Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of Webcomics You Should Be Reading! This time I'd like to try something a little different with the format of the column. Steven Severt, of Rival Comics, was doing a column called Rival Radar for a while, in which he would examine a webcomic and follow up his review with an interview of the creator. Since Steven has put Rival Radar on hold for the time being, I'd like to borrow his format and see how you folks like it.
This week, I'd like to take a look at Adam Atherton's Zuda winning project, Lily of the Valley. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of you are all ready reading this dark, Burton-esque tale, as Atherton seems to be something of a marketing master mind.
The premise of the comic is simple and direct, albeit extremely surreal. Atherton's tale follows a girl named Lily Brooke who suffers from an array of mental health issues. Finding that prescription drugs and traditional therapy have done very little to help her feel better, Lily discovers a self prescribed therapeutic activity – murder. Luckily for Lily, the folks in the small town that she lives in are convinced that there is a ghost-boy in the woods who's responsible for her crimes.
Now some of you may be skeptical about this concept, as was I, but Atherton executes the subject matter in an amusing and visually gripping manner. Mixing the truly horrific and the down right silly (such as a plastic flamingo being used as a murder weapon), this webcomic is imbued with a whimsical madness that captures the reader.
Furthermore, Atherton has crafted Lily so that the audience can sympathize with her, in a manner similar to Dexter Morgan or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Though I wouldn't classify Lily as a hero, or even an anit-hero, there is a sense of misguided justice behind her actions. One might say that Lily is the armored fist of the crazed, displaced and introverted. This in itself makes her character appealing.
The art has a very stylized look to it that works incredibly well for the story. A careful and limited pallet of colors adds a moody atmosphere with a hint of darkness while staying away from horror comic cliche's such as heavy inking or the overuse of red and black contrast.. What stands out to me most about the artwork on Lily of the Valley is the incredible attention to detail, which I'm a total sucker for. There are no blank backgrounds in this comic. Atherton makes sure to bring the setting to life in every panel, bringing out the little details like magnets on refrigerators and the knots in wooden beams. With such a gorgeously rendered and detailed setting it becomes easy for the audience to submerge themselves in Lily's hometown of Elmwood.
The over all result of Atherton's efforts produces an entertainingly macabre webcomic that might be described as a mixture of American Psycho and Edward Scissorhands, with a touch of Jennifer's Body. All in all, Lily of the Valley is a very impressive webcomic that helps demonstrate what a boon the Zuda competition is to the webcomics community and to the comics industry as a whole.
Now I will say that Lily of the Valley is definitely not for everyone. If you're only into cape books with definitive ideas of right and wrong, or if you simply don't care for surrealism, then you probably aren't going to like this webcomic. For those of you who do enjoy a little fictitious carnage, Lily of the Valley is definitely worth checking out.
As always, thanks for reading. Please let me know your thoughts on this new format. I'll catch everyone here again in fourteen days. Don't close that window just yet though. Check out this interview I conducted with Adam Atherton.
CL: Hi Adam. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your comic, Lily of the Valley?
AA: Well, I grew up in rural eastern Canada and moved to Canada's largest city, Toronto, after high school where I've since gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film Studies from York University.
LILY OF THE VALLEY is a love story for the over and under medicated, the disenchanted, the excessively violent, and the soft spoken. This sums up everything in my mind. The story follows a teenage girl with emotional and mental struggles who abandons traditional medication in exchange for her own therapy she discovers works much better; secretly killing off members of her small hometown of Elmwood. We'll follow her as she falls for the strange elusive boy living in the woods who has been taking all the blame for her actions. LILY OF THE VALLEY is slow bumpy ride through a valley of emotional turbulence.
LILY OF THE VALLEY was nominated on ComicMonsters.com last year for a Best Horror Webcomic of the Year Award, currently has over 100,000 page views, over 850 favorites, and a near solid five star rating!
CL: What inspired the dark subject matter at the core of Lily of the Valley?
AA: I chose the subject matter based on my own struggles with anxiety disorders in the past. At first, I really wanted to be able to translate the emotions felt with anxiety, panic, depression, etc into something visual. I want to be able to put the reader into the mind of this character so they see what the world is like to her. I want to make the reader feel the emotions which they might not be able to understand or might shrug off as ridiculous if being told straight about them. I think you make someone understand an internal emotion you really need to get creative and use metaphors, be descriptive, utilize stylistic choices and compositions, etc. Choosing to make Lily a teenage serial killer came to me while listening to an album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds titled Murder Ballads. This is one of my favorite albums and I was listening to it while developing the story idea and the song Curse of Milhaven began to play, which is about a young girl who kills folks in her small town and then the pieces all fell into place.
CL: Do you have plans for Lily of the Valley past the first 60 page season, or did you intend to end it at the 60 page mark?
AA: I certainly have plans beyond the first 60 page season! I've actually just been thinking a lot about it and bringing ideas together and I'm really excited about where I'm going to take things in a second season. Really really excited. Sometimes you just ponder and ponder and brilliant ideas that seem so natural and right pop into your mind and I've had a lot of those.
CL: I understand you had competed in Zuda once before submitting Lily of the Valley, with a project called Bleed. Why do you think you were more successful the second time around?
AA: Well I think the biggest thing was that BLEED was a comic I was making with dimensions for print and unintended for Zuda. I was making it solely for my own enjoyment and I really had a lot of fun making it. When I discovered Zuda I had this project up to 14 pages and thought I might as well submit it and see what happens. I had no expectations of it being invited to compete. The first 4 pages were each divided into 2 becoming the Zuda submission. So it really didn't utilize the 8 pages the best it could. Because it wasn't planned for an 8 page pitch, it didn't end with a cliffhanger, it didn't introduce a lot of story ideas,etc. It was more of a prelude.
