Interview: Bob Appavu

Today at 11 AM Pacific, we have something special. We’re interviewing Bob Appavu, creator of the Demon of the Underworld webcomic, cover designer and author in her own right.

I met Bob at the Dreamspinner Retreat and am so excited to interview her about her web comic and writing. This should be fun!

ABOUT BOB:

Bob Appavu is a freelance illustrator, webcomic creator, and author from the Chicago suburbs. Whether writing or drawing, her passion is creating plot-driven stories with complex LGBTQ lead characters.

Bob is an avid animal lover and can’t imagine life without furry and feathered housemates. When not at work, she’s either playing with a ferret, chatting with a bird, or refueling with a cup of tea.

ABOUT DEMON OF THE UNDERGROUND
(webcomic)

Pogo, a big-mouthed young thief from Chicago, falls through a hole in the ground and finds himself in a brutal underground world where survival is based on strength and intimidation. His only hope for escape is his telekinetic ability—and the help of a stray ferret named Annie.

In the underground, pride, brutality, and backstabbing are ways of life. Only the strong survive.

Pogo finds himself in the middle of a tug-of-war between the four underground spheres who want him for different—and often sinister—reasons. In order to survive, he allies himself with Jasper Samsid, King of the East Sphere. Samsid promises that if Pogo helps him rise to the top, he will allow Pogo to return to the surface. But will Samsid be true to his word? And does Pogo have the ability to move beyond the politics of the underground and form a true, loyal relationship with Samsid?

ABOUT DEVOTED: MERITT’S STORY
(written novel series about one of the webcomic’s supporting characters, available on Patreon):

In the underground’s North Sphere, low-ranking orphans are sold to the military, their lives signed away in thankless servitude. Merritt, an idealistic private, is destined to die in obscurity until a brash act of treason reveals his prodigious tactical skills, earning the attention of King Damen Mercury.

Mercury gives Merritt a second chance, opening doors into the North’s elite. With Merritt’s newfound power, he struggles to find the balance between serving the needy and pleasing his charismatic but cutthroat king. Mercury’s inner circle is within reach—but Belmont, Mercury’s right hand, sees Merritt as a threat and resolves to take him down.

To stay ahead of the cunning and manipulative Belmont, Merritt must bend the rules, compromise his values, and forge risky alliances. But as he gets closer to Mercury’s inner circle—and closer to Belmont—he’s forced to confront the true nature of servitude to his king.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Today at 11 AM Pacific, we have something special. We’re interviewing Bob Appavu, creator of the Demon of the Underworld webcomic, cover designer and author in her own right. I met Bob at the Dreamspinner Retreat and am so excited to interview her about her web comic and writing. This should be fun! Please hold your individual questions until the public session toward the end. Bob, are you here?

Shobana Appavu: Yes, I am!

J. Scott Coatsworth: Yay! So I’ve been excited to have you here since we met at the DSP Retreat in Sept. Why don’t you start by giving us a brief bit about who you are in life and in our publishing world?

J. Scott Coatsworth: (there’s also a bit of detail up above on the post)

Shobana Appavu: I’ve been excited to talk to you too! 😀 So, introductions. I’m Bob, and I’m a webcomic creator and author who mostly works in fantasy/scifi/LGBTQ genres. I’m trans, ace, and I love animals!

Shobana Appavu: I’ve been working on webcomics since about 2011, which was also the year I had my first novels published with Dreamspinner Press.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Preferred pronouns? Mine are He and His.

Shobana Appavu: For now I’m doing Bob and she/her. We’ll see where life takes me later, haha. But I do identify as trans male

J. Scott Coatsworth: Gotcha. 🙂 So… onto the questions. One of the reasons I asked you on is that we have a history of featuring queer speculative fic web comic creators, and Demon of the Underworld seems to fit the bill. What’s it about, in a few short sentences?

