Yes! Basket Case has it’s first showcase interview. It’s with Alex Hallatt, creator of Arctic Circle and Human Cull. Human Cull first came to my attention in 2013, when it started running on GoComics. I loved the idea of jerks being identified as such, and I’ve been an avid reader of the strip ever since. It’s a simple premise, with simple, easy to look at graphics. The punchline comes when you locate Alien Admin, and see how he’s eying his target. I’ll let Alex talk more about it below. I’m very please to introduce her here.
BC: Who are you (to Alex, and to Little Alien Guy)?
AH: I’m (Alex) the cartoonist behind Human Cull, the web comic and Arctic Circle, the syndicated comic strip.
AA: Alien Admin has been tasked with culling humans from Earth. It is being done very reasonably, as only the really annoying people will be painlessly vaporised, based on the list put forward by humans themselves.
BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
AH: I grew up in the UK and lived for a couple of years in New Jersey in the 90s. More recently, I’ve been living in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Spain. The internet makes a cartoonist’s life pretty idyllic, as you can work anywhere with an internet connection.
BC: What do you consider yourself to be?
AH: I’m a cartoonist and writer. I find the writing a lot easier than the drawing, but I love the end result of putting my words into pictures.
BC: How did you get your start?
AH: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and haven’t stopped, though my first real break into professional cartooning was when I got taken on as the staff cartoonist for a local paper in Brighton in the UK. That was in 1999.
BC: How long have you been at it, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
AH: (Doing the maths….) …17 years. Getting syndicated by King Features in 2006 (Arctic Circle launched in 2007) was my biggest break and I still love being a syndicated cartoonist, even though newspapers seem to be in a bit of a death spiral.
BC: What led up to your starting Human Cull?
AH: Um… some people are really annoying and there are too many of them on this blue-green planet of ours. It seemed the logical next step.
BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
AH: It’s usually my latest creation. Right now, it is FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club, an illustrated chapter book for kids.
BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
AH: Yes – both Arctic Circle and Human Cull have introductory ebooks available on Amazon and in the iBook Store.
Arctic Circle: amazon iBook
Human Cull: amazon iBook
AH: And I’ll be working on a bumper collection of Human Cull comics for a real print book soon….
BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
AH: I rarely start with a blank sheet of paper. I usually note down some topics of interest and go for a walk and then the ideas come to me. It is magic that I don’t want to understand. I’m lucky with Human Cull that lots of people send me suggestions of who to cull. Unfortunately, some of the culls would include me.
BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
AH: I think Alien Admin would listen to Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers (any genre)? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
AH: When I was delivering newspapers as a kid, I read Bloom County (Berke Breathed – he has relaunched it online and it runs on GoComics – go look!), Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson) and Far Side (Gary Larson). They were the holy trinity of cartooning in the 1980s and I’ve never met any of them.
AH: I have met some of my contemporary heroes, including the late, great Richard Thompson, who drew Cul de Sac. If that strip had launched in the 80s, it would have been HUGE. Other noteworthy cartoonists I hang out with off and online include Paul Gilligan (Pooch Cafe), Jonathan Lemon (Rabbits Against Magic), Rina Piccolo (Tina’s Groove and Six Chix), Jonathan Mahood (Bleeker), Michael Jantze (The Norm), Gary Clark (Swamp), Sandra Bell-Lundy (Between Friends) and Norm Feuti (Gil). I could go on and on, as I’ve missed out loads. As for dishing dirt – no way – what happens at the Reubens, stays at the Reubens!
BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now (which ones? why?)
AH: Apart from the above, I check in every couple of weeks (if it was daily, I’d get lost down the rabbit hole and never work) on GoComics and gorge on Pearls Before Swine, Speed Bump and Dark Side of the Horse. They are all superbly written and the art matches the writing style.
BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
AH: Something that makes me laugh or think. After that, the art, but the idea is more important than the art. You can’t save a bad idea with good drawing.
BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
AH: It has to resonate with the reader. It might be a visceral, belly-laugh kind of thing, or it could be the sensibility of the strip. I’m sorry that Eric Gapstur didn’t have enough time to continue with Wyatt – beautifully drawn, with a great concept and some lovely story-telling. I hope he comes back.
BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
AH: No, I don’t, at least not yet. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I feel I would have to give something really special to demand cash from readers who are used to getting everything on the internet for free.
BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
AH: My kids’ book, FAB Club, officially launches on October 3rd (but is up on Amazon – take a look!), so I’ll be all over the social media universe when that happens. Getting to physical conventions is difficult from where I am right now, but I’d love to go to some in the future. Recommendations, please!
