Monday, 1 November 2010

One Question Interview #16: Brooks M. Williams

As the very first person to claim our Featured Creator spot, it should come as no surprise that we're big fans of Brooks M. Williams' swagger. As stated way back when, his online strip Facebrooks turns the often-mundane autobiographical strip genre on its head by pairing the everyday social mechanics of college life with hyper-bizarre visuals and character design. 

Because of this, one of the most impressive things about Facebrooks (for us, at least) is how it manages to re-invigorate the diary strip almost entirely through the virtue of design. In a devious attempt to derail his frankly inhuman work-rate, we invited Brooks to talk to us about the decisions that inform his design work on the strip. What resulted was an interesting insight into the process behind Williams' illustration and how he marries the visual with the conceptual in his work. Fantastic.

How would you describe your process and perspective when designing characters?

"When a series has nothing going for it and there’s no growth or memorable events happening for large spans of time, there’s a certain quality to these series that keeps a reader around. It’s the same sort of quality that makes Facebook interesting or Twitter more than a momentary waste of time – it’s a chance to step into someone’s shoes and stop being ‘you’ for a second. It’s an option to judge somebody's rawest form. We all have those cravings; it’s what makes us human, and what feeds into why even the worst autobio comics have this certain pull to them.

I wanted to take advantage of that without wasting the reader’s time, to take that autobiographical pot and stir some more seasoning into the stew; to make it familiar but a new sort of experience. What I mean is, most autobiography series rely on day-to-day happenings and little inside jokes, no overarching story or memorable ‘characters’ to keep track of aside from the girlfriend or wacky/weird pal and party animal friend. There was a conscious need to get away from that kind of stuff while at the same time taking what made those aspects fun and interesting and adding my own twist into it while still being true to my life and the events that have taken place within it.

All of that thinking went into how I crafted the ‘look’ of the comic. I wanted something strange and wacky to look at, something that could be crazy one panel and very human and emotional in the next, so the strips I created would still be interesting to see even if the content in them was actually very bland and text-heavy. You’d be amazed at what you could get away with story-wise if you have a character that has a very interesting design or in a very odd or ‘wacky’ position. It makes a very nice balance for the reader. No matter what, they’ll be entertained somehow, it’s just a matter of ‘what's more interesting: the drawings or the story?’ – either way, the combo will be a winner.

I have a very large and varied group of friends I like to spend time with from all over my state, of all sorts of races and creeds, and I wanted to capture that with specific designs for each one. I didn’t want any two looking similar enough that people would start to get them mixed up, so I kept a strong hold on making each one have a completely different silhouette from the ‘character’ before it, and trying to give each one something iconic and memorable to stick in the reader’s minds.

For example, the stand-in for me has a ‘horn’ of hair on his head and a Mickey Mouse-shaped body. My friend Rod has oddly-shaped ears, a space-themed belt, and moon boots, and another friend, Brandon, is crafted with a nesting doll-esque design and wears a different shirt in every strip with a dumb pun written on it. Some designs don’t look entirely like the people they’re supposed to be, but they all manage to capture and contain the personality of the person they are representing, so at the end of the day, it all works out.

My persona is supposed to represent a lot of the qualities and ticks of trying to be a ‘man,’ so it’s only fitting that things are sharp and pointy on my character with a soft middle, just like how I am.

Rodriguez is a little bit ‘out there’ so of course the guy is decked out in space-themed attire, and Brandon is a character of many layers and pasts, so his matryoshka doll similarities really fit in with what he is all about. Other people like Nick, Leigh, and Eric have this sort of reasoning too; they all do. Each one goes through a long creative process when I go about designing them, and the last result never looks like what I start with. Sometimes a person only takes a day to nail down, and other times it takes a few months to really get what I want out of the look of a character.

The one thing I wanted to avoid was making everyone look too crazy. There’s a thin line between funny, interesting, and believable and strange-looking, Spumco wacky, and hard-to-identify-with. There had to be a way that I could walk a tightrope between both without losing a section of my audience or ruining the constant growth of the comic by making someone unbelievably, obnoxiously cartoony. I'm not sure I have it down to a 'T' yet, but it's something I work towards."

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes our nerdy hearts swell up with love, and we're so grateful to Brooks for answering us in such detail. You absolutely should go over to the Pow Pow Comics website now to check out more of his super-charismatic work. How many times do you need us to pressure you? Do it already!

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