Among the plethora of web comics out there today, there are a few that resonate deeply with readers – especially if you’re the kind of reader who identifies as anxious, socially inept and/or introverted. Sarah’s Scribbles by Sarah Anderson and The Awkward Yeti by Nick Seluk are two comics that come to mind in this regard, for capturing perfectly, what it means to live in a world that one doesn’t feel particularly well qualified to navigate. The Awkward Yeti’s spin-off, Heart and Brain manages to crystallise every dilemma you may have gone through, and its creator Nick Seluk’s sharp observation possibly has a role to play.
Seluk was a guest at the just-concluded Mumbai Comic Con 217, and he chatted briefly with Firstpost about how he creates his popular comics:
The Awkward Yeti was first published in 2012. Lars is meant to represent you, but why a yeti?
The yeti to me was just a funny, mythical beast in general. And it (Lars) was an awkward blue yeti, who was living with all these other white yetis, who were menacing yet charismatic at the same time. The other yetis were athletic and good at small talk while Lars was this misfit, an introvert. I thought – this is a representation of me! It was inspired by my time in the corporate world… that was how I considered everybody who worked there. They’d be doing small talk, discussing sports and I’d just be sitting there thinking – I don’t want to talk about any of this!
Are you more heart or brain?
I think I used to be more brain, and now I’m a little more heart. I think Heart has helped me follow my own heart a little bit more. It’s kind of a back and forth, where Heart is inspired by something I do, and sometimes, something Heart does, inspires me.
How does your background in Psychology help you with the comics?
I have an introspective nature. I like to pay attention to the nuances of how I am, and how other people are, and how we interact. Getting a degree in Psychology reinforced a lot of that natural tendency for me. It definitely shows up in the comics… digging deeper into the psyche, examining not just the actions, but what’s behind the actions.
Your comics have been lauded for raising awareness around mental health. Is it something that’s important to you?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s great (my comics) did that. The one comic I did on depression and anxiety was based on someone’s real story that they provided for the Medical Tales Retold series. I never expected it to go so viral but I’m glad it did, because it seems to have helped many people. It also influenced me to explore that a little bit more with my Heart and Brain comics, because that’s something I relate to as well – I really relate to the anxiety!
What are the benefits or limitations of creating comics based on anthropomorphic characters?
The major benefit would be that these characters have no defined gender or economic status, religion, race. It’s a huge advantage to create something that anybody can relate to around the world. That’s been awesome… people in India seem to like the comics as much as people in the US even though the cultures are very different. I don’t think there are any disadvantages.
Your comics look so simple, but convey complex ideas within the space of say four panels. How do you do that?
I don’t really know. That’s something I have discovered over time by people telling me that I’m good at condensing information and presenting it in a simple way. With the medical comics, they require a lot of research because you can’t really do anything simple until you really, truly understand it deeply. They say if you can’t explain something simply then you don’t know it well enough! So when I made the comic about the gallbladder, I researched the basics of how the gallbladder functions, for hours. I could have done it within minutes but then I would have made the comic over-complicated. I knew the subject so well that I was able to make this really simple comic that looks like I took all of four minutes to make it, right?
So how much time do you typically spend on making a comic? What’s your creative process like?
If it’s a Heart and Brain strip, it depends on the type of subject. The writing part takes more time, the drawing doesn’t – I can draw it in an hour. But when it comes to the medical things, I do a lot of research, which is why I haven’t done one in a while – because it takes so long. It’s really worthwhile though, when I do. There’s one that took a lot of time – Pancreatitis – I was really proud of how it came out, but it required so much research, so many hours to do that one comic.
Do you ever regret not having formal training in art?
Sometimes. One thing I discovered that I really wish I had realised when I was younger is, I’m not really an artist. I’m a writer. And if I had known that when I was in school, I would have been a cartoonist much sooner. My parents wanted me to become an artist – my mom actually encouraged me to go to art school, if you can believe it! She was very supportive. But I thought, I can’t do anything with art. If only I’d realised that I wanted to be a writer and not an artist, that would be the one thing I’d go back and change.
You’ve talked about watching a lot of Simpsons growing up, reading Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. Did they influence your humour as well as your aesthetic?
Yeah, I think both. The big, buggy eyes (in my comics) would be from the Simpsons, Garfield that kind of thing. The Simpsons have a lot of subtlety in their humour, like the text they have in their background that they don’t draw much attention to… that really inspired me to add subtlety to my comics, and titles.
What comes next? You’ve expressed interest in working on an animated series…
Unfortunately no, not at the moment. We’re working on it. I’m writing something but no, no deals or anything.