Webcomics and Star Wars: A Talk with PUNCHING THE CLOCK Creators, Rob Humphrey and Jeff Manley

A comics interview article by: Nick Boisson

One of my favorite things to do in my spare time (when I manage to find a bit of it) is reading webcomics on the Internet. And, one of my favorite webcomics out there is Punching the Clock by Rob Humphrey and Jeff Manley. 

I got to speak with Rob and Jeff about Punching the Clock, their Kickstarter (which ends soon, you guys!) and so much more. Enjoy!


Nick Boisson for Comics Bulletin: So, let's get to it. Why don't you tell us a bit what Punching the Clock is about?

Rob Humphrey, Writer/Co-Creator of Punching the Clock: Punching the Clock follows the misadventures of Ryan, the new guy at Big Box retailer Buy Lots, and the friendship he develops with Jeff, his trainer at work. The two find a shared interest in all things pop culture and nerdy- from comic books to movies, from video games to internet memes.

Jeff Manley, Artist/Co-Creator of Punching the Clock: Its more about friendship than retail.

Humphrey: The two use this common ground to crack jokes and quote movies throughout their shifts at work, to try and survive the daily grind with their sanity in tact. Jeff's exactly right. It's about the bond that the two form and how they rely on each other to make it through each day. Replace retail with any other crappy job and the premise becomes totally relatable to anyone.

CB: As someone who has worked in retail, the situations that come out are pretty spot-on. Did either of you guys work in retail for a time?

Humphrey: 15 years for me.

Manley: A few years here and there for me. I met my wife while she was my manager at Wal-Mart.

Humphrey: Virtually every situation that occurs in the comic has either happened to me, in front of me, or to a friend/co-worker. Some of the stories are so outlandish that you really can't make them up!

I love how that is your claim to fame, Jeff.

CB: It is pretty good...

Manley: I have no fame. I think Rob exaggerates the 100% real aspect.

Humphrey: Not entirely. There are a few here and there that are partially fabricated... but for the most part, real or mostly real- spun humorously.

CB: Nah, I could see Rob setting his store on fire for a Diablo III display to look cool.

Manley: Rob's store was on fire last week. For reals!

Humphrey: Some stories had to be changed to drive a punchline. Oddly enough, That fire sequence is damn near 100% true. Employees just stood and watched the place burn, except for one guy... who came bursting through the crowd shouting "Make a hole, people!" while carrying a fire extinguisher. All the other employees were pissed that he didn't let the place burn.

My store has caught fire twice in the past 6 months. I swear it wasn't my fault. Mostly.

Manley: Fire! Fire!

CB: PTC is still a fairly new series. How did you guys end up starting the comic and for how long was the idea out there?

Humphrey: Jeff and I first talked about doing it back in the winter of 2010/spring of 2011, if memory serves. For years, I had been thinking about writing a book about my experiences working retail, and then Jeff and I bumped into each other and talked about doing a project together. I pitched the idea to him, and we slowly started working on it.

Manley: Rob was just waiting for some under-appreciated sucker to agree to do it for free.

Humphrey: He did some concept art, I slowly fed him some scripts (not in any bit of continuity order, mind you), and it began to take shape.

Manley: Most artist of my talent make writers pay for this kind of work.

Humphrey: Then, he started working on another webcomic with one of our other friends, and I got the itch to hurry up and get the site ready and go live during Black Friday week of 2011. It just made sense to launch a retail webcomic during the busiest time of the year for that particular industry.

Manley: That was good timing.

Humphrey: I gave Jeff this ridiculous deadline to hit with only a week or two notice... I called him up and said, "This is when we go live. Can you draw 5 comics within the next week so we can launch with Black Friday content all week?" I tend to get an idea in my head and give him very little time to execute. He's just that good, though.

CB: And it worked out great! I remember realizing that Jeff's speech to Ryan about Black Friday was almost word-for-word what I told a trainee at my store. It definitely made me self-actualize a bit.

Humphrey: We've all lived it. If you've worked retail, you cultivate that speech. That's the great thing about these characters and the situations they get into- most people can immediately see themselves in the story.

Manley: Especially Rob, since he looks like "Jeff".

Humphrey: Ryan is the "everyman". As a reader, you start the journey into Buy Lots with him on his first day- and we've ALL been there before. 1st day on a new job sucks. You instantaneously understand his frame of mind without even reading up on his personality. That uneasiness is a base emotion in this situation.

