Behind the Ink: Kevin Sorrell
Reading the Glyph Comics Award nominated Life and Times of Abigail Waller can feel like reading transcripts of conversations you’ve had with good friends, your mother, or certain co-workers. The webseries is a slice-of-life treat that tackles everything from dating to gun control via a protagonist that is wonderfully familiar. The man behind its genius is writer and artist (though he does not give himself enough credit) Kevin Sorrell. He was kind enough to talk to us about creating the series, injecting current affairs into his art, and what it takes to be a team of one.
Kevin Sorrell: I can’t remember if there was any one specific comic, but I’ve been creating content since I was about 10. I was an avid reader of the Sunday comics in the newspaper, and among my many favorites were “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes.” Somewhere along the line, I thought it would be cool to create my own comics, so I set out to do just that. One small problem, though: I couldn’t draw very well, and could never master drawing people. I was okay with cartoony, anthropomorphic animals, so I started there. I created a ton of characters and made my own comics well into high school, but by that time, I was planning to go into screenwriting. However, I’d always had ideas that I thought would work great as comics, so that brings me to today.
KS: Thank you for that, first of all. It’s incredibly awesome to hear from readers who dig my work, and with Abby, I’m having a blast doing it. “The Life and Times of Abigail Waller” is about Abigail Waller, a young, mid-20s professional, who juggles the ins and outs of relationships, work, and family, all while trying to make sense in an often senseless (yet hilarious) world. Believe it or not, the webcomic actually started as a live-action web series over four years ago; we shot four episodes and two made it online before we ran into issues that prevented us from moving forward. I had so much more story planned at the time, so I hated not shooting more, but it is what it is. A couple of years ago, the idea of reviving Abigail as a webcomic came up, along with a way to do it without needing to hire an artist (the webcomic is created on the Pixton platform), and I’ve been rolling ever since. Earlier this year, the webcomic was nominated for a Glyph Comics Award in the “Best Comic Strip or Webcomic” category, which was pretty awesome.
KS: By far, the character I enjoy writing the most is Tracy Johns, Abigail’s best friend. Of all the characters, she’s most like me–yet at the same time, I wish I could be more like her. Tracy’s completely unfiltered, and has no problem saying what’s on her mind to anyone who will listen (and even if they won’t). In that respect, I tend to be more like Abigail: I may think it, and I’ll slip in some barbs here and there, but, for the most part, I try to be polite. Funny thing is, Tracy also poses the biggest challenge, only in that I have to watch myself to make sure there’s not too much Tracy in the stories. She’s not the star, but I’d wager she was most readers’ favorite. If this were a TV series, if I wasn’t careful, she’d by my J.J. Evans or Steve Urkel–a character who was supposed to play a supporting role, only to dominate the entire series.
KS: Great question. I don’t have a formal process for choosing what goes in. As a matter of fact, I go into each season of the webcomic with a pre-planned list of stories, which can work against me when it comes to doing a topical story. There have been times where I was able to slide some commentary in on a particular topic as part of a completely different story (say, a quick conversation between two characters before we get into the main story), but with the Las Vegas arc, I simply pushed back the remaining arcs and inserted it in. It was such a crazy, horrifying situation, and I just felt that I had to address it in some way. It just felt wrong, going ahead with the planned story and making jokes when this was happening. I still tried to inject some humor into “Trigger Happy” (the name of the arc), which was the greatest challenge, and it was an arc that wasn’t the easiest to work on, but the reception was positive and I’m proud of that.
Overall, however, I don’t feel any pressure to cover certain topics over others; just whatever comes to mind or “speaks” to me. I do, though, fight a constant battle over whether to touch on certain topics of the day, or stay on the planned track. With the current administration we have in the White House, I’m sure you can imagine what I mean. I just know if I head down that track, I’ll never get back on schedule, and I try to keep something of a uniformity between length of seasons. Plus, this wasn’t intended to be a political webcomic, so…
KS: I probably should do more to celebrate, honestly. As it is, I take a hiatus between seasons, both to mimic–and as a nod to–the concept that this all began as a web series with planned seasons and arcs to go along with them. But it also gives me the opportunity to spend some time on other projects, whether they be screenplays, novels, short stories, or other comic ideas. When I finish an arc, it’s simply a week of, then it’s on to the next. We should hit our 200th comic this season, though, so I’m looking forward to that. I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t do much more than a post on the webcomic’s site and Twitter, though.
KS: Wow. Hmm. Well… I don’t know if there is any one arc, per se, but the overall arc of the book or series would be about a guy who has a burning desire to create stuff and has a ton of ideas, but also has to constantly battle lack of resources, lack of motivation, paralysis of analysis, fear of failure, and mercurial self-confidence. If he could get out of his own way, he could get a lot more done and be a lot more productive. It’s not the funniest arc on paper, but you know what they say, “pain is comedy,” and it could work in a very “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” way–with maybe a shred of “Entourage” thrown in for taste. In fact, I already have a title for you: “Own Worst Enemy.”
KS: I’ve learned that I’m stubborn as hell (I will work and rework an idea until it drives me nuts if i think there’s merit in it), but also that I tend to underestimate the impact my work can have on others. I often feel that if I were to fade away, no one would notice or care. However, just last week, Wendesday’s comic was very late, and I had a reader who, unprovoked, made a funny post on Twitter about how she was waiting on the next Abigail webcomic. It let me know that there are folks out there who do notice and who care. It meant a great deal to me. I lost my mother in May and turned 40 earlier this month, so I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately–a lot more than usual. But I’ve also reaffirmed my love of creating things, and realized that no matter how bad or “off” I feel, working on my stuff always makes me feel better. Now, if I could only learn how to draw…
KS: If you can, by all means, go for it. The beauty of working solo is that the only person that can stop you or hold back your progress is the person staring you in the mirror each morning. It’s the reason “The Life and Times of Abigail Waller” exists today. Teamwork is awesome, but if the lack of it stands in the way of you getting your work out, and you truly want to get it out, you have to find a way (it could even mean realizing your work in a different format than originally intended–again, see Abigail). However, make sure you’re doing a project you’re passionate about, because when you’re working on something and things get tough–and they will–you can fall back on your passion to get you though. That said, get yourself out there and get to work. Look me up on Facebook or Twitter if you need some advice or just someone to bounce ideas off of. I’m more than happy to help in any way I can.