Women of Webcomics: Jenn Manley Lee
GeekGirlCon’s Stephanie Little had the pleasure of interviewing the Dicebox’s Jenn Manley Lee. Originally inspired by children’s illustrator Trina Schwartz Hyman, Jenn’s interest in comics has stayed with her. She enjoys reading a variety of webcomics including Spacetrawler by Christopher Baldwin and Gunnerkigg Court by Tom Siddel. Jenn’s online graphic novel includes well-developed characters and detailed art. This talented webcomic creator shared some insight about her current and future work.
SL: Do you consider yourself a geek?
SL: What are you currently geeking out about?
JML: I’m re-watching the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I’ve really enjoyed. I was sad it got canceled when it did. I felt that way about Firefly, too.
SL: What started you on your road to geekdom and eventually creating comics?
JML: Geekdom — I blame on my mother. We always watched Star Trek: The Original Series when that was on in syndication. That started it. Then Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle In Time, all the classic fantasy… which kind of segued in to a lot of the classic science fiction. Comics I started because, oddly enough, I mostly had boys as friends growing up. And they all read Spider-Man, so I went to pick up Spider-Woman, and just got really in to it. And I started meeting a lot of other comic geeks.
SL: So it transitioned nicely, then. Were you intending to create a webcomic for a while?
JML: I intended to make a comic for a long time, and then it just made sense to do it on the web. I guess I started thinking about doing it on the web in 2001, and I realized I wanted to do it in color… [but] I’m not going to get a publisher for this because it’s a little odd. I [had] friends that were doing webcomics already like Christopher Baldwin and Scott McCloud, who was proselytizing [me to] webcomics at that point. It seemed like, “why not? I’m not going to make money at this.” The big thing was letting go; “I’m not going to make money at this. That’s okay, so let’s just do it.” I actually started it mostly to share with my friends. Then it started getting talked about after several pages, and then it became a thing.
SL: I really like that the world feels really lived in and comfortable for the characters. Have you already created all four books in your mind?
JML: Yes, very much so. I was working on the comic for a while. The four book concept started when I moved to Portland in the mid-nineties. I started restructuring everything and creating source books, and doing a lot of thinking of structure and where I wanted to go with it. When I started, I just kind of started and kept going.
SL: What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep doing this? Are you always incredibly motivated?
JML: I’m pretty motivated. It’s hard, because I do have a day job. I’m in to the story, and I think that helps. I’m in to the characters. The story, even though I’ve plotted it out, it has a lot of room to evolve, change, and keep me interested. So that helps a lot. It helps, actually, to have an audience. And have people respond and get fan mail. Having an audience and feedback is amazing, and I think that’s the most amazing thing about being online.
SL: You have a fantastic page that shows the steps for creating your art. Is there a process you also use for the dialogue? A filtering process where you want them to speak a specific way to convey something?
JML: That can be difficult. That’s actually a struggle, and basically my way to get through it is by scripting everything first. And I know I’m going to change it. And actually the art helps dictate the dialogue. Even though I’ve kind of written the page, I know what they’re saying, and I’ll draw a face. It kind of suggests a different attitude, and so the dialogue shifts subtlety. The same thing is said, but it’s said in a different way. That’s actually weirdly more integral. There’s not a separate process, so I’m thinking about it all the time. They’re talking in my head all the time.
SL: Once this project is finished, do you think you will create other projects just as big?
JML: Yes, unfortunately I just think big. I have another project in mind. Technically it could be contained in one 130 page book, but I’ve already thought of the sequels. They’re different stories, but they build on the first story. That’s just how I think. My goal for myself is to just do a 16-page story all by itself. That’s my big challenge to myself someday.
SL: Do you have any advice for people just beginning as webcomic creators?
JML: Just do it. Seriously. Just create, just get it up there. It’s always nice to hear people’s opinions, but don’t get weighed down by them. For every person that doesn’t like your stuff, there will be one or two people that do. Don’t worry about that. I say just do it, go for it. But do what you want. Don’t try to guess what people want to read. Do what you feel like you can give up time – because most web cartoonists do it after a day job. Do something that you want to spend time with, because you will. A lot.
SL: Do you ever have to struggle with writer’s block?
JML: Yes, a lot of times. Sometimes it’s writer-artist’s block. I know what needs to happen, but I have no idea how I should draw it, and I’ll just block on that. But also writer’s block. Yeah, that happens a lot. It’s very frustrating, especially when it’s the middle of the page. I know how the page begins and ends, but the middle isn’t working.
SL: Do you have a method of getting through that?
JML: Putting it down, walking away. Work on something that I know needs to happen. There are times I can skip ahead. Leave it alone and then come back to it, a lot of times that will solve it. But, on the other hand, sometimes I just have to work on it. I just have to spend the morning trying to write two lines of dialogue until it works.
SL: Is there anything you would like your readers to know?
JML: I am going to update again. I am going to get on a regular schedule come fall. I appreciate everybody who has or will read Dicebox. It’s very exciting; it does keep me going. Thank you for being as involved in my characters as I am.