Heading to the ‘Multiplex’ With Writer/Artist Gordon McAlpin

For the last five years, webcomic creator Gordon McAlpin has been delivering regular installments of his popular series, Multiplex. Focusing on a group of young adults working at a multi-screen theater, the comic makes up-to-date riffs on the latest film releases, while also taking aim at pop culture or simply some of the writer/artist’s own peeves.

Recently, McAlpin published the first block of stories through Chase Sequence Co., in a collection called Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show: Book One, and what do you know, he was kind enough to talk to MTV Geek about the experience creating the series as well as the pleasure of moving between web and print.

MTVGeek: After 5 years of running Multiplex online, does it feel any different to have the series released as a print publication?

GM: Getting the adventures of Jason and Kurt into print has been a goal of mine for a long time. Even though I do an online comic, I prefer to read comics in print than on screen. 72 dpi images don’t do anybody’s art any favors, so a book is just a better presentation—plus, there’s a sense of permanence to printed books that I love. In twenty or thirty years, after the strip has long since ended, the website probably won’t exist anymore—but the books will, and they will be a bizarre little glimpse into this era in film history.

Since I have a printing and publishing background, professionally, getting the book made was very satisfying, too. This is the first book that I wrote, drew, designed, and produced without answering to an editor, or a creative director, or anyone. If there’s something wrong with this book, it’s my fault. If anybody likes anything about this book, it’s also my fault. Except for the guest strips at the end, obviously.

Geek: You’ve included a lot of notes about your process and evolution as an artist in the collection. What element of your work do you think has changed the most over time?

GM: My writing has evolved somewhat, since I’m now working towards an ending (about 5 or 6 years away) and consciously writing with a collected edition in mind, even though Multiplex is definitely and intentionally a comic strip, not a serialized graphic novel.

But the art has probably changed the most. At first, I was just figuring out how to draw a comic with Adobe Illustrator. It was like relearning how to draw. And I’ve gotten the hang of that, I think. I’m slowly figuring out how to make coax more subtle expressions and dynamic movements out of these vector shapes. I started playing around with panel layouts more, breaking away from the fixed “camera angle” approach I used a little too much in the early strips.

Technology has been a factor in developing the look of the strip—the addition of the Blob Brush feature to Illustrator and getting a Cintiq, that sort of thing—but mostly it’s just figuring out new techniques over time.

Geek: Were there any particular movies that were especially good fodder for stories?

GM: This first book doesn’t really having much in the way of story arcs, other than the Prequel story set on opening night of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith that opens the volume. Book 2 will have more of an overarching story throughout, but Book 1 is all stand-alone jokes and set-up for what comes next.

As for jokes, I thought The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter strips were two of the funniest movie-inspired strips in this book, although in the case of The Da Vinci Code, it wasn’t the movie itself that made for a good strip (I haven’t seen it), it was the protests surrounding its release.

More recently, How to Train Your Dragon turned up in the comic a lot last year. I’d wanted to have Jason just utterly freak out about a movie for a long time, to show him actually enthusiastic about a movie for a change, ideally one that wasn’t up his usual movie-snob alley, and when I saw it in theaters… five times… I knew I’d found the perfect movie for that idea.

Geek: Tell us a little about the cast—how much of yourself do you see of in these characters?

GM: Kurt is loosely based on my friend who first suggested I do a comic strip about a movie theater, and Jason is pretty much just me—or, really, me 10 years ago. He’s a little too sure of his own opinions, a little uptight. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He’s kind of a dick. I think I’ve mellowed out a little bit, but probably not as much as I like to think.

All of the characters are me to some extent, though—even the ones like Sunny or Becky, where I used movie stereotypes as a starting point.

Geek: Could you tell us about a favorite story arc from this collection?

GM: I think the new Prequel story is some of the best stuff I’ve done with Multiplex, and not just because it’s new to the book. I added it for a number of reasons:

First off, I wanted to have an all-new, extended story exclusive to the book, sort of like what Bill Watterson did with his Essential and Authoritative collections of Calvin & Hobbes. Since the comic strip is set in real time, if I do a 12-page story in Multiplex, all set on one night, in order to catch up to the present day, I’ll have to skip forward at least a month. That’s far too many new releases to just skip over! So this prequel was my first chance to really try out a longer story with these characters.

Secondly, I wanted to have something up front to sort of tell new readers, “Yes, the art in the early strips is pretty dodgy, but it gets better.”

And lastly, I wanted to do a Star Wars comic, since Multiplex started a few months after Revenge of the Sith. As a huge Star Wars nerd, it was always a little disappointing to me that I never got to do a comic around Star Wars, despite the occasional reference I’ll work into the comic, simply because… well, you know, it’s Star Wars.

Of the original material in the comic, I’m pretty fond of the early Jason/Devi strips, since I feel like adding their relationship into the mix helped me find my sea legs. They’re the focus of the Prequel story, though, because I felt like Jason and Devi’s relationship needed a little extra screen time. Since Multiplex started out as a weekly strip, and it updates two times a week now, I used a lot of the 40-some pages of new comics in this book to flesh out the story, so the transition to twice a week wouldn’t be as jarring.

Geek: Getting back to changes in the work over time, how do you think you have changed since first starting the series?

GM: With the series, it’s hard to say. When I started Multiplex, I was just doing it as kind of a lark—a standalone gag a week thing. It was supposed to be a back-up feature for my other comic, Stripped Books, in which I would take author appearances (Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith talking about their children’s books, for instance) and turn that into a comic strip.

After a short while, Multiplex was by far the more popular of the two (go figure), so I decided to concentrate on it instead and kill off Stripped Books. At that point, I sat down and thought, “Okay, what am I doing here? Is this just going to be a gag strip, or am I going to have these guys age and change and grow?” And once I’d chosen the latter, the obvious endpoint to the series presented itself — some or all of the main characters no longer working at the theater.

But, ultimately, the strip has always been about movies, in every conceivable way: not just the movies themselves, but how we watch them, where we watch them, how we talk about them… all of it. So it’s not really that different than it ever was. I’m still digging away at the same hole; it’s just a little wider, and a little deeper than it was when I started. I hope.

Geek: Lightning round: The King’s Speech or The Social Network? The Chronicles of Riddick or Van Helsing?

GM: The Social Network. The King’s Speech was terrific, and Colin Firth’s performance is my pick for this year’s Best Actor Oscar, but The Social Network is the better film overall. Aaron Sorkin’s script was fantastic. Even if you don’t give a damn about the origin of Facebook, the dialogue is spectacular, and David Fincher did a great job keeping it from just being a bunch of people talking at each other.

And, uh… Pitch Black? I never saw either of those. I keep meaning to rent Chronicles of Riddick, because I loved Pitch Black—it’s the best Aliens movie since Jim Cameron’s! But I don’t know very many people who liked it, so it’s never managed to climb to the top of my Netflix queue. I don’t know anyone who liked Van Helsing, so… I doubt I’ll ever get around to that one.

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