Today’s guest is DAVID MALKI! David is the creator of Wondermark, a hard-hitting webcomic that tackles the tough issues other comics are afraid to face, like Bibliophibians, Bears in Ill-Fitting Hats, and the proper collective noun to refer to a group of bogeymen (a “scamper”). Wondermark recontextualizes 19th century artwork with hilarious results, and if you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out right now. We’ll wait right here until you get back.
I made a lot of rash decisions! I didn’t have any idea of how hard anything was, so I just blazed forward in glorious ignorance, not realizing that I was attempting the impossible. So anyway here I am!
Tell me about Wondermark. How did it get started?
I decided I wanted to try doing comics in a different way from most other people. There’s a beauty in old artwork that’s extremely evocative, and it’s all out of copyright besides. And as a bonus, the original artists aren’t around anymore to ask permission from. So I decided I would try making comics in a collage style to see if it would work! TURNS OUT: IT DOES.
I like to think that Wondermark occupies a universe parallel to our own, where everyone speaks their mind, has the perfect rejoinder to any situation, has fabulous fashion sense, and can bolt any manner of things together to make glorious elaborate nonsense contraptions. I don’t know if I’d want to live in that world — it’s a bit dangerous as well. But I sure like looking in on it.
One of Wondermark’s recurring characters is the alien Gax, a dapper gentleman who happens to have the neck and head of a brontosaurus. Where did Gax come from, and what’s the secret of Gax appeal?
When you make comics using found art, you’re limited to the kind of art you can find. This means that it’s hard to have recurring characters — you either have to find multiple pictures of the same person (occasionally possible in the case of political cartooning, but not otherwise common) or re-use the same pictures all the time, which can get boring. However, I found that you can re-use ANIMAL faces as often as you like without it seeming repetitive.
So at one point I decided that the alien creature Gax — a throwaway gag at first — could become a recurring character, because his face was easy to mold into new expressions, and also because I established that he was a shapeshifter, so he could look like anything and it’d still make sense. The secret of his appeal is that he speaks his mind and has impossible physiology.
Tell me about Machine of Death.
Machine of Death, most simply, is a collection of short stories, all by different authors, that asks the question, “What if there was a machine that could predict how you die? What would it mean for the world?” Each author started with that premise, and then spun out a different story exploring some facet of that idea. It’s a really diverse and compelling book — we read almost 700 submissions, and picked our favorite 34 — and it became an independent bestseller, shooting all the way to #1 on Amazon the day it was released. Now, it’s been spun off into a card game as well as a second volume of more stories, both of which will be coming out this summer.
Machine of Death started as an idea, became a book, and now it’s going to be a card game. As Gloom players know, I’m a fan of storytelling games that involve coming up with creative ways for people to die. The Machine of Death card game is up on Kickstarter, and has shot past its funding goals. Tell me why I should get on board today!
I ain’t here to convince you! If you watch our hot video and read the description, and decide it’s not your bag, then stay far away from it. But if you like absurdity and weaving absurd yarns and laughing with your friends about IMAGINARY MURDER, it’s right up your alley. It’s a simple game, light on strategy and high on nonsense, that provides a construct to tell funny stories with your friends and imagine the increasingly-ridiculous deaths of bizarre individuals. Also, if you back it during the Kickstarter, you’ll get bonus decks of literally HUNDREDS of extra cards by many of the top names in webcomics — included totally free, only during the funding period.
You kick a can and a djinni pops out. It promises to grant three wishes, but the only sort of wish it can grant is to turn books published before 1950 into movies. What three books do you choose?
1. The New Century Standard Letter-Writer, by Alfred B. Chambers (1900). This is ostensibly a book of correspondence etiquette that also can be read as an incredibly bizarre psychoanalysis of its author, as he presents increasingly-specific template letters for such typical situations as “Marriage Proposal to a Young Lady to whom the Writer has Never Been Introduced” (p.124); “From a Father to a Gentleman, Forbidding him to Pay any Further Attentions to his Daughter” (p.148); “From a Lady to her Fiancé Breaking Off Their Engagement on Account of his Coldness” (p.169); et cetera, et cetera.
2. The Flying Girl, by L. Frank Baum writing as Edith Van Dyne (1911). Just a really great adventure book about a couple of teens inventing and building an airplane in their garage. A good snapshot of the early days of aviation and, unlike 98% of the youth-adventure novels published in the era, a super fun, engrossing, well-written book on its merits.
3. A Bad Boy’s First Reader, by Frank Bellew (1881). This is a parody of a children’s book that manages to be just deadpan enough that you think it’s real and just weird enough that you can’t believe it could possibly be real. Possibly the only children’s book of the Victorian era to include the phrase “Isabella will grow up to be a wise woman…if she does not die of cerebrospinal meningitis.”