Indie Comics Spotlight #1: Ragdoll

This is a new thing we will be doing at Otakus & Geeks. From time to time we'll be showcasing independent comics or webcomics that we find on the web. To kick this new feature off on the site we read a comic online called "Ragdoll." As described on the website Ragdoll is a surreal journey through the minds of living dolls and broken slaves, and an exploration of what it truly means to be free; a sprawling epic that spans time and space, sex and death, life and imagination. We have an interview with the creator Melody Herbert and some stills for you. 

Otakus & Geeks: Let start from the beginning. Can you tell us a little about yourself and when did you first fall in love with the art of storytelling and comics?

Melody Herbert: Let's see... I'm a Taurus, I play guitar, and I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. I fell in love with storytelling during childhood. Making up stories and fantasy worlds for myself was a way to escape the terror of my everyday life. I learned to read around the age of 3, and devoured books. I always loved cartoons, and television in general, and I grew up watching stuff like Wonder Woman, Batman, and Star Trek. I developed a growing obsession for horror movies during the mid 1980's, then was introduced to comics in the early 1990's. I was probably 15 years old before I bought my first comic book. It started with Itchy and Scratchy #1 and Simpsons #1, actually. Then Vertigo titles like Hellblazer and Sandman. Then came manga, like Ranma 1/2 and Blade of the Immortal. EC Comics reprints were everywhere in those days, too, and I started an extensive collection of those. After awhile, that wasn't enough, and I started reading superhero titles, namely Wonder Woman and X-Men. But the comic that most inspired me to become an illustrator was definitely Kabuki. That book made me realize just how versatile sequential storytelling can be.  

Otakus & Geeks:  How long have you been writing and drawing?

Melody Herbert: I've been writing for as long as I've been able to competently hold a pencil. However, I didn't even think about becoming an artist until I was in high school. I never took any art classes, and didn't even start drawing seriously until 11th grade. When I was 17, Ragdoll was born as prose, and I had to learn to draw the story. So I began studying every comic I could get my hands on, and practicing constantly. I carried a sketchbook with me everywhere, and it probably annoyed my friends at the time, but I was relentless in teaching myself how to draw.

Otakus & Geeks: Do you remember the first time the concept of “Ragdoll” came together?

Melody Herbert: Ragdoll was a character I was doodling to pass the time in study hall. I had no idea who she was or what she was for. Then one night while I was at home, circa 1995, I was listening to Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral, on my walkman. More specifically, the song "I Do Not Want This". When the lyrics "I have lived so many lives all in my head" penetrated my ears in that moment, I literally jumped out of bed, and scrambled for a notebook. The original novel version of Ragdoll poured out of me like water, and through revision after revision, I've never stopped working on it since.

Otakus & Geeks: Is there any special meaning to the title “Ragdoll”?

Melody Herbert: Honestly, no. It's just what the character is. It's a tentative title that's stuck for 20 years. Though it seems most appropriate with the themes of abuse and helplessness. 

Otakus & Geeks: What are some of the challenges you faced creating this universe? How did you decide on the characters, theme, etc?

Melody Herbert: Creating this universe was merely an inward turning of my consciousness, and recording what I find there. It's a reflection of my inner mind/s. Being as such, the challenges I've faced have been outward manifestations of the story itself; strange parallels between Ragdoll and my real life, that physically get in the way of my work. The characters are caricatures of my alter egos. In working through my Dissociate Identity Disorder, I've found that this epic story I've written is a road map to my sanity.

Otakus & Geeks: You’re not only the writer but also the illustrator of “Ragdoll”. Can you tell us a little bit of your writing and illustration process?

Melody Herbert: The process of creating this book has to be very systematic. It's a bit like building a house. The plot is the foundation of the whole thing, and had to be finished first. Layouts and scripts happen simultaneously. The layouts are the hardest part of the process because I'm essentially creating something from nothing; creating a dynamic visual representation out of plot text, all the while keeping up a typed version of the final script as well as handwritten word balloons on the layouts themselves. I'll do layouts for several issues in advance before I begin penciling. I try to pencil only one page at a time (and in order) but it doesn't always happen that way. I won't ignore a sudden creative impulse to jump ahead to a splash page if necessary. Sometimes panel perspectives will change during the final pencils, and lines of text may change during lettering. I no longer ink my work. I found it to be time-consuming and somewhat pointless, since my scanner picks up pencil lines just fine. Once the finished page is scanned, I add grey tones and letters digitally. Additionally, my emotional process during creation is similarly systematic, and I've found a sort of depression that comes directly after finishing an issue, which usually spurns me on the get started on the next one as soon as possible. 

Otakus & Geeks: The central theme we picked up from reading the issues is freedom. The character of Mia seems to voice this the most. When we first are introduced to Mia, she’s in a dark place mentally. How did you come up with the character of Mia?

Melody Herbert: Mia is a version of myself that perished long ago; a dormant alter ego that will likely never reawaken. She represents a part of myself that I allowed to be victimized growing up, and her liberation through death represents the awakening of creative consciousness I experienced in my early 20's. 

Otakus & Geeks: Without giving any spoilers can tell us a little bit more of what you have coming in Ragdoll?

Melody Herbert: Now, now... why just give you something you want, when I can make you beg for it?

Otakus & Geeks: How can people reach you via Twitter, Facebook, etc?

Melody Herbert: Well, visiting the official website is encouraged:

Otakus & Geeks: Any final words?

Melody Herbert: Keep reading! If you like the story, spread the word. It goes without saying (or maybe it doesn't) the more people that start reading this book, the more time I'll be able to devote to it. Like 99% of the comic book artists and writers in this country, I'm supporting myself with a day job, and losing a bit more of my soul to the machine every day. No pressure...