I was lucky to discover Buttersafe relatively early in the comic’s life; they were actually one of the very first Kittysneezes/Project Wonderful advertisers (see, Project Wonderful ads DO lead to hits! I can guarantee for the most part at least ONE click through — me!). I ended up returning the favor, and from time to time our ads will show up on one another’s sites, so that’s pretty cool.
Of course, this isn’t just a lame “Oh, they are an advertiser, better make ’em happy” type of article — I became a big fan of their strip. The absurdist humor and deceptively simple art style is right up my alley. After reading Buttersafe for, geez, about a year now, I decided I’d ask for an interview with Alex Culang (his strips usually run Thursdays) and Raynato Castro (Tuesdays usually for him), the creators of Buttersafe and hosts of the very first Buttersafe Expo, a convention for fans of pizza (and also the strip).
Part the First
At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?
Alex: I just recently realized how awesome the theme to the original Metroid is. Seriously, what a great, elegant composition. I listen to it on loop.
Ray: “Rainbow Road,” the song from a video Alex linked me to on YouTube.
What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?
Ray: Los Pekenikes. People only haven’t heard of them because they were a band in Spain in the 1960s. They do mostly just instrumental, jazzy stuff, but it’s all really pleasant to listen and dance in front of the mirror to.
Alex: My favorite band of all time is The Dismemberment Plan. They’re certainly not the most obscure of the obscure or anything, but more people should listen to them than currently do.
What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?
Ray: Hanging next to my college diploma that took 4.25 years to obtain, I have my most cherished piece of paper: my kung fu certificate of completion. It is pretty awesome because it basically means I am a lethal weapon and can beat people up without even trying.
Alex: I have a print out of the DVD cover of You Got Served.
What’s the strangest thing you own?
Alex: I have a print out of the DVD cover of You Got Served.
Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)? Alex: Ray and I gave each other a really good high-five a while ago. It was the kind that is really loud but doesn’t hurt at all. Truly excellent.
Ray: That is definitely my ALL-TIME FAVORITE THING.
Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?
Ray: I can’t say for sure that he is my favorite of all time, but off the top of my head I can name the kung fu director, Lau Kar Leung, as one of my favorite visual artists. His choreography is long and intricate, with up to 10 or 15 movements before changing the shot. And all his films are really beautifully shot and convey the traditional styles of kung fu very well.
Alex: I’m a big fan of Andreas Gursky. Given the scale of his images, it’s hard not to be a little wowed seeing them in person, but I think he’s got something going on beyond just the gee-whiz factor of large format photography.
What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?
Alex: I haven’t had much time for films lately. We’re lucky enough to have an awesome drive-in theater near by, and I caught The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man back to back there a week ago with some friends. Beyond that… I borrowed Seijun Suzuki‘s Tokyo Nagaremono a while ago from a friend, and I think we watched The Baby Sitters Club at a party a month or two ago, but I don’t think I’ve watched much lately.
Ray: The last movie I saw in theaters was Sex and the City. I went there willingly with some ladies. There were more ladies when I got there. I’d never watched the TV show, but I enjoyed the movie a lot, even more than the new Indiana Jones, which I saw a week before. I also played and beat Metal Gear Solid 4, which is basically a movie. And I probably watched a bunch of kung fu movies, but I can’t remember their names anymore since I’ve seen so (too) many.
What’re your top three movies?
Alex: Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Brad Neely‘s Wizard People, Dear Reader, although I’m not sure if that last one counts as a movie or not.
Ray: John Woo’s Hard Boiled because I can watch it over and over and not get bored, The Empire Strikes Back for the same reason as Hard Boiled, and Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together because it makes me cry :(.
Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?
Alex: I have a lot of talented friends who have given me drawings and photographs.
Ray: Nope. I hate art.
What is your favorite game?
Ray: Quake 3, or more specifically, Rocket Arena 3. I was pretty hardcore into those shooter games, and I know that that game definitely ate a lot of my time during high school and part of college. These days though I don’t play as much. It’s more stress than I can handle trying to play them since there are a lot more competitive people out there these days. But of course, I love that game.
Alex: Tag is pretty excellent, as long as everyone involved is in roughly the same physical condition. Reverse Tag, where everyone is It except for one person, is even better. Also, Ray and I sat down and beat Legend of the Mystical Ninja in one evening a while ago, and that game still continues to be ridiculously awesome after all these years.
What sort of pie do you enjoy?
Ray: Banana Creme oh my goooosshh.
Alex: It comes down to either my mom’s peach pie or my girlfriend’s pecan pie. Both pies are the finest examples of their kind.
If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?
Alex: Hi David Byrne!
Ray: How are you?
Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.
Alex: We both grew up about 5 minutes away from this fine establishment, which has garnered a tiny chunk of internet fame for its jingle.
What are your five most favorite books in the world?
Alex: My memory is so terrible, I feel like I’ll forget all the best ones if I try to make a list. I like Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut and Dr. Suess. I’m reading a really interesting book right now about nature and economics by Geerat Vermeij, who I had as a professor a couple years ago.
Ray: Despite majoring in English in college, I don’t think I’ve read enough books to have a clear idea about what my favorites are. I really liked The Thrawn Trilogy for Star Wars. Also, the only Shakespeare play I really enjoyed was The Comedy of Errors. And I found Schaum’s Outline of Biology to be a really useful book for studying for exams. That’s five, right?
What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?
Alex: It doesn’t make for a very good story, but when I was a small child my uncle graduated from some institution of higher learning, and I just remember being utterly bored out of my skull during the ceremony. Basically any adult function that you have to go to as a child seems incredibly dull, but for some reason that particular event has always seared itself into my brain as the distilled essence of boring. It still aggravates me to think about it.
Ray: Listening to Alex tell that story.
