Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Scott Meyer has quite the track record. From a stand up comedy career to meeting almost everyone worth knowing back in the day. Scott now produces Basic Instructions, a webcomic that describes how to handle almost every possible instance a person could think of. Scott was kind enough to sit down for an interview a short time ago:
Do A Barrel Roll Blog: First off, why do you tell us a bit about yourself. You have quite the track record for a Web Cartoonist.
Scott Meyer: Well, where to begin...
DABRB: The beginning usually.
Scott Meyer: I was born and raised in a little town in the middle of the scab-land deserts of Eastern Washington state. I usually give my hometown as Sunnyside, but really I started out in a positively minuscule town next to Sunnyside called "Outlook, WA." Sunnyside made national news several times in the 80's for being a small town with a big city style gang and drug problem. Also 1000's of people made a religious pilgrimage there in the early 90's to see an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the back of a highway sign. So, I fled from Sunnyside and went to Broadcasting school. I loved comics at the time, but never felt my artistic abilities were up to the standards they'd need to be. This was the era of Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes, mind you. I knew I wanted to be a comedian, and since the liquor laws wouldn't allow me anywhere near a comedy club, I went for radio.
I met Gary Larson once. When I was a comic I auditioned to do a voice on the Far Side Halloween Special. I had this dufus who was calling himself my agent. He calls me one day and says they're doing a recording session for the Far Side Halloween special, and there's a part that's perfect for me. I get the script and he's highlighted the part "elderly headhunter." I did not get the part, but I got to shake Gary Larson's hand, which was great.
DABRB: That's not something many can claim. You've met quite a few notable figures in the comedy world.
Scott Meyer: Yeah, most of them weren't famous at the time. I spent a week palling around with Chris Titus when we were working a club in Green Bay. He was a great guy, but really intense. Patton Oswalt took me and another comic to a piano bar in Seattle that was rumored to be the last place Cobain was seen alive. He was very patient with the two of us. He was just on a different level.
I worked with Mitch Hedberg. He was a genius, but when he started talking about doing heroin I suspected he wouldn't be around long. I did a comedy contest with Aisha Tyler. She trounced me. Bare in mind, few of these people could pick me out of a lineup now. Doug Stanhope would probably know who I was if you asked him, but that's about it.
Oh, and I toured with Weird Al, who is the most underrated comedy writer of our time. He's just tremendous and he never gets the credit he deserves. The thing that sets him apart is that there's no filler. Every other person who writes funny songs occasionally has a line or two that are just there to fill space until the next joke. With Al, everything is either set-up or punchline.
So, anyway. I got fired from my first radio job and couldn't land another, but by then I was twenty one. I moved to Seattle and tried my hand at both Stand-up and comics. I got a raft of rejection letters. The gist was that my writing was good but my art wasn't. It came down to a three day period where I had to decide whether to do art school in the day and work nights, or work days and do stand-up nights.
I chose stand-up.
That lasted 12 or so years until I burned out. Toward the end I was trying to come up with something to draw people to my website, and Basic Instructions was born. I did a few, and enjoyed them, but they didn't really generate any real buzz or traffic, and by then I was fed up with comedy, so I took a day job. After a while I started missing one aspect of stand-up. My friend Ric used to call it the "bully-pulpit." Which he got from Teddy Roosevelt. When you do stand up, if you get a funny idea, you have something to do with it. You can share it with people and see if they agree, which you hope they will. I missed having that, and realized Basic Instructions could serve that purpose.
DABRB: I'm sure that this has been asked of you many times, but where do you draw your inspiration for your material?
Scott Meyer: The easy answer is "from my life." Sometimes I'll get an idea that I think is funny and I'll have to construct a subject and a set of instructions around it. (Ghandi's Gun is an example.) Other times I'll find myself in a situation I think has potential and I'll have to come up with a strip to fit the situation ("How to Explain Something to Someone who Doesn't Get it."). Other times a strip will just come almost fully formed out of a conversation I'm having with someone. Usually my wife, or my friend Ric. That's why he's in the strip. It's a form of credit where it's due. Also, if I can't figure out how to make a joke work, usually I can just phrase it in the form of an insult to Ric and it'll work.
DABRB: Now about Ric; there are some reoccurring characters in the strip. Is it safe to assume that they are all based on people you know?
Scott Meyer: Many are. My wife is an exaggerated version of my wife. Rick is pretty much Ric. I digitized him by adding a k to his name. Brilliant, I know. Mullet Boss is based on several people I've worked for. He's partially a great guy I worked for who wore suit jackets without ties and used to be a musician, a really personable guy. He's also partially this miserable, mullet wearing racist I worked for. There's also part of the guy I worked for in radio, who only had his job because his parents owned the station.
