Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Shayalyn
WOODY of GU Comics, A Man of Many Loves
Editor's Note: This Woody Hearn exclusive interview also provides an exclusive drawing by the artist showing the possible new art style of GU Comics in the coming year. Details at the bottom of the article.
"I am a man of many loves," Woody told me, then proceeded to fill me in on the amazing range of knowledge and skills he has acquired and uses every day. Of course I am talking about Woody Hearn, cartoonist extraordinaire of GU Comics. He loves what he does at GU Comics, but he would do much more, if he could. Would it surprise you to know that he would have loved to be a singer?
Woody is a deeply motivated and caring individual who likes to help others and doesn't stand on much ceremony. I tried to avoid asking him questions that were too trite or had already been answered a hundred times, but I couldn't resist asking him what he liked best about his job. He readily answered:
"Every day I produce a comic [and] I get to make someone laugh. Well, theoretically at least."
William "Woody" Hearn, at age 31, is already the successful and widely read cartoonist for GU Comics. He loves his work and he loves his fans. The highlight of each day for him is:
"Probably the first response to the comic that demonstrates the person really 'gets it.' Not just, 'Ha ha great work funny comic blah blah.' But, really gets the point of the comic."
The singing part came to light when I asked him if he could do anything in the world what would it be.
"As ridiculous as it might sound coming out of the mouth of an artist, I wish I were a phenomenal singer. An artist can convey his emotion through his work to be sure. You can 'feel' a Franz Kline painting. Your attention is swallowed whole by a Jackson Pollock. And there's just something visceral about a Willem De Kooning. But, all art, on some level, relies on the viewer's ability to 'get it.' The artistry of a person who sings well is that their performance can have an immediate impact. In his prime, Pavarotti could hit notes that, if you were really listening, could make you weep. No need to understand what he's singing. The emotion carried through directly. Go see a great tenor singing Pagliacci; you'll see what I mean."
Could Woody have made a great singer? One thing you learn from talking to him is that he is real, he doesn't put on airs, and he doesn't try to snow you. I asked him, "Is your singing voice a 'shower' voice, or is it a voice that, with some training, could be quite good?"
Woody replied forthrightly, "Well, when I applied to the Fine Arts High School I graduated from...I had to sing as part of my application. I had to draw, dance, write, act, etc., too... but that's a different story. The music instructor asked me if I would consider singing for her. And, a large portion of my family have beautiful singing voices. So, if I had to guess, I would say, with training I probably could have been a back up vocalist...but never the lead."
"At least you have enough skill to be able to not embarrass yourself in sing-alongs," I said, to which he replied dryly, "Embarassment is a relative term."
I had to ask the burning question was he a Vanguard fan or just an observer?
"Let's say, I'm anxiously awaiting the game," Woody said, "but I have some serious concerns. I dig Brad to be sure. He is one of my favorite folks in the industry. But I don't really agree with his stance on instancing. I don't like the painful amount of 'grouping' that will likely be required to function and progress within the game."
I nodded. "I think this is a concern that has been voiced by a number of fans. Brad's reply to this has been that there will be solo material available for the loner. But he has made no bones about the game being group-oriented."
Woody grinned, "Just because a game is 'massively multiplayer' doesn't mean I want to be required to group with them."
He added, "I'm worried that Vanguard will be as item-oriented as EQ was. That, coupled with no instancing, means 'time spent camping.' If Vanguard actually manages to make tradeskills viable...then maybe it won't be that much of an issue."
So, what game is the wonder guy playing himself these days to while away until Vanguard is here?
"WoW," Woody admitted.
I wondered if he played all the games that he cartoons, but that's a no. "Not enough time or money to play them all," Woody observed. "If we're limiting the gaming scope to MMOG (and this may get me flames), WoW is my favorite. It works for me on a casual level. I was able to become a pretty decent character without having to raid and without having to waste hours trying to find a group. There's solo content. And I'm all over that."
As far as games other than MMOs, Woody cited, in the grander scheme of things, a passion for Burnout 3, Shadow of the Cossus, and Katamari Damancy, plus Zelda: Minnish Cap.
"I like to keep myself busy which limits my time," Woody added with a grin. "GU is doing pretty well but I can't just run out and spend $1000 on games each month."
I would have thought that the devs would be glad to give him a media account. A GU cartoon of the game is, after all, a pretty good promotional thing. I said as much to Woody.
