Dark Horse recently released Viva la Resistance, their second book collection of Sinfest, a daily online strip acclaimed as "the best webcomic out there". The reclusive creator, Tatsuya Ishida, spoke with PW Comics Week (for a second time) about his new book, his relationship with his readers, and his goals for the comic.
The first self-titled Sinfest Dark Horse volume was released in mid-2009, reprinting the strip from its beginning in 2000. Viva la Resistance jumps ahead to cover 2003-2004, a set of over 600 previously uncollected comics. Ishida praises the publisher for their great production quality, "much better than my self-published books." (He put out three from 2002-2005.)
A never-released second DH volume planned for late 2009 was intended to continue the chronological reprints, but it was canceled due to poor sales performance. "The thinking was, readers weren’t too keen on buying another collection of material that’s already been compiled. So they skipped over to the material that’s never seen print," Ishida clarifies. "I hope they eventually publish it, for the completists out there."
Although the collected comics date from several years ago, the material is fresh and timeless, with a cast that includes God, the Devil, their respective devout fanboys, a girl-chasing wannabe cool dude named Slick, and Monique, his poetry-spouting attention-seeking friend and lust object. The characters ponder politics as Slick runs for President, and struggle with questions of faith and purpose. Eventually, Satan gets fed up with God making fun of him (with hand puppets in the clouds) and quits, to be replaced by a philosophy-spouting dragon from the East. This all sounds more serious than it is, but for a lighter change of pace, there's Pooch and Percy, a dog and a cat with the same master, playing with their toys and behaving like, well, pets.
When asked how he balances the various storylines involving cute animals, love stories, cosmic beings, drug jokes and other recurring subjects, Ishida jokingly blames ADD. "I jump around between characters and situations pretty much on a whim. The longer storylines help to pull it all together, to harmonize the disparate elements in the strip. And that happens organically. Very little planning. I do a couple of strips in sequence, and before I know it, it snowballs into a month long arc."
Surprisingly, Ishida hasn't received many complaints about the various religious characters in the strip, but he's "gotten an earful over the political content. Incorporating religious figures in my strip came naturally to me. They interest me, so they find expression in my work. I like to think my treatment of them is thoughtful and playful, and not sacrilegious. Take, for example, Bishounen Jesus. He still battles evil, just with man beauty."
Another point of distinction is that Sinfest is updated more frequently than many other webcomics. Ishida's seven-days-a-week posting schedule mimics newspaper syndication, but recently, he's gone above and beyond on Sunday with color strips to give his readers "something extra fun and engaging." His goals are simple, and based in his own growth: "To make people laugh. To tell a good story. I’m pretty confident at writing gags, but I’m still learning how to tell a story. So that’s a goal;to improve as a storyteller."
Although many webcomic creators find that it helps their following to interact with their readers through blog posts, comment threads, and the like, Ishida is more private. In addition to the practical aspects—as he points out, "less socializing means I can concentrate more on the strip"—he praises his audience as "terrific. They’ve respected my privacy, they’ve been very supportive, and that motivates me to produce the best comic I can for them."
He believes that "as the strip has changed over the years, it stands to reason the readership has changed as well. Numbers have been growing steadily, with a sharp uptick during the Criminy/Fuchsia storyline. Their romance really seems to resonate with people." (Criminy is a bookish, quiet friend of Slick's -- and Fuchsia is a devil-girl, aide to Satan, who hasn't yet appeared in the period contained in Viva la Resistance. Their "opposites attract" relationship is charming, as he reads to her, unaware of her "day job".)
With no plans to quit—"I plan to draw Sinfest till I physically can’t. Like Charles Schulz did with Peanuts."—no long-term stories planned—"It’s so secret even I don’t know."—and maybe even no happy endings--"I can’t promise any happy endings. Only happy moments."—Ishida's work will be left to speak for itself. Just the way its fans like it.