Seven Questions About Validation

Here’s the fifth installment of the Seven Questions About feature: This time I interviewed Christian Beranek and Kelci D Crawford, the writer resp. the artist of the wonderful webcomic Validation, which I have talked about a couple of times on this blog.

Q1: Who are you?

K: I’m a comic artist who makes lots of comics and does my best to make the work speak for me.

C: I’m a writer, musician, photographer, and filmmaker.

Q2: What is Validation about?

C: A girl and her stuffed dinosaur.

K: A nerd girl, her life, and comics.

Q3: Why and how did Validation get started?

K: Deviantart and Tumblr.

C: I met Kelci through those sites after posting some adverts.The idea had been floating around in my head for a few years until one day something clicked and I wrote the first fifteen strips. After sending Kelci those pages, along with some descriptions, she drew up a sketch of Ally straight away and I immediately knew she was the right person to collaborate with.

K: We’ve been working off each other ever since.

Q4: What influences made Validation into what it is?

C: The comic is not autobiographical, but it does draw from real life experiences. Growing up I read loads of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Mark Twain, John Updike, and other humanist authors. I devoured my share of comics, as well. I knew with Validation what I didn’t want, and that was something sensationalistic. I wanted the story to resonate with readers, not titillate then. So drew I inspiration from those writers who were able to tackle challenging issues and scenarios in a genuine way.

K: For artistic influences, I’d say Validation is, at least partially, inspired by the palette of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – an anime that shows the beauty and hideousness of life with vibrant, gorgeous colors. Validation is also inspired by the full-color editions of Jeff Smith’s Bone in that way, as well. The look of the characters is part inspiration from the likes of Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon), part the Flight comics anthologies, part gestures and emotions from Jen Wang (Koko Be Good) and Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost), and part intensive training from my time as a caricature artist. To make Validation REALLY come to life, I pulled a lot from my own daily life – Coffee Time is based on a coffee shop I used to frequent, the convention comics are directly from my own experiences.

Q5: Do you see people who are trans (or are immediately affected by trans issues) versus people with limited knowledge (and maybe even only mild curiosity) as two different audiences you want to reach? Do you target these audiences separately, and if so, how?

K: I think the intent was to meet in the middle between the two audiences – have things that anyone can relate to, but talk about how certain situations affect trans people. We’re trying to tell the story of a life – not an exaggerated or simplified caricature.

C: I consider our audience to be one group: Readers. I am aware there are different backgrounds, viewpoints and levels of interest/curiosity following the comic. The key is to not pander to any one group and just tell the story. That being said, I do read all of the comments. Feedback is valued. Our readers are incredibly smart, passionate and invested. We are honored by that. To say I am not influenced by some reactions and insight would be arrogant. We would never change the story due to a complaint, however. We do our best to stick to our own code.

Q6: How did you decide on the tone – amount of humour, intensity of teaching, focus on problems vs. focus on solutions – for Validation, and how did that decision affect storytelling and visual choices?

K: I definitely wanted more vibrant colors and a generally pleasant look for the comic. One thing I did notice in other comics of a slice-of-life nature (especially for LGBT+ stories) is that the art is very…dim. There are very few webcomics about trans characters that have large color palettes. I wanted to change that and show the life-like variety of colors available. That’s what life is to me – colorful. And I wanted the art to reflect that. Even if there are negative events or people around, there is still color, and the colors define it.

C: Validation is written in three panel segments. It took me awhile to figure out the best way to execute the pacing. Manga, for example, is almost written in 3/4 time, like a waltz. I mixed in that sensibility (we skip a beat to get to the next idea) with that of a comedian. Although the comic is not jokey, the set-ups and payoffs you find in comedy are similar.

We considering writing in 2/4 polka time but discovered that might be a little jarring 😉

Q7: One remarkable feature of Validation is its insightful description of both the differences and the commonalities of different forms of communication and social interactions (casual talk, online talk, blogging, conversations in public, formal interactions). Is it by design, or rather serendipitous, and what thoughts about this went into the writing process?

K: I think it’s a little serendipitous, but these are subjects I like to explore and I think are worth exploring. People mold themselves in different ways depending on what the basis of interaction is – blog, tweet, party chat, etc. I think it’s something that non-binary gender folks notice a lot because they can see from a new outside view how people talk to each other. You realize certain truths, like the idea that “men and women communicate differently” is something I hear a lot from older people, but really they don’t. (Also, the idea that men and women just can’t communicate with each other, like they’re two different alien species, Men are from Mars, Women from Venus, is bullshit.) But conversations can have a lot of politics to them. It’s interesting to note the different politics with different modes of communication, and ultimately what makes them similar. It seems like the ultimate rule, no matter what form of communication you use, is ‘don’t be a dick.’ I think with the comics we’re just trying to reinforce the idea that no matter how you choose to express yourself, just don’t be a dick.

C: Day-to-day interactions are way more interesting to me than crazy action scenes. For example, I enjoy superhero movies, but I usually tend to tune out during the third act. Many of these films do a great job developing the characters early on in the story, and that’s the stuff I always remember. For my own writing, I am massively invested in how the characters react to something that happens and what they can learn from it. The action, per se, is actually in the wrestling with the ideas. Day-to-day all of us are adapting to how this is done. It is changing and evolving thanks to technology. That being said, one-on-one is really where differences can be made and resolved. It takes time to get there. I find we have these amazing ways to communicate but many of us are afraid to reach out. It’s sad, but also fascinating. The cruz of the dilemma always comes down to the human condition. It’s up to us how we tend to it.

Got any comments?

I found Christian‘s and Kelci‘s answers interesting, informative, illustrating and intriguing.

In my opinion, they provide great insight into the creative process behind validation, especially the “strategic level” thinking.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

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