LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
It's been quite a ride for "Sluggy Freelance." The Web comic turned 10 years old this weekend and the main characters are still stumbling through one bizarre episode after another. This strip has grown in its first decade and so has its audience. "Sluggy Freelance" started as a simple one-gag-a-day affair. Today, the jokes remain, but the stories are longer and more thought provoking. And "Sluggy Freelance" now claims 100,000 daily readers.
We spoke with creator Pete Abrams after the strip had been going for about a year and we have invited him back on the 10th anniversary. He's in our New York Bureau.
Congratulations, Pete. Welcome back.
Mr. PETE ABRAMS (Creator, "Sluggy Freelance"): Thanks a lot. It's great to be here.
HANSEN: Let me refresh our listeners on the main characters in your Web comic, "Sluggy Freelance." There's Torg, who is, kind of, an every man and a former Web designer. There's Riff, who's the inventor with a fondness for explosives, Zoe, who's the closest to normal of the whole bunch, Gwynn who likes to dabble in witchcraft, and then finally the two talking animals, Bunbun - a very mean mini lop rabbit who carries a switchblade, and Kiki - a sweet-natured ferret.
So Pete, when you started the strip in 1997, did you expect to be still writing about those particular characters 10 years later?
Mr. ABRAMS: When I first started doing the strip, I knew I wanted to keep, kind of, my options open to how I wanted the story to go. And for some reason I, kind of, thought to myself that as the strip progressed, I would like start writing characters out and bringing new ones in so that the strip would always, kind of, stay fresh to me. And that was probably in the first year or so, somewhere around there. And, you know, a couple of years into it, I've started really liking all the characters so much that it became hard for me to move away from any of them. And 10 years later, I still love writing these characters so much.
HANSEN: How has the strip evolved, especially the story arc?
Mr. ABRAMS: Well, as you have said, it started off pretty much a-gag-a-day strip. I did start, you know, building in some stories a little longer than the daily stuff a few weeks or a month-long story arc, which, you know, I could do as an online comic strip as opposed to a newspaper strip because I can maintain an archive. It means everybody who goes and checks out Sluggy can read it from the very first strip all the way through.
As time progressed, I found myself just wanting to write more and more involved stories. And at the same time, the characters were developing more and more complex. They are very simple at the beginning, but now, you know, everyone started to really get to know the characters.
HANSEN: So you're doing, you know, dramatic stories. Do you actually write ones that would take months to tell?
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah. One of the big problems I've ran into recently is the fact that my stories have gotten so big that a simple thought in my head that I think will take a few days to tell ends up taking weeks. So some of the stories are expanding to go through actual months to finish telling an entire arc.
HANSEN: Do you get frustrated with that? I mean, there are limits to what you can do in the daily strip.
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah, sometimes. "Sluggy" is all about maintaining balance. One of the things I wanted to do with it is, I want it to be something that was entertaining for people who come by every day because there's a new strip every day. At the same time, I want the archives to hold up so when you'd read through it it's like, wow, this is one big story that's really well told.
And what's happened is I found that the stories have gotten so big that - the stories are still fantastic, but each day I felt like I wasn't getting enough information out there. So the strips are getting bigger and bigger and bigger as time goes on. I've had strips that are like 20 panels every day for, like, a week on and it's just been like a lot of extra work for my - on my end. But I figure, hey, I'm the one who want to write the story, so it's, you know, my job.
HANSEN: I was wondering, I mean, over the years, how hard it's been to sustain a Web comic. I mean, you tried advertising, didn't really work. You sold the T-shirts and the books and a couple of plush toys. Is that enough to sustain you?
Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah, actually. One problem I have of doing the solo is I've got to handle all the business stuff as well as all the comic stuff. And I seem to be much, much better at the comic stuff.
I have a friend of mine who runs a store and just from selling the plush dolls and the books and the shirts. And we have a program called Defenders where people actually pay to get access to extra features on the site, like behind-the-scenes information and comics I rejected and scripts that weren't so good. And basically, all these together makes me enough money to survive and take care of my family and it makes me very happy.
HANSEN: Do you think you're a pioneer of sorts with this Web comic and if so, do you think Web comics are the wave of the future?
Mr. ABRAMS: In 1997, I decided I wanted to do something creative on the Web. And I had been schooled actually in comic book art at the Joe Kubert School in Dover, New Jersey. And I thought it'd be really great to do a comic book online, but it would take too much work to do a comic book page every day. And I figure that was about the Internet attention span especially at that time.
So that's when I said, let me try a comic strip format. And I looked out there and I couldn't really find that much. I found, like, one or two strips that barely began. So in that sense, I was kind of a pioneer because I figured out how I would handle the layouts and just to tell longer story arcs. I also think I was - at least according to Wikipedia, I'm the first one to make a living doing a comic. So that makes me kind of a pioneer too.
HANSEN: But do you think this is the future? That we're going to see more and more Web comics?
Mr. ABRAMS: Oh, there are so many Web comics out there now. I mean, there's plenty (unintelligible) at the moment. I can't help but think it's definitely a valid form of entertainment. And I think it goes well beyond what newspaper comic strips could offer, and even probably beyond what comic books can offer, just because of that idea of daily content and a constantly expanding archive.
HANSEN: I'm going to ask you a question I asked you nine years ago and you couldn't give me an answer. And I'm wondering if you can give me answer now. Where does the name "Sluggy Freelance" come from?
Mr. ABRAMS: I don't know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ABRAMS: I'm sorry. There's a little static on the line. I couldn't quite hear you.
HANSEN: Where does the name "Sluggy Freelance" come from?
Mr. ABRAMS: I'm sorry. This line is really bad. Hold on. Let me switch phones.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ABRAMS: Okay. All right. You know what? I've kept this up long enough where I haven't told anyone what the name means. I think, on this show, I'll finally reveal it. My great-grandmother on my father's side was named Sluggy Freelance.
HANSEN: Thanks for that, Pete.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: Pete Abrams is the creator of the Web comics "Sluggy Freelance," which celebrated its 10th anniversary this weekend. He spoke to us from our New York Bureau.
Congratulations again, Pete. And thanks.
Mr. ABRAMS: Thanks. It's been great talking to you again. We should do this again in another 10 years.
HANSEN: You're on.
Mr. ABRAMS: Okay.
HANSEN: You can read the very first "Sluggy Freelance" strip at our Web site, npr.org.
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