Lesson #71 – Alternate Universes (An Attempted Two-Dimensional Rendering
Of An Infinitely-Directional, Near-Incomprehensible Concept)
Surviving the World is an online photocomic created by Dante Shepherd. While it might remind you of your school days (or yesterday if you’re still in school), it provides a humorous twist to everyday life lessons and thought provoking debates, and will inform you on, well, how to survive the world. Every lesson has at least made me smile, and at best cracked me up. The humor ranges from from dry wit to just plain silly, but avoids cynicism. Surviving the World can be read and enjoyed by anyone and everyone, it won’t alienate you by genre and, really, I recommend it to everyone.
I could go on and on about why I like to read it, but I don’t know if that will really give the insight I want this “spotlight” to include. Below is an interview I conducted with Surviving the World creator Dante Shepherd discussing the inspiration and other aspects of the webcomic.
Kelly Melcher: What inspired you to start Surviving the World?
Dante Shepherd: Surviving the World actually came out of another project I was trying to put together, a script for a television show idea I had about life in college. The set-up for the show focused on a professor teaching at a local YMCA, offering distinct lessons about how to survive and prepare for life at college. Each episode would be half centered around this professor teaching this class, and half around the lives and interactions of college students who the professor was using as class examples. I’d been writing short stories, plays and scripts for years, and rarely ever finished one, but I spent several years putting this script and proposal together, and really liked what came out of it.
I showed the script (which I was calling 101) to a few friends who liked it, and sent it to some contest, where it was basically ignored, or misunderstood, or wasn’t liked. But it was the first real long script I’d ever finished, and I wanted to make sure more than ten people saw it. I almost rewrote it as a one-act play, but then tried asking around on the Internet to see if anyone would be willing to draw it as an off-beat comic book. When the only responses I got were from people who drew worse stick-figures than I could put together, I moved in the webcomic direction. Since I can’t draw and really wanted a unique style, I went with the photocomic and blackboard format.
The name 101 was already taken on the blogging site that the webcomic was first hosted on, so I ended up renaming the project Surviving the World. Most of the college-related comics in the first 100 lessons are cannibalized straight from the original script, so at least they live on in some regard.
KM: How often do you update the website?
DS: I put up a new comic/lesson once a day, usually as soon as I get up in the morning. The original plan was to run only a couple times a week, but that plan got scrapped by the second lesson.
KM: Of the comics you have produced so far which is your favorite?
DS: I really enjoy the comics where I’ve come up with some idea that’s completely disturbed, and then ran with that. In person I tend to come across as loud and a little insane – as my parents once put it about my sisters and me, “we didn’t get a lot out of the Ordinary Basket” growing up. So I love really weird ideas, like Lesson #106 – Natural Bodily Processes — if I can put a completely serious face next to it, the juxtaposition just makes me laugh endlessly.
But since the comic is really supposed to have that class atmosphere as well, I get a lot of pride out of the comics where I can slide in a lesson about discrimination or religious tolerance and still make it humorous. I sincerely believe that a ton of the world’s problems can be solved by promoting individuality and tolerance and cutting back on hypocrisy, which is really where Lesson #167 – The Bible came from. That one really captures what I strive to accomplish — potentially opening someone’s mind, even just a smidge, while still bringing a smile to their face.
Lesson #167 – The Bible
KM: Which has gotten the most fan response?
DS: The one that started basically a giant class discussion on one of the social linking sites was Lesson #5 – Fame. It seems like people give it a quick laugh in regards to the “sex tape” line, and then circle back and start debating the merits of the other profession. There was this long, drawn-out argument about it on Reddit, actually, which was really to cool to go through and read the comments on. No one seemed to completely agree with me about it, but still, if it riles people up enough that they feel the need to express their opinion, the comic’s probably done its job.
On the other hand, a bunch of scientists and mathematicians like to rip me on that one for, and I kid you not, “putting the independent variable on the x-axis.” Guys, it’s still a comic! Give me a break!
Lesson #5 – Fame
KM: Are there ways for fans to interact with you and the comic, if so how?
DS: Well, I’m on Twitter (despite having made fun of it back in October), which I like to think of as me rambling in the teacher’s lounge, but all the students are eavesdropping at the door. I enjoy talking to most of the people who speak up when I post a random thought there. There’s a Facebook fan page, too, and the STW forums, where I try to respond to questions people have about the various comics.
The best way to get involved, though, is by emailing in a recitation question. I had several classes in college (and have taught a few) where once a week the professor would just have a general review period, and students could raise any concerns they had about the class — not like office hours, where usually the professor just deals with people one-on-one, but a whole class session. That’s the idea behind the recitations which run each Friday. Once a week I go through any email that gets sent in where someone has asked a question that would help them, somehow, survive the world. Then I directly answer that question in the comic with a serious answer that still gets a humorous spin on it. There are a ton of good questions each week to sort through, but there’s always the chance your question would make it in.
KM: What is the strangest recitation question you have received?
DS: Besides women asking me to marry them? Heh. My wife just shakes her head at those.
It’s kind of funny — I originally expected all the recitation questions to be about big-pictures issues, like philosophical or theological implications on society that people had wondered about. But almost immediately, they became really personal questions, like “how do I tell my girlfriend that she’s beautiful?” or “how can I get my parents to accept me?” or “do you have any career advice for someone in my field?” Which was weird, because suddenly it had become a therapy session. But I guess it all fits in — if you’re going to call your comic “Surviving the World,” and you want people to ask questions about anything they feel they need to know to survive the world, people are going to ask questions that directly affect them and their own problems. It ends up making the recitations that much more fun and challenging.
Someone did once ask me if I could speak to ducks, though. Another person asked me how to remove a curse. I hope those issues got resolved OK on their own.
KM: Here’s your chance to pitch, why should we read Surviving the World?
DS: Studies have shown that people who laugh a lot live longer and happier lives. The average person laughs only eight times a day. Eight times! I can make myself laugh eight times in about five minutes without trying. If you read Surviving the World each day, hopefully you’ll add to your laugh count, thus improving your health, thus increasing your life expectancy, thus helping you live longer, which, in effect, helps you survive the world. See how it all comes around? So yes, read Surviving the World, and you’ll live longer. Ideally. I can’t really guarantee it’ll be a lot longer, but hey, every minute counts, right?