X-Ray Visions of a Warmer Future: Sam and Toby Alden from DUBBLEBABY

On today's adventure, we meet young Sam and Toby Alden to reflect on the existence of Walla Walla, Washington, awkward middle-school music tastes, and to discuss their latest creation DUBBLEBABY - a new, promising web comic that is sure to be celebrated by many across the great Internet killing fields: 

How old are you(s)?

S: I'm 22. 

T: I'm 19. But I'm a child at heart.

Where do you live? How's life over/out/around there?

S: We go to school in Walla Walla, Washington, which turns out to be an actual place, but we're both from Portland originally.   Portland's great.  It's totally the best place to live if you're into alternative and indie comics.  There are a bunch of awesome publishers there, like Top Shelf and Dark Horse,  and it has the incomparable comics store Floating World Comics.

It's funny, because when we were kids the only comic book store in town was this place called Excalibur, which I think is pretty close to what most normal people think of when they think of a comic book store. It had these big crappy paintings of Venom and Iron Man on the front, and then the inside was like a massive sweaty museum of superhero comics in clear plastic covers.  Then there was one wall way in the back where they had indie titles and graphic novels and such.  Excalibur was on the other side of town, and we'd have to ask our dad to drive us all the way there just to buy a comic that didn’t make you depressed about art.   Actually, there was also a store that we could walk to, but it was just too sad to ever go.  It was called Ancient Wonders.  That place was truly a neckbeard dungeon. 

T: I once saw the guy who ran Ancient Wonders walk out of a Baja Fresh. He didn't look any happier then he did when I saw him in the store. But yeah, the comics scene in Portland has drastically improved since we were kids. There are tons of stores full of indie comics that were previously relegated to a dank corner smushed between "The Punisher: Killdeath Revenge" and "Batman Vs. Stargate: Battle for Gotham Planet".

What do you do for a living?

S: I draw posters and illustrations for a lot of on-campus stuff.  Over this past summer I lived in New Orleans with my girlfriend, and I worked at the city's oldest snowball shop on Tchoupitoulas Street.  Snowballs are this classic New Orleans treat, and if you call them sno-cones or shave ice people get really offended; the difference is that they're made with this really fine, powdery ice, so it feels like you're actually eating a snowball.

The machine that we used in the shop was the original snowball machine that the owner's grandfather had invented in the thirties, and to use it you had to cram these massive iceblocks into these scary spinning blades, and then if the ice got jammed you had to reach up into the spinning-blades-of-death chute and fish it out with your hands.  That’s the kind of day job I like the most, where it has nothing to do with drawing but you’re still doing something productive with your hands.  I think it's probably important to never spend too long doing nothing but your art.  You should also go on walks and talk to other people.

T: Very little. I make show promos for our college's radio show and I write for the humor section of our school's paper. One of the first articles I wrote was called "2 Sexy 4 Saturday Morning". It was about this guy who works at an animation studio and sends his boss pitches for increasingly sexual shows. Stuff like "Shirtless Adventures" and "Hotdog Squad". My personal favorite was "Milfbumps" because the tagline was "Grab your spooky bone". Actually, I just remembered I haven't gotten paid for that yet. My biggest failing as a person is probably my inability to complete really small tasks, like going three hundred feet across campus to the office to fill out a two page form so I can get paid.

S: “Grab your spooky bone” was one of the funniest phrases that you’ve ever come up with.

How was DUBBLEBABY formed?

S: Toby and I have this very specific kind of relationship where he'll spend hours and hours just being as annoying as he can.  I mean, he's relentless.  He'll spew filth from his mouth and yell inanities in restaurants and pretend to hump telephone poles until I crack and think something is funny, and then he wins.  Often it's not even the funniest thing that he's said; it's just that I reach the saturation point, where the joke isn't what he's saying but the sheer volume of his obnoxious behavior.  So I've always thought that he was really funny, and in this bizarre way where he's brainy and overeducated but he chooses to use that intelligence to make jokes about dicks and video games.

