Interview - Graham Dawson, June 2008

Tim: I'm talking (well IMing actually) with Graham Dawson (alias Archonix), Fan fic author, artist, and Grand Poobah of a Simpsons and Futurama fan site known as The Simpsons and Futurama Fanworks Central. Ready for your interview, Graham?

Graham: Oh, my chance is finally here! It's the big leagues! The lucky break! *sprawls on a couch* I'm ready for my close-up Mr DeMille!

Graham: ... I mean, yes.

Tim: You know I'll just HAVE to use that line. Ok, where to start? This is my first time doing an interview so be gentle. Let's start with a web site formerly known as GFC, now TSFFC or something like that. How did that come to be?

Graham: Just a sec, need to remember when it started.

Graham: I think I have that old fanfic around here somewhere..

Tim: You mean the date and time aren't indelibly etched into your mind?

Graham: They should be, but it seems I've put that part of my brain down somewhere and lost it.

Graham: Ahh, so it all starts in the year 2000, when I find out what this Internet doohicky thing is. First thing I searched for was The Simpsons because that was my thing back then.

Graham: I found a site called ICBIASS (dead now), went on to another site called the Simpsons Fanfiction Central, administered by a nice guy from around your neck of the woods called Adam Pulver.

Graham: And wrote my first fanfiction.

Graham: Right after that I started drawing art as well, mostly based on the fanfiction, and figured I needed a website to host it all so I started one called Netcomix. It wasn't brilliant.

Graham: About six months after that started the SFC expanded to include a Yahoo board and chatroom for messaging and the like, which is where I first met Christina and a bunch of other people.

Graham: Right around that time, Chad, the owner of ICBIASS, made an overture to Adam to merge their sites. Now I think that was in early '01, when the world still seemed sane... of course then the big Fox purge started and ICBIASS died a death. For some reason I proposed merging my site with Adams, which produced the Simpsons Fanworks Central.

Graham: Or SFWC.

Graham: And then it went along for a bit, with me falling in love with Chris and getting engaged, and then all of us collectively discovering Futurama at around the same time in 2003. I think.

Graham: So about a year or two after that I, being by now the only guy left in charge of the place, decided to incorporate Futurama into the mix and made it into the Groening Fanworks Central.

Graham: It was sort of downhill after that.

Tim: That covers a lot of territory. Within the last year or so you kind of reverted and renamed the site "The Simpsons and Futurama Fanworks Central". Why that change?

Graham: Nobody was looking for "Groening".

Tim: It does seem a little bit more obvious, if harder to type. So for those of us that came late, tell us about the "great Fox purge of naught one".

Graham: Right... that was a big thing in the Simpsons web community, There were actually a couple, one in 99 and one on 01, both of which consisted of FOX's lawyers, headed by one Dennis S. Wilson, browsing around the web to find Simpsons websites and sending them Cease and Desist letters. Most sites that got the letters simply shut down to avoid the threat of court action.

Tim: Did you get one?

Graham: Yes, but in my case it was because I was selling t-shirts with quotes on them. So I probably deserved it.

Graham: Actually I got that one in 03...

Tim: And yet GFC nee TSFFC survives to this day, which is a good thing. How did you fist discover Matt G's other brainchild, Futurama?

Tim: ... first ...

Graham: Someone showed me a picture of Leela. So fist might be appropriate...

Tim: That was a note to myself to correct the spelling, now I'll have to leave it in. So starting with a picture of a one eyed, purple haired alien, what happened next?

Graham: Well I was given lots of information about it, got a fairly good idea of the plot - and even visited PEEL and TLZ as it was - but I didn't get to watch it until Sky started broadcasting it.

Graham: That, too, was in 2003 as I recall.

Tim: So you started writing Sinpson's fan fic, was that your first foray into creative writing?

Graham: Yes, pretty much.

Graham: And it was as awful as you might expect.

Graham: Though I was pretty proud of it at the time.

Tim: I know what you mean. Did you find it difficult to post that first fic?

Graham: No. My ego at that point was about the size of the hoover dam.

Graham: I've seen the Hoover dam. it's very large.

Tim: It is indeed. And it hasn't shrunk any over the years either. What kind of feedback did you get on that first fic?

