Interview: Charlie “Spike” Trotman

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Charlie “Spike” Trotman is the creator of “Templar, Arizona”, a critically acclaimed long-form “culture fiction” webcomic hosted on Keenspot. Beyond simply being a character story, “Templar” focuses on its titular city as a whole as much as its residents. Recently, “Templar, Arizona” saw print with a fan-financed first chapter, and completed a similar pre-order fundraiser to print chapter two. She has other projects in the pipeline, and between regular convention appearances and work, manages to update on a regular basis with well-detailed and amazingly inked artwork. She can be found at her blog, Iron Circus, and on a webcomic forum near you.

Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

Spike: Oh man, good question. Either “Gotta Understand” by Jurassic 5 or “Cypress Grove” by Clutch.

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

Spike: I’m shamefully mainstream. William Elliott Whitmore is seriously as underground as it gets, for me. He’s this blues-singing dude I saw when he was on tour with Clutch, I was all kinds of impressed. Plug his name into whatever you use to pirate music and check him out. Then buy all his albums, okay?

What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?

Spike: A gas mask, a ritual mask from Bali, a Skip Williamson/S. Clay Wilson print, a silver-pen-on-black-paper drawing of a skeleton catching fireflies, and a Chris Van Allsburg print from “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.”

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Spike: That would have to be the mummified rat. I embalmed him myself!

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

Spike: Huh. Uhm. I’m not sure. I’d say “Templar,” but that thing drives me crazy.

Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?

Spike: “Excluding myself.” Ahaha. Have you ever seriously had anyone answer “myself?” Good Lord.

Right now, It’s a dead heat between Charles Burns, Dave Cooper and Alex Gross. Ask me tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer, though. Who can only pick one? I wouldn’t trust the taste of anyone who can.

What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?

Spike: The Other Boleyn Girl, which was inaccurate and hammy. The new Hulkmovie, which I shut off halfway through. Capturing the Friedmans, which was incredible. The Bridge, which was equally incredible. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, which was watchable, but not life-altering.

What’re your top three movies?

Spike: Metropolis, the animated Tezuka version, is a masterpiece. Tod Browning‘s Freaksis unlike any other film. And Wizardsprobably had more of an effect on me, creatively, than anyone’s guessed.

Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?

Spike: Do the previously mentioned print and skeleton drawing count? I wish I could remember the name of the guy who I bartered with for the drawing, but it totally escapes me.

What is your favorite game?

Spike: I can’t pick just one! Team Fortress 2, The Sims 2, Sim City 4, Startopia, Colonization, Lemmings, The Hero’s Quest/Quest for Glory series, the Space Quest series, Tropico, Overlord… I love games.

I’m still waiting for someone to make The Perfect Game, though. I’m convinced that I would completely lose myself if someone released a game that was just you, the player, lording it over a bunch of tiny, primitive cave-people. You could either be an omnipotent benefactor, or a bloodthirsty demon demanding sacrifice! Lead the tiny hunters to the herd of mammoth and allow them to weather the winter well-fed, or burn down their tiny homes and throw their children into rivers? You decide!

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

Spike: Pumpkin, key lime and lemon meringue!

If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?

Spike: “Hey, lemme play the building!”

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

Spike: Well, see, I don’t actually watch TV. Where I live, there is zero reception, and the only remedy for that is getting cable, and I don’t want cable. If there’s a TV show I wanna see, I download it, and the guys who cap the shows always cut out the commercials. As a result, I don’t see many.

But years and years ago, when I was working retail and sitting in the break room for lunch, I saw a commercial for payday loans, featuring MC Hammer. It featured a guy complaining about a lack of money, and then POOF, a tiny, fairy-sized MC Hammer appeared to sing the praises of the loan company on the guy’s shoulder.

I, and several other people in the break room at the time, all had the same thought simultaneously: Who on Earth would take FINANCIAL ADVICE from MC Hammer?

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

Spike: A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, by Jan Bondeson. Black Hole, by Charles Burns. The Roaches Have No King, by Daniel Evan Weiss. Empire of Unreason, by J. Gregory Keyes. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, by Michael Shermer.

What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?

Spike: Office temp work. Filing, specifically.

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

Spike: Atomic for a boy, Fury for a girl.

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

Spike: Cats are more hateful.

What is your favorite meal?

Spike: Dim sum!

What is reality?

Spike: The part of the universe that insists on existing, whether you believe in it or not.

Part the Second

How, in as few words as possible, did you get your start in comics?

Spike: With minicomics, back in the days of Factsheet Five. I went to Kinko’s, printed up some comics, and sold them to other kids in my high school. I made eighty bucks on my first run of minis. I thought I was some pretty hot shit!

