Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Zombie Clowns and Stranger Things

This week the subject of our Web-comic interview is Allan Turner, half of the clown duo Miller and Mullet, with Ed Miller and half of the web-comic creative team with Kameron Gates. He tells us tales of intense clown training, creative collaboration, and zombie clowns. View the strip at: http://www.millerandmullet.com/comic

The Miller and Mullet web comic is based on two traditional clown characters created by you and Ed Miller. How did you guys meet and how were the characters born?

We met in Clown College. Okay maybe not college but there’s this course called Baby Clown. Very intense. 3 hours per night, 3 nights per week for 3 months. Or the alternative is something like all day everyday for two weeks up in the backwoods. It’s an introduction to a style of clown that was developed by the late Richard Pochinko. He drew on several different clown traditions and mixed it up. There are few people who continue to teach the Pochinko method and there’s a big clown community here in Canada. Anyway, that’s where we met.

During the course, Ed and I rarely worked together—we weren’t trying to avoid each other or anything like that, we just didn’t find ourselves in the same part of the room all that often. Baby Clown’s pretty effed up and we were battling our own demons. But after finishing the course, we began writing together. Mostly comedy sketches. At the same time we were starting to independently develop our own characters. Ed had this idea for an immoral lecher full of machismo, a real and not necessarily lovable loser. I should mention here that the real Ed Miller isn’t anything like that. Meanwhile I was on a mission to create the dumbest character I could. It’s something I’d started experimenting with back in my Theatresports days. I really wanted to breathe life into this guy who was barely alive. I don’t remember why I had the idea to create a zombie clown, but I’m guessing that’s it—after all, what’s dumber than a zombie? The original Mullet wasn’t much different than the zombies in Romero’s first Dead trilogy and Day of the Dead’s Bub was a huge influence. Ed and I debuted our new characters independently at a now long defunct clown show. It was after that show we had the idea to put them together. Despite their differences—a hobo and a zombie—they were a perfect Joey and Auguste pairing… er, that’s clown jargon—means basically conniving leader and innocent follower.

The first thing we did was get a busker’s license. We took to the streets every Tuesday night at 8:13 for a couple hours or so. We figured that was the cheapest way to get regular audiences and honest feedback. Man, were we right. If people aren’t interested in what you’re doing, they don’t stop, they don’t even look at you. So we developed the characters over the course of a summer. Mullet learned to talk. Then we wrote and shot a no-budget feature-length movie. That’s the next logical step, right?
Click to enlarge image.

You've made a bit of a grapefruit business out of appearances as the duo, including a few on television, how's that going?

Very well! Though there was a big shake up last year. After 10 years of Miller & Mullet™, Miller made the choice to hang up the bowler and retire from performing. He’s chosen to focus on his writing. It was an amicable split, we’re still pals, and he graciously gave me the character to do what I want with in comic book form. So Ed Miller lives on in 2D!

What that means is Mullet’s gone solo. I’m in the process of re-branding—new logo, new website: www.meMullet.com. Mullet’s been doing a ton of live gigs, including one a couple weeks back at Second City, which was loads of fun. There was an appearance on Ed the Sock’s most recent show, This Movie Sucks, and a cameo in a music video for the Victoria-based band Hank & Lily. Coming up, Mullet will be hosting Lunacy Cabaret on April 2 and on April 16 he’s producing his own variety show with lots of guests. The details are all on www.meMullet.com (1 paragraph, 2 plugs—I’m shameless). There’s also a Naked News appearance in the works and I’m editing a new short for YouTube. So lots of live, some TV, and some other stuff I can’t talk about yet.

I didn't know Miller was no longer in the picture, but I'm glad it was a friendly split. (You never want to see your friends go all Martin and Lewis on each other.) However, it seems to me that Miller was a perfect foil for Mullet. From a creative standpoint, has it been difficult to adapt to solo work?

Miller was a perfect foil for sure. It was always pretty much guaranteed the audience would side with the sweet-natured zombie and rally against the callous hobo. Not having a Miller to play off has meant Mullet has had to become more confident. Granted, that wasn’t too difficult or even much of a change—Mullet’s always been a bit of Prima Donna. Even when we were still a duo, Mullet did a number of solo gigs and often wandered off on his own at comic cons. What is new is the type of material he’s doing now—standup and musical numbers. That never happened before. So far it’s going great.

Who works on the Miller and Mullet strip?

Right now there are two of us. I’m the writer and Kameron Gates is the artist. I’ve known Kam pretty much his whole life. Both our families had cottages up north and we grew up together. Now he’s a full time animator. He’s worked on Star Wars, King Kong, Hellboy, Sky Captain… a lot of movies, commercials, and video games. He’s based in Portland so we do all our comic work via phone calls, email, and the magical internet.

