Interview: Walter the Wicked
1. What your Walter the Wicked is about.
Mike Hearn: Walter the Wicked is probably best described as: What would someone with limitless power do if he did not actually want to rule the world. Walter is definitely an agent of chaos, so he would never seek to impose any kind of rule or order to his world. He will frequently unleashes monsters and disasters of apocalyptic proportions, but he always recalls them before they go too far... relatively speaking. Walter is a scientist, or as close to that classification as one can get in his universe. He wants to know how everything works and what everything does. Generally at the expense of those around him. Particularly the residents of the town he established, Prosperton.
2. Would you consider Walter your alter ego?
Mike Hearn: I think a little of every artist goes into their creations, but Walter is about as far from “ME” as I have ever gone in developing a character. I sure wouldn’t mind having just a small fraction of his power, but I am not sure if I would handle it as well. Well, in the sense of not becoming a supreme ruler that is. I would very likely have much of the same fun with it that he does.
3. How long have you been producing the comic?
Mike Hearn: I have been working on it since may or June, 2013. It was very important to me to build up a buffer. I launched on July 3. I currently have 7 strips up.
4. What were you doing before decided to start this webcomic?
Mike Hearn: The moment before? I was being a smartass on Twitter. A joke I made was literally the birth of Walter and his world sprang from there.
If you mean, more generally, I was not doing too much differently than what I do now. I have a wife an daughter who get the lion’s share of my attention and free time, I work a full time job, and I tried to draw as much as I could (though never as much as I should have). This was not my first foray into comics, though. I think I have always been into or creating comics. At least for as long as I have taken drawing seriously. My comics work had never been published before I did some guest strips for Twxxd.com.
5. Are you still working a full time job? If so as what?
Mike Hearn: I am one of the fortunate few who work from home. I design awards, trophies, sculptures and art pieces for the corporate world. While I operate, and pay taxes, as my own business, I am really more of a contract employee.
6. How long have you worked in this field?
Mike Hearn: I have been doing this for more than 10 years now.
7. How do manage to find the time to manage the comic and a full-time job?
Mike Hearn: There is only one way to answer this question: Sacrifice.
To elaborate, here is what I chose to limit in favour of Walter:
Sleep - A large chunk of my comic work is done late at night. Since I work full time I try to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep from Monday to Thursday, but that usually flies out the window from Friday to Saturday.
Video games – This one has been really tough, but it’s also strange. As much as I miss them, I am having so much fun with the comic that I cannot see ever trading back. If I can ever build a time machine, though, SO MUCH GAMING will be done! (Though, if I cannot find the time to game, where will the time to design and build a time machine come from? Lousy paradoxes!)
8. What inspired you to pursue this career path? Was this something that you knew that you wanted in life or was it found through opportunity?
Mike Hearn: I have wanted to draw, as a career, since the age of 12. I had a friend in school at this time who was an amazing illustrator, even then, and he was a real inspiration to me. I went through many different stages in the sense of exactly what part of this path I wanted to follow, (animation, comics the usual) but I eventually settled on toy design.
When it came time for me to go to college, I decided to start local to beef up my portfolio. The plan was to move on to a proper art school after the two year comprehensive design and illustration course. By the time I had finished, I had changed my tune and decided I was done with school. I graduated, among the top of my class to boot, but I had had enough of the traditional education system. It just was not for me.
Over the next 3 years, I worked anywhere I could. I had some design work and even ran my own graphic design business for a short time, but it was very unstable. With bills to pay and both my wife and I being tired of working retail and other non-creative jobs, I decided to expend my search beyond my home town in Southern Ontario. It was not long before I found a position designing glass awards in Northern Ontario.
I did a lot of tech classes in high school and kept my CAD skills up since I left and this made me the perfect candidate for this kind of work. While they may not be for children, I do, in fact, design toys. Since then, we have moved from Northern, to Central Ontario, where I now work from home.
After 10 years of working for the same factory (5 on site, 5 remotely) I was offered a position at a smaller company, one of my clients, and I have been with them now for the last few months, still working from home. The work is mostly the same, but my pallet is no longer limited to the materials/processes of one factory.