J. Scott Coatsworth: http://www.demonoftheunderground.com
DEMONOFTHEUNDERGROUND.COM
Demon of the Underground – A Webcomic

Shobana Appavu: Demon of the Underground is about Pogo, a super excitable bisexual half-demon, who falls through a hole into an underground world where he has to find a way to survive. The underground is run by four warring factions who are pretty brutal, and he’s the opposite of that. 🙂 He falls into the hands of Samsid, King of the East Sphere, who might possibly not be as brutal as his rivals. Samsid promises that if Pogo helps his sphere rise to the top, he can return to the surface.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Soooo many questions. 😛 First off, is Pogo you? (we always get asked how much we put of ourselves in our characters)

Shobana Appavu: Haha, Pogo is about as far from me as a character can get. I’m really more of a Samsid – kinda cynical, untrusting, ambitious, but still generally likes people. That said, there are definitely aspects of Pogo that I relate to…

Shobana Appavu: Mostly, he struggles to do good in a world that demands brutality from him. That’s definitely something I feel. And he hasn’t accepted the demon half of himself – the part of him that everyone labels as evil without even knowing him. I started DOTU long before I had the words to describe my own identity, but in my gut, I felt that aspect of a part of myself being labeled as “wrong.”

J. Scott Coatsworth: See, my impression of you was that you were smart, sweet, funny and kinda infectious. 😛

Shobana Appavu: Well, that makes me happy! Humans are walking contradictions. 🙂 I’m not so cynical or untrusting when I’m around awesome people!

J. Scott Coatsworth: *laughing * If there’s one thing I’ve learned from bingewatching the original Charmed, it’s that not all demons (especially half-ones) are bad. 🙂

Shobana Appavu: Haha, true! 😀

J. Scott Coatsworth: *fan boys * She just called me awesome! So what queer characters / diverse identities are included in DOTU?

Shobana Appavu: Some of them, like Samsid, haven’t been identified yet. Of the lead cast, Pogo is bi, Merritt is gay, Jordana is ace and also grapples with her gender identity. A pair of rival queens are lesbians, and Merritt’s former captain, who appears more prominently in Merritt’s Story (the side novel), is a trans woman. So, that’s a start. ^_^

J. Scott Coatsworth: That’s amazing. I love writing and reading stories that have a really diverse cast.

Shobana Appavu: Same, dude!

J. Scott Coatsworth: How about racial, ethnic, and mental/physical diversity?

Shobana Appavu: The underground has a lot of mixed race people, so specific ethnic identities are sometimes hard to pinpoint. But most do have a starting point. Samsid is black, Jordana is latinx/Indian. The Queens I mentioned previously are Japanese and Korean, Balbo (the trans general) is black/Indian.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Much like the world we live in.

Shobana Appavu: Yes. It’s also an area where I feel I can improve. I’m a person of color myself, and it’s been really difficult to give myself permission to write more characters of color, due to the way I was brought up to believe characters weren’t “supposed” to be that way.

Shobana Appavu: Chicago is a really diverse city, and the comic takes place in underground Chicago. I like trying to bring aspects of the city down into the underground, but there’s always room for more, I think!

J. Scott Coatsworth: Agreed. I think it’s good that we challenge ourselves to write both people like us, and people who are very different. But we also have to do so with great respect.

Shobana Appavu: Yes, true. It takes real investment to do justice to the characters and their identities.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Next question – do you do everything (writing, illustration, text) etc? Or do you have help? And for our webcomic creators out there, what apps, programs etc do you use?

Shobana Appavu: I do everything! It’s a handful, haha. I primarily create my webcomic in Photoshop, but I use Clip Studio for paneling and I model a lot of my interior/architectural environments in Blender. And I write my scripts in MS Word 🙂

J. Scott Coatsworth: Wait, I know that last one! LOL Did you have graphic arts training?

Shobana Appavu: Yes! I went to Ringling College of Art and Design. Interestingly, I went during the time that the industry was transitioning from traditional media to digital, so I only got very basic education in digital art, and none in 3D. In that respect, I’m more self-taught. But art school definitely taught me the important foundations of how to create art.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Very cool. So that lets me segue nicely to… Cover design.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Do you do freelance, or mostly work with publishers?

Shobana Appavu: I don’t do a lot of cover design these days! Well, I have my own covers for a novel series that’s coming out from Dreamspinner in 2019, but I haven’t been taking much client work. When I did, it was primarily through publishers.