Many of the more occasional characters are members of my wife's old improv troupe in Seattle. I work from photographs, and they were really good at giving me poses that conveyed the emotions I needed. Those emotions are usually irritation, disgust and confusion.
DABRB: So what is your day to day drawing process like?
Scott Meyer: Interesting you should ask right now. I'm in the process of changing things a little.
DABRB: Do tell.
Scott Meyer: My art abilities have never quite been what I want them to be. I use computers to prop myself up in that regard. When I need a fresh piece of art, I start with a photo. Many of the characters are based on people I know, but a few of them are me disguised. I take the photo I need, then I drop it into the computer and draw over the top of it. I've been asked if I feel like this is cheating, but I never claimed to be doing anything else. If I'm not hiding it, how can it really be dishonest?
Anyway, I work in Adobe Illustrator, which is a vector graphics program. The advantage of that is that I can take a drawing and display it as a full body shot, or I can zoom all the way into one eyeball and it'll still look smooth. I've always repeated artwork. Lately I'm getting a little self conscious about it though. I set out to do more fresh artwork, but there was a snag. My wife and I still look pretty much the same, but Ric has totally changed his look. I'm going to be unveiling the "New Rick" tonight, and am bracing for the reaction.
As for putting the strip together, I have a library of existing poses for all of the major characters. I write the strip, get the words to where I'm happy with them, then I plug in and arrange the artwork.
DABRB: So it's more about the writing than the art.
Scott Meyer: Yes. I'd love to be a great artist, but sadly I just don't see it happening. Good writing can prop up bad art much better than great art can support terrible writing.
DABRB: You have to stick to what you know.
Scott Meyer: Indeed.
DABRB: You've had the same premise from some time now. How do you find new ways to keep things fresh?
Scott Meyer: That's a challenge. I've done something like four variations on pointing out the flaws in someone's plan. There are several ways to change it up. You've done one where it's someone elses plan and you're correcting it (How to correct someone), so have it be your plan and someone else is correcting it (how to take a note). Or you're correcting correcting it super-politely (how to offer constructive criticism) or you're being rude (How to shut down a moron before he does real damage). There's always a way. It's just a matter of finding it.
Scott Meyer: I also have several relationships in the strip that I use often. Me and my wife. Me and my boss. Me and the client who hates me. Me and Ric. Rocket-Hat vs. the Moon Men. If I'm using one of those too heavily I'll try to steer for to one of the others.
DABRB: I was browsing through your info page and I couldn't help but notice that one of your cats is supposedly a communist. What's the story behind that?
Scott Meyer: Back when we lived in Seattle, my wife and I decided to get a cat or two. We go to the humane society a little kitten that got out attention. We take it into the little room where you can play with the cat and get to know it. I think it's called the champagne room. It immediately walks up into my lap and falls asleep. Clearly, we had to have this cat. We adopt it and get some extra paperwork from the state department. Turns out that there was a Russian fishing trawler that was sized in the north Pacific for some reason. The crew was deported. The ship was sold off. There were several animals on board, including a cat that was the ship's pet and her litter of newborn kittens. Our cat was one of the kittens. We named him Comrade. Commie for short.
DABRB: Now something I like to do is to find out what webcomics that the various figures that I interview read. Do you have any favorites floating about in the interwebs?
Scott Meyer: Let's see. The webcomics I read regularly are Sinfest, Wondermark, Don't Eat Any Bugs, Moe comics, Penny Arcade, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and White Ninja. I also read Dilbert, Monty, Pearls Before Swine and What the Duck. I'm also an avid reader of the Comics Crumudgeon.
DABRB: Now I understand that you have an interesting story about getting started in by the one and only Scott Adams of Dilbert. What's going on with that?
Scott Meyer: Scott Adams contacted me out of the blue and promoted my comic on his website for no reason other than because he could. My daily traffic skyrocketed overnight. I have no idea how much traffic I'd be getting right now if he hadn't stepped in, but it'd be a lot less.
DABRB: Yeah, if would be great if someone did something like that here. *Hint Hint*
DABRB: Well Scott, I must say it has been a pleasure.
Scott Meyer: Same here.
Got questions, death threats, or suggestions for further interviews? Then drop a line to email@example.com or follow "DABRB" on Twitter. Stumblers don't forget to rate this sucker a thumbs up.