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Thursday October 29, 2009 5:40 am

Webcomics Q&A: Mike Bannon and Mordant Orange




Posted by Tom Mason Categories: Interviews

MordantThe great thing about Stumble Upon is that you get to stumble upon some really funny webcomics. That’s how I found Mike Bannon’s Mordant Orange, a single-panel full color comic, about six months ago. A mechanical designer by day and a webcartoonist by night, Mike describes himself as “similar to a large block of wood but with slightly more hair and slightly less funny.” I thought it was time to ask him a few questions.

Tom Mason: How did you get interested in cartooning?
Mike Bannon: Probably much like anyone else. As a kid I had a bunch of Garfield collections. I used to read them all the time and try drawing Garfield. I also had an English friend who had lots of British comics as well, Beano, Dennis the Menace and all kinds of stuff I’d never heard of before. They were fantastic. But beyond that what really got me interested in cartoons was this physics teacher in high school who used to copy Far Side cartoons into course outlines and labs. I just the loved the smart, bizarre humor. I went out and got my hands on all The Far Side Gallery’s I could.
Tom: How did Mordant Orange get started?
Mike: In 2005, a friend introduced me to this thing called a blog. I started a blog like everyone else and posted all the dumb stuff on the internet that I found funny. After about two weeks of this I got bored and decided if I wanted to have a website that was worth visiting I would have to put something original up on it. So I started writing movie reviews. Which I sucked at it and quickly abandoned.

Read More | Mordant Orange

Tom: And that led to the strip?

Mike: In a blog post I was ranting at how I was going to give up reading Spot The Frog by Mark Heath. Mark saw the post and sent me a very nice email on how he was sorry to lose me as a reader. I felt like an ass. Four days later I decided to put my money where my mouth was a started drawing a comic strip.
Tom: What’s the origin of the name?
Mike: Mordant Orange was a originally conceived as a multi-panel strip about two friends an orange and a coconut. Which was called The Chronicles of A Mordant Orange and A Coconut Named George. It lasted 5 weeks.

Tom: Then what happened?
Mike: I switched to single panel comics and I just never bothered to come up with another name and people just started referring to it as Mordant Orange.
Tom: There are tons of multi-panel strips on the web, but not as many single-panels ones. Why did you pick the single-panel?
Mike: I tried the multi-panel strip at the start but I got in way over my head. I hadn’t drawn anything in years and I just decided one day that I was going to do a seven-day-a-week strip. I burned out pretty quickly.
Tom: But you didn’t stay burned out for long.

Mike: I read a bunch of books on how to be a cartoonist and they always covered two types of cartoonists: strip cartoonists and gag cartoonists, whose work shows up mostly in magazines. I loved the Far Side and figured I could do single panel comics, post them on the site and then when I had enough for a package, them off to magazines in the hopes of getting them published.

Tom: What kind of response did you get?

Mike: The combination of laziness and not ever being satisfied with my work prevented me from ever mailing anything out.
Tom: What drew you to the internet as an outlet for your work?
Mike: Ever since I had the internet I was always mucking with HTML and building my own horrible web pages. Then Blogger came along and there was an already pre-built website that I could update and add things to with very little hassle. When it came to cartooning I figured, I’ll just put them up there because it was easy. I figured people will find them and if they like it maybe they’ll keep coming back.
Tom: You went from 3 days a week to 5 and have kept that up for a year.
Mike: Doing three comics a week was working out for me pretty well. It was a good balance between work, comics and my social life. Most comics that run three days a week update M-W-F, which I never liked. I updated T-W-T, giving everyone a concentrated dose of comics in the middle of the week. The only problem with this was I would be away from drawing comics for four days and found myself struggling to get back into each week. I also think it’s harder to keep readers if you don’t have something new for them to come back to everyday.
Tom: Did you find it easier or harder to increase your workload?

