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Interview with Gordon McAlpin

Today we are talking with Gordon McAlpin, creator of webcomic Multiplex. Gordon is an old friend of Astute Graphics; he tested Phantasm CS from the first version and, of course, he could not have missed the VectorScribe plug-in. You will find out about Gordon and his creative work from this interview. Learn more after the jump!

Hi Gordon, welcome to Astute Graphics Blog. Can you tell us a little about yourself — where do you come from; where do you live now; do you have basic art education?

I have a Bachelor's degree in art, yeah. I had a double major in Art and English because it's the closest I could get to a Comics major at Bradley University, which is where my father taught. (He is a retired Computer Science professor and mathematician.)

After having lived in Chicago for a decade, I just moved to Minneapolis.

I work as a freelance print production artist, photo retoucher, illustrator, designer and I also do a comic strip called Multiplex.


Why did you choose this job? You've probably been drawing since childhood, haven't you?

Yeah, I've been drawing since I was a kid. I'm not really a great doodler. I envy those guys who just sit down and scrap out really great drawings. I kind of need to have something in mind first.

I kind of fell into print production and photo retouching. I took some graphic design classes in college to get access to the computer labs, and I enjoyed Illustrator and Quark (at the time). That lead me to taking a print production job after I graduated, then after a few years of that, I moved up to Chicago to work as a children's book designer.

Did that for a few years, George W. Bush struck, and so I ended up freelancing a bunch of places over the next few years instead of having a full-time job. I did have a couple of long-term (1 year or more) stints at various marketing agencies and publishing companies, though.

The comics, I just really enjoy doing. I don't make my living off of Multiplex, and I'm lucky that I make a little money off of it. Not enough to pay my rent and all my bills, unfortunately, but I'm working on it.

You spent some time working as a freelancer. What are the main pros and cons of this job for you?

Working in pajamas is a good pro, I think. Lunch is usually really cheap, because I make it myself. I barely spend any money on gas, when I'm working out of my house…

There's also the near-total lack of interaction with human beings that aren't through the internet or my girlfriend, but that's both a pro and a con.


Do you have your favorite designing trend?

I don't really pay attention to design trends. I'm sure I pick up on them now and then; I just don't do it consciously. I try to have kind of a clean, classic design style.

That's not exactly the trendiest style right now, so instead, I focus on print production, retouching and illustration instead of design.

ReviverSoft blog illustrations

You're known for your webcomic Multiplex. Can you tell us a little what it is about?

Multiplex is about a bunch of kids who work at a movie theater. It's been going for about over six years, so the characters have grown and changed (a little) since it started, but that's basically what it's about: movies, movie theaters, how people talk about movies, etc.

What character in these comics you are really fond of? Can we associate any of its characters with you? It seems to me that one of them looks like you ;-).

I think most writers would say that all but the most horrible villains in anything they write would be some aspect of themself (and possibly those characters, too).

The one that looks sort of like me would be Jason. He's sort of me, I guess. He's kind of cranky, and he loves movies, anyway. But I've never worked at a movie theater, and I'm 12 years older than Jason, so it's more that he's loosely based on (and exaggerated from) me when I was Jason's age.


How is this project developing? Is it successful enough and does it have a lot of readers?

Success is relative (so is a lot of readers), but it does have a good-sized readership — over 55,000 unique readers per month or over 600,000 pageviews — so it's reasonably well known, but like I said, it doesn't pay all my bills or anything. Even when I don't have a full-time job (which is most of the time), I'm taking other freelance work to pick up the slack.

How are the comics created? I am interested in the technical aspect of this issue.

It kind of depends on what idea I'm working on. Sometimes I'll have a joke in mind already and will just kind of block things out and add dialogue in later. Sometimes, I'll have a set-up in mind — like which characters are in the scene and what they need to be talking about — and I'll figure out the dialogue before I start breaking things down.

I draw Multiplex in Illustrator, of course. That's why I'm here!

I don't usually do much sketching first, because after six years, I have so many backgrounds and characters already drawn that I can just start dropping them in instead of doing thumbnails. But if I need a little extra help visualizing a sequence, or I need to draw some kind of gesture or pose that I've never done before, I'll scribble something out with the Blob Brush.

But I draw almost everything with just the Pen Tool and now VectorScribe. LiveTrace is for hacks.

webcomic workflow

Creating comics is a hard work. Did you come up with tricks that speed up the workflow, making the work less monotonous?

Outlining the strip in advance? Writing is the hard part for me, really. Drawing can sometimes take forever, but I enjoy it, and once I have an idea decided upon, it just kind of happens on its own.

I have a ton of backgrounds and character files saved up, but I also just scour my archives whenever I'm sure I've drawn a similar "camera angle" before that I want to use as a starting point for a new file.

Other than reusing and modifying old art elements, I don't know that there are any "tricks" to it besides learning Illustrator as well as anybody can.

So that's the biggest time-saver, although having a library doesn't help me at all when I want to do a giant splash panel with a 1930's movie theater façade on it that will never appear again.

Calo Theatre

I know that you spent some time working as a beta tester of Astute Graphics products. What products did you test? Which ones do you find the most useful for you, which ones are you using in your daily work?

I've used Phantasm since just about when first came out. I think I might have been the 13th customer? Working with color in Illustrator was always such a pain in the ass, but Phantasm fixed all that.

You'll laugh when I say this, but despite all the other fantastic features in VectorScribe and Phantasm, the one I use most is Brightness/Contrast. I use the Hue/Saturation and halftone features pretty frequently, too.
VectorScribe in general is great. I love PathScribe and Dynamic Corners, and I've found Dynamic Shapes tremendously useful for a few technical illustrations I've done.

webcomic workflow

Gordon, thank you for the interview. What other interests besides comics do you have? Is it movies?

Well, I do a comic strip about a movie theater, so as you would expect, it is.

Can you recommend us something to watch this season?

I'm looking forward to both Killer Elite and Moneyball.

Many thanks to Gordon for his time. Gordon has published his first Multiplex book titled Multiplex: Enjoy your show, ISBN: 0-9843222-0-5, also available from Amazon (click here).

Gordon McAlpin on the Web

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