Webcomic Artist SrGrafo Talks About His Art, Game Development And Why So Many Of His Creations Wind Up As Memes
ebcomic artist Andre Rojas, who goes by the moniker “SrGrafo” online, has made quite a name for himself by carving out a corner of the internet with his recognizable style of comics. Though he’s been at it since he was just a kid, Rojas has grown a large following and community over the last couple of years by approaching his art through a humble and relatable lens. Aside from his original works, many of the comics he creates are later transformed into various meme formats, helping to further spread his renown to new subcultures online. We caught up with him to ask about how he got his start in the crowded world of webcomics, learn about his rapid rise to success and attempt to discern what it is that makes his comics so memeable.
Q: Hey there, Andre. Thanks for getting back to us about the interview. Well first things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: Hey! First of all, sorry for my English is not the best, so if I say something that is not properly placed, it’s not my intention. I'm from South America. There is really not much to say about me as a person, I was the guy in the class that would be drawing instead of paying attention, making games and things on paper, I don't consider myself an introvert, however, I didn't go out that much since nothing was more fun than drawing all day and playing games at home. I don't have that many photos of me (except baby photos), but this is one of the oldest pics I could find of when I was younger, as you can tell, was pretty much just an average guy (still are, to be honest).
Q: So when did you first get into drawing and what sort of background do you have in art? Any major influences early on?
A: I think it was my mom. I loved drawing ever since I can recall, but it was she who’d buy paper and pencils for me. For many years, I used to steal paper from her desk whenever I ran out of it but was too embarrassed to ask for it. She used to buy the big packages of white paper and something about seeing so much paper always fascinated me. This is around the time I found a deep interest in all the kinds of pencils and pens that there are (one would believe there’s only one kind, but damn no, there are so many!). So basically, I always had two pens in my pocket and was drawing all the time. My mom thought it would be nice to keep my drawings, so it's actually all saved in a big chest, thousands of shitty drawings from different ages. Also, these were the years where I ruined a lot of my mom’s books in order to learn animation.
Q: What about webcomics or comics in general? How’d you get started with that and what were some of your earliest works focused on?
A: I actually forgot about a lot of this until this question made me go back to open that chest of drawings, spent like an hour checking those, and can confirm that younger me didn't have a life -- there is so much there. It seems like my SrGrafo doodle style was mixed with a lot of my early attempts at anime/manga style. The comedy and storytelling are amazing for a young person -- just kidding it’s absolute garbage [laughs]. But I can admire the dedication of making so much, I kind of feel sad I spent my childhood drawing this much instead of doing other things.
Q: You originally started “SrGrafo” on DeviantArt back in 2010. Can you tell us where the name came from, and what sort of artwork you were primarily doing initially?
A: If you want a more detailed version, I did a comic explaining the origin of the name in an EDIT here. DeviantArt was where I spent time focusing on learning anime-style drawing, animation and managing communities. It's long-forgotten, but, back in the day, created one of the most active roleplaying communities in it, “Da-Fight.” It was a place where I drew the characters of other people and created events and activities for them. No other group had someone drawing for people, less free. It's in these years when I found that I really enjoy drawing for other people, even the very first concept of EDITS can be seen in these old posts.
Q: After that, you then started the SrGrafo account on Reddit in 2012. Were you active there beforehand or only after creating this account? What was the goal when you shifted over to Reddit?
A: I didn't really use Reddit for anything other than checking an article here and there. After some time, I did post some art in it -- I think got 45 upvotes, but that's it. The only main thing I did was to contact people to see if someone would want to partner up to make a game with me. At the end of 2018, I was doing some comics but didn't really take the “SrGrafo” as a character, it was just some rants here and there. SrGrafo as a character started in January 2019 (that's also around the time I started to number the comics).
Q: During those earlier days on Reddit, you also posted lots of artwork for your indie game “RpVoid.” Could you tell us more about the game and how that came to be?
A: This is really an old story. I think it started when I learned how to use MS Paint on PC. I would start making trees, bushes, suns, clouds, etc. My goal was to make some kind of editor so when someone wants to make a painting, they could take and copy the pieces I created (this is back when I was very young). Over the years, I kept doing it over and over, improving with time, learning pixel art and constantly experimenting. I would create a whole canvas and let people ask me to manually place furniture in their rooms. With each request, I’d update it all, then later make a better version where each person could manually edit their houses. Later, we found that we could make it even better, so we started making a big server in Minecraft where people could still edit their houses in the world we were making (this is what we did in that DeviantArt roleplaying group I mentioned, no Fing wonder we got so much activity back in the day, creating editors and constant content all the time).
