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interview: jennie breeden on ‘the devil’s panties’ (it’s not satanic porn!)

September 18th, 2008 by Rick Marshall · 3 Comments ·

Let me preface this interview by saying that I love Jennie Breeden’s tagline for The Devil’s Panties, the long-running webcomic she produces that is, as the aforementioned tagline proclaims, “NOT SATANIC PORN!” Oh, and something else worth noting about the series? I was first introduced to it by my mother, who sent me a link to the comic a few years back and first put it on my radar. I’ve never asked my mother how she came across the comic (and I’m not sure if that’s a conversation I ever want to have, given the search terms that could have directed her there), but once I was aware of DP, I found myself bumping into Breeden and her work just about everywhere I turned.

Simply put, if you think you’ve attended a lot of conventions, Breeden’s attended more than you. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. As I learned while covering the convention circuit, Breeden doesn’t shy away from any opportunity to promote DP at every major, minor and backyard convention she can find a way to attend. I had the opportunity to chat with her a bit about Devil’s Panties and get her perspective on the role of conventions in the webcomics world and the the changes she’s seen in shows over the years. We also discussed the DP‘s uniquely diverse audience (which apparently includes my mother) and one of her favorite con activities: “Kilt Blowing.”

Q: By my count, The Devil’s Panties is now in its 7th year on the ‘Net. You’ve mentioned in the past that it took you a while to nail down your vision for the series, so how do you describe DP to people these days, and how has that changed from your pitch 7 years ago?

JENNIE BREEDEN: In the beginning, I’d just say what the strips were that day, I think. It took a few conventions to figure out what quick pitch to use. You only have about a half-second to grab people as they walk by. The artists of Nate and Steve, who I went to college with, were helping me with my pitch. We settled on yelling out, “It’s a pseudo-intellectual exploration of existential humanity in the marketplace!” … “Not Satanic Porn!”

Though now I’ve found that my pitch and the actual comic has veered a bit. I’ll tell the customer whatever they want to hear just to get them to the site. If it’s a housewife, then I tell her it’s about buying a house and not wanting to grow up while still mowing the lawn and cleaning my room. If it’s a young guy, then I say it’s about clubbing. If it’s a girl, I say it’s about luring the boyfriend off of the computer. All these are cartoons that have come up, but there are 2000 strips about life. It’s a little of everything.

Q: So much of DP is drawn from your real-life experiences. How does this affect your relationships with the real-life versions of your characters?

BREEDEN: It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes a friend will preface a story with “This doesn’t go into the comic…” And sometimes my friends ask why their stories haven’t made it into the comic.

Q: You posted a pretty strong message on your site regarding your trouble with spelling, and with people pointing out spelling mistakes in your strip. Can you give me a little background about why you posted this and the reaction it’s received?

BREEDEN: The rant was in reaction to a roommate more than any online response that I’ve had. Though I did get about three e-mails a week pointing out spelling mistakes in old strips and helpful tips about using flash cards or a dictionary or people offering to edit. These are all harmless offers of assistance and I hardly ever got any real mean letters. Though, three a week for seven years begins to pick at the wound.

The last straw was when I was working on spelling “shivelrouse” (chivalrous). I looked online, in dictionaries, word programs, spell check. It took half an hour before I gave up and asked my boyfriend. A roommate overheard and said, “Oh my god, how dumb can you be? Don’t you know what a dictionary is?” Well, if it’s phonetic and you sound it out, there is no way to figure out that it’s a “ch-” and not an “sh-” for chivalrous. So I lost it a bit and wrote a rant. I’ve had one person say that they couldn’t read my comic anymore after seeing the rant. But now I get an e-mail a week from someone saying that they have the same problems and feel the same way.

Q: One of the things I like to do immediately after (and sometimes during) conventions is to check DP to see what you’re writing about the show, as it seems like you attend every con a creator could possibly attend. As a veteran of the convention circuit, what role do conventions play for comic creators — specifically webcomic creators? Why do you feel it’s important to attend so many of them?

BREEDEN: Webcomic artists get the most direct feedback from fans, I think. But even with all the communication, you’re still sitting alone in a room working your butt off. It’s good to go to a show and see the faces behind the e-mails. I feed off of that energy from a convention where you get to talk to the readers and hear how they feel about specific strips. You get to look at the comic from a different angle through their eyes.

Two years ago, about 2006, I quit my day job and signed up for every comic convention that I could. I use the conventions as the day job and they help me from going a bit stir crazy locked up in my room drawing strips all day. I have cut down on how many of the con strips I put up online, though. All last year was nothing but convention cartoons. Now I’m going to be saving most of those for the printed comic books and post the day-to-day cartoons that people can identify more with — like using dinosaurs to decimate barbie cakes and Halloween pirate adventures. You know, the usual, everyday kind of thing.

