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The man behind webcomic Moonbeard
New Zealand-based James Squires has been drawing cartoons since he was a child. His surreal, doleful humor has made Moonbeard one of the most talked-about webcomics around, and has seen him create comics for a host of other sites, including LINE Webtoon. Moonbeard was also turned into a book, Moonbeard Volume One, by Pikitia Press last year.
Here he talks about how he got started, crippling self doubt and his fondness for comics without a punchline.
How did you first get into comics?
I inherited a box or two of old comics as a kid and was soon enthusiastically buying new Garfield comics with my pocket money (seriously). I started drawing cartoons and quite enjoyed it, and never really found a compelling reason to stop. Drawing comics for the magazine at uni gave me a good first taste of publication and regular output, and moving to a webcomic just seemed like a logical step.
Where did the name Moonbeard come from?
I wish there was a story, or at least a good reason. Names are difficult. I wanted something a bit nonsensical, maybe with a hint of sci-fi. Moonbeard was one of a long list of possible options, but won out over the others because the domain name was free. Tip: not a good criterion for choosing a name. I think that no matter what I settled on I would have regretted it, though. This is why I will never get a tattoo and why my children will be nameless.
We found a band called Moonbeard online – have you heard them?
I found out about them not that long after I started making Moonbeard and kinda hoped they would disappear into obscurity so that I can have the only Moonbeard on the internet. They seem to still be around so I guess I’ll have to learn to share. I haven’t heard any of their music though, I’ll give it a listen. I wonder if they’ve read any of my comics.
How long do your comics typically take to draw?
Longer than they would take someone else, I imagine. My artwork is pretty simple but I work pretty slow. I’m also messy by nature so my line-work invariably needs touching up digitally. An average comic could take me a day, not including writing, planning or time allocated for crippling self-doubt. This time can change dramatically depending on the comic.
What’s been your most popular comic ever?
Which is your favorite, and why?
It depends on the weather but I quite like this comic at the moment, because while I acknowledge that I make comics in a format that benefits from having a strong gag or punchline, I am personally much more fond of ending a comic with someone looking regretfully out a window (spoiler alert). I’m also pretty fond of this comic for no reason in particular.
A lot of your comics are really sad. Why do you think that is?
Good question! I’m not sure, I don’t know what that says about me. I think sadness is great, it’s so inherently not-funny-at-all that it’s just so fun to work with in a comic. It’s a balance, of course, and I constantly have to fight the impulse to only make comics where nothing happens and everyone is miserable. Sadness is like the straight man in a comedy act, like Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black. It provides contrast and grounds silly concepts in reality. Not that I’m saying reality is sadness.
What’s the best comment / feedback you’ve ever gotten?
My favourite piece of feedback is probably my very first piece of hate-mail, before Moonbeard existed while making comics at uni. Something about how my comics make lousy toilet paper. It’s that kind of constructive criticism that really helps you improve as an artist. I consider it a milestone, I guess. I don’t get much hate-mail these days, so I think I’ve moved backwards.
Has Moonbeard led to any other opportunities?
Sure, a few. Usually small, strange commissions, which I’m very fond of. Most notably I’ve had Moonbeard Volume One published through the excellent Pikitia Press and recently I’ve been contributing comics under a Moonbeard banner for the wonderful people over at LINE Webtoon. There are other things in the works too but I can’t talk about them yet, I can only wink and nod and say things like “You’ll have to wait and see!”
Who are your own internet heroes?
Internet heroes? This question is impossible, I have a million and I want to say all of them. I bloody love the webcomics Gunshow (sadly discontinued I think?) and Dorris McComics. Tom Gauld. People making cartoons about Important Things are my heroes, especially those here in New Zealand such as Toby Morris, Sharon Murdoch. I can only make silly comics about Silly Things.
What’s next for Moonbeard?
Oh, I have plans. I just, uhhh, can’t remember them right now is all.