Marooned: The Tom Dell'Aringa InterviewA column article by: Park Cooper
Tom Dell'Aringa does the comic Marooned, which appears on his website, although he also creates and offers print collections for interested buyers. I read some of it (quite a bit, actually), liked it, and immediately asked him if he'd like to be interviewed. He almost immediately agreed, and I almost immediately interviewed him, and almost immediately edited it, at which point he almost immediately approved of my editing. Thrown off by all this unexpected speed, my head swimming, I then forgot to post it on Friday as I'd kind of intended.
This, then, is part one of my interview with the creator of Marooned, a comic about a man and a snotty robot who are stranded on Mars...
Note: This interview does contain some spoilers. You may want to go tohttp://www.maroonedcomic.com/ and just read it all first.
Park Cooper: So what's up?
Tom Dell'Aringa: Just trying to fight off a nasty cold and get some work done :)
PC: Day job work or comics work or both or neither? Do you make your living at comics?
TD’A: No, I don't make a living at comics (sure would be nice though.) By day I work at WMS Gaming, we make casino slot games and software, as a User Interface designer.
PC: I've read half the archives, maybe more. The latter half (or more). What happened was someone I know posted about Marooned in my LiveJournal friends list... Robert A. Howard, a webcomic reviewer. He seemed to have generally good things to say about it, and I found the artstyle attractive.
TD’A: Was that the review from yesterday?
PC: That's the one I'm talking about. Er, I presume.
TD’A: Thanks :) It was a nice review.
PC: Ah, but I've only read the latter stuff, my man. I came in right around [VERY MINOR SPOILER] when she tries healing our hero who's sick, if that shows you where I came in.
TD’A: Gotcha. That’s still a pretty rough art area, in my book... Only in the last year do I feel it's become respectable artwise...
PC: Now, I know nothing other than what I've picked up from reading. Do you write and draw and color this magilla or what?
TD’A: It's all me, from concept to final colors.
PC: Okay, that was the vague impression I got... so now I can ask you my next question which is what would you say is/are the influences on your art style? And I ask that because I felt there was a certain Frenchiness I picked up on. Do you know... oh, what is his name... the guy who does Dungeon... and Astronauts of the Future... TRONDHEIM
TD’A: Well, like everyone, I have lots of influences. And yes, totally influenced by French comics - Trondheim and Moebius - HUGE Moebius fan. I like that line that is expressive and simplistic. It's very hard to do right. I'm not doing it right yet.
TD’A: I've read Dungeon and his Space stuff
PC: SPOTTED IT
PC: No, I think it's going well!
TD’A: Thanks! But also Charles Schulz is a huge influence. And comics of that generation. I'm not so much influenced by mainstream stuff at all - particularly not the big two.
PC: I think you started really ironing the final bugs out right after [VAGUE SPOILER ALERT] she got back from her little mental test and saved Dear Old Gang
TD’A: Yeah, that's a point where I started to improve.
PC: From the time we find out [MEDIUM SPOILER WARNING] that Ugo is a mostly-robot, I don't really remember seeing art flaws.
TD’A: Because I hadn't drawn seriously in like 20 years (literally) it has taken some time to shake the rust off. I actually have a Fine Art degree.
PC: And yes, I have also seen a Sparky-inspired expression now and then. Mostly on our hero.
PC: Since he's the most human-looking.
TD’A: Right, only makes sense. There's a little bit of Dagwood in his hair, too.
PC: So next question-- do you have-- son of a gun, there is, you're right.
TD’A: :) Most people miss that. I think only one person has ever mentioned it.
PC: I think I was aware of the Bumsteadness on some very subconscious level
Next question-- do you have a solid endpoint for this story? A rigid outline? Or could it go on forever and you're just having fun being inspired and jazzily improvising as you go?
TD’A: Well that's a good question. Theoretically it could go on forever. Just writing new episodes and new stories...
PC: Yes, theoretically... but...?
