Cat People - Part 1

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One of the longest running webcomics on the Net, Jamie Robertson's  Clan of the Cats hasn't just been around since 1999 - it's actually been around even longer. Clan of the Cats tells of the seemingly average Chelsea Chattan, who is soon thrust into a world of werecats, witches and just about everything else you can get from a Universal horror film... and a lot more besides!

As I’ve written before in Broken Frontier's The Daily Read feature, Chelsea feels real to me in a way that few other webcomic characters do. Even the best webcomic characters occasionally feel like window dressing for point plotting or interchanging dialogue for exposition. By comparison, Chelsea virtually breathes on the page, and I talked to creator Jamie Robertson to find out exactly why that is.

Broken Frontier: The obligatory first question: why webcomics? When you first conceived this story, why did you choose to tell it in the webcomic medium?

Jamie Robertson: To be honest, I kind of just fell into webcomics. I have been doing COTC off and on in one in one form or another since 1987. Well, that's how long I've had the main characters. In the late 80s I tried to sell it to the syndicates, but COTC was, at the time, a continuity strip and those never sold well, even when they were good. And the early COTCs were not good in any respect. 

In the early 90s I went to a comic book format, with a specific story in mind, but could never gain the funds to produce the comic. The story had one of the main characters dealing with an abortion and became the groundwork for a later COTC story, "The Haunting Past". Though the original story was never produced, a short comedic tale did end up in a local 'zine. 

I put the comic off until 1995 when I went back to college and became the college paper's cartoonist. While there the editors were experimenting with the Internet and had a small version of the paper up on the web. I think that was in '96. I can't remember if any of my strips were up on their website or not, but it did start me to thinking about putting the strips online. 

Back then the strip was called ZOOM and had some of the same main characters. It was awful. I was producing a comic that I wanted to sell, not a story I wanted to tell. I put it up on the web for a while, but eventually scrapped it. Right before I ditched ZOOM, however, I ran across a comic called Sluggy Freelance and that changed everything. Sluggy showed me what could be done with a comic on the web and it was the archives that really blew my mind. Here was a comic, being funny and using genre references like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, but really letting the characters develop. It really spurred me on and I wanted to do that. 

I grew up with old monster movies like the Hammer films and the Universals Dracula, etc.  I thought wouldn't it be great to put the characters that I love into a genre that I love? Originally, I went back to the abortion story but thought it was too heavy for a beginning. The story had to be built up. So, I ditched ZOOM, took a year off to study witchcraft and wrote the Clan of the Cats mythos and story. Looking back on it, there were a lot of things that got me into webcomics, though Sluggy was the big eye opener.

BF: Since June 20th, 1999, Clan of the Cats has been constantly updating. In a digital medium that's still coming of age and very unpredictable as a result, how's it feel to have to gone for this long already?

JR: I do sometimes stop and think that, wow, I've been doing this a long time. Almost nine years. In some respects it seems like it was a lifetime ago that I was on Geocities, but in re-reading some of the stories, it's like time has barely passed. I guess as far as the medium goes I feel like a bystander at the beginning of a great art movement.Though I can proudly say that COTC has influenced more than one or two people, it was never a pioneer in the way Sluggy, Penny Arcade or Scott McCloud's comics were. 

COTC has always been about the story, about the girl, and me dealing with a bunch of stuff through that. Don't get me wrong, I love to draw and write and would grab at the chance to work on a classic comic like Batman, but ultimately COTC is what I want to do. Of course I never thought I would be doing this comic this long, mainly because I figured it would tank or there would never be any money in it. I guess that's where the unpredictable aspect comes in, huh? It's been a tough road, both being independent and with Keenspot. For years there was practically no money coming in from the comic and that, though not a great mitigating factor, did lead me close to shutting down the comic. In recent years things have been better, but I and many others have yet to earn what could be called a living wage. 

Still it's been interesting to see all the schemes people have come up with to make money on webcomics. From the subscription model to micropayments to donations... almost everything has been tried, but the most consistently successful model has been advertising. I guess the old saying is true; the more things change the more they stay the same.

Come back on Friday for the second part of our Clan of the Cats interview when Jamie talks about his approach to his characters, influences on his work and advice for aspiring webcomic creators.

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