An Interview with Andy Weir, author of Casey and Andy
We interrupt our regularly scheduled bad movie recaps to bring you the following: An interview with a popular internet cartoonist! This the first of what I’m hoping will be a series of interviews that I’m dubbing Mendo Talks to Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet!
Catchy, ain’t it?
Now let’s meet our first contestant, Andy Weir. In 2001, Andy Weir was just another well-meaning author with a story that people didn’t seem to want to hear. But by August 25th, 2008, people were hanging on his every word, as his webcomic Casey and Andy came to its long-fermenting conclusion.
It started off simply enough: The strip starred Weir, his real life best friend, and best friend’s girlfriend, as they cavorted through a sitcom of mad science and extremely nerdy humor, with the occassional Tom and Jerry-esque gruesome death along the way. It was good. Real good.
But then things took a turn. A turn towards awesome!
Andy, the jokester to Casey’s straight-man (usually) started dating Satan, as in the Judeo-Christian Satan, who as it turns out is a smoking hot redhead most of the time. The usual crop of perverts caught on to her feminine charms, and the strip’s popularity began to grow.
Things only got stranger from there: Casey became a mad warlord bent on world domination. His girlfriend Mary was hooked up with slick Wolverine claws, and started killing people for making puns. The supporting cast grew to include Quantum Cop (a policeman with so many Nobel Prizes in science that he can deduce shifts in the space time continuum from ripples in his coffee), next door neighbor Jenn (jewel thief, and queen of an alien race of muscular—yet sensitive—men), and a whole holiday platter of villains, from the deadly Quantum Crook to the slightly humorous Mime Assassin. To say nothing of several dimensions worth of clones, aliens, and attractive women.
Bob was there, too.
Moving quickly from one-a-day gags involving the violent deaths of the two leads, the ever-expanding cast went through one epic adventure after another. Eight years, 666 strips, and two insanely long hiatuses later, it was over.
I caught up with Andy Weir not longer after Casey and Andy had come to its much hyped and well-drawn conclusion. He had a lot to say about science, Alice in Wonderland, and why lazy Swedish royals are a comedy goldmine.
Mendo: You started Casey and Andy after failing to get your novel, Theft of Pride, published. Would you say that becoming an internet cartoonist is a satisfactory replacement?
Andy Weir: Well, it does let me be creative, and gives me an audience. It doesn’t take the place of an actual published novel, but it does at least let me know that some folks enjoy my work.
Mendo: Have you written any straight novels since?
I haven’t completed any. I got some distance into a sequel to Theft of Pride, about 60 or so pages into a first draft, but then ran into plot problems and stopped working on it. I haven’t resumed work on it because the motivation isn’t there. It’s hard to write a book when you have the niggling feeling nobody will publish it. Certainly if there was no interest in the first novel, there would be none in the sequel.
Mendo: How exactly did the idea for the strip come about originally? Was the idea of you and your friend acting nutty just something that seemed easy to do, or was it one of those Superbad kinda things where you’d had the idea since you were a kid?
The original idea was indeed based on real life. Casey and I would often do stupid stuff, or have stupid conversations that I thought might be good comedy. That was the original inspiration. The characters quickly took on a life of their own from there, and the “based on real life” aspect of it quickly went away. Nowadays, I regret that I named the characters after real people. It would be better if they were seen as entities in their own right, rather than extensions of me and my friends.
Mendo: A number of your fans were disappointed when you shifted your attention from Casey and Andy to Cheshire Crossing, and didn’t follow you when you changed over. Tonally, they are quite different, but do you feel that new readers to Casey and Andy will find enough commonality to enjoy Cheshire Crossing equally?
As you say, Casey and Andy and Cheshire Crossing are two very different stories, and very different narrative styles. Remember that the audience comes from a skewed pool of the population: internet users. And internet users are more likely to enjoy geek humor than they are to enjoy classic children’s story fanfics.
So for the most part, no, I don’t expect a lot of overlap in the audiences. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I believe the bulk of the Cheshire Crossing readership came from other places. Alice in Wonderland forums, and the like. In other words, I didn’t get that many C&A readers making the transition. Cheshire Crossing had to build up a reader base from scratch.
Webcomics work a little differently than print fiction. You don’t automatically get your whole audience following you around. If you make something completely new, you have to start over and earn readers, just like anyone else. In a way, that’s the beauty of webcomics. Nobody has an advantage. Even well-established authors.
Mendo: “Alice In Wonderland forums”? I didn’t realize there was that large of an audience there. I would have thought just general fantasy fans would have made up the bulk.
Well, that was just an example. But yes, there are numerous fansites for all of the sources Cheshire Crossing is based on. Remember, this is the internet. There’s a fansite for everything.
Mendo: What began as a fairly niche set-up with a small cast, like many other popular webcomics, evolved rather quickly into something not unlike Urusei Yatsura in its prime. At the same time, at many points after the initial evolution there were deliberate efforts to get Casey and Andy back to its roots, with varying degrees of success. Looking back, do you wish you hadn’t created so many characters?
Interesting question. I never thought of it that way. I definitely don’t regret having that many characters in the genre. The more characters you have, the richer the genre is. When a character turned out not to be that interesting, or hard to come up with gags for, I simply stopped using him/her. For instance, when I made a couple of strips with Dante in them, as a tourist in hell, I thought it would be a deep well of humor I could draw from. I imagined strips with Satan and Dante chatting, etc. But in the end, there wasn’t much I could do with him. So I simply stopped showing him.
That general strategy of making new characters willy-nilly benefited the strip a lot, I think. There were a few instances of characters I threw in for a gag or two that became excellent sources of plot and humor. For instance, Quantum Cop was originally slated to show up rarely if ever, and always in the context of giving Casey and Andy a ticket. The King of Sweden hanging out on the couch… I never would have expected that to be funny for more than one or two strips, but that well never ran dry.
