Interview: Wry Ann Duchane

Wry Ann Duchane first came to Internet Comic Prominence with the strip Hound’s Home, a long-running strip about George Glass, his two cats he taught to talk, and a talking, hyper-intelligent monkey. The strip went from being about the trials and tribulations of high school to the destruction of California at the hands of Jay Leno. Wry Ann’s new strip is Mr. Normal, a satirical look at college, culture and jokes about video games.

Part the First

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

Wry Ann: “Dumb” by Garbage. I found a great music video for it that someone made using clips from other Garbage videos. I like to put music videos on one half of my screen and a word processor on the other half when I write comics, and I’ve written a lot while watching that one.

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

Wry Ann: Garmarna. They remake old Swedish folk songs. Their music video for “Gamen”, my favorite Garmarna song, is on YouTube and I’ve watched that quite a bit. If it’s not obvious already, I love music videos.

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

Wry Ann: A cork board covered with colored notecards, which I use for long-term story arc planning, and sheets of paper taped up around the corkboard, which I use for short-term brainstorming.

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Wry Ann: Women’s clothes and shoes. For a couple years in college, I went to class almost every day in high heels.

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

Wry Ann: The comic I’m working on right now, which just launched, makes me happier than anything I’ve done before. I don’t know if anyone else will like it, but I sure do.

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

Wry Ann: I’ll say Jhonen Vasquez and everybody else who helped animate Invader Zim. I like the look of Invader Zim more than any other cartoon I’ve seen.

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

Wry Ann: The Simpsons Movie, Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Persepolis, and Hot Fuzz.

What’re your top three movies?

Wry Ann: I love Bridge to Terabithia and Princess Mononoke , because they both have a strong male protagonist and a strong female protagonist who team up. I greatly prefer that to the standard formula where a strong male protagonist overshadows and often rescues a weaker female. I also like Take Care of My Cat, a melancholy Korean movie with strong female leads.

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

Wry Ann: I have a cartoon drawn by Ted Raimi, an actor who starred in Xena: Warrior Princess. In high school, I was a big fan of that show and of Ted Raimi’s character in particular, so I sent him a long fan letter, a bunch of cartoons I drew for him, and a blank sheet of paper. In the letter, I politely requested he draw a cartoon on the blank paper for me. Amazingly, he did! The cartoon is crude because Ted Raimi is an actor, not a cartoonist, but that’s why I love it. I own perhaps the only Ted Raimi cartoon in existence!

What is your favorite game?

Wry Ann: Depending on my mood, I alternate between preferring single player games and preferring multiplayer. Silent Hill 2 is my favorite single player game. It’s thoughtful and desolate, which is often just what I need when I want to be alone. EverQuest II is my favorite multiplayer game. I roleplay in it as a dainty male fairy with bright pink wings who’s insecure about his masculinity. I fly around flexing my tiny biceps at people, insisting my wings are “light red” instead of pink, and so on. I’ve met a lot of awesome people while playing that character.

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

Wry Ann: Apple.

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

Wry Ann: I love your Talking Heads music videos. I have a DVD with all of them on it, which I watch now and again to inspire me.

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

Wry Ann: I don’t see many TV commercials and haven’t seen any local ones lately.

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

Wry Ann: 1984 is by far my favorite book in the world. It completely changed my view of humanity. Great Expectations is the only book that ever made me cry, which impressed me. A Game of Thrones is a book I read and loved a few years back. I just started digging into audiobooks, because I can listen to them while I draw comics, and I’m now listening to A Game of Thrones and loving it even more! For my last two picks, I’ll choose Weirdos from Another Planet!, because it was the first Calvin and Hobbes book I read as a kid, and the first Peanuts book ever published, because it was the first Peanuts book I read.

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

Wry Ann: Being inactive because I was afraid to take risks.

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

Wry Ann: Child-naming is a topic of great interest to me and I actually explore it in my new comic. I have mixed feelings about this and honestly don’t know what name I would choose.

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

Wry Ann: Cats, because I think most people find abuse of cats funnier than abuse of dogs. It’d be best if you fired the cats off a cliff while a group of dogs watched approvingly from a safe distance.

What is your favorite meal?

