Interview: Talking #bythebones with Kristen Haas Curtis and Elizabeth Alley

#bythebones by Kristen Haas Curtis (@hellomizk)
#bythebones by Kristen Haas Curtis (@hellomizk)

Today, kids, I'm going to tell you about something that goes bump in the night.

It's a source of anxiety for artists and creators everywhere. It haunts us in our sleep. It sucks time into a void, and troubles even the strongest of cartoonists. Horror novels have been written about it, CBS crime dramas have been shown about it, Phoebe Judge spoke in her soothing tones about it. Yet still it is there, taunting and mocking us all...

That's right: the blank page.


Well, thanks to Kristen Haas Curtis and Elizabeth Alley, our horrors are over; #bythebones is a comics theme and process prompt game using dice and a print-out guide (download your copy here).

Comics prompts are nothing new. There's Inktober (in October, funnily enough), Hourly Comic Day (1st February, annually), and there are numerous 30-day drawing challenges found online. But, all of these are quite an intense undertaking if you have variables in your day. #bythebones is a low-pressure, fun and open way of making comics. I had a quick chat with the creators of #bythebones: Elizabeth Alley (@alleyelizabeth) and Kristen Haas Curtis (@hellomizk).

1. What made you want to create #bythebones?

EA: Kristen and I had played around with collaborating in some way, and it finally came together when our goals of making daily diary comics synched up - we had each individually committed/re-committed ourselves to making them. The idea of having prompts to start with was something we both thought would be helpful to our process. Kristen came up with the idea of randomizing the selections with dice - the "bones" part - and that made us want to share it as a game.

KHC: Elizabeth and I met in Barcelona at the Urban Sketchers Symposium a few years back and have kept in touch online since then. We had been talking for a while about finding a project we could work together on. We are both big believers in the value of making art regularly but also in keeping things playful, and coming up with a game seemed like the perfect way to combine these ideas and get other people involved. I find diary-keeping and comic-making to be extremely therapeutic and I am constantly encouraging other people to try it out. My hope was that approaching it as a game would help make the blank page less intimidating and make it easier for people to jump right in. I had been reading Lynda Barry's "Syllabus" and particularly loved her "Basic Quick Diary Format" (page 63) and started from there, looking for ways to mix it up and randomize/complicate it a bit more. It's a fantastic book and one I pick up quite often and flip through.

#bythebones by Elizabeth Alley (@alleyelizabeth)

2. What is your ideal roll?

EA: My most successful #bythebones comics have started with a 1: No panels. I like panels but I also like the freedom of no panels. Then another 1 or a 3, because even though the idea is for the prompts to change up the way you do things, I never dislike making a comic about seeing something or doing something. For the bonus roll I've had a lot of success rolling, again, a 1. Starting from the end is fun!

KHC: My favorite roll is probably 3,4 or 5,6 : four panels, something discovered or ignored, borrow lyrics from a song. I love four panel comics - I feel like they give me just enough space to develop an idea but not enough to drastically overthink it (one of my favorite pass-times), I love the way "something discovered or ignored" prods me to look a bit closer at my day (see previous parenthetical), and I enjoy working in song lyrics because there is always music running through my head, so it is fun to try and make connections. My "nightmare scenario" roll is 1, 2, 2!

3. With the success of the #bythebones hashtag, do you have any favourites to share with us?

EA: I get so much inspiration from seeing other people's #bythebones comics because they are all so original and so creative. I follow the #bythebones hashtag on Instagram and have started following a lot of people because of it. One person, @sketchkvetch, made her first diary comic with #bythebones, and that was lovely to see! And @leepost_art used #bythebones in comics classes for kids and for adults, which was an unexpected but amazing outcome of this collaboration.

KHC: I also follow the hashtag on Instagram and Twitter and it feels like magic every time I see someone else trying it out. I love how different the pages turn out and even more than that, I love how much fun people seem to have with it. I get giddy every time I see someone comment that they have never tried diary comics before but felt encouraged to try and enjoyed the process. A few favorites over on Twitter were @TeenyRobots @UnKuto @LuBellWoo @mollyanneart @BaubleRob @Kerstinlacross @monsterchzcomics - there were so many fantastic pages, it's really tough to choose! Elizabeth and I are planning to try another round in early March - we would love to see some more people participating as well!

Join in the fun using the hashtag #bythebones on Twitter. Let's go make some comics!