Authors@Google: Zach Weiner

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 19.10.2011

>>Male Presenter: Hi. This is Zach Weinersmith. Many of you may know him from Sunday Morning
Breakfast Cereal--the comic that he does. He also does SMBC Theater and has a blog working
that will teach you in physics and calculus from college. And I don't know what else you're
doing. I don't know what you've handed out to the crowd here or what we're in for.
[Zach Weinersmith laughs]
I'm sure you have some other experimental project going on here.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yes.
>>Male Presenter: All right, we'll go with that. Take it away. I think this is, maybe
talk a little bit about yourself. And I think this is mostly gonna be Q&A.
>>Zach Weinersmith: So, yeah. I do two other projects. I do "Snowflakes," a children's
comic and "Captain Stupendous," which is not at all for children. [audience chuckles] And
the new thing I'm doing with Breadpig, other than the books, we have a book out. We'll
be debuting it at NYCC if any of you are coming. And we have, as you've seen, the world's first
single-use gentlemen’s unlubricated disposable monocle.
And I wanted to talk about it 'cause it's really cool just in terms of what it's like
to be a creator right now, which is--. It started with, as you know, there's actually
a comic that was about this. And the joke was that there's a lady asking a guy if he
had protection. And surprisingly, he took out a monocle instead of a condom.
And I'm very good at telling jokes live I guess.
I should tell you.
>>MALE #1: Is that in there?
>>Zach Weinersmith: It might be too recent. I don't know. There's a funny thing about
that one 'cause there's a point in it where he puts on a monocle and he's just pointing
down. That's his indication.
But my voting buttons are under my sharing buttons, so he was actually pointing at reddit
and so, reddit got really excited about that.
But it was cool because--. So, I had this idea and then it occurred to me that we might
actually be able to make a monocle in a condom wrapper, which would be like, the funniest
thing ever. [laughter] And so, I just put a post on my blog, like, "Could anyone tell
me how to accomplish this 'cause I have no idea?" And so, I got a couple offers from
people who thought they could put it together. And then, it occurred to me that it might
be smart to try to get it done in a more traditional way. And I started looking into it. And maybe
some of you have been to a costume shop and have seen the--. You get these little rings
of plastic. They have really crummy. There's no lens in them. I don't know if anyone's
opened one, but really, it's like an actual monocle. I mean, it's not a proper lens. It's
just a piece of acrylic. So, don't try to see with it. And also, it wouldn't be very
unique. I would've felt a little bad basically buying someone else's product, unpackaging
it, repackaging it, and selling it. And so, it turned out not only could I not do it,
I didn't want to do it if I could do it. And then, a guy named Ben Peters--we just met
with a minute ago. He's at the Media Labs over at MIT. Said he thought he could build
these things. And so, we gave him the go ahead and two weeks later, he had sent me a prototype.
And it's a brass ring with an acrylic lens and there's even a brass chain on it, which
is just magical. And he even, the version I never touched happily, which he sent me
a picture of, was actually lubricated.
And I think the only thing that's sad about it is that it actually looked really cool.
It had a transparent bag, so there was just this monocle floating in jelly.
But we figured maybe you don't want lubricant in your eye. I' haven't had that experience.
Maybe some of you have. But so, we made an unlubricated version, which is the one you
have. And it's cool because there was this nice way where a whole bunch of us brought
different sets of skills together. So, I had the stupid idea. That's my skill. But then,
Breadpig is handling distribution. And Kristine is local, so she was actually able to talk
to Ben about how these things are gonna come out. And then, Ben, who is at Media Labs,
knows how to build monocles with brass and a laser cutter, and then also had to seal
them in Mylar. And then, the art is by David Malki. I don't know if any of you know--.
Yeah, OK. So, he does comical Wondermark. So we wanted to set a Victorian flavor and
do the essential Victorian comic. And he has this awesome library of real Victorian art
that he's turned into vector art, so he can use it for all sorts of cool products. And
so, we were really able to pull all these different resources at once to make this really
cool product. And I'm hoping to do this more. I don't know what the stupid stuff will be
in the future, but it's a really cool time now that you can just pool resources this
way. So, I encourage you guys to do the same thing with your stupid ideas.
So, yeah. That's pretty much all I wanted to say about the monocles. I think they'll
be out in October if everything goes well. And yeah. So, does anyone have any questions?
I mostly wanted to do Q&A today.
>>MALE #2: So, just to talk about, do you have to hand make all of the monocles?.
>>Zach Weinersmith: I'm just showing you the process. It essentially gets, although the
way--. He's working on automating it a little bit, so the lens, for example, is laser cut.
So, it goes through and cuts all the lenses. So, that part is easy. And the way he does
the rings is by hand, though. But it's not too bad. He just basically has a tube and
he forms the ring, ties it off, and then has a little adhesive to seal in the lens. So,
it's fairly simple. But it's more complicated than it needs to be. So, I'm a little terrified
that we'll actually sell out of these, which would be really sad. My wife completely rolled
her eyes about this project.
And the comic, actually. She was like, "Don't do this. It's stupid." And then when I made
the real thing, she was like, "Don't do this. It's stupid."
So, if it's a success, I win the relationship.
The question was answered? Yeah, so it's--. We're a little worried. If it sells out--we
were just talking about this on the way over. We're gonna have to figure out some way to
simplify or augment the process. The problem is, and this is still the case, if you want
like a hundred of something it's not so bad 'cause you can go to someone like Ben, who
can just make these things. Our original load was gonna be a thousand of them. And if you
want a million of them, you can go to China. But getting these intermediate levels is a
little trickier volume-wise. You have to figure out. We even thought that--. We learned a
lot of weird stuff. So, we thought we could just send them the monocles in a condom wrapper
company could just wrap them up. It turns out, you're not supposed to use condom wrapper
machines for anything but condoms.
