SDCC 09 Preview: Daniel m. Davis, “Monster Commute”

“Overwhelming” is probably the most apt adjective to describe the San Diego Comic-Convention. (With “stinky” coming in a close second.) The convention is four-and-a-half day whirlwind of mind-melting pop-culture insanity. So,  be prepared to figure out how you’ll juggle your time gawking at Hollywood stars and starlets in Hall H, taking pictures of cos-players, and hunting down con-exclusives.

But! Before you finalize your nerd-schedule for next week, make sure to set some time aside to give some love to the comic book-folk. (It is Comic-Con, after all.) To kick off the big show, your trusty friends at Pop Culture Zoo are pointing you in the right direction of some snappy comic book folks that you should check out.

Daniel m. Davis is the architect behind Monster Commute, a daily web-comic set in MONSTRU, an underworld packed with doomed creatures, non-stop rush hour, and a fascist empire led by a Frankenstein-looking Abraham Lincoln.

Before taking on the daily stress of webcomic-ry, Daniel and his wife Dawna wrote, designed and self-published three children’s books [Caught Creatures (a monster haiku book), KlawBerry (a fractured fairytale), and After Halloween (a Halloween ABC book)] through their Arizona-based company, Steam Crow.

Steam Crow is no stranger to the convention circuit and their booth is always well-worth checking out for very cool, very creative swag that’s amazingly designed. (Take a look at the bottles of poison – minus actual poison – on sale this year.)

poison_labels

Daniel took some time to talk to PCZ and talk about “Monster Commute,” and all things Steam Crow, including the awesomeness they have in store for San Diego.

Your website mentions that Steam Crow began after attending the San Diego Comic Con. How did it all come together?

Well, in a lot of ways, it happened AT SDCC 2005.

I took my wife Dawna there for some pop-culture adventure, and we saw and met all kinds of indie artists. I was beginning to realize that they didn’t have some special magic, that I didn’t also have. They were real people.

She leaned over to me at some point and said “You should do a book. A monster book. Something like ‘Creatures Caught’ or something like that.”

We talked about ideas, and I was working on sketches before we left the event. We went home, and in 3 months had our first book Caught Creatures written and illustrated.

Our goal was to get into SDCC 2006, and we did it. We’ve been rolling ever since.

After self-publishing three books, what interested you in putting “Monster Commute” out as a daily web-comic?

Well, a few things happened to change our path.

1. I’ve done 3 books that are quasi-kid’s books. They’re equally for kids as they are for adults, but I wanted to do something that was exclusive for adults. I’d been toying with a few story ideas, and with Monster Commute, I was able to combine them all together.

2. I wanted to tackle episodic storytelling. I think of Monster Commute as a daily episode into the lives of our characters in MONSTRU. Webcomics are perfect for this type of storytelling.

3. Daily challenge of sequential art. I’ve only dabbled in sequential art before now, so this is a new challenge for me. Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose, but doing it everyday, I’m sure to improve.

4. I wanted more people to experience my characters and stories, for free. The web is about free, and by publishing online first, way more people are going to be aware of the Monster Commute books when they come out. (Starting next year.)

5. I love MONSTRU (the industrial monster world) and a comic seemed like the best way to demonstrate it to my audience.

nosferatu_print

You can tell from all the little details you put into the strip, down to all the cool merch you have – that you enjoy creating this world and mythology. How much of the Monstru-world did you have built before you started the comic, and how much are you making up as you go?


I had many of the broad strokes of the world figured out before starting the comic. However, for me, it’s important for me to leave a lot of room for it to be developed over time. It keeps it interesting for me, and allows me the ability to dig deeper and deeper over time.

My first real world-building experience was with the World of Agyris (www.agyris.net), a huge homebrew fantasy RPG setting. It was great, but difficult for people to make all of the connections because it is essentially an encyclopedia.

This time around, I wanted this project to be more of a story that SHOWS what it’s like there, instead of all of these incidental pieces that nobody can put back together.

