Monday, February 17, 2014

Alisa Harris Collects Cat Antics in Counter Attack! Kickstarter

Everyone knows it's so incredibly difficult to get me to look at a cat comic--ah heck, who am I kidding?

You all know I'm firmly in the tank for cat comics, so I won't even joke about it. I've previously reviewed Alisa Harris's Counter Attack! series and I was very happy to learn that she was putting together a collection of the series via Kickstarter, in a hardcover package with additional art. It's the perfect gift for the cat lover in your life (I backed the project so I could send one to my mom), including yourself (and got one for me while I was at it).

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the Kickstarter needs a little help to get to fans of felines everywhere. It needs another $4,000 with about a week to go. If you haven't backed the project yet, perhaps this interview will convince you. I spoke with Alisa via e-mail about her Counter Attack!, owning cats, her creative process, and touching up older artwork. Read on for more...

Panel Patter: For readers who may be unfamiliar with you, tell them a little about yourself.

Alisa Harris: I grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to New York City to study animation in college. I've loved comics since I was a kid and started self-publishing my comics about 9 years ago. I write and draw mostly autobiographical work about my cats (Counter Attack!), living in New York (Urban Nomad) and I also make a web comic of vegetarian recipes (Cooking Up Comics).

Panel Patter: Who are some of the people or things you consider a creative influence?

Harris: My earliest influences were the Sunday Funnies in the newspaper, specifically Snoopy and Calvin and Hobbes. I was always a fan of animated Disney movies and the classic Looney Tunes shorts. Some of my more recent creative heroes are Craig Thompson, and pretty much any French cartoonist. Seriously, they’re all amazing! I also look at fine art and nature for inspiration and enjoy people watching especially in a busy place like Manhattan. There is so much great character design walking by if you just stand still to observe it.

One of Alisa's Mewses, Moe, Who is *not* a KS reward, sorry.
Panel Patter: What is Counter Attack?

Harris: Counter Attack! is a comic series starring my two gray cats named Moe and Fidget. The comics are mostly little moments that I record of their silly, annoying and cute antics. The name came from my love of puns and double meanings. Moe tends to be the aggressor but once in a while Fidget will retaliate. They also love to launch their attacks on one another from the kitchen counter.

Panel Patter: What made you start Counter Attack?

Harris: In 2005 I went to San Diego Comic Con for the first time and wanted to make a mini comic to sell there. I wasn't sure what I wanted to work on and as the deadline grew closer, I turned to my cats for inspiration. Sure enough they helped me out and within a week I'd drawn a bunch of silly things that they do and made copies of the comic at the local Staples.

Panel Patter: Cats frequently alternative between being adorable and being frustrating. Why in the world do people--including you--own cats, anyway?

Harris: After having stepping in cat vomit or cleaned up broken wine bottles at one in the morning, this is an excellent question. I think we just can't help ourselves. Both of my cats were strays as kittens and they are just so adorable when they're little and helpless. I grew up in the country where we always had at least one cat roaming around outside. As an introverted child they were always my companions and confidants. Once I moved into an apartment that allowed animals, I was happy to have cats again.

An example of the art changes for the collected edition.
Panel Patter: You've mentioned in your updates that you are touching up some of the artwork. What made you decide to do that, and what are the types of changes you are making to the originals?

Harris: After I made the first issue of Counter Attack!, it was a few years before I returned to the series to make another issue. Over that time my drawing skills had improved and I'd changed my style to be a bit cleaner without using any cross hatching on the backgrounds. I don't usually advocate going back over old work, but since it was only 16 pages and in my opinion didn't fit in as well with the newer art I decided to rework it. I used a lightbox to sketch directly over the originals so there's not much difference in the panel layouts. I mostly cleaned up the anatomy a bit and left out the additional cross hatching on the backgrounds.

Panel Patter: Talk a little bit about your creative process. How do you create a Counter Attack piece?

Harris: Counter Attack! starts with everyday observation. I'm always noticing when the cats (my 'mewses,' if you will) do something new or different. I take a few minutes to jot ideas down when they strike me throughout the year. I keep a big folder of sketches and phrases where I pull the most interesting ideas from. When I'm ready to compile a new issue, I'll go through the folder and make a list of the ideas I want to include. Then I mock up the comic layout on cheap computer paper so I can figure out how I want the pages to flow. This is when I can move panels around and decide if they should be in a different order. I use a pencil to rough out the drawings on Bristol board and then ink the pages with a brush and India ink. I sketch out, ink and watercolor the covers for each issue on watercolor paper. The covers for each of the individual issues will serve as chapter headers in the Collected Counter Attack. Then I scan all of the art into the computer to clean up any messy parts in Photoshop. I import the cleaned up pages into InDesign and prepare them for print.

Anatomy of a new cover.
Panel Patter: You also have a webcomic based on cooking, called "Cooking Up Comics." How did that get started?

Harris: I enjoy cooking now but I didn't always love it. I made Cooking Up Comics for my college-age self who really only knew how to boil pasta and make salad. I'm vegetarian so I wanted to make it more accessible for people just starting out as vegetarians to cook for themselves. Comics seemed like the perfect way to show the step-by-step instructions for cooking.

Panel Patter: What's different about making a webcomic versus making a straight to paper mini?

Harris: There is a decent amount of planning needed for both, but for my webcomic I tend to schedule out my recipes for the whole year all at once. It helps me to stick to a schedule each month and stay on track for finishing each comic weekly if I know ahead of time what recipes I'm planning. Aside from writing the scripts which I tend to do on paper, I create Cooking Up Comics entirely on the computer. Urban Nomad and Counter Attack! are mostly done on paper with final cleanup and page layout done on the computer. My process for Urban Nomad is fairly similar to the one I outlined for Counter Attack!, but there is more script and dialogue writing involved.

A panel from Cooking Up Comics.
Panel Patter:What are some tips you can give a person who wants to reduce the amount of meat in their daily diet?

Harris: I think the easiest way is to start replacing one meal a day with one that doesn't contain meat. I know a lot of people who have lowered their meat intake (and cholesterol) by doing this. Once you have a few vegetarian recipes that you can go to, you don’t really miss that every meal doesn’t contain meat. Something simple like rice and beans or a vegetarian chili can make you feel full. A vegetarian meal doesn’t have to be just a salad! For me, it was easiest to cut out beef first since I never really liked it and continued eating chicken for a while. I cut back on the number of times a week I was eating chicken or fish and soon I wasn’t even missing it!

Panel Patter: Besides Counter Attack and Cooking Up Comics, where else can readers find you? Any new projects coming up?

Harris: My autobiographical series Urban Nomad is available in my online shop (http://alisaharris.bigcartel.com/) and I'll have a table at MoCCA in New York and TCAF in Toronto this spring. The Collected Counter Attack! has been on my to-finish list for a few years now, so I'm really happy to be bringing that to completion.

I've been getting lots of questions lately on whether I'll be making a book of Cooking Up Comics, so I suppose that may be next on the agenda. I completed the Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) challenge (http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/) this past November so I have a bunch of children's book ideas that I'd love to flesh out more. Too many ideas, not enough time!

Panel Patter: I know the feeling! Best of luck to you on making the Kickstarter and your other creative endeavors. 

You can back the Collected Counter Attack! Kickstarter here.

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