A little steampunk, a little fantasy, and a whole lotta' western! Eisner-nominated creator Erin Mehlos invites us to take a closer look into Next Town Over.
1. For the poor souls not already reading, please give a brief synopsis of your comic.
Sure. NTO’s a steampunk weird western about apparent bounty hunter Vane Black and wanted magician John Henry Hunter. They’re basically locked in ongoing combat and totally (or at least mostly) blind to the collateral damage they’re causing. The particulars of why they’re fighting is sort of the central mystery of the series.
2. What materials and/or software do you use?
I pencil the comic traditionally, scan it, and clean up and color in Photoshop. NTO has no inks because I’m an iconoclast. Okay, actually it’s because I’m lazy and I think it looks nice and fittingly rustic without inks.
3. Are there any books, movies, toys, artists, or authors that have inspired or continue to inspire your comic?
Well I really got into comics initially because of Jhonen Vasquez, Chris Ware and Mike Mignola so I guess I’m forever indebted to them. More broadly, though, I’ve always liked westerns in every medium, and Next Town Over is loaded with homages to the big movie westerns.
4. Are any of your characters based on real people in your life?
Ha. Well. This seems like it’d be a definite “no” but when I actually think about it … No, I think explaining that would qualify as a spoiler.
5. Are there any actors you know you would want to play or voice certain characters in a movie of your comic?
Not really. I always hear Hunter’s lines read by a young Johnny Cash but unfortunately he’s no longer with us.
6. What songs would you like in a soundtrack of your comic?
Oh, anything evocative of the old Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov scores. And some songs by Neko Case, Calexico and maybe De Votchka.
7. What is your overall goal for your comic?
I guess I’m just trying to tell a fun Western with a lot of explosions in a way that hopefully keeps people engaged and guessing. Both of my protagonists are mostly unlikeable in their own ways and its fun seeing people react to a story where they really aren’t sure who -- if either of them -- they want to win.
8. How has managing a comic impacted your life?
Well it takes up a huge chunk, that’s for sure. For every hour spent drawing the thing I spend another hour working on prepress, or the site, or managing advertising or what have you.
But apart from the massive outlay of time I guess it really hasn’t. Well I mean. I was in the local paper and I periodically get to do interviews with folks like you. Those things are pretty cool.
9. What do you do to advertise your work?
I advertise a fair bit through Project Wonderful campaigns; it’s a good, inexpensive way to start drawing a pretty focused audience. I did mess with Google AdWords for awhile but they’ve recently become more hostile to webcomics in a number of ways.
Cheaper than ad networks, though, is just sharing the comic via Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc.. That can get a lot of eyes on your comic, for free, who’d probably never see it otherwise, and all those types of communities are built around the ability to further share & recommend content so sometimes you can really hit the jackpot with a given update. Make it to the front page of Reddit (something I’ve yet to manage) and you’re rolling in readers for a few days: all you have to do is hang onto them.
10. Web comics can be very time consuming and sometimes expensive to keep up. Often there is little reward in regards to money and sometimes public attention. Why do you do it?
Well fortunately modest sales and ad revenue cover all my costs, like the server and my materials and whatnot, but they don’t, obviously, cover my time at a decent living wage and that’s really where the real expense is. I guess I do it because I’ve always been deeply compelled to do something with visual storytelling and I’m not a filmmaker or an animator or a programmer ... and I really really like interacting with people who are into what I’m doing.
11. Got any other projects we should know about?
Right at the moment Next Town Over’s about all I’ve got time for, but I’m semi-involved with DRAWMORE INC (I was in the first Nobodies Anthology) and although it’s sort of stalled out now I was doing a kind of improv collaboration with Jon Cairns of Alpha Flag. Oh, and I guess I’m working on a prose-only novelization of NTO, mostly for fun and to keep me motivated working on the comic, but that’s barely anything yet.
12. What advice would you give to aspiring creators?
Assuming you want to do comics (or whatever) for the right reasons (that is to say, because you want to tell stories and make stuff and not because you want to impress people and make a million dollars -- those are unlikely outcomes), then just jump in and get started. Not everything will be successful and nothing will be perfect or even as good as you intended, but everything is a learning experience; everything levels you up, so to speak, as a writer or an artist. And never let yourself stagnate. Don’t ever assume you’re done learning your craft. You can always get better and you will if you keep challenging yourself. I know personally I have a really long way to go.
Thanks so much for taking the time Erin!
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Thanks for dropping by! Now mozy on to the Next Town Over which updates Saturdays!
Next Weds.- The Specialists writer Shawn Gustafson and artist Al Fukalek!
If you would like to be interviewed about your web-comic send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org titled "interview" with a link to your comic.