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Interview: Eric Ratcliffe Talks Foot Problems, Webcomics, and the New Comic Day Kickstarter

Written by Jude Terror on Friday, September 19 2014 and posted in Features

Interview: Eric Ratcliffe Talks Foot Problems, Webcomics, and the New Comic Day Kickstarter

Find out why you should support New Comic Day on Kickstarter, and what it takes to produce a webcomic for five years straight!



One of the things I admire the most about Eric Ratcliffe, besides his discriminating taste in bowties, is the fact that he's the definition of a self-motivated individual. Way back when we started up BludBlood.com, a website that would eventually merge with The Outhouse and lead to the front page we have today, Eric was one of our first writers. He's written columns for The Outhouse and ComicRelated.com, runs his own podcast that has produced 184 episodes as of today, and as is the subject of this article, has published his New Comic Day webcomic for five years now. And he doesn't have a manager, or an editor, or a publisher. He knows how to hustle and work hard both as a creator and as a "comic book journalist," and he deserves the respect he's earned from his industry peers for it.

Eric is running a Kickstarter for New Comic Day, a webcomic conceived by himself and Bill Gladman in 2009 that's featured creators like Chad Strohl (artist on the first 3 years), Lisa Moore (colorist on the first 3 years), Brant Fowler (letterer on the strip since almost the beginning), Alyssa Justice (colorist on years 4 and 5), Jim Gallo (artist on year four), and George Amaru (artist on year 5) contribute to its five year legacy. The Kickstarter will collect the first five years of New Comic Day in a glorious hardcover format, and you can own one for just $35 (what are you waiting for?!). Eric was willing to tolerate me, as he has for years, and answer the following questions about the book and his experience in the industry. Check it out, then check out New Comic Day on Kickstarter as well as on its newly revamped website.

Hi Eric. How’s the foot?

*sigh* I hate you so much. For your readers who are going to be super confused by this starting question, I almost lost my foot 2 years ago during NYCC 2012. (A show that apparently no longer thinks I’m worth of a badge for you know…after almost losing my damn foot!) Sorry that was off topic, during the show a very nasty blister developed on the arch of my foot, when I got home I landed in the hospital for 5 nights and if I had waited any longer to get it checked out? It would have spread to the bone and I would have lost the foot. (It was Cellulitis and MRSA if you really want to look up that stuff for those curious)

It was a lot of firsts for me too, first time spending a night in a hospital, first time having surgery and stitches, first time having a full and awesome beard which I miss a lot.

Basically, almost losing your foot while trying to report on a convention for your podcast and website should get you more credit than it actually does.

So yeah, the foots alive and well. Even if a certain outhouse reporter keeps trying to steal it! (Seriously Frank, enough is enough man.)

You’ve been making New Comic Day for five years now. Why do you need money now? Do you have a drug addiction to feed?

Hey, percs are not cheap man! But yeah, like any independent creators especially those that work on webcomics, I and the rest of the New Comic Day crew don’t have 6,000 dollars laying around ready to use at a moments notice. In fact without going into too much detail like most 20 somethings out there I’m still paying a lot of bills and trying to get financially stable.

I like being as transparent with our audience as I possibly can and really flat out wanted to invite them to help us make the hardcover a reality. It’s one of those things where even convention wise, I’m still not even breaking even sales wise. (This isn’t me complaining mind you, after almost 8 years doing stuff in the industry and a little over 5 of creating a comic, I’m very much still learning the ins and outs of how things work.)

With a changing creative team over the past five years, you’ve produced over 275 strips. Would you say you’re the greatest webcomic creator of all time?

Wait, can I do that? I didn’t know I could do that. “Eric Ratcliffe, best webcomic creator ever” has a nice ring to it. I’ll be like CM Punk just you know…completely out of shape and without any money whatsoever, or an attractive wife…wait, what was the question again?

The strip stars an exaggerated version of you, some other creative team members, and your friends. I know they’re exaggerated because that time you stole the Batmobile in real life, you just got arrested. How do you keep the personalities of the comic versions of the characters separate from the real thing?

I like taking my introverted personality (Those who know me in real life know how quiet I can get and downright shy at moments) and just flipping that around to almost bizarre levels. I mean even though comic me’s dating life is terrible, he still has a dating life. As opposed to real life me who just has a lot of people that I hang out with but no real dating life. And just the constant barrage of insane things comic me gets his hands on at moments is fun to write.

