“Writing Webcomics” is a new interview series I plan on running every week. So for this first installment I thought we should start with a bang by talking to the creator of “The SuperFogeys,” Brock Heasley.

In case there are any readers who aren’t familiar with “The SuperFogeys” (shame on them) why don’t you tell us about it:

  • BROCK: The SuperFogeys is about the place where super heroes and villains go when it’s time to get out of the game. In this case, it’s to Valhalla – Home for the Supertired. The twist is that the man in charge of Valhalla–founder and trusted confidant Dr. Klein–is also a terrible super villain known only as The Third Man. For the most part, the Fogeys are unaware of the connection.

How did you pick “The SuperFogeys” as your title instead of “Super Fogeys,” “Super-Fogeys” or anything else along those lines?

  • BROCK: It’s a visual thing for me. I don’t like how the words look apart. Plus, separating the words separates the central themes of the story and they couldn’t be more integrated.

That’s a nice segway, what is the central theme of the series and how did you first decide that is what the theme should be?

  • BROCK: Aging and the full spectrum of life is something I think about a lot anyway. I’m concerned with things like legacy and using my time on this Earth to the fullest. From my own associations with elderly people, I know that everyone handles aging differently. Some people give in to it and watch TV all day, just biding their time until the end. Others try to deny the very fact of aging and stay as active as possible. Within that spread is a lot of rich story potential that isn’t often tapped. What aging superheroes give me is the vehicle through which to discuss aging in an incredibly potent way. Aging, in a lot of ways, is about the loss of power. What’s that like for the most powerful beings on the planet? If with great power comes great responsibility, then how does that responsibility change as power is diminished? Should it change at all?

Looking back at everything you’ve written do you have a specific strip that’s your favorite?

  • BROCK: I keep coming back to strip 57 back in the 2nd Chapter. “Captain Spectacular Forgot His Pants” (pictured above). I think it sums up the premise about as well as anything with just four panels could. Plus, naked thighs.

It’s been four years since your comic launched, why did you first decide to do it?

  • BROCK: Well, it wasn’t to meet women. Not only am I married, but, yeah, webcomics kind of suck for that. For me, what webcomics are is a way for me to get the things I create out there in the most immediate way possible. Until a person makes their reputation and their millions, online is the way to go to express yourself.

Obviously, I’m a tad more familiar with The SuperFogeys since I’ve been with Th3rd World from the time you joined and as someone who’s watched it progress from the beginning it’s really impressive to see not just how it’s grown but how you have grown as a storyteller, but looking back is there anything you’d want to change?

  • BROCK: First of all, thanks for that. Thanks for noticing. That’s really nice of you to say. And, oh yes. The things I would change… I’d love to completely redraw the first four chapters. Also, I didn’t start outlining episode-by-episode until Chapter 4 and I think the looseness of the first three chapters is frustrating for people because of that. Certainly Bingo Knight should have been brought in earlier and I think I could have done more with Dictator Tot. It bothers me that we still don’t know much about her and that she had no character arc whatsoever. But these are the things you learn by doing.

If you didn’t start outlining for the first four chapters I’m assuming you outline now? What is the normal process you go through when writing a strip?

  • BROCK: I start with a basic idea first. One or two sentences. From there I do a short breakdown of the story with prose paragraphs. If I’m writing strips, I’ll then take that breakdown and turn it into a strip-by-strip outline. That outline then becomes the thing I’ll return to week after week to script the strips as I draw them. I pretty much don’t do full scripts until I’m ready to draw. For SFO, the short breakdown becomes the outline and I start scripting pages immediately and as quickly as possible so the artist can start drawing! The trick with writing is breaking things down into bits and continually asking myself “Is there a better, more concise way to do that?”

The place where I’ve seen the most growth in SF’s writing is in the characters. Was this something that naturally evolved? Something you stopped and decided to ramp up later on or what?

  • BROCK: One of the things I didn’t do when I started the strip was plan out the characters. I very much let them evolve and even introduce themselves on their own. I like doing that because it allows an off-handed idea to provide depth and shade to characters. In a lot of ways, I developed the characters backwards. Swifty was an incorrigible old geezer for a long time before I figured out why.

But now nearly 300 strips later I’d say the series is more character driven than plot driven.

  • BROCK: I think that’s a fair statement, but I’m also coming off of a chapter where the characters each sat down and discussed their feelings. That gives me a good base for crazy plot shenanigans going forward.

You’ve written a lot of characters in the SF Universe. Have there been any whose fan reaction isn’t what you expected (either positive or negative)? For example, personally I didn’t expect it, but I NEED to see more Soviet Sam.

  • BROCK: I think you really hit it with Soviet Sam. People LOVE that character and, besides a brief cameo in Chapter 7, he’s only appeared in two Origins stories, his own and the Society of Heroes. I think people just feel sorry for the guy. They want to know he’s okay. I’ve established that he’s living in Valhalla, so I suppose he could always show up at any time.

