Saturday, May 7, 2011

Interview: Josh Uitvlugt of Just Add Water, Part 2 of 2

Previously on Ryorin's Ramblings, I talked to my friend and fellow student Josh Uitvlugt, creator of the science fiction webcomic Just Add Water (updating Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) about  the creation of the comic, the characters, the many uses of paperclips, coffee versus tea, the evil mechanisms of squirrels, and his own thoughts on how science and science fiction should interact.

Josh was kind enough to provide a self-introduction:

"My name is Josh Uitvlugt, and I am the author of a webcomic called 'Just Add Water'.  I am having a lot of fun doing the comic, and it acts as a great outlet for the creativity that I am proud to have.  I am an engineer, and while that may conjure up ideas about people with a rigid application of rules and mathematics, engineering requires more creative input than almost any other occupation.  Creative problem solving is the very basis of engineering, and it is what defines me as a person.  I like to feel that the insight that I have to offer contributes to the world around me, and I hope that this interview will convince you that I can be an interesting person."

In this installment, Josh discusses time travel, Star Trek, his characters, superpowers, webcomics in general, webcomic-drama in specific, and the creation of his comic.
And now for the exciting conclusion!

S: If you could travel to any previous time period, what would it be?

J: I'm not quite sure.  I think it would probably be pretty interesting to got to cave man times and just be like, "Hey. I wow you with my knowledge," but I'm pretty sure that every single person I would encounter back then would not actually speak English.  I wouldn't be able to communicate with tham and they'd probably kill me for being a witch or something.

S: But if you were a Humanities major you could take linguistics classes...

J:  I don't really want to ba an anthropologist.  And I think if I was an anthropologist I wouldn't want to mess with these people, I'd want to hide off in the bushes and study them.  "'Ere we see a Cro-Magnon man in his native environment.  Let's watch."  It'd also be kinda interesting to go back to ancient China.  That's be pretty cool.

S: Oh, that'd be pretty awesome.  Han dynasty, you're thinking?

J: I don't know.  Ancient China.  Probably when there's not a bunch of wars or Huns invading or whatever.

S:  A prosperous time?

J:  A prosperous time, when they've got this nice big trade empire.  That would be pretty cool.

S:  Like Han Dynasty during its peak?

J:  I don't know much about Chinese history, but that sounds like a decent time.

S:  It was around two thousand years ago.

J:  China's got old history.  They've been around for quite a while.

S:  Yeah.  Chinese history is lots of fun.

J:  Mm hmm.

S:  Are you secretly a time traveler, sent from the future to prevent some horrible catastrophe and just pretending to make up stuff about time travel?

J: If I was, I would say that I'm not.  But I'm not.  So I'm only going to say that I'm not.  I think if I wasn't one, I'm probably more likely to say that I am one, just because it's a more amusing answer and I'm the kind of person who occasionally likes to give amusing answers more than the right one.  But I'm actually gonna give the correct one and say that I am not.  Along those lines, I think that if time travel was possible, which I don't think the laws of our universe would permit, there's a lot of different sci-fi models of how time travel works and I think that if it was possible it would probably be more like how I've done it in my comic, where there's one time line.  You can go back and change things, but in the time you came from, those changes have already taken place.  You go back and take part in events, but you're not changing anything because that's already how it unfolded in the past of your future.

S:  Like in that episode of original Star Trek, when because of their actions while time traveling the missile goes off at the exact same time it did?

J:  I haven't seen too much original Star Trek, but it sort of happens in Voyager, where there's this time ship that comes out of nowhere and is like "I don;t like you because you blew up the entire Solar System in the future," and it shoots them into the past and follows along with them.  and then--

S:  Cell phones get invented?

J:  Yeah, that stuff too.  And then they take off later and the time ship explodes on take-off, which sets off the explosion in the future.  The explosion wouldn't have happened in the future if the guy hadn't tried to kill the Voyager, which drove them back into the past.  Which eventually led them to fly into the future, and so on.

S:  Stuff like that happens a few times in Stargate, too.

J:  Another model of time travel is the multi-verse, where there's an infinite number of universes...

