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Q&A > Q&A with Ben Carlsen

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message 1: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments The Q&A with Ben Carlsen will be held here on June 22 @ 2 pm Central/3 pm Eastern. Ben Carlsen is the author and artist of The Bird Feeder. Feel free to post any questions you may have early, especially if you will be unable to attend the event.


message 2: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
I'm hoping to be here later today for this, but just in case here are a couple of my questions:

Do you have any specific inspirations/references for The Bird Feeder (either comic-wise and/or comedic in general)? It has a sitcom feel to the humor that's quite distinctive.

Are you planning/thinking about doing any other webcomics in the future? Any ideas for/desire to do one in the graphic novel style genre?


message 3: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Alright, I'm here. I'm ready. Let's do this.


message 4: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Hello, Ben!


message 5: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Hi Ben!


message 6: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Greetings! I guess I'll start with Mike's previous questions...


message 7: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments >> Do you have any specific inspirations/references for The Bird Feeder (either comic-wise and/or comedic in general)? It has a sitcom feel to the humor that's quite distinctive.

My biggest comic strip influences are Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), George Herriman (Krazy Kat), and Walt Kelly (Pogo). I think their influence has gone into most of the comic strips that I do, joke-wise, story-wise, and art-wise.


message 8: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Are you planning/thinking about doing any other webcomics in the future?

Not at this time, but who knows what could happen. If I did do something else, I'd probably do a single panel gag strip. I have a soft spot in my heart for those.


message 9: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Ben wrote: " If I did do something else, I'd probably do a single panel gag strip. I have a soft spot in my heart for those. "


Which ones do you like?


message 10: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Any ideas for/desire to do one in the graphic novel style genre?

You know, I've thought about it, but I've never done anything like that before, so I don't know how it would work out. I've spent my whole life studying comic strips, and although I read comic books/graphic novels for fun and quite enjoy them, I wouldn't know where to start with that. As I said, though, I have thought about it. I'd enjoy doing a longer story. I couldn't see myself doing something entirely serious, however. Humor creeps into everything I do. I've been writing a novel for a while, and it's supposed to be serious, but it's hard to keep it that way sometimes. :)


message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "My biggest comic strip influences are Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), George Herriman (Krazy Kat), and Walt Kelly (Pogo). I think their influence has gone into most of the comic strips that I do, joke-wise, story-wise, and art-wise. "

Those are certainly awesome sources of inspiration. Do you have a particular favorite character among them? Did any of your characters start as a rough analog of a character or combination of characters from them?


message 12: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Kristen wrote: "Ben wrote: " If I did do something else, I'd probably do a single panel gag strip. I have a soft spot in my heart for those. "


Which ones do you like?"


The Far Side is, of course, a classic and is one of my favorites. My current running favorite is The Argyle Sweater. (You may notice that most of my tastes are in the newspaper comic style :) ). I also like Brevity, F-Minus, Domestic Abuse, and Berger and Wyse.


message 13: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Those are certainly awesome sources of inspiration. Do you have a particular favorite character among them?

I love Linus, Calvin, and Krazy Kat. I love the characters that wax philosophical and poetic, but are funny animals or little kids who really shouldn't be doing it. It gets my mind working and is inherently amusing at the same time.


message 14: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Where did you come up with the idea for The Bird Feeder?


message 15: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "As I said, though, I have thought about it. I'd enjoy doing a longer story. I couldn't see myself doing something entirely serious, however. Humor creeps into everything I do. I've been writing a novel for a while, and it's supposed to be serious, but it's hard to keep it that way sometimes. :) "

Definitely a good thing to keep in the back of your mind. Even just experimenting with the form a bit could be fun.

Personally I love things that keep humor and light touches present even in serious work. What's the novel about?


message 16: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Did any of your characters start as a rough analog of a character or combination of characters from them?

Most of the characters are either a part of me or someone I know. I didn't base them on certain characters, more on personality types. Although, as I said, I like the characters that wax poetic and philosophical, so I think Lewis is certainly that way. You can certainly see a lot of strips that are influenced by the Peanuts kids sitting with their arms leaning on a wall, discussing whatever their problems are. So, they're not based specifically on them, but on their, I dunno, feel, if you know what I mean.


message 17: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "The Far Side is, of course, a classic and is one of my favorites. My current running favorite is The Argyle Sweater. (You may notice that most of my tastes are in the newspaper comic style :) ). I also like Brevity, F-Minus, Domestic Abuse, and Berger and Wyse. "

I'm actually not familiar with of most of these (Far Side of course being the exception). Will have to check them out. :)


message 18: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Kristen wrote: "Where did you come up with the idea for The Bird Feeder?"

First of all, I like birds. I didn't know a lot about them before I started, but I always like them as animals, and I didn't see a whole lot of strips with bird characters in them. At least, not that were actual birds. I'd seen what I call "people in bird suits," in strips like Shoe, but not actual birds living bird lives. So I wanted to do one.