I can't imagine why.
>>MALE #3: Like, this is medical equipment --.
>>MALE #4: Process glass on those things.
>>Zach Weinersmith: What?
>>MALE #4: Process glass on those things.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yes. So, he's more or less making them by hand. But with the Media
Labs, it's a little nicer. Yeah?
>>MALE #5: So, what percentage of your strips does your wife look at and say, "This is stupid?"
>>Zach Weinersmith: I actually, I have like a secret joke Congress that analyzes my jokes
before they go to my hand.
It's considered press, if that makes any sense. So, she's actually, she's always responsive.
My friends don't have to respond, but she has to 'cause she's the most sense. And so,
she reads every single joke. She's actually the only one who reads every single joke in
advance. It's nice because when she doesn't like a joke and I do it, I can be like, "In
your face." And when she likes a joke and I do and it fails, it's also in her face.
It's really, I always win--win the relationship. I think through the bonus comics, I make it
seem like she's always rolling her eyes at the jokes, but I think she rolls her eyes--she's
a scientist, I should say. She has real skills.
And so, she rolls her eyes at my life. But in the actual comics, I think she likes them
OK because I was doing them before we started dating. And while I was dating, it became
my test for potential joke friends because if they couldn't stomach the comic, they probably
couldn't stomach me. And so, she at least liked them three years ago.
>>MALE #6: Who's winning the relationship now?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Who's winning? I'm way ahead.
>>MALE #6: What if I asked her?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I don't know.
>>FEMALE #1: Last time we asked her, she was like, "It's not a contest."
>>Zach Weinersmith: She may not recognize it's a contest, but--. I don't know. I don't
know if I believe her saying that. That's the kind of thing a loser says.
>>MALE #7: Talk a little bit about your selection process.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah. So, we were really overdue for a book 'cause by the time we started
looking through, there were 21 hundred strips. And I was originally gonna actually do just
one through 21 hundred. I was like, "I have ten books worth of material." And I was going
through this and I was like, "A lot of this is garbage." And especially the early set.
You always hate your earlier work. But I do think it's gotten better over time.
>>MALE #7: How far back in your stuff did you go?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I think there are some one's probably from the first weeks of it,
but not many. Like, I probably actually tried, if you look at the graph of how many I pulled
per month over time, it increases from something like at least five percent up to 50 percent
on a really good month. And then so, I went through and I had Kristina and Alexis, who's
also at Breadpig, my wife, and a couple other close friends, would go through and just tack
off which ones they liked. And then I interpreted that along with what I actually wanted. And
then my recollection of how it had done on StumbleUpon or reddit or what people said
about it. And I tried not to lean on that too much 'cause there are comics that are,
people like them, but they don't link them. You know what I mean? And then, there are
comics that people link but don't like. And so, I was trying to just get the really good
ones. I was hoping that this book would reach out to people who don't already own the comic.
Ideally, it's a book you can pick up and read it and laugh at. And that was pretty much
it. There was a little math. And I hopefully selected the favorites. And it's been pretty
well received, I think. I think I've get a few people saying, "You left out my favorite
comic." But not too much.
>>MALE #8: You mentioned jokes falling flat. How are you gauging how people react to your
>>Zach Weinersmith: I probably shouldn't gauge it at all. That's my fault. What I basically
do--let me think about that. I know that's why I run them by a couple people first. And
they actually just give me letter grades, like, "This is a B minus." And that sort of
thing. And once I run through that, then I put it up. And I think what I probably used
to gauge is how Breadpig reacts to it because they're a pretty egalitarian community. They
don't have power users. And then, how many re-tweets and how it gets out in Twitter.
And there's a little more data you can get through like, looking at your analytics and
stuff. But it is not exactly a science. But you can kinda tell. You can at least tell
the ones that have done very well. And so, I try to actually do a lot of feedbacks. Most
people are opposed to that. They think it's a diminution of the artistic something or
other, but I think the way you improve is by figuring out what people like. Yeah?
>>MALE #9: Is there ever the case that one of your reviewers grade something A and another
one grades F? And then if so, what does the comic actually do?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I've only ever gotten one F. And that was when someone was mad at
It wasn't my wife. I'll tell you that. She's given me a D before. But yeah. It's actually
very common. What I try to do to marginalize that is I try to make the comic as abstract
as possible, which is to say, if there's a character who's a dad in the comic, but you
might not read that from the visual, I just say like "older man" or something. And so,
I try to make it so the individuals, as much as possible, will just react to the joke and
not anything I'm not gathering. Because it is scary. And then I have ones where I'm like,
"This is gold. This is solid gold." And someone else is like, "C plus." And I also, you can,
after you work with someone for a while, you can learn to find their blind spots and their
inverse blind spots. I don't have a good word for it. But like, my wife will always laugh
at biology jokes no matter how crappy it is. And like, I have a friend who is really into
Gundam. He'll laugh at any giant robot jokes. So, I don't trust him much.
And so, I don't know if anyone's done this, but I wanna set up a really cool audience
feedback mechanism this way. So, the way it's done now is you basically hire a bunch of
people--like, you wanna see if they like a movie. You go to your local area. Hire 200
people and get them to rate it. I think it would be a much better system if you just
set up a market and you said, "This person is usually right about this type of movie.
