What do you call a story about grandfathers, comas, legacies, and mysteries?
Perhaps Sin Titulo is the only good name for it.
Though you might not have heard of it, Cameron Stewart, the artist behind Seaguy and the Apocalipstix, has been setting Twitter aflame with his neo-noir webcomic, as part of the ambitious Transmission X crew. With Sin Titulo, Stewart has charted out the course for Alex MacKay, a lowly fact-checker who begins to fall deeper and deeper into a mystery linked by his late grandfather and a mysterious woman in sunglasses. Cameron was kind enough to answer a few questions for Newsarama as a primer for his work.
David Pepose: Well, first and foremost, I have to ask — what inspired this story for you? It seems like such a hodge-podge of different genres, yet it all seems to work.
Cameron Stewart: When I first decided that I was going to do a comic of my own, I started with an entirely different premise – I was intending to write a pulpy action adventure series, and I attempted to sit down and script the entire story from beginning to end. I found this much more difficult than I’d anticipated, and I became crippled by the pressure of wanting every early scene to cleverly pay off later, every line of dialogue to have multiple layers of meaning, and so it became really unenjoyable to try to write this way. I shelved that idea (I’ll probably revisit it at some point in the future) and decided that I was instead going to try working on something that was more open, more stream-of-consciousness, something that allowed me to feel free to explore different plotlines as and when I thought of them. I wanted to do something fluid and dreamlike and so the first page of the comic (which has since developed into a significant part of the story) is taken from an actual dream that I’d had.
Around this time I’d also found out that my grandfather had passed away, and had been dead for almost a month and I’d not known about it. I felt terrible and guilty and so I thought it might be a form of self-therapy to incorporate that event into the story. From there it’s developed naturally into a mystery story based on my interest in that genre. It’s been described by various sources as a stylistic mashup of Raymond Chandler, David Lynch, Haruki Murakami and “Lost,” all of whom I’m a fan.
DP: When you came up with this comic, what made you decide “webcomic” was the proper medium for this story?
CS: Well mainly it was because I was entering into a project with all of my friends - the TX Comics collective – which was a group effort to make comics for our own personal creative enjoyment, and since publishing on the web is so inexpensive and easy it seemed like the natural way to go. We also are all very firm believers that the internet and digital media are very obviously the future of entertainment and that – for better or for worse – print media’s days are numbered, so the sooner we embrace these new methods of delivery, the better. I also like the autonomy that working on the web gives me – since I’m working for myself and not a publisher, I can write and draw without any editorial influence and deliver the story from my desk to the audience in a matter of hours. It’s also very gratifying to get feedback from the readers as the story progresses – I can tell what parts of the story really resonate with the audience and which parts aren’t working. Early on in the story I had a lot of criticism that Alex, my main character, was a bit bland, a bit of a cipher, and so that motivated me to put extra effort into developing his character. I’m glad that I received those responses early in the creation rather than after a book was printed and sitting on the shelf.
DP: Just to get into your head a little bit about the writing side of it — in your own words, could you describe to new readers a little bit about Alex MacKay?
CS: Alex is a guy who had kind of a miserable childhood in a dysfunctional family, and has grown into an adult with some fairly significant personality disorders that he’s probably unaware of. He wanted to be a writer but a lack of ambition and talent held him back and so he’s ended up as a fact-checker at a magazine. He’s a little stubborn and self-absorbed and so when he begins to pursue the mystery of his grandfather’s death, and the mysterious woman that he sees in a photograph, he’s oblivious to the danger that he starts to put himself and others in.
DP: Something that really interested me in this was the art style. It’s so different from what I’ve seen you do in things like Seaguy or The Apocalipstix. Could you describe a little bit how you shift gears like that?
CS: Most of the aesthetic choices in Sin Titulo were practical ones – I need to write, pencil, ink, color and letter a page in the space of a few hours on a weekend and so I made decisions that would make the process as efficient as possible. Having the same 8-panel grid on every page eliminates having to waste time experimenting with different page layouts and panel sizes. I chose a single color rather than full color and decided to draw in a loose, rough style so that I wasn’t fussing over detail and clean linework. Part of it is an exercise for me to not be so precious with my art, in most of my print work I tend to obsessively tweak and redraw things to make them look “prettier” and so with Sin Titulo I made the decision that the story was the most important thing, and that it didn’t matter if the drawings were loose and imperfect.
DP: Now I noticed that this comic has been in the works since July 2007 — so we’re about two years since the first page came out. I wanted to ask — how have things changed for you in those two years, and how has that impacted the comic?
CS: It’s actually changed and developed quite differently than I’d anticipated – one of the interesting things about spreading the work out over a long period is that I’m influenced by things that are going on in my life at the time, so that going back and reading over the strip feels like a weird diary of my life for the last couple of years. Obviously not everything is drawn from my life , a lot of it is still fiction, but I can remember how a line of dialogue was inspired by something I’d heard or felt at that time or how a scene was developed because of a random experience.
DP: We’re at Page 79 right now. How far will Sin Titulo run for? Is the ending in sight?
CS: I don’t have an exact page count but I would imagine that it will top out around 150-200 pages.
DP: I touched upon this a little bit earlier, but do you plan on ever releasing Sin Titulo in print?
CS: Absolutely. I’d always planned on printing it, possibly self-publishing, but I’m very pleased to have been approached by several publishers in Europe and America who are interested in releasing a book when it’s complete. Whatever happens there will be a book sometime down the road.
DP: Finally — is there anything people should know about this webcomic that they don’t already?
CS: The parts that are autobiographical aren’t necessarily the parts you think.