Tobecontinued is published both in italian and in english, so I translated the interview to make it accessible also to foreign readers of the comic. If you happen not to have read Tobecontinued yet, I personally suggest clicking on this link (http://tobecontinuedcomic.com/) to discover this really interesting project; I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
One last note before we start. I’m aware my english isn’t that good, and translating something from italian to another language is not something I happen to do a lot. For this reason it’s more than possible that you find, in this article, all sorts of writing errors and grammatical horrors. If (or when) you do, feel free to let me know via email, in the comment below or in the Facebook page of Dailybaloon, and I will see to make it right.
I would start with my usual question and so I ask you who you are and what you do, and how you ended up doing what you do.
So… I had a scientific education in high school and when I finished I had no idea of what I would have done afterwards. But I did draw, a lot. When I discovered there was a programme in comics at the academy of fine arts in Bologna, I tried the admission exam even if I had no idea of my chances of passing it.
But I got in and so I went down that road. In my opinion the academy of fine arts was pivotal in my formation not so much for the courses per se, but for the possibility of networking with people with my same interests and vocation. I see many students now, who don’t realise how important this is: maybe they’re stuck with the idea of the comic book writer bent over the working table drawing and drawing and drawing… but instead now it is the conncection between people the biggest boost.
For sure it helped me a lot: I have so many people to thank for being where I am now, because I know that without them I would be a totally different person doing something totally different. Starting from the ones I met at the academy who are now good friends, I also have to thank the project Delebile and the cultural association Hamelin.
Did your collaboration with Hamelin start at the academy? What do you do for the associacion?
Emilio Varrà, Hamelin’s president, was one of the founders of the comic programme and is now its director. With him as supervisor I worked on a thesis about sci-fi literature for what now we call young adults and studied why this genre could be functional for readers between 16 and 18 years old.
In the last few years, starting with Hunger Games, there has been a huge trend for distopic sci-fi in teenager’s literature, so I looked into why this could be. Moreover, I wanted to write comics for that age range, which is not a main target in Italy: there are mangas, and that’s quite it. But going from manga to adult comics isn’t an easy path at all.
So I started volunteering for Hamelin, which is a cultural association aimed at promoting reading in schools. I worked in the project called Xanadu – Comunità di lettori ostinati [literally, comunity of stubborn readers] via which schools receive not only novels and fiction, but also cinema and comics to promote pupils’ interest in reading. Students then read and critique these books: I was particularly interested in having a direct contact with what I wanted to became my audience.
Hamelin organises also BilBolBul, a comic book festival in Bologna, where I’m now in charge of the young sector: every year I set up meetings between authors and groups of students. The latter read the book of the guest author and then discuss it with her or him. It always turns out to be a fantastic experience: students have loads of interesting questions and authors have fun aswering them.
Moving on to the Lorenzo-comic-writer… You’re now working on Tobecontinued, a really fascinating webcomic. It won the category “best online comic” in two of the most prestigious awards in Italy: the Attilio Micheluzzi Award at Napoli Comicon and the Calo Boscarato Award in Treviso. I find Tobecontinued to be very interesting because it’s a webcomic for real. So I’m asking you: what is or what should be, in your opinion, a true Webcomic, with the capital W? And why are there so few of those?
Well, few… Tobecontinued is listed on two websites, Topwebcomics and Webcomiclist, and those sites host and index about 24 thousands webcomics. It’s quite a lot! Maybe in Italy there are fewer of them, but in the USA it seems to me that writing an online comic is common for a young author.
What a webcomic is, instead, is a really good question. In my experience, a webcomic is a comic published on pieces on a regular basis. Most of them are made by single pages or strips, and those pages and strips compose a bigger story: it’s like taking a book, striping it apart, and publishing a page per week.
So the most important and defining part is the serial nature of the project?
Most certainly so. For example many auto-productions have a blog in which, when their antology has a certain seniority, they upload an entire story all at once. Maybe that is not properly a webcomic, as far as it’s a “comic that you can read online”. Maybe that’s more “the digital version of a book”, which is not the same thing.
So a webcomic is structurally different from a traditional comic. But don’t you have the feeling that, very often, online comic would like to become physical product, and since they can’t the digital version is some sort of second-best choice?