Q: How do you feel the convention scene has changed in your years of going to show after show?

BREEDEN: [There's been a] big explosion of anime shows and more women in alternative comics. In 2000, most women at the shows were there with their boyfriends or husbands helping run the table or carrying their maquette. Now, about a third of the show is women who are there for themselves. They run their own table and are drooling over their own action figures. Anime is bringing a younger crowd into the industry. It’s different from comic books, but it’s in the same neighborhood. The anime conventions are a bit more accepting to webcomics than traditional comic conventions. It seems that since the only way to get ahold of the new Japanese animation is through the Internet, so most anime fans already read a lot of webcomics.

Q: Do you have a favorite convention? Are there certain shows that are better for certain types of experiences (i.e. one show generates more sales, while one show brings in more new readers, or one show is friendlier to webcomics, etc.)?

BREEDEN: Every convention is different because of area or purpose of show. Anime shows are full of 16-and-under and have a “summer camp” feel. People make instant friends based on costume and play “duck, duck, goose” in the hallways. Comic conventions are an older crowd who are more interested in who did the work and where they’re published. Sci-Fi shows are more literature-based and have kind of a “Renaissance Festival” feel to them. There is usually a constant supply of beer at the literary conventions and it’s more about sitting around talking about anything and everything. College conventions, or a convention held by a club or small group, is a low-stress con where you can sit and talk with each individual. I sell almost the same amount of books at a college show as I do at a Wizard World show, because the college one you can talk to each person that comes to the event and get them interested in the comic — whereas at a Wizard show, thousands of people show up and look at hundreds of exhibitors, and they only get a few seconds to consider picking up a new comic.

Q: Interesting note: I was first introduced to your series by my mother, of all people. She’s a big fan, and when I told you this the first time I met you (at a Wizard World show a few years back), you didn’t seem surprised at all. Why do YOU think you’ve developed such a broad spectrum of readers? Is it something you set out to do? And does knowing that you have such a wide range of readers change anything about your creative process?

BREEDEN: I’m always floored at the variety of readers. Why I like the conventions so much is being able to see them — housewives and bikers and teenagers all identifying with the same thing. I am a bit nervous at the idea of anyone under 18 reading it, though. I don’t really censor myself and my language. It’s not a violent or sexual comic (sorry) but I have made allusions to ….um…. things. But most of the comics I do because I find myself in a weird or what I think is unique situation, only to find out that people all over the world have done and said the same thing. It’s a very, very small rock on which we live.

Q: Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from DP over the years?

BREEDEN: My mom’s, and most people’s favorite, is the one with Jesus and Devil smoking pot. I remember drawing it at my family kitchen table, but I don’t remember the catalyst for the strip. I might have just watched “Name of the Rose” and the idea of burning people in the name of “goodness” seems to be the epitomy of hypocritical. People seem logical and good, and then they get to voting or religion and everything goes to pot.

Q: On that note, you mix real-life characters with fantasy elements quite a bit in the series. How do you decide when it’s time to bring JC or the Angel or Devil Girl into a story?

BREEDEN: The angel and devil girls have just become my spokeswomen. They make announcements or make the inner monologue comments. My base, carnal thoughts come out with them. JC and the Devil have a mind of their own. I try not to force them out, and as a result they are the most pure and popular and rarely seen characters. I use them for political commentary, and considering the political state of things, I’m keeping my mouth firmly shut.

Q: What’s with all the “Kilt Blowing?”

BREEDEN: With all of the Playboy and Girls Gone Wild and Pin-Ups that are out there, us girls should get SOME form of eye candy. It’s playful fun designed to make everyone feel good. Guys who don’t normally get to play the sex symbol have a few minutes of women screaming for their body and we get to tease and cat call. It’s all in good fun and we’re not actually trying to expose anyone. Just a little tease.

Q: What else are you working on these days? And what’s next for DP?

BREEDEN: I’m setting up Devil’s Panties as an LLC and I’m going to be doing my own publication and distribution through Diamond. I have, in the past, used other publishers. But I want more control over when and how often the books come out and I want to know what’s going on. If they’re late, I want to be able to tell people why and not throw up my hands and say, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Once my finances recover from the printing of Book Three (Archaia is printing Book Two and your guess is as good as mine as to when that will be out), I’d like to get a statue made, socks done up, Zippos printed, and maybe a new deck of playing cards. But that’s not for another six months.

“The Devil’s Panties” updates regularly at www.thedevilspanties.com.

Tags: interviews · webcomic interviews · webcomics