Graham: A wife.

Graham: I'm really not kidding. If it hadn't been for that story I wouldn't have met Chris.

Graham: Also apparently a bunch of other people thought it was neat enough to do fan art for.

Tim: That's an interesting outcome - I hesitate to say unique but certainly unusual. You're in the UK and she was from Sweden if I recall correctly, right?

Graham: That's right.

Graham: And yes, she's blonde.

Tim: Well naturally. It must have been a little challenging carrying on a relationship across the North Sea.

Graham: It was for a while. I think we got to see each other for a total of four weeks in the first two years. Then she moved over here to study at university.

Graham: We got married two years ago this month.

Tim: Woo Hoo. I remember about the time I came on board at the Madhouse a fan fic authoresses' name getting a Dawson appended to it and a while later I put two and two together. She writes fan fic also does she not?

Graham: She does indeed.

Graham: Her first fic blew mine out of the water. To be honest I think we've been quietly competing ever since...

Tim: That must make for some interesting dinner time discussions.

Graham: Yep.

Tim: Authors are their own harshest critics. Obviously she liked something about it. Did you both move into Futurama fic writing about the same time?

Graham: No, she went into it before I did. I had a few aborted attempts at things, mostly nascent versions of the big Parallel Lives series I'mw riting at the moment, but nothing ever succeeded.

Graham: Right after I wrote my last big Simpsons fanfic I went into a creative dip that only broke a little while before last Christmas.

Tim: Let's explore that thought for a second - every writer gets those "creative dips", also known as writers block, once in a while. What do you do when you get hit by one, other than switch genres that is?

Graham: I can't really say I did anything in particular. Mostly I kept writing down my ideas with the hope that I'd be able to start writing them again at some point, and then I just stopped writing entirely.

Graham: I figured there was no point in forcing myself to do something that I just couldn't enjoy.

Graham: Alcohol helps too.

Graham: Um... only where legal of course.

Tim: So your first Futurama fic was A Different View?

Graham: Yes. Yes it was.

Graham: What a way to make a debut.

Tim: Indeed. That was out there a little. By and large it seems to have been a hit in the community. Did you get any "heat" about it?

Graham: Not as much as I'd expected. Most of it was more about how I didn't have Leela kissing Fry and so on, and how I ended it in such an unorthodox way.

Graham: One or two people thought it was a very odd idea in the first place.

Graham: But I didn't get any specific *hate*, as such. Just confusion.

Graham: ... why do I sound like I just came out? I'm not gay, folks. My wife would kill me if I was.

Tim: Perhaps Philipa was just the expression of some repressed inner ... uh ... anyway, you kind of left the end open so any follow on could go about anywhere. Do you have any plans for a continuation?

Graham: I do indeed, though what form it'll take is still up in the air.

Graham: There's a lot of things I didn't completely tie up in the end.

Graham: And, much as I'm enjoying Ramon's contribution to the story, I think I'd like to go in a different direction.

Tim: Ah yes, Ramon's Prairie Rose. What was your reaction when he first approached you about that project?

Graham: Surprise. Shock. Confusion. You know, all those things everyone else must have felt when they read it in the first place ...

Graham: I'm trying to say it without sounding like a pretentious twat.

Tim: Oh go for it - we will have the opportunity to edit this.

Graham: Neat.

Graham: After I read some of his other fanfics I figured he could probably do whatever story he chose enough justice. And I was excited about the idea that people might actually want to base something on my work.

Tim: Nothing pretentious in that. And yes, that would be quite a head rush. I notice you left "ego inflating flattered" off your list, or did that come later?

Graham: That's sort of implicit.

Graham: I'm still a bit high off the whole thing, even now.

Graham: And he's doing such a good job with the plot that I can't quite get over it.

Tim: Enjoy. How did you conceive the idea for A Different View?

Graham: I half-read a fanfic where Fry and Leela swapped bodies, which was technically well written but fell into a whole bunch of clichés and so on. And I found out that this seems to be a big thing, this idea that a man turning into a woman is a) sexy and b) a barrel of laughs. I figured I could do better than that.

Graham: Working within the confines of "a man turning into a woman" of course...

Graham: I mean you sort of lose credibility right there. But I reckoned I could write a *good* gender swap story, and so I did it just to see if I was right.