Where did the “Spike” moniker originate from?

Spike: My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time. He said I reminded him of a song called “I’m in love with a girl named Spike.” I thought that was pretty cool, so I went with it.

For the uninitiated, where did the genesis of “Templar, Arizona” originate from?

Spike: In all honesty? “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

Templar used to be a lot more like Toon Town from that movie, full of goofy, funny crap. Portable holes, singing trees, endless chaos, that sort of thing. I saw that movie when I was kid, I thought the idea of this alternate universe full of cartoon characters, cartoon physics and cartoon logic was fantastic. So, I completely stole it. Templar was called “Port Royal” back then. It was partitioned off from the rest of the world with a dotted line that run the city’s perimeter. You stepped over the line, and hey, your funeral. Careful, square, watch for falling safes!

What tools do you use to create “Templar, Arizona”?

Spike: I’m not picky about the paper or ink used in Templar. Any brand of smooth bristol will do, and the initial pencils are done with plain mechanical pencils, the kind you buy in packs of ten in drug stores. I ink the comic with Winsor & Newton Series 7 watercolor brushes, size 0. The ink is sumi-e ink, or whatever else I can find that will dry black instead of gray.

I letter by hand with Micron Pigma pens, sizes 03 or 05, with the assistance of an Ames Lettering Guide. I have four oval and circle templates I use for the word balloons.

The art is scanned, cleaned, and toned in Photoshop CS2.

How difficult has it been to handle the success of “Templar, Arizona”?

Spike: What success?

What do you think is responsible for the popularity of “Templar, Arizona?”

Spike: What popularity? Seriously, my traffic sucks compared to everyone I know.

There’s certainly been a non-insignificant amount of critical acclaim. Has this had any effect on your plans for “Templar,” or with any other projects?

Spike: It’s been extremely flattering, definitely. But I have to say, it hasn’t really changed the way I do things, other than trying to update more often. Early on, the major criticism I saw over and over was that the comic only updated weekly, and that was too slow when you’re trying to follow a cohesive story with a plot that requires you to remember what happened fifty pages ago. So I’ve been edging up my update frequency. In theory, I update thrice-weekly, now. I’m a lot faster than I used to be at this.

You financed the printing of the first “Templar, Arizona” print collection entirely through pre-orders, and you are on track to do the same with book two. How has the response for the second book compared to the first?

Spike: Just as enthusiastic, but with a longer middle to slog through. I always have a flood of pre-orders at the beginning, a dreadfully slow middle, and then a flood of pre-orders at the end. It’s like clockwork. That pre-order bar has a definite influence on whether or not people order, and WHEN they order.

Recently, “Templar” became part of Keenspot. How did this occur?

Spike: I heard through the grapevine that Chris Crosby was interested in having TAZ join! I thought that would be a great idea, had no opposition to it, and waited for the invite. I waited a month before my impatience got the better of me and I emailed him directly, asking him if he was interested in having Templar join. He said sure, but had been hesitant about approaching me because I was re-running TAZ on Drunk Duck and Comic Genesis, and he wasn’t sure how I’d take being asked to halt the re-runs and make the comic exclusive to Keenspot. Obviously, I didn’t have a problem with it.

Are there any elements of the “Templar, Arizona” story that derive from your own personal experiences? Which?

Spike: A few here and there, but even the bit most directly and heavily drawn from personal experience… the bit that eventually became Scip, Gene, and Ben finding Eli drunk in the street… is so fictionalized that it’s unrecognizable to anyone who wasn’t there.

In addition to “Templar,” what other projects are you currently working on or have in the pipeline?

Spike: Another webcomic, and a print comic. The webcomic is a fantasy adventure, a hicks-in-the-big-city story, except the city in question is sort of a thinly-veiled Stalingrad. The print comic is a secret war, science vs. magic sorta thing, a comedy. More as their states progress!

How have your relations been with other web cartoonists? You have made a number of big-name endorsements, but do you have any blood enemies, as well?

Spike: Anybody who keeps track of their “blood enemies” in webcomics is a gibbering god damned moron. I subscribe to R. Stevens’ Twitter, and he once posted, “Drama is just another word for ‘not making money.'” I believe that 100%. Webcomics is definitely a business, an element of cartooning as a profession. And only an idiot burns bridges over petty bullshit professionally.

This has been covered in other interviews, but what are your favorite techniques for self-promotion?

Spike: Forum posts with your comic linked in your sig are free, easy, and a steady flow of new blood. Always try to link the first page of your comic, if it’s a long-form comic where it helps to read from the first page.

Will the world ever see more of Al and Gideon?

Spike: Shame on you for even remembering those perverts.

I honestly have no idea. But don’t rule anything out.


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