Interview: Chris Hastings on ‘The Adventures of Dr. McNinja’
Chris Hastings’ ongoing webcomic The Adventures of Dr. McNinja is one of my favorite pay-it-forward comics. It was recommended to me a little more than two years ago, and I’ve been recommending it to anyone with even a passing interest in webcomics ever since.
While the series remains a consistent source of great storytelling and endlessly amusing, over-the-top action cliches presented in proud, black-and-white glory, I think it’s the tagline that really sells it. Go ahead and Google "Dr. McNinja," and you’ll see what I mean.
According to the InterWebs gods:
Dr. McNinja is a doctor who is also a ninja.
And there you have it.
Sure, I could tell you about the series’ excellent, ongoing and continuity-laden stories featuring a man torn between his medical oath to heal and his ninja oath to kill, as well as the raptors, ghost wizards, pirates, giant lumberjacks and flying sharks he finds himself battling time and time again, but when everything is said and done, that tagline really sums it up best.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Hastings is a witty, approachable creator who continues to seem pleasantly surprised by his status as one of the ‘Net’s most prominent webcomic creators. I recently had the opportunity to send some questions to Hastings about Dr. McNinja, the perils of giving characters a backstory and who he would cast in the big-screen version of Dr. McNinja. (*nudge* Take a hint, movie people, and get on this one!)
COMICMIX: While a lot of webcomics rely on the one-shot model with little continuity between episodes, The Adventures of Dr. McNinja thrives as an ongoing series with a massive, ever-expanding cast of characters. Why do you feel this is the right model for the stories you want to tell?
CHRIS HASTINGS: I think the Internet is the right model for me, because there are a lot more people with computers in their homes than there are people who go to comic shops and conventions looking for indie comics. I also had to spend way less money to put the comic online than to print it myself (which I did do eventually, but only after having a demand for it).
I recognize that long stories and continuity aren’t necessarily a massive trend in comics online, since typically someone’s attention span is reduced to about 12 seconds once they open their browser. But it was already my style to have something funny or exciting or generally satisfying in each individual page or update. And after someone reads a few pages and likes them, hopefully they’re hooked, and they’ve got some investment in the story and characters.
CMix: Do you ever worry about getting bogged down in the continuity you’ve created?
CH: I do occasionally. Like this recent story has been going on for a little over a year now, broken up into chapters, and I’ll be quite happy to go back to doing shorter stories like the first few were. But years down the road if the continuity gets to be an actual burden, like it is for Spider-Man, the X-Men, and others, I have the freedom to deal with it however I like.
CMix: What’s the creative process like for you and Kent with Dr. McNinja? For example, how long does it take to go from concept to final product? How ahead are you usually able to stay?
CH: I think of broad story ideas or interesting scenes I want to do pretty far in advance, and then just let them all stick in the back of my mind, gathering more bits for months or even years before I actually get serious and take one to make into a comic. When the current running adventure is starting to wind down, I take whichever idea I think is the most developed, or fits the best, and I plot out the beats of it. Then when it actually comes time to put the story into production, I write a week at a time.
I’ll spend one day a week, taking my basic beats and breaking them into pages, and then into panels, and writing the dialogue. I’ll usually write 3-5 pages in a session, because if I don’t, then the days I’m supposed to be drawing I waste most of the day desperately trying to come up with something, and I get behind.
So that’s a day for writing! And Kent, my inker just moved to another state, so we are currently in the process of getting our new workflow going. I draw 4 pages in the other 4 days of the work week, and then mail them to Kent on the last day. Each page takes an average of 3 hours to pencil. I think it takes about the same time for Kent to ink it. Then he scans it and emails it to me, and I letter it, which takes about 30 minutes. So at 4 pages a week, we are slowly trying to build up a buffer till we get a month ahead of schedule, but our lives keep getting in the way of things and currently the best we are managing is a week ahead.
CH: (Thank you, I looked pretty effin hot, I know.) "D.A.R.E." is my favorite right now mainly because it’s based off a list of ’80s action movie cliches and tropes that I wrote up. And since I love ’80s action movies so much, by going by their formulas, I pretty much wrote my dream movie.
CMix: From "lumberjack disease" to flying sharks, you’ve thrown a lot at the McNinja clan over the years. What are some of the story elements you’re most proud of creating?
CH: Well, bam, those are two right there. But let’s see… I was pretty proud that I was able to do a decent Ninjas Vs. Pirates story, which despite how crazy people were about that idea, nobody had yet done anything worthwhile with it (that I have seen).
I am always so pleased when I can take the stupidest, most ridiculous, retarded stuff and actually handle them in a way that gets people excited. Like the frozen shamrock shurikens and organic fart fueled jet-packs. When I thought of those I just laughed at how utterly stupid they were, and then I pretty much dared myself to make them work. It’s the same with the Ghost Wizard.
I saw these Halloween decorations on my girlfriend’s grandmother’s lawn, and they were stuffed ghosts with wizards’ or witches’ hats on. And I thought, "Man, like those things aren’t terrifying enough! Now they are ghost wizahds!" (And I would say ”wizard” with a cartoonish New England accent. Don’t question this. It’s how it works.) And then I said, "Chris Hastings, the McNinjas and Gordito should fight a Ghost Wizard. I don’t know how it will work, but you do it." And then I said, "Okay," and then, "Good."
CMix: Since you’re neither a doctor nor a ninja (to my knowledge, at least), where do you go for information when you want to know about topics related to doctors or ninjas?
CH: My knowledge on both topics really only goes as far as Wikipedia, and other fiction that they turn up in. I’ve done a bit to educate myself beyond that, but not much.
CMix: If you could cast a Dr. McNinja movie, who would play the lead characters?
CH: Live-action movie, I’m split on Dr. McNinja. Sam Rockwell or Will Arnett. For Dan, Sam Elliot… or Hulk Hogan. (His son had a Dr. McNinja avatar on some car forum he posted on, and it was posted on TMZ. MAYBE AN IN?) Mitzi McNinja would be played by Anjelica Huston. Of course, they would all have top-notch martial artists handling the stunts and fight scenes. And I really haven’t thought of who would be good for Dark Smoke Puncher or Gordito.
For the villains, Willem Defoe is Ronald McDonald. Frans Rayner is Jean Claude Van Damme. Frans’ right-hand man, Vlad, is played by Sven-Ole Thorsen. Knickerbockers should be Phil Fondacaro. Dracula can be played by Bela Lugosi, The Crow style.
CMix: What’s next for Dr. McNinja and your creative work? Are you working on anything else fans should keep an eye out for?
CH: I have got a couple of big surprises planned for sometime in June. I don’t want to spoil them, but it’s not "EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE IN THIS MASSIVE CROSSOVER EVENT"-type surprises, but you know… [They’ll be] surprises people will like.
I’m also in the early stages of a web cartoon that I’ll be writing and doing voices for called Puppy Farts. The lovely and talented Carly Monardo will be animating, since she actually has a degree in that sort of thing and is quite good at it. As you might have guessed from the title, it’ll be pretty different from Dr. McNinja, but it’ll still definitely be my sense of humor. I’m really excited about it, and I hope to have the site launched by the end of the summer.
The ongoing Adventures of Dr. McNinja can be found at www.drmcninja.com, as well as an archive of past Dr. McNinja stories (in case you want to get caught up with the good doctor). Dr. McNinja is a member of the Dayfree Press webcomics collective.
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!