Eventually, I found that no matter what I did, being a guest on a website was always insanely limited, so I did what any rational person would do and moved the game into its own website. By this time, it got renamed to “RpVoid” (a RolePlaying Void, where anyone could create anything). I did find a partner, and we started working on it. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not taking seriously some of the red flags my partner showed (I legitimately thought he would be joking half of the time), but it turns out I was working with a person that suffered from paranoia and some heavy pathological lying tendencies. He was constantly mentioning that the government was gonna shut us down, that Google was gonna fail, that we were being watched, etc, etc. It was hard to imagine he wasn't joking, but the problem came when the development of RpVoid started to take weeks to months of no progress because “the government was watching” (and so much more BS that it's for another talk).
I remember every so often while we were working on the game, I’d constantly asked him how much would he charge for it (this is when we were friends), but as things were added, he reached a point and said that it’s a solid $3,000 project (he counted his hours worked/etc.). A year later, I told him that I wanted to separate. I offered $3,500 so he would give me the source code, and we would be no longer working together. I remember stating that, in his own words, “the game is worth $3,000,” so for the remaining friendship we had, and small polishes in that year, I’d give him $3,500. He laughed and insulted me, then he said that he is willing to sell me the source code for $10,000-12,000 minimum. I said “go fuck yourself” and shut down the website since I owned it (it seemed like the reasonable thing to do with this asshole). We were supposed to make a 50/50 income of that game, but it was just me pulling the train and keeping the community active. He would disappear for months, and talking with him was always a dreadful experience. Not gonna lie, it was one of the most frustrating days in my life. Two years of work removed in one click, but I knew it was the best decision -- anything that has a bad foundation is doomed to fail.
After that, I started taking coding classes in an institute, as my only goal in life at that point was to make RpVoid, and if code was stopping me, it was time to learn it. I’m not gonna lie, learning to code was awesome, and it also helped me to understand a lot of what was going on in the background of the screen. From time to time, I got stuck, so I would visit Stack Overflow and similar sites to find the problem. Eventually, I joined a couple of Discord servers since it was easier to find help there. One day, I posted about a specific problem I had and someone from the servers contacted me to assist in that problem (coders are insanely helpful with other people). It helped me solve things as I learned, however, it was noticeable that something that took me weeks to make (and was buggy), he was able to do in just five minutes. Eventually, he asked what was the thing I was working on, so I told him the story of what happened from beginning to end. Turns out it did call his attention, and now we are two years into the development of RpVoid. I went back to doing full art, and he does full code -- and yes, I did spend some weeks checking if he had some mental problems like the last person I worked with, but he turned out pretty normal, and we make a great team overall. I'm sorry it's a long story, but the short version is -- all I wanted is to make the tools for people to create their worlds and stories, from those years with MS Paint to what we have now.
Q: Was there a certain post or point in time where you noticed your account was starting to pick up steam or build a fanbase? Was there a specific post or anything that led to you making the decision to focus on a certain type of content?
A: Well, my first Rimworld comic, it wasn't even aimed at the Rimworld subreddit, it was a complaint I made on their forums and someone told me, “Hey, you should post this on Reddit.” It was huge -- over 3,400 upvotes. I still didn't really use Reddit that much, but yeah, that was the point where some people in the Rimworld community noticed me.
Q: So as the years rolled by and you sort of became this famous Redditor people looked out for, did that popularity have any major impacts on you as an artist or did you just keep doing your thing without paying much attention to it?
A: Well if you keep drawing the same character over a year, it happens that you get better and better at drawing it. Even if it's just a doodle, if you compare it to the early versions of it, now it's way more polished. About the content I produce, it really didn't change, it's mostly all rants and annoyances I experience on a daily basis.
Q: Presently, your Reddit account is up to over 6 million karma and your subreddit has over 66,000 members. What do you think is the “secret sauce” behind your content, and were you surprised by the response you received there since 2012?
A: Not so many people realize this, but the comics are not really meant to be funny on its own. I don't really consider myself a funny person. The reason the comics work is because they are setups. It's not about the post, it's about having fun with people in the comments. I can’t create a master joke, but I sure as hell can draw people and have fun with them. At the end of the day, the people that comment under my comics are fucking hilarious. I love the things they come up with, so I draw them and put them in the spotlight so other people can see their comments in drawings -- that’s the whole point of the EDITS [a new, follow-up comic referencing the comment section from users].
