Part 3 of Straha Speaks Out!1
gathers speed during Raya's incredible EXCLUSIVE interview of Jeremy Waller, creator of the hugely popular cartoon strip, WTF Comics
. The popular online game EverQuest provides the backdrop for the tale Mr. Waller spins, and, make no mistake, he is a spinner of tales extraordinaire. His fans are legion…and vocal…and humorous. His comic art is inspired and the multitude of hilarious one-liners tend to keep even non-EQers spewing their coffee onto their monitors.
In my first interview with Mr. Waller
, we laid the groundwork for who he is (a mild, unassuming, 25-year-old college student at University of Southern Indiana, who variously describes himself as a non-hero and an ill-tempered dictator -- the latter in reference to his trying to keep his forum very user-friendly). Of course, he is neither of these, especially not to his thousands of fans who view him not only as a real hero, but as a provider of hours of side-splitting entertainment that keeps them enthusiastically coming back for more. We also discovered the background of Straha, the incredibly quirky Iksar, with a heart of gold and a crusty exterior almost as hard.
In the second interview
, we explored more about Mr. Waller and his art. And Straha gave us the skinny on how he felt about Smoke. We were also introduced to Annashi, the cute little druid wood elf who is searching for her father, ranger Jiraki, with Straha as her self-appointed protector. We touched on how the two of them are driving each other crazy with skilful little barbs and exasperated mumblings.
Today, I was excited about not only talking to Mr. Waller about financial matters, EQ celebrities, and how many Straha and Anna comic strips will it take to change a lightbulb, but about talking to Anna, finding out how she feels about Smoke and Kiran, and other burning questions of life.
You know, I’m supposed to be the experienced interviewer, but honestly I still have this case of hero worship for the non-hero Indiana cartoonist. He put me at my ease immediately. “Sit down,” he growled, and pulled out a chair for me. I plunked myself down, spilled a cup of coffee on the edge of his desk, and we took some time wiping up the mess. Fortunately, I hadn’t ruined anything really valuable, although I may have deep-sixed his favorite sketching pencil. That wasted a lot of the available interviewing time, so we plunged right in. I had intended to ease in sort of gently and work up to the financial thing. I mean, it’s not kosher to blurt out to an interviewee, you don’t have any money, so how do you stay afloat. So I blurted instead…
You provide the comic strips free of charge. How can this be economically viable for you?
Economic viability was never really a concern to begin with--I didn't really start WTF to make money, just to practice and entertain. Every article or book I've read concerning professional comic and cartoon artists has shared the same advice in regards to artists just starting out, i.e. the only way to get better and have a chance to do the work for a living is to do it no matter what.
Besides the personal philosophy behind it, there wouldn't be any way to charge for the strips even if I wanted to, due to copyright laws. I made sure to familiarize myself with them when just starting the strip, well, after it had got out and I realized people wanted to see it. Everquest and the names, races, cities, etc contained within are the intellectual property of Sony Online Entertainment (SoE), the Fair Use Act of 1976 allows parody and such of EQ so long as it's not directly for profit, and Sony seems pleased with the relationship as well so have no reason to prohibit it. They get free, positive press, and I get to make a strip and benefit from it indirectly, i.e. donations, products, etc.
The only case in which this is a drawback is the issue of a printed WTF collection which many readers want to see made. Since printing and selling the strips themselves would violate Sony’s intellectual property rights I can't simply make books to sell. It would have to be done with their permission and involvement. While I would make a profit by selling a book, my main interest in it would be to fill the requests of the fans to have a printed comic, and of course to see my work look so professional and be a REAL comic book. As I've repeatedly told those who want to see it done though, only Sony can make it happen. Given the current climate I actually think it would be a good PR move for them too, but the ball is in their court.
As you know, a little over a month ago, I conducted separate interviews with the very popular Niami Denmother, proprietress of EQ Traders Corners, which is the tradeskill center for many EQ tradeskillers (and the future center for EQ2 tradeskillers), and Ngreth, her house ogre.3
Not so long ago yourself, you featured Niami, Ngreth, and EQ Traders Corners in a few of your comic strips. How did you hit upon using Niami's character for the strip?
