Amanda El-Dweek interview

I first learned about Amanda the Great when it was announced in November on the GoComics editor’s blog that AtG would be moving from Sherpa to the main site. Additionally, Amanda has been an active commenter here on Basket Case, and therefore I’d like to show my support to someone that has been supporting me. Amanda –

BC: Who are you?
AD: My name is Amanda El-Dweek, and I’m your friendly neighborhood cartoonist – creator of Amanda the Great on GoComics, and Shelly Fire on Tapastic.

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
AD: I was born and raised in northeastern North Dakota, and my husband and I live in western North Dakota. I went to college for visual arts, and earned a BFA in 2002 concentrating in printmaking and painting. I’ve worked in a kitchen, a gas station, a garage, briefly in the music department at UND as a workstudy, in healthcare for almost 11 years, a law office, and a dental office (for one month). So, at the tender age of 39, I’ve finally become an employed cartoonist. It’s as great as I always thought it’d be, which is pretty great.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
AD: I consider myself a cartoonist first and an artist second – if you mean the “fine arts”. I think “artist” is the generic blanket we all get placed under, which is fine by me.

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
AD: I got started cartooning as a young child – I want to say maybe between the ages of 4 and 6 somewhere? Someone bought me a Garfield comic book, and that was it for me. I wanted to replicate that magic. I drew a comic about a man and his three cats (note the heavy Garfield influence), and then from there I drew all kinds of comics – family comics, cats, mermaid superheroes…all kinds!

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
AD: So, thirty-some years I’ve been at the drawing board, but most of it probably wasn’t any good – haha! My biggest breaks are just starting – my comic “Amanda the Great” was just launched on I’m trying to be cool about it, but I am hardly cool.

AD: I actually ran a version of Amanda the Great in the Dakota Student (the newspaper at the University of North Dakota) if you want to call that a “break”, but it was only for one semester in 2006 or 2007 (I can’t recall), and it was after I had graduated but was taking a class for S&Gs.

(Shelly Fire poster)

AD: When I used to work at the gas station in college, I was caught drawing in my sketchbook by a customer, and he really liked my stuff and asked if I’d do posters for his Fargo-based band. A local guy would take my originals to the band. He then asked if I’d draw posters for his own band, “Shelly Fire”. I created the Shelly Fire character from his description of what they wanted, and she was born. That was a good break!

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: What led up to your starting Amanda the Great, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
AD: I had the concept of Amanda the Great years ago, but didn’t draw it with any consistency or fervor. I would draw it once in a while when inspiration would strike, or something happened at work that I needed to make fun of on paper. I think what led to me actually drawing a comic about myself (versus a fictional character) was that I felt that if I could work the things out on paper that were happening to me, it might help give me some perspective. I could draw it, and then observe it as if I were someone else reading the comic. I also feel that the person I know best in the world is myself (most days), and so it is easy to draw and write me as a character. The only challenge is, I can’t include everything in my life – sometimes things are too personal for me or for others in my life. That said, I try to include some things that I think people can relate to. It’s also a nice way to vent frustrations.

(from Shelly Fire)

AD: I have a couple other things I am working on. I have a webcomic – Shelly Fire – on Tapastic right now. I don’t post as often as I’d like, and I hope that changes. Shelly is in full color, as opposed to my preference to work in black & white. I forgot how long it takes to color a full page of comics!

(Shelly Fire)

AD: I’m also working on another comic strip, which I haven’t settled on a name for yet, and I’m still figuring out some things with it. I’m also supposed to be painting Shelly Fire on my dad’s motorcycle tanks. He had an extra set, so I’m practicing on those.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
AD: I’m probably the most proud of Amanda the Great, as it has been the most successful so far. I’ve met a lot of great people because of that comic strip, so that is priceless. But I am happy about Shelly Fire, and also the as-of-yet unnamed strip I’ve been working on, as they are kind of like my children. They all progress at different rates.

BC: Do you have anything on the market?
AD: I do not have any collections out yet, but that might be a project for the future!

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper?
AD: I’ve never really had a problem with approaching the blank sheet of paper, inasmuch as Amanda the Great is concerned. I have a book that I write ideas and notes in, and sometimes I just wing it, but I always have an idea what I’m going to write because I’m writing my recent past. Shelly Fire is another matter – that’s fiction, and it’s trickier. I take that comic (Shelly) page by page. Amanda the Great I already know what’s going to happen!

AD: Now, when I’m trying to just draw something random, and for fun…then the blank paper is my Everest.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
AD: It’d be a wide range! There’d be some Beatles and Killers, a polka by Myron Floren, an old standard Catholic hymn, and then “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool, and “Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, not to put too fine a point on it. There’d have to be some old Shelly Fire (the band, not the comic) jam music, too. However, I’ve drawn more comics to Paul Simon’s Graceland album than any other music. Great album.