This person is usually right about this type. And when this person says this type of movie
is bad, it's actually good." And you can run much smarter math on it. And I've been half-tempted
to do it on my own little--. I think I have seven people right now. I could probably do
this and then I backed away from it. I was like, "This is gonna get too obsessive and
I'm not gonna be writing my own comic anymore."
But someone at some point, if they haven't already, is gonna go that. I think it would
be a really cool project. But yeah, you have to learn to know what kind of feedback you're
getting from individuals 'cause people have really big blind spots sometimes.
>>MALE #10: That could also be useful data for your readers, though, if they see, "Oh,
if this is one that she liked, then--
>>Zach Weinersmith: That's a good point--
>>MALE #10: "I'll read these and skip the ones that--."
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah, kind of the archive bits. That's not a bad idea. We're actually
working on like, a tag system, but I don't know. It scares me, the idea that I could
set something like, just tag all the science comics and then someone would come through
and they would only read the science comics. 'Cause I like to try--. Part of the fun of
it is exposing people to new stuff they'd never seen and I worry that I would be allowing
people too much freedom.
>>MALE #10: That's just how you get them hooked.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah. That might be true. We've actually talked about it. One of the
other cool things from a business standpoint is you could sell them the magazines, that
sort of thing. You do jokes only about dogs. I have like, four comics about dogs. But not
yet. Yeah?
>>MALE #11: Can you tell about your creative process a little bit?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah.
>>MALE #11: Do you just sit in a room and think of hilarious stuff?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I wish. It's not too far from it. What I do is--. I was actually just
talking to Alexis about this at the wedding the other day. She had some questions. And
what my philosophy about doing creative work is this. I think most people think the way
you do creative work is that you just sit down and try to be creative, right? I think
it really just doesn't work. That's not the way your brain is set up. Your brain is set
up to formulate lots of ideas, different combinations, and then, a really good creator is someone
who is A, good at coming up with lots of ideas and then B, editing and shaping those. And
taking the bad ones from the good ones. And so, it might seem like a small distinction,
but I think which way you believe on that question affects the way you handle your workload.
So, if you believe that just being creative is just a thing you do, you would probably
just try to do that a lot. You would sit down and be like, "It's creative time." And I think
it's really ineffective. And that's why we have these terms like "writer's block" that
I'm convinced is just a made-up term for not doing your homework. And when I say that,
it really pisses people off.
So, if you believe that your job is to synthesize ideas that you already have, or come up with
new combinations, then what you should do with your time is not trying to write. It
should be trying to intake as much information as possible. So, on a given day for me, I
spend at least, say, ten hours learning various, different stuff. And I, for example, I read
books that I find boring because it's new information. Most people don't because they
don't need to, you know what I mean? They read stuff they find exciting. So, I read
in areas I'm not interested in and I'll read older books and I try to read stuff other
people aren't reading and try to read a lot of variety. Like you were saying, I do these
calculus and physics blogs, but I also read "literature" and philosophy and history and
pretty much, I think, literally everything. There aren't too many subjects I won't do,
like cookbooks or fashion or something. But pretty much anything that would make me look
snooty at a party I will read. And so, I think really, what I would say is I think the creative
process is really more about making yourself more interesting, having more of a perspective.
You shouldn't try to just cultivate being good at "creativity" because it's not a real
thing. It would be a better use of your time--. I would even say, I think the way to say this
is the equation for doing good work is not a simple linear equation. You will get more
good work done if you spend, say, 15 hours in your day reading and then one hour writing
than you will spending 16 hours a day writing because you won't have all those ideas you
need to do good work. Yeah.
>>MALE #12: So, at what point of the idea generation process do you say, "This is an
SMBC idea" versus "This is a blog post" versus--?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Right. Right. I would say all the projects I work on right now are
different enough that the mindset is different. I would say I do believe most of your time
should be spent reading, but when I do creative work, usually I sit down and do a particular
task . So, with SMBC though, you're still parsing lots of ideas, right? So, with SMBC,
it would be just trying to come up with really anything, which is the good and bad of it.
Whereas like, if I'm writing script for something--I have a couple other projects I'm working on
that are long. For one, a Choose Your Own Adventure for Breadpig. And so that's a different
process. That's more about being clever. And that's a little, in a sense, it's harder to
train. That takes a little more time, I guess. I don't know. I try to come up with a little
word play sort of things instead of just writing paragraphs. So, yeah. I don't have a lot of--.
It's not as if I come up with something and then I'm like, "Where does this fit?" It's
usually a little more circumscribed. . Yeah.
>>MALE #13: Have you ever heard from Sarah Silverman or her camp?
>>Zach Weinersmith: No. She stole my joke. You're the only one in the room who knows
what I'm talking about.
I, she didn't actually steal my joke. I did a joke maybe five years ago-- I can't believe
it's been a long time--about--. The nice thing about comics is I can hide behind the paper
and not have to tell offensive jokes in person. But here it goes. The joke was that you can
solve AIDS in Africa by dropping Playstations on Africa. And then it was weird 'cause I
had done this joke and like, weeks later, Sarah Silverman was at some--. She'd done
some sort of gaming award show and she was doing stand-up comedy. And I think it was
apparently not liked well because she made fun of video game players. But she did basically
the exact same joke, like, "We'll solve the crisis in Africa by giving them video games."
And so, I did this fake media of me demanding that she remove the joke immediately because
I'm the only one who's ever made an AIDS joke.
And she never called me back. So, no. Nothing. But I did make a fake mean Sarah Silverman
dating video like with clips of her and clips of me. It was really creepy.
