A few weeks ago, I learned that my friends Jeff Burkholder and Jeremy Bentley were working on a comic strip together. As a person who came to graphic novels and comics late in life (my brother didn’t even collect comic books), I am fascinated now by the way images and words come together to create complex and entertaining stories. So I asked Jeff and Jeremy to “stop by” and share their thoughts on their work.
Here’s how Jeremy and Jeff describe the strip:
(deep booming voice) “In a WORLD…” (just kidding). Here we go:
Stan and Balthazar Ouro have found a new home â€” the open road. The two brothers have loaded their instruments and their meager belongings into a van, leaving the life they knew behind in favor of a life of rock music and the world’s highways. They’re booking the shows themselves, and they’ll throw their sleeping bags on the floors of whoever will give them a place to do so. No hotels. No record label. No tour support. Just two brothers and the dream to play… a Neverending Tour.
And here’s what they have to say about their writing process, the themes of their work, and the value of comics/graphic novels in general.
1. How do the two of you know each other?
Jeff: We don’t, really. Who are you again? Can I call you Jer? Or, I know! Remy!
Jeremy: Um, only if I can call you Old Spice.
Jeff: …Okay, I’ll stick with Jeremy, then.
Jeremy: See question 2 for the rest of this answer.
Jeff: Ooooh, suspense. I like it. Let’s see what’s next…
2. What made you decide to write this strip?
Jeremy: I had been reading a lot of webcomics and was also starting to draw again, something I did in my youth. And I really wanted to rediscover how to express myself in that way. I thought webcomics would be the perfect avenue to do that. Only problem is that I didn’t think I could come up with something that witty and funny to write about regularly, and I have difficulty focusing my ideas.
Jeff: Which is why it’s taken you 20 minutes to come up with that paragraph, yeah?
Jeremy: Exactly. So, the short version is, I had come up with the general idea for a web comic strip, which was inspired by an idea for a cartoon show that never happened. The cartoon was going to be about The French Revolution (a recording studio project I do with my friend Daniel French) and all the inside jokes he and I threw back and forth at each other.
Jeff: Kind of a “Gorillaz” type of thing, where they were a real band, but with a fictional front to it?
Jeremy: Yeah, if you mixed Gorillaz with the Monkees, Scooby-Doo and Jem.
Jeff: Truly, truly outrageous.
Jeremy: (laughs heartily) The idea for the strip itself is based on experiences I and my friends have had as independent touring musicians. I thought it would be cool to have a comic about a band that decides to live on the road and not have a home.
Jeff: Yeah, there’s lots of potential metaphor in that. I’m pretty sure we’ll ignore that completely as we go along. Or not.
Jeremy: Through Twitter, I found Jeff and his comic strip (“Zoidland”), liked his writing, and since he was local, I figured we could meet and talk about it.
Jeff: Yeah, Jeremy came to me with this idea he had, and we spent a lazy Sunday afternoon (and a few hundred-dozen IM sessions) throwing around ideas for where we could go with this, and the potential of awesomeness became more than apparent. I’d noticed recently that, between the political snark and nerd-humor of “Zoidland”, and the social-web commentary of “Frank and Linh”, that there were a lot of avenues for humor that I didn’t have open to me…and I loved his artwork… So much better than the scrawly stuff I put out…
Jeremy: Tell me about it.
Jeff: …I think I just did.
Jeremy: It seemed pretty much immediately that we fed off each other, and we made for a good creative…collaboration…coll-
Jeff: Creatively collaborative team?
Jeremy: I concur.
Jeff: Anyway, we’re taking Jeremy’s experiences and whatnot and using that as inspiration for this strip about two brothers who decide to do just that: spend their lives for the foreseeable future as a touring band. They’ll pick up friends along the way, and who knows…maybe enemies? (Dun-dun-DUNN!)
3. What ideas/themes/questions/silliness will you deal with in the strip?
Jeff: Chiefly, how will this rag-tag group of survivors of a plane crash come together to solve the mystery of the island they’ve crashed on? Or will they all remain…LOST?!?
Jeremy: Seriously, though…to answer the question for realâ€“
Jeff: Hey! DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN’T DO!!
Jeremy: (laughs, scratches nose, laughs again)
Jeff: Seriously, for real, we’re gonna start out by mining some of Jeremy’s experiences on the road doing this sort of thing. And then, eventually, we’re gonna let the story take on a mind of its own. I’m not gonna say that that’s the “master plan”, ’cause I don’t know that we really want to say that we have one or not…
Jeremy: There are a lot of strange situations one can get into when they’re trying to fund their own tour as an independent band, which can be expounded upon and made even more ridiculous than real life.