I planned to try to have a Niami and Ngreth cameo for quite some time, when it comes to writing the most I ever have is a vague idea and I knew at some point the characters would be in Rivervale and the grand poobah of tradeskills being a halfling, it was a natural fit. In Niami and Ngreth's case they already has a high degree of fame so being featured in the strip didn't have nearly the effect it would for an average player, in most cameos I try to keep them short to avoid the players being bothered in game and having their leisure time disrupted.
How much of what you write and draw is directed by the characters themselves?
I wrote Niami and Ngreth and discussed what I planned loosely and asked their permission to use their characters and how they wanted to be represented in the strip. I was very happy and relieved they both enjoyed the cameo so much and were pleased with the result, I've used their sites' resources and benefitted from all their work over the years, using what I can do to say thank you and pay them tribute was the least I could do. They are both big parts of the EQ community, I just tried to put a face on them both to readers who may not have known much about the two who actually built Traders corner, and ensure they're a part of the lore of the world presented in the comics.
Actually, Niami and Ngreth are personal friends of mine, and I know they were both delighted at being featured in WTF Comics. Is this the reaction of all your selected characters?
Just about everyone who has been featured in the comics have enjoyed the cameo and been most appreciative; I've come to learn the consequences of fame by proxy can be negative however so I try to be careful how I do things.
How many other EQ notables have you used in your WTF Comics? Can you give us a brief rundown of all the ones you remember?
Niami and Ngreth were the first real notable community members I can think of featured in the strip, other cameos have been people I know personally in game or are notable on my particular server. I do have future cameos planned with other community members however, depending on their responses of course. I'm planning on trying to contact people like Allakhazam and Muse from the old EQ atlas site for example, so only time will tell. (Raya’s Note: He didn’t mention Gomphe at this time, since I think he wanted to surprise us all. He did!)
Once again I was just amazed at this man. A reporter is supposed to be unbiased and objective in his/her presentations, and I’m trying to honestly. But it’s hard to be professional with coffee stains down your dress and a true hero sitting across from you. While I was thinking about this, the phrase “humility without humiliation” came to my mind. Anyhow, we won’t call this a report, will we? We’ll just call it a…um… presentation of choice and let it go at that. All right? Okay. My next question was the one that thousands of fans were afraid to ask. I boldly plunged ahead.
I know you probably can't tell us if poor, accident-prone Anna will find her father Jiraki, or if the Waist Down Fist Clan will be outwitted, or if dread Lord Haxor will ultimately prevail, and not even if Smoke or Kiran get the girl (although I'm pretty sure I know the answer to the last one ). However, can you give us a rough idea of how many strips in this story are left to go?
Phew, that's a hard one. It depends on a lot of things really. The strip has a definite arc. Technically I suppose I could keep going indefinitely and avoid any conclusion like a lot of professional comic franchises, but that's a cheap way to go and while ending something can be disappointing it wouldn't be nearly so good without the conclusion. Plus as I said I only ever have a very vague idea of what will happen, really just the major points are somewhat planned in advance, and I fill in the spaces between as they come. If I had to make a guess at how many strips it would take to finish the complete story arc though...hmmm, maybe anywhere from 500 to 1000 strips.
I figured out on my hands and toes (surreptitiously, of course) how many hours of reading that would be for me…at approximately 5 minutes to read the strip the first time, and then another 10 minutes to savor each frame…so 15 minutes per strip…would be um…I looked at Mr. Waller’s fingers and his sandaled toes. I refrained from asking to borrow them since I was almost positive he might misunderstand. I struggled and finally borrowed his coffee-logged calculator…whoaaa 125 to 250 hours worth of entertainment. Well, I could certainly live with that! But I just had to try and hedge my bet.
Have you had thoughts about doing a story-line cartoon, such as Anna's story in EQ, for any other game? Do you play any other game with any degree of seriousness?
I've recently started playing City of Heroes, which has been very fun. The first cartoons I did as a kid were always superheroish, our modern myths and legends, so I've always liked the genre. If it weren't for the time involved and the possibility of the work suffering by trying to do too much at once, I think I might like doing a CoH strip. Though I think I'd start it out as my own to avoid copyright issues with Cryptic, more of something people who play CoH would identify with and enjoy but not based on that particular world but one of my own creation.
