Joel 'Gruntsbane' Casebeer and Matt 'mrsmiley' Dunn are the guys working behind the scenes at Halobabies.net. The site, the comics, the artwork, the characters, and the humour all stem from the creative minds of these two individuals. We recently had a chance to sit down with the two of them to figure out their roles on the site and what goes on behind the scenes. We found out what's involved in putting a comic together, where the ideas come from, and what's next for Halobabies. Read on...
the Junkyard: Please introduce yourselves and what your duties are at Halobabies.net.
Gruntsbane: My name is Joel Casebeer AKA Gruntsbane on B.net and elsewhere. I do all the artwork for the comic strips and extra stuff around the site.
mrsmiley: My name is Matt Dunn, and I am ‘mrsmiley’ at HaloBabies.net. Basically, I update everything from the weekly comics, to sketches, to fan art, and anything else we have to release. I make all the news posts, mod the forums (with a great online team, I might add), and support the site both my money and my time. I have produced some material for the site, such as avatars and AIM icons, but Joel is the actual artist. I am only riding his coattails!
tJY: How did the two of you meet up?
Gruntsbane: We were both hanging around Bungie.net in the forums when Mr. Smiley saw some comics I did at HBO. He was just starting up his B.net chapter and, looking for new content, asked if I was willing to continue making comics for his site. Almost immediately he began work on HaloBabies.net and the rest is history.
mrsmiley: Well these two college students walk into a bar… No seriously, Joel and I have not even officially met each other in person yet! (That will change come this year’s E3!) Our entire relationship has been based online via chatting and e-mails. I haven’t even called the guy on the phone!
So how did we meet exactly? After finding Joel’s comics on Halo.Bungie.Org, and doing a little research, I found out he was active on the Bungie.net forums. I sent him a greeting via the site’s personal message system, and that’s where it all started!
tJY: Tell us a little bit about the history of Halo Babies.
Gruntsbane: Oh you want the rest, eh? Well Halobabies themselves started as an April Fools prank pulled by Bungie a few years back and fooled just about everybody (and still does sometimes). After a long while, An HBO forum goer (Dogsounds) held a little unofficial art challenge where the requirements were to make a Halo Babies style piece of art. I made a couple of comics, Mr. Smiley saw them, etc, etc.
mrsmiley: Halo Babies was a joke. Plain and simple, these cute and cuddly characters came right of the mind of Bungie artist, Lorraine McLees. The full story on its origin can be found here. The origin of HaloBabies.net, however, is another story…
In fact, the story is so old and complex, that it took me and Joel hours of early morning internet research to figure it out! Basically, after the whole Halo Babies April fools joke of 2002, a chap named "Dogsound" (a local artist on Halo.Bungie.Org) decided to hold an art contest in honor of the event. It was a very simple forum-based contest. So simple, in fact, that Joel was the only entry! I happened to be browsing the forum when I saw an announcement of this, and Joel’s comics really caught my attention! After a bit of research, I found out he had a Bungie.net account. I sent him a an offer via Bungie’s in-site message system. It was simple. "If you make more of these comics, I’ll make you a site." The rest is history!
tJY: Joel, where did your artistic talent come from, and how long have you been creating digital artwork?
Gruntsbane: I've always had a talent for art as long as I can remember, but didn't pursue it seriously until a couple years back. Mainly it comes from a lot of practice and trial and error. I started doing digital art when a friend of mine went to visit Bungie studios and he told me that all the Oni posters and were done in Photoshop. I was pretty blown away (I didn't know they had digital drawing pads at the time so I thought it was done with a mouse) so I just started trying some stuff out. Digital is an awesome tool but there's no substitute for a good old pencil.
tJY: When did you decide that the jump to an online comic strip was right for you?
Gruntsbane: Heh, I wasn't doing anything anyway. Actually I thought it would be a good way to practice drawing.
tJY: How was the style of both the art and of the humour created?
Gruntsbane: The art is mostly based off of the original Halo Babies prank (I basically copied it for the first comic) but over time I've changed it a little so it was more natural for me. Also the look of the television show was described as cartoon characters based in a pre-rendered Halo environment so I tried to get that look (or as close as I can manage). The humor is taken from what I find funny in the game. Weird questions that come up while playing, or odd circumstances usually turn out to be my favorite comics.
tJY: From start to finish, what's the process involved in creating a strip?
Gruntsbane: They start out as an idea which I make a crappy little sketch of, then I can draw the characters to match the sketch. After inking them in, I scan them into, and then color them with Photoshop. I tend to try and get in-game Halo locations for backgrounds so I'll take a screen shot in HPC and use it for reference. All in all it takes about 4-6 hours to make a comic spread out over a few days.
tJY: How do you guys find enough time in your day to devote to Halo Babies? I mean, don't you two have real jobs [or school] to attend to?
Gruntsbane: I end up finding time at night, very late at night around 2 or 3 in the morning. I go to school for most of the day then try to spend a little time making a sketch or coloring a character. I like to waste as much time as possible so Smiley has to stay up until Friday morning until the strip is done so he can post it.
mrsmiley: Yes, I have both school and work to worry about. Fortunately, like most dedicated webmasters, I am an absolute night owl. I generally work on HBN between about 11pm and 2am. That, at least, is when I post major site updates or new strips. Anyone out there who runs a site knows the importance of traffic downtimes, especially if something goes wrong! (And it has, trust me!) I consider Halo Babies as more of a hobby if anything else. Although future business propositions are being discussed, the site currently exists off the gracious donations of few, and out of my own pocket.
tJY: It was recently announced that all strips within a series would follow a plot. Is it easier to come up with a plot for a series rather than random plots every strip? Does this limit the artistic or creative freedom in the strip at all?
Gruntsbane: The plot is easier for the most part because I don't have to worry about coming up with dialog or situations each week. Also they build off each other so coming up with a bunch at a time is pretty easy. I have most of the plot written out so I know ahead of time what to do, but the hard part probably wont come until I catch up with the part I haven't finished. At least now I can reuse more backgrounds.
tJY: Joel, what kinds of tools do you use to create your artwork? Do you have any advice for individuals looking to start out creating comics or digital art in general?
Gruntsbane: Like I said before its mainly just pencils and Photoshop. If someone wants to create a comic I would say that you should know your material. When a comic has a topic as specific as Halo, people like to see a lot of references. Oh yeah, the art doesn't have to be all that great either, just look at One One Seven, ha!
tJY: Let's face it -- we all have personas that we have developed online that we may or may not live up to in real life. With this in mind... are you considered "funny" in real life?
Gruntsbane: Sure, when I'm not screaming at my teammates in Halo PC CTF.
tJY: What's your favourite Halo comic strip of all time? Why?
Gruntsbane: Strip as in one of mine, or strip as in another community made comic? Ok both. I think Legendary Tactics is one everybody likes (including myself) because that's just what legendary boils down to sometimes. Also, CTF Pro because the frost he wipes off his helmet. My favorite community made strip is One One Seven, I mean how can you argue with two strips a week plus fan comics all the time? It's become a cult.