Welcome Back True Believers to another of our world renowned 20 Questions interviews! Today we have spared no expense in flying out Nicole McCurry to our top secret location of The Official Root Beer Party Estates. The weather is finally become welcoming again as winter has receded and spring is in the air. The Dedicated Root Beer Party Monks are hard at work in the fields planting this years crop of Vanilla, Sassafras, and Birch for the brewing of this years batch of the Elixir of life that is Root Beer.
We sit out in the lower veranda overlooking the great fields and our conversation soon turns from root beer to the greatest achievement in all of the history of humanity, our comics. Nicole is the artist and writer of the Ecadian Chronicles, an epic comic set in the world of Ecadia.
You can read the complete Ecadian Chronicles Here: http://ecadianchronicles.com/
The story (so far) is an epic quest journey of heroes from all parts of Ecadia to find the Secret Scroll. It sounds simple enough, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Ecadia is home to many different races of people, some native, some alien and some a hybrid between the many different peoples. This is a story with many layers of social complexity. We find a higher meaning in the underlying concept of the story which plays out as a redemption or hero’s quest for our protagonists. It is about more then the redemption of our heroes, it is also about the redemption of the society at large and what is involved in the many facets of conflict underlying the quest for political and social unity.
So let us begin with our own journey and learn of the quest that has brought Nicole McCurry to join us:
What got you started in doing a comic series?
I’ve always written stories. Like, even as a little girl, I was always making up stories and that. My first ever comic was angsty gay dinosaur high school drama. I wrote that at, like 5. In my early twenties I tried my hand at writing novels, but I hated it. I started getting really into webcomics and manga at the time (early aughts) and thought, “hey, I wonder if this would be better as a webcomic.” I couldn’t draw for shite. Art wasn’t encouraged in our house growing up. It was a waste of time. So I got an artist. She was paid in stolen computer parts we used to build her her own desktop. But two weeks before we were set to go live, her appendix burst. So I said “Guess I gotta learn to draw in two weeks.” I failed, but not enough to cancel the project.
Who was your greatest influence?
Writing wise, people like Terry Pratchett, Dave Berry, and Nikolai Gogol. Art wise, I learned a lot about facial expressions and posturing from Kate Beaton. I read Scott McCloud’s book on making comics where I learned cinematic paneling and how to draw people in general. I read a lot of manga and studied dynamic posing and effects. I learned how to draw horses and centaurs from doing My Little Pony fanart. Basically, if I liked the way someone else drew something, I practiced it until I could do it well enough that I could put my own spin on it.
What is your favorite root beer and why?
We have a local brew pub here in State College that brews their own root beer. It’s really good. As for more widely distributed root beers, I like Blue Sky and Virgil’s, mostly because I like their business practices but also because they don’t use HFCS. That shit fucks me up.
What do you hope to accomplish with your comic?
I just kind of hope people read it and like it. I’m also hoping to add more diversity to fantasy. There is a serious lack of poc, lgbt, and chronically ill and disabled characters in modern fantasy. I kind of got tired of every fantasy story in history following the same path; Medieval European good guys, elves are beautiful and noble and good, goblins are icky and bad, black people don’t exist except for bad guys from far away lands, and nobody is gay or trans or ill, no one lives under true poverty, just Hollywood Poverty, where you say you cant feed your family but your clothes are clean, your teeth are as straight as your people, and everyone can find time to brush and set their hair.
Do you have any other artistic interests outside of comics?
I try to find time to draw non-comic related stuff, just for me. But I also really like cooking. Cooking is definitely an art form. Used to want to knit and do blacksmithing and glass blowing and play instruments, but my hands can’t do any of those things anymore. I’m finding it harder and harder to hold a pencil now, let alone something as intricate as knitting.
Do you see yourself as a professional cartoonist, or is this just something you do for yourself?
Oh I am not a professional. I can’t see anyone wanting to pay me for my work. I definitely just do this for me. I make the kind of content I want to see. If other people also want to read it, cool. But I don’t think I could take having a publisher tell me I need to change this or that to be more relatable to the general public. I’m not good with being told what to do.
What type of subject or humor do you consider out of bounds for your strips and why?
I will never, ever have a bigoted joke unless it is told by a villain, and the reaction of the main characters is disgust. No fat jokes. No gay jokes. Nothing that takes advantage of or devalues minorities. I will satirize the shit out of the rich, the fascists, the patriarchy, etc. Because the point of satire is to challenge the status quo. Challenge those in power. If your humor is attacking someone who is already oppressed, that’s not satire, that’s bullying.
What kind of equipment or style of drawing do you use?
First I sketch stuff out on printer paper with mechanical pencil. Then I scan it and do line work and colors in Gimp (2.6 I believe??? Maybe???) using a wacom intuos tablet (I think it’s a 5? Intuos 5? I threw away the box). Gimp is a free open-source image manipulation program designed to be a contender with photoshop. And Intuos tablets are pretty cheap. I think mine was maybe 200-300 bucks? I tried doing the linework with copic pens, but at some point my hands got too shaky and I had to switch to digital. The weighted pen tool is a lifesaver if you have trouble with stiff, shaky, or painful hands.
What sort of training or academic program did you pursue to become a cartoonist?