Let’s talk about reveals for a moment. Right now it’s an exciting time to be a fan of “The SuperFogeys,” why don’t you explain what’s currently going on:

  • BROCK: Next week is the culmination of plans that originated in November of 2006. At that point, I’d only completed 10 strips. I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I did know the story I wanted to tell. It came out of thinking hard about classic superhero tropes and cliches and about how I could put my own twist on them. More than that, I needed an emotional core to my story and this secret provides that. Which trope I’m working with specifically is best talked about after the reveal itself.

I already know the big reveal, (because I’m awesome), and what surprises me the most is how long you’ve sat on this. How have you kept patient for all this time?

  • BROCK: That, for me, has been the hardest part. I like telling people things that are cool right away, and for four years this has been the coolest thing I could talk about–and I haven’t been able to. I kept my cool by 1) promising myself that I would keep at this webcomic thing until I got the chance to do it properly and 2) reminding myself that it only really works if I set it up properly with the four years of story that precede it. I’ve been patient because I HAD to be patient. Hopefully, when people see the reveal for themselves, they’ll understand why I had to wait until now.

After this big reveal, what’s in store for the future of “SuperFogeys?”

  • BROCK: So, so much. One of my most immediate goals is to make SF a little more lighthearted. I think things have gotten pretty heavy the past several chapters and there’s a chance now to climb out of the darkness and have some fun again. There’s not much I can say without spoiling the reveal, but I will say that what comes next involves time travel and that the Fogeys will be going to Vegas. Field Trip!

Physically, how is your comic made, what brand of paper/pens do you use, etc… ?

  • BROCK: I draw the strips in pencil on printer paper first, then lightbox the image onto Bristol Board Smooth for inking with Micron pens. Color and lettering is done with a computer. I draw my strips relatively small, about 9 inches across.

“SuperFogeys” runs in a traditional strip format. How do you manage to balance so much continuity and character development with the jokes and gags?

  • BROCK: Jokes never really get in the way because the joke pretty much never comes first. My outlines tend to be fairly serious affairs and then, as I do each strip, I ask myself if there’s any comedy inherent in the situation. If there is, I go for it. If there isn’t, I try to make it as dramatic as possible. There, now you know my formula!

You brought up outlines again, so let’s talk about that. How far ahead is the series outlined?

  • BROCK: So, so far ahead. I set things up in my story that don’t pay off for years–which makes this a great time to jump in as we’re nearing the fourth anniversary and a LOT is about to be revealed. Don’t let that scare you though. The mysteries I set up are of a more covert nature. I wouldn’t say that reading SuperFogeys is a frustrating experience. You always THINK you know what’s going on. I just tend to subvert it later.

Can you share an example of what your outlines are like? Are they just quick notes? Fully broken down for whatever plot/character thing has to happen in each episode, or what?

  • BROCK: This is from Chapter 6, the funeral story. You’ll see a lot of differences between the outline and the final strips–and almost no jokes.

This outline is a step away from being a script. Can you explain the process you used to get here? Was there a shorter outline first or what?

  • BROCK: Yeah, I start with a one paragraph shorter outline that’s written at the same time I write similar shorter outlines for the chapters surrounding it. That way I keep the big picture in focus. That’s what I did in November of 2006–I outlined in a very basic way through Chapter 9. Then, through the months and years, I’ll revisit that broad outline occasionally, adding and taking away and shuffling things until it’s finally time to sit down and do the chapter proper, at which point I do the more specific outline.

My background and education is screenwriting. I can’t help but think of “Three act structure,” “Turning points,” and all that jazz. So I’m curious, when doing the big outline above, how did you determine the structure?

  • BROCK: I don’t. I like to think that structure and all of that–because I have no formal training in writing or screenwriting or anything–comes more instinctually to me. It’s very easy to over analyze your work and process into creative paralysis or lethargy. That said, I don’t think comic strip work lends itself quite as well to traditional act structures and there’s a lot you can get away with in a serialized format. The SFO stories, on the other hand, are probably more traditional in the sense that they are basically a series of short stories and the format lends itself to that more.

Since you brought it up, tell me about “SuperFogeys: Origins.”

  • BROCK: SFO runs on Tuesday and features full page comic book style updates written by me and drawn by a slew of guest artists. Lots of fun short stories, but also lots of great stuff for fans of the characters to chew on.

How is the writing different between “SF” and “SF:O?”

  • BROCK: I probably enjoy writing SuperFogeys Origins more just because it’s more in my comfort zone to think in terms of pages instead of strips. I’m not a strip guy at all. I grew up on comic books. It’s the struggling artist in me that forces me to write in strips. My drawing side can’t fathom drawing whole pages. Too intimidating for my limited drawing ability.

Have any advise for anyone thinking about starting a webcomic?

  • BROCK: Yeah, go read Axe Cop. If your idea isn’t that good, get out now! Nah, that’s harsh. Do it for the love of your characters and your story. Don’t do it for the money because it’s not worth it and the odds are against you.

Speaking of money, I know you have some great merchandise you want to mention:

  • BROCK: SuperFogeys Vol.1 (collecting Chapters 1-5 and a slew of bonus stories and material) is available for purchase in the store along with some T-Shirts. But buy the book. That’s more fun.