July 1, 2011

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Digging into Digital: An Interview with Mike Maihack of Cleopatra in Spaaaace!

Welcome to another edition of Digging into Digital, where I spend some time talking about comics available right on your computer.

Today I'm excited to share an interview with Mike Maihack, creator of one of my favorite webcomics, Cleopatra in Spaaaace! This is perfect timing, as the comic just finished its second chapter and you can pick up the story by either catching up online or buying the print versions of Chapter 1 and the upcoming Chapter 2.

I'm a big fan of this webcomic because it's not only incredibly well drawn, it's also an awful lot of fun. We have a historical character romping about in space using laser guns and bantering with a talking cat. How can you not be attracted to that idea? Best of all, there's more to the story than just the concept. Cleo is a young girl with a lot to learn, and part of the attraction of this series is watching her grow up--if she can. Maihack really hit the jackpot with this one, as I'm sure you'll agree when you check it out after reading this interview.

Panel Patter: First of all, thanks for agreeing to the interview! I've been a big fan of Cleo since it started a little over a year ago now. For those who aren't aware of your webcomic, give them a short description of Cleopatra in Spaaaace.

Mike Maihack: It's the story of one trigger-happy, time-displaced heroine from ancient Egypt who now fights alongside talking cats in the far far, really far far future. It's deeper than that, but not by much.

Panel Patter: How did you come up with the idea for Cleo?

Mike Maihack: I drew her as something silly for an art challenge group I was a part of called DrawerGeeks. The topic, obviously, was Cleopatra. I didn't feel like drawing sand so I put her in space. It's a little more complicated than that, but not by much.

Panel Patter: Was this your first webcomic? If not, what other webcomics did you draw?

Mike Maihack: I drew a comic for a number of years called Cow & Buffalo. Which was just a
ridiculous, gag-a-day styled comic that would spiral out of control into these giant, year-long story arcs. And before that I put up a fantasy comic called Seed that I never finished. It's funny because, style wise, Cleo kinda feels like a combination of those two comics.

Panel Patter: Why a webcomic and not a series of mini-comics instead?

Mike Maihack: Hmm. I never thought about it. I'm just used to putting stuff up on the interwebs. There's a larger potential readership on there. I don't think I could wait from con to con to sell only mini-comics. I crave attention too much.

Panel Patter: How hard is it for you to keep Cleo going, week after week? What do you do to make sure you're ready for the readers, week in and week out?

Mike Maihack: Easy in the sense that Cleo is probably my favorite thing in the world to be working on. But I still need to fit it in between a full-time job, freelance, family time, television, etc. I try to work with, at the very least, a two week buffer. But I still generally only have time to draw one page a week.

Panel Patter: I love the way you opted to spell "space" for the comic. How did you settle on four As?

Mike Maihack: Rolled a dice.

Panel Patter: Tell me about how you put together a Cleo strip, from beginning idea to hitting "publish" on the website.

Mike Maihack: Well, each chapter is more or less outlined in my head so I begin by structuring out each page in thumbnails. Focusing the dialog, staging the action, deciding on the best panel layout- that type of stuff. I then show that to my cat who normally either head bumps the paper or looks at me condescendingly. Hopefully I get the head bump but if it's the condescending look it's back to the drawing board. This process can take all day. Eventually, I yell at my cat that he knows nothing about art and draw the page I originally thumbnailed. Then I draw, ink, scan, block, color, letter, save-for-web, and schedule for Monday morning.

Panel Patter: Cleo seems to easily hook readers into the narrative and has a loyal following. What do you think contributes to that success?

Mike Maihack: Probably that I totally know what I'm doing. Haha. Actually- I contribute it
all to the title character. I know her very well so it's super easy to write her. And maybe there's something about her that really resonates with readers. Or maybe it's just that she shoots stuff a lot.

Panel Patter: Cleo seems to be something of an all-ages webcomic. There are definitely a lot of adult fans, but I think it's appropriate for children, too. Do you think of it in those terms? Why or why not?

Mike Maihack: Yeah- I kinda do. Most of my favorite entertainment is all-ages stuff so my
mind just sorta goes there when it comes to crafting stories. I thought I might have crossed a line when I introduced the whiskey drinking, but no one really seemed bothered by it. And there are consequences for those actions. But I want more kids reading comics and it seems senseless to exclude adults from reading those same stories.

Panel Patter: How long do you plan to keep Cleo going? Do you have a general idea for the ending?

Mike Maihack: I've said in the past I can easily keep Cleo going for years. I know where she ends up and the various stages in her life needed to take her there. But I've structured the course of her story enough to leave me with plenty of opportunities to add stuff as I think of it. So in other words I'll draw Cleo until I no longer have any interest in her. Which I highly doubt will be any time soon.

Panel Patter: Plug yourself a little bit! Talk about the new book and why fans of Cleopatra in Spaaaace should pick up a copy!

Mike Maihack: Everyone should buy the new book! 50 pages of comic! 22 pages of other
stuff! Amazing guest art! Full color! Plus every sale of the book goes to help buy baby stuff. Which will be very important to me in a few months.

Panel Patter: Thanks for your time, Mike!

Cleopatra in Spaaaace! updates on Mondays and you can view on the web here. Cleopatra in Spaaaace 1 is available as a book or a PDF here, and you can pre-order Cleopatra in Spaaaace 2 here. Have a look and see what you think! I think you'll agree this is webcomic to put on your RSS feed right away.