TD’A: There's no rigid outline, as far as the big picture.
TD’A: But I when I do an episode now, I have it all laid out first. Having said that, right now when Marooned comes back next week, I may be experimenting with themes vs. episodic content for awhile. It will give me a chance to explore more characters and not be "stuck" to doing a specific story. I have two strips done for that already. Then I may flow into the next story.. or not. It's unclear at this point :) But the strips will be more "gag" in feel vs. story.
PC: Awww! I liked the way you were doing it. Less strippy, more plotty.
TD’A: I'm not saying the episodes are going away - don't get me wrong. I'm saying I'm going to expand my horizons a bit.
PC: Not that I want it MORE plotty-- I think the balance in what I’ve read has been exactly right.
TD’A: Thanks, it's been a struggle.
PC: Well I'll judge when I see it, I guess, but I'm fearful
TD’A: Part of this comes from having a tough time plotting out the next story :D
PC: Yes, the most recent page feels like a big landmark, a change/shift
TD’A: Yeah, it's definitely a landmark. But I don't feel that I can ever abandon the "big story" entirely. That's part of the appeal in the first place.
TD’A: And, it's a big part of what I enjoy doing with the strip. But sometimes it's nice to get a breather.
PC: Me, I'm selfish. I want the same plot balance to continue. But I've voiced my opinion and will try to stop.
TD’A: Hehe :) I'm sure you're not the only one that will have that opinion - but at least give me a chance before you judge.
PC: How often do you update?
TD’A: I update twice a week, Monday and Thursday. I wish it were more but it's not humanly possible in most cases.
PC: Is it hard to keep to that schedule? I'm gonna guess yes, especially since you're coloring
TD’A: It's all about being prepared with the writing and getting the pencils done at work in a timely fashion. If those two things are in order, I'm set. So plotting out stories ahead of time has been huge for me in smoothing out the process. If I have a particularly hard strip to draw - lots of panels or lots of characters - that can often push me to the limit a bit. Drawing Lian is always a challenge, for example.
PC: Why is that? Because girls gotta be kinda pretty?
TD’A: Because I'm still not comfortable drawing women, and my anatomy still stinks. And yes, she needs to be appealing. Frankly, I don't really have time to spend improving on those things with life the way it is. So it's a struggle. I try and do little things during the week to practice and improve my drawing, but it's only a few minutes here and there. It's all I can do.
PC: Okay let's back up. How did you come to start this comic? ...Do you say digital comic or webcomic more often?
TD’A: First, I generally just say "comic." I kind of hate the term "webcomic." It's like saying "animated movie." It's just a movie.
I started it because I wanted a creative outlet. My job at the time wasn't particularly satisfying, and I just wanted to do something fun. It's was purely a personal thing I wanted to do for myself at first.
PC: Okay then... how and when did you learn to draw in the first place? I don't think I went far enough back...
TD’A: Ah, well I've been drawing all my life. I can remember as a kid drawing on everything and everything. I used to get in trouble because I'd draw exploding cars in the inside of book covers. I drew in high school for fun. Then in college, I had no real aim in what I was going to do, and one of my art teachers kind of prodded me into going into Art after seeing some of my drawings for class. So I ended up being an Art Major. But computers exploded at that time (late 80s, early 90s) and I ended up being a graphic designer, and later a web developer. So I stopped drawing for ages. I had some good training in college - lots of life drawing and such, which is extremely important. But dropping it for two decades, you lose it all, unfortunately.
PC: Okay... so you started drawing this comic.
TD’A: Yeah, and I was appalled. Ugh.
PC: And you'd already discovered those French guys we mentioned earlier
TD’A: Well, I knew of Moebius, I only recently found out about Trondheim. ...People have made comments about TinTin in relation to Marooned a lot too. But I never consciously went that way. But I do like that look.
PC: Maybe they're thinking of the coloring especially?
TD’A: Could be the coloring, although my coloring has really evolved and change a lot over time.
