Who Are You?: An interview with Ricardo Porven (Donnie Goth)
Ricardo Porven’s webcomic experiences are fairly unique compared to other attempts. It’s one of the few I know of that’s tried to take advantage of what the media dubs as “Web 2.0.) Last year, Mr. Porven made a splash when he tested the limits of the webcomic format by bringing his comic, Donnie Goth, to Facebook. (Donnie Goth is now available on a non-Facebook website.)
I contacted Mr. Porven last week with a few questions about Donnie Goth, to which he graciously replied.
1.) Mr. Porven… are you or have you ever been a Goth?
I’ve never really labeled myself as part of any group really. I was a teenager in the 80s, a bit before the Goth movement really gained traction. However, in my youth I was known to wear eyeliner and listen to bands like, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson. I also grew up with a fascination with classic horror movies, the works of Tim Burton, and the comic art of Bernie Wrightson. There was even a time I thought my career would be in special effects make-up and counted Rick Baker as one of my idols. If I had been born a mere 10 years later, I most likely would have considered myself a Goth. So if you met me on the street today, you wouldn’t necessarily identify me with someone who is involved in Goth culture, but personality-wise, I’m pretty much a dead ringer. You could say I wear my black on the inside.
2.) I remember Goths being fairly prominent in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Heck, I remember having a poster of Neil Gaiman’s death on my dorm room walls. However, I haven’t heard much about that particular subculture lately. Are Goths still a thing, or have the gone the way of, say, the beatnik?
The Gothic subculture might have reached it’s height of popularity in the late 90s, but it certainly existed before that and is still thriving today. It’s not a lifestyle that gets the headlines. Those that may have embraced it as a fad have likely moved on to other forms of self-expression, but there will always be a group that identifies with the dark themes, romanticism, and fashion the Goth culture is associated with. This is apparent in the popularity of ongoing Gothic themed-films, including most recently; Dark Shadows, ParaNorman and Frankenweenie. Not to mention the myriad of vampire books, novels, TV shows and films that continue to perform well in the market. It’s a subculture. By definition that means it exists under the radar. I think that’s where it prefers to be.
3.) Donnie started off as as a character who seemed to be bristling with sarcasm. Now he’s more of a lovesick puppy, searching for love among Goths and non-Goths alike. What was responsible for the personality change?
The original strips took place when Donnie was 7 years old. He was this overly dramatic, yet powerful kid who didn’t always make the right decisions. The power kind of gave him a superiority complex in comparison to the other kids in his class and the sarcasm came from an overall disdain he felt for them.
The new strips begin with Donnie being 13 and just starting middle school. Right now, he fluctuates between just wanting to be accepted and wanting to be generally left alone. He spent most of his childhood with just Oliver by his side and he is eager to make friends. I wouldn’t necessarily call him lovesick, but his hormones have definitely become active as a normal part of coming of age.
The one current that runs through all the strips is the fact that things rarely work out on the positive end for Donnie. He is a tragic character, but continues to press on in spite of his misfortunes. And he can still laugh about it (and we can join him). I think that’s something fans relate to, whether you’re a Goth or not.
In the strip “X-massacre”, things begin to take on a more serious tone, and both Donnie and Oliver are in for some long-term adventures that take him way beyond the school environment he has lived in up until now.
I guess, like us, the events in Donnie’s life continues to evolve him as a character and the stories change to reflect that.
4.) One of the characters, Kyle, is based on a Donnie Goth fan. Can we expect to see more fans to show up in future strips?
There have been a few in the past. Kyle, Shun Helton and his band (at the time) “Dead Like Us”.
I think it’s kind of cool for fans to be a part of Donnie’s world. There are some forms to fill out (boring legal stuff), but I enjoy doing it and like the whole thought of it. Be forewarned. Sooner or later, you will most likely suffer a horrible death in the strip.
5.) Would Donnie Goth be more a fan of Marilyn Manson or of Nightwish?
This is not a knock against Nightwish. They have a huge fan base, but so much of Donnie is an extension of my personality that I have to give the nod to Manson. I have a huge respect of Marilyn for his artistic vision. His music may not always be original, but it is infectious. Besides, the band was originally formed in South Florida. That’s where Donnie Goth Inc’s home office is based.