9. Talent in an art field will only take you so far. Would you agree and why/why not?
Mike Hearn: I would have to agree, mostly because this is true of life in general. To get anywhere is business or life, you have to be able to communicate and present yourself in a manor that will allow others to work with you. No one can get through this life alone.
10. X number of years ago you graduation from college and started in career as a creative professional. At that point you had a particular yet limited skill set; what sort of skills did you need to learn in order to evolve to the position that you hold now?
Mike Hearn: Patience. Still learning that... When to shut up. Although, I almost fear I am learning that you can take that one full circle. As in, I talk enough to get myself into trouble sometimes, but I have so much experience talking that I always seem to be able to talk myself right back out of it. When to fight. I would say this has been more refined than learned as I have always been fairly good at choosing my battles, but I have certainly still been surprised by the new challenges I have encounter after a decade in this industry.
11. What sort of educational foundation did you need to do what you do now?
Mike Hearn: I am a HUGE believer that education is important, but not for the reasons one may think. I am actually self taught on the vast majority of what I know creatively. The course I took in college helped me to refine my base skills and I did indeed pick up a few new ones, but nothing that I could not have taught myself. Particularly now, with the internet being as useful as it is. So certainly, anyone could learn all that I know without ever setting foot in a class room. Although, I am pretty sure I would not hire that person. If you are unwilling or unable to meet the commitments of a college program, even a 2 year degree course like what I took, then how can I know if you would be willing or able to meet my commitments? There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but I find these exceptions frequently lead to slower paths to smaller destinations.
12. What inspired you to start your own webcomic?
Mike Hearn: As I mentioned above, Walter was born from a joke I made twitter, but I had actually decided to start a comic, long before then. Possibly when I was twelve if you want to get technical. In a more measurable or relatable way, it was my cousins who run Twxxd who were probably my biggest modern inspiration.
13. How has working in (field) helped you to develop skills that you needed for your comic?
Mike Hearn: Working in a creative field has likely helped me develop my artistic skills in a general sense, but more likely it has helped much more with my sense of timing, scheduling and general workmanship.
14. Did you work on other comics (personal, community, etc.) or similar works in the past?
Mike Hearn: When I was 12, I completed my first comic. It was based on a character I created and was probably 30, full colour (I think), TERRIBLE pages. I still have it. I will have to dig it up some day and maybe share it... Maybe. For most of my pre-teen to high school days I created many short comics and strips. In a more recent history, I have done 4 (soon to be 9) guest strips for Twxxd.
15. What did you do to market your web comic?
Mike Hearn: Not much yet. Being so new, I want to build up more of a back catalogue before I go too far. For now, I have been sticking to Twitter and Facebook for my promotional needs. Going forward, I am going to be looking for advice and resources.
16. Have you set up options to monetize the comic? Or do you have plans to do so in the future?
Mike Hearn: I have no shame in admitting that I want to make money with this venture. What that means specifically, I do not know just yet, but I will certainly be using it to generate revenue. One thing I am really uncertain of, though, is advertising. If I do it, I want to do it right. Right now, much of the webcomic world seems to fill their page with ads that do nothing good for the aesthetic of their art. My understanding is that, without a GIANT audience, this hit to the look and feel of these sites is not even being properly compensated for. I want to avoid this as much as possible. When the day comes, I will likely use the site primarily to sell my own abilities as an illustrator and likely some merch.
17. How much planning was involved for your comic before you started your first page?
Mike Hearn: Walter was originally intended to be a one off gag. Once I drew him and Smeagor, though, I knew I had something special. From there I wrote, I think the first 8 strips and dozens of concepts. Next I began sketching characters. Before I launched my first strip I wanted a buffer of 8 strips. If I remember correctly, launched with 9 in the bag.
18. What platform are you using to host your webcomic & why?
Mike Hearn: Wordpress. If there was something better, I would likely use it. I am not actually fond of Wordpress. I am not fond of designing for the web in general, though, so I am not sure I could ever be happy there. When I can PAY someone to do the web work for me, I will.