There’s this weird almost fantasy fulfilling thing when it comes to writing a comic like New Comic Day. Whatever pops up in my brain is what I end up writing.

It’s funny because I’d say Brant is the most normal one in the strip and even he has crazy moments. Everyone else that I personally know that has appeared in the strip has done crazy things but are incredibly true to life. (Like Lord Jazor or Jeff or even Erod the blockbuster buster.)

There’s something about craziness that you can’t help but follow.

New Comic Day can get be pretty liberal with the appearances of or references to copyrighted characters from mainstream comics. Have you ever run into trouble with that?

Nope and my main argument or reasoning to why I think we don’t (other than the parody and fair useness of our material) is that we’ve never been disrespectful to any character that makes an appearance. Thanos would be that much of a freeloader if he landed on some average human's couch, the Doctor would easily be annoyed by some schmuck who has seemingly never been a companion but knows all about him, and the Cloverfield monster? Well it’s just a big dog. I mean, of course it is.

Just like other webcomics like the Gutters or even something as big as Penny Arcade, when you use or make reference to a huge property as long as you don’t flat out try and lay claim to these characters as your own, you don’t really land yourself into much trouble.

Because of the appearances by characters owned by Marvel and DC, is there a limitation on what you can do with the comic financially?

I think this one is pretty obvious; We can’t exactly put a sleeping Thanos on a t-shirt and sell that with the New Comic Day logo on it. (Hence is why the kickstarter shirt is Minion related in the first place)

I mean I brought up “The Gutters” for a big reason, they also do huge collections of year long material and never run into any trouble from any of the big companies. When Dark Horse acquired the Nintendo licensing stuff I specifically made the Crisis on infinite Earths joke with those characters to call out the absurdity of that kind of situation.

These aren’t my properties and I’m fully aware of that but half the fun of New Comic Day is playing with ideas and themes and characters from comics in general and putting them in bizarre situations.

To go back full circle and answer the question more properly, you’re not going to see any merchandise with any of the big 2’s characters from us anytime soon.

Please rank the various New Comic Day artists in order of how talented they all are and also how much you like them personally. I’m sure no one will be offended.

Nope, not doing it ever. Flat out one of the major reasons New Comic Day exists in the first place is because Chad Strohl managed to believe in Bill and I’s insanity. Without him, none of this would still be going on.

Chad especially by the end of his run in year 3 was helping strengthening punchlines and making strips stronger.

Then thanks to you (Seriously for those that don’t know, Jude introduced Jim and I) Jim Gallo came on board and completely changed everything about the strip, even co-creating one of our most popular characters in Minion. The fantasy arc is still one of my favorite things we’ve done. It’s just so good. Jim’s style would flat out jump into the Looney Tunes territory to super dark and serious during the fantasy stuff and it was fantastic to work with every week. (We even went twice a week during his tenure which pushed my writing to new levels)

George of course brought a completely different and slightly more realistic style to the table, which depending on the strip just made it that much better. From the Western arc to sleepy Thanos to the stuff with the Guardians of the Galaxy he’s brought so much to the table. (Each of the guys have actually wrote a strip themselves as well, which was nice to take a bit of a breather and let the artist run the asylum)

Of course those guys aren’t the only ones we’ve had the pleasure of working with on the strip. Lisa Moore our first colorer, went on to work on a crapton of awesome Boom books (including the Darkwing Duck stuff and the Ducktales too, as well as Peanuts) and Alyssa Justice and Anna Maria Bryant both did fantastic work as well. (And it’s not an intentional thing that for the first 5 years we only had female colorists, it just happened without me really realizing it.)

And then of course there’s my main partner in crime and the guy who helps me not lose my mind in my awesome letterer and basically editor to help me tighten some scripts, Brant Fowler. That man has done some amazing work and I really don’t think the strip would be the same without him.

And now we’ve had George and I’s friend Justin join up and he’s doing some very fun stuff so far. When George returns to the strip in November they’ll be splitting it 2 and 2 a month so it’ll be fun to see them play off each other’s styles.

What’s your favorite storyline from the strip?

I was afraid you were going to ask me this. I love the fantasy arc. We introduced Minion to the strip, played off of so many fun nods to popular fantasy stuff but the ending is way too abrupt, I’d love to do a deleted scene and fix it one of these days.

I loved trying to find Thanos a job, grand theft batmobile, the western arc recently was a lot of fun and heck I got to show Mike Raicht (Of stuff of Legends/the Army of Darkness comic from Dynamite) the evil dead arc this weekend and he liked it a lot which meant so much to me. (Mostly because Army of Darkness is my favorite movie of all time and I loved the care those dynamite comics have taken with that universe)

It’s tough to pick a favorite arc when you have over 275 strips to choose from.

