“Let’s Be Friends Again”: comics’ ultimate answer to comics. (Part one)
Chris Haley and Curt Franklin are the two acute, energetic creators behind “Let’s Be Friends Again”, a bi-weekly webcomic about, well, comics. “Let’s Be Friends Again” is any pop culturally-minded academic nerd’s dream come true: it comments on the same culture that it belongs to with sardonic eloquence and lovely artistry. Although my comics knowledge is somewhat limited (hey, I read Buffy Season Eight, The Walking Dead and various graphic novels, okay?), I derive much enjoyment from reading “Let’s Be Friends Again” as the new strips come out. They recently self-published an anthology of their work entitled Let’s Be Friends Again Vol. 1: Under Pressure, which you can purchase online, as well as at various comics shops across the nation. I am thrilled to have interviewed Chris and Curt recently, and they were very kind and non-patronizing about my comics ignorance, which I appreciate fully. Part one is below; part two will go live bright and early on Monday morning. Enjoy!
Robin: So tell me how you guys decided to start “Let’s Be Friends Again”.
Chris: We didn’t intend to start “Let’s Be Friends Again” (or anything) really. We made a little one page, wordless comic for a video game comic anthology called “Life Meter Comics” and it was fairly well received. As we are both desperate for even the slightest bit of praise, this tiny bit of positive reinforcement made us want to do another comic. I think we both had some limited contact with the world of mini-comics, so we thought making one of those would be really easy. I guess it was on Curt’s end, but I ended up taking an embarrassingly ridiculous amount of time to draw the thing. I was just kind of stage-frighting over it for some reason, which is something I still do sometimes, but since we have a set schedule now, I just have to work through it a lot faster. We ended up calling the mini-comic “Let’s Be Friends Again” from a line in the script which we thought sounded like the kind of thing people titled mini-comics. It was a learning experience. We had some more knowledgeable friends (Joel Priddy and Shane McDermott) help us put it all together once the art was finished, and we took 100 copies of it (and little else) to the Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art’s comic festival/convention in New York City. That ended up also being a little better received than it probably should have been and we were flush with the idea of making more mini-comics forever. At some point while we were trying to work out the ideas for “LBFA2″ (which would have followed Curt and Chris into the frozen arctic in search of.. something, I don’t remember exactly.. I think furries were involved), we decided doing a webcomic in between mini-comics would be a good way to keep names out there a little and to possibly grow the audience for future mini-comics a little. Turns out the internet is a lot more popular than we thought. That was intended to be the short version. (The long version will be available in the massive unofficial LBFA biography available in hardcover sometime next year.) (That’s a lie.)
Robin: What is your creation process like? In the descriptions below each of your strips, you basically make it sound like Curt writes something, drops it on Chris who draws it, and then it goes up. Is that accurate, or is there more cross-collaboration?
Curt: That’s about how it goes. A lot of times I’ll have a very clear idea about how something should read and how it should like, and I just write out a script and send it to Chris. Sometimes he’ll have a comment or just not like it, and in that case we work together to change it. Sometimes I’ll just have nothing and Chris will have a good idea that I basically just have to put into script form. It’d be nice someday to have an office where can both just hang out and bullshit about stuff until we get an idea, but, for now, we’ve got a pretty good way of doing it.
Robin: One thing that resonates about your work with me is that even though I’m not well-read in comics, I still feel like I “get” most of the comics, even the ones that I don’t fully “get”. Like this comic: while I am not sure what is going on specifically, I can see from how Chris drew President Obama that it pokes fun at the idea that health care is a plot to kill people, and it also seems to be a pretty smart riff on the blatant racism that we’ve seen ooze out of the woodwork since Obama took office. But the last panel confuses the heck out of me. Can you explain the specifics?
