Grinding For That EXP: Madeleine Flores on ‘Help Us! Great Warrior’ [Interview]
Madéleine Flores’s Help Us! Great Warrior begs the question: must great power always come with great responsibility? Don’t get our heroine, the eponymous Great Warrior, wrong --- it’s totally important to help people, slay monsters, loot dungeons, all that stuff. But can’t you take a break sometimes too? Can’t you celebrate your victory with some pizza bagels and a stack of trashy magazines instead of brooding over the cruel paradox that is your life? Responsibility is great, but every good hero needs to know how to treat herself and her friends.
It is this commitment to fun and fearlessness that defined Help Us! Great Warrior as a webcomic and now enlivens its pages in print. In the wake of the comic’s inaugural issue, ComicsAlliance sat down with Flores to discuss fun, friendship, and fantasy.
ComicsAlliance: How did you get started in comics?
Madéleine Flores: The first mini comic I ever made was with my friend in elementary school. It was about a squirrel who was a super hero and he fought junk food (I think?). We were both in love with Nickelodeon Magazine and the comics section in there. I'm pretty sure that comic is still somewhere in my childhood home, haha!
Then, in high school, I had a Livejournal and through LJ art communities I clicked around until I ended up on Lucy Knisley's Livejournal. She was in college at the time and doing journal comics about her experience and I thought that was so cool. So I tried doing them too! I learned more and more about indie and webcomics and got hooked!
CA: Your work spans a variety of genres and media. What can you do in comics that you can't do anywhere else?
MF: You can do anything in comics. You can tell any story about any character, set it anywhere and any place and time. It's amazing!
CA: Comedy is hard. How do you bring the funny to Help Us! Great Warrior? Do the jokes write themselves, or is it a harder process?
MF: It depends. I have my good days and bad days. Most of the time I try to talk to as many people and experience as much as I can in a week to see if anything sparks an Idea or a Joke. My fiancé is a professional writer and he has a lot of good writing techniques. When I'm stuck he'll pull out some random writing exercise for me to do and within the hour I've got a joke that I'm happy with.
CA: What has transitioning Help Us! Great Warrior from shortform, gag-strip webcomic to longform, printed work been like?
MF: Fun! I really like the challenge of trying to make it funny and interesting. When I was trying to decide how to do the series I was really worried I wouldn't be able to keep it funny if I did a long story. I really like Shin Chan by Yoshito Usui --- most of the Shin Chan books are a bunch of gags with a longer super subtle overarching background story, so I modeled it a bit after that in a way... but not really so subtle.
CA: Webcomics are undergoing a radical transformation — it wasn't so long ago that they were maligned and seen as a dead end for comics hopefuls. Nowadays, more and more people break into the established industry on the strength of their webcomics — or make a living off them independently. How do you see the state of webcomics and their place in the industry today? Where do you see webcomics going?
MF: I have always loved webcomics and always will. I think they have a lot of power in the industry --- The content is more varied and more easily accessible to everyone. They're definitely reshaping the industry for the better. My whole career is thanks to webcomics!
I really like Patreon a lot too --- I think it's nice that there's an easier way for people to support the artist. Years ago I used to have a paypal donation button on my site but I got tons of messages from people shaming me for asking for donations and I was like 'ok don't look at my comics then bye!' I'm glad that there are alternatives now.
In 5-10 years the people who are starting now are going to probably be in charge of most comic and animation media --- I'm excited to see what they create! (And I hope they will hire me!)
CA: What can you do within the established comics industry that you can't as an indepent webcomic creator? How about vice versa?
MF: I don't really know... yet... I guess... If I didn't feel like drawing, I didn't have to because all my webcomic deadlines were self imposed. On the other side, having a deadline means I definitely create content so I'm drawing way more now than I ever have!
CA: How do you balance working in animation with your work in comics?
MF: It's... really hard, haha! I try to only do my animation work in the office and then at home I only do comics. I think the only luxury I allow myself is sleeping in (because I'm usually up super late working every night) and taking a break on Monday nights to watch wrestling!
Basically, whenever I'm not working, I'm constantly flooded with the guilt of not working! But I think it's worth it. I'm low level and I've got to grind for that EXP!
CA: Your work juxtaposes simplicity and complexity of design to tremendous effect — it reminds me more than anything of Rumiko Takahashi, who can crack a reader up with a few skillfully drawn lines. Are there are specific influences you've worked off of in creating Help Us! Great Warrior? Who and what inspires your work in general?
MF: Well comparing me to Takahashi just made me blush on all four cheeks!
She is definitely an influence, as well as Naoko Takeuchi. Yoshito Ususi, who I mentioned earlier as well, and more recently Mitsuru Adachi. Man! That guy can draw the most exciting baseball games, aah! His panels are so neat and flow so great.
In everyday life (not comics) I am really inspired by fantasy games, nature (trees are so cool), cats, and being lazy.
CA: Do you have in dream projects you'd love to do some day? Any future plans you can divulge?
MF: The next thing I would like to do is a romantic comedy comic about a girl who moves to a big city to try to follow her dreams. She moves in with her older brother who also happens to be a cat. I love consuming romance stories and I think it would be fun to try to do one as well!
CA: Finally — if you lived in a Help Us! Great Warrior style fantasy world, what would your awesome fantasy name be? (I.E. Morlock the Bearded, Paloma the Penniless, etc).
MF: My name is Chunks the Chaotic. I am barely a foot tall and live in a tree stump in the forest. The "Chaotic" part of my name comes from the fact that I am very messy and has nothing to do with my alignment. I prank people who are lost and only help them after they give me a gift. ( I have thought about this a lot.)