I read a Charles Schulz quote that said, to paraphrase, that you have to come up with who the characters are first, and then the concept will follow, and not to base it on a cute concept first and make the characters later. So I had a broad concept, birds, and then I came up with the characters. I based the characters' personalities on what type of bird they are. Darryl and Edna are cardinals, and cardinals mate for life, so they're "the married couple." Josh is a black capped chickadee, and chickadees are little and pudgy, so he's a kid with a cap on. Lewis is a crow, so he's the depressed, poetic type. Tina's a hummingbird, so she's hyper... etc. Then I just ran with putting them together in different situations.


message 19: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Personally I love things that keep humor and light touches present even in serious work. What's the novel about?

It's a sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction novel about a long-lived alien race that creates worlds. It's been in my head for years, just haven't gotten it all written down yet. :)


message 20: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments I'm actually not familiar with of most of these (Far Side of course being the exception). Will have to check them out. :)

They're all on gocomics.com, if you were interested. :)


message 21: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Ben wrote: "Kristen wrote: "Where did you come up with the idea for The Bird Feeder?"

First of all, I like birds. I didn't know a lot about them before I started, but I always like them as animals, and I did..."


So when you came up with the idea, were you specifically trying to make a webcomic?


message 22: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "I love Linus, Calvin, and Krazy Kat. I love the characters that wax philosophical and poetic, but are funny animals or little kids who really shouldn't be doing it. It gets my mind working and is inherently amusing at the same time. "

Linus and Calvin spring to my mind as favorites too. That's a great aspect to emulate. I agree it has an automatic appeal and humor to it.

Ben wrote: "So, they're not based specifically on them, but on their, I dunno, feel, if you know what I mean. "

I totally get it. :)


message 23: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "Kristen wrote: "Where did you come up with the idea for The Bird Feeder?"

First of all, I like birds. I didn't know a lot about them before I started, but I always like them as animals, and I did..."


Neat variation, and the personality parallels are cool. Do you have any other specific birds (and traits) in mind to introduce in the future?


message 24: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments So when you came up with the idea, were you specifically trying to make a webcomic?

You know, originally I wasn't going to do a web comic. It was originally supposed to be a newspaper comic. It's been my dream since I was a kid (maybe 5 years old) to have a comic strip in the newspaper. I loved them, and still do, which you can probably tell from what I've said my influences are. :) I did a previous (very bad) comic strip that I actually submitted to the newspaper syndicates, and they sent me very nice form letters back saying "No, thanks." I immediately came up with a new idea, The Bird Feeder, and only for a second thought about submitting it to syndicates as well. However... I could see the writing on the wall. Newspapers in general don't really care about new comic strips that much, and their budget for the comics page is usually dismal. Also, webcomics are an incredible, booming medium that I could do pretty much anything I wanted with. So I decided to give it a try. And I found out that even though it wasn't my dream, that the creative freedom I have is so much more rewarding than fulfilling that dream.


message 25: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "Personally I love things that keep humor and light touches present even in serious work. What's the novel about?

It's a sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction novel about a long-lived alien race that ..."


Sounds like an interesting concept. Do you find prose more challenging than comics (because of having to add scene descriptions, etc)? Easier (no concrete space limit on the story, etc)?


message 26: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Do you have any other specific birds (and traits) in mind to introduce in the future?

I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. A song sparrow who is a musician, maybe? :) I've actually gotten (slightly) into bird watching since doing the strip, so it's possible I might come up with something else.


message 27: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Ben wrote: "So when you came up with the idea, were you specifically trying to make a webcomic?

You know, originally I wasn't going to do a web comic. It was originally supposed to be a newspaper comic. It..."


It's unfortunate that newspaper comics are a dying art, but fortunately for everyone, webcomics are gaining popularity. How did you go about starting up your webcomic? Like creating the website and stuff.


message 28: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Do you find prose more challenging than comics (because of having to add scene descriptions, etc)? Easier (no concrete space limit on the story, etc)?

Each has its unique challenges. Every medium just has a different way of conveying whatever it wants to convey. Prose can convey some things that visual art or graphic novels can't, and vice versa. I can do either, depending on my mood. I think that's why I became a cartoonist. I like art as well as language. One of my favorite quotes is from Richard Thompson, who used to do Cul de Sac (another of my favorites). To paraphrase, what makes someone a cartoonist is not necessarily a facility with combining art and language, but an inability to decide which one you'd rather use.

Also, the examples you cite can be challenges, or they can't be. The ability to add scene descriptions can actually be a benefit. You can make someone call attention to something that they might not look at in a drawing. Not having to limit a story may not necessarily be a benefit, and may actually be a challenge sometimes. Having complete freedom to do anything you want may give you too many choices, and you may not know what to decide on. On some days, having those four little panels be all I get can be quite comforting. :)

Just saying, there are challenges and benefits to everything, which is why I work in more than one medium.


message 29: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "To paraphrase, what makes someone a cartoonist is not necessarily a facility with combining art and language, but an inability to decide which one you'd rather use."