The plot itself is on a big timeline, with big general points that I have to hit. It’s up to me to figure out how to get to each one, and try to make it as odd and interesting as I can. So yeah, I’m winging it on a daily basis, mindful of the overarching plot.

You do the “Monster Commute” web-comic on your own, but you work closely with your wife Dawna. How does this collaboration work?

I feel that when you have a life partner, you should involve them in the business that you’re creating. It’s a huge amount of time and work, and you need them to buy in, and believe in it almost as much as you do. Otherwise, you could be fighting that person to succeed. The world is tough enough without having another critic under your own roof. Since Dawna was the catalyst for Steam Crow, I really want her to be on this adventure with me.

She is involved in many of aspects of Steam Crow LLC, the company. First, she’s the co-owner.

Dawna helps me come up with product ideas. She reviews everything that I create and gives me feedback. I’m talking product design, to daily comics.

She makes designer plushies like our popular MNSTR Bags. She helps me pack orders. She does more around the house to allow me to work epic hours. She co-wrote KlawBerry, when I was stuck on the story.

So, while she doesn’t illustrate Steam Crow (yet), she really helps make stuff happen.

Are there any future plans to get her directly involved in the world of Monstru?

Well, sort of.

Dawna probably doesn’t want to touch MONSTRU herself, though we’ve talked about her doing a guest strip. (Which would be cool.)

She’s been slowly working on a strip of her own for us to run on the weekends called “My Con Life.” It’s basically an auto-bio strip about going to cons, meeting artists that we love, and living with me and the chaos storm that I create. She’s doing a great job, and once things settle down after San Diego (and her new art teaching job) she’s going to get back to it.

So, you two have attended every major comic convention on the West Coast so far this year, and San Diego is looming around the corner. How do you balance the madness of the conventions with the webcomic and your other projects?

The balance is really 4 things: Homelife, the Day Job, the comic/business, and events.

It’s not easy, and I’m not really that great at keeping it all going. For example I’ve elected to not take care of my health in order to spend 12-18 hrs per day on the dayjob and Steam Crow, to keep everything going. Now, I’m trying to fix that, but I’ve had less time to make other stuff happen.

The comic has been a fabulous thing… it allows me to better show the worlds that I have swimming in my head, and to attempt to tell more of a story than I’ve been able to do in the past. BUT, it’s a daily drain of time and resources.

I’ve GOT to make a new comic every day, or my backlog of strips (the buffer) is going to disappear. If I don’t have a big buffer for SDCC, the flow of comics is going to die. With that, readership will suffer.

SO, there is this big chain of events that I’m trying to avoid. It’s terrifying.

That said, events are the backbone of our success, and they’re amazingly fun. We love doing conventions.

You had all kinds of awesome swag at the Emerald City Comic Con. What do you have in store for the SDCC?

Oh, thanks. ECCC is amazing, too.

This year, we’re pulling out all of the stops in San Diego with NEW products:

We’re featuring our SDCC Exclusive Monster Commute print, limited to 150 pieces each signed and numbered. It measures 12×18, and is printed on satin matte 50 yr archival film. $20 each.

sdcc_exclusive_print_steam_crow_lrg

At our booth we’ll also have:

– Our books

– 80 Button designs (a dozen new ones)

– A big variety of new prints

– Hand made MNSTR Bags

– Battletown t-shirts and ONI ONI Mart totes

– Mini poison bottles (containing no poison.)

Is there anything else you’re working on for 2009?

Man, not to sound dull, but my job for the rest of 2009 is to keep building Monster Commute, and just trying to make it better and better. New episodes, new characters, new villains, and new stories.

I’ve got a lot more of MONSTRU to create and show. It’s a big world.

Steam Crow’s booth is #4207, in the Illustrator’s section, across from the Sony Pictures megabooth. (map below! click to enlarge!)

steamcrow_booth_4207_map


About Ryan Ingram

Ryan Ingram is Pop Culture Zoo's resident Canadian. He has never been a member of Alpha Flight, sadly. On Twitter, he's @ryeingram.