BY JENNIFER "I Understand J00" CONTINO
Thousands of fans were thrilled when it was announced that Megatokyo
the sophomore online comics strip would be collected by Studio Ironcat
and released as a TPB this December. THE PULSE
hung out with Fred Gallagher to get some inside information on all things Megatokyo
and learn more about the man behind MT
.THE PULSE: When you were younger and used to think about being an "adult" is this the job you thought you'd have?
FRED GALLAGHER: You mean doing a webcomic? I'd hardly consider it a "job." It's more like a hobby grown wildly out of control. My day-job is very 'respectable. A lot of kids say, "Oh, I wanna be an architect when i grow up!" but For me, it was a little more complicated than that.
When I was in college I worked pretty hard to get an education that would give me a solid, stable career. My thinking was that once I was established able to support myself, THEN
I could wander off and do goofy things like, say, a webcomic or go into animation (my first desire). Of course, in typical masochistic fashion, I'm now doing both the stable career AND
the webcomic. It's not so bad. I don't have to be concerned that what I do with the webcomic will effect whether or not I can pay my bills next month. It allows me to take more creative chances, and also fall down a lot more (which i do regularly). If I were a "Pro" and this was my job, I'd have been canned a looooong time ago.
As far as the adult thing, I'm still wondering what I am gonna do when i grow up. It's taking me an amazingly long time to reach that whole "adult" thing, and for some reason I haven't been making any progress lately.THE PULSE: How did you get into gaming?
For a lot of people, gaming is part of their social lives. People play games with friends and the major goal of the week can be grinding your friend's digital face into the gravel. I come from the other camp - I got a Sega Genesis
because I was lonely and bored and was looking for something to do. That and I had my first brand new credit card and I wanted to start using it.
I eventually got to the point I could burn my way thru all of the Sonic
games (even Sonic CD
, which wasn't really that bad) and then I purchased a Nintendo
, mainly so I could play Secret of Mana
. I guess the things that always attracted me to games were not things like gameplay or how popular a game was at the time, it was more about the mood and the atmosphere within the game. Secret of Mana
was full of that - actually, most games have that to one degree or another.
Odd thing about the advent of online gaming is that it produced a haven for both social players and private players - A guy like me could play against real players in a frag fest and have it feel not too much different that single player mode. In fact, its probably a little disturbing that online gaming did a great job of reducing "other people" to nothing more than much better "characters" in the game, with online personalities that were, well, as unusual and varied as online personalities can be.
So, really, its not that unusual that Piro in the comic is such a single-player kind of guy. Gaming for Piro is an inward looking activity. He sinks into his own little world when playing, and no one else can really take part in it. Largo is an extrovert, he plays his games both inside and outside of the console and he requires others around him when playing - it's part of why he's always frontin' and taunting the way he does. The similarities and the differences are profound, really, and it's a potential source of endless material.THE PULSE: What games were some you cut your teeth on?
Well, aside from Sonic
, I never did get into RPG games like you would think. Secret of Mana
was the last one i worked really hard on. There have been several RPG games that I've wanted to play, but i just haven't been able to commit the time needed to ever start with them. I also used to play a lot of PC games I used to play Commander Keen for hours on end, and I remember motion sickness from playing too much Castle Wolfenstien
... back when all these would fit on a floppy disk.
I loved Doom
, it was just such a fun game, but Quake
really did something profound for me. The game had SO much atmosphere, it was immersive to a remarkable level. Honestly, I still think Quake 1
was far more successful at the "atmospherics and attitude" than sol many games since. Better frame rate and higher detail don't necessarily mean a better game. Of course you have to remember, this is the single-player minded gamer talking here.
Probably the game that effected me the most was Myst
. I still love this game, not because of the gameplay, not because of they hype that surrounded its success, but because it was so friggin GOOD at doing what it did best - immersing you in a range of moods and atmospheres that could really spook you out after playing till 3am on a cold dark wintry night. Riven
was more detailed, and didn't quite work as well for me, but i think the reason is that they got away from the abstractness that made Myst
so poignant - when things were so enigmatic, it was spooky and moody, when the little world of Riven
started to get fleshed out, it just started to get corny.
