s a whole other discussion… Anyway, at this point, I don’t really have a problem with the comic (even though I thought she was great the was she was). We move right into the next point of content, where the drawn girl states that she doesn’t want to be an airhead, and asks if she can be smart. I think the obvious path that some negative commentators will go with this one is the “pretty = dumb” stereotype. Would you like to comment?
(Psudonym) Yes. I suppose I did play on that stereotype. Sorry if that offends.
If it makes those readers feel any better, what I feel like she was expressing was some of her own fears growing inside her as an evolving person. The way that she shows self doubt, was intended to make the stick figure infinitely more human and imperfect in just one quick panel. The fix presented to her was just as quick if wholly inadequate.
If it were a longer story, this particular character could be seen as developing a complex where she believed this stereotype and that it somehow applied to herself. It could be a long story about coming to grips with the pressures attractive women have over what people assume about them. It might go on about how she undervalued herself, maybe as a means of intentionally making people be unafraid of her. She was informed all her short life and society that a pretty girl is by their nature silly or dumb. It’s why she felt she needed the icons of say, a college degree, to try to put to rest the misconceptions of her peers. I like to think that these complex and beautiful stories were expressed in a couple of lines.
By the end of the “Can I be Drawn Better” comic strip though, none of that is really answered. Which I felt was fine. The little comic is what it is.
(Fes) I personally was getting the feeling that this is a character that was growing and developing on the paper, though some people felt she was being… rather submissive. Particularly when she thinks to herself if she’s being too needy.
(Psudonym) Submissive is probably one way to read that. The argument could also be made that she’s learning to be manipulative. Either way, it didn’t seem to me too egregious an offense. I did hope to show she was growing more complicated, like you just mentioned. But it couldn’t be in anyway that was too overbearing one way or the other or else the reader disconnects. A comic this short, can’t survive that kind of character shift.
I have to say though, my favorite remixes of the comic always had the drawn character growing more angry at the creator, with the character coming into being as someone more combative and rebellious. They’re a lot funnier than my drawings! But the relationship with the creator figure, the artist in the comic, reads falsely as if the drawing has some kind of choice in the matter. There’s a whole larger conversation about humans futile yelling at a god who may or may not care, but that wasn’t the approach I was taking.
(Fes) Yeah, the comic, when you see the whole thing, doesn’t at all feel it’s supposed to be a sexist statement at all! Especially the last panel! I can tell you, that if it were my comic characters, they would be chewing me out for writing them this way or that…. In fact, THEY HAVE! Yeah, I love playing with 4th Wall stuff and character awareness. The two characters of mine in questions, Nemi and Jenny, I feel are my best written characters!
(Psudonym) It’s not too late to draw your own “Can I be Drawn Better” remix!
(Fes) So in the last couple panels, she thanks “dad” and we see the artist is male. I thought this was cute; but I feel that if the artist was female, maybe there would be less negative comments about the prior panels?
(Psudonym) This probably tells a lot about me but I thought it was “funnier” that the artist could be seen as a sad guy, and can be interpreted as a lonely male type caricature. The artist with immense power over the fate of their creations is also an impotent figure of pity waiting for their Ruby Sparks to appear, or some junk like that.
I suppose one subset of negative comments could have been avoided if the artist were depicted female, “Thanks mom, you’re the best.” But a new crop would have shown up afterwards, right? You can picture a lot of the same comments being made, except it’s now raging about how overbearing mothers groom their daughters to be perfect little ladies.
(Fes) Huh… You make a fine point.
(Psudonym) It’s the rule of the world really, the internet just gives the people with problems an open forum to express themselves. I’ve been a 4channer for a long time and have seen the worst. What keeps me sane is knowing that, a lot of the time the angriest of comments are just speaking to hear themselves speak. It’s not a great way to hold a conversation, so I lose my interest in them.
(Fes) Because it kinda begs the question at this point, are you, the actual artist, male? Female? Androgynous? Non-Gender? Enigma?
(Fes) I’m not sure it matters so much, as artists of all genders seem quite varied on how well they can write characters of the same or differing gender…. Though it does seem that most sexists artists tend to be male (from my personal observations, anyway).
(Psudonym) Sexism isn’t exclusive to men, but men have had the majority of commercial jobs in comics and illustration. And they’re just too used to not being confronted by their male peers. Very few of them actually look to offend, but they don’t really know what the line is. Oftentimes artists just miss the fine line that exists between sexist and sexy.
I’m no kind of person to say that you have to avoid sexism at all cost, never offend anyone, stay safely within the confines of universal good taste. I know I’ve strayed well off that course happily and often. But I could offer that you’re more often to be sexy if you avoid sexism. Does that make sense?
Sorry for the tangent.
(Psudonym) Personally, I’m usually an advocate of letting the work speak for itself. Letting it sink or swim on its own. True meaning of a work of art is always a dangerous place to comment, as any piece of art only exists once the viewer or reader has pieced it together themselves. This is especially true of comics, where the reader is both masking themselves into the caricatures and filling the magical in between panel spaces.
But it’s also important, as an artist to have your own version that’s true. Something of a clear intent, so you know what you’re aiming for and how best to share that with the reader. It’s about the only objective way to judge a work of art, is how successfully you inform a reader of the ideas in your head. So, despite being very cagey about it sometimes. Every artist worth their salt knows what their intent is, and can talk about it at length.
Assuming the artist is being truthful, of course. Unless they are in total denial about… ok, I’ll stop there. No need to start reading into artists themselves at this point!
That’s the angry internet’s job.
(Fes) You’ve been a great sport and very tolerant of me! I thank you very much for that and the opportunity to speak with you! Is there anything else you would like to comment on before we close the interview?
(Psudonym) I suppose one can ask why I’m chatting with you, if I believe so much in letting the work speak for itself.
As callous a person I can seem to be sometimes, I am genuinely interested in reading and understanding every comment or message I get. It’s a way of extending the conversation or the connection between artist and audience, and learning more about how I’ve met people indirectly. When my follower count was just a few hundred, I would love seeing who was following and who was reading. Notes numbered in the single digits, and I was always able to find out more about who liked what.
Now that I’m at a few thousand, and a piece like drawn girl can inexplicably get thousands of hits or comments a day, there’s no reasonable way I can follow or interact with individuals anymore, either to assuage their anger or find new and interesting avenues. So opening up to something like the Webcomic Beacon, seemed like a way to help bridge that gap. So thanks! I’m sorry I’ve used you!
(Fes) It’s totally symbiotic.
Do you have any projects coming in the future that we might like to look out for?
(Psudonym) Salamander is going to be awesome, and it’s coming out one way or another. Besides that, Amazing /co/Ventures should be fun, and free. And besides that, I’m looking forward to making regular comics again. Hopefully I’ll be making these short single serving stories to be sold online and be entirely great at it.
And hell, if I’m not too busy, Question Duck is still open to coming back.
(Fes) Well, Psudonym, Thanks again for talking with us at The Webcomic Beacon!