I've been trying to make comics about him for a while; I have a blog called I'm On The Phone which was initially started just to chronicle the conversations that we have on the phone.  Then for while, about a year ago, we started doing these collaborative comics where we'd go on walks and he'd just throw out thirty ideas for comics at a time, and then I would pick one and draw them.  Some of them were pretty good.  I remember this idea that we never drew where it's just ten panels from The Family Circus, in ten completely different scenarios, with some cute little caption at the bottom, except that the exact same picture of Jeffy would appear in every panel, and grow a little bit larger every time, until by the end the entire panel was taken up by a single eye.

One of the ones that we ended up doing was a three-panel silent comic.  In the first panel, there are two little kids drawn in a classic kid's comic style, and they're arguing over something.  One of them is holding a copy of Gravity's Rainbow, and the other one is holding a copy of The Crying of Lot 49.  Then in the second panel, they look over (with little surprise marks over their heads) at this long, spindly leg stepping in through an open window.  In the last panel, Thomas Pynchon is standing in between them and pinching their cheeks with these freakishly long arms, and they're giggling and smiling.  I love this comic because it sets you up for something so brainy– Thomas Pynchon being this dense, intricate author and everything– and then the punchline is the world's stupidest pun: Thomas Pinchin'.  That would have been weird even for a DUBBLEBABY strip, I think.

Anyway, after a certain point I was tired of labeling these strips "Comics That My Brother Wrote," and was had enough ideas stockpiled that we decided to just start a webcomic specifically for that, and so we started DUBBLEBABY.  We also considered calling it Pandacop, I think.

T: There are a lot of ideas like that Family Circus one that never make to a real comic. Sometimes the joke is just too stupid. I had an idea for a strip I was really proud of a few days ago, but Sam shot it down. There was a pirate talking to a pirate captain who has a parrot on either shoulder, and he goes  "Arr captain you be havin not one but two parrots on ya" and the captain says "Arr yes it be a whole new parrotdigm". In retrospect, I can see why that didn't go over so well. Or I had another idea where it's ten panels of a dude climbing hair to the top of a tower, so you think it's Rapunzel? Only when he gets to the top a big fist comes out and hits him and it's actually Ra-PUNCH-zel. Some of my ideas are dumb enough that even I'll concede it, though. A while back I wanted Sam to draw this comic where this guy's yelling "ALL OF YOU ARE COMPLACENT LITTLE WAGE SLAVES! DON'T YOU EVER THINK, SHEEPLE?!" And then the camera pulls back to reveal he's yelling at these horrible mutant sheep-people.

S: That was a terrible idea.  You are going through a big pun phase right now.

What's your drawing process?

S: Once Toby gives me an idea, I usually pencil it out and then show it to him for review.  He's pretty exacting about what sorts of things he wants in his comic.  I remember a big debate about how an astronaut's arms were going to be pumping.  If they were in the YMCA stance, the comic read a little differently.  It was more like HOORAY!  If they were straight up in the air, it was frattier, like he was saying YEAHHH or WOOOO.  We eventually decided on the straight-up arms.  Toby's able to think really visually, so he's good at picking these things up.

I pencil with any old variety of pencil, but I always ink it with a Staedler 0.7 pen and color it in Photoshop.  Because I wanted the strip to have a unified look to it, I follow pretty standardized rules: backgrounds are a single solid color, occasionally in two shades; characters are almost always uncolored, and bleed out to the panel borders if they're touching them.  Occasionally, I'll switch up the art style for specific effects.  When I want a more classic, serious style, I'll use a brushpen and a lot more photo reference.  In general, I think that the jokes work better if the art is mostly utilitarian; prettiness can distract from the rhythm of the storytelling.  Overly detailed or representational artwork often draws attention to itself as art, whereas cartoons are a synopsis of whatever they're meant to represent.  Ideally, the reader's not aware of looking at a drawing of a person; it's more like they're looking at the idea of a person.

T: My drawing process is walking over to Sam's desk every five minutes and complaining that he's taking forever.

What inspires you? What are some other comics that you dig?