Shobana Appavu: I really enjoyed doing covers, but the industry shift from drawn covers to photo covers meant there wasn’t as much room for the type of work I enjoy, and it was also a real challenge to take on the jobs while still keeping time for telling my own stories.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Gotcha. Though I understand that illustrated covers are still “in” for YA?

Shobana Appavu: True, depending on the subgenre I think.

Shobana Appavu: It’s also possible to do photo covers that have more of an illustrated look to them.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Yeah, I’ve seen that too. 🙂 J. Scott Coatsworth: OK, time for another segue. You mentioned books? Tell me about these books!

Shobana Appavu: Oh yes. XD Back in 2011 or so, I had my first couple of novels published by Dreamspinner Press. I called it my “Undead Series,” and it was urban fantasy/romantic suspense. I was working on the third novel in the series when I had a very long illness that took me away from writing (for publishers) for a while. But next year, the novels are going to be released as second editions, and then the third novel will be released as well!

Shobana Appavu: The first editions of Art of Death and Bonds of Death are still for sale, but I’d recommend holding out for the 2nd editions, since they’ll be greatly improved!

J. Scott Coatsworth: Oooh, that’s awesome. Tell us more. 🙂

Shobana Appavu: Haha, I can tell you more!

Shobana Appavu: The series follows Riley, who’s an art school graduate during the recession who had to return to his college as a nude figure model to pay the bills. He’s invited to pose for Coliaro, a world-renowned painter who’s rumored to be undead. Whenever he paints a nude, someone is killed in an apparent ritual to honor him.

Shobana Appavu: Riley is confronted by Westwood, a mysterious stranger who seems to know a whole lot about the world of the undead. But he’s a pretty scary guy himself, and Riley isn’t sure who to trust.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Oooh, art school graduate during the recession. * winks *

Shobana Appavu: As the novels progress, we go deeper into the world of the undead, and the relationship between Riley, Westwood, and Porter (who I think was the fan favorite), another undead who just wants to get through art school but keeps accidentally dying 😅

J. Scott Coatsworth: “keeps accidentally dying” LOL

Shobana Appavu: Haha yes, the funny thing is Riley is a freelance illustrator, and I wrote the first novel when I was happily employed after graduation. But my life kind of grew to mirror Riley’s. I’m now the freelance illustrator…

J. Scott Coatsworth: If anyone’s been hanging out in ghost mode, and has questions, this is a great time to ask. 🙂 My final question – what does writing and creating graphic art do for you? Does each one fulfill a different need in your life?

J. Scott Coatsworth: I agree about religion. I feel much the same about it.

Shobana Appavu: J. Scott Coatsworth: to answer your question, art and writing definitely do fulfill different needs for me. It took a long time for me to accept the fact that I’m a person who does two things. The amount of time and practice it takes to excel at any single thing is astronomical and only gets more competitive as years go by. I felt I had to choose one in order to really be great. But I just feel unfulfilled if I’m not doing both.

Shobana Appavu: So now, I try to find ways to just bring the two under the same roof and let them play together. 🙂

J. Scott Coatsworth: LOL… I like that. 🙂

Angel Martinez: I first saw the covers at DSP and then discovered DOTU from your website – I seriously love your work ( love love love) and Pogo is adorable. There are some serious strains of religious criticism in Pogo’s backstory – was this something that just came up with character or an ongoing theme for you?

Shobana Appavu: Hi Angel! I’ll start with your question. Yes, there’s definitely a religious aspect to DOTU that came from my personal experience. My family is Christian, and that’s always a tough thing to balance when your identity is something that a large portion of the faith (including some of my family) sees as anti-Christian. But I’m not one for religion-bashing either, so it’s always been a goal of mine to find an understanding, where those two things can coexist.

Angel Martinez: I get that – coming from a family that’s had some, ah, spiritual disagreements. What you’ve done is not show religion itself in a bad light but raise suspicions about those who would weaponize it, which works really well in the story.

Shobana Appavu: That’s definitely what I was aiming for, so I’m glad it came across that way! I think it’s always been an issue of what people label as “bad” in the name of religion, and why.

