Darths and Droids is written and cobbled together by the Comic Irregulars, a team of eight working on their lunch break to give us a comic. We thought it would be fun to sit at the cool kids table for a while and talk DnD, Star Wars, and how it feels to have a fan base.
Which Star Wars movie is your favorite? If it’s different, which movie are you most excited to get to with Darths and Droids?
I always have trouble with “favourite” questions, because I usually like different aspects of different things and can’t decide on an overall winner. My least favourite, however, is Attack of the Clones. For Darths & Droids, I’m most excited about Episode III, although we have cool stuff planned for all the future movies.
As scary as it sounds, the poring over episodes I and II necessary to make Darths & Droids has actually given me a real appreciation of them. We have exciting ideas for what to do with all of the movies, but of course we can’t reveal our future ideas without spoiling them. The idea I’m most excited about so far is something in Episode V, which we’ll probably get up to some time in 2012.
Empire is probably the best on its own and the one I’m most looking forward to in Darths… although I still have a soft spot for The Phantom Menace because it’s the first one I saw on the big screen. And A New Hope set the bar pretty high in terms of world-building (galaxy-building?); it’s a bit quirky in hindsight but for me it was the only one of the movies that really gave the impression of a world (galaxy) that was much bigger than the one on screen.
My favourite episode now is Episode 5, though I’m pretty sure everyone’s favourite-in-their-heart is the first episode of Star Wars they ever saw at the cinema, and for me, that’s Episode 4 (at age 7).
I’m looking most forward to doing Episode 3, though frankly I can’t think of an episode I’m not looking forward to doing. Now that we’ve finished Episode 1, I find myself looking back on it more fondly — for all its many faults it’s still a spectacular film. I really, really hope that I get the same from Episodes 2 and 3.
Return of the Jedi was always my favourite of the original trilogy. I guess it’s because that’s the first one I saw at the cinema, so it made the biggest impact. I’m very much looking forward to doing Episode 3, although we’ve got exciting things planned further in advance than that!
What is your most memorable experience in a D&D game?
Keeping within D&D, it would be the time I played the classic dungeon deathtrap crawl “Tomb of Horrors”. We played for a couple of hours, checking *everything* for traps with extreme paranoia. We got into the first or second room, and couldn’t find any way of proceeding except to try something that looked extremely suspicious and positively reeked of danger. But with nothing else left to do, we tried it — and all died instantly with no saving throws. That’s the inspiration for Darths & Droids strip #5.
If I can expand to any roleplaying game, the best experience was running a GURPS game in which the characters were trapped on a space elevator with an atomic bomb. It was placed next to the magnetic couplings, so they couldn’t use the metal tools they had for fear of accidentally having them ripped out of their hands while working on the bomb. So, naturally, they defused it with plastic cutlery.
Maybe it’s the elaborately careful yet confoundingly carefree way in which Jim “helped” to rig the race, or maybe it’s when Annie manipulated Pete into blowing up the entire area they were meant to be exploring. Oh wait, you’re asking about MY most memorable experiences? The truth is, my own role-playing experiences haven’t been anywhere near as interesting.
I might be unique amongst the Comic Irregulars in never having played a pencil-and-paper role playing game! I’m only familiar with the rulebook concepts via their implementation in computer RPG’s.
Aside from people just reading your comic, you’ve had people dressing up as “cheddar monks”, the infamous Jar-Jar google search, and an eBay auction that raised AU $180. Are you surprised by the activity of your fan base?
I think some of the other guys are a bit, but I had a moderately popular webcomic before we started Darths & Droids, and knew what sort of things the fans did. And I always thought Darths would appeal to a wider audience, so I expected some fan activity to follow.
(And can I just point out that the auction was for charity – not for ourselves!)
You referred to the throwaway comment we made in a strip annotation that the phrase “Jar Jar, you’re a genius” gave no hits in Google. It led so many readers to check this for themselves that the phrase was Google’s 40th most-searched-for term that day. That was a surprise and a delight, as is each time we see a fan do something creative in response to the comic (many examples of which appear in our Fan Art page). That kind of fan response is what makes me think it won’t become a struggle to get through all six movies (although it might take us a while).
Yep. The latest thing that caught me by surprise was the “give her blog a zillion hits” activity from the Summon Bigger Fish episode.
We owe a lot to David Morgan-Mar in having a fan base from Irregular Webcomic! ready to go when we started, and to Shamus Young for (repeatedly) sending his DM of the Rings readers in our direction. Without them our fan base would probably consist mainly of our immediate families. After we make them read it. At gunpoint.