Neat perspective. Awesome that you work in different mediums - definitely agree that it with you on challenges being part of the point and diversity being very beneficial to creativity.


message 30: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments It's unfortunate that newspaper comics are a dying art...

No kidding. :) Imagine dreaming of being in a newspaper since you're a kid, and then right at the point when you're ready and about to break into the world, the thing you dreamed of doesn't even exist anymore... I literally cried when I realized it.

...but fortunately for everyone, webcomics are gaining popularity. How did you go about starting up your webcomic? Like creating the website and stuff.

I googled how to make a web comic. :P No seriously. I had no idea how people did it, so I searched it out. I looked at free hosting options first, but wanted it to look at least slightly professional, so I scrapped that idea. I tried SquareSpace for a while, but wanted something that was a bit more customizable and that I could do whatever I wanted with code-wise. Finally, I found out about self-hosted WordPress, and that most people used ComicPress for their web comics. Tried it. Didn't like it, because it's a theme, and I wanted a web comic that could be put into whatever theme I wanted. I tried a plug-in called Webcomic, which I used for quite a while, but found I didn't like as much. Right now, I use StripShow, which works well for me. The maker of ComicPress now has a plugin called Comic Easel which can be used on any theme, and I had been considering switching to it for a little while because the StripShow developer went very quiet for a while. He's back now, though, so I think I'll keep using StripShow for the time being. I use the Thematic theme to build on, and I learned all kinds of CSS so I could tweak it properly. It doesn't look amazing, but good enough. :)


message 31: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "Also, the examples you cite can be challenges, or they can't be."

Oh absolutely. That'll vary by person, project and even (or perhaps mostly) mood. Was just brainstorming a couple possibilities. :)


message 32: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Ben wrote: "It's unfortunate that newspaper comics are a dying art...

No kidding. :) Imagine dreaming of being in a newspaper since you're a kid, and then right at the point when you're ready and about to bre..."


Had you read any webcomics before you made your own?


message 33: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Had you read any webcomics before you made your own?

I had read a few. Most of them had been newspaper comic style, like mine. I'd read XKCD, Penny Arcade, Ctrl-Alt-Del, Diesel Sweeties (which actually got syndicated for a while!!), and a couple now-defunct ones on computer geek culture that I forget the name of. I'd heard many, many references to Cyanide and Happiness, though it's not something I read or have read. So, I was aware of some things that were out there. It wasn't a completely new world to me, though not nearly as familiar to me as newspaper comic strips were. I didn't read many episodic, graphic-novel-page-a-week style ones, except Gunnerkrig Court (which I haven't read in a while, unfortunately).

Even now, newspaper style webcomics are still the main types I like to read, like the one I picked for the Webcomic of the Month, Maximumble, or Bug (which is now called Bug Martini, oddly enough). I'm not sure what it is, because I read comic books, too. It's just what I'm used to.


message 34: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments I've one last question(well, two) and then I think maybe it's time to start wrapping things up?

Is Bird Feeder traditionally drawn or digitally drawn? And are you classically trained or self taught?


message 35: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments Is Bird Feeder traditionally drawn or digitally drawn?

I do it entirely digitally. I have a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet that I do all of my work in. I draw it in Manga Studio 5, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to draw digitally. It works so well with tablets, and feels very natural, just like you're drawing on paper. I love it.


message 36: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments And are you classically trained or self taught?

I went to college and got a bachelor's degree in visual art. Not an art college, but I guess you could still call it "classically trained," at least in traditional art. I had only taken a few art classes up to that point, and I really liked doing art, but wasn't that great at it. So I went to college to learn and get some practice, not to get a degree. Weird, huh?

Now, digital art is another story. I'm more what you call "self-taught" on that end, which you can probably tell from my early Bird Feeder strips. :) There was no digital art program at the college I went to, so I learned a lot about traditional art, but nothing about digital. So when I got a tablet, I didn't really know what I was doing at all. Learning to use the tablet and drawing software together was actually kind of hard to start with, especially since I had a much cheaper tablet than I have now as well as much worse software (big tip: Photoshop sucks for digital drawing).


message 37: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments I think maybe it's time to start wrapping things up?

Either way. I planned to be here for as long as anyone had questions. Looks like you and Mike are out of them, though. :)


message 38: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 1179 comments Yeah, sorry we didn't have more people :( But thank you very much for doing this Q&A with us. It was a lot of fun!


message 39: by Ben (new)

Ben Carlsen (arkholt) | 28 comments No problem! :) Thanks so much for letting me do it. Thanks to you and Mike for all your questions!


message 40: by Mike (new)

Mike | 1505 comments Mod
Thanks Ben! :) Very interesting stuff!


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