I’ve long been impressed by Zyzanna Dominiak’s work, particularly her character designs, and decided to see if we could collaborate on a comic. A lot of the projects I’ve been working on recently rumble on, but no-one sees them until months or years later. This is frustrating. I thought it would be fun to make something a little more immediate and fun.
Thankfully, Zuzu was as keen to collaborate as I was, so we met up on January 4th in Tonic to explore ideas. It turned into a brainstorming session, and a couple of hours later we had two possible directions fleshed out. One was a graphic novel, and the other was a series of gag cartoons called ‘Monty and Zuzu’s WTF’.
We worked up both, and the next time we met I gave her scripts for both projects. We resolved to meet up weekly. On the third week, she had some character designs and some pages for the graphic novel, and I had a few more gag scripts. The fourth time we met Zuzu had drawn a couple of the cartoons, and we played around with the art and lettering on those together to make them funnier and sharper.
An important part of honing gags is making them as short, clear and succinct as possible. I think we had six panels in the first strip, which was about Instagram, and we cut that down to four. As we were doing that we started thinking about what kind of format to publish these in.We both thought an online comic was the way to go, as we’d never done that before, and chose Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram as our format. By putting the four panels in a grid, we could publish the cartoon on all these sites without changing the strip at all.
We got into a rhythm of meeting up every week for an hour or two. We’d usually thrash out ideas for the next cartoon, and fine tune the one in production. We both come up with ideas. Sometimes I write and Zuzu draws, other times I thumbnail the strip, or pencil it. It’s interesting writing for an online audience, where the material can be a little more surreal, obtuse and freeform. With comedy, the details are really important in how the joke comes across. Sometimes just changing a character’s expression, or body language, or deleting an unnecessary word balloon, can make all the difference. The goal was simply to make each other laugh, without getting too obsessed with the details. We kept it fun, and I think that comes across in the final comic.
I remember we wanted to use our different perspectives somehow, hence ‘Monty and Zuzu’ in the title. We’re very different people, a little unusual in some ways, but there’s a good overlap in the middle where we share ideas like how to conduct ourselves, how to work, and what’s funny. A lot of comedy comes from surprise, and we’re always surprising each other with comments or ideas. We wanted to put ourselves in the strip somehow, and the character designs Zuzu came up with fit the bill perfectly. It’s not literally us, but we can still use things we do or say sometimes: a useful balance.
We’ve been publishing them online every Friday since the beginning of March, with a few single panels and WIP photos in between, and the response has been good. Without doing anything to publicise the strip we’ve built up about 120 followers from 28 posts on Instagram and Twitter, and an average of about 30 likes per strip. Best of all though is hearing from or bumping into people that find it really funny, which makes us happy. It’s very fulfilling to get instant feedback about a comic you created the very same week. It’s very different from the normal feedback loop you get making a comic or graphic novel, which can take months, even years, to come out. We’re really enjoying it, and intend to keep up the weekly schedule and make lots more. The Monty and Zuzu characters seem to be particularly popular, so we’ll have to come up with some more things for them to do. Single panels also work really well on Instagram.