An Interview with Gordon McAlpin

In 2005 the webcomic Multiplex appeared online.  Story and art by Illinois native Gordon McAlpin, the comic revolves around the employees of “your local movie theater” as they deal with customers, each other, and Jason’s refined taste in cinema.  The series has reached over 500 strips, is available in 5 e-books as well as a very soon to be released print collection, Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show.

Happily, Mr. McAlpin agreed to an interview with In Genre.  Take a look at the man behind the characters and drama of Multiplex.

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In Genre – It’s been just over five years since you started Multiplex, and your first print collection, Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show, will be officially on sale September 22nd. How do you feel about where you are at right now?

Gordon McAlpin – I’m really thrilled with where the strip is at. Sometimes I wish I could have more time to work on the strip, of course, because the strip is set in real time, so if need to get a plot point done and move on, sometimes I have to leave things out.

For instance, with the ongoing theme of Jason becoming more and more interested in old movie theaters, I would have loved for Devi and Jason to visit a whole lot of movie theaters by now, but they take me between 6 and 8 hours to draw, so… you know, I can’t do that too often. That’s my only real complaint, creatively: not having as much time to work on the strip as I’d like, because I have to pay rent.

One kind of frustrating thing with building an audience is that my 500+ strip archive often seems a bit daunting to new readers, but that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do a book — so that there’s a nice, compact way to get into the series… without sitting in front of a computer.

IG – Movie Make-Out was a movie news blog your used to run (with the help of Trisha Lynn Sebastian), and you also have your Deleted Scenes blog and your Multiplex Movie Club. Are there any future projects on the back burner or ideas percolating in your mind that you might someday work on?

GM – Well, Deleted Scenes is kind of a dumping ground for anything I want to do that’s even vaguely Multiplex-, comics-, or movie-related.

The Multiplex Movie Club, for instance, is at the Deleted Scenes blog; it’s just an excuse to review a movie I like and hopefully talk about it with others. But it’s kind of new, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of the “talking about it with others” just yet. You gotta get a few of these things out there before people start talking, I guess.

It’s a sketch blog, it’s a place to put up comics I do that don’t have anything to do with Multiplex, or hand-drawn Multiplex strips that are out of continuity.

There is one longer story I’ve been tossing around in my head that I’d like to do as a black and white, hand-drawn Multiplex comic, and it would definitely be set out of continuity. But I don’t want to talk about that too much until it actually happens.

IG – Your friend Kurt (upon whom the character of Kurt in the comic is based on) relates the story of how he “gave you the idea for Multiplex” in the intro to your print collection. You mention how Melissa is also based on a real person named Melissa. How many of the other characters are, more or less, based on people you know… and on that note, how much of Gordon is really in Jason?

GM – Melissa isn’t really based on the actual Melissa that much, other than that she’s an awesome girl who has brown hair. Kurt is pretty loosely based on the real Kurt. The real Kurt loves crappy horror movies, though, and I can’t stand them, so I kind of took that as a character trait and ran with it.

Whitey is based on Kurt in some respects, too, in that Kurt grew up in a black neighborhood and (when I met him) played guitar and sang in a funk and soul cover band. When we would hang out, sometimes, he would joke around and act all gangsta, and I’d roll my eyes at him.

Jason is sort of me, but kind of an exaggerated version of me when I was in my early 20′s than me now, which is why I beat up on him so much in the strip. He’s a dick, and he gets what he deserves, and he’ll continue to do so until he’s wised up a bit. Which will happen before I end the series in… however many years it takes me to get to the ending I have in mind.

As for the other characters, none of them are really based on anybody specific. There are elements taken from one person here, one person there…

More recently, Max Cardeñas and Angie Booth were both readers, so they look sort of like their real-life counterparts, but I don’t know either of them personally, and they had no input on what their characters were like or what will happen to them down the road.

IG – You also mention in the print collection’s introduction that when the idea was first pitched to you that you didn’t know of webcomics and were stuck thinking along the lines of comic book, graphic novel and newspaper comic strip formats. After you learned of webcomics how long did it take you to warm to concept, and how long after that did you start to see potential of working in such a format?

GM – When I started Stripped Books for Bookslut, I immediately saw the benefit of publishing stuff online. You could publish something the same day you finished it, and you can get it in front of more eyeballs on the web than in print, for far less money.

With Multiplex, I can do a strip as long or short as I felt like for a given strip. I can do a comic about movie news that JUST came out and have it online while people still care. I still try to approach that stuff in such a way that will make it interesting long after the movie or the movie news is no longer fresh, of course, because there is more to the strip than just the movie snark.

IG – What comic book artists (and writers, if you like) have most influenced your work?

GM – I’ll leave it to you to decide who has actually influenced my writing or art, but my favorite cartoonists (or writers or artists) are Dave McKean, Hergé, Dan DeCarlo, Larry Gonick, Joe Sacco, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Raymond Briggs, Ivan Brunetti, Dupuy-Berberian, Zander Cannon, Hayao Miyazaki, Robert Kirkman, and I could probably keep going for a while.

IG – In a similar frame, what are some other media that you really liked, such as novels or movies, that helped influence your style?

GM – Movies have probably influenced Multiplex more than anything. The rectangular panel shape of the typical Multiplex panel is taken from the 4:3 aspect ratio of old movies (and the TV screen) for a reason. If you lop off the top (where the dialogue goes), then it’s closer to a widescreen movie. That might explain why I re-use camera angles repeatedly; they’re meant to evoke a long take, where the camera sits still while the actors go about their business. I probably overdid that at first, to the detriment of Multiplex as a comic strip, but there was a reason for it.

