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Matt Richtel responds to possible character death

Earlier this month we discussed the news that a Rudy Park character might die, or not, depending on reader response. The conversation devolved and eventually was shutdown. Matt Richtel (who pens the strip under the name Theron Heir) has sent me a response to the issue. I think his point of trying to adapt one’s strip to a new consumer era that expects to be able to participate, comment, evangelize, or become a community (my description of today’s world, not his) is one I wish had come up in the original thread. I post his comment in hopes of re-engaging in a civil discussion about their experiment.

Darrin and I have been experimenting with ways to connect with our audience. but we have done so always with a bedrock commitment to staying true to the character, spirit and tone of the strip. Our story lines come always from a visceral understanding of who our characters are, and what our universe is about — understanding we’ve developed over a decade of living with Rudy Park. The plot is, in this respect, totally organic and does not, and never has, started with the concept: can we do something conceptual out of synch with the spirit of the strip? I would consider it an intense personal betrayal to “use” my characters in a way not consistent with who they are.

Truth be told, we had no intention of killing of Sadie — or little expectation we would (you never know what muse will wind up striking). But we did like the idea of connecting to readers, hearing their voices. In a much more meager way, we were doing what Springsteen does when he gets on stage before a concert and screams “is anyone out there ALIVE tonight?”

I think the digital era avails us of all kinds of new ways of interacting with readers, and I think that rolling with the technology is just a part of the evolution of art. As creators, we are following where medium and story-line and passion and muse intersect. What is art? To me, it is a heartfelt and bare expression of emotion and passion. If we’ve found a way to be true to ourselves and move and inspire readers — which, incidentally, we very much did as evidenced by the strong outpouring of letters — than I’d call that a good day of creating.

When it comes to artistic integrity — and personal integrity — I know of no one more principled than Darrin. Period. I hope he would feel the same way about me. We’ve tried to create in Rudy Park a strip that speaks to who we are, and how a fictional world that has become very real to us has evolved. We’ve long since understood we can’t control nor can be largely motivated by the commercial implications.

Finally, as to the commentor who asked why I use my pen name, “Theron Heir,” as opposed to my real name, “Matt Richtel,” I’d just say that my pen name is essential a vestigial one. It was borne for a reason, and served a purpose at that time (to keep different parts of my life separate). I see no harm in continuing its existence, and it is neither here nor there from my perspective.

Thanks for listening.

Theron/Matt

Community Comments

#1 Mike Witmer
July/22/2008
@ 1:45 pm

Right on.

#2 Jim Lavery
July/22/2008
@ 8:16 pm

Hey, let’s start the conversation all over again!!

Then we can vote on killing it again!

#3 Eric Burke
July/23/2008
@ 7:03 am

Was Brian Hobbes really Fran151 arisen from the grave of old Toon Talk threads? Wow…I had stopped reading that thread and didn’t realize what it had devolved to.

I vote to kill off Theron Heir. If you write as Theron Heir, but do your interviews under your real name, whatâ??s the point of using pen name when peeps know your real name?

And it is kinda a weak attention getterâ?¦

Since Matt alluded to my original post, I wanted to repost it and clarify my POV. I can understand that in the beginning the pen name served a purpose, and if I remember correctly, when no one knew who Theron Heir really was, there was intrigue online as to who he really was and that added something to Rudy Park. Now we know who Theron Heir is, and I just think the name has outlived it’s purpose.

I think that unless you’re trying to stay anonymous(especially for flaming fellow posters), either online or in print, pen names serve no purpose. Of course I posted as Throbbin’ Johnny for years online, and still occasionly do in my SFR thread, so what do I know?

And in terms of potentially killing off Sadie as “a weak attention getter”, I just don’t think that Rudy Park needs to resort to something like that. The writings always been sharp, and the art’s always been fun to look at. I’ve been reading Rudy Park almost since day 1 and the strip is better than this, that’s all I was saying.

BUT…if this death poll generates more interest from readers and even newspapers then good for Matt and Darrin. I hope Rudy’s serving coffee for many years…

#4 Darrin Bell
July/23/2008
@ 12:53 pm

Or, you can hold a conversation about making print comics more interactive. Just sayin’…

#5 Antonio
July/23/2008
@ 1:31 pm

I already do that check out my strip “Off the Hook”
@ barkthecat.blogspot.com

#6 Darrin Bell
July/23/2008
@ 1:58 pm

How?

#7 Norm Feuti
July/23/2008
@ 3:59 pm

I totally agree that print comics can and should be taking advantage of the internet when they can. Newspaper cartoonists especially should take advantage of any creative edge they can come up with in this extremely tight market.

That was my thinking when I launched http://www.coopersretailblog.com. It’s a great way to interact with fans of my strip in a fun and entertaining way. It helps to keep my audience engaged and also keeps them aware of other projects I’m working on. It’s been over a year now since Cooper’s Blog launched and I’ve built up a decent web audience with it.

What Theron and Darrin are doing makes complete sense to me. I think you’d be insane NOT to take advantage of the web.

#8 Anne Hambrock
July/24/2008
@ 10:15 am

There is a big difference between trying to interact with readers and catering to readers. The point I am taking from Matt’s comments is that he and Darrin are very interested in interacting with readers and hearing where they are coming from but are not interested in catering to the whims of readers that may not jibe with the creative essence of the strip or its characters.

We all know there’s also a huge difference between legitimate heartfelt feedback and mindless snarky postings. When Berke Breathed said in that recent interview that he stays away from the internet and salon etc. I could completely relate. I think the best place for true interaction comes from ones own site – like the blog of Norm and many others . In my experience the snarking is worst on sites that are considered “neutral territory” . It takes a lot more nerve to act like that on the official site of the strip.

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