Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Web Artist Wednesday: The Specialists interview

When Hitler uses super humans, the Allies recruit The Specialists! Writer Shawn Gustafson and Artist Al Fukalek team up to discuss their World War 2 action-drama. 

1. For the poor souls not already reading, please give a brief synopsis of your comic.

The Specialists is the story of an alternate-history WWII with super-soldiers. Using an occult artifact, the Nazis have created a team of super-powered √úbermenschen. The Americans respond by making their own team of atomic-powered super-soldiers and these are our protagonists. It’s basically an ensemble period drama with superpowers.

2. What materials and/or software do you use?

Shawn: Nothing fancy on my end. I write the scripts in Google Docs because it makes it really easy to share and collaborate on files. We run our site on WordPress with the ComicPress theme.

Al: I use a drafting pencil and 11"x17" comic boards to draw each page. Once a page is scanned in, I use Photoshop for layout, lettering, and coloring.

3. Are there any books, movies, toys, artists, or authors that have inspired or continue to inspire your comic?

Shawn: My biggest influences are Alan Moore and George R.R. Martin. They are both able to create complex, morally ambiguous characters. I love that they can make you root for characters like Tyrion Lannister (from Martin’s Ice and Fire books) or Rorschach (from Moore’s Watchmen), neither of which is a clear-cut “good guy”. That’s something that I’m trying to emulate with our characters, many of which are quite flawed.

Also, both Watchmen and the Wildcards book series, which Martin edits, are fascinating visions of how the existence of super-powered people might impact the real world, and that’s the kind of thing we’re trying to do with The Specialists.

Al: My list of influences is a mile long. The short list would have to include: Jack Kirby, Bill Watterson, Bruce Timm, J.C. Leyendecker, Alan Davis, Norman Rockwell, and Edward Hopper. I enjoy reading Silver and Bronze Age Marvel comics whenever I can.

4. Are any of your characters based on real people in your life?

Just historical figures like Adolf Hitler and Harry Truman.

5. Are there any actors you know you would want to play or voice certain characters in a movie of your comic?

We actually had a two-part discussion about this in our blog ( and My favorites were Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) as Luke and Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer from Rushmore) as Max, though he’s too old now. Also, I just thought of one that hadn’t occurred to me before: Joel McHale (From Community and The Soup) as Henry.

6. What songs would you like in a soundtrack of your comic?

Shawn: Since The Specialists is a period piece, I’d want the kind of music that was popular in the 1940s. Songs like Bi Mir Bist Du Schoen or Sing, Sing, Sing, or other standards from that era.

Al: My one and only choice to compose the soundtrack would be Thomas Newman.

7. What is your overall goal for your comic?

We have an epic, three-act story in mind for The Specialists. At our current pace, it will take us years to complete, but if we can tell our whole story, I’ll consider the project a great success.

8. How has managing a comic impacted your life?

Shawn: It’s given me something to focus my creative energies on. I’ve puttered around with different projects over the years, most of which never got off the ground, so it’s nice to have a big, ongoing project to dedicate myself to.

Also, it’s helped Al and me keep in touch. Al is one of my oldest friends, but we’ve been separated geographically for years. Before we started working on The Specialists, we’d go weeks or even months without talking. Now, we exchange emails almost every day and speak on the phone once a week. That alone has made the whole thing worthwhile.

Al: What Shawn said. Also, since my part of the process is more time-intensive, it's important to manage the time I spend working on The Specialists. I work full-time and so have just a limited number of hours in a week to create each page. It can be a challenge to maintain my focus and energy week in and week out, but it's important to the both of us to keep a consistent update schedule and never miss a week.

9. What do you do to advertise your work?

We make use of social networking sites, like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. We are also signed up on webcomic listings and aggregators like Top Web Comics and InkOutbreak. And we occasionally run campaigns through Project Wonderful, which is very effective.

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?

Shawn: When Al and I first started working on this project, the ideas just seemed to tumble out of us and fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. As someone who struggles with creativity, it would be a shame to squander an idea that I find so inspiring. I just love our characters and want to see their story told.

Al: I just enjoy creating--drawing especially, but also crafting the story and characters. To me, the process is the most important part, the most fun. It's important to produce the best comic that we possibly can, but the finished product is almost secondary to the experience of creation. That's not to say that isn't immensely gratifying to hear from readers who dig what we're doing and have decided to follow what we're doing because they enjoy it.

11. Got any other projects we should know about?

We are part of two webcomic collectives. The Webcomic Pioneers ( is a group of Colorado-based creators whose aim is to promote the creation of webcomics and provide guidance to fledgling creators. The Collective of Heroes ( is devoted to superhero comics.

We are also contributing to an anthology called Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, volume 2, which is produced by Heroes Fallen Studios ( Proceeds from that book will go toward veterans’ aid organizations.

12. What advice would you give to aspiring creators? 

Shawn: Don’t start a webcomic hoping to make big bucks. If you’re going to do it, you have to enjoy the work itself.

Establish a regular release schedule, whatever that may be, and stick to it. It’s better to start slow and speed up than to over-commit and end up having to cut back on your frequency. Build and maintain a buffer to avoid unexpected delays.

Take advantage of all the free methods the Internet provides to get your name out there. Use social networking sites, message boards, whatever it takes. You can’t wait for traffic to come to you. You have to go get it. If you’re willing and able to spend a little money, give Project Wonderful a try, but use those free resources first.

Al: Be committed to what you’re doing. Don't half-ass it. Put all the effort and passion that you can muster into the creation. Readers won't care about the story that you just slap together.

And most importantly: don't suck. The Internet is full of lousy webcomics. Whatever your part is--writing, drawing, lettering, coloring--take the time to learn your craft and polish your work. Doing something well requires time and effort and practice. No one's going to pay attention to crap. Not for very long anyway.
Thanks Guys. Great answers and great comic!

How do you feel about The Specialists, Shawn and Al's answers, the questions or additional questions you'd like to see in the future. If you don't have anything clever to say, please check the funny, interesting, or cool boxes at the bottom to let us know you were here. 

As always thanks for reading. Now do your duty and read The Specialists updates Mondays!


Next Weds.- Masked Manor by Ruben Moreno!
If you would like to be interviewed about your web-comic send an email to titled "interview" with a link to your comic.


  1. Hey, Mat. Thanks for the interview and the shout-out! Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks and continued success to both of you!