The interview with Kelly is longer than usual so I’ll be posting half today and half tomorrow.
Nerdcenaries: Greetings Kelly Turnbull of the online webcomic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, how is life treating you?
Kelly Turnbull: None too bad, just getting back from a late night at the studio.
N: The studio where you are working on Good Vibes?
KT: Six Point Harness, yeah. We wrapped up production on the first season of Good Vibes a couple months back, so we’ve been keeping busy with other assorted smaller projects like ads and web shorts.
N: I finally caught the first episode of Good Vibes the other day. It’s sort of like Rocket Power post-puberty.
KT: Yeah, when I was explaining it to people before it was readily available online I was basically saying “Simpsons plus Family Guy Plus Rocket Power”. I think it was originally meant to be for Fox, but something happened and MTV took it over. The powers that be have said they’re happy to have the show on MTV, you can get a little more risque with the humour over there.
N: Yeah. It pushes the bar more than Fox would seem to allow and they are a lot laxer these day. But now you also work on Manly Guys Doing Manly Things which is your online webcomic. How would you describe it without mentioning that it is a video game comic?
KT: “What space Marines do when the job is over” That’s my elevator pitch for it, I guess
KT: The first comic is pretty much the best summary I could give it, “a temp agency for ludicrously macho guys”. At least that was the idea when it started, it’s kind of strayed from there a bit. Focuses more on the agency as kind of a clubhouse these days. The guys don’t seem to be doing a lot of work
N: Yeah, it turned from a bit more of a gag-y video game related strip to more of a character driven piece in a lot of ways.
KT: It was originally meant for The Escapist’s webcomic contest, so I figured I’d do a really game-gag-driven concept. If I’d won, I would have probably stuck to that formula, but since it’s mine to do with as a please I try not to let myself get bored drawing a lot of fanart. Commander was kind of conceived for an Original Character tournament where I planned to go into rounds drawing my entry for every round as “Commander Badass wins by applying logic to the outlandish character he’s up against” So he can be repurposed for any situation where the characters he’s dealing with are really over-the-top Bravado.
N: Now one of the ideas in your comic is manliness is not necessarily about being overly muscular and violent but it’s more about confidence. Do you think that the entertainment industry has sort of confused these ideas in the way that strong female characters and female characters who are strong are confused?
KT: Very much so. I think things are starting to get better, but I feel like so many ACTION GRRL properties feature a character who’s whole schtick is WATCH ME PROVE HOW EXTRA BADASS I AM BECAUSE I’M A GIIIIRL
N: And then they tend to die.
KT: It’s like the motion picture equivalent to the “Gamer girls”, who think that they’re some kind of rare loch ness monster because they’re girls and they also like games.
N: All you need to do is go to art school or be social to find girls who like games.
KT: I feel like when you make a character with the one-note personality that “she’s a girl but she’s also a badass so it makes her extra badass”, it’s kind of perpetuating a patronizing stereotype that it’s terribly unusual for girls to do cool things.
N: Though on the opposite there are still the overly feminine characters and little space between.
KT: Yeah, I don’t know why it is, exactly, but it seems hard to fabricate a girl who is not one stereotype or the other, and can stand alone as an interesting person on her own right. It’s very easy to do with male characters, but for some reason it’s like when you sit down to write for a woman there’s some kind of “girl membrane” you have to get through before you can do anything else. I think a big part of it is people don’t take the time to flesh them out in their own rights, just “character is female” okay, personality done. You have to look beyond “this character is the mom” or “this character is the girlfriend” and give them the same treatment you give the guys. “Who is she, what does she want out of life, what’s her social status, what’s her education, what’s her job, what is she afraid of, what are her habits”, that kind of thing.
N: There are still stereotypes that come into play when writing where I guess you could summarize it as “writers see women as having less range”.
KT: That’s what I like about the girls in Dragon Age, I mean, people can complain about DA2 all they want but I can’t think of a more fleshed out “tough girl” character in a video game than Aveline.
N: I know Rick Remender mentioned for every main character he has this 100 Question sheet for figuring out and fleshing out characters. Most people have 1 multiple choice question instead. When I was in school we had a drama class that included a section where we had to invent a character. The “test” was we had to sit in front of the class and answer anything he asked us about them. so you had to know your character in and out, like they were your sibling or uncomfortably close best friend. Like “what colour is their underwear?” “What kind of a relationship do they have with their mother?” “How do they feel about pets?” Inane things that you might not think are important, but are actually quite telling of what a character might act like in their day-to-day life.
N: “Where do you hide the bodies?”
KT: I think that personal understanding is the big difference between designing a character and designing a gimmick with an avatar attached to it.
N: My roommate back at college who studied game design commented there were people who could draw 40 different characters but the characters had nothing that spoke in their design and that is some of it.
KT: Back in high school I saw a rant someone had written, I think it was largely aimed towards the furry community, but it was talking about how boring it is to see people come up with a 3/4 presentation pose and then draw everything standing exactly like that. Saying that they would see galleries full of extremely well-drawn, extremely boring pictures of different characters all doing the same thing. That really stuck with me, so I’ve always made it a goal of mine to give characters some personality, like doing something or standing in such a way that you get what they’re about. Posture, body language, and a simple prop or two can speak volumes.
N: What is your opinion of the series One Piece because that series has an amazing amount of variety in design.
KT: I enjoyed it back when I read it in high school, but I kinda drifted away when I stopped buying Shonen jump. Great art for sure.