Wry Ann: My favorite kinds of food are vegetables, fruit, and seafood, in that order. I usually like any meal that’s heavy on those. I also love trying anything I’ve never had before. One night in South Korea, I ate a raw squid with tentacles that were still moving!

What is reality?

Wry Ann: Reality is whatever defines it as.

Part the Second

Before Hound’s Home‘s demise, you changed over to a more exaggerated, expressive style for Hound’s Home — why did you make the change?

Wry Ann: I started thinking about the upsides and downsides of each artistic medium, and I was trying to take advantage of the comic medium’s upsides.

If you had the chance, would you go back and do the earlier strips in this style, or do you think it was the right style for the stuff you were doing?

Wry Ann: The haphazard artwork in the old strips fits with the haphazard writing. If I redrew those strips, I’d also have to rewrite them.

Do you think there’s any chance for Hound’s Home to re-emerge?

Wry Ann: None whatsoever.

When you’re writing the scripts, do you jot notes to yourself as to what it should look like in terms of backgrounds/colors — particularly the more expressionistic aspects, or is it more a decision made when you’re actually drawing?

Wry Ann: I decide on most backgrounds when I storyboard, which comes after writing but before drawing the actual comics. I decide on most colors after the comic is scanned and on my computer.

Do you have any other creative outlets other than cartooning, like music, for example?

Wry Ann: Just roleplaying.

Are you working on the followup to Hound’s Home now and can you share info on it?

Wry Ann: Yes, I’m developing a new comic with lots material about gender. I’m trying to make it entertaining to freaks like me who wear high heels to class in college, and also entertaining to people who are uncomfortable with stuff like that. It’s a delicate balance and I hope I can manage it. The name of the comic is Mr. Normal!

Will it take place in the same universe as Hound’s Home (at least before the apocalypse)?

Wry Ann: It’s a different universe, but I did carry over a few of my favorite ideas from Hound’s Home. For example, one of the main characters is a mopey loner with a monobrow.

What’s the general gist/plot of the new strip?

Wry Ann: It’s about quirks in the human psyche, especially gender-related quirks, and friendships and conflicts that stem from that. However, it’s not about righteous transgendered folks vs. evil bigots, and it’s also not about sane normal people vs. insane trannies. Every main character has both good and bad qualities.

Will your new strip be part of Keenspot?

Wry Ann: Yes, if they’ll have me!

In Hound’s Home, I loved how there were over-arcing stories as well as the standard day-to-day stories of the characters (I’m mainly thinking about how the main characters found themselves living in Sexloria) — are you going to do this sort of thing with the new strip, or will it be mainly focused with character interactions?

Wry Ann: Like Hound’s Home, it’s mainly focused on the characters, with satire that’s not character-driven occasionally thrown in.

The thing that really initially drew me to Hound’s Home was the way you mix light humor with some really rather dark and cynical subject matter — the strips with George where the teachers are either a combination of incompetent and malevolent or completely crushed by students like Ashley or Scott; George’s demons tormenting him; etc. Often they’re on the face funny, but actually rather disturbing when you think about it. Is it a particular balance you set out to strike, or does it just work out that way? Do you just have a naturally dark and cynical sense of humor, or does the dark/cynical nature just come from the things you see and want to comment on in the strip?

Wry Ann: At first it was just an accident, but later I started doing it deliberately. It happened because I wanted to write about dark topics that were on my mind, but I also wanted to do a gag-a-day comic, so I wrote about dark stuff within the boundaries of a gag-a-day. That style was my favorite part of Hound’s Home, and it’s the driving force behind Mr. Normal.

I know sometimes drawing those strips is difficult and painful for you because of the subject matter; do you ever think “Oh, I don’t want to make something that’ll make me feel depressed and angry, why don’t I just do a storyline about Melvin at home”, or do you feel a sort of duty to do these kinds of difficult storylines? Was this one of the factors in deciding to end the strip?

Wry Ann: I don’t think I ever forced myself to write about dark topics, so no, that wasn’t a factor. Hound’s Home ended because I grew out of it. I created its characters in 1997, and after maturing for a decade, wanted to reinvent them. For instance, I hated that Ashley was a two-dimensional strawman, so she was going to lose her mean streak and become kind. However, I realized that in essence I was turning Hound’s Home into a brand new comic, so it made sense to simply end it and start fresh.