Rory Ni Coileain: …accidentally dying… gigglesnort
I have to admit I’m envious. I’ve always wanted to be able to make the characters I create visual, but even though I come from a long line of professional artists I’m living proof that it’s a recessive trait 😛 Does having that ability change how you create a character? Does it make a character easier to write? — or do they get more headstrong?

Shobana Appavu: Rory hi! The funny thing is, sometimes being an artist makes me a lazier writer. If I “know” what a character looks like, or a setting, I sometimes forget that I still have to describe them. XD On the other hand, once I realize that, it’s much easier for me to go back to what I’ve drawn and pick out details to create a really vivid verbal description.

J. Scott Coatsworth: OK, so we’ve officially reached the end of the interview. But… If you’re just finding it, please feel free to ask additional questions.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Bob, if you can stop by later and see if there are any more?

Shobana Appavu: For sure!

J. Scott Coatsworth: Here’s the link again for DOTU: http://www.demonoftheunderground.com

DEMONOFTHEUNDERGROUND.COM
Demon of the Underground – A Webcomic

Shobana Appavu: And thank you so much for putting this together! I really enjoyed chatting with you! And thank you to everyone for the great questions!

J. Scott Coatsworth: Any parting words of wisdom for us? 😉

Shobana Appavu: Hmm… Wisdom? That’s a tall order. XD

Shobana Appavu: I guess I’d just say to everyone, keep reading, keep writing, keep drawing, there’s always room in this world for your voice!

Angel Martinez: And Demon of the Underground is awesome – read it! 😀

J. Scott Coatsworth: Perfect. 😛

J. Scott Coatsworth: Angel has commanded you. Go forth and read.

J. Scott Coatsworth: Thanks Bob!

Shobana Appavu: Thank you! 😀

Shobana Appavu: And by request, I’ll leave you with a few page samples!

Shobana Appavu: Calm down, Pogo

Shobana Appavu: Book 4 cover! And I’ll post one more after this…

Shobana Appavu: Cover for Merritt’s Story, the prose novel series about a DOTU supporting character’s back story! (blurb way up in the event description!) And that’s it!

Lexi Allanson: Me when I heard bobs doing an interview

Lexi Allanson: Okay so my question!! Bob, what inspired you to write? But to be more specific what inspired you to write dotu?

Shobana Appavu: Lexi Allanson Hi! What inspired me to write in general – In third grade, we had an assignment to write a fiction story, and I basically fell in love with writing at that point. I’d always enjoyed reading and making stories in my head. I guess that was the moment I realized I could put them on paper. For DOTU specifically, it was originally meant to be a prequel to another comic I’d worked on in college, which was focused less on the underground and more on Pogo’s cross mark and what it means. The idea came to me in a dream, and I was also going through a phase where I was exploring a lot of fiction surrounding priests, exorcists, and the like. But when I started to explore Pogo as a character, and the reasons for him becoming the person he was supposed to become, I realized I had a lot more fun writing about the underground than about the surface! So I decided to just go ahead and start the story there.

Lexi Allanson: Thank you so much Bob! I wanted to say thanks again for writing this story and sharing it! You are really inspiring me to want to try and get published myself so in short MANY THANKS.

Shobana Appavu: Aw dude this makes me so happy to hear! And thank you so much for reading, and for stopping by the chat! <3

J. Scott Coatsworth: Lexi – you can do it. 🙂

Marianne Hoffmann Larsen: Eeeehhh! A Bob interview, and I nearly missed it. Long time fan here (hi, Bob, this is DanishWolf), and Demon of the Underground is one of my favorite comics. Everyone, go read it. I love the mix of dark post- apocalyptic world and humor. Also, Bob’s voting incentives are legendary and funny. I do have a couple of question. Both about writing and comic in itself. 1) Do you have any plans of a new book/novel series when the current trilogy is done? Additional – any chance to get Merritt’s story in print some day? 2) I have always loved how the hierarchies in DotU is formed as a deck of playing cards, where new editions are made when someone changes place in power. What gave you the idea to set it up like this? Oh, wait. Another question. Will we ever get to know Pogo’s real name? ( Outside of him maybe saying it on last page in the story 😉)

Shobana Appavu: Hi Marianne! Aww, thank you so much! <3 Okay, so 1. When you say the current trilogy, I take it you mean the undead series? I actually do have another novel that’s been stewing in my head, very much inspired by my current stage in life. It’d be a one-shot m/m romantic suspense about a guy who moves into an apartment complex with very thin walls and overhears a murder… and then another. But first I have to keep chipping away at the undead series and the Merritt’s Story trilogy!

