Smash Pages Q&A | S.E. Case on ‘Rigsby WI’

The creator of the slice-of-life webcomic discusses its first print collection, her approach to creating the small-town setting and drawing on her teenage experiences to bring her characters to life.

S.E. Case is four chapters in on Rigsby, WI, a webcomic she’s been posting since 2019. The comic is about four average Wisconsin teenagers and the trials and tribulations they encounter with their friends, their families and their futures. While the teenagers may be average, the strip is anything but, as Case has brought to life four characters who will make you laugh, cry, yell and ultimately remember what life was like when you knew everything and nothing at the same time.

Case has teamed up with Iron Circus Comics to publish the first print collection of the webcomic, which is up now on the crowdfunding site BackerKit.

Here’s the description from the publisher: Sometimes as a teen in a small town, you can feel trapped — trapped enough to want to gnaw off your own leg to escape. Bethany has gotten some much needed stability in Rigsby, WI — she’s away from her oppressively disapproving mother, and the other local teens Jeordie, Erik and Anna have welcomed her in — and together the four of them know how to escape from the world that is closing in on them. While Case’s vibrant art and naturalistic writing doesn’t shy away from the rougher experiences and feelings of teens, it also covers the truly important topics like, “is Phish a good band?”, “is the neck the dong of the torso?” and “Ernest Hemingway: Was he a piece of shit?” Nostalgic, sweet, bitter and funny all at once, Rigsby WI feels like a teenage afternoon spent with friends, with all the pathos, boredom and absurdity inherent therein. 

I spoke with Case about the campaign, as well as the webcomics’ small-town setting, why now was the right time for a print collection and, yes, is Phish a good band?

I like to start by asking about origin stories — how did you first discover comics, both as a reader and as a creator?

I think I started reading and making comics around the same time, when I was maybe…7 or 8? I liked newspaper strips and Betty and Veronica digests from the grocery store, which were the things most accessible to me at the time.

I loved to draw but everything I drew needed to be a part of a story, which is why comics appealed to me so much. I drew a lot of three panel gag strips about my pets and some really stupidly dramatic comics about what I thought it would be like to be an adult. When I got into my teens, I got really into webcomics because they were incredibly accessible and I often would find comics that offered stories and perspectives that I couldn’t find anywhere else. They weren’t always good, but in some ways that was part of what made them so appealing.

I started my first webcomic in 2007. I was 19 and I’d had pitches rejected by a few publishers already (and rightfully so, they were not good), and webcomics seemed like a great, low-stakes way to try some new styles and techniques while getting my comics to a wider audience, and they’ve been my main comics-interest ever since.

You’ve been doing Rigsby WI for a few years now; why was now the right time to publish a print collection? What made Iron Circus the right company to partner with?

Three chapters in, I felt like I had enough of the story completed to create a print series, and I had built up enough of a readership that there could actually be demand for one.

I went with ICC because I worked with them previously on the You Died anthology. I’ve enjoyed a lot of their previously published titles, and it felt like a natural fit. I also know they are a little more adventurous than other publishers, and they would respect the integrity of the comic. I have seen creative works get modified or sanitized from their original vision in order to make them more marketable or profitable, and I knew ICC would allow the book to be published without requesting any major content revisions.

You probably get this question a lot, because you’ve done such a good job of bringing these characters to life, but how much of the story is pulled from your life, or from people you’ve known? Is there a particular character you relate to more than the others?

None of it is a direct retelling of my life, but I used my own personal teenage experiences and observations as a reference. All of the main characters contain a little bit of myself, plus bits and pieces of people I have known over the years. However, no one character is meant to represent any specific real person in my life.

I’m not sure I can pick a character that I relate to more than the others. My first instinct is to say Beth; she has a lot of my weird teenage gender and body image issues. But there are also specific things about Jeordie and Anna that come from my own life and personality, so it’s hard to choose.

One of the things I love about Rigsby WI is all the little details you put in the backgrounds, things that help establish the setting and mood. The places you show in the story all feel very real, and very “small town.” Can you talk about your approach to creating the environments in the story?  

Part of the reason I set Rigsby in Northern Wisconsin is because I was living there when I first started drawing it. I wanted the environment to feel real, and what’s more real than having your references right outside your door? The hiking trails, deer blind, hunter access gate, picket signs, and rural roads were all places within walking distance from my house. Ethel’s Diner is based on a diner where I’d get breakfast every Saturday morning, the restaurant Jenna works at in chapter 3 is based on a supper club I used to go to. I think environments can do a lot of heavy-lifting in regards to characterization. I try to spend a lot of time thinking about what the characters houses are like — when they were built, how well they are taken care of, and how they are decorated. Do they rent it, or do they own it? Is their space tidy, messy, or just too cramped? What photos and artwork, if any, do they choose to display? How do these things reflect their interests, values and experiences? 

Having “binge read” the comic this week, I’m curious about your process and how much of the story you like to have completed before you start posting it to the site. And how many more chapters do you think it’ll go? 

I usually try to have a four to six month buffer in place at any given time. I have a day job and Rigsby is not the only comic project I work on, so keeping a relatively large buffer is how I can keep a consistent update schedule and still feel like I can take time off from drawing, if needed. Having a large buffer is also helpful because it allows me to see the story on a more complete scale, and if it isn’t reading correctly, I have time to adjust things or insert pages as needed.

As for how much longer it will continue, that’s hard to say. When I was originally outlining the chapters, I envisioned that it would continue into the character’s young adult years. But I kind of painted myself into a corner by calling it Rigsby WI — I really can’t imagine many of these characters wanting to remain in Rigsby after they graduate from high school. That said, I have at least three, possibly four more chapters planned.

For the crowdfunding campaign, what can folks expect in terms of rewards?

Through the crowdfund, you’ll be able to buy a pdf of the book, the physical book, and there’s also the opportunity to get commissioned artwork from myself. There are also some stretch goals/rewards that we’re hoping to roll out about a week into the campaign.

Besides Rigsby WI, are there any other projects you have coming up that you’d like to mention? 

Rigsby is in its fourth chapter and is currently updating twice weekly at Over on my Patreon, I am working on finishing up a comic called Cheap Thrills, which is an unfinished Rigsby predecessor of sorts (similar characters, different story) that I abandoned in 2013 and started working on again in 2020. I was also the illustrator on Thanks! Romina (written by Giulie Speziani and published by Chispa Comics), which is an office comedy about a young woman who gets her first “real job” out of college and it turns out to not be as glamorous as she’d hoped. That will be in bookstores at the end of May.

Finally, as someone who was once taken to a Phish show by his brother, I have to ask — is Phish a good band? And if yes, is it an acquired taste?

I think it’s definitely an acquired taste. I’ve never been to a live Phish show but from what I’ve gathered, having that experience is kind of integral to really being into them. My husband is into Phish and I (lovingly) give him shit about it sometimes, but honestly they’re fine. I’m not totally turned off by their music and they have a few songs that I like, but in general I’m not a big listener. I do respect their integrity as musicians and their dedication to making their music their specific way. Anyone who can make a living off writing songs about evil lizard kings or whatever gets my respect. So…yeah, I’d say they’re good. Easy to dunk on, but generally undeserving of said dunks.

You can support Rigsby WI on BackerKit through May 2.

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