PC: It's a nice use of color, and it seems to me that the color pallet might feel European to them
TD’A: Could be. I have definitely been influenced by that.
PC: Uh huh... so what's your comics background?
TD’A: No comics background, really. I did have a comic strip course in college, but it was short and I don't even remember it. I read comics as a kid a lot. But who didn't. One French artist I like is Jean-Philippe Morin http://morin.canalblog.com/
I definitely used his work to figure out some coloring. He's a real nice guy too.
PC: Okay, so college introduced you to Moebius?
TD’A: Well, the movie Heavy Metal introduced me to Moebius :)
PC: Ah ha
TD’A: Then while I was working for a company called Scient in the dot.com heyday, I was out in San Francisco working. And At the Metreon they had this store that had all this Moebius stuff and I was just blown away by it all. That's when I began first itching to do something.
PC: and now you know about Trondheim... but are any other comics a part of your life now? I suppose you found about about him following some Moebius web links and stuff...?
TD’A: Most of the stuff I read is online. Of course I love Steve Ogden's Moon Town, and not just because he's a good friend. I have like 20-ish comics I read online. And of course I'm always reading Peanuts.
Yeah, I've looked at a lot of Moebius' stuff online, even though a lot is in French. It's just all so very inspiring. Also Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa's Sky Doll stuff just amazes me. Also Orbital by Serge Pelle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_%28comics%29
PC: Do you ever look into the community of online comics creators? There's quite a community-- not that they necessarily all get along with each other very well...some do get along well though. Do you promote your comic at all?
TD’A: I've been involved in the webcomic community pretty heavily at times. I know quite a few creators. The problem is that the conversation gets stale and old. And some of the same old people keep cropping up with the same old attitudes. I've found it MUCH more helpful to instead build relationships with other artists I like and respect. Now I have a circle of artist friends that I can lean on for advice. And I'm always available to give my advice or opinion when it is asked of me.
As for promotion, well that's the absolute hardest part of doing a comic. Making it is easy by comparison - no joke. I don't really have the time to promote it properly, but I do what I can. It's funny because I get a lot of people telling me how they like the comic and how great it is. But I can't seem to translate that into a better growth rate than I am currently experiencing. I'm not exactly sure why that is. Certainly part of the problem is the massive amount of comics out there. There's only so much anyone can pay attention to.
PC: Believe me, it was also true back before there were nearly as many comics as there are now. But yes, I agree with everything you're saying, there...
TD’A: And because I do a longform story comic, that makes it harder. There's a much higher time investment for a new reader to get into the comic. That can be a tough hurdle to jump. Thus my turn to including self-contained strips within the main story.
PC: Do people ever tell you that they just want to read it in print, not on a monitor screen?
TD’A: Actually, no - I don't get that. Sometimes I wish I would. Maybe my books would sell more!
I wish I knew why I didn't sell more books. The feedback I get from them is all extremely positive, and I put a lot of hard work into making them special.
TD’A: My stuff is available digitally in quite a few places actually.Via TheIllustratedSection.com, via OxiComics app, and in Graphic.ly. I've sold some stuff (and some of it is free) but so far it's been far short of any revolution :)
PC: How many books are we talking about, and how do you offer them for sale?
TD’A: I have two collections available as printed editions. They are 2nd editions of the initial print orders that were basically pre-order only. The first editions of those books were slightly nicer and were available for artist editions (sketches inside). Those books are available through my store page at CreateSpace.com. There are no first editions left, as those are sold out. Then I have various digital collections, including a couple robot stories that were bonus stories for the books. Those are available digitally.
That page has digital stuff and is the best place to buy (digital that is).
Then book 1 https://www.createspace.com/3512571
Book 2 https://www.createspace.com/3546586 The CS store is not ideal, but they make a good product, and I can get the book out without killing myself financially. And I can actually make a couple dollars on a sale instead of losing money.
Next Time: The interview's thrilling conclusion