Tim: I'd say you were right.

Graham: Why thankye.

Graham: Of course now I'm almost obsessed with the whole thing...

Tim: Inventors are usually that way about their creations. Care to give us any hints about where it might go if and when?

Graham: I don't have any solid ideas yet, but a baby will be involved at some point.

Graham: Also I want to play around with the silvery dude I had near the end, I think I can get more out of that, it, whatever it was.

Graham: There's more, but it's so nebulous that I might be saying exactly the opposite when I start writing. Which, probably, will be around the end of the year.

Tim: We'll look forward to that. Which bring us to your current project Parallel Lives - it sounds like you actually conceived that before your wrote ADV.

Graham: Yep. I got the idea for it while watching a series called Sliders, which was a very cool show until the network it was on started messing around and killed off all the lead characters bar one. I think that was FOX as well come to think of it...

Tim: No surpirse there.

Graham: I wrote two pages of an idea that would have seen Fry and Leela visiting a parallel universe where they were the Emperor and Empress of a sort of weird Roman world. Sort of loosely based on the brief glimpse of Roman Farnsworth in the Farnsworth Parabox.

Graham: It didn't get very far though.

Graham: And, besides which, Kenneth had just finished a similar story with much better jokes so it felt a bit like I was following the crowd at that point.

Tim: You eventually did hit on a couple of viable ideas though ...

Graham: Yeah, they're mostly based on plot bunnies, ideas that weren't big enough to fill their own fic or were just too out there to really work.

Graham: Like the one coming up with the sea mutants.

Graham: Eventually.

Tim: Now there's a teaser - sea mutants eh? How many Universes are you planning to visit, or is this an open ended "they'll never get home like on Lost in Space (the 1960's series)?

Graham: Or Quantum Leap...

Graham: No I have a definite ending planned. I have six universes either written or ready to be written, including the big finale showdown.

Graham: But I'm writing it in a way that could let me insert any number of universes in between them.

Graham: I doubt I will, though. Six fics at an average of about 40,000 words a fic...

Graham: Hang on, I must have miscounted.

Graham: No, that's right.

Tim: That's A LOT of writing.

Graham: You're telling me.

Graham: To put it in perspective, Chris is writing a PHD thesis that can't be longer than 70,000 words.

Tim: It's harder for her to make up her stuff though.

Graham: hehe

(Two days go by ...)

Tim: OK, so let's see, where were we?

Graham: I was boasting about the length of my fics.

Tim: Oh yes, Enough for a three or four of PHD thesseses. Thesi?

Graham: Hehe

Tim: Well I'm sure everyone is impressed by the length of your fictions, so let's talk about your fan art. Is drawing somethings you've done for a long time, or is that another latent talent you discovered through fandom?

Graham: Nah, I've always been doing it. Apparently when I was very small I used to spend ages trying to draw houses and then get frustrated when I couldn't make it look like a real house.

Graham: I always did well in art subjects at school as well.

Tim: We have (some/all?) of your Futurama fan art here on the Madhouse - I was just off looking at it (and then lost the IM window in the clutter in my start bar for a moment). I presume you did some Simpson's fan art before switching to 'rama.

Graham: Yep.

Graham: Mostly illustrations for fic ideas and things. I never really got into the way of just drawing random scenes of family life.

Graham: Also I was checking, and I didn't do as much as I thought I had.

Tim: Better get busy then. I was over at your site looking and I see you've got a few more there.

Graham: Yes.

Graham: I have a small pile sitting on my computer that I need to upload.

Graham: Never got around to it.

Tim: So obviously a lot of your fan art illustrates your fics (which is a really nice talent to have at hand) and you've done a few illustrations for other authors from time to time.

Graham: Yep.

Graham: I enjoy the chance to put characters in unusual situations.

Tim: That much is obvious. Let's talk about Futurama itself for a bit - let's start with your favorite characters.

Graham: Leela, for unsurprising reasons.

Graham: Actually I quite like Zidberg, in a sort of love/hate thing. He's funny. And, hmm, Fry, since I identify with him a lot. And Zap. He's so arrogant and bullish and stooopid, you just can't find it in you to hate him.

