Do you remember those halcyon days where men were men, women were women, and comic books smelt of damp lint? Well, get ready to remember again, dear reader. When you find some time to check out the following interview I did with my mate, Chuck Whelon. He’s a very nice chap, don’t you know. Plus he doesn’t smell of damp lint, either. Allegedly.
1) What are your own origins, Chuck? Plus what path did you take in life prior to getting to where you are today? I was born just off of the Basingstoke roundabout in Hampshire, England. Like many kids, I grew up loving to read and draw comic books. And like all cartoonists, I never actually grew up.
My first job out of college was working for a small publishing house, where I started out illustrating a lot of language-teaching books for kids. That job eventually took me out to San Francisco, California, on an editorial assignment, and basically, I liked it so much there I decided to stay. After that I had various gigs working in the graphic design business on all sorts of print and web projects for clients such as Mattel, LeapFrog, Yahoo!, EA, and many other Bay Area companies. All the time I was still drawing comics (mostly Pewfell) plus doing covers for Goodman Game’s Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG as well as any other freelance assignments.
This culminated in a 4-year stint as an art director at a big ad agency. At which point I was really beginning to feel that I was getting quite good at this whole illustration thing, and that it was time for me to focus on what I really wanted to do with my life. Of course, having a wife, a kid, and a mortgage, this made no sense whatsoever. Still, in 2008 I sent out a bunch of portfolios and started getting work illustrating loads of children’s maze and activity books for various clients.
2) What inspired you to create your ‘Pewfell’ comic book? You won’t be surprised to hear that I enjoyed playing D&D a lot as a teenager — plus as a young adult — so Pewfell naturally grew out of that love. When I first started drawing the strip, I really had no idea what I was doing, other than I just wanted to tell humorous, fantasy stories, and have an excuse to draw freaky monsters, sexy women, and far-out places.
Originally it was not much more than just a bit of escapist fun. However, over the years the concept developed into a sort of domestic comedy, and I found that it gave me my own unique voice to comment on modern society and the world in general.
Pewfell started out as a black & white, self-published zine back in the early nineteen-nineties. I began posting it to the web as soon as I could, and eventually began doing it on a daily basis somewhere around the year 2000. It was picked up as one of the charter strips on Joey Manley’s Modern Tales, the first professional webcomics portal, and ran there for many years. Since then it has also run on Drunk Druck, and is currently hosted by Comic Fury.
3) In your own words how would you describe this tale? I describe Pewfell as a semi-autobiographical, epic fantasy sit-com. Pewfell is married to Tina the warrior princess, and the strip tends to focus on Pewfell’s domestic trials and tribulations. It’s just like my own life, but with more gnomes. This latest volume, “Drain of Chaos”, is the culmination of my many years work on the strip. It’s a complete, and self-contained tale, spanning 158 pages.
As “Drain of Chaos” opens, we find that Tina the warrior princess is pregnant, and the irresponsible Pewfell is going to have to get up off the couch and find a way to pay the bills. He takes a job with the city sewer patrol, but soon ends up as chief henchman to the town’s new zombie-mad dictator. Then, as his wife starts to go into labor, the city is attacked by a vast army of darkness, led by two very dapper (but demented) Lords of Chaos. Meanwhile, Pewfell’s lodger, Gnoma, is mounting the greatest musical extravaganza the city of Spirekassle has ever seen. And that’s just the beginning. It’s a truly epic tale, in which the irresponsible Pewfell faces his greatest challenge yet — fatherhood!!!
When I first wrote this story, my own wife, Tina, was pregnant, and gave birth shortly before Tina the Warrior Princess does in the story. I continued drawing the strip until the conclusion of the “Drain of Chaos” story arc, but I made a concise decision to stop working on Pewfell when I began my illustration career, and I never really got around to putting “Drain of Chaos” out in print.
Pewfell had always been a hobby and never made much money. Recently, however, I have noticed that the whole webcomics market has changed. Ebook sales of the series have really started to pick up, and I’ve probably made more from the strip in the past year than I did over the entire two previous decades. So, now that my illustration career had gotten off the ground, I’m feeling that the time is right to start the strip up again on a regular basis.
4) What song would you say best represents this project and why? Oh man! That is a tough one. One track that I like right now is called “Igor’s” by Shooglenifty. It has strong traditional celtic / folk roots with lots of fiddles and stuff, but is also fun and upbjeat, with a strong modern influence. Shooglenifty is the only band I know that can seamlessly mix bagpipes with electronica. That’s the kind of mix I’m shooting for with Pewfell.
5) If you could get a celebrity – either living or dead – to promote your wares, who would you choose, and why would you want to choose this particular person? Err? What? Aside from Alan Moore you mean? I grew up reading 2000AD (featuring Judge Dredd) and have worshiped Alan Moore since… well, OK? Probably only just before Watchmen came out when I really became aware of him — but the man is a master of the form. So in the unlikely event he ever gave me a plug I could probably just spontaneously combust right then and there with the knowledge of a job well done.
However, Danish comedian, Fran Hvam, from the movie & TV series, “Klovn”, is currently at the top of my list of people to play Pewfell in the movie. Frank is the perfect example of the slightly nerdy every-man, bespectacled and therefore a little blinkered. But he is a manly sort of man, in the worst kind of way, always doing inappropriate things and being quite selfish. Yet somehow maintaining a veneer of respectability and an ongoing monogamous relationship.
6) What have you learnt about yourself through this endeavour? And were their any unforeseen obstacles you had to contend with along the way? I’ve learned that all cartoonists must be at least partially insane. That is very necessary to maintain the patience and perseverance to draw a long-form comic on a consistent basis over a period of many years. I really knew nothing about drawing comics when I started on it, but the strip has evolved and grown along with me and at this point I recon I have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing. However, I also learned that I’m definitely more about story, plot, characters, and situations, as opposed to writing the actual jokes. That is why I brought Adam Prosser on board as my co-writer on the series shortly after beginning “Drain of Chaos”.
Adam is much better at the actual jokes than I am. I tend to be more focused on plots and situations. Also, I always want everything to be plausible, whereas Adam has a tendency to careen off towards the super-wacky. This produces some nice creative tension, as I’m always trying to find ways to make his exuberant silliness seem logical. We developed a great working dynamic while writing Drain of Chaos, and the whole thing just got better and better as we went along.
The biggest problem I have encountered is that of self-promotion. I’d rather be drawing the darn comics that surfing around the web trying to plug them — or going to conventions and flogging them to strangers in the aisles. My philosophy tends to be more one of, “if they want to read it, they will come to me”. But I know that doesn’t really make sense and I’ve seen a lot strips get very successful due to their creators just getting out there and being vocal on all sorts of subjects.
7) During your time in this field, what is the one thing that has kept you in good stead? That would have to be my beautiful wife Tina, who has always been at my side and very supportive of my work on Pewfell, even though she doesn’t really get comics at all. That and the fact that I was born with a mild form of Spina Bifida, so I find that it’s easier to be sitting around drawing comics than going out and running marathons — or whatever it is that normal people do these days.
8) If ‘Pewfell’ had a motto, what would it be? No good deed goes unpunished.
And on that note, dear reader, I’d like to thank Chuck Whelon for telling us about his comic book, ‘Pewfell’, as well as direct you towards his facebook page, his website, and his twitter stream. Or alternately, please pick up a copy of his works by clicking on the links provided.