From Backstage to Comics to Fans

by Angie Fiedler Sutton
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Q2Q Webcomic creator Steve Younkins
Q2Q Webcomic creator Steve Younkins

There have been workplace comedies since the days of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, whether it’s Dilbert, Office Space, Silicon Valley or Parks and Recreation. The theatre world has its fair share of them as well, with such gems as Waiting for Guffman, Slings & Arrows, and Noises Off. In March of 2014, this tradition grew with the addition of Q2Q Comics, a webcomic about the tech theatre world.

The man behind the comic is Steve Younkins, a sound designer living in Maryland. He started them in college to cheer up his roommate who was going through a miserable tech week. “He came home one day and was just really frustrated,” Younkins says. “He’s a big comics fan, and there were no tech theatre webcomics out there and no theatre webcomics really. When he came home, I just started doing these little doodles to make him laugh. I posted them on Facebook for some friends to look at, and they thought they were funny. Then, they kept sharing them.” As the comics started gaining traction, he decided to put a website up for it since he had done webcomics before. “This came up and jumped up and bit me, so I decided to run with it.”

For those unfamiliar with the comic, Q2Q follows the standard three-panel joke format standardized by newspaper comics for decades. “I appreciate the challenge of the economy of language,” Younkins says. He then references Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, saying, “You have 60 words in a three-panel strip to tell a story, and you have the benefit of having all these visual storytelling elements as well. I do largely non-narrative comic: there’s no real continuity to them. I have to start from a blank slate, where I’m lucky that people know my characters and their jobs so they have all those understandings in there, but I have to go from that to funny in 60 words.”

While he’s interested in possibly expanding from that, it’s not something he looks to do in this version. “It might be a different project, but I do want to do a longer narrative piece,” he says. “I like that anyone can come in and read one of these comics and know what’s going on. Usually, you don’t need to do more than read the crew page to know who these people are and what their jobs are to begin with. I’m lucky to be working with the subject matter here that so many people are artistically involved in and they have these artistic tendencies already in them so I can make jokes about being an artist and jokes about things going wrong.” He continues, “It’s funny, because it’s not life or death, but it feels like it a lot, and we put the same kind of pressure on it, and it’s good. We should hold ourselves up to that kind of standard.”

The Cast

Steve Younkins working on a drawing for the Q2Q comic.
Steve Younkins working on a drawing for the Q2Q comic.

There are ten characters in the comic, if you count the theatre gremlin and the prop cat, and as with all art, the characters are a combination of original traits and based on people Younkins knows or has worked with. It’s also a fairly diverse group, with a female technical director and two characters of color. “I get comments a lot about people that are just thankful that the TD is a woman,” he says. “This absolutely was an intentional choice there, and it was unfortunate for me that she’s not based off a real person because I didn’t know any female TDs at the time that I created her as a character, but I’m happy to see so many young female carpenters come up to me and be thankful for that.” He does try to make sure to use each character at least once a month, but of course it all depends on the ideas as well.

The Q2Q FAQ page says that it takes Younkins about three hours to draw the comic. But as any writer can tell you, it’s coming up with ideas that’s the hard part. “I don’t know what comic I’m going to do until I sit down and do it,” he says. “I have a list of ideas, and it’s sometimes things like, ‘There is a spider community in props storage,’ which is an idea that I had written down for months and never quite had the mental pictures to do it. I have probably 20 or 30 ideas down, but sometimes I sit down and I hate all of them and then just do nothing and do a different comic, just make something up right there. What could break? What could go wrong? What’s going to incite them?”

The comic became popular pretty fast, considering how new it is. “It exploded pretty quickly,” Younkins says. “I got a ton of exposure on SM Network: I had an equity stage manager friend post it on there. It’s been an upward trajectory from there.” But it was a visit to the 2015 USITT show that really solidified to him how big the comic has gotten. “There was a line of people across the front of the conference, and I thought, ‘There’s going to be a giveaway. Rosco is giving something away. We got to the end of the line, and it ended at my table. I brought a book to read because I thought no one was going to show up, because these are numbers on the internet, they don’t always translate to people.”

The popularity of the comic led Younkins to do a Kickstarter to get funding to publish a book collection of the strips. “I had people telling me from the first week I started doing it, they kept asking me when the book was coming out. I was like, ‘I don’t have any plans to make a book yet. I just posted 15 comics. What am I going to do? Put a book with 15 comics out?’”

Once the comic is drawn, it’s scanned and edited digitally before being posted online
Once the comic is drawn, it’s scanned and edited digitally before being posted online

However, the book idea became more feasible once he had a few more comics under his belt. “I’ve been thinking about it since about comic 100, about how I should probably put together a book and do that,” he says. “It was half on a whim, half-boredom, just like maybe I’ll put a Kickstarter together and launch it. I was just putting it together to see what it would be like, and then I got a little more serious about it in the middle of October, and then started to feel really confident that I had all the things in place to probably make the original goal.”

His original funding goal was $8,000, and then he bumped it to $12,000 to include additional costs—but even then thought that would be a long shot. The Kickstarter was funded within 24 hours of it being online. “Suddenly, it got very real, very quickly. It was like okay, I guess I need to make a book now,” he says with a laugh. The Kickstarter raised almost 350% of the original funding goal, with a final total of $40,383.

The book was originally going to be the first 200 comics, but one of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter was to increase it to 220. He also has reproductions of some of those original doodles, as well as commentary on each page. There’s a ‘how to draw Morty’ (one of the characters), cast bios and an introduction to the comic.

There’s also a bit of a surprise: one of the goals for the Kickstarter was a glow-in-the-dark cover if the funding reached $50,000. Younkins has decided he’s going to do it anyway. “The cover text and the spinal text is all going to glow in the dark so you can find it backstage,” he adds with a grin.

The book will be available in limited run for non-Kickstarter backers on the Q2Q Comics website, and he also will be doing a signing event at the USITT conference, with 100 copies available for sale. Q2Q Comics comes out Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the book will be available around April. For more information on the comic, visit www.q2qcomics.com.