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Josh Phillips - Avalon
5.15.2001 by JP

Josh Phillips draws the popular web-comic Avalon and is the second in a series of interviews with web-comic artists that I'll be doing over the next few weeks. Josh's comic has gained massive popularity over his past two years at Keenspot as he chronicles the misadventures and romantic follies of a group teens in their final three years in high school. Unlike many popular web-comic artists Josh Phillips doesn't bask in the warmth of the southern USA as he draws his daily strip but rather shivers in the frozen tundra that is Ottawa, Canada, which he, like the Tangmonkey Group, calls home. I interviewed Josh via email in early April.

Tell the folks a bit about yourself, how did you get started making web-comics?

Um... I'm 22, a university student studying Communications Engineering... I live in Canada and I pronounce aboot "aboot."

I got started when I was inspired by other webcomics -- especially Sluggy Freelance, which has a rather long-running story arc. I figured a webcomic would be a good outlet for some storytelling..

You're from Ottawa right? What high school did you attend? Was it similar to Avalon High?

I attended Gloucester High School. If you mean, "was the building itself similar to Avalon's," then the answer is no. :-) GHS was built back in the '60s, and is ready for any sort of bombing attack by the commies. AHS was built maybe 5 or 6 years ago, and would fall easily in any war.

If you mean, "was the atmosphere like Avalon's," then the answer is "sorta." A lot of what we see in AHS would be common to *any* high school -- the cliques of friends, the student elections, the clubs, the teachers, etc. Meanwhile, I never really experienced much of the relationship-confusion at my high school that we see in Avalon... maybe I just didn't hang out with the right people. :-)

Is there a character in Avalon based on your high school experiences?

Every character is subject to being used as an outlet for my own experiences. Ceilidh is in the yearbook class much like I was... Ryan tends to meddle about with computers in an extracurricular fashion (although I never managed to write an operating system. :-) )... Joe is the same hockey nut I was in high school (it's gotten worse since then). There's no single character who represents me in the comic, but at any given moment one of them might be acting out my experiences.

On the Avalon site you talk about the possibility of doing an animated drama for TV, how close are you to getting it off the ground? Have you ever considered doing it on the web?

Somebody who works for ADV (an anime distribution company) once taunted me with the prospect of producing an Avalon TV series. I promptly chastised him for it. ;-) Right now there seems to be zero possibility of an Avalon animated series coming to life, but if an opportunity arose I'd take it in a second. I'm not too keen on producing it for the web... it simply wouldn't be the same as having it seen by millions of people on TV, in that traditional animated style (which North American producers seem to be snubbing as of late).

Where do you find the time to draw the strip? Being a Communications Engineering student must consume a big chunk of your time. How many strips do you draw in advance?

I draw, um... zero comics in advance. :-) I often draw them at night, right before they go online. I usually end up with less sleep than I should be getting.

Have you attempted to get your strip syndicated? What's the response been like?

I really don't want Avalon to become syndicated. It would mean crazy deadlines, lots of censorship, and very little pay. I'd basically be throwing all my creative freedom out the window. Naturally, I haven't
submitted Avalon to any syndicates.

There seems to be a lot of sexual tension on the Avalon forum, what's your take on that?

Um, you mean toward characters in Avalon? I guess I've gotten used to it. :-) It's actually quite the compliment that people would lust after characters I've created... if not just a little scary at times. :-)

If you mean tension between forum users, well, they've kept it hidden from me, and for some reason I'm glad...

The Avalon plotline has been very suspenseful lately, can you give our readers any clues as to what they can expect in upcoming weeks?

There's going to be a lot of major plot resolution this summer. Right now, things are building up to some big climaxes, and I hope to see them happen before Volume 3 starts in September.

Keenspot hosts your comic, how were you "discovered"? How has the banner-revenue fallout we've all heard about affected you?

The "fallout" simply means I'm not making enough money to pay off the server costs. Keenspot's been absorbing the debt, and once revenues are greater than costs again, I'll be getting paid again.

And it seems that in Keenspot's early days, several members felt Avalon would be a good addition to the group. They invited me to join, and I did so immediately. :-) I'm still not quite sure exactly what it was about Avalon that got it noticed, but I tend not to worry about that.

Do you think that advertising is a sustainable way of funding online comics? If not, how will they be funded in the future?

As soon as online advertisers get their act together, we'll probably see the advertising become viable again. Right now, it seems advertisers are making their ads as annoying as possible, and are refusing to target ads to specific demographics. Granted, I'm not a media major, so I might be wrong... in which case, sites like Keenspot might have to start charging for "premium" services.

How do you spend your time online? Offline?

I've been spending a heck of a lot of time on IRC (in #avalon and #webcomics [on irc.nightstar.net]), just chatting with others in the webcomics community. I play Planetarion (a funky online game at planetarion.com), I surf the weeb, I read 300 spam e-mails each day.

Offline, I watch hockey. :-) When it's not hockey season, I'm usually working full-time at a high tech company (like I will be for the next 16 months! :-) ). I tend to play curling in the winter. I spend most of my day on public transit. :-) I also seem to be drawing comics and graphics for Carleton University's student newspaper.

What impact has the net and computer technology had on your art? Would you still be drawing comics if it weren't for the net?

I figure technology has made it easier for me to make my art look decent. Before I even *had* a computer, I was content to just draw stuff on paper with a pencil. Now, I can draw stuff on paper with a pencil, scan it in, clean it up, add colour/effects, and post it on a web site for others to read.

I suppose the fact that people are reading my comic almost religiously has been my big motivator for drawing comics again. I must have not drawn anything for 3 or 4 years before I started up Avalon... and in many ways I'm glad I started again. I don't see myself stopping in the future. :-)

What does the future hold for Josh Phillips?

Well, Avalon's scheduled to conclude in August, 2002. I'm currently collaborating with a particularly skilled artist on a new webcomic which should be out later this year. After Avalon is finished, I'll probably start up one of several new webcomic projects I've got ideas for. And maybe one day I'll even get to try my hand at that animated TV series.

And with any luck, in-between all that, I hope to get an Engineering degree. :-)

Next week: An interview with Scott Kurtz, creator of the popular web-comic Player vs. Player.

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