Interview with Gianna Masetti

Gianna Masetti is the creator of The Noob, a gamer comic set in and around an MMORPG and populated with the kinds of people you’ll have no trouble recognising if you’ve ever been in a RPG (tabletop or otherwise).

Example image from The Noob

The Noob follows the adventures of Ohforf'sake, the hapless newcomer to the world of Clichequest.

She took a little time out from her busy schedule to talk to The Webcomic Builder about how and why she makes comics.

The Builder: If you were to describe The Noob to someone and you had a very limited amount of time (say a minute or so) to do it, what would you say?

Gianna: It follows the adventures of a newbie in a stereotypical MMORPG, called Clichequest – Valley of the Grind. There isn’t really an overarching plot – I just wanted to use the comic as a way to make comments and observations about theĀ  people who play and make these games.

The Builder: What made you choose to make a comic about MMORPG gamers?

Gianna: I’m a huge nerd and among other nerdy hobbies I’ve been playing MMOs for twelve years. The short answer is that I knew the subject very well.

The long answer is the wall of text below.

Right now in MMOs things are more sanitized, so you see less Lord of the Flies scenarios when you join a new game since there are a lot of mechanisms in place to regulate player interaction – but back in the early days of online RPGs (and even today to a lesser degree in some free-for-all games) it was the law of the jungle. Those early experiences in games like Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call have stayed with me and I saw drawing the comic as a way to share what I found funny and/or surreal about them.

I have memories of Ultima Online, in particular, where one could see what everyone said as text over their heads, that I’ve cherished to this day. Like watching a hardcore roleplayer hitting on a girl – he desperately wanted her ICQ number but he also wanted to stay in character, so he kept asking her in improvised aulde English, “Forsooth, milady, shalt thee giveth me yer pigeon number?” “My what? WTF are you talking about?” “Yer pigeon number, fair lady! So that I mayest send thee letters with my pigeon! Dost thee wanteth my pigeon number?”, and so on for ten minutes, until he eventually broke down and said that he wanted her ICQ.

It’s just too bad that these days all these conversations happen in /tells, assuming they still do, back then you just had to walk around in game and it was Comedy Central.

The Builder: In the early stages of the comic, you switched from colour to black and white fairly regularly before settling on full colour. What made you decide to favour coloured art?

Gianna: To be perfectly honest, it’s because I’m crap at drawing but I’m good at colouring, so the strips look better in colour. I also enjoy the process, it’s relaxing, even if it’s time consuming.

The Builder: The Noob began in 2004 and is still going strong. What’s the secret of your longevity?

Gianna: A combination of how much I enjoy doing it and the encouragement that I get from the fact that people like it enough to keep reading it.

However, once past the all-consuming enthousiasm of the early days, when I stayed up until 3am every night to draw and thought and talked exclusively about the comic 24/7, I have slowed down to make sure that I don’t burn out.

The Builder: Over the years, you’ve no doubt picked up new ways of working. Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out?

Gianna: I’ve streamlined the process, for example using macros that roughly autofill areas with colours in Photoshop, even if I need to go in and fill the small bits and the edges manually. Three years ago I was able to invest in a big Cintiq graphic tablet/monitor and it’s the best thing ever. It costs like a mid-top range computer but it’s worth every penny.

The Builder: Are there any writers or artists that have influenced your work on The Noob?

Gianna: My main source of inspiration are MMO players and stereotypes, but there is something that I must quote. It’s not another comic, but the fantastic Musashi’s guide to writing UO roleplaying stories. The guy who wrote it is a genius, and lines like “By the blood of my ancestors, living and deleted, I shall have my revenge!” still make me laugh ten years on.

Also, when I was still living in Italy I had friends who worked in a games store and were always quoting “famous last words” and funny stuff that people did when playing, even if it was from pen and paper rpgs rather than online games – stuff like

Stand back guys, I’ll explore the well! I grab my sword in one hand, a torch in the other, tie a rope to my neck and jump in!”.

The Builder: Did you do any other comic work before starting The Noob?

Gianna: No, except doodling strips on notebooks on occasion when I was a teenager.

The Builder: Your characters all have distinct looks and personalities. Is there a skill behind making sure each character is instantly recognisable?

Gianna: I wouldn’t think it’s a skill, just a matter of visualizing a character and not sticking to the same style for each of them. It’s something that I’d like to say to new comic artists about – it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at drawing, you don’t have to draw all your characters in the same way, with the same expressions.

Give them some individuality and make them recognizable, also for readers who only check your site once in a while.

The Builder: If you hadn’t started The Noob, is there another comic you would have produced instead?

Gianna: I really don’t know. Sci-fi noir is a genre that I’d like to do if I was any good at drawing. The only thing I ever did in that style was a one-panel strip for the UK Webcomix Thing in 2006.

The Builder: Are there any tips you could give to our readers who might be considering starting their own webcomic?

Gianna: I would recommend this:

  1. Visit webcomic artist forums, they are full of enthousiastic people who will be happy to help a newcomer with tips, feedback, etc.
  2. Check out tutorials.
  3. Don’t promote your comic until there are enough episodes to be read over 10-15 minutes (so it really depends on how big your panels are and how much text they have) – it’s more likely that first time readers will bookmark it and check for updates.
  4. Keep an emotional distance from your strip, so you don’t end up heartbroken when someone criticizes it or trolls you. If it’s on the internet, it will happen sooner or later.
  5. The motivation for drawing a comic should always be how much fun you are having, not how many views it gets. Whether you end up with a bazillion readers, or it’s just your mom who checks it to be nice, do it as long as you enjoy it.

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