S: In the comics world, I think that Michael Kupperman, who draws Tales Designed To Thrizzle, is probably one of the funniest cartoonists drawing today.  And unlike a lot of other contemporary humor cartoonists, he’s also an incredible artist.  Richard Thompson draws Cul De Sac, which is my favorite syndicated strip right now; and my friend Craig Thompson, who drew the graphic novels Blankets and Habibi, is probably my biggest inspiration in terms of sheer work ethic.  In a broader sense, my friend David Kanaga does incredible electronic and sampled music, and we’ve been trading collaborations for a few months now.  I admire his music for being able to capture an atmosphere perfectly without a lot of fussing too much over content.  My parents got me started on a lot of it, too; my mom does fantastic art, and my dad was the one who got me really excited about storytelling.

T: Achewood is hands down the best comic that's also on the internet. The humor in DUBBLEBABY mostly comes from these wildly implausible scenarios, which is funny but also a little exhausting. What I like about Achewood is it's funny in a really natural way. The characters are all so well-made that they can just be having a conversation and it'll be funny. That comic has totally influenced the way I write. I'm considering having some recurring characters in DUBBLEBABY just so I can do jokes like that, in that conversation format. I'm also a huge fan of Matt Furie's Boy's Club. That's a comic where the art really bolsters the joke in a way where the comic wouldn't work if the art wasn't so good. But since the art is really good, it's hilarious. Michael Kupperman's comics are the same way. I really try and take advantage of the fact that Sam's a good artist to do jokes that are dependent on having good art. If the drawings were just a vessel for the dialogue, I'd be doing MS Paint comics myself. But something like Buddhacop, that's funny because Buddhacop's face is so intensely detailed.

What was the last book you've read?

S:  I’m reading Love in The Time of Cholera right now, and before that I read Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami; so a lot of magical realism, I guess. I’m also getting into this fantastic anthology of alternative manga that Top Shelf put out.

 T: I'm reading this book Extra Lives by Tom Bissell. It's this collection of personal essays about playing different games, and how he reacts to them and stuff. It's pretty good!

What are you listening to lately?

S: I have historically lame taste in music. Recently I discovered a big box of world music that I owned in eighth grade, back before I ever thought there was anything problematic about the term “world music”.  It’s mostly really embarrassing stuff like Afrocelt Sound System and Putomayo discs.  So nothing that I’d recommend, but if I’m answering the question honestly, that’s what I’ve been listening to lately.

T: I have super cool taste in music. I'm really into electronic artists from cold, northern countries right now. I've been listening to this album by Secede called Tryshasla a ton. I'm think it's about a guy who's dying in the hospital and lapses into this fantasy world, but I could be wrong about that. It's super lush sounding. I've also been listening to this song "Maybes" by Mount Kimbie a lot. It's got a huge guitar build-up that goes "BWAAANG...BWAAANG...DUNNNNN" for about three minutes and then these crazy manipulated vocals kick in. It's cool.

Any taste I have in music has been earned though. Back in sixth, seventh grade, you know I was rocking that Linkin Park everyday.

How is the world going to end?

S: My brother is probably going to want to field this one.

T: Reality becomes amalgamated with World of Warcraft. Then, the servers go down for maintenance and never come back up.

Actually, I have this recurring fantasy where when Armageddon hits, I have to fight everyone I hate in a giant brawl across an apocalyptic wasteland. It's basically just me against army of dudes wearing Naruto headbands, plus anyone who's made me sit through a powerpoint presentation of their year abroad.

Are there any other projects your working on?

 S: I have a more general art blog at gingerlandcomics.blogspot.com.  I’ve also been working on my own graphic novel for about two years now. I wanted to finish it by the time I was 23 (Elvis Costello’s first album came out then, as did Craig Thompson’s first graphic novel), but seeing as how I’m only a quarter of the way into it and it’s been two years, I will probably be shooting for 25 or 26 now.  I started it my Freshman year of college, which is crazy to think about.

T: I'm working on an as-of-yet untitled flash game about flipping gravity. It's kind of like Terry Cavenagh's VVVVVV, only with more jumping. I've been really into independent  games since I played Cave Story my freshman year of high school, but this is the first time I've tried to seriously make one. Sam is going to be doing the art, so it'll be pretty if nothing else. I'm hoping to have it done by the end of the year. I also have an extremely infrequently updated blog at scrubthebutt.blogspot.com. I think it's hilarious.

To find out more, visit DUBBLEBABY and Gingerland Comics.