Yes, I think most of webcoimic’s authors look at the possibility of publication. But that’s not really the point… In my opinion most webcomics are made by young, emergent authors that seek recognition. They follow, I think, a suggestion I once heard from Sam Alden, a young and talentous american writer.
He was asked what advice he would give to young author, and said “take everything you do and upload it on the internet, for free: people will see your work and will be able to grow an interest in you, and then you can start to think at something with an economical perspective”.
A webcomic has that potential: it allows you to be noted. Take for example Noelle Stevenson. She wrote for a couple of years a webcomic titled Nimona, which gained her a certain amount of followers.
Out of that comic, a publisher made then a paper version, which won a prize. Noelle then joined Boom! Studios where she wrote the successful series Lumberjanes. Now she works at Marvel Comics, and she is just 23 years old.
She started drawing nothing more than a free webcomic, classical format made of pages, nothing interactive or anything else. It worked and now she is riding high.
Not everyone sees it that way, though. Some time ago Matthew Thurber published an open letter substantially criticizing the concept of free webcomic because it devalues professional work. But the reality is that the format works; and maybe it’s right as it is. In my opinion, you can’t expect to be payed if you haven’t demonstrated what you can do, which is what online comic allows you to do: you write two pages a week for two or three years…
I was fascinated also from this aspect, because it’s so easy to loose yourself in manierism and perfectionism. But with webcomics you jump over the edge, you write something and publish it, week after week. Tobecontinued works exactly this way: every Wednesdays it’s online. Fullstop.
Had I had one more week for every episodes… Sure, I would’ve written better dialogues, without errors, and I would’ve drawn better, without repeating the same poise four times… But in the meantime it’s there, and I’m happy of how it is.
So Tobecontinued as we know it was born. As I said it’s a very interesting comic, not only technically, but also for its contents. It starts as a story about a school for superheroes such as many we have seen in cinemas and in comics, but later it becomes some sort of “good version” of the distopic superhero’s topos. Where did this idea come from?
I started from the idea of normalizing the person with superpowers. I’m not a reader of superhero comic books, they tend not to like me. I try, very hard, but I always end up reading more meta-superheroic stuff: I find they have more links with reality. For meta-superheroic I mean works like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, or Kingdom Come and Marvels… There it is: probably Marvels is the first comic that suggested me something that later I wanted to put into Tobvecontinued.
Tobecontinued was born from the idea of a group of young people with superpowers, and those people ask themselves “now what should I do with my special abilities?”, and this question is connected to a generational framework in which there are too many superhumans… But supervillains don’t exist anymore.
For instance the supervillain is an element of the most classical superheroic fiction which I find difficult to justify. So I wanted to work on that: if you have powers but there are no bad guys, what are you going to do?
In this sense the comic that I find most close to Tobecontinued is Powers, written by Brian Michael Bendis with the pencils of Michael Avon Oeming: it revolves very much around the normalization of the superhero who maybe fought criminals for real in the past, but now is mostly a superstar of great political relevance.
The fact that you don’t like so much classical superheroes comes across clearly. In the 22th episode you say “the Show Business of the Supertours is getting out of control, overwhelming the audience with infinite crossovers, staged dimensional journey and time travel, forcing the aficionados to follow more than one supergroup to understand what’s happening, and alienating new watchers with the sheer amount of different stuff they have to get on board with”.
[laughs] I know where you’re going…
It’s impossible not to see in that sentence a critic to a certain way of making comics, especially superheroic comics. Was it a conscious critique or was it serendipitous?
So… Writing that episode, that is the one with the blog, was very funny. The audio recording in it was written by a friend of mine, he’s a journalist; I told him: “pretend to be a journalist in the world of Tobecontinued, you know what happened and you have ten minutes to say what you want, be polemic on what you want”.
For that invective my rommate (who’s also a writer) and I came up with an answer straightaway. I later realised what I was really talking about, and probably it’s exactly what I think of the matter. As said earlier, it’s not that I don’t give a shot to classical superheroes. But then I ask myself “what’s happening now to the X-Men?”, and the answer is that the X-Men of the present brought here the X-Men of the past and they are fighting because…
And my arms falls off. I’m not interested in those kind of things.
