Monday, August 16, 2010

Interview with RJ of Riot Nrrd Comics: Part Two

Image description: A panel from a non-narrative Riot Nrrd strip. In it, a person wearing glasses and short hair instructs a dog to "Subvert the dominant paradigm...."

Today, I’m posting the second part of my chat with cartoonist RJ of the webcomic Riot Nrrd, launched in December. Part one is here.

RMJ: How would you characterize the humor and relationships in Riot Nrrd? I'm impressed with it because it always fulfills my conditions for critical humor.

RJ: One important thing about my humor is that I try not to dehumanize anyone. Some people don't realize that you can, in fact, formulate jokes that don't dehumanize anyone. I get pretty enraged when people try to defend humor that's openly based in putting other people down, because often the stance they take implies that you're robbing the world of something important if you try to censor that kind of humor, that political correctness hurts humor. I don't want to censor; I want people to take the responsibility to not use their work to hurt anyone, to alienate anyone or to further an idea that their existence is worth mocking. I want them to realize that it's lazy, and there's no goddamn joke there if there's no prejudice there.

A lot of webcomics have no intention of putting people down with their jokes, but do so offhandedly because they live in a kyriarchy. So they might not have a fat character or a trans character or a person of color or a person with a disability that they set up to be the butt of a joke, but they incorporate fatphobia or transphobia or racism or ableism in a joke because they don't think of that kind of thing as hateful humor. They call someone a "crazy bitch" or "retarded" or "lame" or make a joke questioning a character's sexuality or use sexual violence as a gag or make reference to a stereotype about Muslims or assume that everyone's cisgender. I was reading a pretty popular webcomic today, that used pornography about "trannies" to embarrass someone. And they might not think of that as being disrespectful towards trans people, but I sure do. And those kinds of things slips in sometimes, even in my favorite webcomics that are so not about putting people down.

The relationships, well, I have a lot more relationship stuff in the works. I haven't really gotten into it, but Maria and Wren have been friends since childhood and Sam's a newer addition to their dynamic, which I think shows a bit. And romantically, I have stuff planned for all of them. Romance drama, I think I'm influenced a lot by Joss Whedon there. I think it's important to have romantic relationships that are complicated and imperfect and sometimes flat-out bad. I'm not planning on killing anyone off, but I want relationships that speak to how things tend to work out in the real world, which is often cute, but not idealized.

RMJ: How do you think RN has evolved since its beginning?
RJ: The art has definitely improved, haha. It's pretty painful for me to look at some of the earlier strips, but I know what I'm doing now will get painful to look back on, too. And I think I'll improve by leaps and bounds when I get a desk. I draw the thing with my tablet on top of the box it came in on my couch, with my laptop in my lap.

I also don't talk about Joss Whedon as much. He was important to hit first because he's so close to my heart but also does things that so contradict what he's trying to put forth. And the characters are a little rounder, Sam especially I've given some room to grow. She was kind of a brat in her first appearance and I think I've worked on her being a person that's proud and outspoken but ultimately kind.

And I do think, at the beginning, I was invested in getting in as much commentary on nerd culture as possible, because I thought people would like that best, and I feel less pressure to do that now. There's more story than commentary, and that's fine with me.

RMJ: Since this is a comic about a comic, meta is gonna be there. How do you approach it?

RJ: Well, my characters don't express any awareness that they're in a comic, and I think I'll keep it that way. I also thought about giving Wren some kind of consciencey sidekick, which I think is a useful device a lot of comics use, but I decided doesn't fit in in their universe. They are very much in our world, except their town and college are just made up, but they're essentially living in the town I went to college in and going to the college that I went to. For "The Heartbreakers", which is the name of the comic they make - I avoided revealing that name for such a long time because I hoped I would think up a better one. And that's my approach to the story-in-story in general, I avoid revealing too much about it because, there's a reason I'm making this comic and not that one. I remember one of my friends at the very beginning told me, "you're making a comic about making a comic, that's funny", and, I got a little concerned, I knew that's what I was doing but I didn't think of that as the central concept. I don't really intend to be meta. I want making this comic to be a natural thing for these characters to do. I don't want that to be a joke in itself, but I guess it kind of inherently is.

RMJ: Interesting response. I would have thought you'd be a little more interested in meta, given the interest in Whedon (whom I am not personally familiar with but believe is a big meta person?)
RJ: Yeah. He self-references a lot. He's very aware of whatever genre he's using. I don't know. I might end up using that. It just doesn't seem that important to me right now, and certainly not a central feature.

RMJ: What do you have in the works for Riot Nrrd ?
RJ: I have an arc planned for the rest of their summer which I hope will be really funny, because it tickles the hell out of me. And then they're going to college which will raise so many new situations and issues, but I'm most excited for this new character that has been bouncing around in my head since I first thought of the comic. It's a genderqueer character and I'm going to try really hard to now totally play favorites with, because I'm just so excited to have a genderqueer character existing in a comic, or any medium. I can't think of any character that identifies that way, except maybe Lois in Dykes To Watch Out For (more on DTWOF here!), but I haven't read them all so I'm not sure. As a genderqueer person myself, especially, I'm just so ready to introduce them, it's killing me. And all the characters get new romantic complications that I'm interested in exploring. That stuff is so fun (as QC proves regularly).

I feel awkward plugging my merchandise, but I'm excited about it, and I think other people will be excited about it when it comes out, and also it would be magical to have some kind of income coming from RN, since I'm jobless otherwise. I've gotten a few requests for a few different t-shirts, but I'm working on one right now, the Team Bella shirt. [Edit: These shirts are now available for pre-order!] I'm making one today in my partner's basement with a homemade silkscreen, haha. Depending on the number of orders I get they may all be made in the basement by hand, if I get enough I'll get them done professionally, I could get small number made somewhere, maybe, but I want somewhere sweatshop-free. There'll be pre-orders happening for that in the next week or so, I'll make a post about it on my tumblr account. And if people are interested in my other art, I'm probably making some bearded lady pinup linocut prints. But that's more if I ever get around to it.

Riot Nrrd updates on Tuesday and Thursday and can be found at Read more about RJ and the comic here, or find them on twitter and tumblr.

To support Riot Nrrd with a donation, click here. To support Deeply Problematic with a donation, click here. Check back tomorrow for another installment in my ongoing analysis of the webcomic Questionable Content, with relevant quotes from RJ!

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