Vanessa Stefaniuk Takes Us Backstage With The Band For ‘Radio Silence’ [Webcomic Q&A]
Vanessa Stefaniuk's webcomic Radio Silence is the story of a British rock band on the rise. In the latest of our interviews with webcomic creators, ComicsAlliance spoke to Stefaniuk about her influences, her decision to work in webcomics, her planned crossover with Agents of the Realm, and how she's drawn on her own characters to create her own alternate universes!
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis for Radio Silence? What genres and inspirations does it build from?
Vanessa Stefaniuk: Radio Silence was conceptualized with a friend around the beloved concept of an alternate universe (AU). The classic coffee shop, the “what if they were fantasy royals instead?” The characters had existed prior, and my love and admiration for the behind-the-scenes aspect of a musician’s life took hold to flourish into a story all its own. What always will make me laugh is that this AU is, technically, now the canon!
The comic is an amalgamation of genres, in my opinion, ranging from drama and romance, fitting into slice-of-life and coming-of-age genres as well. It’s got humour and pop culture references tossed in for good measure! One of the very first references the reader will be hit with is one from Empire Records, one of my favourite films, and definitely a solid influence, given the musical nature and the “day in a life” feel I’m going for with my comic.
CA: What’s it about?
VS: Radio Silence is a coming-of-age tale of a British rock band’s rise to fame. It follows the career of the band as they begin to find success in their career --- which, of course, won’t come easily or smoothly, and [won't happen] without some roadblocks along the way!
It’s about friendships, relationships, and what happens when the lines there are blurred… what happens to a group of friends who are also coworkers who live on a tour bus and spend every waking moment together… Let’s just say, things get complicated, and not just in terms of the guitar solos!
CA: It’s cool that what was conceived as an AU is now a central universe. Where did these character first originate from? And could you talk a bit about developing them in a new "universe?"
VS: For sure! Most of the characters have existed in some capacity for nearing fourteen years now. Of course, they’re thankfully much, much different than when I first conceived them as a budding writer and artist, [but] they’ve always had a certain part to play in the stories.
Without giving too much away, it’s entirely possible that my personal canon and the comic’s canon coexist thanks to supernatural elements in the former! Unfortunately, I went the safe route with my first webcomic and decided on a simpler contained concept rather than an expansive, all encompassing one. It’d be another fourteen years before I’d see the end of such an ambitious project, I think!
CA: Given unlimited time and resources, what other AUs would you like to see these characters in?
VS: I would definitely want to try tackling the original story, and I have concepts and an outline written for a variation AU involving a few yet to be introduced characters. The original story --- now, I don’t want to get too spoilery or get anyone’s hopes up that any of this fun sci-fi happens in Radio Silence! --- it involves an immortal race of people who blend into modern society but have the role of guardian angels for humans. Their eldest members are people of myth and legend, accidentally inspiring religion and mythological stories in ancient humans before it’s decided that their involvement with humans should become more discreet. The story would focus on one particular person, the humans in their life, and what happens when those people are gone. Which is how Radio Silence ties in --- that person can witness other alternate universes and relive vicariously their life in different circumstances. Meta! And completely what I’m imagining they’re doing with Radio Silence.
It’s really entertaining for me as a writer to push my characters, to pull them apart to see how they tick given completely different circumstances of birth or setting. It’s so interesting to see how many times I can reinvent them in alternate universes that I’d be hard pressed to say that Radio Silence is the last time that fans of my work will see these characters.
CA: Who is the intended audience, and do you suggest any age restrictions or content warnings?
VS: The comic is intended for a young adult, college and above audience. Not to say that anyone younger can’t enjoy it, but as one might assume with the life of a rock musician, the comic will touch on more mature themes as it progresses. Such themes will include domestic abuse, self harm, sexism, sexuality, neglect, and life threatening medical conditions. It will also contain swearing and the occasional sexual themes, albeit avoiding being explicit.
CA: Has your creative approach for the webcomic itself changed since its inception?
VS: Telling a long form story in slow motion, and over the course of years as webcomics tend to take, is such an interesting approach and a very steep learning curve. I’ve spoken with creators who have had their webcomics for years, and they still struggle from time to time with how to approach such a strange beast that is webcomic creation.
