Seven Questions About Opportunities

Here’s the second installment of the Seven Questions About feature: This time I interviewed sincerely and Elliwiny, the creators of the wonderful webcomic Opportunities.

I have talked about Opportunities a couple of times on this blog, and I really love that comic. I also occasionally converse with the two creators over Twitter, and they are awesome folks.

[In case you are new to this or need a reminder, this is how the feature  works: I ask seven questions. The first four are the same for everyone, starting with the rather unimaginative Who are you? This is serves as a warm-up, and gives us the lay of the land. In contrast, the last three questions are always quite specific, and based on my own interest in, and infatuation with, the comic in question.]

Now, enjoy!

Q1: Who are you?

We’re ML Snook and Katie DeGelder but we go by sincerely and Elliwiny online and also that’s what we call each other in real life.  Our LGBTQ+ status is “complicated” but the short answer is that we’re partners in both senses of the word and Opportunities is our baby.

Sincerely writes in her freetime, so far just Opportunities, but she’s working on other stories and has an artist lined up for a fantasy graphic novel that she’s currently working on.  By day she’s a bookkeeper at a harbor restaurant in Southern California where your server will only bring you water if you request it, but hopefully that will change when El Niño hits in a few months.

Elliwiny moved to SoCal from Michigan half a year ago and has to constantly protect her alabaster skin from the almighty day star. She’s really excited about not having to shovel snow ever again, though.  Elliwiny has a day job too, but by night she is the heart and soul of Opportunities.

Q2: What is Opportunities about?

Opportunities is about an alien named Vigi who’s got a lot of problems.

She’s trying to bring the evil galaxy-spanning mega-corporation she used to work for to justice. But before she even had a chance, these human assassins showed up, killed her star informant, and stole his identity for their own crazy schemes. She’s gotten herself neck-deep in their plot to murder their way from the Grand Intercontinental duPré to outer space… And now her old boss is onto her, too.

[But I think the comic is about an intelligent, mindstrong, beautiful, and incredibly sexy woman named Sara Emmet? No? That’s just my impression because I’m a straight male reader? And telling you what your comic is about is mansplaining? Uh-oh! My bad.]

Q3: Why and how did Opportunities get started?

As we got to know each other, we knew that we wanted to collaborate on a webcomic. We had these characters that we wanted to see interact but they were so different from each other we realized we needed to invent a whole universe where they could co-exist.  We basically created an AU for our characters.

We spent a good long time brainstorming a modern-day world where theatrical assassins for hire could set their sights higher than doing every day crimes and murders.  They could be doing crimes and murders in space.

We basically just put all of our favorite things in a pot and stirred.

Q4: What influences made Opportunities into what it is?

Sincerely: I want to say all the obvious answers like Die Hard, which of course is a huge influence on Opportunities; we even quoted it in chapter one. It’s Jack’s favorite Christmas movie, and ours.

In truth, though, would it surprise you to hear The West Wing?  Maybe, maybe not.  The decompressed nature of my writing style probably owes a lot to Aaron Sorkin.  I have a lot of love for how he manages to make exposition into an artform and he tells you one thing while showing you something more subtle and deeper.  Opportunities is like The West Wing if it was about assassins in a fancy hotel instead of politicians in the White House, and congress is aliens.

I’m a student of capers, as well.  I like the middle part where they study the target, maneuver, and plan and then after all of the studying, maneuvering, and planning is done they drop everything they’ve got in interesting and unexpected ways, maybe even ways the plotters didn’t expect.  I think I could write everything like it’s a caper for the rest of my life, even if it’s not (especially if it’s not).

I wish I had more comic influences.  Growing up the only comic I consistently read was Elfquest, and I can definitely see how that’s got an impact on my writing.  Certainly not in the modern sci-fi genre, but maybe very loosely Mixed MythGunnerkrigg Court, or Rice Boy, which are all varying degrees of fantasy.  I found String Theory after I was pretty far along on Opportunities, but I definitely feel a kinship with it.

Elli: I love action movies! Comedies, too! I’m a sucker for thrillers and heists, especially. I pull a lot from action tropes and get a lot of satisfaction from playing with people’s expectations. Especially when it comes to character. “The Incredibles” inspired me a lot in that regard. Pixar movies have a way of tapping into humanity that I really strive for.

One of my favorite movies is “Grosse Pointe Blank”, which is about John Cussack as a hitman going to his high school reunion, and that says a LOT about the kind of stories I like to tell.

Q5: How do you decide on the balance of being subtle versus spelling it out?

