On A Softer World

A Softer World is poetry bracketed by triptych image and strips of text that look like they were razored out of old books and typewriter reams. It is also bracketed by thick black lines. In fact, by standard definitions, it’s a comic: three panels, images, and captions. But the contents within this form consist of absurdest quips, images often abstractly related to the caption, and the voice of narrator who seems to experience the same things as the rest of us before coming to startlingly different conclusions.

[Is this about your operation?] | radical: e horne and j corneau


In the end we call it a webcomic; just a reminder that the form is a medium, not a genre.

The staff of the Shepherd sat down to ask Emily Horne and Joey Comeau for some of the story behind their long running work. They in turn saw fit to shed some light into the workings of this artistically ambitious endeavor.

How do you compose a given comic? Is the text chosen to fit the images? Are the images picked to suit an idea? How do you go about collecting all of the images used in the work?

We’ve worked in various different modes, over the years. Originally, the photos and text were composed at the same time. Then, when Emily moved across the country, she would compose a batch of images and send them to Joey, who would write text for them. At that time, we posted one comic a week, so a batch of four comics could last a month. Now our process is more collaborative. Although we live in the same city again, we work almost exclusively online, over IM conversations. Generally-speaking, the text comes first these days, and Emily goes through her archive of photos to find something that works. After taking film photos for about 15 years, that archive is deep enough to suit most of the text ideas. The specifics of the process can change depending on who is busier at any given moment, since being the first to compose their part of the work generally takes less time, because you’re not constrained by someone else’s idea yet.

[if i think her thoughts that is a bit like sex] | handclasp: e horne and j corneau
A Softer World is a series of artfully constructed photo collages captioned with a dark appreciation for wordplay, humor, and absurdity. This isn’t what springs to mind when most people think of doing a comic. How did the two of you meet and decide to start collaborating with each other on such singular project?

At first, we bristled a bit against the label of “comic”, for precisely the reasons you mention. Calling it a comic might give people expectations about the content, which would pretty quickly get squashed. But I think now the world of comics is broad enough to encompass our worldview along with many that are even weirder.

[wait.  give me liberty or give YOU death.  how about that?] | sputter: e horne and j corneau
We met in undergrad, through a mutual friend who went to school with Emily and worked nights with Joey at the phone company. The comic started off as a way to work with Joey’s comic writings and use Emily’s photos, as well as getting around our shared inability to draw well (we did do one traditionally-drawn comic, which I sincerely hope never sees the light of day). We first made comics by taking a stack of photos and a typewriter to the all-night photocopy shop, where we’d stay until we’d made 10 or 12 rough, black and white comics. Those would be copied onto cardstock and then sold in envelopes at our local ‘zine fairs.

How would you say hosting A Softer World online has affected the project, as opposed to using traditional print channels?

The basic 3-panel, ragged-edged structure and aesthetic was born from our typewriter and photocopier experiments. But around that time, in 2003, a lot of our friends were graduating and moving away. So in order for them to be able to see our new work, we put it online. That also, of course, let us work in colour for the first time, too. We’d only been making the comic for a few months when we got our first high-profile link, from Warren Ellis. Ultimately though, our story has been more about slow growth than a massive success story. What’s been more important for us has been the community of other webcomic creators we’ve met. That would have been nearly impossible to create if we hadn’t been working online, so it’s a huge benefit, both in terms of growing our own audience through links, and making good friends.

A Softer World is impressively long lived webcomic, completing its eleventh year this February. How has the project changed over the years? Have things changed as you became something of a fixture in the webcomic community?

It’s a strange thing, to be making something online for eleven years. Now that work is so easily shareable, I think it’s hard for readers to remember that someone actually makes these things, that they come from someone’s brain. It’s interesting to see something you made take off (our work is frequently remixed with stills from TV or movies, there’s a list on our TV Tropes page if you’re interested http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Webcomic/ASofterWorld), but that can sometimes mean the original work gets sidelined or forgotten. The actual content shifts and changes according to what each of us is interested in at any given time. And of course, the images change depending on where Emily is living, so far the run of the comic encompasses moves from Halifax, to Victoria BC, to Toronto, to Glasgow Scotland, and back to Toronto again.

As to being a fixture, there’s a tradeoff involved for sure. On the one hand, you have recognition, and on the other, you’re not an exciting new face anymore. So to a certain degree, you have to strike a balance between being innovative and pleasing your long-term audience. It’s a good problem to have, though!

[and the saved] | thedrowned: e horne and j corneau

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