Axadaisy – The creators of Lackadaisy and Axe Cop interview each other

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The alternate title was "Lackadacop" which is what Italian people say to me when they want to compliment me on Axe Cop.

I think I first discovered Tracy Butler’s Lackadaisy back when I was watching Axe Cop go viral and trying to figure out who to thank. In my memory, I found the Lackadaisy twitter when she shared the link to Axe Cop and got me a ton of traffic. Butler’s work has from that day forth stuck out to me as how to do webcomics right. She has a fan following that adores her and her comic. She has managed to go full time making Lackadaisy, living off of her Patreon income. As a creator who has been trying to crack the Patron nut myself, I decided that, after my interview with Scurry creator Mac Smith, I would see if Butler would be willing to chat next. You might call these my cat and mouse interviews.

If you haven’t checked out Butler’s work, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t have time to read more comics, her visuals aren’t just a treat, each page is a fancy meal. If you are a fan of the Milt Kahl noir inspired character design of Blacksad, Butler takes that mixed genre and gives it her own mischievous spin. And, much like the artwork in Scurry, each page proves how precious the subject matter is to the artist with her painstaking attention to detail. What Butler has in spades is style. She is not ripping someone off, she is not simply drawing well. She is designing. She has nailed down a gorgeous tribute to prohibition era decor while fitting it around her own style and take on a genre.


The conversation felt like it could go on forever. Even if nobody ever reads this, I had a blast talking to her and I hope we can do it again some time. We both had a lot to say. So, I decided to break our conversation up into two parts. I give you part one…

Axadaisy – The creators of Lackadaisy and Axe Cop interview each other 


Ethan Nicolle: I will admit up front that I have seen a lot of your art, but I have not read many of your comics. I’m sure you experience the same phenomenon. The more comics you make, the less you have time to read. But I have seen your work and it is amazing. My aim is for this conversation to be less about either of our actual comics and more about the life of creating comics and trying to make a living of it.

One thing that really stands out to me is your style and consistency of design. Everything you make is instantly recognizable, which I think is really impressive. Did you plan it like that, or did it just sort of happen?

Tracy Butler: Well, thank you for the kind appraisal!  It’s nice to hear my work is recognizable too.  I spent an unhealthy amount of my childhood and teenage years consuming animated fare – Disney, Don Bluth, and Warner Bros. stuff.  I’d watch it, then watch it again, then rewind and watch it in VHS slow motion, trying to discern the individual drawings comprising the animation so that I could try to imitate it.  My reclusive notion of fun also included redrawing the canon of Calvin and Hobbes strips. The influences are probably pretty evident in my work.  Everything I took in culminated into ‘the way that I draw’, which is more or less the style Lackadaisy is rendered in.  As much as I’d like to say I planned it with great foresight, it’s really just what naturally happens when I put a pencil to paper.


It’s when I need to draw something other than bug-eyed, mugging cats that I have to put a concerted effort into concocting a separate look for it.  At my former day job where I worked as an illustrator and 3D game artist, I did a lot of character and creature designing in the high fantasy vein.  Early on, I’d get a lot of mixed feedback from my colleagues – “Tracy, these kobolds are really cute, but the players are supposed to enjoy slaughtering them wantonly.”  I had to work past some of my habits and find ways to be more versatile, lest our player base develop some sort of guilt complex.

Ethan Nicolle: Wait, when you say you redrew the Calvin and Hobbes canon, you don’t mean you literally redrew every strip? Your art has a discipline evident to it that this would not surprise me, but still! I can only say I spent time trying to ink trees like Watterson. Never really got the hang of it though.

Tracy Butler: I didn’t redraw every single strip, but I made it through most of the colored Sunday strips.  My mother got pretty fed up with having to hang them on the fridge.
Anyway, that’s the evolutionary process of an artist in a nutshell I suppose; spend years going through phases in which you chase after the look of one idol or another until one day you realize all of the bits and pieces of style and technique you’ve purloined along the way have snowballed into something separate and yours.

