Interview with Chicago area web comic artist and writer Gordon McAlpin

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Gordon McAlpin (Photo Courtesy: Charlene Epple)

Gordon McAlpin is a Chicago-area artist who writes and illustrates the web comic Multiplex. The web comic follows a young group of employees that work in a movie theater, located in an unnamed Chicago suburb. The web comic is published twice-weekly, and it's a humorous glimpse into to the world of movies and what we love and hate about them.

Multiplex has been running since July 2006 and now it's crossing over into the print world with a book. Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show is a book that includes the first 102 strips of the web comic plus 30 bonus comics, and an exclusive 12 page prequel.

Gordon was nice enough to send me a copy of the Multiplex book, and I thought it was pretty clever and entertaining. I worked at a Loews Cineplex for about 2 years, so I can definitely relate to some of the drama of working in a movie theater. Dealing with rude no-it-all customers, avoiding the creepy stalker guy who always tries to check out in your line, finding gross things while cleaning out the theater after a show...I've been through it all. Reading Gordon's comic brought back some memories. But, Multiplex isn't just funny to the former (or current) movie theater employees; this comic series can be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of movies.

I sent Gordon McAlpin a few questions about his book and why you should check it out.

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Cover of Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show
Multiplex © 2010 Chase Sequence Co.

NaShantá: My first job when I was a teenage was at a movie theater,
so this comic series takes me back to my days of dealing with
customers, and cleaning up people's trash after a show. Did you ever
work at a movie theater?

Gordon McAlpin: I think it's weird how often I get asked that question. When people write crime comics
or superhero comics, nobody ever says, "Did you ever rob banks/get
bitten by a radioactive spider?" Writers research and make shit up. Anyway, no, I haven't worked at a movie theater. But a couple of friends of mine
did -- Kurt Bollinger and Melissa Recar, who are the namesakes of two
characters in the comic. They're only sort of loosely based on the real
Kurt and Melissa, though.

Nash: Where do you get the ideas for your
comics?

Gordon: I spent a good couple of years in my
mid-twenties hanging out with Kurt at the theater he managed, the
Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria, Illinois, so I had a pretty good, long time
of seeing the "backstage" of a movie theater to draw from.

I've worked in food service enough to be able to draw from that for a lot of the customer service stuff.
And, of course, I'm a
huge movie nerd, so I can draw from that for the movie-specific stuff.
I watch a ton of movies. I've written movie reviews, so I sort of
approach them analytically. That makes it easy to come up with the
various perspectives on a single movie. Kurt is the low-brow half of my
brain; Jason is the high-brow half of my brain. And Becky is the
romantic, of course. I'm a sucker for good romance. There's just very little of it.
Some
of the characters in the strip are basically walking movie clichés,
too. Or they are when they first appear, anyway. But it's a comic strip
about movies. Having seemingly stereotypical characters (like Whitey,
the rich white kid who acts ghetto) is just another way to make fun of
movies. Of course, you have to eventually either deepen them or subvert
the cliché somehow -- but not right away, because where's the fun in
that?

Nash: Was Multiplex your first attempt at a web comic series?

Gordon: I did a comic for a year or two called Stripped Books. It was a
non-fiction comic where I would go to a book event of some sort --
usually author's talks at some place or another, and I would turn that
into an 8-12 page comic strip. That was for Bookslut at first, but I
eventually took it to its own website briefly, before it folded.
Since they were longer strips, they took me a
couple of months to finished each of them, so I decided to start a
back-up feature that would update more regularly -- and that was
Multiplex.
It wasn't very long before Multiplex was getting far more
readers than Stripped Books ever did, and I decided to concentrate on
it instead.

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Multiplex © 2010 Chase Sequence Co.

Nash: What sort of feedback do you get from readers of the Multiplex web comic? Do they ever send you ideas for your next strip?

Gordon: A lot of movie employees suggest things for strips, but I hardly
ever use them. There's a big difference between something funny that
happened and a joke, you know? More often, I'll read about something
that happened at a movie theater, and I'll use that.
One early single-panel strip had Kurt suckering one
of the new employees into "refilling the water fountains." Apparently
that goes on at a lot of movie theaters
-- and on multiple continents, even, because I've had a bunch of
different movie theater employees ask me if I'd heard about it from
their movie theater.
The fact is, if you get a bunch of kids aged 16-24
or whatever and stick them all in a building, they'll pretty much act
the same wherever you are. And as happy as I am to hear from movie
theater employees that they can relate to the strip because of their
experiences at the movie theater, I write Multiplex to be pretty
universal.
It helps to love movies, and to actually like to
think about how people talk about movies, because that's a huge part of
the strip. You can read the strip totally at face value and see it as
Kurt and Jason talking about this movie or that movie. Jason dating.
Kurt pulling pranks. But at the same time, it's also commenting on (and
making fun of) how people talk about movies and deadpan parody of movie
clichés (and also some actual honest-to-goodness character drama, too).

The film commentary aspect of it is what keeps the strips fresh,
in my opinion, even after the movies they're talking about have long
since left the theater.

Nash: At what point did you decide to publish this
comic series into a book?

Gordon: I've wanted to do one for a couple of years, at least, but I was
never in a financial place to do that. I first planned to serialize
five chapter eBooks a couple of years ago, and I put the first of those
out in... 2008, I think? Then it took me about a year and a half to do
the bonus material for the second book. Between my day job at the time
and the regular updates, I just couldn't find the time to draw all the
extra comics.
That's where the Kickstarter project came in, just
over a year ago. I found out about this "crowd-funding" website called
Kickstarter, where artists and whoever pitch a project to their fans
and basically ask for start-up funds. In my case, I used it as a
pre-order for the book: people could pledge X number of dollars and get
the chapter eBooks as I finished them, get a copy of the book when it
was completed, sketches, a T-shirt, a cameo appearance in the book, and
so on.
Finally, just about a year after the Kickstarter
project launched, I mailed out all of the books to Kicsktarter backers,
so that's done. And man, was I relieved.

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Art from the Multiplex prequel
Multiplex © 2010 Chase Sequence Co.

Nash: What can readers expect to see in the book that they won't see online?

Gordon: There are about 30-some bonus comics that previously appeared in
the Chapter eBooks. Those were added to help flesh out the narrative in
these early strips. I switched from a once a week schedule to a twice a
week one after about a year or year and a half, and the shift is really
obvious, in the level of depth I'm able to go into the characters'
lives as opposed to just doing a "stupid customer of the week" or movie joke of the week.
 
In addition to those comics, there's an all-new,
exclusive 12-page story at the beginning of the book that's set before
Multiplex #1. And since it's a prequel, I thought it was appropriate to
do it about a prequel, so it's set on opening night of Star Wars: Episode III -- The Revenges of the Sith.
One of the recurring things in the strip has the characters dressing up in costumes for movie premieres, so that strip was my one real chance to have the Multiplex kids dress up in Star Wars costumes. The Clone Wars
movie doesn't count. I like the series, but it wasn't a real movie; it
was three episodes smooshed together and pushed into theaters. Some
people might say the prequels don't count, either, but I liked Revenge of the Sith, for the most part.

Nash: Where can we buy your book?

Gordon: Right now, it's available at my website and through Small Press United (IPG) -- my distributor -- directly at IPGbook.com. Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show is in stock at Barnes & Noble's online store at a nice discount ($14.36) - plus a couple (literally two) Chicago area Barnes & Noble stores. (Find those stores here)

It's also at Amazon now, which just started discounting it to match B&N's price.

Comic nerds can also get it at Chicago Comics which has a few copies (and possibly Quimby's too).

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