Way back in 2003 or 2004 I picked up The Wang from writer-artist Stan Yan at Comic-Con. It had nothing to do with gaming (at least, not that I recall). Years passed and then I had a Random Encounter with Stan Yan’s SubCulture, written by Kevin Freeman. While it is a web comic, the pair also sell printed collections of the strips. It revolves around a comic book store and the twentysomething, listless main character Jason. When not reading comic ashcans, Jason is fond of the occasional dungeon delve and playing Space Jaunt with the rest of Subculture’s characters. Space Jaunt is Subculture’s science fiction space odyssey game. While gaming references abound in Subculture, I’d say that maybe less than a third of it actually pertains to RPGs. However the whole of Subculture is good stuff, well written by Kevin Freeman and evocatively drawn by Stan Yan respectively with the end result being a pretty funny strip. As a web comic, it’s also free and worth checking out.
The Process of Making the Subculture Web Comic
CG: How do and Kevin know one another and what’s your process like for working on SubCulture?
SY: I responded to an ad on Digital Webbing’s message board back in 2006. He was looking for an artist for SubCulture, and I was ironically the first to respond. Kevin typically e-mails me script ideas. Kevin gives me quite a bit of creative freedom in his scripts, and he rarely objects to geeky little things I put in that are not in the script, like t-shirts on the characters and such.
KF: We are in synch almost all of the time. We are of similar age and have similar life experiences, so working together has been very easy. Plus Stan is very professional, which makes my job that much easier.
CG: How many times do you two reject a strip as not being funny enough or put it on hold and then what is your backlog like? Do you have a number of backup strips in case you run into problems during a particular week?
SY: We rarely agree to reject a strip, but we often collaborate on fine-tuning jokes. I might even add a panel for pacing purposes without consulting with him first. I have yet to have him tell me that I was wrong for adding a panel. Once with a storyline where Jason goes with Noel to buy a new car, Kevin asked me to draw Noel in some provocative clothing. I guess I went too far, and he had me change the school-girl mini-skirt to low-rise jeans. That’s one of the few times outside of typos, where Kevin has asked me to change anything. My backlog used to be one month, but over the last couple of years, I’ve been sadly working week-to-week. With, our recent guest artist, Corie Marie Parkhill, I’ve been able to build a 2 week backlog, but I’m seeing that go away quickly as I finish up with my summer camp teaching season and do a weekend-long convention this weekend. No backup strips. If something goes wrong, we’re sunk!
KF: I try to stay about six weeks ahead, just in case I get hit with a case of writer’s block.
Other Projects for Subculture’s Creators
CG: I know your Wang is pretty nice, but what else have you been working on?
SY: I’m currently working on writing and coloring a post-apocalyptic car race adventure webstrip called REVVVelations: at www.squidworks.com/revvv, I just finished writing and illustrating a comic book for the Melting Pot restaurant, I’m working on writing and partially illustrating a promotional comic book for the GalaxyFest convention, and I hope to resume work on a graphic novel about my best friend’s battle with cancer.
KF: I’m working with small-press publisher Action Lab entertainment as well, where I do a lot of editing. I’ve also got a story in the pipe with artist Des Taylor, but it probably won’t hit the shelves until sometime in 2013. I am a college professor in real life.
Specific Questions About Subculture Itself
CG: Looking back, what are your favorite story arcs so far on SubCulture?
SY: I’m still very fond of the storyline where Arthur goes to Bart to get dating advice, and they’re forced to talk in gamer code, since Travis is eavesdropping on them. I think it’s a strip that is in the second printed collection of webstrips.
KF: That’s probably mine too. I also like Babs’s cosplay party storyline, and any time we do a convention story that is a lot of fun.
CG: What does XP on the Hoof that your gaming buddy John says mean, Stan?
SY: Honestly, I don’t know where that saying originated, but basically he’s talking about how fighting certain creatures is like money in the bank. He’s typically being sarcastic about it to taunt the game master, or if he’s game mastering, he’s typically trying to goad us into a battle we can’t win. At least, that’s how I take it.
CG: If Kevin would be a Bard, what would your D&D class be?
SY: I’d also be some sort of performer — probably a jester, with absolutely no battle skills.
CG: Is Bart based on an actual comic shop owner or is he more of a stereotype?
SY: I understand that Kevin based Bart on a comic book store owner he knows or knew. Lots of things we wrote for Bart are things that actually happened, like sleeping on the back table, slathering everything in ketchup, and probably lots of other stuff I wasn’t even aware of when I was drawing it.
KF: Bart is an amalgamation of a number of people–Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, the shop owner of a store I worked at in Alabama, and Weird Pete from Knights of the Dinner Table, just to name a few.
CG: What do Bart, Babs, Arthur, Jason, Travis and the rest of the crew usually play as in SpaceJaunt?
SY: I think no matter WHAT game they’re playing, they’re always playing certain archetypical characters for them. Babs typically plays a seductress who probably flirts with Jason’s characters. Arthur normally plays a woman of some sort. Jason probably plays a character that is as bland as he is at times. I imagine he’s more of a utility player than a role-player. Skip will always play a ruthless, bloody barbarian, if not an assassin. I imagine Travis is a thief and scavenger, but I can see him trying to play a paladin before he went against his alignment in looting or pillaging along with Skip’s character and ending up as a level 1 fighter.
KF: Yep. They tend to stick to archetypes based on their personality, regardless of what they play.
Stan’s 3.5 D&D Campaign and Kevin’s 40K Days, Background in Gaming
CG: I know your gaming group hasn’t moved beyond 3.5 to 4th Edition. What’s your campaign like and why have you guys stuck with 3.5?
SY: My theory is that John doesn’t want our spell casters getting too powerful, and on the flip-side, we probably don’t want him unleashing unbeatable spell casters upon our party either. At any rate, I think we’re happier with our ability to truly role-play our characters in 3.5, and we don’t want to risk the faster-paced 4.0 degrading that at all.
CG: What about sci-fi RPGs like Space Jaunt/Traveller, do you play in any of those?
SY: We play one space RPG — Gurps space right now.
CG: What about 40K? You have a nice 2010 Space Marine panel in a SuperCon strip.
SY: Kevin used to play, but I haven’t. I admire the game pieces, though. We will have a 40K storyline coming up. I hope I can do it justice in light of the fact that I don’t play.
KF: I was heavy into 40k for years and years until I moved to North Carolina. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the hobby any more. But I still subscribe to White Dwarf and pick up the books and supplements. I’ve always been loyal to Imperial Guard!
CG: How did you get into gaming in the first place?
SY: My friends got me into it in 5th or 6th grade: Basic D&D. I still have the set and introductory modules!
KF: I started about that same time, back when D&D was at its peak, but started with AD&D rather than the pink box. I collect pre-1983 D&D stuff. It reminds me of my childhood.
SubCulture comic strips and cover art are copyright Stan Yan and Kevin Freeman and used with permission.