Erin Ptah is a humanist cartoonist who likes magic, time travel, and making her characters suffer. She lives in a swing state with a storage room full of sketchbooks and a very needy cat. She is the creator of the long-running webcomics And Shine Heaven Now, But I’m A Cat Person, and Leif & Thorn.
Her short comic, “The Traveler” is set in the world of Leif & Thorn. It will appear in the Destinations Anthology from Oneshi Press. Click here to support the anthology now on Kickstarter!
Tell us about yourself, Erin! How did you decide to create comics?
Freshman year of high school, I discovered there were People Putting Comics On The Internet, and immediately got hooked. None of them were the polished, professional, corporate-backed productions you get so many of today—they were just a hotbed of the kind of weird, offbeat humor that would never get approved by an editorial board. (Also, this was the early 2000s, so it was the rare editorial board that would let LGBT characters exist at all—but webcomics were full of them.)
Around the same time, I discovered the anime Hellsing, and got hooked on that too. So when I had this idea for a short Hellsing fancomic story, and knew how simple and easy it would be to post it online, it seemed obvious to go for it.
The series took off. Hard. Seriously, I was updating it almost daily for the next 9 years of my life.
Which is a great way to force yourself to get better at comics—and after all that, I still wasn’t sick of the format—so by the time the Hellsing fancomic (And Shine Heaven Now) wrapped up, I had an original series (But I’m A Cat Person) running alongside it. And a few years before that wrapped up, I launched the next series (Leif & Thorn) that’s still running now.
Haven’t run out of ideas yet, so I guess I’ve gotta keep going.
We’re here to talk about “The Traveler,” your comic in the upcoming Destinations Anthology! Tell us about the inspiration for this piece.
I love a good time-travel story. Stuck in a time loop, traveling back to do things differently and change the future, traveling back to protect things so you get the same future—it’s all good.
The prompt of “destinations” got me thinking about how time travel multiplies the question of “where are you going?” with “also, when are you going?” And if you’re visiting the past, you can blow up your ability to ever get back to the same future you came from.
“The Traveler” is a facet of a bigger time-travel story I’ve been working on. Through the whole arc of the story, our hero’s goal has been to preserve the timeline he remembers, so his final destination would be that same future he left from. But I always knew there was one big wrench I could throw in the gears, one thing he could be confronted with that would tempt him to blow it all up anyway.
This moment of temptation is separate enough to stand on its own—you don’t need to know the full backstory for it to work, you don’t even need to know the characters’ names! So I already knew I wanted to do something different and special with it. Then along came this anthology, and I had the perfect motivation.
It would be folly for us not to ask next about Leif & Thorn, the long-running webcomic that “The Traveler” is an offshoot from.
Leif & Thorn is a fantasy comedy, about a magic knight trying to have a romance in his second language.
Thorn is a classic fantasy knight—has a magic sword, killed a dragon, all that good stuff—but now he has PTSD, and actual burn scars, and doesn’t do well at barbecues. He and his team get assigned to guard a foreign embassy, where he hits it off with Leif: an indentured gardener, paying off an ominously unspecified debt.
They’re the heart of a big lovable ensemble cast. The most recent arc focuses on a secret agent who’s so far undercover she’s literally unmemorable, trying to keep an ex-supervillain from getting murdered before he can complete his redemption arc.
All this takes place in a whole other world, but instead of being Vaguely Medieval Europe, they’re a fantasy parallel to the present day. Tax laws with clauses for vampires! Gifted programs for teenage magical girls! Vaccines, but everybody gets them! Fantasy Eurovision! (…Which is not any more over-the-top than Real Eurovision, and believe me, I tried.)
Just had its seventh anniversary!
Where does “The Traveler” fit into the larger scheme of the story?
One of the earliest Leif & Thorn stories introduced a time-traveling future version of Thorn. (Scruffy, grey-haired, and with an eyepatch, naturally.)
At that point, I didn’t even know why he was time-traveling yet! I just wanted to have fun with the idea of Future Thorn constantly landing in time periods he wasn’t aiming for, then stumbling around the background of canon events, trying not to screw them up.
Over the next few years, I figured out what his ultimate goal was going to be. One of the main threads in Volume 6 (coming to print next year) is “Future Thorn gets where he’s going, finally wrangles this mission he’s been building up to for so long, and discovers the secret real agenda he’s been serving the whole time.”
“The Traveler” is a tiny piece that takes place after the dust has settled, answering the seemingly simple question of “Okay, what happens when he tries to go home?”
What inspires you most as a creator?
Sometimes: things I like, and the desire to have more of those things in the world.
Other times: things I don’t like, and the desire to put a better version out there, to show the world how it should be done.
What fictional character do you most identify with, and why?
…Nobody comes to mind! There are characters I like, or admire, or find sympathetic, or get inspired by, but those are all different questions, you know?
Even when it comes to the characters I’m making up, there are bits and pieces of my feelings/experiences/ideas scattered across all of them—it’s not a case of “that one there, that’s the Me Character.”
Who are some writers, artists, or other creators who inspire you?
Naoko Takeuchi, for writing/drawing a big cast of distinct characters in a rich web of complex relationships…all while making everyone a beautiful magic space princess, because if you love drawing beautiful magic space princesses, your comic can never have too many of them.
Terry Pratchett, for making a big sprawling fantasy world he could use as a foundation for whatever he felt like writing, then making it insightful and scorchingly funny.
Octavia Butler and Martha Wells, for putting their characters through intense, emotional, traumatic situations that feel plot-driven and effective, not gratuitous or maudlin. Also, for just generally writing stories that are good and compelling, and stay that way through multiple rereads.
Bill Watterson, for being convinced that comics can be a place to push yourself artistically, that they deserve care and attention and experimentation instead of cookie-cutter templates and throwaway gags…and then digging in his heels until the editors let him do it.
What’s coming next from Erin Ptah?
The Destinations campaign launches right as the Leif & Thorn Volume 5 campaign is wrapping up, so…polishing up the print release of Volume 5 comes next, I guess!
But I’m A Cat Person ended a couple years ago (there’s a big pretty omnibus edition available), and I don’t have any new series on deck yet. Just keeping up the steady progress on Leif & Thorn, in between turning out comics and other fanworks for the latest series I’ve gotten hooked on. (…Moon Knight. This year that would be Moon Knight.)
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