It’s hard!  We have a lot of faith in our readers, but we’re playing a long game and there’s always the worry that we’ll lose people when it comes to subtext that doesn’t immediately pay off.  We can’t know for sure if we’ve succeeded until we’re done with the book.  Even though we’re publishing as a webcomic, we ultimately intend for the story to be read in book form.

It’s all about prioritization of information.  There are things we need the reader to know and there are things we want the reader to know and it became about figuring out which is which.  Things that pay off in the climax or even as far off as in the next book don’t need to be spelled out right away, but they shouldn’t come out of nowhere either.  At the same time, though, we figure we can get away with being coy with crucial information as long as we reinforce it a few times.

One of our biggest worries early on was how to present all of the dry political information we needed people to know about the bankers and Tath Seti’s company, which we dubiously solved with the news, Sara’s monologue at the beginning, and then reinforced with the meeting between Tath Seti and Pursuit.  The question of “what do the assassins have to gain by killing these people” gets really muddy if you don’t know the basic facts about who they are and what their relationship is to each other. 

There’s a lot more going on with Tath Seti and Pursuit, of course, but it won’t be important until later, so for now we’re just hinting at the bigger picture.

Q6: How do you make Sara a formidable femme fatale without reinforcing negative gender stereotypes and base misogynistic instincts?

The thing about gender stereotypes is that they ignore the fact that women are people.  Elliwiny has this joke she does when she’s penciling scenes with Sara where she gives her thought bubbles that say “murder” in every panel, but there’s actually something you can take away from that: You often see writers who never seem to consider the possibility that their characters can have an inner life which is different from what they’re presenting on the surface. Your typical femme fatale may be a double agent or have an ulterior motive but when she’s flirting with the handsome male lead there’s nothing complicated about that.  She likes flirting, she’s good at it.  The most depth you ever get in these scenarios is when he turns his back and maybe she rolls her eyes.

What makes Sara an interesting character is that she’s obviously got a lot going on in her head.  We’ve laid her ulterior motives bare so you can see that her friendship with the “lobsters” and Cortez are ultimately fake, but she’s still a person and like Jack says, she’s just as crazy as the rest of us.

We didn’t like Sara very much in the early drafts. She filled an important role in the story and had all the same screen time that she has now, but when we started to actually write scenes for her we realized that she was super boring.  She’s mean, and she’s Jack’s ex, which are both important to the story, but that’s all she had.  We wanted her to have a weakness that we could exploit and after a lot of back and forth we decided to make her a very mechanical liar and extrapolated everything else about her from there.  Suddenly, every scene where things didn’t go exactly according to her expectations–pretty much all of them–became fascinating to write because of the war going on between how she presented herself and what was going on in her head.  It also has the added benefit of making her a great contrast to Jack, whose greatest strength is in improvisation [I’d rather call that unpredictability!], as we’ll see a lot of now that things are starting to go wrong.

[See! Who’s the main character now? See how much you talk and talk and talk about Sara? — Ok, wait, that was my question … never mind …]

Q7: Do you ever regret that you started out, and stayed for so long, in a hotel?

We’ve got bad news for you, we’re going to be spending a lot more time at the DuPré before this is all over. [Just what I expected; I was just teasing you here!]

This is sincerely’s thing — I like compressed timelines and compressed locations so this whole book is kind of a love letter to that.  People who know me, know that I love objects and vehicles that you can really imprint on in a story because they’re important to the characters and they’re important to the plot.  That goes for locations, too.  I like the idea of spending a lot of time in a place and getting to know it’s layout the same way you get to know a character.  If I’m the only one, then I still don’t regret doing it.

Also, do you think John McTiernan regretted having almost all of Die Hard take place inside Nakatomi Plaza? [For the record: I do not!]

Got any comments?

I’m very happy about how the sincerely’s and Elliwiny’s answers gave me a far more complete understanding of the comic and the process that’s involved in its creation. Once again, I learned a lot by asking questions. (I’m starting to see a pattern here; also, I probably should have been more attentive when watching Sesame Street, back in the days?)

What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

Stay tuned!

The next Seven Questions About installment – where I ask Christopher Mills about Gravedigger: The Predators – will be published in two weeks. As always, to fully understand what the questions and answers are about, I encourage you to take the time to read Gravedigger: The Predators!

On Oct. 14th. I’ll post another Seven Questions About, with Ron Randall, creator of the Trekker webcomic.

And on Thursday, in only two days, I will talk about the Trouble With Comics.

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