And, as for Jeff, we've all worked with that guy who is really fun, but a little unhinged. Sometimes, we relate to him because he says and does things we wish we could do at work (without getting fired), and sometimes, he is just way out in left field.

And yes, "Jeff" does look like me, but that was Manley's doing. Jeff's personality is actually modeled after my best friend of the same name. This comic is really just a love note to him.

Manley: A long Star Wars reference-filled love note.

Humphrey: Touche.

CB: [Laughs] Let's talk about the Star Wars references for a sec...

Humphrey: Okay. What do you want to know?

Manley: He wants to know what your obsession with a 30-year-old movie for kids is.

CB:They have become a staple for the series. Are these references mainly from your love of the saga or more of a Big Bang Theory-like gag?

Humphrey: I love the franchise. The references appear in the comic so frequently because that is truly how my friends and I function conversationally.

Manley: I've seen him talk Star Wars... it will put a grown man to sleep.

Humphrey: Someone in the group will do some thing amazing, and then someone else will turn around and say "The Force is strong with this one." We communicate via movie/book/game quotes all the time. It's become its own language... and we're not the only ones who do it.

And yes, they are also good for a gag. I like to get the quick laugh. Jeff, coincidentally, is NOT a Star Wars fan...

CB: No complaints from me. I don't know why Jeff is being such a nerf-herder, but what're you gonna do?

Humphrey: Ha! You are now faced with two Star Wars nerds, Manley. Whaddup?

Manley: Doctor Who is way better.

Humphrey: Which Doctor is your favorite? Scratch that. You really want to get Jeff going, talk to him about Calvin & Hobbes or Tintin. He melts like butter.

CB: I will agree that Doctor Who is pretty fantastic.

Manley: I like butter.

CB: One day, Jeff, we will discuss your thoughts on Spielberg's adaptation of "The Secret of the Unicorn".

Manley: No... now. Let's talk about it now.

CB: The scope of webcomics has grown substantially in the past few years. Not only in quantity, but in the amount of readers, as well. Where do you guys see them going in the future?

Manley: One thing that annoys me about webcomics is that it's killed small press as the minor leagues of comics. Kids nowadays don't know the joy of fold and staple comics.

Humphrey: I think it's a medium that is set to take off. With digital/mobile devices permeating pretty much every aspect of society, access has never been easier. That, coupled with the fact that pretty much all webcomics are free, makes a pretty strong case that people will seek them out for quite some time to come.

I think the web in general has hurt the print industry, Jeff. I think, however, that there are enough diehards out there that will keep small press alive. Conventions/Artist Alley THRIVE on small press because there is so little of it out there now. If you really want to point a finger to the death-knell of small press, look at the current print-distribution monopoly in comics, and the criteria therein to be "included".

Manley: Touchè.

Humphrey: Just my humble opinion.

CB: Do you maybe see webcomics as a good way for small publishers to adapt and thrive? Many webcomics now are getting printed in hardcopies for the fans. Could smaller press use this medium to their advantage? The comics industry, in general, has become a very adapt-to-survive market.

Manley: Booyah!

CB: Exactly!

Humphrey: As a part of their business, yes. Let's set up a scenario: a small press publisher wants to start a new series, in webcomic form. They, assumably, will be paying an artist and writer to produce this. They are banking on getting that return back from a print edition of what people can read for free on the net?

It's a gamble. Fortunately for us, it has worked in our favor. But, also, we're not paying ourselves. Yet. If the product is good enough, fans will support it. On the web, in print, through Comixology... if it's good, people will support it.

Manley: Or Image will pick it up like Reed Gunther or Axe Cop.

Humphrey: I guess what I'm saying is that publishers can afford to take that gamble on the occasion that they really believe in the product, and make it a portion of their business. The industry has indeed become an adapt to survive market. Jeff also raises a good point here: Publishers with a focus on creator-retained rights are really poised to do the most good for webcomics. They have little financial commitment to start, and stand to make good money if they pick up an already-established concept.

CB: Do you guys see digital as the way all comics will need to go to survive in the next decade or two? Or will print always be around?

Manley: Print must stay. I love books. I prefer reading my own work in print... not a big digital fan. Like my original graphic novel!

CB: But don't you yourself have a Kindle?

Manley: I do, but I use it for Angry Birds and the Internet. I barely read books on it. Oh yeah, and Pandora. I use that a ton. I've only read Walking Dead #1 on my Kindle.

CB: It is a pretty good size for Angry Birds. I know I've drained my Kindle Fire's battery a couple times slaying pigs.

