Ape Not Monkey creator Jeffrey Weston was nice enough to let us rotate his comic strip on the Freethunk homepage for the month of March. He also granted us an interview below. If you enjoyed some of the highlighted comic strips visit his site to read through all of his archives.
FREETHUNK: What prompted you to start “Ape, Not Monkey” and what do you mean by “Ape, Not Monkey”?
WESTON: My first online comic strip was called “The Adventures of Noam Chomsky” (www.postmodernhaircut.com). I found it an interesting that an old Linguistic professor who always spoke calmly and in long endless sentences had such a huge following of college students. So I wrote up a comic strip about him, to satirize his ideas and the public image of him. However, doing an entire strip about one person was pretty limiting. So eventually began looking for another topic to tackle. Ape, Not Monkey came about as a less constricting way to express my opinions about Atheism, Skepticism and Politics. It’s form took more shape after I discovered Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip. A strip that satirized politics (Such as Joseph McCarthy) using a bunch of animals all living in a Florida swamp.
“Ape, not monkey” is taken from the fact that people are always mistaking Apes for Monkeys. For example, “We all descended from Monkeys.” When the animal was probably closer to an Ape. Or in the news when there is yet another chimpanzee attack. Someone will undoubtedly call it a Monkey. And someone else will comment. “Ape, not monkey!”.
FREETHUNK: How do you get a strip from idea to the web? So much is done digitally these days, but is this a hand-inked strip or are you using software to do most of it? And I noticed the comic strip started out in black and white and then went to color.
WESTON: Once I’ve got a script written, I used to sketch it out on a piece of paper (with rulers and all) and then scan that sketch in to the computer. I would then import those scanned pics into Adobe illustrator and draw over them to ink them. However, now everything is done in Illustator (digitally) from sketch to final product. Some people say that digital ink can’t replace the “nuance” of pencil on paper but those are probably the same people who think their Records sounds better than their CDs or that a Car would never replace the “nuance” of a horse and buggy.
The black and white to color transition had to do with figuring out a way to color quickly in Illustrator. I first started out with the idea that the strip would be a weekly one page color strip (like old comic strips from the 1920’s). But I learned that I could attrack more visitors if I posted more often. So I broke the strip into 2 color 4 panel comics a week. Then I switched to 3 black and white strips a week. Now, that I’ve found an quick way to do coloring in Illustator, I can do 3 Color comics a week.
FREETHUNK: Who are the characters? I noticed they seem to vary in their beliefs and nonbelief.
WESTON: Yes, there is a growing list of characters each with their own personalities and goals in life. A description of each of them can be found the New Readers page (http://www.apenotmonkey.com/new-readers/). Toby the scientist Ape was the first, along with Pastor Bear to represent Religion. Wilbur the dog believes in all the lefty organic food, environmentalism mushy stuff in between. Other characters like Dee-Quack Chopra (the spiritualist) and Arlen (the conspiracy theorist) are based on real people (Deepak Chopra and Alex Jones respectively.)
FREETHUNK: Do you have a scientific background or are you simply a fan of the scientific method like myself?
WESTON: I am a Computer Scientist, but I wouldn’t call that science. So like you I’m more of a fan. I didn’t actually truly realize what the scientific method was until I read Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things. That really got into skepticism, logical fallacies and other subjects that you can really apply to everyday work. Once you understand science, society becomes a lot more frustrating because you realize few people actually understand it or apply it in their daily lives.
FREETHUNK: On the same question of science, I noticed one strip that parodied those who essentially idolize scientific icons like Carl Sagan. Do you think freethinking atheists sometimes go too far in their adoration of certain historical figures in the field?
WESTON: I am skeptical of Atheists. Atheists tend to be right, but usually for the wrong reasons. They’ll go with you against religion, but turn the topic to alternative medicine or organic foods and you’ve lost them.
FREETHUNK: I believe, as far as I’ve read, Ape Not Monkey has to be one of the few freethinking comic strips to anthropomorphize animals to speak about gods, science, theology and heavier topics. I know there’s a Christian comic strip called “Church Mice” which has mice talk about religion and how God loves us and yet I think about pest control when I read it. Have you squelched any ideas because your characters are animals? Have you ever thought about challenging Christian mice to a debate?
WESTON: Wow, I haven’t checked that strip out in while. A cross-over strip would be quite interesting (^_^). Setting everything in a zoo with animals, can make things difficult. Particularly if you want to refer to technology or current events. However, it does force you to bend the topic to shove it into your Universe. Usually that can actually help the comedy. Bloom County was particularly good at that.
FREETHUNK: Do you have any personal history with religion? What was your upbringing like in regards to science and religion?
WESTON: I actually can say that I was some kind of “born again” Christian. When I was 11 or 12 I saw an early Simpson’s episode (the one where Homer steals cable TV) and one scene depicted Lisa’s nightmare of the entire family going to Hell. That scared me straight! ‘Luckily’ I had two friends who were pretty hardcore Christians, and they taught me a lot about the 10 commandments. However, I also had a friend who was an Atheist. Over the next couple of years, it really got to me how a loving God would send my nice Atheist friend to Hell for eternity, or even why God would allow such a place to exist. That was the wedge, that eventually convinced me that an Atheist world not only made more sense but a nicer place to live in.
FREETHUNK: I assume with your recent storyline on creationism that you think the earth is older than 6000 years? Your comic strip indicates there might just be a conflict between creationism and history?
WESTON: There certainly is a conflict. As Sam Harris has said “[Creationists] place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer.”
FREETHUNK: On a touchier subject, you also have had your main character react to an earthquake with what I find to be a hilarious if not simple rebuttal to all of the Christian explanations for God allowing for disasters. My philosophy is that humor is found in tragedy and I would guess you were compelled to comment on it amongst all the media noise?
WESTON: Yeah, every time there is a gigantic disaster the “Why bad things happen to good people?” question comes up and every time our top Religious leaders fail to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction. If they did, we wouldn’t keep asking it.
FREETHUNK: Do you have any future plans for Ape Not Monkey?
WESTON: Well, I’d like to make Pastor Bear the official mascot for the Catholic Church, that is, if they ever get rid of the sad guy on the stick. But aside from that, the game is to the just keep going and keep trying to get better at my craft.
I’d like to do more “Graphic Novel” type stories like the Debunking of Scientology (http://www.apenotmonkey.com/2011/02/28/birth-of-scientology-part-1/). I do enjoy the research part of it and wish I had more time to devote to full fledged debunking.
Again, thanks to Jeffrey Weston for his guest appearance on Freethunk. That Scientology parody he mentions is one of my favorites out of the material he’s done so far for 2011. Check out Ape, Not Monkey and feel free to comment on what his characters are saying.