Did you have any stories planned for Ashley’s Change, or was it just something you were wanting to do without having anything written for it?

Wry Ann: I wrote and storyboarded a story. It was 21 strips long, and designed to run daily for 3 weeks. I completed the first week or so, then stepped back and decided to end Hound’s Home.

I know I often have trouble writing “serious” stuff (whenever I embark on a major project, before I figure out what it’s gonna be, I always say “THIS is going to be my SERIOUS one!!” and then I end up just making up something that’s just a bunch of dumb jokes) — do you have that trouble as well in your work?

Wry Ann: No, but I have the opposite problem. When I try to write gag comics, sometimes depression creeps in and they turn out completely serious, so I have to redo them.

Have you ever thought about doing a serious graphic-novel type strip? Not necessarily dark, or ultra-angst-power or anything, but one that’s not Gag-A-Day?

Wry Ann: Serious comics can be powerful, and I might make one someday. I plan to stick with the gag-a-day format for Mr. Normal‘s duration, though.

I know from conversations with you that you’re really knowledgeable about obscure comics? Any that you want to point out to people as being especially cool/worth it?

Wry Ann: Bliss by Stephen Hersh, a crudely drawn but very funny newspaper strip about a childless married couple. It’s gone now, but one book collection was released and a few copies of that are still around.

You studied Psychology in school — does your interest in that expand to things like A.I. or Cognitive Studies at all? Like, have you ever read anything by Douglas R. Hofstadter? Gödel, Escher, Bach for example, or The Mind’s I (fiction and essays co-edited by DRH and Daniel C. Dennett)? Do you think there’s a lot of cross-pollination between the disciplines?

Wry Ann: I’ve heard of Dennett, but not through school, and I’ve never heard of Hofstadter. So there isn’t a lot of cross-pollination, at least in my experience. However, I love learning new things, and if those books are available on audiobook from my local library, I will absolutely check them out after this interview and listen to them while drawing comics!

What do you think of the whole “Outsider Art” type thing? I know some people say it’s exploitative and bad, and others say that it’s cool and pure, and others that say it’s exploitative and good. Where do you come down on the debate? Are there any types of “Outsider Art” that you tend to enjoy?

Wry Ann: I don’t know enough about the topic to form a well-reasoned opinion. My main experience with it comes from searching eBay for auctions labeled “Outsider Art,” and laughing at how far people stretched the term’s definition. I once found a sketch of an anime character’s face on a piece of notebook paper, most likely done by a kid during school. They had labeled it “Outsider Art” and were trying to get like ten bucks for it.

I asked you this a while ago, but I don’t think you ever answered: What do you think of the name “the Dementia Peacocks” for a band? I’m thinkin’ it’s one of the most horrible names ever.

Wry Ann: I don’t have strong feelings for or against it.

One of the trends in a lot of online comics is to do strips that are fictional, but based on real people, i.e. the cartoonist’s friends and whatnot. What do you think of this? I know Hound’s Home isn’t like this (unless you’re not telling everything you know about your two talking cats and one talking monkey), but what do you think about the strips that are? What’d Hound’s Home be like if it were in that genre?

Wry Ann: Bliss was like that, so I definitely enjoy those comics. If Hound’s Home had been like that, it for sure would’ve lost Sandy, Giblet, and Chuckle Hound the monkey, which might have steered the comic closer toward realism and away from battling space aliens.

What about autobiographical/journal comics? Do you have an opinion on those?

Wry Ann: I like them, especially ones done by people different from me, since it’s eye-opening to see the world from new angles. Of course, I also like ones done by people similar to me, since I can relate.

Have you ever got any hate-mail over your strips or any particular storylines?

Wry Ann: I got thousands of death threats because I drew Sandy’s ears big. Some people are very emotionally invested in cats with small ears, and can’t stand anything that challenges their worldview.

Is there any one sort of trend or technical flaw that you see in a lot of comic strips that you wish you could just teach cartoonists all over the world not to do?

Wry Ann: Creating two-dimensional strawman characters who exist simply to be knocked down.

Not that it’s updated in just over three years now or anything, but any leads on bas tage‘s identity?

Wry Ann: No, but with luck, this interview will inspire bas tage to come out of the woodwork and draw a picture of me as an evil tranny.


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