When I read books, it’s usually non-fiction (or comics, of course). I don’t read a ton of novels anymore. So many novels are over-written, or just the same, repetitive genre fluff that I got bored with years ago. I can enjoy that sort of thing in movies or comics, because there’s the visual element to keep my ADD brain happy, but with novels, I need an especially strong voice to keep me interested.

But Margaret Atwood’s novels are probably a big influence on me, as far as tone goes, if not subject matter. There’s a bit of a melancholy vibe to Multiplex (at least to Jason’s arcs) that I think are slightly influenced by her books. Since the protagonist of Atwood’s The Edible Woman was named Marian McAlpin, I borrowed her last name for Jason’s.

I love Jane Austen. A lot of people just think of them as romance books, but they’re really smart, funny books, with a lot of social commentary in them. Persuasion is a beautiful story.

IG – Outside of the work of your past co-conspirators for the late Triple Feature Podcast (Joe and Tom), what webcomics do you currently enjoy reading?

GM – Honestly? I don’t read many webcomics — besides Joe’s and Tom’s. I don’t really like to read ongoing works on the Internet — the reproduction of the art is so disappointing, and I’m kind of an art guy. So, I read them enough to see if I want to buy their books, and then I do.

I love Kate Beaton’s stuff (who doesn’t). I love Dr. McNinja and Shortpacked. I picked up the Great Outdoor Fight collection of Achewood and that was hysterical. I miss Perry Bible Fellowship and James Turner’s Beaver & Steve. Maakies is some great, messed up shit. Rob & Elliot is hilarious. I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.

IG – Other than webcomics and movies (we’ll get to those in a moment), what genre entertainment do you normally enjoy?

GM – Comics and movies are really my thing, but I also like TV when it’s done well. South Park, obviously, is one of my favorites. There are usually any number of good half-hour sitcoms, but I tend to get bored with them after a while. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia started off brilliant, for instance, but I gave up on it at some point, because it just felt like the same thing over and over. The American version of the Office had a golden run starting with season 2 and ending around when Pam and Jim got together. After that, it lost me.

I think everything Ricky Gervais writes is gold. I haven’t watched much of The IT Crowd or Coupling, but they’re both very very good. I love Dr. Who when Stephen Moffat writes it. Not as much when any of the show’s other writers do.

And dramas like Mad Men and The Wire really take (or took) advantage of the long-form storytelling that TV can do so well but so rarely does. Or even when they do for a while, they completely lose it at some point like with Alias or BSG and I feel like every hour I spent watching it was a waste of time. They both started of so damned well! And then by each of their third seasons, I hated both of them.

IG – Multiplex is about a group of people working at movie theater and often discusses current releases. Triple Feature Podcast, Movie Make-Out, Multiplex Movie Club – you clearly really enjoy movies. Do you have a genre of film that you prefer?

GM – As much as I love genre, I tend to prefer movies that aren’t really genre flicks — in the sense of science fiction, fantasy, crime flicks, whatever. I most love comedies and dramas… or comedy-dramas… that are set in more or less the real world (not necessarily present day) and afford some kind of insight into life, but, you know, less pretentious than that sounds. Stuff like Rushmore, In the Loop, The Philadelphia Story… All of these have something to say about life that’s a little more substantive than you might notice, at first.

That said, if you look at my DVD collection, it’s mostly animated movies and action movies, because those are much more fun to re-watch. I just love visual storytelling, though. Anything that’s well shot and has solid story will keep me happy.

IG – In a series of bio strips for the Multiplex cast you had them list their favorite movies. Putting you in the hot seat, what are five of you most favorite and five of your least favorite films?

GM – Oh, I don’t know. Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is my all-time favorite movie, but as for the others, it depends too much on my mood and whatever movies pop into my head first, really. If you asked me again in a month, I’d say different ones, so I can’t just limit it to five. Just off the top of my head, these movies would be somewhere in my Top Whatever list: I think Raiders of the Lost Ark, How to Train Your Dragon, The Incredibles, Empire Strikes Back, The Proposition, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fist of Legend, In the Mood for Love, Sense & Sensibility, Walkabout, The Lives of Others, and Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East?

Bad movies are really hard to rate for me. Most truly bad movies are bad for so many reasons that it’s not even funny.

I don’t get too bent out of shape about movies like Transformers 2 or Clash of the Titans, even; those aren’t nearly as bad as their detractors say — they just bore me, because I don’t think the action is interesting enough, or whatever.

The single worst movie I’ve ever seen was one called Lana’s Rain. It was independently produced by some Chicago filmmakers, and it was about two refugees from the Bosnia war moving to Chicago and trying to make their way here but stumbling into every late-night cable cliché you can dream of. There was no real plot — it was just a series of bad shit happening.

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Thanks, Gordon!  Looking forward to another five years of fun at Multiplex.

You can read Multiplex at – http://www.multiplexcomic.com/

Or check out our own Shane Woodis’s (surprisingly positive for him) review of Multiplex here – http://ingenre.com/2009/11/multiplex/

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About the Author

Jim Yoho is the owner of In Genre, Wausau Comics, and JAY Entertainment and he maintains the site as well as adding the occasional article or review of his own. He often goes by Merin online, from way back in the BBS days of dial-up modems even. Having enjoyed writing reviews and postings for other sites he decided to start his own where he combined his creative urges to write and create web comics (such as Episode Fun and Alistair & Arthur) with his long-held desire to bring together and organize talented people for joint projects. The end result is that you get the Wausau Comics site - articles and reviews of genre entertainment at In Genre plus some web comics and links to the works of other Contributors, too!