So, we've basically talked about it.
>>MALE #14: Can you give us like, the origin story of SMBC?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah. I didn't think I called it SMBC since about 1998 when I was
like, 16. But it was a really different thing. If you click the archive button on the website,
you can actually see some of the really like, from maybe 2000, 2001--the older stuff I did,
which was a very cliché like, three panel, friends hanging out sort of comic. It was
less cliché back then than it is now, but it was pretty cliché then. And I think I
was doing it just as a joke. Like, I was really just making fun of friends, which is why I
only had friends before I knew anything about web comics. And at some point in college,
I figured I could maybe do this for a living. So, I started looking into it a little harder.
And I switched it doing single panels 'cause I--maybe other people write differently from
what I do, but the nice thing about writing for characters is you just see what they do,
whereas coming up with a whole glove joke, you have to start from the beginning. But I was finding that I could
come up with jokes that I wanted to do and no characters could reasonably say them. And
so, I basically had a cast of 20 main characters and it was just not cool. And so, I switched
to doing single panels. And it was a good lesson 'cause I only had like, two or three
hundred readers then. And I still got complaints from switching formats, like it was the end
of my "career" that I would switch formats. And it's stupid because I do meet people who
have--, they're doing web comics and they have just like a few readers and they want
to switch to something better and they won't do it 'cause they don't want to disappoint
the couple people reading. And it's just a mistake to not allow yourself that leeway.
But then, I actually quit again in college and I was working a terrible, horrible job
for talent agents in Hollywood. It was really horrible [chuckles]. And I remember, very
specifically, I'd just shown them my comic and--finally, after working there for six
months--and I had the opportunity. And I heard one of my bosses, who I don't want to say
was an idiot, but once asked me--. She called me in her room and says, "What does this word
punny--? What does punny mean?" P-U-N-Y.
And so, she calls me to her office to talk about the comics and she said to me, "The
problem with your generation [laughter] is that you're always starting things and never
finishing them. And imagine where you would be if you had done this for five years." And
I instantly thought, "I would be anywhere else."
And that sounded great. And so, as I remember--I might be mythologizing this a little--I think
that night I actually started doing daily updates again. And I basically kept that going.
I missed a few here and there, but pretty much, yeah.
>>MALE #15: Do you keep a queue like, ahead of time? Like how many comics do you keep
queued up?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I'm queued up through tomorrow night when I fly home.
I normally don't. I occasionally get a little ahead, but I actually--. The traditional cartoon,
some of them are ahead by like, a year, which it's cool that they do that in the newspapers
and need them to do it, but I just feel like that's a good way to not be in tune with what's
going on. I mean, I don't do topical jokes. I feel like you still need to be living in
your own time. I mean, if you're doing Ziggy, I guess it just doesn't matter. I think Ziggy
is still running. I shouldn't say that.
If you're doing Peanuts--
>>MALE #16: Yeah, how do you tell--
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah. But so, I--. Maybe I'm just excusing my own behavior, but I don't
think I would ever want to be more than, say, a week ahead. I'm actually a week ahead this
week because of, I'm doing stuff on the East Coast. But I do keep a writing buffer. But
the actual art, not as much. And partially, that's because, as you know, I'm doing a lot
of projects at once. But also, I actually usually get uncomfortable. A few times, I've
been a week ahead and I just feel weird. I feel like I'm not in touch with what I'm doing
with the audience. I think most web cartoons, I think probably because of that phenomenon
or not--I hit on that word--there's no reason we should be less ahead than the print people
other than they're obligated to for legal reasons. So, basically I don't. Yeah.
>>MALE #17: So, are there any other, what other web comic types do you particularly
say, admire or despise?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Admire. There are comics that are really good. The one's I like to
read, though, are one's I feel I can learn something from. So like, one I really like
actually--. Have you ever read Buttersafe? You guys know about that one? It's not super
popular, but I learn a lot from it. And I remember I was talking to Randy from "XKCD"
about this. He was like, "Oh, Buttersafe, because he's always doing big ideas." And
that's what's good about it. The problem with doing big ideas and being more artsy is that
nine times out of ten, it's not as fun to read. It's just weird or obscure, whatever
it is. But it's nice because now that he does something that really nobody else could do,
or they do--it's two guys--and so that's an example of something where, in terms of day
to day reading, it's not my favorite, but I feel like I'm picking up ideas from it.
I feel a little that way about "XKCD" , or at least he paved the way for nerdy comedy
to go mainstream. And I've read some more obscure comics like there was a comic first
starting called "The Parking Lot is Full." It's--. You read it? OK. Yeah. I think it's
been defunct since 2002 or something. It's been ages. But it's almost hard to appreciate
now because web comics have really developed since those days, but it was so abrasive for
a comic. It would like, it would be single panels and the captions would yell at you,
the reader. [audience chuckles] It was weird stuff. Even a comic like the "Far Side," which
broke down a lot of barriers, it's still very traditional and presents a situation and then
elaborates on it a little. That's a traditional caption comic. And these were really interesting
'cause they would maybe do something else completely differently or digress from the
topic or would have captions like this long. And it's kinda the same deal, maybe you feel
the same way. "The Parking Lot is Full" on a day to day basis maybe wasn't solid gold,
but was really doing new, interesting stuff. And so, that's the kind of comic I like. Like,
I have other comics I really love, like I love a comic called "Amazing Super Powers."
But he's kinda in the same space as I am, so I don't feel like we probably couldn't
learn from each other. So, there wouldn't be much creative use for us to read each other’s
comics. And then there's Dale Beran's "A Lesson is Learned but the Damage is Irreversible."