Shobana Appavu: Oh, forgot to say – I still want to get Merritt’s Story into print, but I want to get closer to finishing it (like, book 3) before making any commitment toward either self-pub or traditional! Okay, so 2. The hierarchy – Hmm, I think I’ve just always really loved card games and card decks. For whatever reason, when I was trying to come up with a slang term for the lower class, aces just came to me, and since we already had kings, it grew from there. One of my favorite card games growing up was Hearts. Love shooting the moon with the Queen of Spades (ahem, Belmont ;)).

Shobana Appavu: And finally 3. Yes I promise we’ll find out Pogo’s name! And it will be earlier than the last page of the story! But it will still be a bit of a wait…

Marianne Hoffmann Larsen: Shobana Appavu: Yay for fellow card deck lover (I got around 200 decks in my collection by now).

Shobana Appavu: Oh man, that’s a good number there! :O

Marianne Hoffmann Larsen Shobana Appavu: Looking forward to add a DotU deck to add it 😊

Shobana Appavu: I’ll get there one of these days! 😀

Jana Denardo: Oh wow, this webcomic looks fantastic. I love your art. You did one of my very first covers and I still love it to this day. I see I have some reading to do in my future, can’t wait.

Shobana Appavu: Aw, thank you so much! I remember the cover I did for you, it was so fun to work on! I was really bummed that that was one of the series I was in the middle of when I got sick, so I couldn’t keep going, but the covers for the rest of the series turned out awesome!

Jana Denardo: Yes, that series had such wonderful covers and was fun to write. I’m glad you’re feeling better these days and I read thru the first two chapters of your web comic. It’s fun!

Mere Rain: That webcomic sounds great.

Shobana Appavu: Thank you! <3

Celeste De Quincey: I loooove this webcomic! I came here from Patreon 😍😍 Do you have any ideas for a future comic series? A spin off? A completely new tale? Or are you an author/artist who focuses on one thing at a time and doesn’t get distracted by other ideas?

Shobana Appavu: Celeste Oh yes I get distracted. XD But I generally try to keep my eye on my main projects! Technically I’m working on 3 major projects right now – DOTU, Merritt’s Story, and the Undead Series. The Undead Series will finish first, and then I’ll probably add a new prose novel to my list! Comics are the most time consuming and DOTU is the focus there, but I would like to do a few comic pages of various Undead Series scenes just for fun. 🙂

Lex Chase: So I completely missed this for a number of reasons. Hey, Shobana Appavu:! I’ve missed you so much. <3 <3 <3 I’m so damned happy that FINALLY Book 3 of the Undead series is happening. You know my insane feels about Westwood. <3 I can’t wait to see what the second editions look like after you sent me the drafts all those years ago. I’ll just sit back and smile wistfully and sigh that I knew you when… Do you try to do NaNoMangO anymore ever since it shifted to Tumblr? Also are you on Instagram? 😀

Shobana Appavu: OMG Lex!!! It’s so good to “see” you! <3 I’m still so excited about all the awesomeness you’ve written since I knew YOU way back when! ^_^ I was hoping maybe I’d see you at the DSP workshop (alas…), but now that I’m back in writing mode, I know there will be more chances in the future! I did try to do nanomango a couple times after it switched to tumblr, but it was just never really the same. And it was easier to get motivated back when I was working a boring day job instead of actually doing comic stuff every day anyway. XD I really wish there was still a community like the one we used to have, though. You built us an awesome space! I’m not on Instagram, but it’s my goal to get on and try to actually use it by the end of the year! I need to make a fresh account that isn’t linked to this FB account, for reasons. But I’ll definitely let all you writer/artist friends know when I do! And I’ll track yours down too! 😀

See the interview on FB here.