Talking about time involved, while I was fascinated and wanted to ask a dozen more questions, our interview time ran out. Mr. Waller had other things to do (probably bigger and better things too, although he was far too polite to say so). I excused myself but was filled with anticipation as I skipped back to my little writing wonderland, because I was going to step into my anachronistic telephone booth and transport my alter ego Raydiance Alive to Norrath to meet with Straha Ironscale again. I loved that lizard! And there he was…right on time. We got ourselves settled in our usual Plane of Knowledge (PoK) training house, me with some well-deserved blue elven wine at my elbow. And we plunged into it.
You tell your party,4 'At some point, Straha is going to meet up with the dread Lord Haxor. How do you feel about this encounter?'
Straha tells the group, 'Impatient, I’d just as soon he show himself and stop hiding behind minions, since he’s too cowardly for that I’ll have to hunt him down'
You tell your party, 'Do you have any plans to force his hand? And can you reveal them?'
Straha tells the group, 'If I could I would, unfortunately he’s got the initiative and holds on to it. Sending his monks and robed zombies after me from afar, there’s not much I can do about him until I know more'
You tell your party, 'So it's more a matter of waiting for the opportunity to track him down and seizing it?'
Straha tells the group, 'Aye, he is bright enough to keep me on the defensive so all I can do is wait'
You tell your party, 'Are you confident you will triumph over him?'
Straha tells the group, 'Well one should never be overconfident, it's obvious he may be a lot of things but stupid or weak isn’t one of them. Regardless of winning or losing though, I always prefer a straight confrontation to these games'
You tell your party, 'If you could be a god in Norrath...what would you want to be a god of?'
Straha tells the group, 'Hmm interesting question, I suppose I’d have to go with duty; Mithanial Marr has honor locked up already.'
You tell your party, 'A very Iksarish perspective.'
Straha tells the group, 'Duty is close to honor, but I think different enough. Duty is what has to be done because it’s right, I can agree with that'
You tell your party, 'Very interesting - Straha - God of Duty. I wonder if your magical powers will ever lift you to that echelon...'
Straha tells the group, 'Oh no, I can’t see that happening, I am quite mortal…just a little unique'
You tell your party, 'Is there anything else that you would like to say, perhaps to clarify your exploits to date, or add some information that your many fans would love to hear, or just reveal a little more about you - Straha - the extraordinary Iksar?'
Straha tells the group, 'Hmmm difficult question. Flattering but a tad embarrassing too. Really I’m no different than any other adventurers in Norrath, I’ve seen just as fantastic and entertaining exploits written and illustrated by others out there. I’m just somewhat unique due to a long string of circumstance and luck'
You tell your party, 'And modest too '
Straha tells the group, 'and a little blind stubborness'
You tell your party, 'lol - yeah that too'
Straha made his apologies – he had to run. He was scheduled to save a bunch of tourist wood elf newbies (Stra’s faves) who had wandered too close to the Field of Bone and were being held in Cabilis for trial as spies. For some reason, they had been arrested instead of slaughtered outright, so Stra still had a chance to rescue them. I thanked him for the interviews and he charged out the door in a swirl of brown cloak and green Iksar impatience. BUT…I wasn’t finished.
Sweet Anna was waiting for me outside. I asked her if she had seen Straha leave, and she nodded, then added with a grin that he was far too busy to see her and that perhaps her sneaking skills had improved. We grouped up, got settled and I took a long sip of elven wine. I was very thirsty. Anna look enquiringly at me, then at the small but ornate bottle of wine. She looked thirsty too. I wasn’t entirely sure about the liquor laws in Norrath, but it WAS elven wine. And she WAS probably at least level 25. Then I remembered, in Straha’s world, there are no levels. I poured her a small snifter of elven wine and we both sipped slowly. I started.
You tell your party, 'During the last interview you told us how you feel about Straha. Can you tell us how do you feel about Kiran? and Smoke?'
