Editor’s note: Easter Eggy goodness over at Girl Genius today, and since it tosses a little love to The Devil’s Panties, I figured we at Fleen should do the same. Panties wrangler Jennie Breeden was kind enough to do an interview with us in the wake of the New York Comic Con last month, and it’s well past time that it ran.
For those of you who may not recall, at San Diego last year Breeden announced that she’d given notice at her day job and was making [web]comics full time. Six months in, how’s she doing?
Fleen: In the time since you quit the rent job, you’ve kept in the Daily Grind with The Devil’s Panties, self-published an ongoing comic book, and produced a fresh line of merchandise. What’s it like being The Hardest Working Woman In Webcomics?
Jennie Breeden: I severely doubt that. I do my fair share of slacking, I just cut a lot of corners. After a month and a half of the comic shop that I worked at still scheduling me, they finally let me leave. It’s surreal to walk into work every day going, What can I do today to get myself fired? Now I feel like I’m on Spring Break and any minute someone’s going to tell me I have to go back to work. It’s a little terrifying knowing that you’re responsible for figuring out how to get that paycheck to come in; I’ve gone nuts with merchandising and it’s a gamble. I’m making money with playing cards but losing it on puzzles; I just have to be careful not to spend my mortgage payments on merchandise that won’t sell.
Fleen: Part of your very hard work has been a punishing convention schedule — how many days are you going to be on the road this year? How are the conventions working for you? Have you seen a shift from “covering the table and travel costs” to “making a profit”?
Breeden: I’m doing about two or three conventions a month, some are in my back yard of Atlanta. The profit is back and forth — I broke even at MegaCon in Florida but ended up losing money in New York. Part of it is spending: I didn’t split a hotel room in New York and payed a lot for cabs from the airport. That can make or break a convention as far as profits. I try to stay at people’s houses and carpool as much as possible; one convention I slept in a van in the parking lot with my pirate buddies. Ah, the glamorous life of a comic artist.
I tell people that I’ll go to any con if I get help with transportation and housing. My fans are incredible! I’m going to five conventions with the help of fans. They give me their frequent flier miles to get me out to places that I normally wouldn’t be able to go like Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, and even England.
Fleen: Your Devil’s Panties comics started as primarily a vehicle for reprints of the webcomic, but it’s changed to include longer-form and independent stories. How do those stories compare to the daily journal style of the webcomic?
Breeden: It’s all the same form. The backlogs of the webcomics that I was using for the comic books has run out so now I’m drawing 4 comics every day to keep up with the 48 page monthly book. I’ll put one up online and the rest into the book, so the webcomic is only telling a little of a story. I’ll put a couple strips up about clubbing but the rest of the story will go into the comic book. I’ve gotta give them SOME incentive to buy it.
Fleen: Okay, so that’s four Devil’s Panties strips for the comic for every one online, and by my count, you’re also drawing Customers Suck weekly, writing and drawing Blood and Water weekly, plus Geebas On Parade three times a week. There’s merchandise designs and order fulfillment on top of that. When do you sleep?
Breeden: I’ve been trying to quit. That and eating, they’re annoying addictions. But the vampire comics I use for the monthly books and Geebas updating has been spotty, so I’m not nearly as diligent as you make me sound. I do about three conventions a month, that gives me two weeks to do the monthly comic. If I get 8 cartoons done a day (my max is 15) then I can get the book done between conventions. And the conventions are what give me enough cartoon material to do that many strips.
Fleen: Speaking of the comic, how is it that you’re able to publish regularly, in a non-superhero, B&W format, at a relatively high price point, and succeed? Most similar efforts would have folded by issue #4, and you just released #10.
Breeden: Have I mentioned that I have awesome fans? The warm fuzzy thing about webcomics is that you get some really loyal fans. It’s a very small percentage, about 0.0001 percent of online readers will actually buy something from their favorite webcomic. The Internet has kind of became this free market — whatever is online is expected to be free. But there are people out there who realize the sheer effort of a daily strip. The fact that you’re doing it for the joy of creating and not charging to share it creates an appreciation from fans. If you’re loyal in your updates then you create loyalty in your fans.
Now this takes time. It took me four years to build up enough fans and prove myself as providing a reliable strip every day before I could venture into the world of print. It took me four years to get enough of those 0.0001 people a day who would buy the book. I can’t wait until the graphic novel comes out in July.
Fleen: Jumping into any undertaking full time has got to have a few unexpected outcomes. What’s surprised you about making [web]comics full time? What’s been tougher than you thought, and what turned out better?
Breeden: It was more of an inching than I jump. I’ve been doing the webcomic since 2001. With all the conventions I realized that the only way that I could afford to quit my day job was if I quit my day job. I didn’t have time to design merchandise and set up for more conventions while working at the comic shop. I’ve heard stories from people who took more risks, quitting the job and living on credit cards while building their readers. I made sure my hit count was nice and fluffy before I did any jumping.
The unexpected outcome was that I didn’t realize how much you move around when I go to work. Walking to your car and interacting with people and just walking across the room. When your day is going into the next room and sitting at a drawing table for 15 hours your bones tend to turn into jelly. I signed up at the YMCA. A guy there asked if I was exercising for vanity, I said it was just so I wouldn’t turn to mush. (And to get muscles!)
Fleen: What are your big goals for 2007?
Breeden: Graphic novels. Lots and lots of graphic novels. We’ll have one every six books (the first with the editor right now and the second is going to the editor next week).