BC: And thanks for the suggestion to change the blog domain name. I’ll start working on that. (Alex said I should register webcomicsinterviews.com, which was one of the best things I’ve done so far.)
AH: I see you did – cool!
BC: Do you get any push-back for Human Cull, commenters that object to the entire concept, or to individual cull ideas? How do you handle that? Any comments for those people?
AH: Most people who don’t like the concept, don’t look at the cartoon, as it is pretty self-explanatory. However, there are people who enjoy the cartoon until it touches on the hot-button topic that they have a different view on. I did a cull about guns (you can see the cartoon and the comments there) and that lost me some readers! It is their choice and I would rather be true to myself than try and please everyone. Freedom of speech is important, as long as no one gets hurt.
BC: Do you see any differences between the Comics Kingdom and GoComics environments, as an artist? Do you get many comments in email or snail mail? How would you characterize your reader response for both strips?
AH: There is a MASSIVE difference. Comics Kingdom is more like old school newspaper comics. GoComics welcomes all kinds of comics. There is no way that Human Cull would get printed in a regular newspaper! Mind you, the comments section of Comics Kingdom tends to be more civilised as well… I get a lot more comments on GoComics than Comics Kingdom and I love the feedback. These days, I get very few emails and even fewer snail mails (they are usually just standardised letters asking for free signed art, which I normally put straight in the recycling).
BC: How did the idea for Arctic Circle come about, and has the strip changed much over time? In what ways?
AH: I came up with the idea in 1992, when I was working as a waitress in an Irish pub in New Jersey. Those days, daily comics were usually in black and white, so I chose penguins and a polar bear as the main character. I also thought the white space of the Arctic would cut down on the drawing – I was a lot less confident at drawing then!
BC: Could you talk a little more about FAB Club?
AH: I was bullied a lot in middle grade. Very little physical stuff, but I was teased, or ignored and struggled to make real friends. I used to hate going to school and escaped into books and comics when I came home. I wanted to write the book I would have liked to have read during that time. The first draft was one of the easiest things I’ve ever written. It seemed to flow out of me with very little effort. The editing took a lot longer, but the essence of the book has remained the same.
AH (talking about the book): When Ravi, Toby and Jake get bullied at school, they start the FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club. Their lives improve dramatically, as they support each other to stop the bullies picking on them. They reach out to help other kids like Ruth, who joins the club and helps them build an amazing treehouse to meet in. FAB Club becomes a popular meme at school, which infuriates the bullies. When they destroy the treehouse, it looks like FAB Club might be lost. But their friendship is strong enough to keep FAB together and when a new member brings her skills to the club, they find the perfect way to bring the bullies to justice.
AH: I pitched FAB Club to a publisher in the US and they loved the illustrations and writing style, but they struggled with some aspects of the book because of the US audience. For example, they didn’t think it was a good idea to have the police involved with the children at one point because of the recent shootings of kids by police! In the end, I decided that the book was too important to me to change it and that self-publishing would be a better option.
BC: Could you talk more about Richard Thompson? He seems pretty polarizing – either people love him, or they hate the artwork and understated storylines. The most vocal of his supporters seem to be other artists. What do you like about Cul de Sac (or Richard’s Poor Almanac)?
AH: His art is something that wouldn’t have appealed to me when I was younger. Like Quentin Blake, he has a slapdash style that belies the incredible amount of work that goes into it. If you look at the creation of the cartoon world of Cul de Sac, you can see how well-constructed it is. And the writing is the closest I’ve seen to Charles Schulz. It is subtle, but it is clever, clever stuff. He was able to remember what it was like to be a kid. And his lettering! It shouldn’t work, but it does. Most cartoonists use upper case only, so it is easy to fit in the word balloons. Richard hand-lettered with mixed case and still managed to make it fit, make it look right and make it readable. That is HARD. (Alex suggests the following two strips as examples, which I don’t yet have permission to reprint: 2007/09/28 and 2007/10/15.)
BC: Finally, you’ve traveled a lot. Would Alien Admin be confused over the cull requests between countries? Are there stupid behaviors that show up more in one place than the others? Behaviors that wouldn’t be considered cullable in a specific city? Or, is stupidity a universal constant?
AH: Alien Admin uses the Babel fish translating technique described by Douglas Adams to understand all languages. Most of the requests come in from the UK and the US and the US seems to care a lot more about shopping and driving behaviour! But some things are universally stupid. Like people who drop litter, or don’t pick up after their dog, or let their kids run riot in restaurants, or…. I better not go on – you can see more at GoComics!
All the best.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Alex Hallatt (c) 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)