It seems to me that superheroic comics have always to fly higher, probably it’s that the part I don’t like because, in the end, it shouldn’t be necessary. It drives me mad that recently both Marvel and DC rebooted their universe. Like DC closes every story and start over, from zero. And I say “Ah, perfect! Let’s see… 52 new series”… No! Why?
I’m now reading Marvel Comics – The Untold Story, it’s a wonderful book that makes you really understand what it means to write series about characters that have been around for the last 50 years. The first crossover is born, then a new supergroup, then this and then that… 50 years like that: it’s obvious that this attitude turns into a nightmare with no exit.
Naively I would suggest to throw everything away and start over with something new. But not new like “a brand new Spiderman”, new like “something that didn’t exist before at all”.
But… Me, buying and reading comics about superheroes, comics made in that exact way… In the world of Tobecontinued would I be that guy who buys the ticket for the latest supertour and goes all excited about that kind of fiction?
But you know it’s fictional. Probably it’s just like wrestling: you know it’s fake but, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s still people firing lightnings from their hands! I think part of the people who reads comics about superheroes realizes it’s something deliberately over the top, but it’s what they like.
I really like the concept of superhero: the superhuman is a topic about which one could write endless interesting things. I’m a bit frustrated that the majority of comics I read about superhumans in the end do not truly talk about that.
About that I always remember an episode of Justice League Unlimited, the animated series, when Superman is fighting this super strong guy. At one point they abandon Earth and arrive in an empty planet, at which point Superman says “you do not realize that I live in a world made of paper, but here and now I can use all that I’ve got”.
It’s a fantastic sentence that says about being more than human more than most of comic books. Or in The Dark Knight strikes back, when Superman talks to his daughter who asked him “I’ve a question. Sex…?” and he answered “Never with humans: they’re too brittle”. Also that says a lot about the superhuman.
I would like to see that, at least more of that, and not crossovers and time travels.
Another thing about Tobecontinued that amazes me is its world. It’s a world remarkably complex and you can feel that it’s bigger than what you’re seeing. You can feel that, yes, you’re looking that way, but if in some way you were able to move the camera in another direction you would see something else: something would still be happening.
How did you plan this world? Did you sat down and started writing a geopolitical map or did you proceeded step by step creating what you needed?
Step by step. Initially I had some fixed historiography point: this thing of the different generations of superheroes, the absence of super villains, I created this “Last Monday” that is the last moment in which there was a super villain… and little more, really.
Then in the comic I refer to many superhero that you don’t actually see, I create them when I need them for some reason. But then I feel sorry: I’d want them all, I’d like to draw them all!
One of my favourite character, in this sense, is Rouge’s father. I hope I could pass the idea the he had his whole life, also if you can’t see that.
Well, I think that idea is well present, and it mainly contributes in making the world believable.
This makes me happy. Now I’m focused on the next season, and there I absolutely want to retake things left aside. I hope it goes well…
I wish you all goes well, for myself too: I’m really enjoying Tobecontinued. And a part of me is sorry I can’t just go to the book shop and buy my copy of the paper version (paper version that cannot structurally exist, by the way, given the interactive nature of the project). Aren’t you a little upset that you can’t have something physical to hold in your hands?
I had my experiences whit the physical production when I was working with Delebile, and it’s very fulfilling working for months on a project and then finally see it materialize in an object.
The pleasure of putting something on internet is a different kind of pleasure, maybe a more narcissistic one: in internet you can see exactly how many people read your episode, you can see how they respond to it in the social networks and what comments they leave. That is a guilty pleasure, I think, because it creates some perverse interior dynamics. Also because socials often bring out the worst of the people…
One last technical question, then I’ll let you go… Tobecontinued is written both in italian and in english. How’s it going in the two cases?
I have some good responses also in english, but mainly my readers are italian-speaking. If one thousand people read my episode every week, only 150 are enlgish-speaking. I think that is mainly because of how Tobecontinued is shared.
People arrive to Tobecontinued mainly through Facebook, and Facebook is very local: friends are usually of the same nationality, and if you write in your language it’s pretty hard that a foreigner shares your post and gives you access to his catchment area. So I suppose that the difference in numbers does not depend on the content of the comic but on a problem of communication, but maybe it’s still too early to say.
In any case making a webcomic and being able to surf through social networks aren’t different things: if you create a free product then you must know how to spread it and make people aware of its existence. Of course internet is good because it’s free, but it’s also boundless.