Koren Shadmi has hit the half-way mark with his literate and foreboding web comic The Abaddon. As he gears up to finish the work, Shadmi has turned to Kickstarter, the popular crowdfunding website, as a way to find funds to support himself until the work is completed.
The Abaddon is loosely based on the play No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 exercise in existentialism that served as a precursor to classics like Waiting For Godot. Sartre’s play involves people trapped in a room that is quickly revealed as hell. Shadmi’s version makes the setting very specifically an apartment in Brooklyn, and the notion of Hell much more vague, making the story part philosophical meditation, part examination of relationship dynamics that are all too real.
“I thought it would be an interesting character story,” Shadmi said, “where you can really explore the relationship between these really dysfunctional people, people who don’t at all match with each other and they all want something that the other one doesn’t want. They’re all totally incompatible. It’s kind of like Three’s Company meeting Jean Paul Sartre.”
Shadmi, who is also the author of In the Flesh, a collection of comics short stories published by Del Rey in 2009, drew his inspiration from his years in New York, bringing his own roommate experiences into the mix, as well as those of friends. The apartment itself is based on an actual location in South Williamsburg in Brooklyn, known as being a regular rooming house for cartoonists in the area.
“It’s big,” he said. “It’s like a two-story loft, and there’s rumors that it used to be a brothel, but nobody really knows. It’s just this huge space and then upstairs there are all these small little rooms, and there are ten people living there or something like that.” The actual apartment was so influential to the story that the it’s the one part of the web comic that is almost entirely based in fact. Shadmi designed the comic’s setting from reference photos he took for that purpose.
The setting, as well as the plot, demanded a visual style to match and Shadmi turned to his commercial illustration work for cartooning hints. The web comic is drawn in pencil, then scanned and further developed in Photoshop, including some watercolor textures over the pencils.
“I wanted it to feel like a non-earthly or non natural environment, so everyone’s milky or glowing,” said Shadmi. “It doesn’t feel like it’s fully in our world. That’s part of the reason I didn’t ink it — I wanted it to look less permanent, less harsh.”
The pencils are the key to the process. Shadmi takes more time with them knowing the work will not be inked and that these lines will be the final ones. Once they are digitized, he works with the contrast to bring them out a little more.
“I think there’s something good about that, where you don’t lose as much of the original lines and the original action of the characters, their expressions,” Shadmi said. “When you draw and then go over the lines, sometimes I feel it loses some of that, you erase the pencil.”
The point of the undertaking as a digital comic — and not just something he worked on in private and attempted to sell or publish when he was done — is one of motivation. He had never done a full graphic novel before — his previously published work was all short stories — Shadmi says devoting himself to a regular web comic was a way of tricking himself into finishing the longer work.
“My plan was I’d start posting this online and people would start reading it and I will feel like I will owe it to them to keep doing it and owe it to myself to keep doing it,” he said. “It’s kind of a psychological trick to trick myself into finishing this really big story, something that I’ve never done before.”
Shadmi’s hope was that something would come out of it, and he is happy to say that it already has. About half way through the first part, he was approached by French publisher Vertige Graphic to put out The Abaddon in Europe. Once the second part of the web comic is completed, Shadmi will shop it around in North America, but first he has to do the work and that means time. The first half was completed by squeezing a few pages in between illustration assignments.
“I feel like a lot of people say ‘I’m going to take a year off and I’m just going to do this one project,’” Shadmi said. “I have some friends that do that—I’m just going to be doing this project and I can’t possibly have anything interfere, because I have to be immersed. But I live in NY and I can’t afford that luxury. I had to keep taking on jobs and in between them, switch gears from doing an illustration about mutual funds or old people retirement houses or something like that to do this existential comic.”
Shadmi’s hope is to buy himself some productive time through a Kickstarter campaign, the crowdfunding website that has become a popular venue for rasing money for all kinds of projects, including comics. Shadmi’s campaign has until March 21 to raise $3,000 and he’s very close to his goal. “I figure if you’ve read it and like it enough to fund the second part, then this would be a good time to do it,” he said.
Shadmi’s goal is to buy himself a month to devote entirely to working on The Abaddon — a month where he takes no freelance work. He’s never used the web comic for any sort of profit, spurning ads and merchandising. It’s Shadmi’s hope that he can give back to the web comic what it’s given him, and, in turn, guarantee that the thousands of readers who have supported him to the half-way mark will get the satisfaction of the complete work.
“I’m doing it for myself and I wanted to do something that I’m proud of and something I can follow and keep doing for a long time and keep my attention. I notice that as far as web comics go, it’s not a very typical web comic.”