GeekOut

Web Comic Spotlight: Onezumi and Harknell

In Web comics, there's a niche for everyone. "Stupid & Insane Defenders Against Chaos" is the niche that mixes Lovecraftian monsters with Japanese-inspired art and a dash of nerdy humor concerning the most evil careers known to man: business management and finance.

It's a comic that started in 2003, involving two characters, Onezumi and Harknell, who have evil genius versions of themselves in another, horror-filled dimension. Through some shenanigans, these characters swap universes, and things get wickedly funny from there.

For example, there's a character called Mr. OctoPants, who in Onezumi and Harknell's universe is just a goofy octopus who collects really ugly pants from Macy's. A "beast with a thousand horrible pants," if you will. But in the evil universe, he's truly suspicious.

The creative team behind the comic, Onezumi Hartstein and her husband James Harknell, have a far more serious side (albeit still plenty nerdy) when it comes to their business. As early web comic purveyors, they rode the wild, untamed waves of the internet, gathering enough skills to start their own, informative convention for Web artists of all kinds.

Called "Intervention" (a combination of "Internet" and "Convention") their con continues to increase attendance year after year. Fans and artist guests alike can learn ways to create and promote their craft at Intervention. The con is already scheduled for 2012, where internet nerds of all kinds will descend on the Hilton Rockville in Maryland on September 21 through the 23rd.

Onezumi and Harknell took a break from their last Intervention to chat with Geek Out! about the Web comic medium and their approach to the industry.

CNN: So why choose the medium of Web comics?

Onezumi: I’ve always drawn. I grew up in the 80s and 90s before the Internet was really a huge, huge thing, and I kind of never thought that anybody would see my work.

I didn’t come from the kind of background where I could afford a lot of things. I couldn’t afford to go and get a lot of computer science education. I couldn’t afford the equipment to get my stuff out there. I didn’t have friends at Marvel or DC, I didn’t have any knowledge of how any of that worked, because back then you couldn’t just google how to submit something to Marvel or DC.

I was graduating college and I didn’t know what to do. My friend said to me, "You’ve always been drawing and going to conventions, why don’t you put your comic online. 'Cause people do that."

This was 2001 or 2002. So I decided to go and try it, and I felt this incredible freedom. For the first time in my life I was able to do what I wanted, I was able to try things that were experimental, even, and people started to come see it.

Harknell: I used to have a BBS way back in the olden days, and when it came back around to the Internet, it kind of matched up to what I used to enjoy doing. When it came to putting Oni's stuff online, I knew HTML, but I didn’t know much else. There wasn’t PHP at the time, it was being developed when we started putting the comic up.

 Onezumi: Kids, get off my lawn! (Giggles)

 Harknell: I started taking classes at Rutgers University about the programming and a lot of it was me just jumping in and learning as we went. It was definitely a great experience and it helped me with a lot of the skills I use today in regular jobs and with our web development stuff.

When I set up our first content management of the site it was a major issue. Now, thank God, it’s gotten a lot easier and there are practically turn-key solutions for anybody who wants to set up a comic.

But I think it wouldn’t have gotten to that point if a large number of people hadn’t jumped in and realized that this was the way to get to an audience - worldwide - and you no longer had to worry about a gatekeeper telling you, ‘No, sorry, what you want to talk about isn’t good enough.’ or, ‘It’s not financially viable for us because it has to have this metric’

CNN: Do web comics do something that paper comics don’t?

Harknell: It depends. I would say you can find a web comic for every niche in the entire universe. We had some people at Intervention last year on a panel. One of our friends, Chris Malone, he does a comic about a group of surfers called “Blue and Blonde” and it’s very heavily niche. Very heavily oriented towards surfing.

Onezumi: Or “Knit Princess.” There’s a web comic devoted entirely to knitting. Which is actually really awesome.

Harknell: Obviously, Marvel, DC, Image, none of the major comics would ever be able to print 30,000 copies of something like that speculatively. But online, you put it out there, you do good work and in your niche, if you publicize it right, you can get a decent amount of people interested.

It makes the ability to distribute non-mainstream work incredibly cost effective. If you satisfy the niche you can probably do pretty well.

 CNN: So why create a convention?

Onezumi: We looked at conventions and we saw things that we really liked and we saw things that we didn’t think really served independent creators as well as they could have.

A lot of conventions don’t put clickable links to their exhibiting artists’ websites. Somebody who’s a new artist - or even an established artist - might be in a new geographic area where people just don’t read your comic. It’s very helpful for everyone to, before the event, go to the person’s site.

Number one it gets people excited about the convention, number two it helps the artist out, too. We were one of the first to put clickable links and pictures, samples of peoples’ work so that people can get excited about it. I try to think of it in terms of how would I want my work best displayed at a convention, and I just kind of did it for everyone.

Harknell: In many ways what ended up happening was, we wanted to be at a con that matched what we wanted to have at a con, from both an attendee and a vendor side. Honestly, if somebody had done it before us, we probably would have supported it. we would have been like, ‘We’re gonna go there and help these guys!’

Onezumi: We do actually staff other events and support as many as possible.

Harknell: We wanted to have an event where the idea of doing stuff online, using the internet as your distribution medium, not just for comics but for podcasts, video, bloggers, musicians, the whole thing.

We wanted to have something where if you went to that event you could see the great array of stuff that was being done online, you could also learn how to do what we’re all doing.

And we didn’t find one particular event that had that emphasis of the internet. We’ve been to many other events, sci-fi cons, comic cons, anime cons, and they’ve all been very welcoming. But they weren’t about learning how to do what we did. Maybe one panel, but the whole event was an anime con.

We wanted to make an event where it was all what we were doing with all of the great other people that were doing it, so we could pass along the knowledge we’d gained.