Oliver is the comic relief in the strip and is wide open in terms of how I portray him. So it’s fun to imagine what he’s going to do next. But whenever I draw Zombie Butterfly (or any other zombie) I know there’s going to be copious amounts of blood to be depicted and really, what’s more fun than that?
7.) I first learned about Donnie Goth when it made waves by a “Facebook only” webcomic last year. Incidentally, I’m not on Facebook myself, so I’m pretty clueless on its effectiveness. What made you decide to go this route?
I had a good experience promoting Donnie Goth originally on Myspace with the older strips many years ago. With traditional websites, you have to market outside the place where your comic is hosted and coerce people to come experience your work. You’re taking them away from whatever it is they’re doing at the time. But with Facebook, I felt I had found a place where I could not only host the strip, but interact with the fans, promote, and advertise. Facebook had the tools to help the strip go viral. I felt I would be able to build an audience quickly and I did. 10,000 fans in little over 3 months. I also had Donnie make his own profile, giving him a presence outside the comics. Many fans have chosen to become friends with Donnie over the past year. I get valuable feedback and demographics on who Donnie’s audience primarily is. They are very loyal and vocal and there’s nothing like the instant feedback you receive. In that aspect, it has been a success.
8.) Donnie Goth is now available on its own website. Is this an extension of the Facebook only model, or are you abandoning the model altogether?
What’s changing is where you will be able to see the actual strips. The weakness in my Facebook model, was the delivery of the strips through an app. It forced users (Facebook requires this) to give up personal access to their profiles in order to read the book and ultimately, I felt this was a hindrance for long-term growth. In comparison to the fan page that had over 10,000 fans, only 3,000 were actually using the app to read the strips. I also had issues with screen real-estate, compatibility with mobile (iPads, iPhones, etc) and the extra programming work required by the app which delayed the strips.
This and the knowledge that I would be expanding the content with serialized animated web videos later this year, prompted me to move the comic to a proprietary site.
Facebook is still home to the fan page and I am still very active on there. I see it as a bridge to the community of fans. Early analytic results show there is a strong connection between Facebook and the website.
So for the time being, Facebook is still home. The website is the theme park.
9.) Do you see any other social media applications that show potential in the field of webcomics?
I am now on twitter and it seems to be a great tool for reaching the webcomic press and faithful. I’m still new to it, but it’s growing daily.
Also, I created a Donnie Goth video channel on YouTube a while back and have barely used it. There’s an animated intro for the comic there and a special Christmas video I put together for the fans. I haven’t worked too hard on growing it, but it’s been generating followers on its own. I think that once the web series launches, I will see major movement in that arena and success in one social network, should reflect on the others.
The social media landscape changes almost daily and truth is, you can’t put all your eggs into one basket. You have to find your fans wherever they’re hanging out and move along with them to wherever they’re going or get left behind. That means exploring Google +, Tumbler, Pinterest and others… all in their due time of course.
10.) You’ve worked with Luis Diaz, an illustrator who’s artwork has previously been featured in Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. How much of a challenge was it to incorporate your gothic elements into his more manic style?
I’ve known Luis for many years. I met him when he was fresh out of college. His college roommate was my cousin. I was a Creative Director at a large advertising agency and he came with my cousin to my office looking for freelance work. I was blown away by his portfolio. Way before his work on Garbage Pail Kids, his portfolio was deliciously dark and disturbing. We worked on a couple of short comic stories together. One was a dark tale of betrayal and religious fanaticism taken to the extreme in “Penitent and the Damned”, which was published in the Steve Niles forum fan comic, “Tales from the Inner Sanctum”. The other was a two-part story called Chupacabra that was published in the now defunct “Lo-Fi magazine.” We collaborated on a ton of unpublished stories as well. I would say we had worked together in one form or another for roughly 12 years before the collaboration on Donnie. It was actually pretty natural, no heavy lifting on my part. I just sent him the story and let him do whatever the heck he wanted to. Yep. I have an unfailing trust in him. Whatever we would do together, I knew would be phenomenally better than anything I could do alone.
He’s since moved on to other projects, but I am continuing to collaborate with other artists. It’s the only way I can satisfy the fans’ thirst for more content and move Donnie Goth into the future.
11.) Finally, if you were a Garbage Pail Kid, what would your name be?
Not my specialty, I guess. He he.