Interview: Steven Cloud on ‘Boy on a Stick and Slither’
Boy on a Stick and Slither creator Steven Cloud claims that he’s been publishing his webcomic since 1999, but one gets the impression that BoaSaS has been around quite a bit longer than that, growing in the margins of sketch pads, notebooks and crumpled pieces of paper discarded long ago.
The structure is fairly simple, with only two major characters in essentially the same position from one strip to the next, but the subject matter, well… that’s another story. The topics of conversations for the primary characters, Boy on a Stick (a stick with a boy’s head, just like the name implies) and Slither (a green snake), range from simple observation to complicated existential analysis. One strip will contain dialogue that could just as easily be found in a supermarket checkout line, while another will directly address complicated sociopolitical debates of the modern era.
So, yes, it’s a bit hard to "sum up" BoaSaS… and it seems like Cloud intended it that way.
In fact, it’s probably best to let my conversation with Cloud speak for itself as the best description of the strip, its creator and why it should be a part of your weekly reading list, as we discuss the origins of BoaSaS, the current debate over profitability in print- versus web-based comics, and his upcoming participation in a road rally that spans several continents.
COMICMIX: Thanks for taking some time to talk with me, Steven. What are you working on tonight?
STEVEN CLOUD: Honestly, I was just goofing off, surfing some old sites I’d bookmarked but forgotten. But my intention was to start drawing comics. I have the file open. That’s half the battle.
SC: I still need to brainstorm. I have it 90-percent drawn and maybe 50-percent written. I have a vague notion and I’m trying to turn it into an idea.
SC: I work probably four hours a day on average, including weekends. I have a full-time job that pays the rent. I have to draw comics during my off-hours. I normally just sit at the computer and draw fun backgrounds while surfing and IM’ing. Then I try to think of a clever premise/joke and lay it on top of the background.
It’s very free-form. Sometimes the background inspires the idea. Other times an idea will strike and drive the process. I just go with the flow and have fun with it.
CMix: Where did the initial idea for the strip come from? A boy on a stick talking with a snake about some fairly deep subject matter… it doesn’t seem like the first thing one would jump to when setting out to create a webcomic.
SC: I see my comic as an extension of me. It’s what I’m thinking about (or reading about). It’s a creative outlet. I didn’t have any interest in creating a backstory or premise. It’s difficult for me to stay focused. I felt a comic with a storyline wouldn’t play to my strengths. I wanted a gag comic with very few rules.
I envy comics like White Ninja beause they have zero rules, little consistency, but it’s always funny. If I ever started something new, I’d be a comic like that. My characters are arbitrary. I knew I needed at least two characters, and one would necessarily be different from the other.
Boy on a Stick was a doodle with no body in my sketchbook, on which I added a stick. Slither was also a doodle. But when I put them together, the magic happened. They looked iconic to me and cute. I didn’t think I’d get tired of looking at them. So I started drawing comics.
CMix: Well, it seems like you had the right idea… After all, it’s been just about a year now since the strip began syndication with United Media, right? How is that working out?
SC: Ah yes, it has been almost a year! Where does the time go? Actually, it’s more development than syndication. I appear on their website and I have one print client The Eye in
I’ve been working with Ted Rall a lot lately and he’s given me some great advice and guidance. The best part is, I haven’t had to change my comic or style aside from the size. It’s been a fun and interesting experience so far.
Honestly, I’d like a shot at syndication. It was the thing that I wanted to do when I was a kid. I know, even if I am launched, the odds are against me. But still, I’d like to scratch that lottery ticket. At the same time, I’m not hanging my hat on print syndication. Say, it doesn’t work out. There are other viable options for cartoonists these days (see: the Internet).
The bottom line is, I want to draw comics and plan to do so for the foreseeable future. The only thing that is in doubt is how long I will have to continue to work a full-time day job.
CMix: You mentioned that you’ve been working with Ted Rall a lot lately. Have you been following the big back-and-forth debates raging at Fleen and The Daily Cartoonist? A discussion between Rall and Rich Stevens at the SPLAT! symposium ignited a lot of this conversation, for the most part. What are your thoughts?…
SC: Yes, I have been following it via the blogs’ comments. It’s been very entertaining and surprisingly civil for an Internet debate. I think both sides make valid points. We are living in a time of change. Newspapers aren’t what they used to be. The web is a baby (on several levels). I don’t think anyone has the perfect formula right now, but god bless the webcomics for trying new things.
The Internet has the potential to empower artists of all stripes. Distribution/publishing is instant and virtually free. As a result, we have thousands of new cartoonists creating and innovating. How can this not be a tremendous boon to the art? On the other hand, it’s not that great for business. No one has figured out how to spin the thread into gold, but don’t you worry. They will.
My strategy is to wait until someone comes up with a workable solution and copy them. I don’t need to be a millionaire. I just want to pay my rent and draw comics. I believe the Web will evolve so that many cartoonists can make a living online.
CMix: Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with finding what works and then customizing it for your own purposes. I’m pretty sure that’s the motto of Internet culture these days. Changing gears a bit here, what’s all this talk about you taking off on a road rally across
SC: It’s so awesome! It’s a charity road rally that starts in
The opportunity fell into my lap. My friend Justin Farren, It was his idea. He was on the wait list for a team and needed 30 teams or so to drop out before he could join. They did. He asked me to join up, and I couldn’t say no. We’ve already bought a car, a 1998 Nissan Micra, and raised our rally minimum $2,000 for charity. Our goal is to raise $25k, so we still have some work to do
Also, when we get to
SC: We’re planning for a 22-day trip. It might take longer, but that’s our target. We’re still finalizing our route, but we’ll most likely drive through
As for my comic, I’ll work ahead. The reader won’t know the difference!
I believe it will end up being around 10,000 miles. We’ll fly back from Ullaanbaatar,
SC: Yes, I’ve received several donations, but we could use a few more! We’d like to sticker up the car NASCAR-style. So, if anyone out there would like to sponsor our car, make a donation (it’s a great charity) and send me a sticker!
CMix: Wrapping things up, what are your future plans for BoaSaS?
SC: I’m going to be working with Rich Stevens over the next few months to get my store back online and possibly collaborate on some t-shirt designs. I’m also getting a ModBook soon and plan to experiment with hand-drawing things in the strip. It might change things up a little. I’m not sure. I don’t make too many plans. I just keep my head down and continue drawing comics and hope it works out for the best.
You can find more of Steven Cloud and Boy on a Stick and Slither at www.boasas.com. For information about the Mongol Rally, including how to make a donation and/or sponsor Steven Cloud’s car, check out www.rallyforcharity.com.
ComicMix wishes Steven the best of luck in his globe-spanning adventure!
Want more interviews with webcomic creators? Check out the ComicMix Webcomic Interview Archive, and feel free to send your suggestions for interview subjects to: rick [at] comicmix [dot] com!