Beyond The Panel: Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan of Darwin Carmichael is Going To Hell
Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan are the creators of the mythological and mundane webcomic Darwin Carmichael is Going To Hell. According to Jenn: “Darwin Carmichael lives in mythical Williamsburg, the coolest of burroughs, populated by hipsters, minor deities and a host of preposterous creatures. The day-to-day of Darwin's world is much like ours, concerned with making ends meet, dating, and the like.” DC is a very fun strip with a fantastic visual sense. Learn more about it below!
RMJ: Tell me a little about yourselves.
JJ: I'm doing quite a few disparate things at the moment. I'm a full-time graduate student working on a PhD in medieval history, and I work part-time at a large corporate bookstore (mostly to maintain the sweet discount). I'd always loved comics and read them voraciously, but I never tried to create them until Sophie and I teamed up. Other than that, I live on Long Island with two crazy cats, and I'm obsessed with Fraggle Rock right now.
SG: I'm an NYU graduate and occasional NYC resident. Right now I am a feckless unemployed artist. I was in South Korea teaching English before this fall though, so that's my excuse.
RMJ: How do you share the workload with DC?
SG:: I draw it and we script it together. The "business" stuff we juggle back and forth depending on who has the time/resources. Oh, and Jenn draws the Skittles strips.
JJ:: Because I draw like a tween manticore.
SG:: With strangely dexterous paws.
RMJ: Skittles is kind of hard to resist.
SG:: He's the Hannelore of DC. The adorable breakout star. He's been around for a long, long time. He's had many previous owners, some of whom have been covered in Jenn's strips.
JJ:: Skittles became a lot more complex than we had originally imagined, very suddenly. He's 2000 years old, which makes him really, really wise in relation to most humans. In manticore years, however, he is a tween, and he definitely acts like a tween. Skittles is a child in relation to our characters in most situations, but he can surprise with his depth and wisdom. In future arcs, we're going to be getting into that a little more—I'm excited.
RMJ: What does your comic have to say about inequality and oppression?
SG:: We try to be representative of different cultures. We are pretty all-inclusive mythology-wise. I think there's a slight heaviness on the Judeo-Christian end but we try not to make it all about that. Some of the mythologies can be pretty sexist though, and we try address that.
JJ: Take, for instance, Melete, the muse that is dating Darwin's artist roommate. As a muse, she has inspired countless works of art for those she's worked with/loved. But she cannot create any original works of her own. It's sad, and it gives her character some depth and complexity while also addressing mythological ideologies.
SG:: Women as a catalyst for creativity or change in men is pretty common in mythologies. So that's something that Melete struggles with. We see her as a frustrated artist. Melete in addition to being his muse is also kind of like his agent/dealer. She handles everything.
JJ: I don't think we ever try to come down on one side or another, or make a really strong statement about inequality and gender dynamics. But being aware of it, and playing with those ideas, makes for better stories.
SG:: Yeah... we don't really have an axe to grind with ancient mythologies. It allows us to draw parallels to our world without knocking people over the head, but to focus on having fun, which is the priority.
RMJ: So, while we're kind of on the topic of sexism, I wanted to bring up Kate Beaton's recent comments about sexist compliments in response to female creators. Have either of you gotten many of these kind of comments?
SG: We had one commenter...
JJ: He admitted to us freely that he was very drunk, and that he was in love with both of us. Then we wondered if we were lesbians, and then wondered if we were lesbians together. THEN he panicked about what would happen to the comic if we broke up. This was all over the course of about five consecutive comments. He apologized after the fact and then kind of went away.
SG:: Yeah, our other readers lashed out at him. Which is lovely. The Internet polices itself sometimes. But it's hard to "win" in these situations. If you comment back, you might come off as "shrill."
JJ:: It is really hard. We're lucky for not really having to confront it as head on, yet.
SG:: Yeah, we're not that well-known, I guess. Not enough to be constantly harassed.
RMJ: Or maybe you just have exceptional fans!
JJ:: We certainly do! Our fans are really great, actually, I love reading our comments. I was really proud, actually, when someone in the comments referred to the "Darwin-verse." We have a verse! Like Joss Whedon!
RMJ: What are your influences?
SG:: Well, Buffy is a big one. Neil Gaiman. Octopus Pie.
JJ:: Questionable Content. Scott Pilgrim.
SG:: I love Lucy Knisley's style. I think if you indexed our pop culture references Buffy would rate highest. Next to Justin Bieber, maybe. But that's just Skittles. We did have a Kate Beaton-esque unicorn.
JJ: And my own work in medieval history, I'm kind of obsessed with weird medieval creatures, and they turn up a lot.
SG: Yeah, she's like the Rupert Giles of mythological references.
JJ: Oh man! I'm so psyched to be the Rupert Giles of anything. It's part of what I study, I study feminine spirituality. You'd be surprised how many weird medieval animals come up.
SG:: There are some deeply strange medieval animals. Jenn use to blog about them.
JJ:: For reals. I want to be a doctor of them.
SG:: Best veterinarian clinic ever!
RMJ: "Skittles and Pals Veterinary Services."
SG:: This, Rachel, is how story lines develop. I generally e-mail my ideas to Jenn with subject lines like "Best Idea Ever!!!" and "OMG Hilarious!!!!!!!"
JJ:: We are very excited, all the time.
SG:: Yes, indeed. Who needs cynicism? We have A Softer World for that.
JJ:: And I have my career prospects.
RMJ: Speaking of ambitions, what's the next step for DC is Going To Hell?
SG:: We are in the process of revamping the website. I've just started to draw the art at a larger size, in the hopes of sucking less. That is kind of exciting for me. I doubt people will notice though. People are less observant about the things you want them to observe, and more observant when you forget someone has a tattoo on their left bicep.
JJ:: We'll also be working more on longer, more character-driven story lines. We've done a lot of world-building so far, and just finished up our first really substantial arc. We'll be doing more of that, and I hope to evolve Skittles' art style a bit. I think it's time I, you know, improve or something.
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