Myself, I’ve always been about the storytelling. When I started the comic, I had mapped out all the story beats, then written out in more detail my favourite scenes. Perfect! Now just... how to bring them all together! I’ve learned on the fly that despite all the planning you could give your story, the best way I have to see if it works is to go ahead and do it. Make it! Webcomics don’t have to be --- and often won’t be --- flawless in their execution due to the nature of the piece-by-piece storytelling. I put my webcomic out there in the hopes that someone will enjoy the story I want to tell. That hasn’t changed since I started it, and I hope that part won’t ever change!
CA: What drew you to webcomics and the platform you currently use?
VS: I’ve always been a storyteller struggling to find my outlet. I studied animation in college and absolutely loved bringing characters to life through the animation process. But working in the industry made me realize that what I really wanted was to breathe life into my own characters. I had friends who already established webcomic artists whom I looked up to and saw that I could bring my desire for telling stories to an entirely different stage. I began with shorter stories in anthologies to build up my confidence toward launching a long form story, one I knew I would be committing to for years. But there’s nothing like the learning and improvement I’ve gained from the actual experience since taking that leap!
CA: What’s your process like?
VS: I generally work in scene blocks. I still have an animation mindset, and it might show in some of my pages and panels that have a cinematic quality to them. My work process is still relatively slow compared to other artists (that’s the trick --- stop comparing yourself to others! Do your thing if it works for you!). Penciling take a day, inking takes a day, colouring/effects/lettering takes a day. Earlier in the year I was working from update to update, and mine have 3-4 days between them. Just enough time for me to keep up, but never quite get ahead!
CA: Do you think self-publishing this story granted you freedom that you might not have had elsewhere?
VS: Self-publishing is quite freeing for most creators! Radio Silence isn’t a particularly absurd concept that it couldn’t be picked up readily by a publisher, but self-publishing has granted me the freedom to not only create it now, but create it the way I want to. If I had waited to try and set Radio Silence on a fishing hook and dangled it til someone bit, it wouldn’t exist in the capacity it exists today, nor would I have gained all that invaluable experience in creating it.
Also, self-publishing has allowed me to connect with another creator, namely Mildred Louis of Agents of the Realm and establish a familial connection between two of our lead characters, which will culminate in a crossover!
CA: There are a lot fine touches in Radio Silence and its production: integrated fan art, mouseover comments, musical score, and even a giveaway! Is it fun figuring out new ways to interact with the comic and its audience?
VS: Absolutely! I’m always blown away by the enthusiasm and feedback I receive from readers, most especially the ones who post regularly and pledge to Patreon. As crafts are my hobby, I really enjoy product design, which I think my patrons are very aware of, given that I send them a lot of unique merchandise every so often as thanks!
I also like to try and keep up the immersion with Twitter accounts for some of the characters, who will tweet exclusive pictures of them on the bus or at a photoshoot or even at the movies when Star Trek Beyond came to theatres! Occasionally they’ll tweet about the merchandise I’ve made as if they're available at shows. I like to think readers find it as entertaining as I do!
CA: Many people may not associate comics crossovers with webcomics. What prompted the Radio Silence/Agents of the Realm crossover, and what’s it been like collaborating in that way?
VS: Mildred Louis of Agents of the Realm was one of the key people who encouraged me to make my webcomic. We studied at Sheridan College together in animation, which is how we met and know each other. It’s been extremely fun to collaborate with her, especially since it means there’s a give and take of story secrets between us!
One of our many casual webcomic conversations led to [the question] “What if Norah and Matt were related in some way?” and spiraled into us deciding that they’re cousins and planning out what that could mean for either of them. Story-wise, it was surprisingly easy to find places in either comic’s story to write in the big crossover. Radio Silence readers will meet the Agents when the band tours stateside. I’m really looking forward to it, though it might be a while yet in either story!
And if we both manage to make the crossover arc in our comics happen at the same time… well, we’ll say we’re really good at planning…
CA: Which other webcomics would you recommend to readers who like yours?
VS: Agents of the Realm, The Substitutes, Fantomstein, and Shaderunners!
You can follow Radio Silence on its website and support it on Patreon. For more from Vanessa Stefaniuk, check out her portfolio and Etsy shop. Until November 21st, Stefaniuk is hosting a Radio Silence giveaway featuring a wide array of webcomic merchandise.
If you have a webcomic you’d like to suggest for an upcoming Webcomic Q&A, send a tip to jonerikchristianson[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line “Webcomic Q&A.”