S:  ...and if you travel back and change anything, another universe branches off.

J:  Yeah.  Or you don't actually travel back, you just travel to another universe that is occurring simultaneously that just happens to be in the past.  That way you can't have time paradoxes.  Say you go back in time and, say, you kill your grandfather, for example, and you travel beck to a universe where you don;t exist.  You would still exist, because you didn't come from that universe.  You came from a universe where you did exist.

S:  So it was a different you who was kept from existing.

J:  Yeah.  If that kind of thing would be real, then there's an infinite number of time travelers messing with an infinite number of universes, but there's also an infinite number of universes that time travelers have never encountered.  Someone would ask, "If there's time travelers, how come we aren't seeing them all over the place?" and it may be that this universe has never encountered any time travelers, but there's another universe that's almost identical except for the fact that time travelers have come.  But I think that's a little silly.  That's an awful lot of universes.  An infinite number is a very high number, and with that kind of thing, if all points in time exist simultaneously, then it seems to me one universe will cease to exist because it reaches its final moment and another will exist at the start of time and theoretically all of the universes would just be on an infinate loop.  I think with how the world exists, there's probably just one universe, or at least one universe that's the main universe and there might be other, parallel realities, but I don't think that they would be as important.  There could be some weird way to enter a new universe, or a way to travel to a type of place that we have no conventional means of which to travel to.  It wouldn't be a whole different parallel universe.  It seems like it would cheapen the uniqueness and value of humanity if there's an infinite number of other, almost identical human civilizations out there that don't really interact with us at all.  That just seems dumb.

S:  It also kind of defeats the purpose of the term "universe," which means "everything."  Jumping back a little bit to character questions: if your characters had super powers, what would they be or what would they want them to be?

J:  I think Ben would probably want his to be telekinesis, because that's the coolest super power.  You can do anything with that.  I've heard people who, when they're asked about that, say flight, but that's a really stupid answer, because guess what you can do when you can move matter with your mind?  You can fly.  There's just a bunch of different powers that let you fly that aren't just restricted to flight.  I think Charlie would have super-speed or something.  That would be pretty cool.  He's a small skinny guy and he's just a little bit hyper and I feel like super-speed would probably just fit him.  I feel like Katie would probably want flight, just because she probably doesn't think about it very much.  That's the kind of question that if you ask it to an engineer like Ben, they've thought about that question.  They have an answer ready, just like if you ask Charlie what he thinks about the zombie apocalypse.  He's thought about it.  He's prepared for it.  I'm not sure about Sam.  She'd probably have control over fire or something.

S:  She seems like a pyromaniac.

J: Yeah.  A "pyromancer" or whatever you call it.  An elemental control over fire.  That would be a really cool ability.  I think that also is one that lets you fly.

S:  Like the Human Torch.

J:  The Human Torch can fly, yeah.

S:  What powers do you think they would have?

J:  Probably what those ones were.  Ben would almost certainly have telekinesis or some kind of weird psychic thing, like Professor X.  He'd move stuff with his mind and invade people's minds.  I think that Sam probably would have the fire thing.  Charlie would probably have speed or teleportation of something cool like that.  Katie... I think if I was going to make her into a superhero, she'd probably have indestructibility or something and super-strength.  She'd be the team tank.  "Hey, yeah, you shot me in the face, but it didn't do anything, so I'm gonna punch you."  Boom.  Unstoppable force and immovable object in one superhero.

S:  That's be pretty entertaining to watch.

J:  Yeah. A lot of superheroes have power-suites.  Super Man's the obvious example, but I don't want to use him because he has like every power and that's just cheating, but like the Flash.  He has super-speed, but he has a lot of secondary things he can do.  He can create tornadoes or whatever and I think that he can vibrate through walls.  I don't read any comic books, but a lot of superheroes have a power and different things they can do depend on how creative they are with it, like the Flash being able to do all those things.  That's a creative use of super-speed.  A lot of superheroes who have telekinesis or something like that should be unstoppable, because if you have enough creativity with those powers, you can do anything.  Usually they don't, and that's kind of lame.  With pyrokinesis, you could totally do awesome things, like...

