A webcomic creator is never far from his audience. Whether it’s through social media, public email addresses, Discord servers, or simply the comments section at the bottom of a page, there’s a connection and conversation that’s unique to the environment. We’re continuing those conversations here, albeit a little more formally, by interviewing webcomic creators to pick their brains about their craft, stories, and personal experiences with the medium.
Ben Fleuter is a recognized mainstay of webcomics, with a bibliography spanning many platforms and eras of modern webcomics. Arguably his most iconic work, the WEBTOON series Sword Interval was completed in 2018. Four years later, he is starting his new project, The Beekeeper’s Tale, a high fantasy series.
What inspired the book?
Ben Fleuter: I’ve been wanting to do, I don’t know, “high fantasy,” for lack of a better term, for a while. Expanding landscapes, overgrown fantastic ruins, clashing armies, all with more mythic undertones. The Beekeeper’s Tale is a chance for me to do all that. I think a lot of inspiration – both tone and style – comes from that The Dark Crystal, The Hobbit, “Final Fantasy IX” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”. Oh and from decades of playing fantasy TTRPGs.
After finishing a project during the Sword Interval, are there any major changes you’d like to make to how you run your next webcomic?
BF: Yeah, I sure knew I didn’t want to do something as long or involved as “Sword Interval”, haha. Sure, I’m saying it now, but these things always end up taking longer than intended. But yes, I wanted a project that would be a less intense commitment. Since the “Sword Interval” ended, I went through a very difficult time in my life. I thought it would be healthy to do the next project at my own pace. For this purpose, this time I decided to be independent for “Ariçi” instead of publishing with WEBTOON. It feels good to have my own website and make my own update schedules again.
What came to you first? A design for a beekeeper, or this story about the broken sword of the God of War?
BF: Interesting question! I guess technically the broken sword plan came first. This whole scenario – and its twists and turns – is something I’ve lived with for years. The Beekeeper character and his arc on the other hand came to me a year ago (I couldn’t sleep at 4am if I remember). I knew he had to be chosen to go on a great journey, and it turned out to be a perfectly executed sword scenario. I write like this most of the time. Lots of different half-formed characters, scenarios, and scenes toss around, eventually pulling together and coalescing into something more solid.
Between Parallel Dementia, Sword Interval, and The Beekeeper’s Tale, you have three different fantasy series. So how would you describe the difference in genre and aesthetic for this new series?
BF: Wow, you remember “Parallel Dementia”, right? You know, I didn’t realize until you asked me that Tale of the Beekeeper was the first webcomic that didn’t take place on Earth. This is interesting. Genre-wise, yes, it’s going to be a bit more of a fairy tale. The logic of the world is a bit more storybook and fantastical, while the aesthetic is more stylized and low-tech than my previous projects.
Even in the first few pages of the series, you’ve focused on creative ways to present the book, especially the handling of panels and details. How do you challenge yourself creatively in a project?
BF: Hey bye. Yes, I am very happy especially with the first page. The rest of the comic won’t cover the infinite canvas that much – I plan to publish that book one day – but sometimes it’s fun to use such a medium to one’s advantage. I can’t say I’m doing these specifically for the challenge or to lean on. It’s more like, sometimes I want to go into a hundred-page car chase between dozens of characters, or a giant isometric dungeon, or a battlefield with hundreds of corpses, and it’s like, “There! I guess that’s my next weeks, months, years, etc.! And then okay yeah, if I take it out, maybe I’ll bend over a little bit.
What are some essential fantasy comics in your opinion?
BF: For webcomics, I’d have to say Rice Boy, Slay Six Billion Demons, and Ophiuchus. Oh, and I recently read On Earth Shattering Blows and I can’t recommend it enough. Great webcomic. For print, I know it’s predictable, but Hellboy and its spinoffs are so good in terms of mood and pacing.
Your landing page has a lot of mollusk-based designs among the soldiers, which made me wonder how you approach design and different styles in a fantasy book like this.
BF: There are many groups in “The Beekeeper’s Tale” and I want to distinguish them from each other as if they belong to the same world. I also want to avoid The Beekeeper’s Tale like a generic D&D setting, but not go too far and be too outlandish or wacky. Thus, each faction loosely fits the garden theme to both inspire and constrain the designs. For example, snails and slugs versus weeds and thorns at the entrance. From there, some small details can reveal more about the faction. For example, the snail army has fur and gold-flecked armor because they come from a cold region with access to rich ore.
Who were your biggest influences when you got into comics, and do you think they are a strong factor in your art now?
BF: God, when I first got into comics? “Invader Zim” by Conan Vasquez, “Hellsing” by Kouta Hirano and “Hellboy” by Mike Mignola. But I started out in communities full of other aspiring comic creators, and I think we all influenced each other quite a bit—perhaps more than any professional. I think that’s where a lot of my desire to do it still comes from—talking shop with other creators, seeing the new work that’s always coming out, and being fascinated with other people.
You can find The Beekeeper’s Tale on Ben Fleuter’s new site here.