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Interview / Jeff Lofvers (Artist)

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Jeff Lofvers has two feet in the world of coding and one foot in the realm of graphics.  Around the clock, he makes apps and software to avoid friends and family.  When he’s not typing brackets and semicolons, you can find him diligently writing comics.

Don’t Hit Save is the webcomic that dares to take on the gritty world of software, technology, and indie game development. 

 

1. Let’s start out with the big question – why a webcomic?  How did you get started in this medium?

I fell into making comics.  I like to write and I like to draw.  Comics happen to be a decent combination of both.

When I was little, I was more into comic books than comic strips, but there’s a lot of overlap between the two.  I would draw superheroes, spaceships, and creepy crawly creatures, honing my craft as much as an amazingly talented six-year-old could.

When I grew up, the drawings changed.  Instead of aliens and monsters, most people I encountered were oddly obsessed with logos and websites. Designing websites lead to coding websites, and that eventually landed me a job as a software developer. 

Programming was creative, but wasn’t always fun.  You know what’s fun?  Making comics.

I never lost my love for drawing, and writing was an even better outlet.  Making a comic strip was not my first idea, but it was the best one.  It fit my schedule, put me in touch with a lot of like-minded crazies, and gave me a somewhat healthy way to gripe to the world.

 

2. What is your current career or day job that pays the bills?  Does this provide any material for Don’t Hit Save?

My day job revolves around software development for a large retail and home improvement company.  On the side, I like to make apps and games.

Should my employer read this interview, then no, my day job absolutely does not provide any material whatsoever for Don’t Hit Save.  I’m not even sure how you could ever get the impression that it does.  Please tell them not to fire me.

For everyone else, yes, of course it’s a source of inspiration. The whole comic is about the life and work of a guy who looks and sounds just like me.  The aches and pains of software development are a great source of inspiration.

 

3. Were there any particular motivations or situations that prompted the need for a creative outlet?

There were many factors, both good and bad.  Life had been kicking my butt, things were stressful, and the internet suffered from a lack of drawings of my face.  It was time for a change.

Before starting the comic, I moved around a lot.  I had been fortunate in that I have met many software developers that I respect and admire.  They all had enviable careers at a variety of companies, but differed wildly in ages and backgrounds.  One thing they all had in common, though, was a cool hobby.

No one was simply a developer.  They were a developer AND a blogger, a developer AND an author, a developer AND a base jumper.  I decided that if I wanted to be like them, I needed an “AND”.

I revamped my personal website for the first time in years, intending to add a tech blog.  With no connections in the industry, little time to travel, and zero budget for the latest gadgets, this was clearly the right move for me.  The main problem was a lack of words.  I excelled at concisely detailing ideas, but couldn’t hammer out more than one or two paragraphs at a time.  After 3-4 minutes of serious thought, I wondered if I could fill space with pictures.  It turns out that yes, yes I could.  It wasn’t long at all before the tech blog was altered and twisted into a comic about my daily life.

 

4. How much of what we read and see comes from your personal experience?

More than you’d think.

Although it’s a gag-a-day kind of comic, it is somewhat autobiographical.  Many of my most embarrassing moments have made their way in there.  With that being said, it still involves a heavy amount of writing.

The dialogue ranges from exact conversations I’ve had to completely made up.  The characters look slightly like people I know, but the personalities and roles in my life have been completely changed.  This isn’t to protect anyone, it’s just that I’m not capable of guessing what a clever, intelligent person is supposed to say.

I’d like to think that Jeff, the main character, is slightly lazier and less competent than myself, but most of my coworkers think it’s spot-on. 

 

5. Have you ever tried stand-up comedy?

Tried?  A few times.  Those poor, poor audiences.

As someone who is consistently bad at a lot of things, I’m pretty used to failure.  Like anything else, stand-up is something that takes practice to get good… and I needed A LOT of practice.  I went steadily for a several weeks, but the late nights started to affect my day job.  I chose to make my rent and eat over bombing night after night.

It was the right decision to make at the time.  I hadn’t seen or done enough to be relatable.  I’d like to think I’d be much better at it these days, now that life has had a chance to break me.  But then again, I thought I’d be great at the time, so what do I know?

