JOE IS DEAD – Now what??

sssfrs is a student from Boston studying ecology and evolutionary biology, and working toward a career that integrates biology and art. They are Jewish and they speak Hebrew and English. They’ve been writing satire for their school publication for 5 years and drawing and making comics their whole life. They are also very passionate about sailing and maritime history. They are the creator of JOE IS DEAD.

Synopsis: JOE IS DEAD is a story about living and dead pirates. While stationed on an island off the coast of China, a band of sea-faring thieves discover the body of their best navigator, Joseph Cinnabar. They grieve over their dear friend, immediately lay claim to his possessions, and make a disorderly effort to carry out his final wishes.
Morbidly humorous and set in a surreal world where piracy flourishes, JOE IS DEAD deals with themes of loss, fitting in, and bonds of trust between people.

Is your comic available in any other languages? If so, what language(s)?
Currently, no. Eventually I plan to translate JOE IS DEAD into Hebrew and Spanish.

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I haven’t received any formal art or media-writing education.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
It’s hard to say. On Tapas, it’s listed as “mystery”, and on Webtoons it’s “mystery and historical,” but it’s not really realistic enough to be true historical fiction, and not focused on intrigue enough to be a mystery. It’s just supposed to be funny and sad and a bit of social commentary.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
I mostly went into it above. It might also be considered an adventure story? I really don’t know. I’m just having a lot of fun making it.

What was your inspiration for the story?
At first I had been designing characters and casually working out a story to put them in. I knew for a while I wanted the story to be centered around death, allude to the book of Jonah, and take place in a nautical setting. With the sudden death of my grandfather two summers ago, I was thinking about death a lot and I finally decided to get started working on this comic sort of as a way of processing it and getting my thoughts down on paper.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
I read a lot of nautical fiction and nonfiction. Moby Dick is my favorite ever book aside from the bible. Also Patrick O’Brian novels, Two Years Before the Mast, and various primary source books about sea voyages. I’m a very big fan of Fridtjof Nansen and Georg Steller. I included an excerpt from a Lord Tennyson poem about death in the beginning of Joe is dead that I was really obsessed with around the time of starting work on it and I am still very obsessed with it.

My favorite painter is Ivan Aivazovsky. I love scrimshaw art and lithography and woodcut art and I try to incorporate the texture and patterns of those forms of art into my stuff. I also like Egon Schiele, Ephraim Moshe Lilein, and Inuit artwork and ancient near eastern art as broad visual styles.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
Probably four hours on average. It depends, though. Some are more or less complicated.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I use Clip Studio Paint and a digital tablet. First I start out by thumbnailing a whole chapter with rough sketches and typing the text onto the image, figuring out the text placement. Then I do the line art on top of that, which is usually the longest step. Then I color in the pages, working through the chapter coloring one character at a time, then the objects in the scene, then the backgrounds. I never use new colors–I always color pick from pre-determined palettes. I also listen to podcasts or documentaries while I draw (but not while writing or planning–I can’t focus on both at the same time).

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
It’s not finished. There will be an ending and it will be really awesome and I know all of what needs to happen before we get there but I don’t have an exact idea of how long it’ll take to get there. I’ve been working for one year on top of all my schoolwork and I can easily see it taking another five years to complete.

How many pages do you have complete at the moment?
Right now there are 109 pages published. Another 50 are currently being worked on in Clip Studio.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
It took me years to decide exactly what I wanted to do and get all the designs down. I didn’t have it all scripted and neatly organized before starting, and I still don’t have every chapter scripted out. That’s just not really how my brain works, but I don’t feel disorganized about it. I like writing out the specific dialogue more on the fly. I feel like it comes out more naturally that way.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
It’s all been pretty challenging to do, and it takes a lot of time. So many panels come out wonky. I get myself through it, and I’ve powered through some rough patches by telling myself that this is all a rough draft and it doesn’t have to look perfect. When drawing the same characters hundreds and hundreds of times over, it’s not realistic that every one of those drawings is going to look great. I have to remember that there’s no way to make it all look one hundred percent good, and that’s fine, because the story is the important part.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
I like drawing the scenery, boats, backgrounds, animals. It’s fun to create a place and then put my own characters that I made up into that world and make them do things. I also love writing dialogue and funny things. I think I’m better at writing dialogue than I am at drawing.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
My tablet doesn’t work very well, and it gives me such a hard time. When I started I had a tablet that I loved and worked perfectly, but it stopped working with my computer and the new one I got has a lot of glitches and problems. It’s very annoying but I just tolerate the glitches as well as I can and make the best pictures that I can in spite of it.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
My favorite character is Simón. I don’t know if he’s my favorite to write per se, but he’s my favorite overall because his story and the character arc he will have are the most meaningful and emotional to me personally. Cricket also has a very meaningful course set for her development and she is probably the most centrally main character but she’s kind of mean and nasty when she talks, so I can’t say I enjoy writing her the most. The most fun characters and conversations to write are the ones where they’re just having fun and being silly or evil.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
It’s harder to write the characters who are mostly serious, intimidating, or have more complicated relationships with other characters. Captain Harriet Hopper is probably the most challenging because she has a lot at stake in every scene. It’s in her best interest to choose her words carefully to maintain authority over the crew and make the right decisions for them, but she isn’t perfectly confident in herself.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
I like to draw Marigold the most because she has a pretty yellow dress and earrings. Cricket is also fun because she has very long arms and legs and as a result she is very loopy. Also sometimes her hat covers her eyes and I like to draw that.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Frogmouth–because there are so many details to her costume, it always takes a long time. I’m going to change up her outfit in the coming chapters to make it easier.

Where can we find you?
My comic site: https://joeisdead.com/
Tapas: https://tapas.io/series/JoeIsDead
Webtoons: https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/joe-is-dead/list?title_no=338222
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sssfrs_
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sssfrs_/
Tumblr: https://sssfrs.tumblr.com/
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/sssfrs
Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/sssfrs

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about myself. 🙂
If anyone wants to contact me, Twitter is the best place for that. I’m happy to talk more about the comic or animals or boats or anything.