These days anyone can be a web comic artist; all you need is an internet connection and a pencil. But it takes vision and skill to continue to be a webcomic artist past the first few strips, and it takes a lot of vision and skill to keep your idea going several years. Michael Terracciano, creator of Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire, is one of these people.
The webcomic tells the story of Dominic Deegan, a professional seer who lives with his talking cat Spark and makes a living telling fortunes for the local townsfolk. The story is initially made up of short, humorous encounters between Dominic and the idiotic townsfolk who come to him for readings. Yet as the story progresses it takes on a more epic tone and now, seven years later, Dominic and the host of other vibrant characters have battled demons, necromancers, and the occasional megalomaniacal old lady to become one of the most enduring and entertaining cast of characters on the web.
Michael, aka Mookie, was kind enough to do answer a few questions about the development of the series and what its like to be a professional webcomic writer.
Q: What inspired you to start writing Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire?
A: I was recently out of college and was trying to write the “great American fantasy novel.” It was god-awful and no one would read it. I had been reading webcomics for awhile and, after seeing some poor examples of them online, I said to myself, “You know what? I could do this!” I needed some kind of outlet for all the stories in my head, since waiting tables and working retail to pay the bills wasn’t providing many opportunities for it. I’d already doodled a couple of comic strips about a Dungeons & Dragons character I’d revisited, so after getting my free space on Keenspace (now Comic Genesis) I scanned them in and they were to be the first strips of Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.
Q: What comics, movies, or books would you say had the most influence on Dominic Deegan?
A: I grew up reading comics, from the daily funnies in the newspaper to the box of random comic books my father brought home one day from a business trip. I love comics in all their forms and the craft of creating them has been a big influence. It was Raymond E. Feist’s “The Riftwar Saga” that got me into fantasy to begin with, so I suppose I have him to blame for all this.
Q: Your characters are especially engaging because they break many fantasy tropes, for example fantasy characters always seem to be orphaned and yet your main character not only has brothers but has also has (gasp!) living parents. Are there any other tropes you deliberately set out to break?
A: Luna was my first deliberate attempt to break a fantasy cliché. I guess Dominic could also be considered my “first deliberate attempt,” if for no other reason than I put the spotlight on the seer in a fantasy setting instead of the “farm boy turned king” or the “rugged adventuring swordsman.” I’m especially proud of Luna because she’s not a typical fantasy sorceress, in so much that she’s mysterious, confident, head-strong and smoking hot in a tiny little dress. She had low self-esteem, a deformity; she was always screwing up and cried all the time. When so many of my readers connected with her and really cheered her on through her various personal triumphs, I felt like I’d created a character that lots of people want to see more of.
Q: Your art style has very visibly developed over the course of the comic and your panel style has become much more daring. Could you take a moment to describe how Dominic Deegan has progressed artistically? Was there any aspect in particular that you set out to improve?
A: This is actually the biggest criticism I receive when people talk about my webcomic. I don’t think I’m a great artist at all, but I’m confident and happy with the style I’ve settled on to tell Dominic’s story. Since I seem to have settled in to this one particular style for so many years, some critics of mine say that my artwork has never improved and that if I were a real artist I would change styles, experiment more, and move past the manga-influenced work I’ve been using. I, for one, feel that I’ve experimented and improved not so greatly in artwork but in my panel layouts, especially when it comes to Dominic’s visions. I don’t pat myself on the back very much at all, but I’m very proud of the “vision layouts” I’ve experimented with and see those as my greatest improvement since I started doodling Dominic all those years ago.
Q: The comic originally began as short humor strips but has since evolved dramatic and deeply interwoven plotlines. How do you approach the balance of humor and drama that makes the comic so entertaining?
A: I really wish I had an insightful answer for this, but the truth is that some days I want a dramatic comic strip and other days I want to make myself chuckle. I determine when it’s time to do one over the other when I find myself saying, “you know, I haven’t written a bad pun in a few days” and vice-versa. It’s more gut feeling than anything else.
Q: How has writing the comic changed your life?
A: Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire has changed my life completely. Total strangers from around the world care about the stories and characters that I write and draw. When I go to conventions some people regard me as a kind of celebrity, which is mind-blowing to say the least. I’ve met and made friends with an amazing group of talented artists that I never would have come in contact with if I wasn’t doing this webcomic. Hell, if it wasn’t for Dominic Deegan I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend! When it’s all said and done, I will look back and likely have nothing but fond memories of this time in my life.
Q: To what extent is the script pre-planned and to what extent do you make it up as you go?
A: I know where each story begins and where each story ends, and the rest I make up as I go along. Some writers need to plan out every little detail of their stories ahead of time and I give them all the credit in the world because I cannot do that. I need to keep an element of “what’s going to happen next?” for myself because it helps keeps me invested in the comic… so I can know what’s going to happen next, too.
Q: One notable aspect of your comic is that it is updated every weekday, and at one point was updated every day. How do you accomplish this?
A: I’m one of the lucky few webcomickers that does this for a living, so when I was updating seven-days-a-week it was because I literally had nothing else to do. I updated every day for years until I finally started to burn myself out, and I felt the comic was suffering because of that. Going down to “weekdaily” not only gives me my weekends back, but also my sanity.
Q: Do you have a favorite character?
A: Dominic. I’m proud of Luna’s development as a character but it’s because of Dominic that I was given the opportunity to show her off to the world. Dominic was the first character to appear in the comic and I often refer to him (jokingly) as “my son.”
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring webcomic writers and artists?
A: The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to do a webcomic is to just put your work out there as fast as you can. Don’t wait until your art and/or writing is “perfect.” Webcomics are essentially constant works-in-progress and webcomic readers enjoy seeing you progress before their very eyes. Nobody hits the “FIRST” button in a webcomic’s navigation bar and says, “oh, look how good that was!” when they see that first comic. Everyone, reader and creator alike, goes “GAH! I can’t believe I showed that to people!” So you really just have to bite the bullet and put your work out there whether or not you feel you’re totally ready, otherwise you’ll never have the courage to do it.
Q: Is there anything else about Dominic Deegan you’d like to talk about? Is there anything you’d like to plug?
A: Not really. I feel like I’ve talked… well, typed enough already, and I hope I’ve been entertaining enough for anyone who’s read this far. Thanks for interviewing me!
And thank you for the interview!
You can find Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire at www.dominic-deegan.com. Be sure the check out the online store while you’re there and keep an eye out for Mookie at a comic convention near you.