 

6. What did you go to school for?

As an artist who develops software, it should be obvious to your readers that I have a degree in Political Science.

When I went to school, I originally thought I’d pursue computer science.  One semester in, and I decided then and there that I never wanted to be one of those drones who sits in a dark cubicle writing code all day.  Today, that’s one of my favorite things to do… after answering interview questions.

 

7. Have you had any formal training relevant to comics?

Nah.  I had an art teacher in high school that didn’t like the fact that I added myself into all of my artwork.  I worked very hard on my drawings, but she made it clear my work was awful and told me that I was “lazy.” This came at an age when I thought that teachers were all respected authority figures, and her dismissal of me had more of an impact than it should. 

To be fair, I might’ve had it coming.  She had it out for me ever since a friend and I wheeled a toilet into the classroom for her birthday.  She was quite upset, and probably took it out on us for the rest of the year.  Yes, that really happened; and yes, we wrapped it.  Still, a little bit of discouragement goes a long way, and that was the last art class I ever took.

As far as writing was concerned, that was something that I always enjoyed but never had much of a knack for.  The minimum length requirements were, as they are today, my biggest hurdle.  I’m slightly better now, but at the time, I found myself increasing font sizes, margins, and paragraph spacing on every single paper. 

 

8. Are there any other comics you have created or been involved with?

When I should have been paying attention to my homework, I started my first webcomic with a friend, the late Michael Buonauro.  Over four-years, we worked on three comics: Dr. Lobster, Gamer Hotties, and Wrench Farm.  We did 400-something strips, each with varying degrees of quality. 

Like Don’t Hit Save, the characters were mostly sprite-based: drawn one time and copied and pasted for years to come.  I drew the artwork while the two of us wrote and assembled the comics three times a week.  This was sometimes together, sometimes by taking turns.  They were mostly obnoxious inside jokes where we insulted ourselves and the readers. 

It was surprisingly popular.

The audience size was nothing compared to these days, but we were fortunate enough to catch the tail end of first wave of webcomics to hit the internet.  This was back when there were a few thousand comics rather than tens or hundreds of thousands, so the readers’ choices were limited.  We did a few conventions and enjoyed a decent amount of success. 

It’s been a while, but keen-eyed old readers with excellent memories may spot an occasional reference in Don’t Hit Save. To this day, I still have the old character voices floating around in my head, along with whatever other weird jokes my brain likes to make.

 

9. Has humor always been an important part of your life?

Humor is an excellent defense mechanism against frustration, stress, and interview questions. Most importantly, it’s a fun way to annoy the crap out of those around you.

I’ve always been sarcastic, even as a little kid.  That’s probably my favorite part from my upbringing.  I used to pull pranks, make stupid comments, and generally be slightly inappropriate at all times. 

The older you get, however, the less cute that becomes. I still say and do stupid things, that’s what keeps me sane, but for the most part, comics are probably a better outlet.

 

10. What is the process to create one comic?

Copy, Paste.

Just as it was with my previous comics, Don’t Hit Save reuses the same art over and over again.  This is due as much to lack of time as it is lack of artistic talent.  My week is packed.  The less time I can spend on comics, the better.

Since the artwork is basically done, the writing is the most important step.  I like to write rough ideas the second they pop into my brain, which is why I keep my phone within reach at all times. The notes range from random subjects I should cover to a couple lines of dialogue. I’ll let the ideas sit in the phone for days, weeks, even months as I try to forget what I wrote.  Forgetting is actually very important.  This allows me to revisit the text with fresh eyes, adding a line or two and slowly fleshing the jokes out. 

A few hours before the comic should be posted, I take the script that’s closest to completion, or attempt to write one from scratch.  I retype the words on the computer and edit, edit, edit until it’s ready.  It helps to step away, work on something else, then jump back and reread my work.  This process takes anywhere from a couple minutes to several hours. 

When the script is refined to the point of exhaustion, I move on to the artwork.  This is where things get easy.  I have a comic template with the panels and separate files for the characters and their desks.  The characters all have layers for mouths, eyebrows, and limbs, so I can turn on and off the facial expressions I need.  I copy and paste each person into the template, then copy and paste the dialogue from the script. 

