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Tailsteak - Cartoonist and Writer
Interview by muddasheep, September 07th 2009, 14:50:25
Ever wondered what comic characters do between the panels? What if they could create characters themselves? Is a creator really only talking to himself when arguing with his or her characters? What happens when characters go on strike? How do they react if they're told about their inevitable end?

Enter the world of Tailsteak's One Over Zero (1/0), a webcomic spanning exactly one thousand strips, a place which simply doesn't have a fourth wall (well, most of the time), and ultimately - a tale about the journey of a man, discovering his creative side.

In 2003, after three years of daily updates, One Over Zero turned off the lights forever and Tailsteak went on to create several different comic strips such as Band, The Blue Android, and The Sixth TV. A handful of short stories and games were thrown into the mix as well. And currently he has a novel in the works, about which nothing is known just yet - other than it's going to be big.

So, what's the secret behind Tailsteak's motivation? Here are his answers.

Let's kick it off with the obligatory introduction! What will you let us know about yourself?

Well, I'm twenty-seven, white, male, and Canadian. I'm married with no kids, and I currently work in a call center doing tech support. My right top canine tooth is recessed into the gum, so it rides high above all the others. I carry duct tape in my wallet, and on at least one occasion, I have used it to put myself back together. I have a bitchin' writer's callus on the inner first knuckle of my right middle finger, where my pen rubs against the skin. As soon as I moved out of my Mom's house and got my own place, the first thing I bought for the apartment was a showerhead on a long hose, so I'd never have to use toilet paper again.

Is that enough?

When have you first discovered your passion for creating worlds?

One Over Zero, definitely. Before that, I may have toyed around with fiction, but never seriously. Since that, of course, I've been all over the place.

What lead to the first One Over Zero strip being uploaded at Keenspace?

Honestly? As far as I'm concerned, 1/0 was ex nihilo. I found out about Keenspace, and decided to upload something. Those first few strips, man, I didn't know anything. I made the first 1/0 page in Word. Microsoft Word! I cringe even now.

What kept you on schedule during the three years of One Over Zero? Were you ever at the brink of quitting?

I have one word for all the aspiring webcomickers out there: BACKLOG. Having a nice, hefty backlog was what kept me going all that time. It allowed me to step back, ignore the strip for a week when I just wasn't feeling it, and come back fresh when I was inspired again.

What was the first thing you did after the one-thousandth comic had been uploaded? How did you feel back then?

Honestly, the end of 1/0 is a weird place for me, emotionally, even now. I can go for weeks - months! - without thinking about 1/0, then I stumble across my own archives and reread them... and I meet those characters all over again, and... well, it's weird. Nothing else I've produced since has really had that impact on me.

In retrospect, what would One Over Zero be if it had been released at once, instead of being serialized?

Well, completely different. The characters, being aware of their artwork's structure, would react to it differently, and given the freeform one-thing-follows-another nature of the plot, it would have gone in another direction entirely. Most of 1/0 was not planned. It just started at point A and headed off towards the horizon.

How has the transition from the daily structure of One Over Zero to the sporadically updated affected your readership and your personal life?

You've got it backwards. The comic affects my life far less than my life affects the comic.

You're offering CDs of the One Over Zero archive, as well as of The Sixth TV. Have you considered offering self-published books of your complete works (comics and stories)?

Good God, no. I've been meaning to take those down, to be quite honest. Producing my own actual objects to sell to people is a lot more work than it's worth.

The worst, most blatant example of this was when one dude once asked for a signed print of one of my strips. I made it clear to him that there is no high-res version of 1/0, and anything I produce would be identical to what he'd get printing the gif off at Kinko's. He insisted, and I just printed the thing off and mailed it to him. It was all pixelly and looked like crap.

You've made several Javascript games, are there any plans for bigger, story driven ones, incorporating your D&D experience?

I really don't program as much as I should. I'd love to make more games, to be quite honest, but I'd have to actually learn a real programming language to do it properly.

For the record, the Rock-Paper-Scissors chess game is actually far better in meatspace. Really challenging. (

The comic Band centers around a group of musicians (and something else I won't spoil here) - are you a musician yourself? Where did you get the idea to use a band for that particular story?

I'm really not.

The inspiration for Band actually came from the Blue Man Group (, believe it or not. The first time I saw those guys, I was really intrigued by them - how they seemed to be something other than human, and really took that role seriously on stage. I thought about how interesting it would be if you had a regular band, and just did that with ONE of the band members - like put the drummer in a big troll suit or something, and brought him on stage in chains. The whole convoluted plot for Band grew out of that idea.

Sight and Endeavour were each created in twenty-four hours - how did you come up with that challenge? You didn't actually deprive yourself of sleep during that time, did you? What other creative challenges have you put yourself through and what have you learned from them overall?

The twenty-four hour comic challenge has produced some of my best stuff precisely because of that constriction, I don't have the time to lose steam over it. I'm fortunate, when it comes to twenty-four hour comics, in that I can come up with ideas with that sort of fluency, I can draw relatively quickly, and I have the attention span to get it done. A friend of mine just recently attempted his own twenty-four hour comic, and nosedived (nosedove?) pretty hard. It's not for everyone.

Did I deprive myself of sleep? You're damn right I deprived myself of sleep! The twenty-four hour comic is a CHALLENGE, it's like climbing Everest. Going without sleep is the LEAST difficult part of it. At around hour eighteen, you start feeling like a rugby player's been stomping on your hand. You have to be able to draw through the pain.

Obviously, I don't do it very often. You really have to have a three day weekend, at very least, in which to do it. First day to do the comic, the next two days to recuperate.

Which of your current projects is the most popular one? Which of them is your personal favourite at present?

Obviously, my personal favourite is the book I'm writing that no one's seen yet. That's my big project, the one that'll really put me on the map if I ever finish it. I do have a goalpost for that, but it's pretty far off - I have to finish it before I'm thirty.

Other than that.... Band, definitely. I do have the whole long-term plotline planned out for Band, and it's delicious as well. At this point, quite frankly, it's unlikely to see the light of day, but it's in my head and it's wonderful.

One Over Zero utilized a very traditional four-panel layout, but in most of your new comics you position the images without any rules or restrictions. How did it come to that? Do you believe webcomics should emphasize more on the "web" part?

1/0 used the constant format because that was 1/0. Other things are other things. They only congregate on the site because I don't feel like paying for eighteen different domains. I don't know that it's necessarily web 2.0 of me. I don't even think of it in terms of that. To me, now, comics are just comics. Paper is a limiting factor, I don't really take it into account.

How many ideas on the verge of realization are currently floating around in your mind?

At any given time? Twenty or so. I've got a few card games and board games that I've whipped up that my friends and I play on occasion, there are long-term and short-term stories that bounce around up there... more than that, though, are individual scenes, usually action sequences and snippets of dialogue that really don't fit into anything. I'm the kind of guy who talks to himself when other people aren't around, and it's usually those snippets repeating themselves.

What inspiring event had the most impact on your creations to this very day? Which artists do you hold dear?

Inspiring? Hard to say. I mean, I read about a hundred webcomics a day, and I'll devour the archives of any I come across without a second thought. Who can say what intake inspires which output? Of course, I do read plenty of traditional fiction as well - I love Terry Pratchett, and John Dies at the End was particularly delicious.

If I had to recommend a few webcomics that deserve wider recognition... let's see. Skin Horse, Intragalactic, MS Paint Adventures, Achewood, Doctor McNinja, Freefall... I'll leave it at that for now.

Has there ever been a feeling of competition between you and your wife (cartoonist Amber Panyko of regarding updating your sites?

Absolutely not. We don't co-operate, we don't compete, we don't collaborate. As far as I'm concerned, my comics and hers are apples and oranges. We love and understand each other well enough to know that we shouldn't work together.

What was the most rewarding moment of your creative life so far?

It's interesting that you said "creative life" there, and didn't specify comics or sites. I'm about to bust loose with an anecdote, here, you may want to take a step back.

So a while back, I was trolling on 4chan's /tg/, which is an anonymous imageboard dedicated to tabletop gaming. I'm a bit of a D&D geek, you know. And someone throws up a picture of a thri-kreen (four-armed mantis-people) with the question: if I play as a thri-kreen, is that furry?

Now, you have to understand, in the sordid underbelly of the Internet that is 4chan, furries and furriness are considered a despicable perverted plague. This guy was asking "Are thri-kreen furry?" in the same way that a ten year old might ask if playing with dolls would make him gay.

The general accepted response from the metamind was that playing as a thri-kreen was not furry, because no one wanted to have sex with a thri-kreen.

This, to me, sounded like a challenge.

Immediately, I began spitting out (off the top of my head, mind you) thri-kreen erotic fiction. Now, any idiot can write about a naked woman with a thri-kreen in the background and make it erotic. No, my objective was to take a profoundly alien anatomy and psychology, analyze it on its own terms, and make it emotionally and erotically appealing despite a complete separation from the human race. And, if I may say so, I proceeded to ROCK THE HOUSE.

The shell-shocked responses from the legions of loli-addled chantards afterwards was all the reward I required.

Where do you see yourself and your creations in ten years?

Dead of a rare undiagnosed cancer and forgotten if not utterly erased, respectively.

You travel back in time to 1995 and tell your past self about One Over Zero and - what's your reaction?

Probably "Ow!". Because let me tell you, if I went to visit my past self, I'd spend a good amount of time kicking the crap out of my self, for reasons entirely unrelated to my artwork.

Your storylines deal with a vast array of topics - religion, aliens, apocalypse, economy, politics, mathematics, love, breaking the fourth wall - is there anything you absolutely can't get into?

Haven't found it yet!

Lastly, when and how is our world going to end?

Ah, well, that depends on what you mean by "world". When people talk of the world ending, they usually mean either

a) Western civilization
b) Life on Earth
or c) the fabric of reality.

And the answers are:

a) 2245 AD, when 80% of the world's population enters virtual reality.
b) 43,857 AD, when a pass from a particularly large celestial body disrupts Earth's orbit.
and c) 239 billion years from now, when gravitational collapse condenses the universe into a singularity.

Thank you kindly for your time!

You're quite welcome.
Excerpt from One Over Zero.

Excerpt from One Over Zero.

Triumph of the Elephants



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