Absolutely sweet fuckall. As I said earlier, art was not really encouraged in my house. Especially after I had to start being the primary care-taker in my family around 9 years old. I had to focus on getting my dad and brother ready for work and school, feeding them, cleaning the house, doing the shopping, etc. And I still had to make good grades (which I absolutely did not). So doing anything relaxing, or anything my dad thought was a waste of time, was strongly frowned upon. I spent one year in college before flunking out because I chose the stay in my dorm and drink and smoke weed and play video games instead of going to class. It was the first break I’d gotten in ten years. Then I was just working dead-end jobs and drinking and smoking and pretty much nothing else. I tried to keep writing, but it was very hard. Then I got pregnant, which meant getting sober, and only then did I realize that I was sick. Not just the untreated depression and anxiety and ADD I’d always had, but physically, chronically ill. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t go out and hike and sword-fight and rock-climb and all the other things I enjoyed doing. I read a lot. I’d always been a big reader. It was the only thing I was really allowed to do because I could say it was for school. I got inspired to start writing again.
What has been the highlight of your cartooning career?
When other artists I really admire say they like my stupid shit. I am both very easily flattered and also terrified of praise. Thanks anxiety!
What has been the lowest point in your cartooning career?
The two times I put my comic on reddit and got flooded with negative comments, sexual harassment, and rape threats. For my stupid piece of shit comic. But honestly, if you’re making stupid people mad, you’re probably doing something right.
Are collections of your work available beyond the web? If So where?
No. At first I was gonna wait until people started asking for physical copies or merch. But now I am way too tired to redraw and rewrite the first half of the comic and ready it for print. I looked into how much work it would take and holy shit. No thank you.
Are there any other web comic artists that you really admire?
Holy shit, where do I begin? I mentioned Kate Beaton earlier. As a history and lit nerd, Hark! A Vagrant was an instant hit with me. I loved Dustpiggies when it was still going, and I continue to love everything Mike Bromage has done ever since. Autophobia by GHST, Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, and Tripping Over You by Owen White and Suzana Harcum are three lgbt slice of life comics I’m kinda obsessed with at the moment. I love Jess Fink. I read Chester (18+) so many times, and her autobiographical comics were a delight. Tina Pratt’s Paul Reveres (American Revolution but with punk instead of guns) is so on fucking brand with me. I haven’t read it in a while, I need to catch up. I have met so many good, inspiring artists through Root Beer Party, I literally don’t know where to start. You’re all just out there living y’all best lives and making fun comics, even if I’m having a rough day I can look at what y’all are doing and be like “I need to get my shit together and DRAW! Gotta be part of the Dudes!”
What kind of impact has cartooning had on your life and could you ever see yourself not doing it?
Cartooning has become my only creative outlet. My only social outlet, as well. I have met so many good friends through mutual love for webcomics and I would be so sad if I never got to talk to them again. I am stuck up three flights of stairs, housebound most of the time, in too much pain and too tired to leave. Everything I loved doing is gone for me. Even reading is becoming more and more difficult as my as eyes can’t focus on things for more than a few seconds, my hands can’t hold a book, and my brain just skips over entire paragraphs without holding onto anything. My drawing has been negatively affected as well, which means it takes a lot longer for me to draw than it used to, and more and more mistakes go unnoticed. But I have to keep going. If I stop, then what’s left of me? A pile of fat and pain and neuroses with a head full of stories and no one to listen. SO I keep going. Even though I don’t get paid, I could count the number of readers on one hand, I’m not terribly good at drawing, and I end every day completely exhausted. I’m gonna keep telling these fucking stories until I die or become too crippled to keep going. Then maybe I’ll hire an artist. Maybe we’ll be able to afford it by then.
Do you have any advice for the Trolls out there who harass content creators? (no need to keep this answer clean.)
Their lives are meaningless. All they have in the world is insecurity and meanness and self-absorption. Nothing we can say or do beyond a doctorate in psychology will fix that. The only way they can feel big is to make others feel small. They have a small, pathetic little world, and they will leave behind them nothing but cruel words and foul air. They are of no consequence.
Do you set yourself any deadlines or other tricks to keep yourself motivated?
Honestly, it’s my anxiety and my need to feel worthy that keeps me going. I have to get pages out, I have to write script, I have to figure out how I’m going to panel… I have to keep going. I actually have to force myself to take breaks.
Apart from root beer, what is your favorite drink?
Alcoholic: whiskey; Irish or Scottish. Non-alcoholic: Strong black tea; PG Tips, Typhoo, Lapsang Souchong, English breakfast, etc. I am fueled by tea and nerves alone. And potatoes.
Are you already a member of the root beer party and if not, what is the matter with you?
I am! I was invited by James Boyd of Sunny Side Up fame. And I felt accepted almost immediately.
What is the most challenging aspect of cartooning for you?
The drawing. Just, like, all of it. Seriously tho, any tiny details. My eyes don’t focus and my hands lock up and scream in pain. I had to draw a skeleton recently and that was all I was able to accomplish that day because it damn near killed my hand. My vision isn’t great, but it’s not a problem with eyes, it’s a problem with my brain. So proportions are often off, perspective is all wonky, I can’t judge distance… it’s like things just start swimming around and then go blurry, and I have to rest my eyes a bit before I can go on. It happens a couple times a minute and it’s really frickin’ irritating.
What are your future plans involving web comics or anything else going on in your life?
I’m just gonna keep going as long as my health will let me. I have a very supportive spouse and child, both of whom want me to keep going as long I can. My husband is an actual fan, which is nice, and my daughter is laboring under the misapprehension that I am “cool.”
So there you have it True Believers, another awesome look behind the curtain of our favorite comic creators. Comics truly are humanities greatest accomplishment, all we need to do is look at the dedication and suffering which makes our favorite comics possible. These brief interviews are only a snapshot into the world of comic creators and they really show us a slight glimpse into the real world which makes our favorite fantasy worlds possible.
So we say good bye for now to Nicole as she returns to make even more comics for the world. Check out her comic and you can check out her Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/ecadia
Join us again True Believers for more interviews with your favorite comic creators and as always, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.