Another member of the Dumbrella webcomic collective, Sam Brown’s Explodingdog has carved out a unique niche for itself in the webcomic world. Relying on readers for title suggestions, Brown creates a piece of art that features a cast of stick figures, robots, dogs and whatever else Brown feels inspired to add to the mix. The resulting art can occasionally be a fairly literal interpretation of the title, while other times it can be a play on words, a single-panel story or, in some cases, Brown seems to take the title and run with it — only looking back when the art is finished and the final piece has become a tangent twice over.
One of my favorites, “i like this music,” has been in the rotation as one of my desktop backgrounds for close to 5 years now — so the opportunity to talk about this series with Brown has been an experience I’ve looked forward to for quite some time.
Q: First off, can you give me a little background about Explodingdog and your decision to start illustrating phrases provided by readers? How did this whole project start?
SAM BROWN: Explodingdog started as completely different website. The drawings were a similar style, but I was working on a big, non-linear story told through pictures. It was a very cool idea in 1998 when I started it. By late 1999, I was sick of the whole idea. So I took it down and put up the first few pictures with a note saying I would draw more if anyone sent me titles. Then it took off. It was only a joke, but I enjoyed doing it, and it felt like good mental exercise. So I kept doing it. Now I don’t know how to stop.
Q: You seem to be one of those webcomic creators who has quite a bit going on outside of the online comic scene, with presence in the art gallery scene, handmade art products and other projects. How does all of this fit together for you? Are they all unique, individual projects in your mind or do they fit together for you as a single, cohesive project?
BROWN: My stuff all fits together because it is all Explodingdog stuff, but it is not too cohesive. Some people that have looked at almost all the explodingdog pictures and everything else I have posted, have pretty strong ideas about how the Explodingdog universe works. It is really interesting to hear their versions — it’s much more cohesive than I imagine it.
I think all the mini projects keep me interested and keep me coming up with new ideas. Though some of my favorite sites have only one focus and direction. I think I would be a failure if I didn’t have all these other projects going on.
Q: You have a special rule regarding the use of monkeys in text people send you. What’s that about?
BROWN: I do not find monkeys inherently funny, so I decided to make monkeys a wildcard. But that doesn’t matter anymore, because I rarely illustrate the titles exactly as they’re written.
Q: When you sit down to start creating a piece, what goes through your head? Do you think about the text for a while and all of the potential ways you could illustrate it, or do you go with more of a gut-instinct approach, taking your first thought and running with it?
BROWN: My process varies. Somedays I pick titles I am going to use and think about them all day sometimes I just see a title and start drawing. I don’t pencil or sketch anything out, and I always allow for changes once I start drawing. So even if I start with a good idea, it often becomes improvisational once I start drawing.
Q: There’s a history with the red robot in Explodingdog and the red robot of Diesel Sweeties… can you talk about that a bit?
BROWN: Way back in the day, Rich [Stevens] who does Diesel Sweeties lived across the street from me. We became friends when he was showing me how to make a website. A few months after Explodingdog started rolling, Rich started Diesel Sweeties. He needed a robot character and asked if I would mind him using the Red Robot. I said no. A short while after that he started appearing in other comics and websites. Rich and I thought that was great. The Red Robot has appeared in hundreds of comics now.