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Interview: R.K. Milholland of Something Positive

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Sometimes dark, often scarily realistic, and always skewed to the sarcastic, Something Positive is easily one of the most well known (and loved) comics available on the Internet. And this monkey was lucky enough to catch its creator, R.K. Milholland in a kind moment and he agreed to play guinea pig for the first ever Sudden Nothing interview. Miz Monkey encourages all of you to go check out the master of blunt-fu himself and his comic. Bow down, fool!

LegendaryMonkey: So, if not comics, what would Randal Milholland be doing?

R.K. Milholland: Data entry (laughs). That’s what I was doing for a job before the comic and I was acting part time, but the acting had to stop because I just didn’t have time for both.

LM: It’s safe to say that S*P is pretty damned successful, what with the donation drive that got you out of your day job (you knew it would come up). When you first started the strip, what were your expectations, if any?

RKM:Well, I had a long term goal. I wanted to do the comic for about ten years, or until I got bored of it. But I figured by the time the comic was done, I’d probably have a readership of about five thousand or so. I never intended to market it.

LM: I think you blew that out of the water.

RKM: I’m not complaining. (laughs)

LM: The very first comic features Davan sending one of his ex-girlfriends a coat hanger as a baby shower gift. I know you’ve said these early strips are based very heavily on true events, but my question here is – were you purposely trying to kick off the comic with an unapologetically brutal moment so that readers would know what they were getting into? Or was it just funny?

RKM: (laughing) It was a mix. I mean, what happened was… that story was based off an ex of mine. We were trying to be friends. I had just moved to Boston and she was contacting me and I was very suspicious of her, which wasn’t very fair of me. Anyway, she called me up and said she got me a Christmas gift and I thought damn, now I have to get something for her, so – she was eight months pregnant at the time, so I asked her if she’d like a fifth of whiskey and a clothes hanger.

(there is a pause here as we both laugh… because, really, who can resist the fun-loving, family-friendly humor of whiskey and a coathanger?)

RKM: Mainly, I thought it would be a really funny way to start a comic. It would be the one thing people would remember. I wanted to do something where it felt like the story was already going on, the story was already in place, not like most web comics where the characters do an introduction, like oh, hey we’re the characters and this is a comic.

LM: Got a favorite strip from S*P?

RKM: Oh, crap. I hate them all so much. I don’t laugh at my comics. I’m very proud of them, but it’s hard to laugh at them because they’re all so personal. I guess my favorites weren’t really part of the story, but two parodies I did of old 60s style comics because people were complaining that I wasn’t doing comics that were family friendly enough. One of them(LM note: part of this was unintelligible and part I just missed, so I’ll just link the comic to which he was referring).

RKM, continuing: I guess other than that, I really like the strips where Davan is trying to do his own comic.

(LM’s note: I was trying to find said comics, but that’s a lot of archive to go through and I got all into re-reading the stories instead, because they’re just so good, and I came across this one again, which is one of my favorites… so I’ma link it and you’ll all thank me later. Really. But aha, I found the other one… I was looking in the wrong year by quite a distance.)

LM: Now that you’re doing comics full time, I’ve noticed that New Gold Dream has picked up somewhat, and you started another comic, Midnight Macabre – and this is in addition to your other project, Rhymes With Witch. How’s the response been to those projects?

RKM: Well, Midnight Macabre took off really well. Most people really liked it. The problem is I haven’t had a chance to update both as much as I’ve wanted because I’ve had a lot of personal problems which I don’t like talking because I feel readers don’t really give a shit. Midnight Macabre took off really well, and New Gold Dream appeals to the fantasy readers, but not everyone. They’re different from S*P because S*P is really blunt and gets in your face, but Midnight Macbre and New Gold Dream at least try to consider your feelings first.

LM: So, I’ve got to know, though a good friend hit me over the head when I mentioned I was gonna ask you this and said I should already know… where did you get the idea for Choo Choo Bear?

RKM: (laughs) Ah, Choo Choo Bear. I talked about it in a radio interview so I guess that’s what he meant. It was a kitten. Back when I was in Texas, an ex -girlfriend again, still trying to be friends, had this kitten that had bone problems and it just loved me, was very territorial, didn’t like her or any other cats getting near me. I couldn’t take it with me when I moved, but that was the origin.

LM: A consistent theme in S*P seems to be a general malaise and lack of ambition. Very few of the characters have ‘meaningful’ careers and most seem to focus more on artistic outlets than their dayjobs. Do you think this is typical for your readers, as well?