I think all of us (except maybe David Morgan-Mar) are surprised at just how successful it’s been. It still doesn’t feel real – we just meet up a couple of lunchtimes a week at work and do them, and it still has the vibe of a private joke. Definitely the most viewed hobby project I’ve ever worked on!
One aspect that amazes me is how well our “writing room” works together. It’s a very sparky, analytical, aware group, with big personalities and amazingly passionate arguments about the slightest little things. Maybe the writing-by-committee aspect does knock off some of the more insane corners, but really, we try very hard to make everyone happy, and I think that does a lot to add to the depth of the strip (such as it is).
Of course, it just wouldn’t be possible at all without DMM. His work ethic and enthusiasm are amazing.
Yes, it’s a nice surprise to see this sort of thing. The nicest bit of feedback we received was of a family with young children who decided to forgo television for a week, and instead go through the episode archive of Darths & Droids on their big-screen TV, with each family member being assigned parts to read out!
It’s often surprising to see a huge mismatch between our enthusiasm for a particular strip, and to how that strip is actually received. We were excited about the flashback sequences in Episode 1, but many of our forum users complained that this section was uninteresting and taking too long.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts about webcomics as a medium?
I think the best thing about webcomics is that they’re on the Net, which means anyone who wants to publish and express themselves in the medium can do so. You end up with a lot of stalled attempts and mediocre output, but you also get the gems that no publisher would ever stick on to a printed comics page. The freedom of the medium is what makes it exciting. Any idea you think of, you can go ahead and do.
And despite sitting here for 5 minutes, I can’t really think of anything bad about webcomics as a medium. Perhaps that the abundance of content means it can be difficult to find the gems — but the nature of the Net means that word spreads about good stuff, and you hear about the good comics if you keep an ear open. And it’s just as hard sifting through a bookstore, so I don’t see it as any worse than traditional media.
Comics are great because they’re a fusion of two of the most successful artistic media: the visual, and the textual. Like movies, comics can deliver breathtaking scenery or imagery-based humour, and like a book, enough is left to the imagination to stimulate the mind. Despite this, comics are often seen as a low-brow form of entertainment by mainstream Western society.
The biggest advantage of webcomics over print comics has to be the ease of publishing – costs are negligible compared to the effort of creating the work, regardless of whether it’s read by hundreds or hundreds of thousands. There’s also the freedom to experiment with ideas only possible on a digital device, including interactivity, unusual formats, or a programmatical component. We don’t do much of this in Darths & Droids, but we try out some of the crazy ideas we think of on our Mezzacotta site.
The one thing that annoys me about it is how drawn out it is in time. In most other media, the audience gets the story as a whole across a few hours or days. In a webcomic (or any syndicated comic I guess, although those are more often gag-a-day strips), they get a tiny piece of the story a few times a week for what is often years. It makes it tricky to get the pacing right. Every strip needs to re-establish context, and generally have its own self-contained plot points and punchline. If we drag a storyline out too much or try to take a breather from the action, regular readers start getting impatient; but we also need to accommodate for new readers who are doing an archive binge. It’s a tricky balance to get right.
My favourite part though is that it’s a very interactive medium. It’s possible to get a lot of feedback at every step — if we were publishing, say, a graphic novel, we wouldn’t get any response from the fans until it’s already finished. As it is, we have a lot of information about what people like and don’t like, and we incorporate that as we’re writing the story, which is something we couldn’t do otherwise.
One positive aspect is that you can find something that only appeals to a niche audience, and be very successful in it. In the world of printed comics, you need to attract a broad audience to succeed. Also, for a serialised comic that tells an ongoing story, the webcomic medium breaks down several barriers that may otherwise discourage new readers to join halfway through. One negative aspect of webcomics as a medium is that comparisons to other webcomics are very readily made, and it can be difficult to avoid having such comparisons made by our audience. For example, every new line-art based webcomic is going to automatically be seen as inferior version of xkcd, rather than given a fair chance to carve out it’s own identity.
Do you plan to put out any merchandise for DnD? If so, what? If not, what silly ideas for merch would you reject?
Funny you should mention that. We will be announcing the availability of merchandise very soon – possibly before you publish this interview. [The store is now live, as predicted. –ed] We need to be careful not to step on copyright or trademark issues, so we’re restricting ourselves to designs based on our own original content, without using movie or character images. We’re putting together our ideas right now.
I don’t think we’d reject anything out of hand for silliness. We have an intrinsically silly comic, so silliness is an advantage!
The one thing we are rejecting, however, is making any profit from merchandise. We will have a small mark-up over production cost, but we will be donating every last cent of that mark-up to The Jane Goodall Institute. We didn’t get into making comics to make money, so if people like them enough to consider giving us money, we’d rather redirect that money to a good cause than pocket it ourselves.