Award-winning web comic Lackadaisy is set in Prohibition-era America. Artist Tracy Butler tell us what inspired her to create it
.net: Can you briefly explain to our readers what Lackadaisy is about?
TB: Lackadaisy is set in the 1920s and centres around a gang of tenacious (if not shady) cats trying to sustain a St Louis speakeasy [a Prohibition-era bar] amid fierce competition.
.net: How did you come up with the idea for Lackadaisy?
TB: I took up residence in the St Louis area about 10 years ago, and became rather enamoured with the history of the place. The more I learned about the city in its golden age – its breweries, railroads, its intricate system of underground caves, its place in the emergence of jazz music – the more fascinated I became. In 2006, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, inspiration struck and all of these elements began culminating into a story in my head. The resulting piles of sketches and flurry of notes jotted on copy paper gradually evolved into the comic.
.net: What inspired your style?
TB: It would be difficult to list all of the things that have influenced me artistically, but certainly classic animation, which encompasses any number of cartoons from Disney to Warner Bros and more, has played a significant role. I recall watching films such as Bambi in slow motion as a child. I was fascinated with the nuance of motion and expression the animators were so consummately able to capture, all the while maintaining an illustrative aesthetic such that any one frame of film could stand alone as a piece of art. Undeniably, those things I marvelled at early on had a major impact on my personal style.
.net: For a web comic, it seems very professionally rendered with lots of detail. What tools and techniques do you use to create the strip?
TB: When doing linework, my preference is to go about it the old-fashioned way with a simple mechanical pencil and some sturdy paper. Once a page is fully pencilled I scan it and begin working digitally on the cleanup, lighting and toning. For this, I generally rely on Adobe Photoshop, a trusty tablet and pen, and a lot of coffee.
.net: What process do you go through when you plan a new strip?
TB: Essential to the planning of each new page is the thumbnail process. I do a lot of preliminary sketching to nail down just how I want the panel progression of a page to occur such that it conveys the action and dialogue as cohesively and clearly as possible. The dialogue and action come from a relatively loose script I prepare far ahead of actually drawing the page, and both go through a series of revisions as part of this process. I also frequently spend some time doing research at this stage to ensure I’m remaining as true to history as I can manage. Elements such as vehicles, clothing, architecture, popular culture, slang, and even how one might place a phone call in the 1920s all require me to search out reference material.
.net: Who’s responsible for the website design and development?
TB: The website design and upkeep is my own work. I must confess to having something of a secret weapon in regard to the latter, though. For updates, archiving, and organisation, I use a rather brilliant little PHP-built management system entitled Tomekeeper, designed by Jay Lim. A great deal of credit for the site’s functionality (and for the sparing of much of my time and sanity) is owed to this behind-the-scenes tool.
.net: You’re also a 3D artist for the gaming industry. Where might we have seen your work?
TB: I work for the Simutronics Corporation, better known as Play.Net by many old school online role-players. Some of my artwork can be found amongst the long-running game worlds of DragonRealms and GemStone IV. More recently, I’ve been very involved in character content creation for the company’s first 3D MMORPG, Hero’s Journey. Alongside that, I’ve been participating in the development of art tools for the HeroEngine, a game engine and world-building toolset we’ve built from the ground up for Hero’s Journey. HeroEngine has made a bit a splash in the realm of online game development tools, and it’s now being licensed to a number of other developers, such as Bioware Austin (who’ve recently announced their MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic).
.net: How difficult is it to juggle it all and keep your fans happy? How much time do you spend on Lackadaisy?
TB: Lackadaisy quickly grew into something of a second full-time job, easily eating up 25 to 35 hours a week. Keeping updates as evenly paced as I’d like them to be has proven difficult at times. It’s more work than I could have anticipated at the outset, but it’s also something I enjoy immensely. Spending hours every evening on it doesn’t really feel like work… except perhaps at those times when the evening extends until sunrise and I’m still trying to wrap up the latest page.
.net: What’s the feedback for Lackadaisy been like? What kind of page views are you getting and how much guest art do you receive on average?
TB: Being able to interact with the readership has been one of my favourite things about utilising the internet as a medium for the comic. Beyond just commentary, readers have sent drawings, stories they’ve written about the characters, short animations, clay sculptures, plush dolls, Flash animated music videos, voice acting recordings of the comic dialogue, and even photos of self-styled Lackadaisy Halloween costumes. I’d estimate between five and 15 pieces of guest art come my way every month. Email comes in enough quantity that I inevitably fall behind on responding sometimes (for lack of time, but certainly not for lack of gratitude). Really, the feedback I’ve received thus far has been both overwhelming and immensely encouraging.
.net: How did your book deal in Italy come about?
TB: The book deal came somewhat out of the blue. Italy-based ReNoir Comics had taken notice and approached me with an offer after I had put in a little over a year’s work on the web comic. Prior to that, the possibility of future publication was still a nebulous idea at the back of my mind. I’d had some queries from readers about whether or not the comic would ever be available in book form despite also being freely available online, and so I thought perhaps I might print a very limited ‘vanity press’ collection at some future date.
Subsequent discussion with ReNoir convinced me of the viability of Lackadaisy in the print comic industry, though, and we came to an agreement. It’s new territory for me, but it’s been a very rewarding adventure so far.
This certainly isn’t the first web-born comic to go in this direction, of course. It seems to be a growing trend for publishers to seek out online comics for print publication. Conversely, I think the internet is proving an increasingly invaluable means by which an artist can establish himself.
.net: What’s in the pipeline for Lackadaisy?
TB: I’m anticipating venturing further into print publication with the comic in both North America and Europe. What else is in store, I’m not entirely certain yet, but I feel the real home of the comic is still on the web, and I have every intention of seeing the story through to the end in its original venue. I’m having far too much fun with it to consider otherwise.
Caleb / 04/02/2009 / 22:55 / http://blandco.blogspot.com/
It's great that talented webcomic artists can get printed books made up.
Prohibition-era gangster Cats!
Corey / 10/02/2009 / 02:05
Here from the lackadaisy home site. I love all this behind-the-scenes stuff. Tracy, make more of your work-in-progress and tutorial things! And I'm definitely buying the english book when it comes out!
Aluria / 10/02/2009 / 16:35 / http://members.shaw.ca/aluria
I can't wait till she publishes here in Canada. Been reading Lackadaisy for a good year now and while she doesn't update as often as I like, it's always worth the wait!
Sarah / 11/02/2009 / 14:58
Tracy Butler is an incredibly tallented and immensely inspiring artist. I've been following her work for something like 9 years now, and I've never been disappointed with the creative stories, witty (and extensive) diallogue, and relatable characters that she's always been able to share with her online audience. It's really exciting that her career has taken off so sucessfully with such a silly, serious, nostalgic little webcomic. Congratulations, Tracy.
Angela / 11/02/2009 / 16:43 / http://www.theanimatorsjournal.blogspot.com
Tracy's work, attitude and professionalism are something that all artists can aspire to. I am constantly blown away by the artistry of this comic. Great job and great article!
George / 21/02/2009 / 16:31 / http://www.reviewcritical.com
This is the first time I hear of "Tomekeeper" that Daisy uses for her site. I will be checking it out as for a lot of projects I use CMSes, and one of my favorites was Drupal so far, maybe this one will become one of them too :)
Orinocou / 26/02/2009 / 19:11 / http://ff6comic.comicgenesis.com
I'm continually amazed by the quality of this comic, and it's one of my favorites. I think I'm going to find out more about that "Tomekeeper" bit. It sounds interesting.