Tim: I think that practically every male from puberty until about 30 minutes after clinical death (longer if it's a warm day) is attracted to Leela and identifies with Fry.

Graham: lol

Tim: Do you find that Zoidberg is hard to write? Like finding places and reasons to use him?

Graham: Oh definitely. I'm always scared of using him as the comic relief who turns up for no reason, pratfalls and then leaves again.

Tim: Why? That's exactly what canon did (except maybe in Crustacean In Love).

Graham: Because I'd do it badly.

Tim: Good a reason as any I guess. Are there any characters you dislike?

Graham: That's tough... It's hard because there's a lot of characters who aren't likeable but who were necessary. I guess I could say Sal. He's fugly.

Tim: Good analysis. Speaking of Fry and Leela, where do you stand on the F&L ship? Obviously ADV went a radically different direction, and PL we can't tell what's going to happen on that front since the path is littered with hints and innuendos that point in all directions and hence nowhere.

Graham: Cautiously pro, but they both need a good kick in the pants before they start out on that journey because it's obvious they have some very odd expectations about things.

Tim: Such as?

Graham: I like to say that they're both emotional retards, though it's a bit cruel. For instance, Leela seems to be looking for a father figure all the time. Power and money, someone put it as, but I think it's more a case of looking for security and protection.

Graham: Fry is just a bum. He tries, but he needs to grow up a lot.

Graham: All in my opinion of course.

Graham: Oh yeah, and he needs to listen to Sting a bit: "If you love someone let them go" is the line. He's obsessed with Leela and doesn't seem willing to just wait for her instead of always trying to pressure her into a date.

Tim: IOW a typical male?

Graham: Hah. Yes.

Tim: Favorite episode(s)?

Graham: Is there anyone who doesn't say Devil's Hands to that question? Oh well, Luck of the Fryish, The Sting, Leela's Homeworld and Amazon Women in the Mood.

Graham: Oh yeah, and Devil's Hands.

Tim: Any that you'd call stinkers?

Graham: Spanish Fry. It felt like they had ideas left over and just stitched them together.

Graham: And...

Graham: I'm trying to find the title. That one where Bender entered the olympics and turned into a fembot.

Graham: It had a load of funny scenes, I just hate it for some reason.

Tim: Bend Her.

Graham: That's the one!

Tim: How about Bender's Big Score - hot or not?

Graham: Needed less time travel and more orchestral music.

Tim: There hasn't been much fan fic based on BBS. Why do you think that is?

Graham: If I were to guess I'd say it's just too confusing to base a fic on.

Tim: True, but the ending was something of a parallel to "Devil's Hands", yet we haven't seen any "after the funeral" fics.

Graham: It didn't feel like it had proper closure. The knowledge that there's definitely more coming afterwards probably discouraged people from looking at the possibilities.

Tim: Pity that, but you're probably correct. Let's get back to your website for a moment. I know from nigh on two years of being apprentice webmaster grade 218 here at Madhouse that a webmaster collects a lot of amusing and interesting stories, most of which they can't (or shouldn't) tell. Got any tales you can share, or just general thoughts on running a website like TSFFC?

Graham: Yeah one thing I've learned, above all else, is that developing your own software is a pain in the butt. Also banning people is a lot more fun than it has a right to be.

Tim: I am in full agreement on the former and will not comment on the latter.

Graham: I'm trying to think now. Stories... no the best I can come up with is the one time, years ago, when my former supreme leader, Adam Pulver, came over from the states for a visit. For two days. I think he was asleep most of the time.

Tim: The jet lag will get you.

Graham: Yes.

Tim: Which is also why I only went as far as DC - it's in the same time zone as I am.

Graham: I've managed to get jet-lag without moving time zones. Seems to be a gift.

Graham: Anyway mostly I've just tried to run a site as best I can. I have never been able to really muster the enthusiasm for big "community" things, like the whole thing over in the Simpsons fandom. They had this big clique of elite webmasters and everyone was always trying to get in their good books. I couldn't really deal with it.

Tim: Yeah, that wouldn't be any fun. So that's about all I can think of at the moment. Anything you can think of we haven't covered that you'd like to talk about?

Graham: I can't think of anything.

Tim: All righty then, I guess we're done. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.