Ethan Nicolle: My influences are all over the place too. As a young aspiring artist, part of me wanted to be the next Eastman and Laird, another part John Kricfalusi, and another part Jim Lee. As I’ve grown up, I am still figuring out who I want to be, and it’s definitely none of those guys. It’s whatever the heck I am. I have them and many others to thank for their influence, but if I became any of them I would not be happy. Even with the ups and downs of my own attempts at being free to make comics, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But if you look at my various works, you will notice a mish mash of styles. As you mentioned in Bearmageddon, my humans are more influenced by artists like Doug TenNapel. My Bears are inspired by actual bears. In Axe Cop I went for a quasi-superhero mixed with old Dick Tracy or Superman comics, and in my first books, Chumble Spuzz, I was going as all-out cartoony as I could (though I did often draw the beasts, like my Satan-possessed-pig in great detail like I do my bears. I’m not sure why I do that. I think it’s my deep desire to make a clone of myself and ALSO be a concept artist because I love drawing creatures).  Specifically, I think in Bearmageddon I wanted the reader to feel that the bears are not a joke when they show up. They are real. My characters are slackers, they are cartoons, they aren’t serious about life and the bears are here to let them know this is serious. Time to shape up, it’s the end of the world.


Tracy Butler: What’s it like working with a team of other artists on Bearmageddon?  How do you manage to maintain such a specific and consistent style in that situation? (We’re not talking about the comics themselves, I know, but as an aside, I really like the juxtaposition of the grotesque, sort of terrifying sci-fi look much of the bear art has with the comparative levity in the character designs).

Ethan Nicolle: I have done all the pencils and inks on Bearmageddon. I have had two lead colorists along the way. I never saw myself doing a color comic, but when I started this one I decided to post something saying I’m looking for a colorist if they want to collaborate. I found a guy who lasted for quite a while, but I think life got in the way. That was frustrating, deciding if I should just post black and white when I didn’t get the colors back in time. Eventually I just did and I stopped getting colors. Then Kailey, who has worked on Axe Cop in the past sent me a sample page to show me she could imitate the last guy’s style on Bearmageddon, and she could! So she picked up where he left off. In general I avoid collaborating because I like to be in control of everything and not having to worry about someone else flaking or losing interest. But I love having a colored comic. I hate coloring, so I am very grateful to have someone who colors for me. I would never have the patience to do it myself. I started paying Kailey a page rate a while back when I got some steady work because I feel so sorry for her having to color every obnoxious detail I draw.


Tracy Butler: I spent the last several years at my former job in an art director role, so I do understand the struggle that it is to keep a team of artists on point and sticking to guidelines you’ve painstakingly laid out for them. Even when they’re showing up for a regular, salaried office job, it’s not easy. When you’re working with artists remotely on a project that’s probably one of many freelance gigs they’re juggling at once…yeah.  “Herding cats” comes to mind.


I’ve often had readers suggest that I hire additional artists to facilitate faster updates with Lackadaisy, but I doubt they understand the array of complications that introduces to the process.  I’m happy to continue working solo, even though it means losing readers who don’t have a particularly long attention span.

That said, though, I think full color was a good choice for Bearmageddon.  It really looks great, and I’m sorry to hear that you have to pull funds from a different job to pay your colorist.  Something of that caliber really ought to pay for its own production costs and then some.  At least that’s how it would be if there were any justice in the world.


Ethan Nicolle: Speaking of money, one of the main things that made me want to chat with you is your Patreon success. I see a lot of excellent comics out there who don’t get a lot of Patreon support. It seems like a business model that throws a lot of people off if they are used to spending their money at the store, or on Amazon on a finished book, or even on Kickstarter for a future single item as opposed to investing in a person’s career. I’d like to know what your Patreon journey was like and what you learned along the way.

Tracy Butler: Patreon…well, that’s a big topic.
I wish I could say I knew why Lackadaisy has done pretty well there compared to comics that are better-looking and faster-updating.  I was really quite surprised by the response when I launched.  I spent a few years scrimping and saving enough money to survive on for about 12 months so that I could make that ‘going full-time’ leap and know that if/when things went financially awry, I’d at least have some time to try to build up the patronage or make contingency plans.


Well, then I made the leap, launched the Patreon, and for reasons largely unbeknownst to me, it vastly exceeded my expectations right off the bat.  I still have these recurring inferiority complex-borne thoughts about it like, one day, suddenly my patrons will come to their senses, realize this comic isn’t worth it, depart and leave me struggling mightily to make a living on it like I expected I would be.  I’m definitely not complaining that things turned out the way they did, but it makes for a strange sort of anxiety that I didn’t anticipate having.