As for Japanese games, that's a far more interesting story. I have several consoles that won't even play American games.
One of the types of gaming that is popular in Japan but has yet to really take hold here in the states are dating simulation / visual novel type games. I guess part of the reason is that if you think about it, playing a dating sim is a REALLY sad activity.
But if you are a quiet, lonely guy who don't have a lot of friends, you gotta look for somewhere to work with these emotions, I guess. Also, there's more to these games than just cathartic company for lonely guys, there's something else about them that draws me to them - something about the interactive nature and the art and the stories built into them that has made me a fan of them for years, even though technically I'm not in need of them anymore. There's kind of this 'everyday" kind of feel to them that you can also find in a lot of my favorite anime and manga series.
Dating simulation games have systems where your success in the game depends on how you statistically score based on your activities with girls and others in the game. If you make the right decisions and say the right things, buy the right gifts, don't forget about dates, etc, things go well. Otherwise you end up with nothing, or the annoying girl that everyone wins with. Tokimeki Memorial
is, of course, the classic dating sim game, and I had some fun playing that. I also played Sentimental Graffiti
but my fave game, oddly enough, is a game called True Love Stories 2
, an oddly every-day kind of dating sim game for the Playstation
Visual novels are a little different, they tend to be more like books or novels that you read, and you see the game thru the eyes of the protagonist. There are a lot of selections that determine your path thru the game, and a lot of times the stories can be complex and different depending on the paths you follow. My fave in this genre are the Key/Visual Arts games, of course (I'm a dedicated Keyfan
, and I'm already drooling over the soon to be released game Clannad
game) but there are hundreds of great games in these genre and ... well, not all of them have "adult" elements to them. In fact, the "adult" parts are often so inconsequential to the game that they end up being pulled out for the more mainstream versions if the game becomes popular.
I've never been on the cutting edge of gaming technology - in fact, right now, I don't even have any games loaded on my computer (even tho my laptop at lease has a pretty decent graphic accelerator now). I don't have time to play any of them (sniff). It's ironic as hell, but in order to do this comic about gaming and gamers I have to stay away from playing them. Someone asked me once "how do you do all this work and still play all the cool games?" "Easy," I responded, "I don't play any games at all." But, but, what about this new game I just spent 50 bucks on???" "Don't buy it next time." I replied.
You gotta have your priorities if you're gonna make stuff rather than just play with stuff others have made. If you are committing your free time to doing something, its not easy, but you have to realize that there are sacrifices - there are only so many hours in the day.THE PULSE: How'd you become interested in drawing?
Well, I've pretty much been drawing since i was a kid, and i never stopped. If you think about it, we all used to draw and scribble when we were kids - it comes naturally. What happens that causes so many people to stop drawing? I think it has a lot to do with peer pressure. It's hard enough growing up, and art is just one more thing that you can have out there for people to pick on - and that's why so many of us stop, i think. Stubborn people like myself put up with years of being picked on - maybe because creative drive is that much stronger, I really don't know. I think it has more to do with being stubborn.
I did pretty much stop drawing when I went to college tho. I just didn't really have any direction at the time, and there was no need to put much to paper. That changed after I graduated, and I found that I wanted to start again, even tho I had very little to encourage me. Discovering Japanese anime and manga, and diving into the sea of it that was so much deeper and wider than I ever imagined (and expensive, mind you. yikes!) I started to develop a real sense of what I wanted to do. Still trying to figure it out, really.
When I was in college, I remember taking several photography classes where I did a lot of field work - photographs of rather lonely and forlorn places in and around the farms and industrial areas around Michigan. I remember one time struggling with myself wondering "how the hell do I capture the feel and mood of this place?" I guess my struggles to draw and create stuff, story writing included, has a lot to do with trying to find effective ways of communicating some of those intangible, impossible to describe kind of feelings. I think that people go to great lengths to find such things in and about the entertainment that is available today - and much of it is only there by accident. Monkeys can learn to draw - I personally have absolutely no technique - but I've learned how to put down what I feel or want to convey on paper, and doing Megatokyo
has really helped me do this.THE PULSE: Who are some of your favorite artists?
