For this Web Comic of the month, we have one for all the computer nerds out there. Heidi, Geek Girl Detective, by Raymond Pompon, features an IT (Information Technology) professional named Heidi. At the beginning of our story she’s employed at a large Seattle area company. She’s the network guy, and as such has to handle lost emails, computer problems, etc. From there she gets into all kinds of adventures that make for one interesting mystery.
Identity theft, password cracking, e-mail eavesdropping, network worms, computer sabotage, booby-trapped software, digital piracy, online kiddie-porn trafficking, cyber-stalking, revenge hacking, and cyber-crime cartels. Life in the Internet age is murder.
Spending your days in front of a screen, clicking away on a keyboard and mouse isn’t the most glamorous vocation around. It can, however, be quite intriguing, as it is for our geek girl, Heidi. Here in the real world, there has been a rash of cases recently involving some large corporations and government agencies having their systems broken into by hackers (or wanna-be hackers, depending on your perspective). Heidi, Geek Girl Detective presents a story of what can happen when that world collides with real people.
This strip got me right off the bat. I remember my first time on the site I spent a long time reading Heidi’s adventures. I just couldn’t stop, I had to get to the next installment to find out what happened. What’s more, I really like Heidi. Pompon paints her as a real person, someone you might actually find in an IT department somewhere, toiling away in a room surrounded by whirring machines. She’s a strong character, who has no delusions about what’s right and what isn’t. There aren’t any super powers. There aren’t any scantily clad women. There is a good, clean, mystery.
So, let’s talk to the man behind the woman. Raymond and I got together over email to chat about Heidi, dueling tech gurus, and the weather in Seattle (which, by the way, I love).
Comic Attack: Are you married? Does your wife like Heidi, Geek Girl Detective?
Raymond Pompon: Yes. Did she like it? Ha, there’s a story. When we first started dating, Heidi was still a manuscript. Beyond my writing coach and a few other writers, she was the first to see the raw story. She had a few constructive criticisms about the character, which incorporated… basically to make her a little more palatable and accessible outside the geek realm.
CA: Do you remember the first comic you ever read?
RP: Hmm. I read a lot of the old Warren comic collections of The Spirit as a young kid. Eisner was definitely a big influence on me.
CA: What was the first comic that you created?
RP: Hmmm. I did the occasional comic for the school paper in Junior High. And a lot of doodles for my friends. Never did a cohesive comic story until Heidi.
CA: How often do you update the strip?
RP: Hah. I’ve been on hiatus for some time now…. dealing with the birth of my son (no, I haven’t had 8 consecutive hours of sleep in months) but ideally, once a week. When I get back into it to finish off the current story line, I’ll probably do weekly updates and then take another break while I get a new project off the ground.
CA: How did you come up with Heidi?
RP: In real life, I kind of do what Heidi does… I used to be a security consultant and saw a lot of crazy things. At some point, I wanted to share those stories in an interesting way, but still give me enough room for plausible denial. I was also a budding writer and you know what they say – write what you know.
CA: Why a comic set in the IT world?
RP: At the time I wrote it, it was a world that I thought was never really been well represented in media. Most novels and movies so greatly exaggerated or warped what goes in the tech world, especially around hacking and security, that I wanted to share the real story. And the real story is weird and interesting enough that it doesn’t need exaggerating.
CA: Are the characters in the comic based on people in your life?
RP: Oh my, yes. Heidi herself is a mashup of a half-dozen tech women I’ve known in my career.
CA: Have we seen your work anywhere else?
RP: Not likely but it’s out there. For a long time, I worked with the Richard Hugo House (a literary center in Seattle) and produced quite a few “Heidi-like” things for them. Here’s a radio interview I did that pre-dates Heidi (but you can see the seeds of Heidi growing in it).
I was also recently invited by the comic great David Lasky to participate in a Superman “jam session” to create a fake Superman fanzine called Rocket from Krypton for a recent performance. I contributed a fake Superman fanfic story where I gender-bended Lex Luthor (can’t get away from those smart women). Here’s the link to a review of the overall show.
CA: What do you do when you’re not creating Heidi’s next geeky adventure?
RP: Chasing my three year old, feeding my newborn and keeping the Internet safe from evil hax0r-types. The kids just hit the sack, so I have a tiny slice of time to answer all these questions. Otherwise…
CA: What are your goals for Heidi, Geek Girl Detective? Other comic related goals?
RP: I’ve got about a dozen more Heidi stories to tell (to date, I’ve only told three). I’ve got her whole career arc planned out, also with more stories about her past (how she met FCB, her teen years, etc). Biggest pain for me is drawing… takes me 40 to 60 hours to do a chapter. I can write faster than I can draw.
Also, for the past year or so, I’ve been working on a new series about a secret brigade of cosmonauts who fought the cold war in space back in the 60’s. It’s kinda like X-files meets Apollo 13.
CA: What do you use to make your strip? Hardware, Software, gadgets? Why?
RP: Wacom tablet (because it’s faster than drawing on paper) into Photoshop then a bunch of shell scripts to convert files and post them. All on a Mac.
CA: What’s your creative environment like? Noise, silence, day, night, what?
RP: I write and draw best in a crowded coffee shop. The first draft was written at night over a period of three months in a favorite coffee shop of mine. I was rummaging around for the name of my main character when I realized the woman serving me my fix had the perfect name for a character. I also stole Heidi’s Monroe piercing from her. My old writing coach said that we have to obey our muses and apparently my muse is a coffee shop.
CA: Do you have any tips for aspiring web comic creators in our audience?
RP: Write. Produce the work. Writing and art is a skill. The more you do it, the better you get. And have an open mind to criticism. All feedback is valuable… even if they’re saying the wrong thing. Something in your work prompted them to speak up. Listen. And then go back and keep working.
CA: You’re given the chance to do a mini-series for any character from comic history. Who do you choose? Why?
RP: I already got a chance to do a little Superman story. I’d love to do a Batman piece. One where he really flexes his World’s Greatest Detective muscles.
CA: Person you’d love to get the chance to work with on a comic?
RP: Wow, huge list. Right now in my study, I’m staring above my screen at an original framed art page from Finder, so today, I’ll pick Carla Speed McNeil.
CA: Your life is in serious danger and you need a bodyguard. You can choose anyone from comics history to be responsible for your safety. Who would it be?
RP: Well, I wouldn’t pick Heidi, that’s for sure. Heh, if you’ve read more than half of “No One Knows You’re a Dog”, you’d know why.
CA: What’s your favorite comic book right now?
RP: Loving what Grant Morrison has done with Batman. Also same with what Rucka did with Batwoman (too bad he moved on).
CA: Favorite comic movie?
RP: I’m having a real hard time coming up with one. I guess I like the original Superman movie.
CA: Who’d win in a battle royal between Heidi, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates?
RP: Heidi. Easily. One thing about her, she is relentless and fearless. Which billg is also, but Heidi also has meaner friends and she knows how to fight dirty.
CA: What’s the one book you’d want to have if stranded on a deserted island?
RP: Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Currently reading it now and I figure it’d take months to finish. Plenty of rich and slow reading to make it last on a deserted island.
CA: And finally, how would you convince me to leave my sunny Florida home and move to the Seattle area?
RP: I’ve been to Florida. It’s hot there. Heat like walking on a waffle griddle. And then it rains so hard that you can’t even speak. It’s not like that here. It rains, sure. But it’s a moody rain. A rain that sets you to being creative. A rain that lends atmosphere.
You mean you don’t have 100 degree summers, too? Well, I think I could get into the idea of working from a coffee shop.
Thanks so much for your time Ray!
Use the links below to check out Heidi’s adventures.