One of the best local comic strips happening not found in your everyday print newspaper is the humor found on Channelate. Started over six years ago by artist Ryan Hudson, the online comic does what many full-time artists do in the newspapers, putting fresh comics up daily with a more irreverent tone and risky subject matter that have earned him a loyal following and made him a favorite with online comic readers. Today we're chatting with Hudson about his career and getting started in comics, launching Channelate into what it is today, his style and method as well as a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Hudson.
Gavin: Hey Ryan! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a 30 year old cartoonist and animator from Salt Lake City. I've got a wife named Vee and two dogs that we pass off as grandchildren to our parents. I write and draw a comic called Channelate, I write, voice act and animate for the Cyanide and Happiness Show.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in comics and what were your favorite titles growing up?
I was always a fan of the comics page in the newspaper. I read them all, but Dilbert was my favorite as a kid, until Get Fuzzy
came along in junior high. As for comic books, I read the hell out of Fantastic Four
. That was the only title I actually followed religiously. It really inspired me and at that time I was sure I was going to grow up to be a comic book illustrator. I was wrong, but that's okay.
Gavin: When did you start getting into drawing up your own strips?
I've been drawing comics in one form or another since I was really little. I used to draw Ghostbusters
stories and my Grandpa would write in the dialogue for me, since I was too young to do it myself. In junior high I had a comic strip in the school paper called Kyle
. It was your standard three panel strip about a kid growing up and the title character was named after my middle name. It's fun for me to go back and read it and see how I was naturally figuring out how jokes worked, since I don't think I was aware I was writing jokes. I was just mimicking what I saw in papers. One detail that makes me laugh is how I never drew boobs on the adult women in the strip, because I didn't want to be embarrassed if my mom saw that I spent time making "artistic boob decisions".
Gavin: You went to Utah Valley University and eared a Bachelors in Multimedia. What made you choose UVU and what was their program like for you?
Before attending UVU I earned an associates degree from Salt Lake Community College. I got all my generals out of the way and almost all of my lower level art classes, including 2D and 3D animation courses. The art department there was awesome and they had everything pretty well established by that point. I chose to attend UVU because the Multimedia Department there had just added an animation emphasis to their program. In addition to that, a handful of my classmates from the SLCC art department were planning to attend as well, which made the decision pretty easy for me. I haven't been back there since I graduated, but at the time the program was brand new, so there were kinks that could only be worked out with time, which I'm sure they have by now. But it added some frustration at the time.
Gavin: Prior to the website, had you worked on anything with cartoons or animation?
I actually started Channelate while I was working as an animator in the video game industry. It was my college dream job, but industry instability, insane work hours, and studio drama very quickly jaded the hell out of me. It very soon became my dream to work from home doing cartoons in some capacity.
Gavin: How did the idea for Channelate as a whole concept come about?
My original idea was for Channelate to be an animated cartoon channel. I was inspired by things like Joecartoon, Homestarrunner and Adult Swim cartoons. I realized that making cartoons for the site would take a great deal of time, but I didn't want to wait that long to start building a presence. I thought if I started posting comics, they would gain an audience and therefore my cartoons would have one once they were finished. The comics really took off and that changed my focus.
Gavin: You launched back in February 2008. What was it like for you putting the website together and building up the content during the first year?
Getting the actual website up and running was the biggest hurdle for me. As funny as it sounds now, back in the early and mid 2000's, it was a mystery to me how websites and domains actually worked. I had no idea how affordable it actually was to own a domain, or how easy it was to use a CMS like WordPress to build a site. I thought I would actually have to build every unique page a comic would be on and edit the navigation buttons on each post. If I had figured that stuff out, I would have started posting comics and cartoons much earlier. I drew around twenty comics before I started posting them on the site, because I wanted to hit the ground running with content. At first I thought it would be a daily thing, but I realized after about a month that it would be impossible to keep up. In the first year I didn't have a post schedule, I just posted whenever I had an idea.
Gavin: How was it for you personally developing your sense of humor and figuring what worked best in a 1-3 panel format?
The sense of humor that comes through in my comics is the sense of humor I have always had. South Park
first aired when I was 13 or 14 and I remember my friends and I talked about how it was the first cartoon that truly grasped the kind of humor we indulged in when adults weren't around. It was seeing webcomics like Cyanide and Happiness
and The Perry Bible Fellowship
in my college years that showed me what it looked like to translate that familiar humor into a strip. The influences can be seen in my first year or two, and I feel like since then I have developed my own flavor.
