End of Line: Interview with Webcomic Creator Jackie Wohlenhaus

Between Failures is a webcomic about a group of workers that work at an Entertainment store. We interviewed its creator, Jackie Wohlenhaus, to discuss the series.( www.betweenfailures.net )

1.) How would you describe ‘Between Failures’ to new readers?

I find it’s easier to just let TVTropes do it for me, with ammendments where appropriate:

“Between Failures is a romantic slice-of-life webcomic following the (somewhat under-motivated and decidedly sarcastic) staff of a chain megastore. The primary protagonist is Thomas Blackwell, but it cuts to follow many members of the staff. It’s often compared to the movie Clerks, though up to the second volume only 2 customers have actually been shown.”
(It’s actually a lot more like Empire Records, which the author totally suggests you see.)
“The main focus are the characters and the shenanigans they come up with to keep themselves entertained.”

2.) What prompted you to start “Between Failures?”

After I left retail I was working as a freelance writer, and by that I mean janitor.  I started Between Failures in my spare time, because nothing much was happening in either job and I was beginning to spiral into severe depression.  It was something to keep my mind occupied. I already had an old movie script, so I didn’t have to write much new material for the first couple of years.

It’s meant, at least in part, to show people working crap jobs that you can have a good time no matter what you’re doing, and that there is ultimately always hope for a better tomorrow.

3.) What do you think are some important themes that run in the series?

The value of friendship more than anything else.

4.) What was the inspiration behind some of the characters?

The entire cast are golems cobbled together from bits of myself, people I have met, friends, coworkers, and other fictional beings. None of them can be pinned easily to any single source.  On the surface they are all archtypes.  Designed to fullfill a specific storytelling need.

Thomas is nicely generic looking, so readers could have an in for the story. The relationship between Ed and Thomas is sort of like old me talking to young me.

Ed is a very old character. He was the star of a series I came up with when I was younger and had the good sense to give up on. His back story is essentially a synopsis of that idea. His personality is a reflection of mine when I was young. He evolved into the current incarnation over many, many, years. The first drawings of Ed probably date back to when I was 7 or so.  His glasses are inspired by Brainy Smurf.

John was originally a character from Ed’s back story. In fact, they were friends, but I needed an easy face for the games manager. It had to be something generically handsome so I used John. I kept his old name because it was easy. He’s sort of every ladies man I ever worked with, and there was always at least one.  Ironically I actually worked with a guy who looked almost exactly like him.

Nina is my voice of love for the world. She is that part of me that still has hope for humanity, and a better tomorrow. She is that little voice in my head that keeps trying to tell me that things are going to be okay. Physically Nina is an amalgam of two girls I’ve known, and various cartoon characters.

Carol is the daughter of a character from a discarded idea. Her surname is not inspired by Randal Graves of Clerks. It comes from a joke I wanted to do that I haven’t had a chance to use, and an underlying theme that rans through all of the original idea for Between Failures.

Jessie was created so that Ed could have a foil he couldn’t be rid of. She wasn’t in the original script for Between Failures, but I added her in at the last minute because I thought of a series of jokes I wanted to do with her. I actually thought, at the time, that she was created on that day, but I recently found an old sketch page that had her old bio as Ed’s twin sister.  It was dated about half as old as the oldest sketch of Ed.

Mike is based on every timid, useless, manager I ever worked for, and one guy in particular. He’s a illustration of everything that’s wrong about American business management. I do like him though, and hope he finds redemption as the story progresses. I made him sympathetic because I feel the fault is only partially his, and wanted to play with the idea that someone who should be a clear villain isn’t really.

Jolene was very much a female version of John in her first incarnation. I ditched that version because she clashed to much with everyone else. She ended up becoming the repository for my shyness. She’s very timid when she’s in a new situation, but opens up much more when she feels safe. Her tendency to call attention to herself with her hair is inspired by several girls I worked with over the years. They all seemed distant, or shy, but
clearly wanted people to notice them.

The 3 annoying kids, and really all the annoying, nameless, characters, are inspired by people I served during my many years in retail. Kids seem prone to run in groups of three for some reason. I can think of several 3 man cells that pissed me off as the years rolled by. They usually consist of a de facto leader, a toady, and the quiet one.  I used to give the
groups nicknames because I couldn’t remember their real ones.

5.) The series originally began in black and white, then moved into color later on. What inspired the transition scene from black and white to color?

Before that point I have no memory of any work using the transition to color as a tool to heighten the emotional impact of a scene.  I know they must have existed before my work, but I am unaware of any. Clerks 2 starts with something akin to my transition but my script predates that movie by just under a decade. That specific moment as one of the first things I decided when I started the comic. There was no external inspiration for it.

 6.) At this point in the series, do you have a favorite story arch or running gag?

Not really. I like writing scenes where the relationship grows between the romantic leads though.  There aren’t really any running gags to speak of.  Nothing that I would characterize as a gag anyway.

 7.) What are some lesson’s you’ve learned in the development history of
“Between Failures” that you think potential webcomic developers should

All you have to do is reliably make content.

Writing is the most important thing. Great writing will hold up terrible art.  To a point. If you have to choose between great art or great writing always choose the writing.

Spectacular art can hold up terrible writing in porportion to how spectacular the art is versus how bad the writing is.

Success is measured by money.  If you aren’t making money you aren’t a success.

End of line.

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