Chris: I will try to make this as non-comic reader friendly as possible. DC Comics’ has had this thing going on the last year or so where these “magic rings“ from space have been flying around going onto dead bodies and bringing them “back to life” as like.. evil super-powered zombies that try to tear people’s (mostly just people wearing colorful costumes though) hearts out. I don’t know, maybe Curt should explain this one, my head is already starting to hurt.
Curt: The joke plays on people’s fears of what would actually happen if the health care bill passed. People were acting like we would all instantly be thrown in camps and made to listen to Justin Bieber albums or whatever. It seemed appropriate at the time to compare people’s “end times” attitudes about the health care bill to the actual “end times” story going on in DC Comics with the evil Black Lanterns taking over the universe. There wasn’t any racial component to it, for good or ill. We used up our racial criticism of the whole Lantern mythology in our White Lantern comic strip.
Robin: There’s this gem, which pokes fun at the birther “movement”. What’s going on here? Hawkman must be a pretty crappy superhero, if he is reppin’ the birthers and Obama gets to be Superman.
Curt: Hawkman’s always been painted as a pro-war conservative, to the point where some people write him as if that’s the only facet of the dude’s life! Like, imagine you’re writing a character and you’re trying to get inside his head and you say “Ok. Hawkman’s a conservative. He’s going to have every stereotypical conservative belief.” So we just stretched the cliche out into Hawkman being a Super-birther. Also interesting, Ollie Queen believes the government used controlled demolition on Coast City and just blamed it on Mongul because something-something oil profits.
Chris: It’s also worth noting (since one commenter on StumbleUpon got so upset by it) that we were not saying Obama is Superman, we were just saying that Superman is a guy who’d have a hard time finding his birth certificate.
Robin: Sometimes one of your strips will compel me to do some research, which is always worth it. This comic baffled me at first. (Incidentally, the art is especially effing gorgeous here; Joker looks priceless.) But then I googled the phone number, figured out why Joker would be compelled to rally Batman’s enemies to call it (editor’s note: it was a number for readers to call and vote about whether or not that incarnation of Robin should die; the people voted ‘yes’), and, upon remembering the myriad of 900-number hotlines in the late 80′s/early 90′s, I promptly died laughing. Have you thought about that aspect of your comic, that you are linking people to different areas of pop culture that they may not have explored yet, helping them make new connections, opening new doors for them? Do you do that for each other?
Chris: I don’t think we actively try to make people look things up (with the exception of the strip we did about the movie “The Third Man”, which, seriously, everyone should watch), but we don’t try to dumb things down so that everyone can get it either. I think our first goal is always just to make each other laugh. If we do that other people will usually dig it too. We realize that some of our strips have occasionally been hard enough to suss out that people sometimes think they’re missing something from the simpler ones. We do like it when people tell us that because of comics of ours they’ve looked into something else or ended up getting and enjoying some thing we referenced. And yes, we’re sending each other texts and emails about stuff we want the other to check out all the time.
Robin: You’re not just referencing and sending up superhero comics, either: among many examples, you take on Disney, The Walking Dead (and Arrested Development), Archie, and you even comment on our country’s economic crisis via sending up Popeye. It is relatively rare for a person or persons to decide to spoof a wide-ranging genre, and then do a good job of covering literally all of the bases. How do you do this? Do you have a giant comics flowchart on a wall somewhere?
Curt: That’s just sort of what we’ve always done and it’s what people do a lot when they’re with their friends. Every group of friends has that conversation where you try to figure out which of you equates to which Avenger. You start relating personal qualities to fictional qualities and you start seeing the connections in everything. I wish I was organized enough to have a giant comics flowchart, but, unfortunately, it’s usually just hearing or reading something and having the reaction, “Damn, that is totally like Superman.” And then you realize how limited your world view is and you are filled with sadness.
Tune in Monday morning to check out part two, wherein we learn, among other things, what is next in store for Curt and Chris. If you can’t wait til then, head to http://www.letsbefriendsagain.com/, which you should do anyway, or purchase their book Let’s Be Friends Again Vol. 1: Under Pressure.