"A handful of MMOs have comped my account," Woody said. "But I still have to buy my own game boxes. And I do comics about gaming in general now...and no console gaming company has sent me a free game...YET."
I asked Woody if he had any illusions of being one of the most widely read cartoons in the gaming world. With his trademark honesty, Woody shook his head. "Only a very small fraction of the gaming populace knows about me or GU. Jerry and Mike over at Penny Arcade are much better known despite not doing many comics in the MMOG genre."
Who then in the field did he most admire?"If by 'field' you mean webcomics... I dunno. I like how PA has become a full-fledged business. But that'd due to the effort of Robert Khoo, the mad business genius."
He paused then added, "When it comes to artwork though...Hawk from AppleGeeks is unrivaled."
I was under the impression that GU was so hugely popular that it would garner a lot of respect in the gaming field. Not so, according to Woody.
"This might come across as a bit of a sore spot because most folks have no idea how much of a 'job' GU really is. I spend anywhere from 10-16 hours a day working on GU: producing the comic, staying apprised of gaming news, talking to developers, dealing with the GU community, working with advertisers, working on external gaming projects, reworking GU admin code to make the site run more efficiently, working with my business manager to develop further GU business strategy, developing business relationships that keeps GU in the gaming loop, etc."
He went on to explain, "As much as I appreciate the kind words and well wishes of my fans, I constantly feel like I don't get enough respect for what I do. From some of the fans, my peers, the game companies the jokes are based on, et cetera. I honestly feel like I am constantly fighting for acceptance in a genre that could care less if I exist."
I found that hard to believe when I think of all the people I personally know that start their day with a cuppa and GU.
Woody grinned at me. "You don't see my inbox."
I reminded Woody of an interview he had with Brad McQuaid a few months back. It seemed at the time like there was a lot of mutual respect. So I asked him if Brad was one of the appreciative rarities.
"Yeah. Brad seems to genuinely enjoy GU," Woody said. "And he seems to understand its value within the community."
Woody more or less fell into cartooning. He gives credit to a childhood rivalry to giving him the incentive to excel in art. It wasn't until he got into college that he realized he was never meant to be a graphic designer but rather an illustrator. He graduated from Valdosta State college, Georgia, 12 miles north of the Florida border, class of '98.
During high school and the year he took off between high school and college, Woody worked as a tech in the theater, helping bring ballet, musicals, etc. to the stage. The experience stood him in good stead as he walked away with a set design award under his belt. During his college years, showing more of his diversity Woody was the general manager of his college radio station.
I had asked Woody to reply to some written questions before the interview IM to IM, fun questions like what is your favorite song, etc. In the IM portion of the interview I asked him why he had picked John Lennon's Imagine.
"There is plenty of music out there that I feel is positively brilliant," he said, "But Imagine is a song of hope and direction the possibility of existence without the trappings of ignorance and greed."
I thought he sounded a bit of a crusader and asked him about it.
Woody: Nah. I have my viewpoints, but I don't struggle to push them on everyone else.
Raya: Except in your cartoons, maybe?
Woody: The comics are where I speak my mind because I don't owe anyone anything else. There are no excuses just opinions.
Raya: That gives you a feeling of freedom, I bet.
Woody: Well, freedom tempered by the knowledge that it's virtually impossible for me to effect change. Offering a message to the masses is pointless if you don't have the courage to put a little of yourself into it. Sure it leaves you open to ridicule but hey... **shrugs**
Interviewing Woody was like exploring an increasingly beautiful and very old artifact, layer by layer. My questions had been designed to show facets of the interviewee's personality. The answers given had depth and meaning, as Woody illustrated what he meant about putting himself into what he gave out.
Take the color crimson or rust. Why those particular colors? I asked him.
Woody: They are rich colors. They have a depth to them.
Raya: I take it you don't like anything that's shallow, neither in colors nor people.
Woody: "Shallow" has its merits. But only when it is put boldly forth as an expression or purpose. That is to say...if a person wants to be shallow...they can at least put it on the table up front.
It didn't come as much of a surprise when I asked Woody what class in Vanguard he would like to play and what class he played in EQ.
Woody: I am, and will always be, a Warrior.
Raya: What is your reasoning behind that?