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: Can you tell us a little more about AtG and SF?
AD: Background for Amanda the Great:
AD: It’s a comic about me, and the timeline starts in late 2012, when I was living and working in Grand Forks, ND. In the strip, I chronicle the final months of Dan’s and my engagement (we lived in separate towns, so you will notice we travel to see each other often), our wedding, and our “big” move. I deal with some personal things within the comic strip, such as my doubts, fears, medical things, etc. with alter egos – I have a younger version of myself, Young Amanda; My temper is a monster-like character called Angermemnon; and there are some future/past Amanda things I do. I try to stay away from Dan’s personal stuff, though it’s hard because his life and mine intersect, obviously. It’s tricky sometimes. I include my family in there (my grandpa, my uncle, and my parents so far), but nothing that would embarrass or hurt them. But the things that I write about are true, save for the alter egos, and some of the lines are even verbatim – some are not, but the overall situations are.

AD: Background for Shelly Fire:
AD: Shelly is a great character, because she can say the things I want to say but don’t say and won’t say. I tried to make her less like me, but when you’re writing characters, they will always have your voice, no matter what.

AD: Shelly lives in fictional Banal Lake, MN, as does her family. Her mother and father are divorced, and both remarried. She has three siblings, and two half-siblings. She doesn’t get along famously with most of them, except her mom, who she listens to.

AD: She is an afflicted person, in some ways. She can see her guardian angel – in a different way than Saint Padre Pio – but she isn’t seen as blessed, but rather, troubled. She also carries around her stuffed rabbit, St. Vincent de Paul, in her backpack, and consults him on different things. St. Vincent de Paul and Jude (the angel) disagree on a lot of things, which doesn’t help Shelly. Shelly can also see demons, masquerading as real people.

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them? Got any dirt on them?
AD: My favorite fine artists are some folks I know from college: Eric A. Johnson is a printmaker in Fargo, ND – we have a print he did with Star Wallowing Bull hanging in our home and it is gorgeous.

AD: My good friend Keith Dobranski draws (they look photo-realistic, which I envy), and does mods of Hero Clix in Regina, Saskatchewan – he did a custom build and paint of my character Shelly Fire – he probably has more dirt on me than I have on him!

AD: My drawing professor from college, Brian Paulsen – his work is first-class.

AD: Cartoonists: Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) – she is so talented! I started reading her comics when I worked at a law office a couple years ago, and I’d laugh right out loud until I was wheezy. I have never met her – maybe some day!

AD: I really like Wil Henry’s style (Wallace the Brave), and his strip is just…refreshing.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
AD: I follow a lot of comic strips and webcomics! Among them: Batch Rejection, Inkwell Forest, My Son is a Dog, Something About Celeste, Candace ‘n’ Company, Mister and Me, Mike du Jour, Buni, Breaking Cat News, Francis, Zen Pencils, Jake Likes Onions, Hark! A Vagrant, Pooch Cafe, Luann, Perry Bible Fellowship, Pearls Before Swine, Fox Trot, …there are really too many to probably list but I read a lot of comics. Not all the comics, but a lot!

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
AD: I’m not sure what it is specifically – I do like some drawing styles more than others, I love to pore over some comics (like Calvin & Hobbes, Cul de Sac) – but I mostly just enjoy being entertained, and I like to laugh. I gravitate more towards character-driven strips, but I honestly enjoy and read all kinds.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
AD: From all the things I’ve read that other cartoonists have said is that good writing can carry bad art, but good art cannot carry bad writing. I agree with that. Being funny will always make for a good comic. Jokes that aren’t contrived, writing that doesn’t feel forced. But I like comics that are beautifully drawn, too. It’s a visual medium, after all. Not to gush too much about Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant“, but the drawing matches the humor, and it’s just a perfect amalgamation.

(from Amanda the Great)

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? Do you want to plug your site?
AD: I do not use any fund-raising sites as of right now. However, I feel like they are allowing people to earn a living from webcomics, and that is fantastic!

AD: I have sites to plug, though!
Amanda the Great on Gocomics
Shelly Fire on Tapastic
My website

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
AD: My projects are continuing producing Amanda the Great strips, Shelly Fire, and finalizing the new (unnamed) comic strip. I want to try my hand at editorial comics, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. I do not have any appearances for conventions – yet!

BC: Are you up for Shelly Fire bike tank meta jokes?
AD: To answer your question about the motorcycle tank, I might put it in the background of a comic someday to be funny, yeah!

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Amanda El-Dweek (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.)

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