Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat With Steve Conley
As Steve Conley notes, he's done it all. He started with a science fiction Web comic (before they were called that), moved it into a comic book, switched to doing an online political comic strip, drew a few licensed comic books including an excellent Star Trek series, and now he's relaunching Bloop, a little green alien he invented for the Web. But what makes Conley particularly interesting is that these have all been good. I'm particularly fond of his Socks & Barney episodes in which George W. Bush meets God, fond enough to have bought the originals from him. In between all of this, he also was one of the founders of Comicon.com, one of the web's first big comics news and information sites.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Steve Conley: I've done all kinds of cartooning—from comic strips to comic books. I've self-published comic strips online—starting with Astounding Space Thrills back in 1998 and later with Socks and Barney which covered the past presidential election. I've also drawn comic books such as Michael Chabon's Escapist for Dark Horse Comics and Star Trek: Year Four for IDW. My latest project which I'm writing and drawing is Bloop—which will hopefully find a home with a larger book publisher.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
SC: 1969 on Long Island, N.Y.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
SC: I moved to the D.C. area in 1990 to be a graphics intern for the Gannett News Service. I worked for Gannett and USA Today. I was a founding designer of USA Today's Web presence and launched my own interactive design business in 1996: www.conleyinteractive.com. I now live the Court House neighborhood of Arlington.
SC: I'm self-taught though I do have an advertising degree and certain aspects of that (figure drawing, lettering, color theory) certainly apply to cartooning. I've taught cartooning in local elementary school enrichment programs and taught web design and other tech courses at Northern Virginia Community College.
WCP: Who are your influences?
SC: Too many to mention but I'm continually going back to Wally Wood, Walt Kelly, and Hal Foster as artistic inspirations. For writing, it's Douglas Adams, Robert Sheckley, and Stephen Fry.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
SC: I'm pretty happy with my career choices. I've made some decisions which were absolutely terrible business-wise, but those choices let me keep my soul—so I'm good.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
SC: Probably Astounding Space Thrills—a fun science-fiction series which started online and was later published in comic book form. A 10th-anniversary edition was collected by IDW.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
SC: I'm pretty critical of my work so I'm most proud of the stories which, looking back, I would change the least. There are two Astounding Space Thrills stories which fit the bill: a short two-pager "The Independent Spirit" and the 40-page issue called Galaxy-Sized Astounding Space Thrills published by Image Comics. I'm as proud of them as the day I finished them. I'm pretty proud of the IDW collection as well.
That said, I'm most proud of the new pages I'm doing for Bloop. It's the best work I've ever done and I'm in love with the story.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
SC: I'd like to continue writing and drawing my own stories. I have Bloop to wrap up and a few other projects to work on next including The Kid Knight and a super hero adventure called Jack Galaxy In The 21st Century. There are more Bloop stories to tell after this one as well.
SC: Astounding Space Thrills was among the first serialized adventure strips. A handful of others proceeded it but AST was the first to be "tooncast" or self-syndicated. I created code which let anybody add the strip to their own sites. I had well over 30,000 web pages out there carrying it and more than a million views each month, but that never really translated into much beyond a monthly sponsor which paid a modest amount and a tv/movie development deal. I probably would have been able to keep it going except web design paid so much better and I kept getting distracted by the allure of the next possible project which could allow me to do cartooning and still make six figures. I thought the animated Bloop webisodes could have been the ticket, but the dot-com bubble burst (this was around 2001) and most of the high-profile syndicating partners went belly-up or scaled back tremendously (Space.com and others) so I had created two Bloop Websides and it ended there. I've since continued AST in print and worked for other published while working on my own projects.
WCP: How did you get to work on IDW's Star Trek series?
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
SC: I only get writer's block when I'm over-thinking something. Any kind of block just tells me I'm trying too hard and I should simplify what I'm doing.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
SC: For independent cartoonists like myself, I think the future means building healthy relationships with our audiences directly through online media.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
SC: The coffee. From Java Shack in Arlington which started it all to the great, new Northside Social.
WCP: Least favorite?
The Air and Space Museum.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?