Anyway, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happened and why since I began supporting myself through Patreon in 2015.  Here are some theories and thoughts about it (that may or may not have some tenuous connection to reality)…

…Two be continued in part two NEXT MONDAY

Go read Lackadaisy
Follow Tracy on Twitter
Support Lackadaisy on Patreon

Web Comic of the Week: The Scurry guy gets interviewed by the Axe Cop guy

Posted in Blog, News

Mac Smith sneezes out art like this into napkins.

Mac Smith’s Scurry struck like lightning when it hit the internet with its amazing painted pages of brilliantly lit rodents and scowling demonic cats. I don’t remember exactly when it came out, but I remember how I felt the moment the images showed up on my screen. How do I describe it? I was excited by the subject matter, in awe of the art and hungry to see more pages. I’ll be the first to admit that I, myself am not an avid reader of comics, print or web.

even the logo looks like it is glowing from cracks into another dimension

But Smith’s Scurry stands out from the crowd in a way that makes it something more than another comic. It’s like a fully rendered storyboard for some movie that, if ever made, won’t look as beautiful as the source material. Every panel could be hung on a wall. If Smith sold a huge format version without word balloons, I’d buy it and make it the centerpiece of my coffee table, if I had a coffee table. Mac Smith is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for a Scurry book. It funded in the first few hours it was up and has gone way beyond its initial goal. I went in for the premium edition and I plan to put this book on my shelves of inspiration, a book case I keep in my office, an arm’s length away, so that if I ever feel like I need a little inspiration I just reach out and grab something that will make me want to make stuff again.


Mac Smith’s work is exactly that kind of work. Sure, his work is so good I run the risk of feeling like everything I have ever done is subpar and will never measure up. But when you look at a work like Scurry, you get a sense of wonder at what humans can do with a little color, imagination, and practice. It’s inspiring and, at least for me anyway, looking at Scurry makes me want to scurry off and make better art.

Smith posts tons of process videos and GIFs and has his brush set available on his site too, so if you want to learn his techniques they are easily available. I highly recommend checking this stuff out if Smith’s art amazes you the way it does me. I messaged Smith to see if he would be up for doing my first creator interview on my weekly webcomic feature and he agreed to.


     The Scurry Guy gets interviewed by the Axe Cop guy

Ethan Nicolle: First question. I used to take pride in my ability to crank out pages. That was until I saw Scurry. How are you managing to get so many painted pages done?

Mac Smith: I post twice a week. If I don’t have anything else to do, I can create 3-4 pages a week. It took awhile to build up to that. The first 10 pages or so took a lot longer, but I completed the first 30 pages before I ever posted the first one, so I had a buffer. I had to come up with a good process and stick to it. There was a lot of trial and error involved.

Ethan Nicolle: Do you go one page at a time from start to finish, or do you pencil a bunch then go back and paint them? Are you working from a completed script?

Mac Smith: I usually work on 2-4 pages at a time, but I switch it up. Sometimes I’ll sketch out several pages, then flat color them, then render, etc. Other times I’ll work out one page from start to finish before moving on. I tend to get bored doing it one way for too long. I script about 20-30 pages at a time (about one episode), but the overall story exists in an outline.


Ethan Nicolle: What is it about Scurry that makes you feel like this is a story that has to be told and you are the one to tell it?

Mac Smith: Growing up, I was always drawn to the dark and creepy kid’s movies of the 80s, and feel that those kinds of stories are sadly lacking in today’s sterilized and child proofed world, so I’ve always wanted to do something in that vein. It’s a certain tone I try to hit… a mix of wonder, mystery with a bit of horror and comedy, too. It’s hard to find that balance, but when it works, it’s great. I’m certainly not the only one out there doing similar stories, but I just do my thing and hope for the best.

Ethan Nicolle: Do you see Scurry coming to an end, or going on indefinitely? Do you have other stories you want to tell some day?

Mac Smith: The main story takes place over 3 books, plus I have 2 or 3 side stories I want to do as well. There could be other stories, but I’ll probably do some other projects first.

