The mainstream perception of web comics tends to consist of simple daily strips consisting of conventional punchlines, much akin to classic comic strips.
But there is an increasingly prominent subculture of web comics which go further into a field of deep and thoughtful prose. Subnormality is a weekly strip by Winston Rowntree, whose comics focus on the human condition with a satirical angle on perspectives.
What inspired you to start (and continue) Subnormality?
I started it on a whim, essentially – online comics seemed to be the big trend in comic strips, and my own little self-publishing ‘zine career didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything. So I was like “heck, let’s try a webcomic”. What inspires me to continue is that it turned into something ten thousand times bigger than I thought it would be, I mean I never had any idea that I’d actually attract an audience, but I have done and the strip is now my focus in life basically. I’m honored to have the opportunity to communicate with an audience via my work, and I intend to make use of the opportunity for as long as would be decorous.
What are some of the main themes and ideas behind the comic?
Maybe just the idea that the world is not how it should be – in terms of the picture of the world we’re given in the mass media, in terms of social justice, in terms of gender equality and other aspects of sexuality, in terms of rationality and emotion needing their due. In terms of irritable mythological creatures with nice haircuts being misunderstood.
What’s the process to your writing? Do you set out with a purpose or is it more spontaneous?
It really depends. I’m not so lucky and/or skilled to be able to come up with great ideas based on any given whim, so while I do make a lot of comics after having set out on a purpose, I also make a lot where the idea arrived completely spontaneously. I just try and remain open to all avenues, because good ideas are pretty hard to come by.
The tagline for the comic is ‘Comix with too many words since 2007’, do you try to strike a balance between words and drawings? Where is the line (pardon the pun) drawn between the two?
Though not always successfully, I definitely try and strike a balance in terms of the actual physical space occupied by the text and the drawings on the page. I mean a newspaper comic, like a Dilbert comic for instance, might have only twelve words in a panel, but they take up like half or even two-thirds of the frame, and I’d like to think I can do a little better than that. I might have a hundred words in a panel, but I try to make damn sure there’s an actual drawing in there too (and yes, there are examples where I’ve failed in that, but ain’t none of us is be perfect always).
In terms of the amount of text in a given comic, I make absolutely no efforts whatsoever to limit that (as people may have noticed by now…). If what I want to say is 2000 words then that’s how much text is gonna be in there. Comics are an unpopular little niche in the grand scheme of things, so anyone who says ‘oh, you should have so many words in a panel for ideal flow etc etc’ has to be working under the assumption that maintaining the status quo is somehow a good idea.
Comics don’t need to be a niche, so let’s take some risks here. I’m definitely not saying huge walls of text are the secret to rocketing comics into the mainstream, but taking risks in similar ways might indeed be. Forget the “rules” in other words. They have got us nowhere.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and/or artists?
If you’re in it for the money, quit now, because there isn’t any money. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to sacrifice creature comforts and stability and peace of mind in favor of self-expression and communication then comics might be for you. If you want to crank out awful little three-panel gags because you think you can earn a living at it like they did 30 years ago then do us all a favor and explode on the runway. It’s very hard to monetize comic strips, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.
HOWEVER, everything else about comic strips right now is amazing. Web hosting is dirt cheap and the internet instantly gives you unprecedented creative freedom AND access to a global audience, so if you have something to say and you want people to hear it then now’s the time. It’s a bad time to be in it for the money, but it’s a great time to be in it for the art.
What other web comics you would recommend?
I’d recommend Akimbo Comics, as well as Hitmen For Destiny. Those are the two I’m most enthusiastic about, I reckon. The former is unpredictable and smart, and the latter is intensely creative and hilarious.