Webcomic Creator Max Huffman On The Magic Of ‘Mocktopus’
Despite the fact that the Webcomic world's tendrils span the greater length of twelve multiverses, those seeking sequential art satisfaction can always count on their friends for RSS-worthy additions via word of mouth.
Thanks to the chaos magic of social networking, more and more readers are discovering the magic of "Mocktopus," a twice-weekly updated comic by North Carolina artist/improv actor/blogger/high school student Max Huffman. Short story: It's on my Google Reader now.
Huffman's growing portfolio is pretty much the definition of talent on the rise. It's experimental, it's irreverent and has a generally tone/art style that varies between professionally polished and endearingly rough around the edges. That's why even though the "Mocktopus" creator isn't shy about his influences and relative inexperience, he manages an informed optimism that everyone from first-time readers to veteran creators can appreciate.
Read on for a look under the hood of one of Webcomicdom's most promising up-and-comers, who talks craft, comedy and coming-of-age in a scene cut from the cloth of tomorrow.
ComicsAllinace: "Mocktopus'" archives show that the current site's been around since April. Is this your first formal Webcomic, or have you self-published in other outlets before?
Max Huffman: Oh, jeez. I've been Webcomicking since 2006-ish or so. I did a bunch of really terrible stuff in middle school. I've deleted just about any trace of it left. I still do a collab comic with a friend, but it's very on-and-off-- "Mocktopus" is definitely my first "formal" attempt at Webcomics in that it's got a schedule and I'm not just goofing around.
CA: What can you tell us about your inspiration for the site? What kind of comic book or Webcomic influences helped you take the plunge? Any favorite sites/creators?
MH: The inspiration for the site itself came from me realizing that 1) it's really easy to put out a Webcomic these days, and 2) the little one-off comics I was making in order to get away from big srs epic projects were way better and easier to produce than the big srs epic projects ever would be. As far as creators go, KC Green's stuff has been a big influence, to the point of probably being obvious. Octopus Pie is always an inspiration, both in art and writing characters. One day I hope to update as often and consistently hilariously as John Allison. Pictures For Sad Children has the kind of comedic timing and humor I would kill to have. Seriously. If you put something animate in front of me and told me that killing it would give me John Campbell's sense of timing, I would do it.
CA: On one "Mocktopus'" most distinguishing characteristics is its somewhat experimental format in style and in story. So far it's been a mix of stand-alone strips, presumable autobio shorts and hybrid story lines featuring recurring characters. How do you characterize the way you've steered the strip so far?
MH: I'm going to go with "ridiculously erratic". It's how I keep myself from burning out. If I was doing a comic with the same characters, in the same storylines, in the same style, I would probably get stuck in a rut pretty fast-- same if I was doing nothing but autobio comics. I'm really unprofessional that way. What I'm doing with "Mocktopus" helps me avoid that rut.
CA: As demonstrated in your strips, you're currently in high school, which gives you a pretty unique perspective on the state of Webcomicdom and the world in general. What advantages/disadvantages do you think you have as a relatively young creator in an ever-growing scene?
MH: I don't want to make it sound like I'm the only person my age doing the whole Webcomic scene-- there are tons of young creators out there doing stuff that puts mine to shame. That being said, it's a difficult balance. I don't want to be pigeonholed as a "high-school-cartoonist", or have my work judged in the context of "oh, this guy is just a kid, let's overlook his comic's glaring flaws because HE'S JUST A KID YOU GUYS". A big concern of mine is that I'm being cut a lot of slack because I'm in high school. At the same time, I realize that "check this fella out, he is makin' a Webcomic AND HE'S JUST A KID YOU GUYS" is something that gets me traffic and maybe even a leg up on the competition, so I'm not going to complain too much.
CA: Among various social references you have quite a few music/scenekid/emo jokes in "Mocktopus." While the commentary is mostly facetious, what draws you to the themes you've visited so far?
MH: I don't visit "themes" so much as "easy targets". If I come back to a topic, it's usually because I can't think of anything else and it is very very easy to make a joke about that topic. I'm trying to move away from falling back on those easy topics so much. They're kind of a cop-out. Do you know how easy it is to make jokes about emo kids? It's pretty easy!
CA: In the strip "I've Got A Million Of These" you touch on the difficulty of monetizing a Webcomic (specifically through merchandise). Hopefully this isn't too serious of a question, but do you have any goals for "Mocktopus" at this point? Or are you kind of taking things one post at a time?
MH: I'd love to get "Mocktopus" to a point where selling merchandise would be a cool thing to do. I am nowhere near that point. Right now my goals are very basic-- update regularly, do consistent work, stuff like that. Selling merch, or even getting an audience large enough to warrant the creation of merch, are pretty far off at the moment.
CA: Can you tell us a little about your illustration process? How do your comics go from an idea to the laptop screen? How do you think your technique has evolved since you began? (I've noticed they've kind of gone from hand-drawn and scanned to completely rendered digitally using Photoshop - or maybe Manga Studio)
MH: My illustration process is all over the place. Usually I pencil and ink it by hand, and then letter and tone it haphazardly in Photoshop. When I do it entirely digitally, I use Flash. I very rarely script a comic ahead of time. I'll know what the joke is and how to get to it, but how it fits into three or six panels is almost always decided on the fly. You know, just like how the pros do it.
CA: What kind of comic consuming habits do you have personally? (Superhero titles, indie stuff, Webcomics, trades, single issues, etc?) How do you think this material factors into your own art?
MH: I love all kinds of comics. I read a bunch of Webcomics. Webcomics are excellent. Sadly, I don't read as many print comics as I'd like, just because I don't have the cash. Every time I read a comic, I try to learn something from the art. My art style is really just a thousand tiny plagiarisms.
CA: A lot of Webcomic artists have taken to "live drawing" as a way to connect with their audience. Have you considered podcasts, "live drawing" or any other activities to expand your site so far?
MH: Again, it's a matter of whether or not it's a silly thing to do given the audience I have. Another issue is that my process does not exactly lend itself to live broadcasting-- I'm very easily distracted. No one wants to watch a guy checking Twitter every two minutes and changing music constantly and seeing if anyone commented on that link he posted on Facebook. But I'd still like to try it sometime!
CA: Anything else we should know about you, "Mocktopus," or your plans for the site?
MH: I am a Cancer. I won second-place in a Lego competition when I was eleven. My middle name begins with "R". My favorite color is blue. If I was any animal, I would probably have a tough time typing.