If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?
Ray: “Super Great.” I think this name would give the child a great head start in terms of confidence in school and he or she would never be bullied or teased because of it.
What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?
Alex: I would take the gun that fires cats, discharge the entire clip at my couch, and then snuggle with the cats all day.
What is your favorite meal?
Alex: Breakfast if someone makes it for me, super late night dinner if I’m cooking for myself.
Ray: I like soup because it’s hot and I don’t have to chew very much.
What is reality?
Ray: It’s what real estate agents sell.
Alex: Reality is the place where I keep my stuff.
Part the Second
How was Buttersafe Expo?
Ray: It was pretty awesome. We met a lot of cool people and I think everybody had a lot of fun. Also, there were ice cream cake and glow sticks.
Alex: The original joke was that we were going to throw a convention that no one would be interested in coming too, but people foiled that plan by showing up and hanging out and being awesome. We even had to order extra pizzas. Basically what we’re saying is that everyone should try asking the Internet out for pizza, because it seems to work out surprisingly well.
What do you guys do outside of Buttersafe?
Alex: Break stuff, steal things.
Ray: Fix things, return stuff.
What other comics do you like or feel influenced by?
Alex: Our number one influence is definitely Nedroid. All of his comics are charming, brilliant, and hilarious. Basically, everyone should stop reading Buttersafe and go read Nedroid instead.
Alex: We’re also big fans of Dinosaur Comics, Achewood, Super Mega Comics, Penny Arcade, and a lot of the other big name web comics that everyone knows and loves.
Ray: There’s also this guy named Andrew Lin who, if you read through his archive, has definitely had an influence on our work (particularly the long strips). He hasn’t posted anything on that site for a long time, but it’s still fun to go back and re-read the comics for the umpteenth time.
Do you have any desire to pursue any sort of publishing or syndication?
Alex: We’re not seeking out publishers at all, although we’re not opposed to the idea. Right now we’re working on a self-published collection of Buttersafe strips from our first year.
Ray: Hopefully that will be done before we complete a second year of comics.
Will you do any more YouTube adaptations of strips?
Alex: We might. Time is a bit scarce lately and the main comic is always the top priority, but if we get the chance we’d certainly like to do more. Those first two were really just sort of a test run to see if it was doable and enjoyable.
How did that idea come about to make the YouTube shorts?
Alex: Now would probably be a good time to give a shout out to Arthur, the third but much less visible member of Team Buttersafe. Ray and I do all the comics, but Arthur does all the hard stuff like building and maintaining the website, managing our (albeit limited) finances, and also promoting the comic in various ways.
Ray: Arthur is always coming up with new ways to promote or present Buttersafe. The YouTube shorts are one way that Arthur thought of to share Buttersafe with a different audience. He used the art from the strips, but the videos were entirely of his creation. Thanks, Arthur!
Alex: Yeah, he’s always pushing us in new, fun directions. If you were up at 5:00am watching Comedy Central a few months ago you actually would have been able to see Buttersafe‘s first television commercial. We can’t always use all of his crazy ideas, but Buttersafe would not be at all what it is today without him.
Who are your comedy influences?
Alex: All the webcomics we mentioned earlier are probably our biggest influences. I read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut when I was pretty young, and I think he’s partially responsible for my dry sense of humor. Also, anyone who doesn’t know who Brad Neely is should Google him now and consume what you find.
Ray: I don’t really follow comedians or watch much TV, but I guess most of the influences on my sense of humor have come from the people I talk to or hang out with. A lot of the ideas for my comics have come from conversations I’ve had with people–they don’t even have to say something funny, I’ll just think about something else in my head and try using it later. Also, every night since I was in elementary school I would watch Conan O’Brien before bed. I read later (when I got good at reading) that he tries pretty hard at being funny, that he has a pretty good work ethic. I think that has affected me a bit, or at least makes me feel okay about sitting in front of a piece of paper for hours, thinking about how to make something funny.
Alex: I don’t listen to many comedians either, but that reminded me that I do enjoy Mitch Hedberg quite a bit. That way he had of bringing up some absurd topic, but then picking out some aspect of it and pursuing it to its logical conclusion is something I think I try to imitate.
Have you gotten any cool fan stuff?
Alex: We try to post up most of the awesome stuff that fans send us on the main page because we like sharing it with everyone. It’s always super flattering.
Ray: One time while Googling I found NSFW Saddest Turtle & Jolly Octopus fanart.
Do you have a reason for mostly using stick figures in the strip? It appears that you both do have pretty good drawing skills from some of the other stuff in the strips.
Alex: We always try to use whatever style we think works best for a given joke. A lot of the time we just think the simplicity of the stick figure brings out the humor the best, but we try not to be lazy about the art if the idea we come up with requires something more elaborate.
Ray: True that. Also, stick figures are somewhat faster to draw, but not really that much faster since it still takes an hour or two (or more) to draw a comic. Basically what Alex said.
Alex: Two hours would be an extremely fast strip for me. I work so slow. Doing a comic is usually an all-day affair for me.
How do you create the strip?
Alex: On the technical end, it’s just graphics tablets and Photoshop.
Ray: On the creative end, the idea for a comic could come from anywhere. A lot of the time when Alex and I are talking we’ll say something funny and think “Oh yeah, that could be a comic,” but 98% of those don’t really amount to anything. Sometimes we wake up from naps with an excellent idea in our heads and write it down so we don’t lose it. Even more often it is 10pm and our comic should be up in 2 hours (12am) and we are staring at a blank screen and we have to just force ourselves to draw something.
Do you have any other projects you’d like to mention?
Ray: A lot of people have asked about t-shirts, and we’re working on getting some designed within the next couple of months.
Alex: I’d like to mention my third grade science project, which took 1st place at the district fair.