Launching today is Sparkshooter, a new webcomic by ‘Rama alum Troy Brownfield and Sarah Vaughn about friendship, music and doing what you have to, because it’s what you love. In case today’s first episode isn’t enough to whet your appetite, I talked to Troy about what to expect from the story as it unfolds, where it comes from, and why now is the time for Sarah Vaughan.
Okay, so Sparkshooter. Where does it come from?
Sparkshooter is set in the Indianapolis music scene around 2003. At that point, what had been kind of a stagnant, disjointed scene in some senses had spent a couple of years being galvanized by two forces: a website named IndianapolisMusic.net, and a local label called Benchmark Records. IMN became the center of the whole scene, with literally hundreds of bands joining up and thousands of members posting on the message boards. Benchmark sponsored an annual Battle of the Bands that stretched for months, with sometimes up to a dozen bands competing in weekly qualifying rounds toward a finals (featuring 7 acts) that resulted in the winner getting a large prize (like a touring van) and the option of recording/joining Benchmark. For various reasons in the strip, I have a different name attached to the battle. Page 1 takes place after the end of such an analagous finals show.
One band I managed, Samsell, made it to the Finals at roughly the same time. It’s not a direct adaptation by any means, but understanding the mechanics and machinations that go into such a process played a big part in shaping certain arcs of the story. The whole battle of the bands concept is so goal-oriented; it’s a built in conceit for the characters to strive for, that making/winning the finals.
Why do this as a webcomic? Or, perhaps, why do a webcomic about this? What makes the world of music the right thing to make a webcomic about?
I’ve spend a lot of time in the band orbit, beginning in my teens, going through college, post-college, etc. That whole thing is a part of who I am. At a certain point, you’ve accumulated so many stories, mostly funny, that the anecdotes you share become part of the mythology of a band or the whole experience. Somewhere along the line, it struck me that weaving together different elements of my experiences, but fictionalizing them, might make for a compelling, or at least fun, story. In terms of the webcomic, we’d kicked around other formats, but we just kept circling back to it. The story is rather episodic in nature; this is just a version of that.
You’ve been teasing the “official” start of the strip for awhile, with various promo images introducing what seems to be the main characters… What’s that about?
Okay, the four promo pieces all take place before Page 1 (which posts Wednesday). Promo 1 was a few weeks prior, Promos 2 and 3 were a few days prior, and Promo 4 is earlier in the day of Page 1. If you haven’t seen the four promos, they’re all viewable right now at www.sparkshooter.com. The pre-Sparkshooter band, consisting of Sean, Elihu, Michael, Lowell and Ray (who isn’t seen in the promos) is called “Crazy Yeats”.
I loved the humor in the promos, there’s something suitably optimistic about it, especially considering the fact that bands rarely make any kind of money in their early days and are fired by the pure love of performing and just doing it. How much of that comes from your memory and experience of the music biz, and how much is a translation of the similar rock’n'roll thrills of doing a webcomic?
I’m glad you enjoyed the humor! While there are a lot of emotions in any communal creative situation (friendship, resentment, bad romance, etc.), the thing that’s always struck me about the band deal is that we just spent a lot of time laughing and generally having a great time. One time we did a show when I was with the Frank Booth Project . . . it was a Monday night Halloween show. We got together and practiced our set, literally throwing in like three new things just for that night (like Monster Mash), got some food, went right to the venue, and played an hour later. And we had a ball. A couple of the guys at the club still talk about that night for a couple of related reasons. But to drive it back: without romanticizing it too much, there’s definitely a kind of sunny optimism underlying any band. Consider that there are really only two options for any band: you either stay together forever, success or not, or you split. So you never enter a band thinking it’s option 2; you always go in thinking that THIS is the one that’s going to work. So that “love of doing it”, to me, is a very real component of why people still get together in the garage to see what sound they can make.
I’m curious about the mechanics of how to do music in a webcomic, because it feels like that format can go even further than print comics in representing it. Is it spoiling something to ask if you have plans that’ll surprise us?
I will say that Sarah and I have had a few discussions about representing music. Certainly it’s a different sort of thing in a comic. Without spoiling anything, it’s going to be a while before you see the band play as a band in the comic. By the time that happens, there might be a special thing or two about it.
Tell me about Sarah; I’m not familiar with her name, but there’s been some lovely work in the promos.
Sarah Vaughn is, simply, one of the best students I ever had. Early on when I was teaching at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, my friend and chair Terry McCammon told me about this student that wanted to do an individualized major. That in itself wasn’t unusual, as that kind of thing was something that the school offered. What WAS different was that this student really wanted to build around Sequential Art. Now, the school didn’t really offer that, but Terry (who taught web design and some film) and the art department got together and put together some things to really benefit her. And of course, that was Sarah. I ended up having Sarah in a creative writing class that Terry and I team taught, and I got to know her well over several years. If you’re a teacher, you appreciate the special ones, and you could just tell from early on that she had a lot of talent to go along with being incredibly smart and funny. As she was nearing graduation a few years ago, I told her about the inklings of this project, and said that I thought she was really the one to do it; it was totally in her style, and she was into music, fashion . . . things that fit. To her credit, even though she worked out some ideas, Sarah always felt that she needed the time to grow into it. It’s time.
The first page of Sparkshooter is up at the site right now. You should really go and check it – and the promos – out now.