The best example of that would be Jenn, who was originally going to simply be the unfortunate next door neighbor who disliked Casey and Andy, for obvious reasons. But she grew into such a strong character, that some people consider her to be the main character of the whole comic.
Mendo: Quantum Cop was just an excuse to add more science, wasn’t he?
He was a method for me to add jokes about spectacularly nerdy topics. Like relativity, Heisenbergian physics, etc.
Mendo: Is there any particular bit of science trivia you always meant to build a strip around, but never got around to it?
Yes, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it funny. There’s a common misconception by a lot of people, that blood is blue in your veins when de-oxygenated and returning to the heart for pumping back through the lungs.
They think this for two reasons. One, when you look at your skin, the veins look blue. This is because the veins themselves are that color, and opaque, so you don’t see the red blood in them at all. And two, on medical charts, veins are always shown as blue.
In reality, blood is always red. It gets brighter red when oxygenated, but that’s it.
I wanted to make an “Anti Stupid Science Man” strip out of that. But I could never figure out how to make it funny.
Mendo: A number of people I’ve spoken to have said that it kinda sucks that you don’t see Casey and Andy t-shirts like you might see Questionable Content or Homestar Runner everywhere. Ideally, of any work you’ve done, what would be the ideal merchandising tie-in?
Well, the obvious first step would be a print edition of C&A strips. The only problem is that takes a lot of work to prep and set up, and I’m very lazy.
Also, there is some merchandising. You can get a Satan poster, or a Pun Police coffee mug.
Mendo: Just curious, which of those sells better?
The coffee mug. Which is too bad, ’cause I think the poster is way cooler.
Mendo: Speaking of Homestar Runner, the Brothers Chaps have been said to maintain a list of things they will never reference in their work for fear that their cartoon will become dated. Have you ever done anything similar?
I’ve made no attempt to avoid becoming dated. I’m perfectly happy for the gags in C&A to move from “topical” to “nostalgic”.
Though I do strongly avoid one thing, and advise all other webcomic authors to avoid as well: politics. Nothing drives me away from a comic faster than when it becomes a springboard for the authors politics. I don’t care about the author’s politics. Half of the time, I’ll disagree with them and that puts me in the uncomfortable position of seeing characters I like preach politics I hate.
I consider it an abuse of the worst kind; a sacrifice of good comics on the altar of short-sighted excitement about some political cause. And how stupid will that comic look years from now? How would you like to read a bunch of Peanuts strips, and in the middle of the archive is a bunch of unfunny whining about the Smoot-Hawley tariff?
Mendo: Everything seemed to wrap up nicely at the end: Jenn and Quantum Cop hooked up, Grover Cleveland got a time travel watch, Casey and Mary finally kicked Andy out, but we never found out what happened to Satan. What became of her after Andy returned to 2006?
She went with Andy, of course. She never actually lived at the house. She lives in Hell. She just often stayed at the house. In the final few strips, we saw that Satan bore no grudges for events in 1886. Andy was a bit miffed, but he’s very quick to forgive and hey, he got a cybernetic arm out of the deal.
Mendo: Seems like the most common request from your fans is for “NEKKID SATAN PICS!” And, we all know from the news posts that there’s at least one. Ever consider auctioning it?
There was never actually a “naked Satan pic”. In one particular strip, she’s shown topless, with nothing but a boxing belt slung over her shoulder, hiding her fun bits. To make that look right, I drew her breasts, nipples and all, so that I could be sure to position the belt correctly. When inking the drawing later, I obviously did not ink the nipples drawn under the belt.
The pic really isn’t that exciting, and no, I have no intention of scanning and publishing it. I’m not even sure I still have it.
Mendo: Of all the continuing storylines, for both Casey and Andy and Cheshire Crossing, which ones were your favorite?
Hmm. That’s a tough call.
For Casey and Andy, I would say the “Jenn in Time” arc [in which the entire cast travels back to the ’80s] was my favorite. I love time travel, and it had a lot of good gags in it. My favorite running gag in C&A would have to be King of Sweden on the couch.
Cheshire Crossing is all a single storyline, so I guess the question would be, which part of it do I like best? Well, I’ll go with what most readers say: The fight between Mary Poppins and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Mendo: For those who don’t know, how did Cheshire Crossing come into being?
I’ve always had a great love of crossovers. One day, while looking up something unrelated, I noticed that Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were both first published in the same year, 1904. The first thing that came to mind was, “Hey, that’s weird. They’d all be contemporaries.” It kind of went from there. I never liked Peter much, but always thought Wendy was a compelling character (in fact, she’s the main character of the story). I wondered how Wendy and Dorothy would get along. Then I wondered what other kids out there ended up in alternate worlds and thought of Alice. Of course, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in the 1850s. So I had to move her forward in time a bit. Nobody seems to have minded.
Finally, I thought, “Meh. A story about three little girls? Lame.” Then I remembered something: Women are way more interesting than girls. So I simply had it take place well after their respective stories. And there you have it.
[Incidentally, Alan Moore thought that was a good idea, too. —Mendo]
Mendo: Are there any other webcomics you’d like to shill for?
I was certain there was more, but at that point his arm started twitching strangely, almost as if acting on its own. He did his best to hold it down, but between his odd mumblings about a “spikey haired asstard” and the mysterious appearance of brimstone in the air, I felt it was best to get out while the getting was good. As I tasted fresh air once more, I felt as though I had been in the presence of greatness, and had only just escaped with my life.
And that’s our show! If you’d like to be one of Mendo’s Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet, feel free to contact me, and then go out and do something… rather interesting!