Humphrey: To answer your earlier question, Nick, I don't think all comics will need to go digital to survive. I don't think we'll see the end of print anytime soon. There are too many people invested in it. Collectors, readers, shop owners: lots of disenfranchised people if print disappears. Comics are really driven by that secondary market. Conventions, comic shops, eBay: without the print medium, all of that takes a HUGE blow, and the industry would face the issue of trying to stay relevant in people's minds.

Manley: And big thick graphic novels rock like Box Office Poison or Habibi. I'd rather hold those phone books in my hand than looking through the soulless glass of a computer screen.

Humphrey: Truth. I prefer print, as well.

CB: Man, I love Box Office Poison and Habibi! I also prefer physical books, but couldn't one have said the same in regards to physical formats of music about ten years ago? Something can be said for convenience.

Humphrey: Yes, and there's room for that in the marketplace. Convenience will certainly help the market, but it is only a portion of the market. There's room for it all. I like to think of digital/web comics as a gateway to get people into the medium, and a way for people who are already steeped in the culture to broaden their horizons.

Also, you mention the music industry, but look at the resurgence in recent years of vinyl. People want to collect things. Regular books, with little to no art? Sure. I see a lot of that market being absorbed into the digital realm quickly. But comics? Half the reason people buy and collect is for the art, and there is something to be said for a nice book with beautiful art being held in your hands.

CB: Agreed. I know I'm guilty of not buying a single CD in over 5 years, but buying quite a lot of new albums on vinyl. And I have re-purchased the same book twice just for the nice new hardcover.

Humphrey: That, and you can take the book to conventions and comic shops and have them signed by your favorite creators. There isn't nearly as much of a chance to do that with music. How often do people get to attend meet and greets with bands? Not nearly as often as comic nerds go to conventions to meet dozens of creators in one fell swoop.

Manley: I'll sign someone's iPad.

CB: Beside Bonnaroo, there really isn't much else.

Humphrey: Exactly.

CB: What are some other webcomics that you guys are reading?

Manley: I read Terrorbads at Two For One Comics and Hark! A Vagrant and that is about it.

Humphrey: Terrorbads, The Bait, Dear Dinosaur, Side Quest, Gronk, JL8... I drop in on Penny Arcade and CTRL+ALT+DEL from time to time as well.

CB: Anything else you guys would like to plug?

Humphrey: Sure thing! We launched a Kickstarter just after our 100th strip posted online, as part of our 100 celebration. Since we self-publish our books, we thought it would be a cool way to get the new volume out and in front of every one, and for our supporters to score some really cool rewards. Along the way, we decided to change it up a bit and do something a little different to challenge ourselves- and ended up structuring the Kickstarter to fund two new print volumes of Punching the Clock, that will release simultaneously! Our first collected edition came out a year ago, so Volume 2 will collect from where that left off through strip #100. Volume 3 will be a completely NEW stand-alone book- and picks up where strip #100 left off, continues the story, and will not be on our website as update content whatsoever. Volume 3 is really kind of a cool adventure for us, as it stays in continuity and will still make sense as we continue to update the website weekly with new content. It will fit in well with the web updates without ever having been posted there. Both volumes will feature some cool bonus content, and pin-ups from some really talented artists.

CB: What are some of the cool rewards that fans can get from pledging? Is there anything that can only be received if they contribute to this campaign?

Humphrey: We really tried to put up something for everyone in the backer rewards area of the Kickstarter. There's tons of merch, from decals, pint glasses, coffee mugs, print sets and T-shirts to the new books themselves! We also are offering up sketches, original art from the comic, the chance to get drawn into a strip as a character, the chance to fill in as a writer or artist on a bonus strip and retailer incentives like shop signings and convention banner sponsorships! There really are a lot of cool rewards to take advantage of- and yes, some are exclusive. On the merch end, the t-shirts and decals are exclusive to the Kickstarter, and any of the "get drawn in" or "artist/writer fill-in" rewards will only be offered through the Kickstarter as well.

CB: When does the Kickstarter end?

Humphrey: The Kickstarter ends on April 7th, at one minute to midnight. Time is a-tickin', so check it out now!


Be sure to follow Rob Humphrey and Jeff Manley on Twitter and like the comic over on Facebook!

And, be sure to read the great comic over on the website!



Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.

He rants on about the things he loves (and hates) on Twitter as @nitroslick. You can also find him on Steam, Xbox LIVE, PlayStation Network, Nintendo Network and Raptr under the name “nitroslick”.

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