That's a horrid question to ask, because I could spend a week answering it. :p There are a lot of people I respect, and I suppose I should mention the ones I've learned the most from. Yuzo Takada, the artist and author behind 3x3
eyes had a lot of impact on my early work (especially how I draw eyes) and the way he created a very cute character who was, well, a monster, was inspirational.
Hayao Miyazaki was also a great influence. He says when he started the Nausicaa manga that he didn't think he could do a manga title, and it's turned into one of the most classic mangas titles ever made. Also, he was not afraid to use his own unique style and techniques to communicate his story.
My first experiences with Manga was Masamune Shiro's Appleseed
books. What impresses me the most about Shirow is that he too started doing comics on the side, and worked a day job as a teacher - a feat which I could not comprehend when i read his stuff in college. Today, doing something similar - though no where near as well - I have even more respect for the man.
I love the work by Kosuke Fujishima (Ah! My Goddess
), I learned a lot about hair and just everyday techniques from his work. Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkouku
series is still one of the most awe inspiring stories ever told in manga form, and I find great inspiration in how even simple layout and frames can be so potent.
I wanna tear my hair out when I look at Akamatsu Ken's Love Hina series... how he can draw the girls so adorably cute? Having had a chance to meet Akumatsu-san and talk with him about my work has to have been one of the best experiences I've had so far this year.
Of course, how can I forget the great Koge Donbo, the wonderful artist behind DigiCharat
. There are levels of cuteness that are inhumanly possible for me to attain there. She has a great amount of variety to her style, and its fun reading thru some of her more obscure works.
One thing I cannot leave out are the wonderful artists behind some of the dating sims and visual novels that I draw so much inspiration from. They don't have the high profile names that their manga artist counterparts, but they deserve a lot of credit for their immense talent. Hinoue Itaru is the very talented character designer behind a lot of the work at Key (Kanon, Air, Clannad
, etc), as well as counterparts Miracle Mikipon and Shinori - who have some rather remarkable rendering skills. Two other artists worth mention and worship of course are Mitsumi Misato and Amatsuyu Tatsuki who recent moved from F&C
(makers of the Pia Carrot
series) to Leaf Tokyo
(makers of games such as To Heart
, of which the character "Akari" actually showed up in an early MT
Gah ... just going over this makes me just wanna stick my hands in a food processor. It can be so depressing sometimes that no matter how hard I try, I'll never be able to match what these people do. THE PULSE: What - if any - formal artistic training have you had?
None. I've never really taken any art classes, I'm pretty much self taught - which shows, if you look closely at how little anatomy knowledge I have. ^_^ I learned a lot about space and spatial relationships in architecture school, but really, so much of what you need to do a comic or creative work you can't learn by taking classes. Education can teach you technique but you need to find your own inspiration, which s a lot harder, really.
You gotta have something to say first. I've got things i want to communicate. The struggle to get them across is what art is all about. The fact that my artistic skills are so lacking really hurts my ability to communicate these things, but I'm working very hard at improving them, and I always will.THE PULSE: Who's artwork now are you really digging?
Right now? Stuff from the new game from Key
. It's got me banging my head on the table in frustration because i just can't do stuff that good. You can't really find a lot of examples on their page, but you can look http://key.visualarts.gr.jp.
There are two images in particular, one of Sanae-san and one of Tomoyo-san, that I'm digging into to try to teach myself some technique, so the term "digging" is quite appropriate here.THE PULSE: Who helped you get started creating comics?
Well, back when I first started building web pages, I made an informational web page on the series 3x3 Eyes
by Yuzo Takada. Around that time, I started to browse the websites and found that Japanese fan artists were putting up a lot of very interesting sites - sites that were relied on the creativity of the owner of the site, not just how many cool images you could scan out of magazines or where you could rip off graphics from some other place. This inspired me to expand up the Fredart
side of the site, which grew into the www.fredart.com
website. I felt that i wanted to provide content, not just rehash what others had done.
I used to do a lot of single illustration pieces (many of which are still up on the site). One interesting thing i found was that there was little real reason to produce a drawing that was just a good likeness of an anime character if it didn't contain ... something more, something extra. I found that my favorite pieces had a little something more to them than just some standard pose or expression on a popular anime character's face. The best images seemed to have more to them, something else going on beneath the eyes, or in the background. I found that this was the same way I started approaching my own drawings - a drawing wasn't worth wasting time on if it didn't SAY something.
