For any one that’s into toy collecting or worked retail for that matter, we have a special treat for you today at the Outhouse. David Willis, creator of my favorite web comic Shortpacked! Is here for an interview.
The Outhouse - Thanks for joining us in the Outhouse. I’ve been following the web comic Shortpacked! for a few years and it is among the first websites I click on weekday mornings. For those of us that have been following Shortpacked! for years, today’s strip (10/21/09) makes sense given our knowledge of the continuity. For those clicking on your web page for the first time, they see some one stuck in the head of a giant Mutant Frosted Honey Bun and his girl friend (by way of blackmail on her part) getting ready to attack it with a Corn Popper. What is Shortpacked! and what is it about?
David Willis - If people in downtown New York fighting a giant Hostess monster with a corn popper toy wasn't worth further investigation, I dunno what would be! That's a crazy hook, don't you think? That's one of the things I enjoy about drawing Shortpacked!. Sure, it's primarily about a bunch of insane people working in a toy store, cracking pop culture jokes, but I leave myself open to do pretty much anything with it. There may be a Batman joke one day. There may be a Transformers joke another day. Sometimes, Ronald Reagan will repel bullets from a burglar using the power of Patriotism. Shortpacked! is everything that's awesome, one strip at a time.
The Outhouse- Who are some of the insane people currently working in the toy store? What personality traits make them unique?
David Willis - I already mentioned Ronald Reagan 40th President of the United States. He works at the store for a good four and a half years. He's not so much insane himself but it's sorta insane that he works there. There's Robin the sugar-crazed crackpot who also works as a Congresswoman in the House of Representatives. Amber is a quiet nerd who sometimes likes to dress up as a superhero. Ethan was so busy collecting toys that he forgot to learn that he was gay until he was about 30. Mike is mean to a point of sociopathy. Ninja Rick thinks he's a ninja. And there's a talking hybrid car who works in the stockroom and throws pies.
The Outhouse - Not only dose Shortpacked! appear weekdays on your sight, you also do a Sunday comic strip of Shortpacked! for http://toynewsi.com/ . How did that come about?
David Willis - Jay Cochran emailed me a few years ago and asked if I could do a weekly Shortpacked! strip on Toy News International, simple as that. And I'm grateful that happened. So many people come up to me at conventions and tell me they know about the strip through that site. Some only read it there! Plus, it guarantees at least one toy-based strip a week when I'm off drawing crazy things in the "real" strip.
The Outhouse - Not only do you write about toy collectors, you are a toy collector your self. What toys do you hunt for and how big is your collection?
David Willis - I mostly go for Transformers, which is probably obvious from the strip and my blog. They are my Number One focus. (In fact, I run a Transformers Wiki over at tfwiki.net . That is how dedicated I am.) I probably have.... 700 Transformers? Half of them are stored in bins, but the rest litter the shelves in our house. I also collect Justice League Unlimited figures and a few other Batman figures, plus sometimes I spring for a G.I. Joe or two. Those areas are the bulk of my collection targets, but there are a few other miscellaneous things I pick up from time to time.
The Outhouse - Shortpacked! isn’t your only or even the first comic you’ve made. Tell us about some of your other creations.
David Willis - My first webcomic was named Roomies!, which was originally created for the Indiana Daily Student, which was Indiana University's big student paper. That was 1997! That followed the lives of some college students, unsurprisingly enough, and after three years Roomies! spun off into It's Walky!, which was about a bunch of twenty-somethings who were recruited by the government to fight aliens. The immortal Chris Crosby once described it as "Men in Black meets Dawson's Creek." After another five years, I finished that storyline entirely and started Shortpacked! Shortpacked! takes place in the same universe as the previous two strips, but it's much more tenuously connected. I wanted a fresh, clean slate.
The Outhouse - After making so many web comics, you collect them in your own self published Trade Paper Backs. In your blogs you have mentioned things like having to deal with customs officials to coming home to find gigantic pallets of books on your front lawn. Can you share with us your experience and what’s involved with book publishing?
David Willis - I get my books printed in China. I tell you what, those guys are awesome. Peter, the guy over there I talk to, will answer any email I send, pretty much any time of the day or night. I don't think he sleeps! Sometimes I worry. But, yeah, since they're done in China, there's sometimes a snag getting them over here to the States. The first book, there was a fun strike which got in the way. The second book spent a few weeks sitting in customs. It's funny, because the name of the second book was "Shortpacked! Pulls the Drama Tag," but the shipping boxes were labeled "Shortpacked Plus the Drama Tag," so I got this confused call from the customs people, asking where The Drama Tag was. They have all these boxes full of Shortpacked!, but where is this The Drama Tag that the boxes say is included? Oh man.
The Outhouse - After so many years of writing about collectibles, you are now starting to sell your own figurines. Your first is Amber O’Malley, available at http://patchtogether.com/store/store/view/id/151
Patched Together has a rather unique approach to making collectibles. Can you tell us about the process of getting the Amber figurine made?
David Willis - Paul Taylor is a friend of mine who draws the webcomic Wapsi Square, and he did his figurines through Patch Together. I got to see his Monica statue in person this past summer at San Diego Comic-Con, since we were exhibiting together, and that was pretty much it. The Patch Together guys were there, and I talked to them about it, and the rest was history. I like them because they do quality work, and they do all the shipping themselves. I do enough shipping myself, what with my book collections, so their model fit my needs well. I can't wait to get my first statue! I'll do as many further statues as my readers will support.
The Outhouse - This summer you traveled across the United States to appear at conventions. How did the tour go and will you be doing any more personal appearances or attending any more conventions this year?
David Willis - I have no more conventions planned for the rest of this year, but I'll be hitting the trail again in 2010. I don't know if I'll do three in three consecutive weekends like in 2009, but I'll definitely want to get out there again. It's a fun way to see the country, meet your readers, and run up your car's mileage! Plus going home with a boxful of cash is always an incentive.
Check out the entire run of Shortpacked! And new issues every Monday thorough Friday at http://www.shortpacked.com
Catch the Sunday strip over at http://toynewsi.com/
Interview By Brian Osserman