Ethan Nicolle: I just watched your Kickstarter basically double its goal the first day! You must be on Cloud 9 right now. How has the response to Scurry been for you overall? You must have had some hope it would get some amount of fans. How has the response been compared to how you hoped it would be when you posted page 1?

Mac Smith: I really had no idea what to expect. It’s so hard to gauge what the interest would be. I wasn’t sure if people would want a printed book, but it turns out there is still huge demand! The funding goal was the absolute bare minimum I would need to print for backers, so I was hoping for a bit more to give me a chance to take advantage of bulk printing. That way I will have enough leftover to sell at cons. I didn’t expect to fund in a couple of hours, though.

But I’ve been building a social media presence for awhile, so I knew I’d have at least some early backers ready to go. The art community on Facebook and elsewhere is really great about supporting indie projects like this.

Ethan Nicolle: On another topic, the first time I saw your art, I saw that image of the mice going into the abandoned kitchen. A cracked door beaming a line of light through the doorway. I was amazed by your use of lighting in that image, it was so unexpected and dynamic. Also, the background on that page looks nearly photorealistic. Where do you draw inspiration for your dynamic lighting, and how do you tackle backgrounds? Are they imagined or referenced from a photo?


Mac Smith: The funny thing is that house in the comic is very similar to this horribly built house I lived in for a few years growing up. I hated that house. Hot in the summer, and freezing in the winter. But I remember how the light would pour in to the kitchen in the evenings. I’ve become really interested in light and color in the last couple of years. I never really studied it much before that, but its a great way to direct the eye and establish a certain mood or tone. I always try to think about where the light is coming from and where I can use it best.

The background was mocked up in Sketchup. Just some basic block models. That’s a good fast way to find cool shots and interesting angles. I don’t like the straight lines though, so I make manual selections with the lasso tool, and completely paint over the model. If you look closely, there aren’t really any straight lines. They all wobble a bit. I sometimes overlay some texture, but usually just paint over it with various texture or splatter brushes.

Ethan Nicolle: You clearly love animals. I grew up obsessed with animals. My mom was a librarian and I would wait in the library after school until her shift ended reading every animal book. I had every pet I could get my hands on. What are pets you have had, and what are you favorite animals to draw?

Mac Smith: I grew up in the sticks, so growing up there were lots of random animals hanging around: Stray cats, dogs, an evil parakeet, a horse, a couple of chickens, a rabbit, a turtle… lots. But I didn’t have any as an adult until I picked up Doug the Dog, my editor and business partner, seven years ago at the shelter. He mostly sleeps all day while I work, so he’s pretty low maintenance. I’ve been tempted to pick up a couple of mice, too. I still might.

I think the mice are my favorite to draw. Since drawing them, I realize why there are so many animated mouse movies: They are basically balls of fur with cartoonish hands and feet and very expressive faces. They can be squashed and stretched into almost any shape. They must be an animator’s dream. The cats are really hard to get right, for some reason. I have to redo them a lot.

Ethan Nicolle: I agree. cats are very hard. When I took on Bearmageddon I couldn’t draw bears to save my life. I did a lot of cheating before I could draw one somewhat decent without a reference or something to basically trace.

Mac Smith: Yeah I should probably use more reference on them. I was trying to make them more monstrous than real life.

Ethan Nicolle: I think it’s effective, your cats have a real demonic crumple in their faces. If I may coin the phrase.

One last question. What are some projects (webcomics, etc) you are keeping your eye on these days. Any recommendations?

See? Demonic crumple, right there.

Mac Smith: I’ve been so busy lately it’s hard to read much. I haven’t even watched many movies this year. Maybe 4 or 5. Anyway, Wormworld Saga and Stand Still Stay Silent are amazing, but I’ve been following some others like Angels Power, Tistow, and Beast Legion. There is a new one called Rising Sand that is freaking gorgeous.

I suggest you head over to the Scurry Kickstarter. You may also check out these links for more of Smith’s goodness:

Mac Smith’s web site


Mac Smith on Twitter

Mac Smith’s page on Facebook

Mac Smith’s Patreon page

Ethan Nicolle is the co-creator of Axe Cop, writer/artist of Bearmageddon, animation writer and maker of children’s books