Panic View: Rock paper cynic’s Peter Chiykowski

The internet is a world of information, news and hardship.  Luckily there is enough humour to get you through the rough stuff.  The world of web comics is an ever growing and competitive world.  Hundreds of funny and talents people make their way to their favourite comics, or dozen if your like me, each day to get their underground humour fix.

One of which is Rock Paper Cynic.  At the 2011 Montreal Comic Con we caught up with creator Peter Chiykowski for a 42 Webs exclusive.

So what is Rock. Paper. Cynic?

Rock, Paper, Cynic is an off-kilter single-panel webcomic that I’ve been posting since Hallowe’en of 2008. I’ve given the project a tagline: “a webcomic for the unimpressed,” I guess because the jokes and ideas that come out of it seem to resonate with people who look at the world as it is now and think, “Wow, we can probably do better than this is we get our shit together.” But a lot of the time the comics are just silly jokes about video games, whales, or steam catapults.

What sets you apart from similar web-comics giants like XKCD?

As someone who loves xkcd, especially the early stuff, it’s hard to answer this question, because I think of all the levels that a guy like Randall Munroe is thinking on when he writes comics, and I find it hard to believe he missed anything.

I’m guessing that Rock, Paper, Cynic‘s unrelated day-by-day single panels let me be a bit more spastic with my writing style. I can try jokes and formats that might not be available to guys working with more conventional panels (not that Randall Munroe is by any means conventional). It also means I can mix media, trying out different drawing (and photography) techniques. Of course, this occasionally works to the comic’s detriment, but I also think it’s part of its charm.

I guess what sets Rock, Paper, Cynic apart is its attitude of cynical optimism. It’s not like I have an agenda with it or anything, but I feel that as a writer I spend a lot of time thinking about how cynicism can be a socially progressive force. I’ve said this in a comic before (http://rockpapercynic.com/index.php?date=2009-11-06), and I stand by it: Cynicism means loving the world too much to let it get away with less.

How did you get started?

I got started by looking at the webcomics I loved (xkcd and A Softer World to begin with, though the list soon grew), and realizing that the people writing these webcomics were just people. and that I could probably do what they do (though less well). I began by jotting down comic ideas in the margins of notebooks in my university classes (I have a poor attention span), and even though most of the jokes were awful, some of them were funny enough that I bothered to redraw them a little bit later, thinking I might post them. From there, the comic started to catch on a little.

So what can we expect from the future of RPC?

From RPC, you can expect more of the same, but better. The comic fell apart a little while I was working on my MA last year. Between a brutal load of courses, a maturing long-term relationship, and some stress-related health issues, the posting schedule dropped to once or twice a month. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m making the comic a huge priority for me.

I’m spending more time drawing my comics, selecting and workshopping my jokes, expanding the website, and going to conventions to talk to readers. I also FINALLY put out a printed collection, something long overdue. Rock, Paper, Cynic: The Island of Bad Ideas is available for pre-order, and it will be shipping out on November 21st. I’m very excited to see it in hard copy. I want to do more things like the book, efforts that make my comic more accessible to my readers.

Tell me about Little Worlds

Little Worlds is a story comic that started as a role-playing game system  put together after reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. After having a great time playtesting the system with friends, I began think that it had more potential as a premise for telling stories. That premise, the idea that there are many worlds or many different sizes, and that each world is only as true as we believe it to be, got turned into a Rock, Paper, Cynic comic early on: http://rockpapercynic.com/index.php?date=2009-01-19

Anyway, the friends that I played Little Worlds with were cool creative people, and at some point it occurred to me that we might be able to graphically re-tell a story using characters we had already role-played. I hastily constructed a very rough plot and we got together and tried shooting some scenes without planning too much. The result was heartening: we created some nifty stylized comic pages and had a ball.

We got really excited when we decided that the proceeds from the project would go to charity, specifically Free the Children, a Canadian charity that does international development work. Once we made that decision, we were kind of free to explore the story without worrying about the consequences. If anything came of our efforts, the benefit belonged to someone else. In the meantime, we just got to have fun.

As a writer/artist where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m very inspired by people in general. I mean, we do and say such weird things to each other because we love and yet are afraid of one another. Just watching and wondering why people do the things they do makes me want to write in case it helps me, or someone else, figure something out about humans.

What is your favourite book/author?

Usually, but not always, the last book I read. Right now it’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (the fourth-last book I’ve read). It’s really an unbelievable story wrapped up in some of the most staggeringly beautiful descriptions I’ve ever read, though it takes a little while to get there. It literally left me speechless at multiple points. So powerful.

What is your most memorable comic trade/graphic novel? Why?

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was the series that got me into comics. I had read a lot of mainstream comics as a kid, mostly from my dad’s admirable Marvel collection. I loved the Cap and Spidey especially, but I felt their stories took place in a world I would never be able to visit.

Gaiman did something different with the way he used comics to tell stories. He managed to be simultaneously real, unreal, and surreal, and he created a comic universe that was aware that it was simply one universe, one possible world out of many. I guess Sandman offered me that hope that even if I didn’t know how to get to Gaiman’s world, maybe someday his world could come to me.

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