Woody: Just seems to be a part of my character (inner that is). I want to be the one that jumps out there to try to protect everyone else. I don't want it to be seen as some silly statement of self-sacrifice. (Here he grinned and muttered something about alliterations being ridiculous.) But, if I can put myself on the line so that a friend succeeds, then I'm a happy man. Seems to hold true in games as well. Quickly summarized, let's just say, I'm a glutton for punishment.
Raya: What kind of a gamer would you describe yourself as?
Woody: Casual. Definitely. And, I will defend until I'm old and tired the right for a person to be a casual gamer.
Woody takes his duties to the gaming community as a whole very seriously. I mentioned about the protest headed by Woody back in June of '04 at a summit meeting of EQ community leaders and Sony. I asked him what his role was in that meeting.
He thought that he was just voicing the opinion of the masses he felt were being underrepresented.
Raya: It seems to me that many of the changes advocated by you and others in that session with the Sony suits and devs came into being shortly afterwards in the EQ.
Woody: And that probably would have happened without me opening my big mouth. I was just a catalyst that sped up the process.
Raya: heh - okay - you insist on not taking any credit for it - I heard otherwise from others who attended.
I asked Woody about some of the nice things he had done. He flatly refused to acknowledge he had done anything nice.
"I'm not an inherently nice person," he said. "And even if I were, I tend to be unwilling to accept responsibility for an action...especially if it's considered to have been nice. I do things for the sake of doing them. I like making people happy. And it doesn't occur to me to wear my actions as a badge of 'being nice.'"
I admitted defeat and moved on to the friendship between Woody and Jeremy Waller at WTF Comics. I wanted to know how that had come about.
Woody again denied doing anything nice. "I just wanted to offer any help I could to help him do something he enjoyed." Then he added dryly, "If he answered his email...there'd be much more that I'd have done. I still want to do the database backend for his site."
I was astonished and asked him if he really did that sort of thing.
"Told you... I'm a man of many loves," said Woody.
Raya: I had heard that people who are creative find it hard to be technical and vice versa - certainly fits me - some people get all the talent.
Woody: Well... I have a theory. And this is a prize piece of Woody Trivia.
My ears perked up at this bit of news, and I listened intently.
Woody: I was predominantly left-handed until the 1st grade. But I saw everyone else writing with their right hands... So I switched. It's just a theory...but I honestly think I stimulated the other side of my brain by doing that. Now, I'm right handed. I can draw, and I'm good at math. Math has nothing to do with database integration...but math and logic like to hold hands. And all coding is logic based.
As the session drew to a close, Woody, the man of many talents and loves, shared some more about his inner feelings. I asked him if there were anything he would like to add to the interview.
Woody: If anything, I'd like to send out my admiration and respect to those in the protection business police, firefighters, military folk. They don't get enough "love" in my opinion. And I think it's awesome every time I get a "thank you" email from Iraq. Though, I think them thanking me... is terribly misplaced.
Raya: Do you write to the folks over there?
Woody: When they write to me, yes. There is a wealth of military folks playing video games during their limited downtime.
Woody had mentioned that his favorite book was George Orwell's Animal Farm. I asked why that particular book.
Woody: He uses animals to satirize the frailty of the human condition. Satire is my crack. Oh look...tyranny satire satire satire. Oh look weak character traits...satire satire satire.
Raya: So you feel it is a masterpiece of satire?
Woody: I feel it's a masterpiece period. It just happens to be a brilliant piece of political satire.
I moved on to the movie Woody had picked as his favorite, A Nightmare Before Christmas.
"Well, as you probably noticed ...I'm a bit of an audiophile," he said. "I love the dark humor of it. The brilliance of it. The story, the music. Tim Burton...etc etc etc. Not to mention the artistry of the animation."
I mentioned that it seemed strange for a cartoonist to be so taken with sound.
"I'm a man of many loves," he reminded me.
* * * * * *
As promised above in Editor's Note, Woody included a drawing that reveals one of the first looks at a potentially new coloring style coming to GU next year. "It's something I've been tinkering with," he said. "And I really enjoy the style. GU has always changed as I 'discovered' something new and changed my style."
I liked it - of course I had no idea what style is involved nor the skill required.
Woody explained, "It's shading using hard edges rather than blurred. Subtle difference technically. But has a noticeable shift in color impact. And makes it a bit easier on me."
Then he added off-handedly, "You can also mention that GU will be seeing a website redesign, and probably increased size of comics too. That is ridiculously exclusive. Only about 4 people know."