That was a really good comic. Sort of the same deal with pushing what you could do with
a comic. That's what I liked reading. But I actually don't read that many comics. There
are very few that I actually read. Do you have a follow-up question? OK. Do you have
a question?
>>MALE #18: Actually, I had the exact same question.
>>MALE #19: What software do you use to do the drawing and coloring?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I use nice, but pretty much standard card stock paper--regular ream
of paper. And then, I draw in a non-photographic blue pencil that doesn't scan. And then, I
just use a plain, black ink marker and then I scan into Photoshop and color. It's really
very simple. There's nothing--. I actually, when people ask me, like other artists ask
me, I hope not to do it my way because almost everyone I know has tablets now. I just can't
do it. I probably will eventually, but it just feels weird. And the way you have to
draw in a tablet--. Maybe there are tablet masters I haven't met, but like, when I wanna
do a line stroke, I draw it. And on the tablet, you have your hand on control Z all the time,
'cause you have to draw everything a couple time to get the stroke right. It's not for
me. Anyone? I brought some pictures.
>>MALE #20: It seems that the web comic industry is pretty well-connected in terms of authors
knowing each other.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Oh, yeah.
>>MALE #20: Can you talk a little bit about that and what that's like?
>>FEMALE#2: Tell us about your weekend.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah, yeah. I was actually at a wedding and Dinosaur Comics was there,
and Wondermark was there, and TopatoCo was there. Questionable Content was there.
>>MALE #20: So, you were in the happy battle.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yes. It was a beautiful place. We actually have a lot of private channels--the
web comic artists do. I was talking to Kristine about this. If you've been reading web comics
for a long time, you probably remember up to something like 2007, there was a lot more
public fighting and drama between web cartoonists. Now, there's not much. And the reason is 'cause
it happens in private.
But it's cool. This will probably go away over the next, say, generation. But right
now is a really cool time because everyone who is doing web comics professionally really
know pretty much everyone else because we all go to the same conventions. We share the
same data 'cause we have to run--. Everyone has a slightly different business model, but
it's essentially the same. So it's like if you wanna, like the ad setup I have right
now. I got it from Chris Hallbeck, who does a comic called "The Book of Biff." And it's
really helpful in having that shared pooled knowledge. For me, just having his advice
on that ad setup has, over time, doubled my income--just doing it properly. And so, yeah.
There's just a lot of talk. And pretty much everyone knows each other. And what's really
nice is because everyone has bootstrapped their way up to their position--there's no
other way to do it, I guess--and so everyone essentially is a small business owner. So,
there's not a lot of BS with people. And it's also easier to be friends when you don't need
each other. Everyone's an idol in web comics. And so, it's usually very chummy at conventions.
There are a few crazy people, but I won't say.
>>MALE #21: How much time do you have to spend on the business side of things, like with
the ads?
>>Zach Weinersmith: It's not too bad. Just this year, I was getting to where I was like,
having physiological symptoms from stress and not sleeping this year. And so, I finally
gave in and I have two people who help me out now. So, in terms of store stuff and fulfillment,
I have a person who handles all the shipping, order-taking. I don't even want to look at
it anymore. And I have a guy who is more local to me and he helps out with simple Photoshop
jobs and just little stuff--just random things. And so, at this point it's--I'm gonna tell
you--I at least get to do something like 80 to 90 percent nonbusiness. And there's stuff
that's like when you count like designing stuff in a book or picking comics, it's a
little--. Some of it's iffy. But the really not fun stuff, like mailing and handling my
ad chain, I don't really touch anymore, which is amazing. But I really feel like I think
this year has been much better. I have much more pride in my work this year. And I think,
in large part, it's because I've had people taking slack. I haven't had to just do something
at the last minute because I didn't want to. And so, yeah. That's been really cool. I think
the future of web comics is going to be that--and this is already forming--there will be something
like the old agency system, like the big literary agency system in place now. It'll take care
of this stuff for you. It hasn't really existed yet, but Breadpig is in that space and they're
the best edit. And TopatoCo is in that space and Blind Ferret is in that space now. And
my hope is that essentially what will happen is that the agency system will get, will basically
become what it was originally, just not run by assholes, [chuckles] which really would
make a difference. What I mean by that, to be specific, the difference between me being
with a traditional company and me being with Breadpig in terms of what my take is and how
much control I have is night and day. So, if I were to say, be with Random House or
something, I would have to--. They would be able to tell me to change my cover if they
wanted to. They could edit content. They could make demands about what had to go in. And
they would give, just money-wise, a much smaller cut. I think it's not quite an order of magnitude,
but it's in that ball park. I've done traditional publishing and I probably will never do it
again because what ends up happening is the only way you can make a living out of it is
if you sell something like a hundred thousand copies. And most people aren't gonna do that.
Whereas, I know people who have audiences, like under ten thousand people, who make a
living at it because the cut is good enough. And they can handle their own market. And
so, I hope the old publishing universe is turning this way. In my little bubble, everything
is going this way. In the web comics world it definitely is, but I hope that publishing
in general--book publishing, and traditional comic book publishing--will go that way. Yeah.
>>MALE #22: [clears throat] How does that tie in with how "Machine of Death" went out?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Oh, "Machine of Death." That was awesome. If you guys don't know,
"Machine of Death"--I wasn't involved in this, just to be clear--. No, I don't involved in
that project. That was Malki. I'm happy to talk about it. I know what happened. Malki
and Ryan North, Dinosaur Comics and Wondermark, they did a very simple idea for a project.