Goals? Try and keep my feet under me. Survive the San Diego con. Hunt down men in kilts with my leaf blower (and camera crew) at Dragon*Con (with knee pads this time). Plant a garden (that won’t die). Paint the Devil and Angel girls on the back of my car. Fix my gutters … hmmm. I lust after a Winnebago, but that would be a bad idea. It’s just a fantasy anyway.
Fleen: I’ve been digging the merchandise you’ve released. The playing cards are great, the calendar was unexpected, and I’m surprised that nobody thought of a picture puzzle before. What new items are you looking at producing?
Breeden: Someday I’d like to do a statue. I’ve heard of a company in Japan that can make one based on a picture, but I don’t think I’ve got my sales up enough to warrant a $100 item. I’ll probably do another t-shirt design. I just have to figure out if “I didn’t escape, they gave me a day pass” is copyrighted. I can’t remember where I got that quote from.
I just e-mailed the playing card place about a second deck. I finished designing it last night, but that will take another 6 or 7 weeks before they finish printing it. I’d love to do a plushy but need to find a company that does them and decide who I should stuff. The Devil Girl would be the obvious answer but I don’t think she’d make a good plushy. I’d like to do a flying monkey but I think that’s copyrighted. Maybe a plague monkey.
Fleen: Ever get the urge to go back to selling comics in a shop?
Breeden: Every Wednesday. I miss being able to read a couple graphic novels and then put them back on the shelf. I’m so behind on what’s up to date in the comic world. I don’t even know who’s died/come back from the dead in Marvel/DC these days.
Fleen: I understand you a) like rice, and b) get a kick out of comics convention Iron Chef competitions. Got any recipes to share with us?
Breeden: My boyfriend has a rice cooker. I like rice because I measure it out, add water, and press a button. Everything else is done when the fire alarm goes off. Tortilla, black beans, and cheddar cheese with a little Texas Pete for a burrito. Use the plate that you eat the burrito on to cover the beans when nuking and storage of beans. Makes dinner for two nights.
Fleen: On a scale of one to awesome, how cool are your boots?
Fleen: A teenage kid comes up to you at a show and declares a desire to make comics. What’s your best advice on how to make it?
Breeden: First: Go do it. I don’t care if you don’t think you can draw or whatever your excuse is for procrastinating on it, go do it. There’s plenty of free hosting and sites that are made for webcomics. Drunk Duck, Comic Genesis, Comicspace, it’s free and you have no excuse. Draw it on your computer, take a digital picture of it, scan it in at the library, use clip art. As long as you have something to say, there’s nothing stopping you from saying it.
Second: Update regularly. If you say you’ll update weekly, three times a week, every day, whatever, then do it. Even if you update with a picture of your cat, a drawing of a bug, or a scribble on the back of an envelope saying you’re drunk. Update.
Fleen: How do your friends/family feel, knowing that any random thing they do or say may end up illustrated for the world to see? Has your boyfriend put anything off limits?
Breeden: I haven’t really shown any of the really weird stuff about my family. I’m the least odd person in the Breeden Clan. We’re a family of artists. My brother thinks that I need to “say something” with my comic. My mom is just happy that I’m doing what I want with my life and making a living at it. My sister wants me to stop doing the “what not to say in the bedroom” strips and my other sister just wants me to stop calling her jailbait. I think she’s 23 this year.
There’s been maybe two times when something has happened and I turn to my boyfriend and say, “That was so funny, can I do a cartoon about it?” and he’ll say, “No, my friends read your comic. My SISTER reads it. Your mother reads it! You can’t do a cartoon about that.” But only twice in, what, 6 years of doing the comic (3 years of relationship, I think.)
Fleen: It seems like you’ve got a pretty artistic family (and judging from some strips, you and your siblings can’t always be trusted to sit quietly in church). How much of any influence were they on your development as an artist?
Breeden: My two older brothers read comics. They wouldn’t always let me read them (you color in one Conan book and are banned from the long box for the rest of your life, I swear), so I wanted to read them all the more. Same with Dungeons and Dragons. They wouldn’t let me play so I wanted to.
Nothing was really discouraged as a field of study in our house. Except the one time I asked my mom if I could go to the pre-teen modeling tryouts at the mall. She got a stern look on her face and said “If that’s what you want to do.” She said that we should never think that what we look like is all we are. I don’t remember being discouraged in anything (other than that). It never occurred to me that going to college for comic books was odd. Not until two years ago at Momocon when my family came to visit and all the other people in the art room looked at me and said, “Your family KNOWS what you do?!?”
In an artist family it never seemed weird to pursue art, even if it was comic books.
Fleen: What’s the ultimate goal that defines success for you?
Breeden: The ultimate goal is to quit the day job and be able to pay the rent using the money I make at drawing. Done. My day job finally let me leave last September. I’m not bankrupt yet so I think that I’ve made it. We’ll just see how long this lasts. I’m still trying to get more hits and think up better merchandise; I don’t see this as a final result, but the next hurdle.
Now I have to keep it up. Not having a steady paycheck come in, I know that there’s going to be good and bad times. That’s why I’m hitting as many conventions as I can (and sleeping in vans in the parking lot and pocketing the muffins at complimentary breakfasts). That’s how I make an income.
Now my goal is graphic novels. After that … maybe Devil’s Panties action figures.
Fleen thanks Breeden for her time, answers, and daily creativity. At the next convention where Fleen and Breeden are both to be found (likely San Diego), these thanks will be made tangible in the form of muffins.