S:  Heat up your cup of tea...

J:  Yeah, you could have real fine control of things or you could make giant lakes of fire and epic stuff, but usually they're just restricted to turning themselves into fire and shooting fireballs, which is kind of lame.  And telekinesis people are usually like, "I will pick up things with my brain and throw them at the enemy," when they could just--

S:  Be moving the enemy.

J:  Yes, or like, "Hey, you see those neurons in your brain?  They're not connected to each other anymore.  Because it only take a small amount of force to do that.  So you're dead."  With telekinesis, you could do anything.  You could probably spontaneously ignite the air, if you make the molecules in the air vibrate really fast, and you can kill someone instantly, but a super-villain with telekinesis is more likely to use it creatively than a superhero.

S:  Like how Magneto sometimes uses his magnetic powers to make people move while Professor X just communicates with people.

J:  I'm not sure his power's telekinetic.  Not as much as Magneto's.  Magneto's power is specifically telekinetic over metal.

S:  Yeah, fair enough.

J:  That scene in, I forget which X-men movie, I think it was 2, where Magneto's escaping and that guard has iron filings injected into his blood or mercury particles, and he sucks it all out of that guy through his skin, and then he's floating on a super-thin sheet of metal and simultaneously controlling those ball bearing to pepper those people-- that's how you should use telekinesis.  Doing awesome things with limited resources.  Usually, if the heroes have a car, they'll pick up the car and throw it at somebody, but if you used the level of control Magneto used on those balls but on a larger scale, you could take the car and melt it into a solid blob and turn it into a huge number of ball bearings and hurl it at your opponent, or you could turn it into a giant metal monster thing, or do real cool stuff like that.  But usually they're just like: "Car.  Throw."

S:  Do you read any webcomics?

J:  I do read several.  I read Questionable Content and Doctor McNinja is a good one.  Doctor McNinja's how I'd like mine to turn out to be, where I could have a totally ridiculous sci-fi situation and people respond, "okay, that's just how this comic is."  Doctor McNinja's pretty awesome.  I also read a bunch of other ones.  Questionable Content is all about drama and stuff, relationships; that's the kind of thing I don't want my comic to turn into.  Most comics that I've seen with male and female characters the same age, they end up getting into relationships and everything becomes about drama and... well, having relationships.  There's enough webcomics out there like that.  I want mine to be about four people who are connected, but not in a romantic way, and they go on adventures and do cool stuff.  They might be in relationships with other people, but I'm not going to bring it up or mention those people much, if ever.  They're a group of four people who see each other as siblings as opposed to romantic interests.

S:  Friends of different genders who don't necessarily have romantic interactions.

J:  Uh huh.  That way it's just less complicated.  That way I can do more science fiction story things as opposed to romantic story based things.

S:  Do you think any of your characters read webcomics?

J:  Probably.  I would assume that at least Ben and Charlie would read a bunch.  I don't know if Katie does.  Maybe one or two.

S:  Maybe Hark! A Vagrant?  History jokes...

J:  Probably.  I like that one.  It doesn't update as often as I would like, but that's also one that does ridiculous things in a sort of serious way.  It's got a history person acting in a way that you wouldn't expect them to.  A lot of those ones has a history person talking or something and someone's like, "Oh, Mr. History Person, don't you want to do this?"  And they're like, "No, I don;t want to do that.  I want to do this other silly thing."  "But that thing's silly!"  "I WANT TO DO IT!"  It's funny.  That's one that I like.  Some of the jokes don't seem to history linked, they just involve a history person and they happen to be doing the silly things, but a lot of them are history jokes, and it's like "That's kind of funny, 'cause I know that history thing."

S:  Or it's an obscure piece of Canadian history and it's like "I need to Wikipedia that now, so I understand the joke."

J:  Yes.

S:  Do you think Sam read any webcomics?

J:  I think so.  I think most college age people probably do read at least one or two webcomics, so she probably reads some.  I don't know which ones she would, but I assume that she does.

S:  How about Frank.