Jeff: Oh, and to actually answer the question? I think we’re gonna have a talking GPS at some point. That’s silly. Yes. Either that or a sentient sock puppet. It’s a toss-up, really.
Jeremy: Umm, don’t GPS devices already talk?
4. What are your inspirations?
Jeremy: My friends who have in the past, and those that are still attempting to make a living as musicians on the road; there is a wealth of material and inspirations from what happens in the day-to-day life of a touring musician. I really enjoy the art of Lar deSouza (of “Least I Could Do” and “Looking for Group”) and Wendy Pini (“Elfquest”), fantasy movies of the ’80s, and rock music, of course.
Jeff: Really, what got me into the whole web comic thing was Pete Abrams’ “Sluggy Freelance”, which combined the gag-a-day style of comics with (significantly) longer and more dramatic story arcs. I loved reading that, and it ultimately was what inspired me to create my own stuff; not that my stuff’s anywhere close to his. I also love Dave Kellett (“Sheldon”) and Jeph Jacques (“Questionable Content”). Oh, and this guy right beside me? Inspiration, personified. Aw, yeah.
5. If you had to recommend three comic strips, comics, or graphic novels that people should read, what would you recommend?
Jeff: Aside from what we’ve already mentioned above, if you haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series, you have *no* idea what comic books can be like.
Jeremy: I concur.
Jeff: Also a shout-out to “Count Your Sheep” and “Wapsi Square”. Love those comics; both the art and the considerable amount of thought that goes behind writing them. Oh, and I did a guest strip for Greg Dean’s “Real Life Comics”, which is fantastic.
Jeremy: Lately, I’ve really been enjoying “Hijinks Ensue”. It seems that a lot of the humor was written with me in mind.
6. If you two were a dish, what would you be? Something spicy? Something feel good?
Jeff: Borscht? Gazpacho? Nacho cheese-flavored breakfast cereal?
Jeremy: Wait, are you asking if we each were individual dishes? Or one dish together?
Jeff: That’s a little creepy, either way, there…
Jeremy: If it’s the dish-together thing, we’re General Tso’s Chicken. Jeff’s the broccoli.
Jeff: Y’know, now that you mention it, we’re totally that. Meaty, spicy…aw, yeah.
7. What is your writing process? How do you come up with your ideas and then get them to the page/web?
Jeff: Well, largely what we’ve been doing is the two of us talk out a bunch of ideas, either in person, or via random ideas we email or instant-message or text to each other throughout the day. Then, I take one of those ideas, and just think about it until I find something funny in it. …Which sounds really lame when I put it that way. Dang, I’m depressed now.
Jeremy: I concur.
8. What else would you like to say about comic strips?
Jeff: I think a lot of people don’t understand just how much a part of our culture comic strips have not only *become*, but *provided*. We wouldn’t be who we are today without Charlie Brown being a blockhead or Garfield hating Mondays or Cathy going “Aack!” all the time…
Jeremy: Don’t ever mention Cathy again.
Jeff: Yeah, I should strike that last one. (shudders in revulsion)
Jeremy: Comic strips and comic books are definitely where I got my start in drawing. Thanks to the web constantly offering new inspiration and breaking new boundaries in comics, I can revisit my youth with the experiences of my adult life and continue to live out a creative dream, even if it doesn’t involve being smelly and dirty in a hot van with a bunch of other dudes.
Jeff: I concur.
9. Any shout outs you’d like to include?
Jeremy: Nope. Except maybe for Ken Mueller. If you see him, and you’re a dude, give him a big hug.
Jeff: I’m not gonna write that; dude gave me a break for my one strip. We’ll go back later and delete that, okay?
Jeremy: (laughs, maniacally)
Jeff: Oh, and we’re contractually obligated to mention our wives, aren’t we?
Jeremy: (sighs) Yes. Hi, Jamie.
Jeff: Props to Nean.
10. Favorite book?
Jeremy: I really love “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving…and the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer.
Jeff: …That’s quite a … um … “dichotomy” is the most polite word I can think of right now, dude.
Jeremy: I concur.
You can subscribe to The Ouro Brothers and The Neverending Tour here. Take a look and laugh a bit. You’ll appreciate that you did.