I think what made LILY more successful was preparation. I took note of all the positive and negative feedback I received from BLEED and applied it to LILY. A few important things I took from it were to be sure to set up the story strongly and let readers know what to expect beyond page 8, to use color, to end on a cliffhanger, and to be prepared to market and promote yourself throughout the competition.
I still really love BLEED and where I was doing it only for my own enjoyment, I was pumping it full of references to my hometown and just a lot of things that I enjoyed and wanted to draw. I brought this way of thinking over to LILY as well. To just make something you will love and enjoy more than worrying about what others will think.
CL: Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a Zuda competitor and later as a winner of the competition?
AA: My experiences with the Zuda competitions have been great. I've found a larger audience for my work, even when BLEED didn't win in December 2008, I still gained a lot of new people interested in my work. So you really don't lose on Zuda. The competition is very, very stressful though. Very, very stressful. Haha. After learning this the first time, I thought to myself when I submit LILY I am going to be extremely prepared to compete. I was still very stressed but it was worth it.
CL: Do you have any advice for would be competitors or for struggling comic creators in general?
AA: For competitors, I would say know who the audience is for your comic and be prepared to find them and put your comic in front of their eyes. For LILY, I sought out fan groups of Tim Burton, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, etc. You want to find communities online where you know there are people who will like what you're making. Target your promotional efforts.
For other comic creators, I'd just say keep making comics. Work at it daily and draw and write to appeal to yourself and don't worry about what others will think. Love what you're drawing or writing about and work at it every day and eventually you'll get to a point where someone's willing to pay you for your work.
I heard a saying once that 'you are what you pretend to be' so I pretended I was a professional comic artist for about a year, working every day, treating it like it was my job, etc. The best way to get a job doing something is to prove you can do it.
CL: Do you have any other comic projects going on?
AA: I have had a bunch of proposals. A few are very exciting to me. One is for print using a property I've been a big fan of for a long time. The copyright issues are being worked out on that right now and I'm looking forward to it. I'm aiming to finish up the next 20 pages of LILY to complete the first season before tackling these other projects though.
CL: What are some of your big influences, both in the world of comics and elsewhere?
AA: In comics, I'd say Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and Scott McCloud. I've always really loved and admired creators who write and illustrate their books. The one man show appeals to me. I think these books usually result in a very realized, unique, and unified vision.
Outside of comics, to narrow it down I'd say the albums of Nick Cave, the early film work of Tim Burton, Mary Shelley's masterpiece Frankenstein, my gorgeous girlfriend and writing partner Luiza, and lots and lots more music.
CL: How about a dream project? Is there any established property out there that you are just dying to get a piece of?
AA: Some properties I would kill to be part of in comic form are Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein, American Psycho, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Kevin Williamson's Scream. There's a ton of horror film based comics out there and I've been waiting for a teen slasher comic inspired by Scream. As for comic properties, I always thought it would be cool to have control of a Batman story and have it be about Bruce Wayne in his teenage years. His mental trauma and messed up emotions, him running into bat caves, smearing his face with bat's blood and running into the night getting into gritty bloody fights with crooks, his delusions, his isolation, etc. I would love that and aspire to it.
CL: Lily of the Valley is really a gorgeous looking webcomic. Can you tell us a bit about your creation process? Wearing the hat of both artist and writer must give you some creative wiggle room that folks who only do one or the other aren't privileged with.
AA: Yeah it's something I really value, being able to go back and forth between the two. Coming up with ideas while drawing the page makes things more lively and whimsical I believe. Luiza helps with the writing as well and keeps an eye on structure and things. It's all an organic process and I like it that way. I like to know my direction, know points I need to hit but writing things out in point form and jotting ideas and dialogue in beside points, and then letting things evolve and get to those areas organically.
CL: You've got a pretty good foot in the industry's door now. Is the creation of comics something you see yourself doing for a life long career, or do you have other passions which might take precedence later?
AA: The comic industry is definitely where I want to stay. I've wanted in comics since I was very young and spent a lot of time and energy to get me this far and I hope to just get bigger and better, more productive and more efficient with everything I do. I'm pretty passionate about the film medium as well but even while studying it I was taking everything I was learning and thinking about how it applies to comics. This was my main motive in studying film, to get a strong understanding of visual storytelling. Making comics appeals to me more than film though in that you have full creative control and there are no limitations, only your imagination and ability.
CL: Zuda is doing a lot of good to help legitimize webcomics in the minds of Wednesday warriors everywhere. What are some of your personal favorite webcomics?
AA: A lot of my favorite webcomics are actually on Zuda. Too many to list and I don't want to exclude any but check them all out. They're all fantastic, even a lot of the non-winners are quite brilliant. Aside from Zuda, I've followed Penny Arcade for a long time even though I'm not a video game buff. I check in on Wapsi Square often. I think it's cool that this comic has a huge female readership which makes it something that stands out. I like to see comics that bring in new audiences. I think Serenity Rose is really cool as well.
CL: Thanks again for taking the time to answer some questions. Is there anything you'd like to say in closing?
AA: Thanks Curtis. I guess I'll just say if you like LILY OF THE VALLEY be sure to sign up on Zuda, rate it, add it to your favorites, leave a comment, and/or send Zuda your feedback, through the feedback option at the bottom of Zuda, letting them know you're a fan and want more. These all go into deciding a second season! Thanks!
Curtis Lawson is the owner of Broken Soul Press and the writer of the webcomics*Divis Morte*and*Curtis Lawson's Grindhouse.