Why do you think New Comic Day has been able to last so long? Do you think switching up the creative team helps to keep things fresh?

Well and I don’t think this has ever been completely documented before, the strip almost ended at year 2. I had just got home from an amazing weekend at Boston Comic Con. (It was my first show with a table and everyone I showed the strip to loved it) I got home from an email from Bill saying that he wanted to stop doing the strip and that was it. It was a bummer, we talked about it for a while too.

Basically I pitched everyone 3 months worth of strips that weren’t a reboot but showed what the strip could be while missing Bill. (Some of those strips didn’t end up being used until year 4 with Jim) it was introducing new people, having comic me run into some characters for the first time and so forth. It was also one of the most stress inducing times in my life.

But I think a new direction and slight tweaks are needed sometimes in order to destroy writers block or really just trying something different to see if the audience digs it. And it seemed to have worked so far.

New Comic Day reminds me a lot of a comic called What’s Shipping Wednesday that starred a guy named Will and another guy named Rick, and if I remember correctly, they had a real problem with another guy called The Fourthman. Did you rip that comic off with New Comic Day? Just admit it!

I don’t think you realized how angry I was when you kept going with that for a while. It was mostly I think due to how blue you went with some of the later strips. (Bill was all for collecting them as an extra at one point.) It took me forever to finally get it in my skull that I appreciated it as a parody and that it was pretty funny stuff. That being said, those guys were jerks. Total, total jerks.

Have you ever thought about doing something more long form with the characters, like a graphic novel? Could new comic day transcend the webcomic format?

I wanted to do a full graphic novel as the original kickstarter idea. I was going to call it “New Comic Day’s Big Adventure” and it had everything in it including the kitchen sink. It had Nemesis coming back after finally escaping the fantasy book and making comic shops all over slowly disappear, making New Comic Day no longer exist and our heroes having to put a stop to this.

I’ve worked out the basic plot of it so far but scheduling makes it tough to really go further with it. One of these days it will happen.

Some of my favorite things we’ve done with the strip so far is the full page or a 3 panel strip or just really playing with the space of what you can do in a webcomic. (Sort of like what someone like Greg Rucka does in Lady Sabre) I think New Comic Day could easily be more than just a webcomic with everything we’ve established. I mean we’ve even done a few live action spots.

What are the advantages to the weekly strip format? What are the challenges?

I don’t care what anyone else says, writing anything in 4 panels is tough as hell and even after all this time I’m still having trouble with it. There’s things that get cut out that can really hurt a strip depending on how someone reads it. (I’ve had to explain the Binding of Isaac strip to a few people because of the pill line a few times)

Like I said earlier, I love playing with panel spacing it’s just for the most part we’ve agreed on 4 panels to make it easier on the artist and for the most part it works. I think one of the biggest challenges and I still don’t know if I succeed at it is the arcs. I say that because you want someone to get a complete story and laugh from a single strip but come back to check out what you do next.

Sometimes I’ll write a punchline and work backwards from that. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Heck working on this years Halloween arc has been pretty challenging for me.

Do you have any idea how you would end the strip? Will you ever end it?

I don’t think I could ever end it honestly. Endings are the toughest thing to write in my humble opinion. There’s just something about figuring out a finite ending to something that bothers me.

I mean we’re a webcomic that very literally jumped over a shark. We’re past the point of no return I’d say.

I’ve always had this theory that New Comic Day actually takes place in Eric’s mind, and Eric is locked away in an insane asylum, living out this deranged fantasy in his head where he gets to meet all his favorite characters and interact with them, but really he’s catatonic or something. Tell me, am I onto something here?

…no comment.

Actually, serious comment: If I pulled that, I think I’d piss a lot of people off. It would make sense sure but I’ve always had this weird theory that it’s more fun for people to try and figure out why this all happens in the New Comic Day universe more than giving them a straight answer.

It’s fun to see Jonah Hex tortured by the Fraggles or Brant trying not to tick off a Wookiee. (Seriously, what is his issue with Wookiee’s? It’s really damaging I think)

We’re never going to do the whole “it was just a dream thing” because in my own opinion it’s just the lamest possible trope out there. It didn’t work for Buffy, it definitely didn’t work for Dallas…just why would it work for a webcomic?

