The GoComics “Meet Your Creator” series brings you firsthand insight into the lives and careers of your favorite cartoonists. Each week, we hand over the keys to one of our talented creators, who share their inspirations, achievements, creative processes, studios and more! Read on to hear from this week’s featured cartoonist: Will Henry of Ordinary Bill and Wallace the Brave.
Hi, I'm Will, and I create the comic Wallace the Brave.
It's a simple little comic about a boy named Wallace growing up in Snug Harbor. In my years of cartooning, I've had successes and failures, good ideas and bad, and they've all contributed to the creation of Wallace. Here's a bit of a snapshot of that journey:
First off, let's get some things out of the way. Yes, I've wanted to be a cartoonist since grade school. Yes, I grew up reading Peanuts, The Far Side, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. And yes, I draw my inspiration from everyday life. Even if I had a magic genie that gave me comic strip ideas, I wouldn't tell you about him.
On to the meat and potatoes ...
I got my first taste of "professional" cartooning my freshman year of college. The Daily Campus had a neat comics section. I created a comic, Room Mates, which ran three times a week. It was a typical college comic: two dormmates with different personalities and an alcoholic rat that lived in a pizza box. The pay was $15 a week. While not much, it could buy A LOT of Pabst Blue Ribbon. After some basic research, I sent a nice syndication packet to every editor who would agree to take a look at it.
I had quite a bit of confidence, and figured by Monday, I'd have a nationally syndicated comic strip, fat stacks of cash, and phone calls from Mick Jagger. Ohhhhh, William ... poor, young, foolish William.
I launched Ordinary Bill, a comic based on my cat, my girlfriend Isis (now my wife) and me.
It was fun, self-examining and a bit silly, but it taught me loads about deadlines, defining an audience and character development. In retrospect, I spent too many years working on it. When it started, it was very raw, and as time went on, I tried to change its spirit to make it fit the needs of others – syndicates, newspapers and books.
This eventually turned it into an entirely different comic, one that sort of lost its most interesting and personal moments. I found I couldn't more fully explore the characters because it had a weak foundation, and since the characters were based on my wife and me, I felt I could never tackle some more defining storylines.
I was very proud of my comic Ordinary Bill, and at its peak, the comic was very well received ... probably because I touted it whenever and wherever I could.
It's funny, and this is something I believe many creators deal with, but now I'm literally embarrassed to show people the comic. I know I shouldn't be, and it was fun while I was focused on it, but now all I see are the flaws and missteps ... but, man, it taught me a ton.
I bought a liquor store in 2013. It's a cool little spot called Grapes and Gourmet in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and that's where I work when I'm not cartooning. I keep my drawing table there, which gets me outta the house and interacting with the outside world. Here's a shot of my drawing table:
The neighborhood kids often swing by to see what I'm drawing, and I find their comments refreshingly honest. I can't imagine their parents are too thrilled about their kids lingering in a liquor store. If you’re in the area, stop in and say hi!
I try to live in the present, but it's a very finicky time. It's tough to identify and it’s gone before you realize it. After I made the decision to cool down Ordinary Bill, my perception of cartooning changed. I wanted to create better work, and talk of syndication and generating income took a backseat to this. I began doodling a little boy running around barefoot, catching crickets and chasing seagulls. Simple sketches, maybe a little color and text, but mostly little scenarios that made me happy. They also made my wife happy. She loved this little cartoon dude.
Here's a photo of Isis and me; we were married in 2014.
She's been dealing with this cartooning habit for the better part of a decade. Isn't she lovely ... WOOOHOO.
Anyway, I named the little boy Wallace, and drew about 30 completed comics with a few other added characters. There was Wallace, the curious daredevil; Spud, the neurotic best friend; and Amelia, the new girl ... she was trouble. Ordinary Bill never quite had a solid world in which the characters lived, so with Wallace, I tried extra-hard to give them a backdrop that didn't necessarily seem real, but consistent. I didn't have any plans to continue with Wallace, but my wife asked me to make some more. She took a liking to Wallace and even coaxed/demanded I send the sample to GoComics to see what they thought. I gave the comic the title Wallace the Brave and emailed the acquisitions editor the first 30 comics. From there, I went on my way, no longer waiting for the response I once obsessed over. But, as these things usually go, I got a response months after, and in June 2015, Wallace the Brave debuted on GoComics.
My current cartooning process is not complex. I use classic pencil on Bristol board to sketch out the roughs. Then, I use some Micron pens and nib and ink, maybe some brushes, but that's about it. I scan the inked comic onto the computer and use a very old, very stolen version of Photoshop (what? it's expensive) to color the comics.
I’ve also been known to break out the brushes and scratch the itch to do watercolors, another longtime interest.
I straight-up love cartooning, and at the moment, it's something that gives me a little bit of a voice. I do not live an extraordinary life. I live in a tiny, one-bedroom cottage and work at a liquor store, but every day, I have a little 14-by-5 inch blank space to be, and see, whatever I want. Spaceships, dragons, irate seagulls, tidal waves – anything! It can all live in my little blank space and I want to take advantage of that. It's mine and I can do whatever I want with it, and no one can tell me otherwise (actually, my editor usually makes me take out "F" bombs).
My goal with Wallace is to highlight some of the simpler, stranger aspects of childhood while sprinkling in a bit of my own experiences. I want to create a fictional world where kids still collect bugs and fly kites and eat ice-cream cones upside down and jump from the docks and pick on each other and just do the weird things that kids do. Nothing is more boring than watching a kid use a smartphone, never mind reading a comic about kids using smartphones. I try to avoid that sort of material at all costs.
I create Wallace the Brave under the name Will Henry in honor of my grandmother. My full name is William Henry Wilson, but there's a bunch of Will Wilsons in the family, so she calls me Will Henry. Often shouting, "WILL HENRY... bring me scotch." She also turned me on to some of my new favorite comics. In my "adult" life I started reading more of classic comic strips, and am drawn to the strange things I find in Krazy Kat comics and the colors in vintage Gasoline Alley strips.
I'm often asked, "Hey buddy, what’s in your future?” I consider the question through two lenses: one for the future of comics, and another on a personal level. I don't believe comics are going anywhere. Obviously, the medium is changing, but I think it’s just a hiccup before we all get settled.
Hieroglyphics, stick figures and kids’ books have proven that people have always preferred their words with pictures. As a creator, but mostly as a consumer, I do think it's a shame what's happening to the comics page of newspapers, especially regarding legacy strips and reruns. If I turned on the television and saw nothing but reruns and shows from half a century ago, I’d probably stop watching TV, too.
Personally, I have no plans for Wallace. It's a strip I wholeheartedly enjoy working on. I see my family every time I read it, and I get to share my memories whenever I'm writing it. I truly love the craft. I suppose I keep doing it because tomorrow I can create a better comic than the one I'm working on today.
Read Wallace the Brave and Ordinary Bill. Follow Will on Twitter here.