Annashi tells the group, 'Kiran’s been my best friend since we were both kids, I dont know what’s wrong with him now. He just thinks he knows best for me and won’t let me make up my own mind. I wish he’d understand that, that I need to make up my own mind. Smoke now...well he's really sweet, weird but sweet. He’s the first real friend I made out in the world on my own that wasn’t a friend of my dad or Stra and I’m glad he’s with us and always willing to help.'
You tell your party, 'Are you confident that you will find your dad?'
Annashi tells the group, 'I have to be, I can't believe otherwise. Maybe it’s silly but I have to have faith I will find him wherever he is'
You tell your party, 'So tell us...after Jiraki is found and all is back to normal, what does the future hold for Annashi? What goals will you set for yourself?'
Annashi tells the group, 'You know, I haven’t even really thought about it. Everything that’s happened has been a lot to take in, the world is a whole lot bigger and more complicated than I thought back in Kelethin. Once dad's home and safe, Tunare willing, I don’t know…I'll definitely spend a lot of time with him and think about it, maybe then I’ll go out and find my place in Norrath'
You tell your party, 'Good answer, Anna - sounds like you are definitely maturing. One last question...if you were to have the choice of being a goddess in Norrath, what would you choose to be the goddess of?'
Annashi tells the group, 'I think I’d be goddess of what Stra calls newbies. He says it like it’s an insult sometimes, but I think everybody was new and didn’t know what to do at some point. Everybody needs a little help in times like that and I think I would like to do that, kinda pay back all the help I’ve had'
You tell your party, 'Wow, Annashi, Goddess of Newbies - I like that. Who knows, someday you may just become that '
Annashi tells the group, 'lol it would be fitting I guess'
Anna hiccupped, and we both looked at each other and giggled. Elven wine can be a great ice breaker sometimes. Unfortunately, Anna too had to go. She was meeting with the League of Norrath Women to listen to a speech on the feeding and care of newbies. And she had to stop at the Bazaar for some things for Smoke on the way. I thanked her and we hugged, then she dashed out the door.
I was supposed to interview Arshiss after Anna, but it was getting too late. The beautiful Norrath moon was high in the sky, decorated with a necklace of stars, and Patrynn was waiting for me. It’s not good to keep a level 65 wood elf warrior waiting, especially when you have a blue-stained tongue and blue elven wine on your breath. I sent Arshiss a tell, explaining the situation. She laughed and said, “Go on hun, I’m busy with a cute wood elf bard myself – can this man sing or what?” I skedaddled.
Next week, WITHOUT FAIL, we will all tremble slightly at the prospect of finally meeting the wonderful, witty, wily, and often dangerous Arshiss, dark elf warrior and close friend of Straha’s. You know…the one who rescued Anna from Neriak that time? And, Innoruuk willing and the Lake of Ill Omen don’t rise, we will also get to finally talk to Gomphe. We’ll see. In the meantime, my devout thanks to Jeremy Waller, for taking the time to talk with me and allowing me to chat with Straha Ironscale and Annashi Windstalker, and for not yelling at me when I spilled the coffee on his desk (and favorite sketching pencil). Please note that all comic strip and single cartoons in this article are copyright © 2002-2005 by J. Waller. All rights reserved.
This article was originally published at Warcry in August/04.
All screenshots were taken by Raydiance/Raya in EverQuest's Plane of Knowlege, Lanys T'vyl server, with the exception of Niami Denmother, taken by Ngreth, and the City of Heroes versions of Annashi and Smoke, created and taken by Olethros et Teleute, used with permission.
These articles were originally published at Gamergod in July/04.
All dialogue between Straha and Raydiance is from an in-game meeting between Straha (J. Waller) and Raydiance (Raya), and later between Annashi (J. Waller) and Raydiance (Raya).
Links to full comic strips:
How Straha Feels About Smoke
Anna and Straha Set Sail
Niami Denmother of EQ Traders Corners
Xorphitus, a celebrity cameo role
Nikisha and Lord Haxor
Straha, God of Duty
Maguna and Straha scare each other
Long Time No See
Anna, the Playelf Bunny
Arshiss fights a monkish gnome
Copyright © 2004-2005 by Raya. All rights reserved.