I noticed over time people started to make their own EDITS, other users saying that they will draw comments or even make GIFs/videos of the comments. It’s great, but the problem is they stop after some days, for obvious reasons too. They weren’t doing it because they were having fun, they were doing it because someone else was doing it. What I'm trying to say is, whatever thing it is that you like doing -- singing, painting, running, drawing silly doodles -- if you keep doing it every day (every fucking day), and not because you want to impress someone or because it’s a chore, but purely because you enjoy doing it, then it’s gonna get you somewhere. That’s the secret. People follow determination, even if it's silly. If you can keep yourself motivated doing the thing you love, once you look back, there will be an audience. Don't be afraid to show that thing you like doing (p.s. This does not apply to drugs).
Q: When you’re coming up with new ideas for your webcomics, how do you settle on a particular topic or subculture, and how do you keep things from going stale?
A: I mostly rant a lot about things, that's where the ideas come from. Sometimes while doing a comic, I rant about other things, so I write it down on a notepad to revisit later (maybe later it's not as annoying as it is now). I have been doing that since last year, and now the notepad is huge. Weirdly enough, I don't really use old rants, because, by the time I'm doing another comic, I have more new rants. So I just keep piling on the notepad. About Reddit, I learned a couple more things over time. One is to never stay on the same subreddit for more than two posts. You gotta lay low, visit, say your thing and swim away quietly. This is because people notice when someone is around often, especially other posters. This same rule goes for the front page, you do not want to be on the front page every day, because now all of Reddit is seeing you, and by all of Reddit, I also mean the people that don’t enjoy your content. I noticed that when you stay too often on the front page, people who get angry about you tend to bundle faster. But if you phase yourself and decide to be there only from time to time, people that dislike you don't mind you that much. I consider that a healthier way to grow over time, rather than being on the front page every day.
Q: Do you work as an artist full-time now, or is it more like a side gig? What do you enjoy the most about this career and what are some of the biggest challenges?
A: Well I'm drawing all day. A piece of the day goes to comics, another to Chloe, and finally, the rest of the time to RpVoid. So it's kind of a full-time thing. What I enjoy the most is having complete freedom on what I want to say. When I worked as a graphic designer, it was zero percent creativity and 100 percent just doing shitty logos and marketing designs for companies you couldn’t care less about. But on Reddit, I can make a post about the things I like or complain about things I personally dislike. That freedom of choice is what I enjoy the most.
The biggest challenge, of course, is dealing with people that don’t like you. There are one or two per day, and sometimes I try to talk with them, but only one of every 10 actually turns out to be a cool person that understands my point of view after talking and we end on a happy conversation. The other nine just jump into parroting the same insults that after a year really lost their meaning. When I started, it was kind of stressful to deal with this. I learned that everything you say is public, even if it’s a private message, so you basically lose a lot of that anonymity that most people enjoy. Sometimes I read a dumb comment and I want to flip that person off, but if I do that, there’s gonna be a post of someone playing the victim and misconstruing what I say to make me look like an asshole -- and boom, now I have to deal with dozens of people firing drama. So yeah, it was stressful, but I learned over time to deal with that kind of person (basically, you don't feed them).
Q: Given the level of success and renown SrGrafo has, does anyone ever approach you to use your account for advertising or promotional purposes?
A: Yes, Instagram pages, people that want to promote games, even subreddits that want me to talk about them so they get the spotlight. I turn them all down, I'm just not interested in helping anyone use me for growing their clout. If I'm gonna help advertise a game or a product, it has to be something I personally enjoy and truly believe is worth talking about (like Reddit dark mode, seriously people, use it, it’s insanely good).
Q: Outside of your own webcomics, who are some of your favorite artists doing similar work? Do you ever collaborate with anyone?
A: Well, here comes the part where I say, “Never meet your heroes.” My favorite comic artist also happens to use Reddit … and also happens to know about me. Basically, he has been throwing shade and insults hidden in his comics aimed at me. I have a solid idea of why that is though. It took him around 10 years to get to where he is now, and in less than a month, I was also there. I personally still enjoy his content, as a matter of fact, it's the only comic artist that makes me genuinely laugh, but I wouldn't shake his hand (little funny thing, he even tried to do the drawing comments after I did that and, well, turns out he stopped. I wonder why?). About collaboration, oh yeah, I did a lot of those last year, not so many lately. I kind of distanced myself from the other artists a bit, but I might do more collabs this year.
Q: As you know, tons of your comics eventually get repurposed into various meme formats and templates. Is this something you enjoy or is it something you’d rather people not do with your work? Can you recall the first one this happened to?
A: If they make a good meme, of fucking course I love it. When they do shitty memes, I die a little inside. There is this one comic [Lazy Upvote] that I regret doing so much. I only did it because that's how I felt about Reddit articles. We don't really read them because we are lazy, we just see the title, read some comments, and assume we know what the article is about. In other words, “I don't know if that's true, but I'm too lazy to check, so take my upvote.”
