I came across Rain Dogs when I started my Twitter account. Along with being a great comic and a busy dad who juggles a big workload with a creative life, Rain Dogs creator, Stephen McGee, is one of the nicest guys you’ll come across on the internet.
Rain Dogs is a comic that captures the times when true music lovers found that the next best thing to actual music stardom was working for minimum wage behind a record store counter and reciting favorite lyrics of rock-star legends. Though the characters in Rain Dogs remain the same trough the years, McGee’s work has evolved to deliver a direct-hit of the humor behind record store nostalgia. I particularly love Rain Dogs because each comic often brings me back to the 90’s alternative scene when I felt so cool sitting at my drums adorned in plaid flannel, staring at posters of Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you haven’t checked out Rain Dogs, check out more of this great comic below:
Interview with Rain Dogs creator, Stephen McGee:
Q. Have you always been an artist and/or what got you into drawing comics?
A. I never really had any formal art training, but I was always surrounded by art. My dad was talented and would do the coolest etchings of whales and sea life on the ivories of discarded pianos. He worked with wood, fabric, pencils, you name it. Naturally, I decided to pick up a pencil and draw what came easily to me as a kid, which was the funnies section of the newspaper. Eventually, I came across Perry Bible Fellowship and that sealed my path.
Q. To be inspired to create a musically-themed webcomic, you must have a delicious admiration of music. Where did that stem from?
A. Learning to play an instrument was definitely a huge factor in my appreciation for music. It taught me to hone in on the subtlest of sounds and gain a better understanding of what the artist was striving for. I have been playing guitar for almost 18 years now. I was initially inspired to start playing after listening to CCR & Eric Clapton as a kid. Then, my tastes went mostly punk for about 6 years, and luckily, my Fender acoustic survived. I still have that guitar, and every time I play it, it’s like playing a hot rod. It’s the type of instrument that you pick up and the first thing you notice is the smell of the wood. It was my first guitar, and hopefully, it will be my last.
Q. Are you receiving constant fodder for the setting of your strip by owning an actual record store or do you do something else for your day job?
A. For my day job, I am a Bioinformatics Specialist. My job is to use math and algorithms to find patterns in DNA for a genetics center to help find out what may be causing certain disorders in our patients. This profession is fairly new, and was created to meet the demand of the increasing technologies brought on by the Genome Project in the early 2000s. I don’t own a record store, but it was always a dream of mine…one which I had to prematurely let go of as music began to move towards convenience (i.e. – iTunes, mp3s, etc.) I do get most of my jokes from interactions with friends and other music fans though. Perhaps this strip is my own way of fulfilling that childhood dream.
Q. You started Rain Dogs in 2011 with the intention to “remind us that music can still define who we are and what we feel…not what we shop for…” Have you found that your intention remains the same after 2 years or has it changed?
A. I always laugh when people tell me that this statement is ironic, since the two main characters of my strip run a store where music is specifically what people are shopping for. However, my counter point is that the main characters rarely ever make a sale, and the strip is more about their life in the record store than their success in it. Nonetheless, it is a philosophy I hold true to, and I try to make it resonate throughout the comic as much as possible. For me, that statement has evolved more into a mantra of self-discovery. Music should help you find yourself, not a new pair of Nikes (e.g. – “Revolution” by the Beatles)
Q. How has Rain Dogs been received by the audiophiles in those 2 years and what have been some of your favorite fan experiences/interactions?
A. The comic hasn’t seen too much attention from the music world, but it’s probably because I’m not terribly vigilant about marketing to the audiophile community. Lots of times, I’ll just drop my business card into the sleeves of used vinyl or post a link to my site in the comments of a music blog with the caption, “Ron Howard NSFW”. My all time favorite fan experience has to be when I received a message from this singer about how he likes my comic and wanted to thank me for mentioning his old band, The Thumbs, who I used to be obsessed with. It came completely out of the blue, and I was struck with awe that this guy who used to be up on a poster in my college dorm room contacted me. Thankfully, he agreed to do an interview for the site.
Q. Though you have remained true to your characters, the style of your comics have evolved over these last two years. How have you streamlined your process so it works both for you and features such clean lines and imagery?
A. I’m sure every comic strip goes through this, but the cleaner look of Rain Dogs is the result of dozens of gradual changes that I felt were necessary throughout its run. Two of the biggest factors that I feel helped make the strip seem more professional was the abandonment of hand-lettering (my handwriting is awful) and the use of stencils in inking the eyeballs. Though I still get in as much practice as possible, inking perfect circles freehand is incredibly challenging.
Q. What few Rain Dogs comics would you say best sum up your comic voice?
I love comic strips that deal with varying levels of predictability in human behavior.
Q. What other comic artists are your favorites and/or have been your biggest influences?
A. I’m going to refrain from mentioning most of the twitter-verse by name to avoid leaving anyone out. Suffice it to say, that those comic artists have played the utmost pivotal role in my development as a comic artist. Most of the strips I create are for that community. Without them I wouldn’t be here. That being said, it would make my decade to have beers with Bill Amend, Kenneth Rocafort, Bill Watterson, & Dave McKean.
Q. You published a compilation of comics in Rain Dogs volume 1: A Year of Strips. What have you learned from that process and what was your favorite part of that project?
A. One of the most important lessons I learned with publishing a print-on-demand book was to compare pricing as much as possible before you commit to any printer. I went with a local guy in a pinch and ended up sinking the profit margin. The best part, of course, was when the final book was in my hands. I was so happy, I almost gave a speech in the parking lot.
Q. I love the album covers you create. If you had more “free” time, what other album covers would be at the top of your list?
A. I have a laundry list of albums that I want to tackle, but alas, free time is the most precious commodity, especially as a parent. Currently, I’m finishing up a Smashing Pumpkins cover, and in the works of drawing out a Sergeant Peppers cover in non-photo blue. Others at the top of my list: the remaining David Bowie discography, Abbey Road, Transformer by Lou Reed, The Bends by Radiohead, Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, Hot Rats by Frank Zappa…and hundreds more.
Q. Guest art is a great way to get your fans really involved in your comic. Besides creating fan art, what social media platform is the best way for fans to interact with you?
A. Twitter, hands down. It’s a direct line to my phone, which I carry everywhere for my job and to manage the comic. Facebook is also a great way for me to overly thank you for your attention, and probably do some free art for you.
Q. Creating webcomics is generally a selfless act since it requires a heavy investment of time and money with little financial reward. What makes it worth it? What advice would you give aspiring webcomic artists who are contemplating starting their own strip?
A. Hearing feedback and trading fan art with other artists is the biggest payoff for me. As far as advice goes, I would say that success is subjective. Don’t compare your strip or your talents to others. Remember that almost every successful webcomic artist has found their own niche market or side business. There is no template. Just make the strip you want to make, and I promise people will pay attention.
Q. What are some future goals and/or up-and-coming projects that we can look forward to seeing from Rain Dogs?
A. Most of what I want to do next will involve stretching the site beyond the realm of just being a comic. As I mentioned earlier, I have some band interviews lined up, as well as album reviews which I would like to incorporate into the site. I’m also developing a SoundCloud playlist with the catalog of every recommended listening from the strip. Ultimately, I would love for the site to become a bridge between the world of independent music and independent artists, less of a webcomic, and more of a hub of interests, so to speak.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
A. Top Five tracks to make your week better:
- “The House That Heaven Built” by Japandroids
- “Get Along” by Mikal Cronin
- ” I Am John” by Loney, Dear
- “Sore Tummy” by PAWS
- “When the Lilies Die” by Io Echo