And it's interesting if you think about it in comparison to what a publishing house basically
does. They were doing the same thing. They said, "We need a bunch of short stories and
art work. We're gonna compile it together and the only thing we're gonna do is that
it has every story has to have this theme of a machine that--what was it?--it knows
when you're going to die."
>>MALE #22: It tells you how you're gonna die.
>>Zach Weinersmith: It tells you how you're gonna die, that's right. And so, every short
story could be anything. It just had to have this theme in it. And so, they actually put
together this really good book of stories. And what was really cool was I'd never seen
this done and we actually ended up doing this with Captain Stupendous, a book I released,
where you--if you're selling it through Amazon. Say you're selling it from Amazon. You tell
everyone, "Don't buy until the day I tell you." And then you can run up the numbers,
exactly. So, they actually hit number one for one day, which was extra cool 'cause they
displaced Glenn Beck for one day.
And Glenn Beck--this is true--actually went on TV and said, "There's this book called
'Machine of Death' and it's the liberal culture of death at work."
And which was, of course, stupid 'cause they sold so many books after that. Everyone's
like, "We pissed off Glenn Beck? This is great." And yeah. That was a really good example of
how just by having a good relationship with your audience, like--think about it this way.
If you were doing Batman, you might not be able to pull that off because Ryan North can
directly talk to 50 thousand people and Malki can, too. And so, if you can just mobilize
ten thousand people to do the same thing at the same time, you can get really cool results.
Whereas, something like Batman doesn't have that personal relationship. You read it 'cause
you wanna know what Batman's up to. You don't care--. You probably care who the author is,
but not in the same way you do with Dinosaur Comics, where you feel like you know the guy.
And that's one of the cool things that web comics can do that I think a lot of the older
comics are now clumsily trying to get into that universe. But I actually hope they succeed
'cause it makes everything more fun when you can interact with all these people.
>>MALE #23: So, how do you decide what fraction of your time to spend on all of your different
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah. It's actually like I was saying earlier. The equation isn't simple
in the sense that--. You can fallow the fields, so to speak. So, the part of your brain that
does calculus is not the part of your brain writes dirty jokes. And so for me, what I
try to do is I'll work on something until I'm about tired of it, unless I'm on a deadline.
Then, I have to make things work. But I'll work on calculus until I just can't take it
anymore. And it's actually good 'cause calculus, it's very logical, it's very rigorous, it's
very step by step. Whereas doing comics is the opposite. So, what I've done when I'm
being good, is I actually have a daily schedule that says "from 9 to 11 you will do math"
and then "from 11 to 11:30 try to write three jokes" and then "from 11:30 to 12:30" I don't
know. I can float my schedule. But I stole the idea from Ben Franklin. It was in his
He had this book. He was like, "I'm too lazy. I have to do more stuff." So, he scheduled
his whole life. You don't realize how much time you're spending poking around the internet
until you schedule your life. And it's amazing what you can get done in 16 hours if you are
not doing anything else. It's also, because it's fun, it's not so bad. I do work on--.
It's also good 'cause my wife is also crazy about her work, so there's no awkwardness
or no "why don't we do out more often?" It's usually by the time we go out, we both want
it. And so, that's been realized. I honestly don't know what I would do if I were with
someone who wanted me to take her out on weekends.
But, yeah. More often than not, I want to go out before she does. Yeah?
>>MALE #24: Who are the people who do SMBC Theater? Are they just your friends, or how
did you meet them?
>>Zach Weinersmith: So, James, the other guy who writes, I've known him since high school.
He's actually one of the characters in my old comic strip. And we, for ages, wanted
to do video projects. And then, it just happened that there was a nice situation where I had
built up a little audience and had a tiny amount of disposable income that I could put
to work some new projects. And then, he had just moved to LA. He's a graduate of the Carnegie
Mellon screen-writing program, which meant he had this network of people for us to abuse.
[audience chuckles] And so, it was cool. So, I could finance this and do the publicity
and, of course, help with the writing. And then he was able to bring almost all of our
actors are alumni of that program. Which is extra nice because they bring more people
'cause they have this just crazy network of people. So, it was very rare that we were
wanting for actors or actresses once we got going, which is really cool since we only
pay a few people. We only pay people who are doing technical work, like work you just cannot
get away with not paying. But most actors are willing to work for free on publicity
stuff. So, we help them with their reels when they want to put that together. And I do believe
in paying people, but we weren't making a profit. So, you suit your budget to the company,
if that makes sense. But yeah, most of the people worked through that network of people.
We had a few people we just found through a friend of a friend of a friend. But mostly
it's graduate students. I love them. Yeah?
>>MALE #25: Are you ever worried you're getting typecast? You and James?
>>Zach Weinersmith: Special strikes.
>>MALE #26: You play Jesus a lot.
>>Zach Weinersmith: I was really sad when I knew I didn't have long hair, so I had to
get a wig. It was embarrassing.
>>MALE #28: You have long hair, now.
>>Zach Weinersmith: I know. Yeah, yeah. We are actually moving out of this new project
now where we're doing--. We have a bunch of SMBC Theaters still in the queue that we're
still editing together to put out. But I'm actually, I don't love acting. I enjoy it
while I'm there, but comics are awesome because on a good day it's in the morning I have a
good idea. That evening I go home and I draw it. It's this whole little universe thing
idea that I show to people. And it probably takes me--. Even that crazy one, like the
57-panel one that was like eight hours. It was a long time, but it wasn't crazy. Whereas,
acting in a video is an entire day of your life. And that doesn't count the writing or
anything. And then, you won't see project over for a month and it's just the input/output
ratio--it's not great. And so, I'm trying to get more into the backseat of everything,
help with the writing, make creative choices, but not much on screen stuff. I also, it got
to where I was living in college towns 'cause I followed my wife's research. And it got
to where I couldn't walk around campus 'cause people know what I look like.
