People, it is my absolute pleasure to introduce comic artist and musician Tim Aichele! Today we’re talking about his autobiographical web comic, “Stars on the Ceiling,” and his band, “We Have a Spaceship!”
Dax Christopher: “Stars on the Ceiling.” The first thing I want to know is, how did you come up with that name?
Tim Aichelle: I started the comic in college and I was living in the dorms and my room had those glow in the dark star stickers stuck to the ceiling. Honestly I don’t really remember what made me think it was a good idea for a title, but it works.
DC: It definitely does! Was there any direct inspiration behind making an “autobiographical web comic?” Is that something you just woke up with one day, or was there actually a process behind its conception?
TA: It was a long journey to get where I am now. The first step was reading a lot of newspaper comics, ironically in books more than newspapers. The biggest influences for me were Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts. In high school I really got into drawing comics. I drew them on index cards and showed them to everybody. Mostly fiction and just joke-a-day type of comics. When I moved on to college I first discovered the concept of an autobiographical comic strip with the online blog of an artist called Chris Allen. Soon after that I saw a movie called American Splendor. It told the story of Harvey Pekar, another man who drew a comic about himself. That’s when it hit me, I can draw a comic about me. Soon I started drawing comics about my life. Mostly day to day weirdness and interactions with people. Like the index cards before, I passed around a sketchbook with the comics. They were a big hit. It wasn’t until a couple of friends introduced me to a webcomic called CTRL-ALT-DEL (by Tim Buckly) did it hit me for a second time to put my comics on the web. Eleven years later. Here we are.
DC:In my experience, pretty much everything takes a lot more work than one might assume. Is that the case with the comic? How much time and effort go into putting it together and keeping it fresh?
TA: The comic is drawn right before I post it online. It usually takes me a couple of hours from concept to finish. I have an update schedule of Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On those days I start with staring at a blank sheet of paper asking myself, “What do I want to say?” This is usually the longest part of my process. Eventually I come up with an idea and I write out the script. Then I sketch out the comic in pencil. When I get it to where I like it, I go over the pencils with ink. After erasing the pencils and another round of ink the next step is scanning it onto my computer and doing some minor edits. Usually making it darker, removing any stray marks and getting it sized for the web. Next using a template I setup, I build the webpage; add the comic, newspost etc. It gets uploaded to my server and viola, it’s live. I also email my comics to a list of subscribers so I have to set that up and mail it out. Finally I post links to the comic on my various social media sites. And that is how I do it.
DC: Sure enough, pretty involved. So is the material in the comic 100% pulled from actual experience? Or are there times when you’ll embellish a bit for the sake of entertainment?
TA: Lately my comics have just been my thoughts. Whether it was a funny thing I thought or how I was feeling. But when I do do comics about real conversations or things that happened, I always try to be a hundred percent accurate to what happened. Because it was funny already so there was no need to embellish anything. I’ve also been known to do storylines with my three cartoon versions of myself just to tell a funny story. Like in my book. I have a story where I get abducted by aliens to fight an evil scientist. Of course it didn’t happen (*cough*) but it was a funny story.
DC: No, of course not. The first thing I thought when I saw you at the Con was “this guy has clearly never been recruited by an alien force to fight an evil scientist. He’s WAY to busy creating all this stuff to find the time for intergalactic battles.” Speaking of which, one visit to the website (www.timaichele.com) makes it easy to see you have a lot going on; I couldn’t help but notice you’re in a band. I also couldn’t help but notice the unmistakeable Orange County punk sound in just about every song. My favorite band all-time is Social Distortion, and I felt like I heard some of that influence in the record, along with some early ’90’s Red Hot Chili Peppers, among other things. That’s not to say the sound is identical, but I got that same old-school punk vibe that still makes me smile, particularly from “Perceptive Reality” and “Hell.” How far off am I?
TA: Fitz (Michael Fitzsimmons, the other half of We Have a Spaceship) and I are big lovers of pop punk and ska (I am a fan of social distortion as well). It’s fast, loud and a lot of fun to play. We didn’t set out to write it that way, it’s just how our songs come out. Also Hell is one of my favorites too.