Why should people contribute to this Kickstarter? What’s in it for them?

To backtrack a little, we only printed about 50 copies of vol 1 when we first made it. When I got that in my hands at Champion city comic con back in 2011, I had tears in my eyes. There’s a difference between creating something digitally and having it in your hands and it’s a super surreal experience.

That being said, this kickstarter is very important to me. I’ll be depressed if we don’t reach our goal. It’s flat out to give anyone contributing a copy of the book at that reward level but if you’re not able to contribute at 35, we have smaller tier levels.

At 10 dollars you get 2 prints of any 2 NCD strips of your choosing.

At 15 dollars you get a copy of NCD vol 1 (which is super packed with content) and a print of your choosing.

At 25 you get the previous tiers as well as a digital copy of the book.

At 35 you get the hardcover

At 65 you get a t-shirt and the book

At 85 you actually get to appear in the strip (and get all the previous tiers!)

At 125 you get a commissioned sketch of anything you want (within reason) in your copy of the book by George Amaru

And everything is signed by myself and at least George as well as a thank you in the back of the book and the website!

Contributing means you help make someone’s dream of creating a book of their creation a reality and you get that book for doing so.

What will the money go to?

About 5,300 of the money goes directly to the hardcover and the shipping cost. Then about 400 goes towards t-shirts, 200 will go to printing new copies of vol 1 and the rest goes to the prints that people order. (And then Kickstarter/credit card companies take the last 10 percent of everything) I’ve done the math on a majority of everything, just a matter of waiting to send everything to the various printers. It’s the least fun part of any kickstarter project.

What will be in the book besides the strips? Extras, notes, etc?

I’ll be doing breakdowns of every year at the beginning of the year (similar to the annotations from vol 1). Chad, Jim and George all have exclusive pieces of never before seen artwork to break inbetween each year/era of the strip. George is doing a parody of one of the biggest and most well known infinity gauntlet covers, Jim did a piece based off of Frazetta and Conan the Barbarian and Chad has a days of Future Past parody and a Crisis on Infinite Earths parody coming. Very excited for those.

Also there’s going to be a 2 page back up story on Minion’s origin which may or may not be connected to the fantasy arc.

Oh! And Tim Seeley is doing our forward. Yeah, that’s right Tim Seeley of Hack/Slash and Revival fame is doing our forward.

In addition to the comic, you’ve had a podcast for a long time too, and you’ve got to interview and talk to a literal fuckload of comic book creators. Have you ever found out that any of them were fans of the strip?

I know some have checked it out. I’m not sure if I can flat out call them fans or not. Obviously Phil Hester helped us with our april fool’s joke back in the first year of the strip. Oh and Bryan Q Miller was one of our first backers because he’s awesome and helped me fix up our kickstarter before launch.

I feel dumb that I don’t know who reads the strip weekly anymore but it’s tough to know for certain. But yeah the podcast on this very site is something I am super proud of.

Could you ever see yourself passing on the reigns to the strip to someone else? We’ve seen artists and colorists change, but you’ve always been at the helm.

I think it would have to be more of a guest spot thing. Like asking Dirk Manning or Tim Seeley or David Hine or other friends to see if they’d like to take a shot at writing a guest strip. I feel like I’m not ready to stop doing it anytime soon.

I really doubt we’d ever see “New Comic Day: The Next Generation” as it would be super weird for me. 



 

Head over to Kickstarter and sign yourself up for one those $25 or $35 packages to get a copy of New Comic Day: The Five Year Journey. Check out New Comic Day at NewComicDay.net (new episodes every Wednesday!). Check out Eric's podcast, Why I Love Comics, right here on The Outhouse every week, and subscribe here!





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About the Author - Jude Terror


Jude Terror is the Webmaster Supreme of The Outhouse and a sarcastic ace reporter dedicated to delivering irreverent comics and entertainment news to The Outhouse's dozens of loyal readers. Driven by a quest for vengeance, Jude Terror taught himself to program and joined The Outhouse. He instantly began working toward his goal of forcing the internet comics community to take itself less seriously and failing miserably. A certified trash eater ruining the pristine field of comics journalism with his sarcasm and goofiness, Jude Terror is secretly friendly and congenial, so if you've got a complaint, why not just bring it up to him instead of subtweeting like a jackass, jackass? You can find him on Twitter or try your luck with an email, but keep in mind that he is notoriously unreliable and may not get back to you right away. Unless you want to send him free stuff, in which case he'll get back to you immediately.


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