19. Now that the comic is regularly updated, how far ahead have you planned? How much of that has been scripted/drafted?
Mike Hearn: As of now I have 31 finished written comics, and I could not even begin to tell you how many future ideas. I currently have 10 characters (regular and recurring) in various stages of development. My buffer is a bit in flux because of the guest strips for Twxxd, but I think I am sitting with a dozen in various stages of completion. Including 7 ready to post.
20. Walk us through the process of making a page for your comic.
Mike Hearn: I always start with an idea. Be it a character, a joke and just a rough concept, I write this out, very roughly. Often even just a few words.
Next, I write the strip. Considering I do the art myself, I can leave more to the imagination that some, but I still make sure that I describe enough to visualize it properly.
These scripts generally only take up half of page, so I will print these out and use the lower half of the page to create a thumbnail rough. And when I say rough, I mean it. If anyone saw these, most would think I had no idea what I was doing as an illustrator. I have actually attached an example.
As I have yet to take the financial plunge into a proper tablet monitor, I still do all of the roughs and final pencils the old fashioned, analogue way. I will generally use an HB (just an old school, school pencil) for the thumbnails and then a combination of non-repro blue pencils, mechanical coloured pencils and a mechanical H lead pencil for the finished lines. I will also, usually, go back over it all with the HB to make things pop a bit more.
Now I have to scan it. I draw as large as possible, sometimes on 14”X17” Bristol and sometimes I do the individual panels on sheets of 9”x12” Bristol, but I do not own a scanner large enough to digitize these. My work around is actually pretty simple though, and surprisingly effective. I just pin them to a cork board on my wall and take a photo with my camera on a tripod. It is no where near scanner quality, but my pencils are only a means to get me to the inking stage any way, so I don’t need them to be super crisp. Although, I am often surprised by how good of an image I can get this way.
Next, I take the “scanned” art into Photoshop and I straighten it out, (It is never straight from the camera), crop it, convert it to grey scale and darken the remaining lines so I can seen what I am doing when I ink.
The last stages, for me, are likely very different from most. I like vector art. I like how clean it is and that you can reproduce it at literally any size you want. My weapon of choice for this is Corel Draw. A highly underrated program if you ask me. It’s handling of nodes alone, (vector artists will know what I am talking about here), make it light years ahead of anything else I have tried. Sadly, this is still a fairly tedious process, but I am not sure if, when I do finally get a tablet monitor of some kind, I will ever change from this as the end results are just so clean. I intend to record an inking session one day soon, so I can share it and to see what others think of it. While I am not likely the first to do it this way, my impression is it is pretty rare.
Lastly, I apply the colour and text. While I will likely always stick to Corel for the text, I would honestly prefer to colour in a more traditional manor. Corel does not handle this terrible well, but it is fast, and that is what matters most with my current schedule.
21. Any story teller has a message to communicate with their audience. With a medium such as web comics, you have ability to speak to the audience on many different levels. What message did you intend to deliver through your comic, if any?
Mike Hearn: Cannot say I went into this with those kind of intentions. I really just wanted to share something I created with the world. Walter would likely give whatever message would cause the most mayhem. “Go play in traffic!” or ”Unleash demons from the underworld in your basement.” I do not endorse either of these plans.
22. Do you feel that your audience has a powerful sway over your characters whether it be through story or their actions? If so, how have they influenced the story? Was this intended?
Mike Hearn: What is this audience you speak of? When I have one, I have always been open to constructive criticism, but I cannot say I would be one to alter a character or plot just based on the whims of said audience.
23. Where do you see your web comic in the next few years?
Mike Hearn: Updating regularly. Seriously though, I definitely want to take this venture as far as I can. I would really love to see this become a cartoon and toy line. That would probably be the real big dream.
24. What are some of the steps that you plan to take in achieving that goal?
Mike Hearn: Updating regularly. That’s definitely where that will start. Then, it will be the very simple matter of marketing this to the right people and developing a following to make it all financially viable? That's all easy, right?
25. If you could go back in time to visit your younger self just as you are about to start this project, what would you tell him/her?
Mike Hearn: I would go back much further than the birth of Walter and plant the seed in, say, a 20 year old me. Not sure what else to say here other than I wish I had thought of it sooner.