And I remember we were in Davis, California and saw a guy wearing like, a scarf and a
hat in the summer. That was me.
I don't have a problem meeting people, it's just I was going to get work done and I get
stopped every 20 minutes to talk to someone. It got pretty awkward after a while. And it
throws off your conversation to have someone you don't know yell your name all of a sudden.
But it's cool, too. So once--this is cool--Kelly and I were walking home, just from the library.
A guy walks by, just does not break his gait, just keeps walking. As he goes, he shouts,
"You rock."
And that was OK. If every interaction was like that, I could do it. But yeah, I'm not
worried about typecasting 'cause I don't wanna be an actor. Perhaps James should worry, he
definitely wants to--, but I mean, we're hoping to be in a position where we control the productions.
So, if he felt he was typecast, he could write himself a new character who was dashing and
>>MALE #29: So, what's the most interesting, or the most famous person you've interacted
with via somebody randomly knowing you're a web comic?
>>Zach Weinersmith: I've had two really awesome interactions. The best one I ever had was--.
Just, I mean, I didn't get to meet him, but I did this comic once that was about time
travel. The joke was about a guy who wants meet other time travelers, so he has the best
party ever and then everyone comes at the same time. So, there's this singularity that
kills everyone who would ever want to time travel. And that's why time travel is impossible.
And so, just whenever I have a scientist character and it makes sense to, I will just pick a
scientist I actually really like and put them in the character. So, I had Kip Thorne, who
many of you know is a famous physicist. He has his name on an equation or a theory with
Stephen Hawking, so he did all right for himself.
And he's still at Caltech. He still works. And I think he's probably in his 70s or 80s.
So, I had done this comic and just didn't think anything of it 'cause when I do younger
people, I expect maybe they'll get in touch with me 'cause they might hear about it. But
Kip Thorne doesn't need to care about comics. Actually, no one needs to care about comics.
But then I found out it was his 70th or 80th birthday. Someone had printed this up and
they had put it out for him. It was like, at Kip Thorne's birthday party. It was the
coolest thing ever. And then he sent me a letter. It wasn't like a personal "I love
you." That would've been cool . But it was just like, "I really appreciated your comic.
Signed, Kip Thorne." And I was like, "This I just don't deserve. This is ludicrous."
That was really amazing. It was especially good 'cause it was--. My dad graduated with
his PhD from Caltech and so I can be like, "Guess who I got a letter from. I wonder if
you knew him." I triangulated between my dad and Kip Thorne to see if they'd ever passed
each other in the hallways and we couldn't figure out that he had, sadly. But it's almost
certain they did, which was just kinda neat. The other cool thing was I was at Comic Con--this
was like two years ago--and I was talking to Phil Plait. Maybe you know he does the
Bad Astronomy blog and we're like lame internet buddies now. That's really precious. I thought
I should tell this. He has a filthy sense of humor in person. Just disgusting. You can't
do it publicly, so I get all of it.
Don't tell him I said that. But he's really cool. And he, as you know, is really into
a lot media stuff. And so, he actually came by my booth and we just were chit chatting.
I think it was the first time we met in person. And just at the exact same moment, Will Wheaton
came up to be like, "I love your comics." I was like, "This is the greatest."
And there's actually a photo of me and Will Wheaton and Phil Plait making faces at a camera.
And then there's a guy who photo bombed it, which is really weird. Especially 'cause Phil
was actively trying to photo bomb his own photo and this guy totally one-upped him.
But that was really cool just from a nerd standpoint. Like, the Kip Thorne thing was
actually gratifying in a self-actualization sort of way, but Will Wheaton and Phil Plait
just dorking out was awesome. And at Comic Con, no less. So, yeah. I'd say those are
my two favorite interactions. I've had like, awkward interactions, but nothing to be proud
>>MALE #30: There's one comic in here, I can't find it again, which I believe had the old
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Phil Plait involved.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Yeah. I haven't reached Neil deGrasse--. It's become my way to--.
Like I hear about someone think they're cool. I can touch base with them by doing the comic.
It's like, everyone like to be drawn. And I haven't gotten Neil deGrasse Tyson . And
I've done two comics about him. And he won't get in touch with me. We should be best friends.
It's been nice. I've had times when I--. Well, Kip Thorne is the best example. I've had other
professors I've met just through the comics and I could be like, "I was having trouble
with my physics homework and could you help me with this?"
I actually did that once. A friend of mine, Sean Carroll, he wrote a book called "From
Eternity to Here," and he does a blog called Cosmic Variance. And when I was just first
learning physics, he was a fan of the comic and we--. Now when I have a problem--. I would
never ask him like, "Solve this equation for me." 'Cause he's a professor at Caltech. That
might be rude.
But I would be like, "I really can't understand this concept. Could you help me with it?"
He was actually really nice. He would write paragraphs to me. It was really cool. And
so, that's the really nice, unexpected side effects of doing cartoons. And what's really
cool, too, similarly, is I'm learning something in math and I have trouble with a definition
or a problem or something, I'll push it on Twitter and I will get 18 answers in ten seconds.
It's really amazing.
>>MALE #31: How many of them are correct?