I always wanted to do a manga title of some sort, and in fact before Megatokyo
started, I was tinkering with a story called Warmth
, which I was aiming to publish as a doujinshi title for that summer's Comike
in Tokyo, Japan. (Comike
is a "comic market" where fan artists and their "circles" produce 20-40 page anthologies that they sell from their tables. For more info, visit www.comiket.co.jp
and this page
for some info in English.)
Of course, up to this point, I had never done much more than stand alone illustrations - the though of doing a multi page manga layout was daunting. Actually sitting down and focusing on characters and story was not something I had attempted yet. Warmth wasn't moving along very fast, because there was no incentive to really finish it in a hurry.
It was about this time that Largo started bugging the hell out of me to start doing an online comic. He was an avid reader of comics like PVP Online
and Penny Arcade
, and was convinced that I should be doing a webcomic. At the time, I knew very little about webcomics, and after letting Largo get me hooked on them, I still thought that it wasn't the right venue for my work. I wanted to do was manga and more in-depth projects, not newspaper comic style strips. As much as I have enjoyed newspaper comics (Calvin and Hobbs
best comic EVER) it just wasn't for me.
But then I started to think about it. For manga-style comics there really wasn't a very effective way to deliver them online. There were and still are a lot of groups that would spend a month doing 10 to 20 pages and release all of it at once at the end of the month - but these did not have a huge following, and people would more often than not forget to come back to pick up next month's installment. Offering content on a regular schedule, at least every other day, really made a lot of sense to me as far as what you need to do to keep people's attention.
So, I abandoned the idea of inking each strip, turned to doing it just in pencil, worked with rod to get some stuff put together, did a few strips, and promptly forgot about the project. Largo continued to hound me about doing more, and finally, one weekend, I put together a new website design, just to replace the amazingly lame and simple one we had (white background, nothing graphic on it at all) ...
Of course, it was that Monday that we were linked by one of the major online comics out there, Penny Arcade
, and from that, we suddenly found that we were getting a TON of visitors. In a panic, both Largo and I realized that we did NOT have a functioning site (it was just a template) and I hadn't even started to think about what i needed to do to get the comic itself rolling. So, from this, we started almost accidentally and it's been stumbling along ever since. THE PULSE: When looking at your artwork, I notice elements of anime and manga. Are you at all influenced by Japanese comics and films? Which ones are some of your favorites?
You could say that. You see, oddly enough, i never really read many American comics. I never was able to get into superhero comics and I never could build enough interest in them to collect them. I read a few X-Men
here and there, and that was about it. When some of the Japanese titles started to show up in comic book stores (mainly Appleseed
), I started collecting them. I DID
used to collect several independent comics (Steve Gallacci's Albedo
was one of my faves) but i started to take real influence from the Japanese titles I was starting to be able to collect just about the time I started drawing again.
Once again, I was bored one afternoon, and I was desperate for something new to watch. I rented a VHS tape of Urusai Yatsura
(those obnoxious aliens) and, while it was a hoot, that's not what really got me hooked. It was a advertising spot at the end of the tape for a series called Kimagure Orange Road
. There was something about the style and the cute nature of the characters that really appealed to me. I put in an order for those tapes at the local video store, and its been downhill ever since.
I've already mentioned some of my favorite manga titles, but I guess I should mention a few of my favorite films. Laputa Castle in the Sky
is probably my favorite Ghilbi
film (the atmospherics in the film are astounding, and the sense of loss at times is palpable). A close second would be another Ghilbi
film Umi Ga Kikoeru
(I can hear the sea)- a GREAT
film, and I swear I learned a little evilness from its storyline Kaitou Saint Tail
is probably my favorite anime series, but I have so many others that have influenced me that it's hard to remember them all. I have a lot of respect for the work put out by studios like Gainax
, and I swear that FLCL
is one series that had an unfortunate influence on the start of MT
CLICK HERE to read PART TWO of this interview with Megatokyo's Fred Gallagher!