Chris Hallbeck is a webcomic artist who has amused millions of readers with his three cartoons: Maximumble, Minimumble, and The Book of Biff. We've frequently featured his work here at Neatorama. Chris kindly agreed to an interview so that we could learn more about him and his work.
Can you tell us about your background? How did you get started cartooning?
Back in high school I started drawing a character named Biff to entertain my best friend. I drew them in his notebook while we sat across from each other at lunch. In college I refined the Biff drawings into single panel comics. I would fill up a bunch of pages of comics and show them to a couple friends back home whenever I was on break. Eventually I started making photocopied mini comics of them to hand out to whoever I ran into at school.
Then the internet happened and I started sharing the comics that way. While putting them on the web I was simultaneously trying to get Biff syndicated. I still have all the rejection letters. That first part of Biff's life on the web was from 1995-1998. I think when my dream of syndication died my interest in cartooning did as well and I quit for about 8 years.
What drew you back in?
I saw the webcomic Savage Chickens and got nostalgic for when I drew comics. I decided to make a new website and start posting them again just for fun. I no longer had dreams of being syndicated and becoming a full time cartoonist anymore. When I started up the new website in 2006 it was going to just be a "blog" that I happened to post comics to. I wondered how many posts I should show per page so I did a search for "comics blog" and suddenly discovered that while I was gone this whole world called "Webcomics" materialized. I was amazed.
Biff was successful enough that I quit my day job in 2010. I had wanted to start a second strip for awhile but couldn't figure out how to fit it into my schedule. I finally had the time and launched it in January 2011. Minimumble just sort of happened. I was drawing jokes off the top of my head as warm up drawings before working on Biff and Maximumble for the day. I would just post them to twitter and then get to work. After a few months it dawned on me that I was essentially drawing a 3rd strip so I set up a website and made it official.
What’s your creative process like? How do you develop a cartoon?
I write 6 days a week. First I will sit down with my iPad and consume a bunch of stuff. Tumblr, reddit, twitter, vine, instagram etc. Then I remove myself from stimulation. I sit in a room with the door closed and a white noise machine.
Biff is currently on hiatus but to write for Biff I think of a problem or activity to drop him into and then sort of watch how he reacts. I've been writing him so long that he feels like something that lives outside of me and I'm just an observer.
For Maximumble I start having conversations with myself. I'll usually start with a question. "Would you like something to drink?" And then keep the conversation going back and forth until I hit a joke or a dead end and move on to a new question. I probably write about 5 strips for every one that gets drawn.
For Minimumble I usually turn a recent tweet or something that happened to me that day into a comic. I try to keep it spontaneous. They are mostly written a few minutes before I draw them.
The big "secret" for me is the consume and isolate cycle. I need a bunch of new stuff to fill my head and then force boredom onto myself to jumble it all up and make some new connections. If I didn't constantly consume all my comics would devolve into jokes about being a cartoonist trying to write jokes.
What tools do you use to draw your work?
An old Cintiq from 2008 and an old copy of Photoshop CS4.
One of the most striking aspects of your work is that it’s artistically simple. You can draw a convincing visual joke with just a few lines. Can you tell us how you developed this style over time?
A few years ago I started having problems with my drawing arm. Pain, numbness and weakness. Spent a few thousand dollars on lots of fun tests but the doctors don't have an answer for me yet. I draw with my right hand but do most everything else with just my left. (Like typing this response.)
I can only draw so much at a time before my arm quits on me. So when I started Maximumble I knew I needed a simplified style that I could draw quickly. I filled a bunch of sketchbook pages with ideas and when I found something I liked I penciled a bunch of test strips.
From there it's just been natural evolution. The eyes are farther apart. The hands grew a 5th finger and I stopped trying to differentiate gender visually. I try to draw as few details as possible. Unless it's needed for the joke I'll probably leave it out.
Which cartoonists have influenced you? What are your favorite webcomics?
The first comic I remember reading was Peanuts. We had a big book called "Classic Peanuts" that I read hundreds of times. Then my best friend got me into Garfield. Every time I was in a bookstore I checked the humor section to see if the next book was out. As I got older I added Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side to my reading list. Pretty standard for people of my generation. I read lots of webcomics! SOME of them are:
Three Word Phrase
The Awkward Yeti
The Gentleman's Armchair
Poorly Drawn Lines
And a bunch more I'm forgetting at the moment!