Gavin: What was the immediate reaction like from people when you launched?
The reaction was pretty positive right out of the gate, which actually surprises me now when I look back on it. The warm response from a small audience was validated for me when after a few weeks my comics started spreading on the social bookmarking site, Stumbleupon.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new comic, from initial idea to final strip?
My writing process has evolved a lot over the years. In the very beginning I would basically stare at the wall and write down ideas if and when they would come. I wasted a lot of time doing that. It was not a very effective way of writing, but I thought it was a normal thing to wait for inspiration to strike. Nowadays, I force myself to put in the work even if I don't feel inspired. I do what I call "warm-up comics." I have stacks and stacks of paper with squares printed on them and I try to fill in the squares with as many three panel jokes as I can. I start the first panel without knowing where the joke will end up. Almost like a one person improv game. It doesn't matter how bad the jokes are and I am never concerned about them being read by anyone. Sometimes a good joke will come out of this game. Other times a new joke will be inspired by one of the bad jokes. I would say I get one usable joke for every ten warm-up jokes I draw. After I have the joke locked down, I sketch it out and ink it in a program called Manga Studio. Then, I take it into Adobe Photoshop to color it and save it optimized for the web. The only thing left to do after that is stress out while watching "Like" numbers and wonder what went wrong.
Gavin: Do you find yourself scrapping a lot of ideas, or do you try to tough it out and make them work rather than garbage them?
I don't technically scrap ideas too often. I keep every single warm-up comic I draw in a removable IKEA drawer that I can drag around the house if I want to come up with a comic without doing my warm-ups. If I feel like a joke actually has potential, I will try to tough it out and make it something I find post-worthy. I've drawn comics that sat in my drawer for months and even years. There are plenty of warm-ups I know right out of gate aren't usable, but I save them anyway, just in case.
Gavin: Considering the format of having instant reach to your audience, what's it like having immediate feedback to your strips?
It's kind of crazy, actually. I know pretty quickly whether or not I've bombed. I try not to let it affect my writing too much. It's a slippery slope to start adjusting your writing to what you think will get a good response, but it's tempting.
Gavin: With that feedback, how would you say the audience has changed Channelate over the years?
Well, I feel like the jokes I write now are much better crafted than they were in the beginning. They were a lot more juvenile in the past. I've had some old readers tell me they stopped reading because I wasn't funny anymore and I've had new readers tell me that they don't like my old stuff nearly as much as my last few years. I wouldn't be surprised to find out my current readership had completely replaced my old one.
Gavin: A couple years ago you worked on the Greg Is A Garden Gnome cartoon. How was it putting that project together?
It was a lot of fun, because I really do have a passion for cartoons. It was hard doing the Greg
stuff because I was reinventing the wheel in a lot of areas of the production, due to my lack of experience. I've learned a lot working on the Cyanide and Happiness Show
. The Explosm team does everything so efficiently. If I ever decide to give Greg
another shot, I'll be doing things drastically different from the first go.
Gavin: Besides the website, what other projects do you currently have coming down the road?
Aside from Channelate, I'm really excited about the work I've been involved in with Cyanide and Happiness
. Since their successful Kickstarter last year, they've been posting a new animated short every single week leading up to the debut of the upcoming animated series. I've been lucky to have the opportunity to write a handful of the shorts, draw storyboards/animatics on another handful, and occasionally perform voice overs. On the upcoming series, I've been doing animatics and a lot of 3D animation. The final product is looking amazing and I think C&H fans are going to lose it when they see the show.
Gavin: Do you have plans to expand or are fine with things how they are now?
It's been gradual growth so far, but I want things to always be expanding. I'd like to be doing more of everything I'm doing now. More comics, more original shorts, exhibit at more conventions. Whatever I can do to get Channelate in front of new eyes. Things do feel great right now, though. I don't have much to complain about.
Gavin: What can we expect from both you and the website over the rest of the year?
Well we are coming into the holiday season, so I'm hoping to get the Channelate store stocked with new items. I'm also working on layout for the next printed volume of Channelate comics, so I can have it ready in the new year.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Here are some of the Cyanide and Happiness Shorts I wrote. Watch 'em! Here