RKM: (Long pause) That’s a pretty hard question. Jesus Christ. I don’t really agree that they don’t all have ‘meaningful’ careers. Aubrey has her own business, the phone sex line, and some of the others… I think it’s my generation, though. Our parents and the generation before us tended to identify themselves by their career. I don’t see that in a lot of my generation. Like, a lot of actors I know have day jobs. And in fact, some of them I know, their day jobs, most people would consider a career. I just think that we’ve reached the point that we don’t have to identify ourselves by our careers anymore. As for the lack of ambition… I do think a lot of people identify with that. I think they feel that everything they’ve tried, they’ve been cut off and it just gets hard to care. But you have these people who jab you and make you go on, make you care.

LM: Been threatened with any lawsuits yet?

RKM: No, none at all. I guess I was once, but it was the most false assumption of a lawsuit. I guess about two years after I had done the ‘Davan and Kim go to Salem’ storyline, this guy named “CeltWiccan” from Alabama came across the site and sent this long angry e-mail about how I was slandering his religion and making money off it, but it’s funny because I wasn’t advertising nor had any merchandise on that. He and his friends were telling me that they were trying to get a lawsuit together, but I didn’t worry about it. It just made no sense. I never really considered it. It was just a couple of people trying to get together to try to scare someone. But no, I’ve never had anything like Penny Arcade when they made fun of Strawberry Shortcake and American Greetings came after them.

LM: You did a lot of crossovers with Queen of Wands before it ended. Did you get a lot of e-mails from fans who expected you to absorb Kestrel into S*P?

RKM: I got a lot of e-mails on that. There were a lot of people who were QoW fans hoping I would and a lot who were hoping I wasn’t. I just tend to ignore any e-mails with QoW or Kestrel or Kestrel’s dead body in the subject line.

LM: Sooooo… you’re probably not going to answer this one, but I get the feeling that maybe you’re setting up the onset of a Davan-PeeJee relationship. Any comment?

RKM: You’re the first person to ask me that. No comment. I don’t like to give away hints or secrets about the strip.

LM: A lot of webcomic artists seem to be dedicated to compiling their work into dead tree editions when and as they can, but you’ve never seemed interested in that for S*P that I’ve seen. Why’s that? And how do you feel about the presence of comics on the web in general?

RKM: Actually, I do want to do that and I’ve been working on one for a while. I’m trying to do the first year compilation but my old computer is damaged so I’m having to redraw half of the first year comics, which is a pain in the ass. I’m thinking about just taking what I have, but there’s a quality difference and it is taking a lot longer than I’ve realized. If I did just take what I have, I’d still have to redo all the text and that’s a pain in the ass. But there is going to be a book. And the only problem is year one; all the other years are fine. (LM note: this is way, way shortened from what Randy actually said, but he got into technical issues that I a) didn’t get and b) couldn’t keep up with, so basically I’m a shitty interviewer and should be dragged into the street and shot.)

RKM, continuing: Comics on the web just make sense. People spend more time on the web, they get their news there, it’s cheaper, it’s convenient. The best thing about doing a webcomic is you don’t have an editor and the worst thing is you don’t have an editor. I don’t have someone telling me I can’t do a storyline, but I don’t have someone telling me that something isn’t a good idea, that maybe you shouldn’t be saying this thing and some people need that. Also, I don’t have to deal with syndication where I get maybe ten percent of the revenue if I’m lucky.

LM: Speaking of syndication, how do you feel about that, with the fuss over PvP?

RKM: It (PVP) didn’t really get syndicated, he just started offering it up to newspapers and magazines freely. It’s just self-promotion. It’s a great idea. A lot of print artists were infuriated because they don’t think we, web comic artists, are legitimate. They don’t think we’ve paid our dues, but we have, just in a different way. I don’t think that comics will ever disappear from newspapers, but it is becoming harder because … You really only make money in syndication if you become merchandiseable. So unless you’re a Jim Davis, where you work ten years just to make a really good comic, holding back on the merchandising until one day you turn it into a powerhouse corporate machine, you’re just not really going to make it.

LM: Got any recommendations? Comics or otherwise.

RKM: I recommend Wapsi Square. It’s a great comic, very character driven and has amazing art. Perry Bible Fellowship, it only updates once a week. Dr. Fun. It was the first webcomic and it updates five days a week, or used to… he takes more vacations now, but it’s hilarious. Puppetry is good. It’s cerebral, not necessarily about being funny. It’s psychological, like looking into someone’s journal. Those are the comics I’m mostly reading now.

LM: When I asked for an interview, I promised you cookies. You do know I shamelessly lied, right? There will be no cookies.

RKM: Yeah, I know. Women always lie.

And that’s it! A big thanks to Randy Milholland just for being his own awesome self and for putting up with the noobie-noobishness of an excitable girl-type interviewer. This monkey wishes him tons of success with S*P and many more years of fun-filled life without the pressure of a day job. We like it when you’re doing your thing, Randy, so keep on doing it.

Also, monkey learns a lesson – locate portable voice recorder in midst of moving debris. Bad monkey.

Cross-posted from Sudden Nothing.

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