Eisner Nominee Sean McArdle on The Führer and the Tramp

The cover to The Fuhrer and the Tramp, featuring Charlie Chaplin flanked by Hedy Lamarr to his left and Erroll Flynn to his right. Adolf Hitler stares at them all from the back.

The Comics Experience crew is excited to support alumnus and Andy Schmidt mentee Sean McArdle on his Eisner nomination for The Führer and the Tramp!

(And he’s not the only Comics Experiencer with an Eisner nomination – lettering instructor Erica Schultz and alumnus Amy Chu both contributed to Where We Live: Las Vegas Shooting Benefit Anthology!)

Sean is joined on his tale of celebrity and WWII intrigue with Dexter Wee on art and Jon Judy as his co-writer. And we haven’t even mentioned the best part yet: Comics Experience and Source Point Press will be publishing the trade paperback this year!

Sean spoke with us about the project and the honors it earned.

Comics Experience: How did you initially conceive of the idea of The Führer and the Tramp? What was your process like for finding a team?

Sean McArdle: I originally thought up the idea for The Führer and the Tramp back in 2015 while watching The Interview. Kim Jong-un had threatened to assassinate Seth Rogen for lampooning him, and since that was 2015, and the world was more sane, that struck me as the craziest thing I had ever heard. A world leader wanted to assassinate SETH ROGEN? Now today, 4 years later, that news would be the third craziest thing that would be reported on an average Tuesday.

I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. I tried reasoning with myself thinking “Well, Hitler never threatened to assassinate Charlie Chaplin when he made The Great Dictator. Which inevitably lead to the thought “What if Hitler tried to assassinate Charlie Chaplin when he made The Great Dictator!”

At the time, my best friend and frequent collaborator, Jon Judy, was fresh off his graphic novel, Swerve, and I was wanting to collaborate with him on a project. Jon and I are both fans of Charlie Chaplin, the Golden Age of Hollywood and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so this seemed like the perfect fit.

We had been collaborating with Dexter Wee since about 2007, and we had developed a very collaborative way of working. Dexter is a fantastic artist, and even better friend. I love working with Dexter. I was creating this book first and foremost for myself, and I wanted to enjoy the process of creating it, so Dexter was the natural choice.

CE: How did your mentorship under Andy Schmidt help you with crafting the story?

SM: Andy is a fantastic editor and mentor. He has a real knack for finding every illogical plot beat and out-of-character contrivance. Under his mentorship, I learned quite a bit about narrative structure and character development.

Andy also helped guide me through the weeds of Act 2, the middle part of the story where I would usually stumble. He helped me realize that my problem was I was barreling through the plot via a straight line to the finish instead of allowing the story to breathe, and meander a bit.

He compared it to Raiders of the Lost Ark saying that I went from Marcus Brody talking to Indy at the college about the Ark of the Covenant, to Indy getting on a plane and immediately finding the Ark in the Well of Souls. Instead I needed to send my characters on mini quests as Spielberg and Lucas did with Indy — meeting Marion in Nepal, acquiring the Staff of Ra, meeting Sallah, bad dates, Marion getting kidnapped…

That bit of insight has completely changed the way I approach storytelling.

Andy’s expertise and experience has been an invaluable resource.

CE: How did you go from Kickstarter success story to publication with Source Point?

SM: I first released The Führer and the Tramp as a webcomic in order to start building an audience and awareness, so that when I launched the Kickstarter, I was starting from a base of fans. Between that fanbase, my network of friends and family, and utilizing every marketing trick I’ve learned in the past 20 years in my day job as a graphic designer, I was able to reach 300% of my goal.

I think it was important too for me to view the Kickstarter campaign as only one component, and as a marketing and publicity piece, not as the be all end all of the comic. I never allowed the Kickstarter to determine the fate of the project. Even if I didn’t reach my goals, I was still capable of printing the book myself.

I had tons of help and advice from other comic creators that have run wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns. Ted Sikora from Hero Tomorrow Comics spent hours with me helping me refine my campaign and especially helped me avoid costly and time consuming rewards. A former student of mine, Shawn Coss from Any Means Necessary, has taught himself how to weaponize social media like no one else that I know.

Andy also was a great source of advice, and he and Source Point helped me navigate some of the legal issues regarding the property even before we had any agreement on publishing. That willingness to help without any guarantee from me about signing with them gave me all of the confidence I needed in believing that my project would be in trustworthy, capable hands. I really appreciate all of the work they put into helping get The Führer and the Tramp out to a wider audience than I could on my own. They have been fantastic, tireless advocates of us and our project.

CE: Kind of an obvious question, but what does it feel like to be an Eisner nominee?

SM: Becoming nominated for an Eisner Award was a huge shock to my system, one that I’m not sure my heart has recovered from.

I didn’t create this book and dedicate three years of my life to crafting it for any monetary gain or critical awards. Every line I wrote, every sound effect I lettered, every cover I colored and every page that I colored with grey washes, I did with an audience of only one in mind — me. My barometer for success was being able to finish it, and hold it in my hands, and look at it on my bookshelf. Anything beyond that is a totally unexpected treat.

I struggled for more than a decade, working on other people’s books, and creating a half dozen issue Number Ones and pitches with no success. Everytime I stepped into Artist’s Alley and set up my booth, I was humbled and in awe of all of the creators I perceived as being far better than myself, and started every convention — and frequently ending a convention — doubting my worth and place in this community. The Führer and the Tramp is the first comic I created, not to be published, not with an editor in mind, but I created it for me, and for the love of creating comics.

If there is anything that I have taken from the privilege of being selected as an Eisner nominee, it’s that I finally feel like I can honestly call myself a peer of all of the amazing comic creators that have inspired me my entire life. Hopefully I won’t feel so insecure the next time I set up in Artist’s Alley. It’s a fantastic piece of exterior validation coming from an illustrious committee. I hope to continue to live up to that honor.

The Eisner nomination also made me so eternally grateful to my collaborators, Jon and Dexter, as well as my mentor Andy Schmidt. These guys have been terrific, and I am always astounded that they have the patience to put up with my neocrisis and flights of fancy.

My journey is just beginning though. The Eisner nomination encourages me to continue chasing my dream of creating comics. I still have so much to learn, and hope to improve in my skills as a storyteller and continue to create even bigger and better comics.