A group of people grabbed that meme and connected it with 69/420/nice, and dear F lord. I hate it so much because I don't find the 69/nice joke funny at all (it was funny when Southpark did it, many years ago with the “Niceee,” but it’s no longer funny to me). About the first meme ever done from my comics, yeah, it was from one of my first comics when I'm standing on a rock and telling people that I don't like The Witcher 3 Preaching to the Mob.
I remember later that day someone linked me an image using only four panels of the original comic, and they were reorganized. I was really confused, especially later when I saw it was a meme [format], since I was under the impression that (and I'm not even joking) the people who created meme templates were part of some kind of Illuminati shenanigans society. When I was little, it was never clear [to me] who kept making new memes -- even those old Rage Comics -- I just never knew who actually did those. Thank god you guys exist, so I can easily find the source of memes and everything about them. But yeah, I did grow thinking that “well, no one never knows who makes them,” so it was quite a revealing moment to go from that to “oh, so anyone can, k.”
Q: Do you ever intentionally create comics thinking they’ll become memes, or does that sort of happen more organically?
A: Most of the comics I do are easily memeable because of the way I express the characters or my ideas, so they’re naturally easy to meme. Last year, someone told me that it would be fun to have a contest where I make a meme [format] and they create their versions, so I did it. The 10 users that wanted to play posted back [laughs]. It was super fun, so we decided to do it again a week after. Things kept going, and now it's actually a tradition in r/SrGrafo to do that. It's called the “Weekly Submission Challenge,” and every week I create a comic with empty bubbles or no text, and let users create their versions so I can check them on Fridays. After a while, I wanted to get back to telling stories, so for the past few months, every template is actually part of a connected linear story that users are starting to put together. It's quite fun. Once you see me with a beard, you will start seeing the story.
Q: Of these meme versions of your comics, what are some of your favorites? Have you ever made any yourself?
A: Oof, impossible to say which one is my favorite. There are tons, but I can tell you about the last one that got me laughing for half a minute [below].
Q: What about other memes outside yours? Do you consider yourself especially keen on meme culture, or is it not something you follow too closely?
A: I follow it really closely [laughs], trying to understand how things pick up is really interesting, but there are quite a lot of factors. For example, some time ago, YouTube recommended a video about Megamind and how it was an underrated masterpiece. If it wasn't the same day, it was the day after that people started memeing Megamind. It's easy to make the connection, and checking where it originates from is super interesting. So yeah, I do follow meme culture really closely. About enjoying them, well only the first time. After that, it becomes boring for me, and by that, I mean someone creates “the four wheels of a shopping cart meme” where one isn’t working. It’s fucking hilarious, but then you see every subreddit doing it, and they are only changing one bit to tailor it to them. So by that point (in my opinion), those are awful. But then you have the people that go meta and deconstruct the wheels to make a new, different joke about it, and it’s suddenly hilarious again … until the rest of the subreddits pick it and do one variation to ruin it again (like General Grievous getting a new lightsaber each day, I loved it, but then you see every subreddit doing the “I will add X thing every day,” and it goes from awesome to alright to ruined).
Q: Alright we’re gonna backtrack a little here. So we touched on this a bit earlier, but you also work as a game developer. How’d you get into that, and what types of games do you typically work on?
A: Well I have been doing games since I was very little, especially card games, as I mentioned a fascination for paper. I would fold and cut paper cards and make tons of games, we are talking before the time of Yu-Gi-Oh! popularity. But yeah, things on paper. I made city-builder games and other ones that allow the player to expand and play however they want, that excites me -- replayability and people being able to have their own input on a game. In high school, I had this game I played with a friend where we set the rules (income/taxes/population/etc.), and then over many days, we would fill giant papers with cities and politics. It was so fun, unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the big city we did because the principal took it away and thought we wanted to blow up the school or something since it was huge, graph-like built imagery on paper. My future project at the moment is still just RpVoid since that game covers all the things I enjoyed growing up and bundles it into one package. It's gonna take years of filling it with content, but it's definitely the game I want to work on.
Q: What else do you have planned for the future? How far do you think you can push SrGrafo, and what does the future hold for you?
A: Stories, not many people know about this, but I'm actually writing a comic series (it's in the same marshmallow-style of my comics, but a tiny bit more serious). I always enjoyed writing stories, so I can tell you that it's very likely the future of SrGrafo is gonna be about making those stories, and also creating stories in my game.
Q: Any final word or additional info?
A: To the people that want to support me, Patreon is the best way, or to check on my merch, which changes to new designs every Thursday. And finally, follow me on Reddit if you want to see how this grows over time. I don't have a fancy picture of me to end this, but I can leave you with a video of me dancing.
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May 12, 2020 at 08:08PM EDT
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