Eighteenth century Victorian illustrations meets a commentary on today’s society with a hit of pop culture references? Welcome to the world of Wondermark. In his timely-yet-nostalgic universe, webcomic creator David Malki revives a lost art form while incorporating a hilarious juxtaposition of 20th century dialog with old-world imagery. Malki’s work has been a hit among webcomic fans for years and now he joins forces with Dark Horse Comics to release Wondermark strips in published form. His new hardcover collection, Beards of Our Forefathers, hit stores this week. We caught up with David Malki at this year’s Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle, WA and asked him a few questions about making the leap from webcomics to the printed page.
PCZ: Tell us a bit about Wondermark. It originally began as a webcomic and now you are working with Dark Horse, correct?
DM: Yeah, Wondermark is primarily a webcomic. The concept of the strip is that it is created entirely from illustrations from 19th century books. I have a collection of old periodicals and advertisements from the late 1800’s. I will scan the images of those engravings and wood-cuts and turn them into comic strips by adding dialog. Sometimes I’ll also rearrange the images to create humorous situations. Its very much a contemporary/pop-culture flavored strip but with the aesthetic of the late Victorian era.
PCZ: What inspired you to create this kind of comic?
DM: I’ve always been a fan of the style of illustration that you no longer see anymore. With these old engravers and wood-cut artisans, it used to be that was how you would get illustrations in magazines. That’s all there was if you wanted to make an illustration into a printed image. Once the images became cheap to reproduce, this entire art form was lost. There was no more need for it. Its the lost art that I am really attracted to. Bringing back the aesthetic. There’s a big resurgence of new-Victorian and steampunk themes right now. You don’t see work of this level of beauty and intricacy right now and if I can reintroduce that to a new audience then I’m happy to do that. And also, I just like to make comics. Those (artists), their work is more beautiful than anything I could come up with on my own.
PCZ: What types of topics do you like to cover with Wondermark?
DM: The subject matter of the comics themselves is very contemporary. Some of it is pop culture, sometimes its political, other times its just absurd relationship humor. The flavor of it is modern-day. The dialog is very modern. Stuff like “Hey man, what’s going on?” and “What’s up, yo?” If you cover up the dialog, it looks like an old-timey thing but if you read it then it becomes a modern-day thing. Sort of a clash of cultures and eras. It is a stand-alone gag strip. There’s no stories, no characters… its just a different joke every day.
PCZ: How did you become involved with Dark Horse Comics?
DM: Well, Dark Horse is starting to publish more webcomic collections in print. With Penny Arcade and Perry Bible Fellowship, it’s become very popular. The success of PBF in general has opened the door to new webcomic collections such as mine. So, Dark Horse approached me knowing that Wondermark was starting to get kind of popular and I was looking for a publisher. My strip was printed in The Onion, so it has a fair amount of an audience behind it. Again, because of the success of PBF, I think that some of the people at Dark Horse and other publishers are realizing that there is a big untapped audience of webcomics that are looking to see their favorite stuff in print.
PCZ: How long have you been creating webcomics?
DM: Around five years.
PCZ: Has your work been limited just to Wondermark?
DM: Well, yeah. I started publishing Wondermark on the web before I knew what webcomics were. Before I knew that there was such a thing as a webcomic community or a typical way to do things. The fact that other people were doing it as well, and making a living at it, it never entered my mind for years. I only gradually came to that realization over time. I think it was Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to say this, that really opened the door to other distribution models I can now take advantage of. So I figured, why not? I’ll give it a try.
PCZ: Has your relationship with Dark Horse opened your work to a new fan-base? Maybe a readership that wouldn’t have otherwise found your comics on the web?
DM: Well, I’m hoping it will! I did one eight page story for their MySpace.com ‘Dark Horse Presents’. I don’t know exactly how many people have been turned on to my work from there, I hope there are some. I’m more excited about the book that I am doing with them which comes out in July. It is a hardcover collection of strips. That will be in book stores and comic shops, places hopefully where people will find it who are not familiar with the website already. I think it is important for a comic to have both a good print presence and a good web presence. The web presence allows you to connect with the passionate fans and the print presence allows you to connect with the people who didn’t know who you were because they’re going to stumble across your stuff in a book store. So far, I’ve been doing good on the web-front and this is going to be my first foray into book stores and comic shops. I’m hoping this will really open some doors to people who are finding it at random.
PCZ: Are you hoping to eventually collect in print the entire run of Wondermark?
DM: I’ve self-published a collection of the first 100 strips. There are over 400 strips on the website right now. The Dark Horse book will pick up where the first one left off and publish another 120 or so strips. Ideally, I’d like us to do more and collect portions of it periodically.
We’d like to thank David Malki for taking the time to chat with us in Seattle. Look for Beards of Our Forefathers in stores now, or pick up a copy online. Of course, you can find new Wondermark strips posted regularly at wondermark.com.