Thomm Quackenbush, author

Interview with David Hellman and Dale Beran

By Thomm Quackenbush

David Hellman and Dale Beran are the geniuses behind the webcomic, if that is even the appropriate term for what they do, A Lesson is Learned But the Damage is Irreversible. Part expressionist painting, part college philosophy classes we all slept through, with a liberal dollop of inspired frenzy, A Lesson is Learned is steadily building a fanbase of the creatively maladjusted.

  1. What does the title of your comic mean to you? Are these your prescient last words?

    David: The title refers to a persistent desire to understand and cope with life's hardships, as well as the realization of our limits to enact change upon our ultimately flawed human existence.

    Dale: We had a hard time choosing the title. Ultimately, we met at the most defeatist sentiments. Had negotiations broken down on the lowest or highest point? I insisted on it being a humor comic instead of making our usual work of dank despair. David, rightly, wanted both. It's like putting sugar in your cough syrup.

  2. Close your eyes. You are in Peru. What color is it? (Open your eyes to answer)

    David: Peruvian.
    Dale: I'm writing much differently than if I would have spoken these answers. Next time you should call us on the telephone. Green. The jungle is green.

  3. Why did you set out to make this webcomic?

    David: Since high school, when we'd do this kind of thing during our free blocks, we've always enjoyed drawing and making things in a social setting. The way we respond to each other makes it fun and pushes the enterprise along. Also, we're both trying to orient ourselves to adult lives of self-sufficiency, and it's either frantically pursue independent directions that interest us with the hope of puncturing the big cash cloud hovering above, or resign ourselves to menial labor beneath the thumb of our sovereign lordship.

    Dale: That's pretty much it. We like to collaborate on things. If we hadn't made this we would be making other things. I think this was a good choice because we actually have an audience for the first time which is healthy for us.

  4. What is the biggest problem with webcomics that aren't yours?

    David: I would ask those artists.

    Dale: Unlike David I'll gladly trash-talk our medium. No, wait I deleted it. See, if you had just spoken to me I would have tactlessly spilled out alienating criticisms, just like how it happens at parties.

  5. Do girlfriends ruin time for artistic expression? What if they are made of etherial flame?

    David: Generally I think girlfriends who arouse the passions add fuel to the creative fires, but I suppose we would have to consider this case-by-case. Girlfriends of ethereal flame are only in stories.

    Dale: oh god yes. Before they both dwindle in to ashes? These are big questions with big answers. I've never been one to ignore the burning demands of the body, but is it helpful?

  6. If a future you came back to correct his mistakes, what video game would you play and why?

    David: Probably the original Legend of Zelda, because that's what I wasted my time on the first go around. I actually think video games are great, but in my adolescence I failed to moderate.

    Dale: mm... Nightstalkers for sega cd. With original unedited monster panty-raiding. In the future could you obtain such antique delicacies? Perhaps in a specialty shop floating high in the hover-car swept sky.

  7. You both really loath one another, right?

    David: In theory. Dale: We've never met. David is a box on my desk giving me instructions. When I put my hand in there there is only pain.

  8. What other useful things could one do with your combined college majors of ancient Greek and art?

    David: I've never seen Agamemnon enacted entirely by dogs.

    Dale: Burned Rome(?)

  9. What are the scariest job you have ever had?

    David: I'm not sure.

    Dale: The one I have now. I teach middle school science in the inner city. Everyday I meet with 80 children who believe they are participating in some grandiose joke, who are completely different though I'm supposed to pretend they are the same.
    Jobs are hard. I think "professionalism" is the biggest joke. I can't help laugh. It's like when I pretend to be very upset at some crude sentiment or swear word the kids say. This is why I make a bad teacher and employee, the kids, just like the adults, can see right through me, and know I couldn't care less about all the rigmarole I'm enforcing.

  10. Did David and Sniper Wolf ever find one another again?

    David: Someone named Sniper Wolf joined our forum after I wrote the open letter. I Personal Messaged her, and eventually she wrote back. She said she liked the comic and complained about our update schedule. Our update schedule is much better now, by the way.

    Dale: They'll find each other in sniper heaven.

  11. Dale, you went to Bard! Do you know Conor and Flynn? Or Janaya?

    David: This question is for Dale.

    Dale:Yes, I know them all actually. Janaya was my person-in-charge-of-the-dormatory person for a little while. She had picture of a vampire sleeping in a coffin on her door. It kinda looked like her. Down the hall I would cook ramen and chain smoke with my girlfriend in the common room late at night. We added our own spices. People would come in and out. I don't smoke anymore. I don't date that girl anymore.

    Conor and Flynn I don't think would know me. I was fascinated by "larpers", but only when they would pass by my window in cloaks and things.

  12. What was your favorite college memory?

    David: Days and nights with my girlfriend at the time. Musical experiments with Alan. The kids in my hall who would get high and watch Mr. Show.

    Dale: The one I just said was pretty good. Bard was wonderful. To drink and think about things, and to dwell with beautiful young people in the trees. My memories are kind of like my Magic the Gathering card collection. Each one does something special that I prize and value is assigned in many ways. Combining them I can fight with other people. I never play really, but I've been saving them since middle school. There are many creatures etc.

  13. Which discipline is less useful, art or philosophy?

    David: C.

    Dale: You have just named the two most useful things I can think of.

  14. What has been the strangest reaction you have received from your comic?

    David: Maybe it was from the Penny Arcade readers who found us through a vortex in their forum. They loved episode 16, which is the only one that embarrasses me.

    Dale: Intense anger.

  15. Which of your comics is your favorite?

    David: Episode 10, about the gun that only kills one's true love, was our boldest stylistic departure, and set off a string of more compositionally/conceptually complex and emotional stories. That was very exciting, particularly comparing those episodes with the first few, which had a very different tone. My favorites are the ones that capture some romanticism, yearning or pain, and convey those feelings with immediacy and mystery. Episode 13, in which Dale suffers repeated head injuries, achieved this, but the drawing has not aged well. (Other favorites: 14, 15, 18, 21.)
    I want readers to be moved and entertained, but also perplexed. I think one of my favorite kinds of experiences, which is ultimately what I hope to share with my work, are moments when I delight in something while also feeling confused and frustrated by it. Humans are able to perceive and experience incredible beauty, but our imaginations, or maybe simply our natures, push us on to want even more. That's why some of the most vivid moments of life also contain sadness. I think the best relief for these feelings is making art and developing understanding with other people.

    Dale: David's put it well. I think about them often. Self immolating number 5 is complete in a way that still surprises me, same with the gun of true love. Yeti number 14 was a place where David and I really clicked, and his art is beautiful. Really, I feel as though we've just started. We're still digging. I'm hoping our nails will scratch something hard strange, and it will have hinges and open...

A Lesson is Learned


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