Writer and Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

- by Dara Girard

Photo Credit: Beckett Gladney

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m a freelance writer and illustrator. I’ve had one book published (The Writer’s Online Marketplace, w/Writer’s Digest Books) and have had short fiction and nonfiction pieces published in print as well as online publications. I’m the daily publishing news columnist for Writersmarket.com, have a blog for writers at INKYGIRL.COM: Daily Diversions For Writers, and am currently working on novels for young people. I’m represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd.

Have you always practiced art and writing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and art, but went to school for Computer Science because I wanted a financially secure job. Worked as a programmer-analyst for two years before leaving the corporate life and hurling myself into the arts.

What inspired you to start the “Will Write for Chocolate” comic strip?

I had been doing one-panel writing cartoons for my Inkygirl site but decided to try an ongoing strip about writers and the writing life. I wanted to choose a cartoon strip theme that hadn’t already been done to death online.

Could you describe the process of developing a strip?

Once I have a general idea of what the comic strip is going to be about, I decide on a drawing style as well as doing a bunch of character sketches. I also decide on the personalities of each of the main characters.

How do you develop characters through the on-going life of the strip?

It may sound strange, but apart from deciding generally on what each character’s personality is going to be like, I generally let the characters develop on their own. It’s more fun for me that way, not having a long-term character arc plan. I also like to get reader feedback and let that influence what happens with the characters.

Sometimes the readers get really involved with my strips, which I love. I recently finished a strip about some characters participating in NaNoWriMo, and would regularly post polls to see what readers wanted to happen next. Some of them got so fervent about the story that they’d send me private e-mail pleading for something to happen or not happen. (“Oh please please please let Ed and Mo end up together they HAVE to end up together oh puhleeeze!”)

The caption contests are a lot of fun!  More and more writers are using contests to draw in potential readers—what have you learned from your contests so far?

That there’s a really wide range of humor out there. I’m also having fun doing cartoon caption contests for a boardgaming community (BoardGameGeek.com).

We noticed you allow the redistribution of your strips under a Creative Commons License.  What lead you to this method of digital rights management and how do you feel it’s working out?

I used to have pretty restrictive copyright info on my site until I saw  webcomic writers (Randall Munroe of XKCD, among others) whose work often got reposted all over the place because they used a Creative Commons License.

So then I took a hard look at my goals, asking myself what I wanted to get out of my comics, other than the fun of making and posting them. I’m not looking for newspaper syndication and even though eventually having a print compilation would be great, it’s not my main goal. What I want most of all is to get my novels for young people published.

There are SO many writers out there trying to get noticed, however, that I know I’m just one tiny voice in a massive crowd. Being a good writer is not enough. I figure that the more people who see my comics, the better the chances that they’ll come visit Inkygirl.com and find out more about me, or at least remember my name.

Though I haven’t yet received a contract for my MG novel yet, I’ve been approached by a literary agent about representation (I declined because I already have an agent), had my comics published in The Writer and other publications, and interacted with a growing number of people in the publishing industry through Twitter and my blogs. I’m earning money from licensing fees from commercial entities who want to reprint my comics.

Plus I’m starting to get more and more people ask me where they can buy a print compilation of my comics, so I’m putting together a book proposal.

How do the on-line shops fit into your career goals?

I originally started my online shops for the same reason: to help get my name out there. I also launched them because more people were starting to ask where they could buy merchandise with my comics on them.

I haven’t had time to update the shops recently because I’ve been spending more of my time on my writing. I make a bit of money through them, but usually when I’m actively promoting the products.

Web shops, websites, comics, blogging, social networking help for writers—how do you juggle all the facets of your complex career?

It may seem as if they’re all different projects, but pretty much ALL my online projects are working toward the same goal these days (though it may not seem obvious): to help me get my novels for young people published.

Time management is important, and I’ve had to streamline and prioritize. I’ve cut down on my personal blog reading, for example, and instead focus on blogs and Twitter feeds of people in the publishing industry: writers, editors, agents and publishers. I’m a sponge, soaking up as much industry news every day as possible, particularly in kidlit/YA publishing.

It’s always a challenge, juggling time spent on promotion/marketing and on writing. I’ve come to really enjoy meeting and exchanging encouragement and advice with other writers, both in person and online.

Seems like you’ve tried all kinds of things.  What’s next for you?

I’m continuing to focus on my writing. I have a MG fantasy out circulating via my agent, and I’m currently working on a graphic novel script, a YA novel and a book proposal involving my comics for writers.

Thanks to Elaine Isaak for the wonderful questions.

5 comments

  1. Between me and my wife we would have to say this is an genuinely informative post that needs mentioning elsewhere. This is for 2 types of people: current writers who are considering a independent career, and people trying to take to become a writer.

  2. I didn’t know you were a computer science student and worked in the corporate sector too!

    This was a nice read. Anybody reading this must click on Debbie’s photo for a bigger image. It’s a classic pic!

    Thank you Dara and Elaine for the interview.

  3. Great interview! Thanks for all the good advice Debbie.

  4. I liked getting to know the person behind inkygirl.com. Nice interview!

  5. I am a writer and I want to post my scripts online and get paid for my work.