Recently, I sent an email to Greg Dean, creator of one of my favorite webcomics, Real Life, telling him how much I enjoyed his work over the years. Not only did Greg respond to me, but he responded quickly and was very friendly. In fact, he agreed to have a one-on-one interview/conversation with me about Real Life and his actual life. So, with his permission, I have shared our conversation here for your reading pleasure.
Robert J. Baden, Fanboy Comics Contributor: Well, again, I would like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me and to answer my questions.
Greg Dean: Of course! It’s my pleasure.
RJB: Feel free to give as complete and long-winded an answer as you like; my readers are used to seeing lots of words in my articles.
GD: Excellent! I can’t guarantee anything, but I have a penchant for long-windedness…so there’s that.
RJB: Yes, I’ve seen your comic after all So, then, where to begin. What exactly got you started in artwork?
GD: Artwork in general? Wow…that’s going back a ways, isn’t it? In truth, I really began to learn how to draw — or to see drawing as something that interested me — back in third grade. I had a buddy who was actually pretty excellent with a pencil, and I began to practice on my own after that. Combined with the fact that every morning began with me reading the comics page in the newspaper with my cereal, it led into me having an interest in drawing comics. I actually did a one-panel strip for the school newsletter when I was in fifth grade…completely stole Gary Larson’s drawing style for it, but it was fun.
RJB: So, taking that into account, why did you decide upon using your life as a basis for a continuing webcomic, instead of something completely made up?
GD: I actually HAD considered a completely fictional story for a webcomic, back before Real Life. You know how everyone has their little pet story that they’ve come up with when they’re younger, and it just sits and ruminates in your head for years and years, and you just think it’s the best thing ever? Well, mine started when I was 14. I was originally going to write it as a book, but after a few failed attempts, I dropped it. I just didn’t really have the confidence in my own drawing skills that I knew it needed to come to life, and I wasn’t convinced I would be able to come up with script ideas in perpetuity.
So, in 1999, while the idea of a webcomic was floating around my skull, I just noted while sitting around with my friends (I had just moved out on my own at this point, having turned 18) that we had some pretty funny in-jokes, and thought that other people like us might find them funny, too. So, I decided that rather than hide behind a pseudonym, I’d just use real people and places and put to comic form the goofy crap we did.
RJB: Given that you do draw from real experiences, is there a specific end date in sight for Real Life?
GD: I would say my own death is going to be a pretty final endcap.
RJB: And, we’ll probably be left wondering where the update is for that.
GD: I’d put together something that would auto-post, if I didn’t update for more than a week…but you’d likely see it come up far too prematurely.
RJB: Which leads nicely into my question of, how hard is it to maintain a regular schedule for updates?
GD: It’s sort of ebbed and flowed over the years. From ’99 to 2005 or so, it was fairly simple. I can almost always come up with SOMETHING to write about, and, at the time, I was able to work on the comic from work without any trouble, so
I rarely if ever missed a comic.
In 2006, I went to culinary school, and the schedule went down the drain. 2007-2010 was much more reliable, as I was able to get the comic done at night without much trouble. Then in 2011, Harper was born. I haven’t slept since then…and some nights she takes precedence over the comic. It’s not out of a lack of desire, really – it’s just that you can’t really sit an infant down and explain to her that daddy needs some time every night to draw his cartoon.
But, if the question is more about coming up with content…that’s really not difficult. If I can think up some subject or another as the catalyst, the characters more or less write the comic themselves.
RJB: Somehow, I don’t think anyone will blame you for taking care of your child, even though my wife generally cries out, “Where’s my comic, Dean!”
GD: My uncle does the same thing, of all people. Things will calm down eventually, I’m sure. Or, they’ll escalate to the point where I wind up on top of the bell tower with a high-powered rifle.
Though…I have no idea where the nearest bell tower is. So, I guess the populace is safe.
RJB: Are you ever accosted by rabid fans who ask you for things, such as interviews?
GD: Nothing too crazy, really. Interviews are kind of cool – they keep my brain sharp, ’cause I keep having to recall the finer details of what happened over the last 12 years. But mostly, people just read the comic and leave me alone… mostly.
RJB: I can only imagine what it’s like at a convention. Wait, no I can’t, and with good reason.
GD: Conventions can be insane. But, at the smaller conventions, we usually just go, hang out, and have a good time. Comic-Con, on the other hand….*shudder* Never again, my friend. Never again.
RJB: As arguably a very successful webcomic artist, do you have any advice for the countless hordes of webcomics and their creators out there? Not me, I’ve already tried my hand at webcomics, thrice.
