You want information? I’ve got your information right here. Or, rather, I’ve got instructions, and they’re more in the direction of over there. For those of you with long memories (or google search), Scott is the guy that John “Last Kiss” Lustig likes (in a Platonic kind of way). (John likes Plato in a platonic way, too, so who am I to judge?)
BC: Who are you?
SM: I am Scott Meyer, creator of the web comic Basic Instructions, and the author of the Magic 2.0 series of novels, along with Master of Formalities and The Authorities.
BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
SM: I’m originally from a tiny little farming community in eastern Washington state. I made a living as a stand-up comic for over a decade, and more recently I was a front-line cast member at Walt Disney World.
BC: Can you elaborate a little on the Walt Disney World gig? Was that more stand-up, or did you have to wear the Mickey outfit?
SM: I did a few jobs, all stuff where I dealt directly with the guests. The best job I had there was as a ride operator at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
SM: I consider myself a writer. I figured out a way to fake the ability to draw, but it was primarily as a means of getting my words and ideas out in front of people.
BC: How did you get your start as…?
SM: As a comedian, a cartoonist, and a novelist, I got my start in exactly the same way: I just showed up and started doing it for free. In stand-up, you don’t get your first paying gig until you’ve put in a lot of time at open-mic nights where nobody really wants to hear from you, let alone give you any money. As a web cartoonist, you have to start producing the comic and putting it out there on the internet well before anybody knows you’re doing a comic at all, let alone whether they like it or not. When I wrote my first novel, I had to write the entire thing, which is months of work, before I had anything to show to anybody, let alone anything good enough to try to sell for money.
SM: I can’t speak for anybody else, but all of my greatest successes have come from finding something I’d be willing to do for free, then doing it for free until somebody else decided that they were willing to pay me to do it.
BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
SM: The biggest single break I have received, in any of my careers, was when Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) decided to point out my comic to his readers. I was slowly building a following on my own already, but he turbo-charged the process. I’ll never know if I would have done as well as I have without his intervention.
BC: What led up to your starting Basic Instructions, discontinuing that, then writing your Magic 2.0 books, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
SM: I started Basic Instructions as a feature to draw people to my website when I was a stand-up comic. Then I burned out on stand-up, and Basic Instructions became my primary creative outlet. I discontinued Basic Instructions because after 12 years it was getting harder and harder to come up with ideas for it, and I was repeating myself. Literally. I wrote and drew an entire comic, and only as I was finishing up realized that it was an almost complete copy of a comic I’d done years before. I took that as a bad sign.
SM: I wrote Off to Be the Wizard while I was doing the comic, and I did it for a few reasons. I’d always wanted to write a novel, I had what I thought was a good idea, and I realized that thanks to the tools that are available now, it’s surprisingly easy to publish a book. The self-published author these days can produce and publish a novel for almost no money and make it available in the world’s largest international bookstore on an equal footing with classics and professionally published best sellers. The hard part is marketing it, but thanks to Basic Instructions, I had a ready-made audience I could advertise to just by typing a few words and a link beneath my comic.
SM: As for what irons I have in the fire now, I do have a new novel coming out soon. More on that in a bit.
BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
SM: It depends on what day you ask me. I’m very proud of how the Magic 2.0 books have turned out. I’m also proud of how many Basic Instructions comics I managed to crank out without the quality flagging too much.
BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip, panel or story?
SM: I try not to be afraid of it. There are always days when the ideas flow easier than others, but even on my worst days I am aware that I am tremendously lucky to get to do this stuff. It’s a privilege and a challenge, not a chore. If I have a day when I feel like all of my ideas are garbage, I go ahead and use the ideas anyway. I am not in favor of creating garbage, mind you, but I don’t have to release what I create unless I’m happy with it, and I figure it’s better to try to make something out of what I have than to sit there producing nothing. Believe it or not, I created some of my better comics that way.
BC: If you went back and started Basic Instructions over from scratch, is there anything you’d do differently?
SM: I’d probably draw it in a more conventional manner. When I started the comic I thought I was being clever, getting out of the hard work of learning to draw better. After two years it occurred to me that by that point I probably would have been much better at drawing, and as such actually drawing things would have been easier and would have given me more freedom than still taking photos and tracing over the top of them.
BC: If your strip or the books had a soundtrack, what would they be?
SM: The soundtrack of the strips would be They Might Be Giants. The books would all sound different. The wizard books specifically might be a selection of pieces from the scores of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies played by a small, incompetent high school band.
BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
SM: It will surprise nobody who has read my books (or probably my comic either) that Douglas Adams was a huge big deal to me, and I did get to meet him! I attended a reading he did at the University of Washington. I wasn’t a student there, but I got in. Anyway, this was the early nineties, and the guy ahead of me in the book signing line afterwards asked Douglas Adams to sign his copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not with his signature, but with his e-mail address, and Adams did it! I would have asked for the address too, but I didn’t have e-mail at that point.
BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
SM: That they are consistently funny, in a way that surprises me. I have trouble stopping my brain from trying to figure out where a joke is going or where a story is headed, and I’m always happy if the person who made the comic thinks of something that didn’t occur to me.
BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
SM: That’s in the eye of the beholder. For every successful comic there are people who will tell you that it’s great, and many people who will tell you that it’s crap. That’s why, if you think what you’re doing is good, it’s worth putting it out there and giving it a shot. You just might find your audience, and if you don’t, you’ll learn something.
BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
SM: I actually cobbled together my own subscription system a few months before Patreon launched, and it was a total game changer. The steady, predictable income my readers provided allowed me to go part-time at my day job, which allowed me to write my first novel. If you have a comic and a steady following, I strongly recommend giving the subscription model a shot.
BC: Have you gotten feedback from anyone on a specific Basic Instruction that would make for a good anecdote? (Like, has anyone from NASA told you they put a BI strip on the refrigerator on the ISS?)
SM: I did a comic about the show Ace of Cakes that ended up getting printed out and posted in a prominent spot in the bakery on the show. It’s visible in quite a few episodes. I also heard from one of the people on the show, who was very nice about it. The comic ended up getting reprinted in the foreword of the Ace of Cakes book.
BC: Do you want to plug your site?
SM: While I am no longer creating new comics, I am rerunning all of my past comics on my website, basicinstructions.net. I have three Facebook pages (Off to Be the Wizard, Basic Instructions, and Scott Meyer), and those have oddly become the place where things get updated most frequently.
BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
SM: I don’t have any plans on the books at the moment to attend any conventions, but I’m certainly not against it. As for future projects, I have a new novel coming out in June 2017 (If things go according to plan) called Run Program, about the rise of artificial intelligence.
BC: Want to let Missy plug her books, too?
SM: Sure! My wife has also written two novels that I think are awfully good (and the 4.5 star amazon review averages seem to agree) called We Could be Villains and Unsung Villains.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Scott Meyer © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)