Joe Simmons is a freelance illustrator and the creator of numerous webcomics, including Stupendo-Dog, MILT, and, in collaboration with Black Ship’s own Paul Brian DeBerry, the forthcoming Flannel Shirt Guy.
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Black Ship Books: Let’s start at the beginning – how did Joe Simmons wind up interested in making comics? Were you one of those kids who spent Algebra class in the back corner of the room doodling in his notebook?
Joe Simmons: There isn’t one time in my own personal history I haven’t been interested in making comic books. From elementary school through high school, I used to fill spiral notebooks with comic books. They were all very poorly drawn, I think I focused more on the writing. I had tons of stories in hundreds of spiral notebooks. I read The Dark Knight Returns after it came out in trade paperback in 9th grade and wrote a Superman story in one. It was a doozy. I used Miller’s 16-panel per page format and when I was done it was over 200 pages. I remember it being a partial rip-off of DKR, part of the same DKR universe and I remember it being awesome. I also didn’t know anything about Superman except for the movies. There’s never been a time I haven’t been writing thinking about comics.
JS: I have no idea. I had a comic strip called The Aliens; I think that’s where it all started for real. I had the first Stupendo-Dog story but it wasn’t colored and I did it just for fun. Fooksie, the guy who colored The Aliens talked me into letting him color Stupendo-Dog and the rest is history. I got four Stupendo comics finished and I think there are six or seven more written in spiral notebooks. I want to bring the guy back, but haven’t yet. Milt, my other fine creation has kind of taken over.
BSB: What do you see as the benefits of webcomics as opposed to other formats? Why webcomics as opposed to, for example, trying for print first?
JS: Web comics are pretty awesome. I’m a huge fan of self-publishing, even though I’ve mostly done it on the web. I have books available for sale on my site and through Amazon for the Kindle fire, but I really like being able to put comics up there and having an instant reaction. I’m a huge fan of newspaper adventure strips and web comics kind of grab me like those. I like serial comics and when I put two and two together realized that was what I needed to do.
Did I answer the question? There is nothing wrong with print. I think print, at least for the kind of comics I put together, is great for collected stories. I like to put comics out there, then put them up for sale when the story is finished.
BSB: To what extent are you influenced by others, in the field of webcomics or comics in general? Strips like “Anatomy of a Riot” remind me of a slightly less nerdy version of Randall Munroe’s xkcd. Any chance I’m on the right track there?
JS: I have almost zero influence by other webcomics. I’ve seen xkcd but never given it too much of a look. “Anatomy of a Riot” came from watching the news. I did it in a little 6×9 spiral notebook while laying in bed. Almost all of my influences are from newspaper strips from the 30’s and 40’s and early Silver Age artists like Romita. And all of those guys were influenced by newspaper strips. Artists these days are influenced by comic books and the monthly format. Silver Age artists are influenced by the daily strip and I think it shows. I’m into that. I love that stuff.
BSB: Stupendo-Dog’s gotta be based on a real dog, right?!
JS: Yep. His name’s Henry. I did the first story when he was a puppy. The little son of a bitch will be five this year.
BSB: Tell Henry I like his name! Moving on, would you ever consider doing a full-length comic book? Your style is pretty unique, and not exactly what you typically see in longer graphic novels or even monthly floppies. Is there a groundbreaking 200-page Joe Simmons magnum opus on the horizon?
JS: Absolutely. I’m working on the latest and newest MILT story now. It is going to start as a webcomic, running three days a week but is going to be a 120-page (or longer) graphic novel. I also have a spaghetti western that I’m writing that should be pretty epic. I’m going to start drawing that soon and maybe do a Kickstarter campaign to fund finishing it. MILT needs to start and run and get some fans so people don’t think I’m a hack!
BSB: “Hack?” Hey, I resemble that remark! Anything else you want to plug? What’s in the works? What’s coming soon?!
JS: MILT is coming soon. Should actually be starting in the next couple weeks. I have two weeks completely finished and ready to go as of right now, and 27 pages drawn total. It doesn’t take long to letter and graytone, so when it starts I should be ten weeks ahead. There is also another webcomic, with my good pal Paul Brian DeBerry, called Flannel Shirt Guy that is in the process of being written and drawn. That will be a one day a week comic and we’re about 9 weeks ahead on the pencils there. Even with my 40-hour a week day job, I think I managed to draw over 30 pages in February. Don’t ask me how, but a lot of it will be seen soon!
BSB: Paul Brian DeBerry? I feel like I’ve heard that name somewhere before, but where…? Eh, it’s not coming to me. Thanks for your time, Joe, and best of luck with MILT and everything else!