Mike: I find it easier to do five days a week. There’s not as much down time between weeks so I don’t need to gear up to get back into it. Going to five comics a week I think has also helped my writing and drawing.
Tom: What kind of drawing schedule do you keep?
Mike: I draw every comic the night before (or the day of, if I’m behind schedule). I’ve tried to build a buffer but I just end up screwing around and using it up. I’m a huge procrastinator; if there isn’t a looming deadline, I’m off goofing around.
Tom: What time do you post?

Mike: I’ll post the comic before I go to bed and wake up in the morning and fix any typos that people have caught while I was sleeping.
Tom: Are you doing it all digitally, or is there a pencil/paper element as well?
Mike: A majority of the comics are written on the backs of receipts I keep in a cup holder in my car. I come up with a lot of my ideas on the way home from work. It’s an hour long drive and I’ll just zone out and something will pop into my head and unless I write it down immediately, it’s gone. When that doesn’t work I just sit at my desk and stare at a blank piece of paper and doodle until something comes to me.
Tom: What happens once you get home?

Mike: Once I have the joke written, (aside from the odd thumbnail sketch on a receipt) I draw everything in Flash using a Cintiq. I actually don’t know how to use Photoshop. I took a class a while back, so now I can at least kind of poke around and know what I’m doing. But really it’s just embarrassing.

Tom: How did you learn Flash?

Mike: I taught myself how to use Flash when animated shorts first started showing up on the net. It’s the program I know so I just keep using it.
Tom: When’s a Mordant Orange book collection coming out?
Mike: The book collection (Mordant Orange: These Pirates Are Making Me Thirsty) just went up on the site for pre-order. It’s been a long time coming, it’s been number three on my to-do list for almost two years. Number one always is, draw tomorrow’s comic. Number 2, build a better website (which I finally did last year). There’s just never enough hours in the day to get to number three.
Tom: Did you shop it to traditional publishers or are you doing it yourself like Randall Munroe did with XKCD and John Campbell did with Pictures For Sad Children?

Mike: No one came knocking down my door so I put the book together myself. There’s lots of avenues open to everyone on the net regardless of the quantity you want to publish. It was a ton of work but once I got the proof from the publisher and held it in my hands, it made it all worth it. I’m pretty excited for people to see it.
Tom: You’re one of the few cartoonists I know who actually posts $ amounts for the use of his cartoons. Has it been a successful revenue stream for you?
Mike: This stemmed from gag cartoonists’ websites I’ve seen who are always going on about not giving your work away for free. My stuff is posted on the net, there’s not much I can do if someone wants to download my comic and use it somewhere. There are a few people out there who actually respect people’s work and ask for permission to use it. Most of the time it’s people who want to use it for some non-profit event or an educational site. I let them use it as long as give me credit and link back to the site if it’s used online. I’d like people to pay for the cartoon if they plan to use it to make money. When people see the price structure and that using something legally isn’t really that costly, they might think twice before stealing it. For people that do end up buying a cartoon, I’ll supply them with a high res version that’s suitable for print work. Other than that I don’t have much time or desire to chase people down.
Tom: What’s surprised you most about putting your work on the internet?
Mike: I’m surprised that people keep coming back to the site. I’m always surprised that people take the time to stop and leave a comment that they like something. I never do. I like using StumbleUpon or Is It Funny Today where you can give something a thumbs up with next to no effort. But people who take the time to stop and say they like something. That’s awesome.
Tom: With the decline of print and the rise of the internet, what do you think the future holds for cartooning as a viable career?
Mike: I have no idea. I just do this for fun.
Tom: I vote a lot on Is It Funny Today. Do they ever send you a trophy?
Mike: I think that site is such a great idea, I really wish they would do more with it. I’m almost constantly wrong on comics that I am sure are going to get eaten alive and people will just hate. Then I wake up in the morning and it’s in the top 20. Then there’s the flip side where you have a comic which you think is just hilarious and it totally bombs. You really can’t figure out what other people will find funny.

Yet Mordant Orange is very funny. Visit the site, bookmark it, and check out the book collection. Thanks to Mike Bannon for making the internet laugh.

[Artwork: Cover to Mordant Orange: These Pirates Are Making Me Thirsty, © Mike Bannon]

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