Getting to Know … Joe Dunn

Joe Dunn with finacee Yeo

Joe Dunn might just be
the hardest working man in webcomics. He regularly updates three comics on his website, Digital Pimp Online, and he recently wrapped up a fourth strip which he collaborated on with Mitch Clem.

It regularly takes him six to 10 hours a day to do these comics, which includes seeing movies and writing reviews for his popular strip, Joe Loves Crappy Movies. However, Dunn sees this time as an investment.

“I have to work hard now so I won’t have to work as hard later,” he said. “When I have to worry about things like kids and mortgage, I’m not going to want to do the comics. But I can stay up until two o’clock in the morning now finishing a strip.” And luckily for him, his fiancee Yeo is “a very understanding woman.”

Dunn now resides in New York City, but he is originally from South Jersey. His mother raised him and his older sister in the suburbs. To keep him entertained at a young age, his mom would have him draw. “My mom used to bring home stacks of paper and sit them down in front of me,” Dunn remembers. “She said it would just keep me busy all day long.”

Around sixth grade, his friend Phil Chan got him interested in comics. Dunn began emerging himself in the world of superheroes and action adventure titles. When he lost interest in one title, he would just move on to the next.

“Comics change so much. You’ll get attached to a certain run, the creators will change, the characters start to get a little boring, so I found myself jumping around a lot,” said Dunn. “Originally, it was all about the Uncanny X-Men. I found myself collecting everything.”

However, as he got older, his interests changed.

“Once I got into high school, I really got into Fantastic Four. There was a guy working on that book, John Byrne, who really rocked.”

Dunn was attracted to the more intelligent storylines and the scientific elements that were incorporated, and partnered with Chan to create their own superheroes and comics.

His interests again shifted when he went to Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City.

“When I got to college, I started to discover different kinds of comics, which also lead to the webcomics – less about superheroes and more about actual people,” Dunn said.

He also really enjoyed the atmosphere of studying art in the Big Apple.

“I had been to New York City for class trips and stuff, but actually coming here to live, and to study art in New York City is like nothing else. It’s the perfect place to throw yourself into that kind of atmosphere,” he said.

Fred the food critic being punched by Santa in Free Lunch

While at college, Dunn found a way of telling stories with just one picture and got into painting and collage work. But ultimately, this was where Dunn honed his craft.

“Art school is really about finding where your voice is,” Dunn said.

Dunn and Chan went on to create Digital Pimp Online, which features three of Dunn’s comics, Free Lunch, Matriculated and Joe Loves Crappy Movies.

Free Lunch is the story of Fred the food critic. The comic was originally started at the request of a family friend, who ran a food magazine and was looking to add a comic.

“I was really hesitant, but they made me do it,” Dunn remembers. “They dropped it after something like nine issues, but I kept it going.”

The comic has drifted off in some strange directions since its creation as Fred has had to take on an army of zombies and even an enraged Santa Claus.

Dunn began drawing Matriculated around the same time as Free Lunch. The comic, which is written by Chan, focuses on a group of friends in college. Dunn said it’s completely different kind of comic from his other work because it has a slow and steady pace to it. Dunn has also been very pleased with the response to the comic.

“I’m really proud to be a part of it because Phil is writing a beautiful story and I get a lot of credit because my name is on it for drawing it,” Dunn said.

He feels the same way about The Coffee Achievers, which was written by Mitch Clem of Nothing Nice to Say. Dunn was reluctant to get do the strip because he didn’t think he had the time, but Clem talked him into it. The story, which recently wrapped up, was a nine part epic about a group of friends who find their normal coffee hangout overrun by some supernatural forces.

“It’s the kind of story I’ve always wanted to be involved with, but it’s hard to visualize yourself,” Dunn said.

Even though the story is now finished, Dunn would love to bring the characters back for a Coffee Achievers Part II. “I think I’m really going to start pushing Coffee Achievers II, just because the fans really got into it. They were really passionate about it. That’s exciting as a creator to get emails from fans,” Dunn said. “I don’t want to kill it. At the same time, I wouldn’t want it to be an ongoing strip forever.”

Dunn also revealed plans to collaborate with Clem on another comic called Rain Dogs, which he said is “kind of like Serenity meets Water World.”

Artwork from Joe Dunn and Mitch Clem’s The Coffee Achievers

Dunn’s fourth strip is perhaps the most personal. Joe Loves Crappy Movies features him, his fiancee Yeo and his friend Irv as starring characters. Irv was a natural choice for Joe Loves Crappy Movies because “he loves Vin Diesel and no one else loves Vin Diesel.” Dunn writes comics based on the movies that he goes to see, then writes a review of the movie to go along with it. The comic was a natural evolution for him.

“I really love seeing really bad movies,” Dunn revealed. “When you find yourself sneaking out on a Sunday morning to catch a matinee of Flight of the Phoenix, you know there is a problem in your life.”

Dunn would go to see the movies with his friends, and they would discuss the movies afterwards, rating them from one to 10. From there, he began commenting on movies on message boards, posting his ratings and deciding whether or not the movies were “DVD worthy.” After about six months of wanting to turn his interest in movies into a comic, he finally did.

While the comic usually stays pretty true to real life and even occasionally features actual conversations he’s had with Irv or Yeo, Dunn isn’t afraid to branch out and have some fun with the storylines. Recently, after Dunn slandered George W. Bush in his comic for V for Vendetta, secret service agents rushed out and kidnapped him. For a month, Joe was replaced in the comic by a government agent named George. Dunn even wrote the movie reviews in character as George, giving an angry right-wing slant to the reviews.

“The more that I wrote it, I realized it was like Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, where he knows he’s saying crazy things and you know he doesn’t really believe it, but it’s funny that he’s saying it,” Dunn said.

Ultimately, Joe came back and confronted George, but Dunn said he plans on bringing the character back again someday.

In the future, Dunn hopes to branch out and review crappy DVDs, so that he can cover some of the greats like Road House. He would also like to do some print collections of his work. Whatever the future brings for Dunn, it should certainly be bright. He’s already witnessed big gains in readership.

“It’s definitely growing and it’s growing fast,” Dunn said. “I look back six months ago and compare where any of the strips were at that point and where they are now and it is a big leap. I’m sure a year from now, I’ll look back and these will seem like small numbers.”

Click to enlarge

Written by Joel Murphy, May 2006. Make sure to check out Joe Dunn’s work at Digital Pimp Online.

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