Webcomic fans, rejoice! Ben Pernick, the man behind Turbo Sloth, is relaunching his comic on December 26. When he’s not posting – which he’ll be doing every weekday – he somehow has the time to work on a degree in music therapy and write music. I chatted with him about what it takes to write a comic, and how he finds the time to do it all.
Posting three times a week sounds so challenging to me. Where do you find your inspiration? And do you ever come up short for something to say?
Actually, I’m planning on posting FIVE times a week (M-F) when Turbo Sloth re-launches on December 26th! It may sound crazy, but an advantage of not caring much for the “artistic integrity” of my comics means that I can usually complete a comic in less than an hour, so I can bust it out with my morning coffee. I started reading webcomics senior year of high school but didn’t think of making my own comic until four years later when one of my friends started her own and it seemed like a fun hobby.
For ideas, I find my inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes I have to actively think up ideas, and sometimes it comes from a passing thought, a recent personal experience or an amusing conversation. I always carry a small notebook and a pen to jot down ideas and compile them on a Word file on my computer for safekeeping. While I currently have over 4,000 unused comic ideas (not saying they’re all good ideas), I often find it difficult to choose one to draw. Sometimes I just need to play scroll-wheel roulette, and pray that I don’t land on another corny pun.
Your site was on hiatus, but you certainly weren’t. Is there a certain group that you work with as a music therapist? Do they know about Turbo Sloth?
Indeed. While I never wanted to take a hiatus, the break has allowed me to refocus on applying for music therapy internships and working with the chair of the department on a research study. As part of my music therapist training at Berklee, I’m working with a different population every semester, including developmental disabilities, geriatrics/Alzheimer’s, psychiatric and medical settings. I haven’t yet decided for certain what population I want to work with full-time, since so far I like them all! Once I get certified, I may or may not have to choose; the job market for music therapy is growing and changing shape like Ivory soap in a microwave.
While I try to use humor often in music therapy sessions, I generally don’t mention my comic to any clients, since an effective therapist needs to stay focused on the clients and not themselves. Not to mention that, since I have no filter and will draw comics about anything, Turbo Sloth comics can be inappropriate and even downright offensive at times. However, many of my friends, former colleagues and family know about the comics and read them regularly. Sorry for all the sex jokes, Grandma.
And you somehow manage to find time to play in a ska band? What’s easier to do, write music or write comics?
It was quite difficult to balance it all, and the band ended in the summer due to difficulty scheduling practices (there were eight of us) and burnout from playing shows all around Boston nearly every week. But I’m still writing music, and I’ll be looking to start a new band once I get certified and establish myself somewhere. But whereas before I was hoping to “make it big,” I think now I would be content to get a loyal local following – though I’ll always at least entertain the dream.
Writing comics is way easier overall, as it’s incredibly convenient to make a drawing on MS Paint, post it online, and hope it hits the front page of Reddit (which, fortunately, has happened to me several times). Writing a song can take several weeks or longer, and since I don’t write solo material, I have to then get a band to learn it and play it well. But comics are far more disposable than music, and seeing web traffic results on a computer screen pales in comparison to the thrill of rocking out on stage to a big crowd of dancing fans – or even to a crowd of just one fan…I’ve experienced both.
If you had to choose only one of your three activities to do full-time, which would it be and why?
Tough question, but all practicalities aside, I’d choose the band. Neither being a full-time musician nor webcomic artist would likely allow me to support myself, but I’d gladly eat nothing but ramen if it meant I could go on tour. I know it’s not as glamorous as it sounds, and I wouldn’t be trashing hotel rooms and swimming through seas of groupies, but I’d love to have that many people connect to the songs I put so much passion and effort into writing and arranging.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still excited about becoming a music therapist since I love to help and inspire people, but I’d go crazy without either of my creative outlets. Drawing webcomics full-time would probably cause me to spend too much time in front of a computer and slowly lose my mind. Practicalities not aside, it makes more sense for me to be a full-time music therapist with a fully-functional webcomic and my band regularly playing gigs on the side. How can you make time for that, you may ask? My answer is simple: Don’t sleep. Ever.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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