Ever thought of ending it all? Consider the enigmatic alumni: Judas, Hemingway, George Reeves. Sure, we all have bad days, but have you ever truly been tempted to bid a fond farewell to this cruel world? Writer Neal Bailey did. Now it’s a comic, Cura Te Ipsum…
For three years now, the indie webcomic Cura Te Ipsum has given the world the ongoing adventures of Charlie Everett, a failed guidance counsellor whose attempt to blow his own brains out are foiled by another version of himself from a parallel world. The story explores the many dimensions of Charlie’s identity (literally), drawing strong reviews from 109, Comics Alliance and the mighty Greg Rucka, successful author of a bunch of cool superhero stuff, but also the stupendous steampunk webcomic Lady Sabre, which is well worth your weekend.
Penned by Neal Bailey with art by Dexter Wee, Cura Te Ipsum has been consistently updated for free every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since 2010, evidencing a love of the medium and a professional standard. Now, Bailey and Wee have launched the Cura Te Ipsum Year Two Kickstarter, a drive to fund the printing of the second full year trade. They wanna make an old-timey paperbook from this webcomic and they need your help. Watch this now.
So as the project enters its third year, I sat down with the webcomic’s author, and new father, Neal Bailey to chat comics, suicidal tendencies and whether there’s a link between the two…
First thing’s first, congrats on the little one. The big question? Which is more tiring, making your own comics or making your own people?
Thanks! Babies take up time, but so has every other job I’ve had over the years. Like comics, taking care of my baby is something that is so rewarding I never tend to think of how tired it makes me, so that’s hard to quantify. You know you’ll find the solution to whatever problem is plaguing you about both eventually. Who has to die, who has to have their diaper changed, etc. The important thing is not to confuse the two.
So what’s the story behind the story? How did this epic of trans-dimensional doppelgangers and suicidal tendencies arise and why did you choose to develop it?
I’ve been working to get published for about fifteen years now, with varying degrees of success. I’ve worked for reputable places, some places of ill repute, but I always found myself in a position of wanting to have more freedom to tell stories, and the biggest obstacle to that was money, or a lack thereof.
I tried about thirty comics with varying artists who wanted to work back end. One thing I learned very quickly is that most of those projects were situations where the artist would do five pages, get bored at the lack of money, and quit. I never really worried about the money, but I also never made the connection between time spent by an artist and time spent by a writer. It’s a lot harder to give a month to a thing for free than a week. I had assumed, since I have been writing novel after novel for fifteen years, that they’d want to spend time working for free with the end goal in mind. Not as much, and I don’t condemn them for that. At all.
I realized that if I wanted to do a comic, I’d have to pay the artist, to give him/her motivation. And I’d have to have a concept I REALLY believed in. I thought I couldn’t do that. For years. I mean, I was already basically living paycheck to paycheck, not being able to get groceries, gas. Turns out you can live with a lot less than you think you can, as I have proven repeatedly moving my own goalposts further and further back so I can keep doing what I do with Dex. It’s entirely worth it.
Lo and behold, the minute I started offering to pay for work, here comes Dex, a fantastic, bold professional who works on a deadline incredibly well. That’s the inspiration in terms of career. Personally, as a story, I told Cura to get over the demons that have been chasing me for years, twin demons of feeling worthless and like a failure. I feel worthless because I have been told, repeatedly, that I am not worth a god damn unless I make money by ill meaning people formerly in my life, note the formerly. I felt like a failure because really, who keeps going after fifteen years and doesn’t give up? I saw that guy in the mirror, and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t even feed myself, to say nothing of profit, and the places I’d worked for in the last few years had cheated me out of tens of thousands of dollars I really, really needed. I went bankrupt trying to get my work to people and lost everything.
I thought about shooting myself.
And then I thought about what I’d say to myself after. Bam. Cura. Since then I’ve come to terms with the fact that whether I make a red cent doesn’t matter so much as the fact that I can’t get up without wanting to write, or go to sleep without thinking about what I’ll write next, and that’s going to happen if I’m rich or a pauper, so the money is really secondary, a social validation.
Day by day I’m making my way back to a sense of worth, and this recent Kickstarter success (he said, not wanting to jinx it, it’s still got 25% to go) has really helped me find peace. Cura is the other half of that. If Charlie can find a reason to live, so must I, to save him. That and baby Milo, of course, will save ME.
In terms of the writing process, how do you personally translate an idea to the script? In the most mundane sense, what pragmatic steps do you take to get your ideas down?
For scripting, my pragmatic steps are making sure that the artist has freedom AND specificity. With Dex, I want him to be able to make his choices without feeling me breathing down his neck, and I want to make sure he has what I’m intending to convey, the simple beats. That’s Dex, of course, and it’s easier working with him because he’s simpatico with me on many stylistic things.
For example, I have a character coming up in the comic, the Multifarious Charlie, and the design for him was something very vague, something that needed work, to be honest, but as I described what he would be doing to Dex over chat he worked up a sketch, and it was so damned spot-on perfect, there were no changes.
As for an idea, I try to pick the most visual vessel I can. Charlie has to confront his disappointment with his younger years, so I have his younger self join the team, and show a flashback of what made him (or the Dark Everett) so lost in love. If I want to explore Charlie’s uncomfortable approach to his own body, I send him to a planet where he has to strip down naked, a stark, scary visual idea.
Those things, I hope, reflect upon his already developed character and serve the demands of theme, character, or conflict on any given page, as I was taught.
In the 21st century, making comics is hard and expensive, and in the mainstream it can be a rarely respected and purchased product. At some point, every comic writer must own the conviction that this medium is worth the sweat and tears. What compels you to write comics?
Love of the medium and stories that fit it. I wouldn’t write a comic just because I hadn’t written one in a while and wanted to, I need an idea that fits it. Otherwise my inclination is to write a novel or a short story. I also LOVE collaborating when collaborating is good. I’ve had good and I’ve had bad, and working with Dex has been the most amazing experience. When what’s good about me and what’s good about Dex counterbalances my failures in creation, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
So will Charlie Everett ever succeed in taking his own life? Will Neal finally get sick of my endless questions? Stay tuned to find out. Continued in Part 2 next week…