DC: So with all this going on, which comes first? Being a visual artist with the comics and web series, or being a musical artist with “We Have a Spaceship?” Or do the two pretty much occupy the same creative space? Is it ever difficult to get the two of them to coexist?
TA: The comic is always a priority. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have a comic I need to draw. The rest of the time I fill it up with my day job or whatever project I’m focusing on. Whether it’s a new We Have a Spaceship EP (titled “In Orbit EP” which Fitz and I are in the midst of working on), or a new piece of art. I try to focus on one project at a time, otherwise I get overwhelmed and run the risk of making something crappy.
DC: Talk a bit about “Red Air for Hire.” Is that something you think might be resurrected someday, or will it always be contained in the episodes currently posted on YouTube?
TA: Red Air for Hire was born at a time when I had a brief bout of unemployment. So I had loads of time to work on it and I had an awesome team of creative people working with me on it (Tasia and Anthony Maddux, Andre Evers, Maria Maddux and Mike Damert). I loved working on that show. It was funny, action packed and had so much potential for story. But sadly I have a day job and no time for it. It takes a lot of time to animate (even the corner cutting method I used), color, shade, record dialog and edit it all together. Me crew and I hope to bring it back someday. But alas, it’s not anytime soon.
DC: I hope it makes a comeback. So often we see great ideas get sidelined by life and the obligations we all have to get the bills paid. Do you find that there’s any creative overlap between the different projects? Does one ever inform another as far as what actually winds up available for people to see or hear?
TA: Oh yeah, definitely. I do all the artwork for We Have A Spaceship so that could lead people to look at my other work. Or if people look at my drawings then head to my website and see links to my band, comic or web series. If I have any new artwork or any new music coming out I’ll definitely mention it on my comic site. It’s like a game of seven degrees of Tim Aichele. All roads lead to me and my work (laughs).
DC: Going back to “Stars on the Ceiling,” is there anything in particular you hope people take away after reading the comic? Can you articulate the experience you want people to have, or an objective you hope it accomplishes?
TA: My hope for people to take away from my comic at the most is, ”Wow, I thought I was the only one who thought that,” or at the least, “Haha, that’s a funny ass comic”. What I want my comic to do is to both entertain and allow me to express myself. I also hope to connect with people by sharing a piece of myself.
DC: A truly artistic answer. Finally, do you have any advice for anyone out there trying to establish their own projects, whether on paper, on the web, or in music?
TA:I have few pieces of advice…
Advertise. Both online and in the real world. Find where there are lots of people and set up shop. Your audience will eventually find you.
Consider the audience, but don’t be paralyzed by them. The worst thing you can do is fall down the hole of “What if people hate it?” As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. So at best, please yourself (*snicker*) because if you don’t like it, then what’s the point?
Finally, more likely than not, you will be ignored, and it’s okay. It’s rare that you will find an audience right away and become a huge success. You can’t just throw your music, art, whatever online and expect people to go gaga over it. It takes time. But like I said before, your audience will find you. I’ve been doing this comic for 11 years and I’m still obscure. I keep doing it because it’s how I express myself, I love doing it and every once in a while a stranger will come up to me and say “That is awesome”.
Wise words from a veteran creator there, kids. I want to thank Tim for coming on the blog and being a great interview, and if you want to catch up with him at a show in the future, here’s a look ahead…
2/13/16, Zolocon The Fuge Convention Center. 780 Falcon Circle, Warminster, PA 18974
3/19-3/20/2016, Galactic Con MTown Sports Complex. 938 Middletown Warwick Rd, Middletown, DE 19709
4/9/2016, Camden Comic Con Rutgers Camden, 301 Linden St, Camden, NJ 08102
4/16-4/17/2016, East Coast Comicon Meadowlands Exposition Center, 355 Plaza Drive, Secaucus, NJ 07094
7/9-7/10/2016, Garden State Comic Fest Mennen Arena, 161 E Hanover Ave, Morristown, NJ 07960
9/2-9/4/2016, Baltimore Comic Con The Baltimore Convention Center, One West Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
Don’t forget to visit Tim’s website! www.timaichele.com
And have a look at the webcomic at www.starsontheceiling.com