>>Zach Weinersmith: That is the problem. What's more interesting is usually it's 90 percent
correct. There are people who are wrong, but what's really interesting is you will ask
a question and you will say, "Why is this so?" I'll give you an example I did recently.
I was doing these calculus blogs and what's nice about it is I'm figuring out all the
things I never actually learned but felt like I knew. So, as you probably remember from
a long time ago, inverse trigonometrical functions have a restricted domain. And it's very reasonable
to make a restricted domain 'cause otherwise the math doesn't work. But you suspect there
must be an intuitive reason why this might be the case. And so, I went to Twitter and
I said, "Can anyone--." Of course, I understood why you restrict the domain for the math part.
That's the obvious part. Everyone understands that instantly. But why should it be in a
human intuitive way? And so, I go to Twitter and I'm like, "Hey, could anyone give me an
insight on this?" And instantly, it was 40 people saying that you have to restrict the
domain so the math works. And I was like--. That's kind of boggling 'cause that means
most of the people who are interacting with this type of math are not even trying to have
a deeper understanding of it. But I got a couple of people who gave me other ways to
understand how it would work. And actually, the best version of it I read--and there were
a couple of them--was if you imagine a non-inverse trig function, it also has a restricted range
because of where it can go. So, I thought that was the best way to think of it, is to
think of inverting it. And so, it was neat to think about how--or it was maybe scary
to think about many people who are actually doing this math don't have I guess what I
would call an understanding of it. They have a pragmatic understanding of it, which is
probably enough. But in terms of insight, they didn't. But that's what's cool about
Twitter. You can instantly, just by all the other people telling me I was stupid, I can
get some really cool insights. So, yeah. Yeah?
>>MALE #32: I know you guys were thinking of taking SMBC Theater and doing something
bigger with it. What's the new format?
>>Zach Weinersmith: What we're doing, James wrote a sketch. I was involved with it, mostly
doing punch up, like fixing jokes and rearranging structure stuff. But we wrote the script.
It's sort of science fictiony, I don't know how to say it. It's like a comedy science
fiction sitcom. I don't want to say sitcom, 'cause that makes it sound like the jokes
are in any way tame, but it's written by James, so it's just horrifying.
And so, that's the main thing we're working on. And that's what the bulk of the kick starter
money is going to. Since we went so over, we're gonna try to reward the people who took
us above and beyond by working on some additional projects that we can give them basically for
no kick starter money. Well, for their money, but for money they were intending to give
us that we can already do on a smaller budget. And so, we have a couple of things in the
pipe, but nothing that's developed enough that's worth talking about. I have a couple
other projects. Like I was saying, I'm working on a Choose Your Own Adventure. I have a couple
book projects I'm doing, which maybe at some point will get adapted into something new
production-wise. But right now, our big focus is this science fiction thing. Pretty fun.
>>MALE #33: Were you the terrible temp agency Choose Your Own Adventure thing here?
>>Zach Weinersmith: No, I've never done one.
>>MALE #33: OK.
>>Zach Weinersmith: I'm actually doing--Kristine and I were talking about this--there's a lot
of weird math that goes into designing Choose Your Own Adventure, like the flow-charting.
'Cause I stupidly, 'cause I knew this math, I completely screwed it up. I started--. The
way I'd been doing it, is I flow chart in the abstract what a story should be like and
then I assign stuff to the scenes. And if you wanna have a bridge, a fork, at every
point, you want to have a choice at every point, you have to--. It's two to the N plus
one plus two to the N plus one. So, by the time you've gotten to two to the tenth, which
is to say you've only read ten scenes, you have something like 15 hundred scenes you
have to write to make the reader able to do that, right? So, you have to figure out a
reasonable, but still fun, way to clip. So, the cool thing is if you clip at a branch,
you clip off two to the N from that point, right? Two to the N plus two to the N plus
one and so on. And so, it's not as scary if you just learn how to clip judiciously. But
so, there is, it's an interesting thing and you can even look at flow charts and you can
tell the genre. I don't mean a genre like whether it's a Western or not, but there's
a genre of whether it's a what type of story they're telling from just looking at the flow
chart. So like, the old Choose Your Own Adventure that you read when you were 12, the little
simple one that actually says "Choose Your Own Adventure" on the top, the flowchart,
you could make it fan out in every direction 'cause there are lots of short stories with
choices. In fact, it might even be two to the N plus two to the N plus one and so on,
because you really basically have a simple fork at each point. And to get to the end
might only be ten steps. And the way you play this is you try to do all the different routes,
right? Whereas, if--. So, if you look at the flow chart, it would either look like that
or it would look like a fat triangle, right? Whereas, if it was a game book--. I don't
know if you played gaming Choose Your Own Adventure. There a slightly different genre
where you can interact with your setting and fight stuff and you can pick up things. It's
like D and D for one.
I've seen a couple of these games. There's a very popular one--
>>MALE #33: If you pick up the sword three steps ago, then--
>>Zach Weinersmith: It's exactly like that, yeah. And what's interesting though is to
make that work, you have to have a much more linear flow because you're telling one story,
right? And also, if it's stuff like you have to have the sword to kill the whatever, you
have to actually get the sword. Otherwise, you write 200 pages for no reason. So, you
have to do a much more linear story and it has to pinch at points, right? So that you
get the central story line. So you can actually tell by looking, it'll have to be linear and
there will have to be pinching points. So, it's really been a cool learning experience
working on Choose Your Own Adventure, oddly enough. But, which will hopefully be up through
Breadpig in March. Am I out of time?
>>Male Presenter: I think we're running out of time.
>>Zach Weinersmith: Cool. Thank you guys.