Here’s our usual process:
·     I write a script.
·     Kam sends notes.
·     I revise.
·     Kam draws up a rough layout.
·     I send notes.
·     Kam revises.
·     Kam draws final art.
·     I letter, prep for web, post the final strip, and blitz Facebook and Twitter.

Sometimes there’s more back and forth, sometimes less. Often we talk plot, especially lately now that we’re getting away from gags and into bigger story stuff. Oops, spoiler alert. Anyway that’s how it’s worked so far but we are about to bring someone new into the mix to take over the flatting and shading.

While preparing for this interview, I re-read the whole run of the strips, and I definitely noticed you guys were developing something more narrative based in the most recent entries. There is even a bit of a change in tone to more emotional content, and a more sophisticated style. Was this just a reaction to working on the strip for a long time and getting sick of the gag format, or was there always a plan to broaden it's scope at some point?

That was planned right from the start. I like establishing a pattern then breaking it! And I knew I wanted gag, gag, gag, surprise now you’re scared, now you’re crying. We’ll be going back to gaggy strips over the next couple months, then things are going to get epic. I like comedy and I like horror, but what I really love is good storytelling. So sometimes this strip will be funny, sometimes scary, sometimes sad. The most important part of my job is to make sure it’s going somewhere, taking the right route, and always engaging.

You guys seem very committed to your web comic. How long have you been working on it, and how often do you update (or try to update) the strip?

We’re very committed. Kam and I both think of this as a professional venture. We did some test strips in 2009, then started the regular run in March 2010. It updates every Wednesday.

For those who aren't familiar with the strip, give us the basic rundown on what it's all about.

Miller & Mullet™ are two clowns—one an immoral hobo, one an innocent zombie. They’re desperate to make it big in showbiz but they’re each other’s worst enemy and not very talented to boot. There’s also some weirdness going on and Mullet has an evil temper.

The past year has been about introducing characters and throwing out the threads of a larger story. This next year will be tying all those loose ends up into one helluva monkey’s fist.

Are you guys comics fans too, or was the cartoon more a promotional device for the live gigs?

Comic fans for sure! Kam and I both want to do other projects as well. But I have to say, it’s been great for promotion. Appearing as Miller & Mullet™ at comic cons really helped draw attention to the comic. And having a comic really helped push the live act. That’s how we met Ed the Sock and ended up being regular guests on his show.

You've published a few floppy comics as well, are they different from the web comic, or are you just repackaging the material?

We self-published one 22-pager: Miller & Mullet™ in Space. That was back in 2006. We have another one, a follow up, in the can, but I’m holding off on printing. It’s part of a pitch for a 4 issue mini-series and it’s totally separate from the webcomic. It’s still Miller & Mullet™ and they’re still losers trying to break into show business, but it’s in SPACE. See, totally different.
Miller and Mullet in Space

Have you managed to monetize the site at all, and if so, how successfully?

Short answer is no. But I haven’t really tried so far. Now that there’s a year’s worth of strips up, it’s something to start thinking about. My plan is to first finish the re-branding I talked about before, so it’ll become “Mullet presents the Miller & Mullet™ Webcomic” then I’ll do a PR blitz in earnest and buy some ads.

How long do you plan to continue with the strip?

Kam and I are in the middle of telling a big story—Miller & Mullet’s secret origins. This is something the real Ed Miller and I started developing 10 years ago to help us get into character. Since then, I’ve expanded on it a lot and I’m really excited to finally be able to tell it. For one reason, I think it’s a great story, though I recognize that sounds like me tooting my own horn. It’s also something I get asked about a lot—who is Mullet? What’s wrong with Mullet? Well this’ll answer that. And the webcomic is the perfect medium for it.

This particular story is finite with a beginning, middle, and end. But after it ends, it keeps going. I could keep doing this indefinitely. Cue the Limahl.

Do you think the future of the comics medium lies on the web?

I’m probably not the right guy to answer that. I mean, I still buy CDs. Hell, I still buy records! But webcomics are great. I follow several. Will I stop buying printed books? I doubt it, I sure love my Hellboy hardcovers!

Give us the top three web comics you like, and where we can find them.

Just three? Okay, but Kam’s going to pick three too.

           Allan’s picks:
·     Dinosaur Comics

Kam’s picks:
·     Axe Cop
·     Hark, a vagrant

We have links to plenty more great comics on our site. Plus, you know, our comic’s there too. Did I mention it updates EVERY Wednesday? Come say hello.

Thanks, Allan, best of luck with the strip and the clown career. 

That's it for interviews for a while. Next week, I reminisce about a long lost creative friend.

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