J:  I don't think that he does.  He probably has a computer, but he doesn't really need it for that much.  He probably does need it for whatever stuff he's doing, like secret communications from the U.S. government or whatever, because he was like Indiana Jones, and he probably still does some stuff occasionally, but I don't think he surf the internet very much or wastes time with webcomics.  How I've envisioned him is that he's  semi-retired and the reasons why he's superintendent of this apartment complex are unclear, because he's not really the kind of person you would expect to do that, so this might be sort of his mild-mannered alter-ego or his semi-retirement thing that's kind of out of the way and not too conspicuous.

S:  What tools do you employ in making a comic?

Josh's tools of the trade
J:  I have a drawing board thing, that's just a flat wood thing. I do the normal drawing on that.  I just us standard eight-and-a-half by eleven printing paper and I have a cardboard stencil that I do the basic shape of the frame in.  I draw the comic out in pencil and I usually get the details pretty much finalized and then I trace it with pen. Once I have it in pen, I erase all the pencil.  Then I scan it into my computer.  Once it's scanned, I clean it up in PaintDotNet, which is the image editing software I use.  How I do that is I make the lines pure black and the background pure white, and then I edit it with my drawing tablet.  The reason I have the lines pure black and pure white is because that way it's easier to do colors.  If it's black in the middle and fades to grey near the edge, say with someone's face, when I try to fill it in with a skin tone color, there's going to be a halo around it of grey color.  If I keep it pure black, it will be the right color right up to the edge.  PaintDotNet has an anti-aliasing tool, which means if I take a circle drawing tool, where it's horizontal and vertical it will be pretty much black and white, but on the edge where it curves, there will be pixels that are grey to smooth the transition, which makes it look a lot less digital, but I work at a high enough resolution that I can use those pixelated edges without them looking pixelated when I scale it down.  Once it's a black and white line picture, I'll take out all the white and I'll put a layer on the bottom that's pure white and I have two layers: the lines with no fill and the middle layer, and I use the paint bucket to put in the color there.  Because there's a layer on top with the lines, I can use the drawing tablet and, for the shadows at least, sometimes there's narrow areas and I can do the pen right up to the edge.  that way I don't have to be careful to preserve the edge and I can fill in shapes without worrying about messing up the lines.  Then I flatten the layers and scale it down, and then I use Adobe Dreamweaver to put it on the internet.

S:  What are some problems you encountered when you started making the comic?

Josh's tablet
J:  One thing, why I have the pen tablet now, is that sometimes the lines that I draw don't really... I use a ballpoint pen, which is harder to control than a felt tip pen, but it just happens to be the finest pen I have that isn't out of ink, so with the comics that I currently do I have to do a significant amount of cleaning up with the pen tablet.  Earlier on they looked a little bit better because I had a different pen, but I had to use a mouse to clear it up and that's a lot harder.  It's really hard to draw a circle or a smooth curve with a mouse, but it's effortless with a pen tablet or an actual pen.  Before I would just scan them in and get rid of big smudgy areas by painting them white, but I would leave the libes as grey with fuzzy edges.  If I turn everything to black by taking the paint tool and dumping it on a darker thing, that gets most of the darker black stuff, and  then I delete everything that doesn't turn black from that, but sometimes that leaves jagged edges or gaps because the lines had lots of color variation.  It's a lot easier to fix with a pen tablet, but sometimes if I don't color it right it gets rid of a lot more than I want and I have to fix almost all of the lines, and that's kind of inconvinient, but in general I haven;t had too many problems.

S:  Why do you call it "Just Add Water"?

J:  When I was trying to think of names, I was trying to decide what's it's role was going to be.  Was it going to be just a webcomic, or a webcomic and blog, or a game review site.  I liked "Just Add Water" because it's a recognizable phrase.  It doesn't really have very much to do with the characters or the story, but it's one of the instructions for making tea.  I think anyone who actually drinks tea would tell you that you don't just add water, but it sort of fits, because how Ben approaches problems is like, "Hey, yeah, I will engineer a one-step solution that will solve all of the problems."

S:  Fiddle with the time machine to figure out what happens.

J:  Exactly.

That concludes the interview!  Thanks for reading and don't forget to check out Just Add Water, updating Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

No comments:

Post a Comment