GD: More like “As a very arguably successful webcomic artist,” but I’ll take it.
It’s funny, advice is one of the most oft-asked questions from me (from most arguably successful cartoonists, I’d wager), and I used to give the somewhat sarcastic answer of “Run! Run as fast as you can!”, but the truth is that the secret to my success, honestly, is a series of fairly lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time. I spent a lot of time on a particular forum for a webcomic that was already popular at the time, and when I put up my first strip, I posted the link there. That is literally the only time I have ever gone somewhere with the intent of publicizing the comic. From there it grew slowly via word-of-mouth, and then my small webhost thought it was a neat idea, and made it a featured website of the week. At some point, Looneyboi (of Blue’s News fame) hosted the comic and featured it, and then it wound up on Keenspot.
Why it’s gotten to where it is now, I have no clue, to be honest. Most people out there are more talented artists and writers than I am…I just do what makes me happy, and if people dig that and get into it, then I’m happy they enjoy it, too. Which, I guess, is probably the only ACTUAL bit of advice I can give – don’t forget why you’re doing this. You’re not going to get rich or famous doing webcomics. If you’re very, VERY lucky, you’ll make enough money to make your life a little less difficult than without it. You need to be doing the comics because they make you happy – because if you’re not doing it for the sheer fun of it, it’s going to show in the end product. Plain and simple.
RJB: And, despite that popularty, what do you consider your favorite webcomics to read on a regular basis to be?
GD: It’s a short list, to be honest.
Shortpacked – mainly because David Willis is one of those artists who is far more talented than I, and can make a comic about a toy store and toy collectors (something I have no real interest in) something that I cannot live without. He’s also a good friend, so I’d feel like kind of a jerk if I didn’t read his stuff.
Sheldon – Dave Kellett is another one of those cartoonists that has gone on to be more like family than anything else, and he is consistently one of the funniest writers I know – certainly a lot funnier than I am. When I learn how to kill people and take their skills, he may well be on my list. Thankfully, that ability is beyond me.
XKCD – Because I apparently like to read comics made by people much, MUCH smarter than myself.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – see above.
Bad Machinery – I’d been reading John Allison’s comics since the days of Bobbins, which morphed into Scary Go Round… which then gave rise to Bad Machinery. Allison has his own way of writing dialogue that fascinates me to no end, and it’s just fun to read.
Oglaf – because I am adult, and have my mind in the gutter more often than not. But, holy god is it funny. (VERY NSFW).
Oh, and I have added Gunnerkrigg Court to that list, too – one of the more unique story concepts I’ve had the pleasure of discovering, and very well put together.
RJB: Are there any other projects you’re working on, or are hoping to work on in the future?
GD: Well, at some point I hope to have the time to continue working on the Forge, my medieval-themed (well, kind of) comic, but that would require having the time to do it (along with the stones to face down the company who THINKS they own the rights to it. Hint: they do not…but even though I’d win in a lawsuit, I don’t have pockets deep enough to fight one).
On the other side of things, though, is a comic that I hope to either collaborate with someone on, or at the very least find a decently talented artist and pay them a per-page fee to make it a reality. I fully recognize that my own artistic skills have limits, and I’ve had a 22-page, full-on comic script written that really needs to have the right artist attached to it. It’s something I’m immensely proud of, but for the past year it’s existed as little more than words on a page. If I can find someone interested in working on it with me, I’d probably try to turn it into a weekly online comic, but who knows.
I know of a scant few people who could do it justice, some of whom are friends of mine…but they’re all too busy with their own lives and projects. In a dream scenario, Ian McConville would draw it for me, but he’s one of the busiest guys I know. Which is a shame…’cause it’d be right up his alley.
RJB: And, finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to the world at large that hasn’t been convered before (like the advice to webcomic artists)?
GD: I’ll say this much – and it can be a combination of advice to webcartoonists, as well as to the world at large. And, that is simply this: Don’t let negative comments get to you. I used to get REALLY bummed out when I got a hate letter (and who the heck e-mails a free webcomic to tell them they suck?) and it would just get to me, and at some point I realized that I like doing what I do, so who cares if someone out there doesn’t? After that, it got to the point where hatemail just made me laugh, and redoubled my commitment to doing what I love. I am committed to being the Beetle Baily of the internet – I’m not trying to break any boundaries – just do what I love and keep it going as long as I can.
RJB: Well, that’s the end of what I wanted to ask, so I want to once again thank you for not only answering my questions, but being nice enough to just talk and prove that you’re a real person and not some mindless, heartless automaton fueled by Pepsi.
GD: Can’t I be both? 🙂 It was my pleasure…thanks again!