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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ian McDonald Speaks!

I recently had the opportunity to fire a list of questions at Ian McDonald, creator of the Bruno the Bandit webcomic and driving force behind the upcoming book "The Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit".  Even better, Ian had the chance to answer those questions!  Now, thanks to the magic of the internet, I can share with you this behind the scenes look at the creation of Bruno the Bandit.

I know you've probably answered this question a million times by now, and the answer should be obvious, but what was the original inspiration for the character Bruno the Bandit? The character looks very similar in some ways to Michael Fleisher-era Conan. Was that deliberate?

You mean Bruno is a "wild-maned bullock", or "steely-sinewed berserker", to use some of Fleisher's more colorful descriptions of Conan? (laughs) Actually, when I first created Bruno, he was blond-haired, and looked a lot like Hulk Hogan.  I later decide to give him brown hair, and a handlebar mustache, to give him what he would consider a touch of class.  But there's no denying a Conan/Fleisher influence, as I've read plenty of Savage Sword of Conan in my day, by Crom!

On a similar note, how did you arrive at the idea of the microdragon sidekick?

Fiona (originally named Sylvia) the micro-dragon was inspired by a Dungeons & Dragons campaign some friends and I played several years ago.  One of our characters acquired a small dragon familiar, and we got this dragon to do a lot of our dirty work, much to the chagrin of our Dungeon Master.  I thought it would be perfect for Bruno to have a sidekick he could boss around and do his dirty work, while he claims all the credit, but of course, it rarely works out that way for him.
I know that syndication didn't work out for you, and that's not surprising given the fierce competition for space among comic strips. Still, given the clear quality of the strip, why did you decide to take Bruno to webcomics instead of self-publishing from the start?

In the mid-90's, I was totally discouraged by my attempts to get Bruno syndicated.  I sent Bruno to all the major syndicates, and received the standard rejection form letters back.  I might have given up, but for this new phenomenon known as "the Internet" I had heard about.  The more I learned about the Internet, the more I saw it would be a perfect venue to deliver a daily comic strip to an audience, without having to go through the annoying middlemen of newspaper and syndicate editors.  I could do my strip my way, and reap all the profits (or none, if the strip failed).  And I still think the Internet is the best way for any aspiring cartoonist to go, as comics syndication is a field that is not exactly welcoming to new talent.  Rather than take a chance on a new comic strip, most newspapers would rather run strips that began in the Depression era, whose creators have long since passed away, and whose current artists keep squeezing out the same 4 or 5 jokes over and over again.

Can you describe the working process for a typical Bruno strip? How long does an average strip take?

The writing for a typical strip can take anywhere from 10 seconds to several hours, depending on how inspired I am at the moment.  As for the artwork, the pencilling can take 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and same with the inking.
A sample of Bruno the Bandit as a work in progress

What are your favorite tools for drawing/writing the Bruno strips?

For the writing, I start with a dry erase board and marker.  I use it to scribble down ideas, bits of dialogue, doodles, what have you, and try to work these in to a script for whatever comic(s) I'm working on.  When the script is done, I'll write it down in a notebook.  No writing on the computer for me, thank you!
I'll draw the strip on bristol board, using two kinds of leads: a dull, light lead (4H or up) for basic designs and layouts and a sharpened, darker lead (2H or lower) to tighten up the artwork.  I use a set of Staedtler pigma liners of varying widths to ink my strips.
After scanning my strips in to my computer, I'll use Corel PhotoPaint to fill in black areas, add any special lettering, and create both a print-ready TIFF file, and a web-ready GIF file.

I'll try to avoid the old question of "where do you get your ideas" as such, but when you're stuck for a storyline or daily strip idea, where do you look for inspiration?

Thankfully, I rarely get stuck, thanks to my above-mentioned method of using a dry erase board to write down ideas, bits of dialogue, doodles, etc. I just keep writing/drawing whatever pops in to my head until something clicks, and I have a good strip/storyline idea.
But on those few occasions where that doesn't work for me, I'll put the dry erase board aside, and go do something non-Bruno related: watch TV, surf the 'net, play a computer game, read, sleep, sit on the terlet, whatever!  My subconscious will usually keep working on the problem while I'm otherwise occupied, so when I come back to the dry erase board later on, it doesn't take long before inspiration strikes!
Bruno the Bandit walks a careful balance at times between slapstick humour and socio-political commentary. Which aspect of the strip is more important to you as a storyteller? Is the commentary more of a by-product of the story, or does the story develop out of the situation?

It generally depends on where I'm at in the story I'm working on.  Sometimes I want to get silly, so any "commentary" has to take a back seat, while at other times, I feel I have something to say, so I minimize the silliness.
Both commentary and humour are important, but Bruno will never ever catch Cerebus Syndrome, and suddenly turn serious, so I guess the humour/silliness is more important to me.  Should I ever decide to turn Bruno in to a serious comic strip, please come and hit me over the head with a rubber chicken.

I've been a member of your forums (at www.brunothebandit.com) for several years, and I've seen that from time to time your strips cause some animated, even heated, discussions among your readers. Do you sometimes look to provoke this reaction with some strips? Do you like getting this level of reaction from your fans, or are we sometimes reading too much into the strips?

First and foremost, I want to make people laugh with Bruno the Bandit, but I'm also happy to make them think as well.  I'm always pleased to see a good discussion of one of my strips or storylines on my forum.  That's what it's there for, after all.  If anything, I'd like to see more people on the forum challenge me on some point I may have made.

Bruno the Bandit has been on hiatus for some time now. Will we be seeing any new Bruno stories anytime soon...if ever? 

Absolutely! I'm not entirely sure when, but I'm hoping to get back at it in the first quarter of 2011, depending on the work schedule for my "real" job (as an inventory auditor).  And I'd like to apologize to my long-time readers for taking such a long break, and to thank them for their patience and understanding.

Do you have any other projects you'd like to talk about?

Well, I'm currently working on a card game based on Bruno the Bandit.  An American toy company called Active Products Inc. is helping me to develop the game, and we're hoping to have it on sale some time in 2011.  I'm also working with a programmer to make a version of the game available for the iPhone/Pad/Pod.
I'd also like to remind readers that from 2003 to 2005, I was a guest cartoonist for Pete Abrams, creator of the superb webcomic Sluggy Freelance.  I did a Saturday spinoff strip, entitled "Meanwhile In The Dimension Of Pain".  I bring this up because Pete has recently released Ghosts In The Gastank, his tenth volume of collected Sluggy Freelance strips, and it contains many MITDOP strips.  Check it out!

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