The last step in making the comic involves adding the little squiggly dialogue lines.  Those are drawn in with the mouse.  All said and done, it takes about 20 minutes to move the artwork into place and lay out the dialogue.

 

11. How do you maintain any sort of story arc?

Four panels do not leave much room for exposition, story, or character development.  It’s just enough time to get in, say something absurd, and get out.  I generally know the point I want to get across, but who says it and in what way is up to the characters.

Since most of my previous comics have also used four panels, it’s how my brain structures jokes.  Sometimes my ideas are perfectly formed to fit the allotted space, other times I have to pare down several paragraphs into tiny, bite-sized chunks.  It’s amazing to me that adding or removing a single syllable can make or break a joke.

The most difficult part in writing a strip about technology is explaining the subject material to unfamiliar readers.  Even someone well-versed in the coding may have missed the latest news about the latest gadget.  As a result, I often lose an entire panel to spelling out the details of the technology I’m referencing.  This can slow down the pacing, but it’s my hope that I hide it well.

 

12. What software and tools are utilized to create the comic?

I have Evernote on my phone to write or dictate ideas, but I’ve been known to use just about any note-taking app that’s handy.  When I’m ready to make the comic, I’ll go to my computer, pull up Microsoft Word, and retype the words.  This is purely for spellchecking and thesaurus purposes.

All of the comics are made in Adobe Illustrator.  This allows me a great deal of flexibility for resizing, animating, or printing… should any of those needs arise. Although I use a drawing tablet quite often for work, most of the artwork is hand-drawn in Sharpie on standard printer paper.  I use the twin-tip Fine/Ultra Fine marker that you can find in most big box or office supply stores.  If I need to add a new hand or gadget to the panel, I’ll place transparency sheets over my existing artwork and draw it in place.  This keeps everything nice and proportional.

 

13. Do you ever use ideas from other people?

Yes and No.

On occasion, I’ll ask friends vague questions, but only as a jumping off point.  Those conversations involve me calling up a good friend, and asking for a random keyword.

They’ll say something helpful like, “Who is this? Why do you keep calling? Why did you ask me for a random keyboard?”  They typically start swearing, but by that point I’m already hanging up the phone.  From there, I’ll take the word “keyboard” and spin it into a joke about the perils of eating at your desk. 

What I don’t do is take direct comic ideas from other people.

When someone suggests an idea, even a truly great one, the thought I always have in the back of my mind is, “Well great, now I can’t talk about THAT subject.”  I know people mean well, but this can be a big source of frustration.  I never want to intentionally or unintentionally duplicate anyone else’s work. 

This isn’t an ego thing… well, it’s partially an ego thing… but it also has to do with paranoia.  I don’t know the origin of anyone’s jokes but my own.  I go out of my way to avoid reading most comics about tech, gaming, and office life.  The last thing I want is another author’s joke burying itself in the back of my mind, popping out of my character’s mouths a few months later.

It is true that my actual conversations will sometimes make it into the comic, but that’s as close as I like to come to getting ideas from other people.

 

14. Do you consider comics and graphic novels to be art and the creator an artist?

Sure, why not?

I’m not exactly producing the Mona Lisa, but I’m certain creating comics falls somewhere on the art spectrum.  It’s the same skillset used by Renaissance painters, simply applied in a different way.  

Art can be beautiful; it can be repulsive.  It can make a statement or simply fill space in a pleasing way.  Some of the most fascinating and thought-provoking images I’ve ever seen have come from comics. Graphic novels and comic strips may appear simple, but there are hours’ worth of work and thought that occur to bring you that simplicity.

I want to be clear, I don’t put the concept of art on a pedestal.  Is something creative and imaginative?  Is it an elaborate cry for attention?  That’s good enough for me.  Comics are a fantastic medium, and I’m happy the web has made it more accessible to everyone. 

My strip may be lazy and childish, but that’s how I express myself.  I can cover serious and deeply personal topics, point out various problems in the tech industry, and still find time to be weird.  

In the end, I make comics because it’s fun, and not because it’s art.  If I can somehow trick people into laughing along the way, all the better.

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All images copyright © 2017 to Jeff Lofvers and used with explicit permission.  Jeff and Don’t Hit Save can be found on the following websites: