“The luxury of being an indie creator is that nobody cares what you do, so you might as well do what you want!” Russell Ihrig talks Sockford, ComiXology Submit and ‘solo activities’

SockfordSockford is the cautionary tale of of a teenage boy who enjoys a few too many ‘solo activities’ only for his ‘soiled’ tube sock to be brought to life when lightning strikes his washing machine. Despite the slightly risque premise, Sockford is delightfully sweet story coming-of-age story about a teenage boy and his sock buddy that is released this week via ComiXology. Keen to find out more about this unique story we contacted writer/artist Russell Ihrig to learn more about socks, sexuality and ComiXology Submit

Sockford washing machine

“”The idea came pretty instantly as I lowered a similarly “soiled” sock of my own into a washing machine.”

The idea for Sockford is quite a unique one (a soiled sock comes to life, after a lightning strike on a washing machine), so where did the idea for the whole story come from? 

RI: The idea came pretty instantly as I lowered a similarly “soiled” sock of my own into a washing machine. For some reason I just imagined the washing machine as this giant womb and thought about the absurd horror of having this “fertilized” sock somehow gestate. This was way before I even considered making comics, so I kept it in the back of my mind as a possible short story or some other creation. Once I decided I would like to try making a comic of my own, I remembered this idea and realized it was a really good fit for the medium.

So it wasn’t a tall tale from a parent trying to stop your own ‘solo activities’? 
RI: My parents definitely never told me any tall tales and actually I remember my dad telling me there are two types of people when it comes to masturbation: those who do it, and those who lie about it.
It’s a bit similar to the Frankenstein story as well…
RI: I didn’t really realize I was making a Frankenstein tale until after I had already started the project, but I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for some influence and definitely borrowed some ideas. I was really fascinated by how Frankenstein’s monster is very different from the popular representation- he’s super smart and articulate (he teaches himself to read with Milton’s Paradise Lost) and that became a big part of Sockford’s personality. If you look closely, Frankenstein is one of the books that Sockford is using to teach himself to read. The idea of “male birth” and that horror is also there.
Sockford reading

“If you look closely, Frankenstein is one of the books that Sockford is using to teach himself to read. The idea of “male birth” and that horror is also there.”

Despite having a quite rude start point, Sockford is a genuinely sweet and tender story, did you always intend it to be like that and or did you have to self censor along the way to remove any jokes or comments that made it too raunchy? 
RI: That was definitely always my intention and I’m always a little embarrassed to tell people what it’s about because I’m worried they’ll assume it’s crass or raunchy. Then again, I like when a story defies my expectations, so I also enjoy when that sweetness takes people by surprise. Some of my biggest influences are E.T. and Pixar movies, so I’m really aping family films, but with this kind of naughty twist. There never really was any self-censorship happening because I always knew I wanted that tone and understood what kind of delicate tightrope I was walking.
You use very diplomatic words to describe Dale’s ‘solo activities’ in the book’s synopsis how did you choose which were and weren’t acceptable words to use and were there any you wanted to use but felt went too far? 
RI:I feel like I don’t really talk about it too much because we basically see “the act” early on, so the audience doesn’t really need to be told about it too much. I think in the book it’s always “touching myself” or some variation of that. I probably spent more time thinking about how to describe it in the synopsis than I ever did in the actual book. I probably kicked around a few other euphemisms, but quickly went with “solo activities” because I didn’t want it to be so gross sounding that people wouldn’t consider reading it, but I also wanted the appropriate reader to know what I meant. I think “solo-activities” would fly over the heads of most younger kids who might pick it up, and even the way the masturbation scene is drawn would probably be meaningless to someone who didn’t already know what masturbation is. Also “solo activities” makes me laugh because it’s almost too sterile a description.
Sockford sex negative

“I hope the tone of the book is very sex-positive, and would love for teens to be exposed to that kind of outlook, but I also understand that I live in a culture that is incredibly sex-negative”

Considering the subject matter were you ever concerned about censorship, especially on ComiXology? And were you ever concerned about people judging the story unfairly after only reading a synopsis?

RI: I wasn’t really worried about censorship in the sense of someone changing the work (this book would make no sense if you “cleaned” it up), but I was definitely worried about it not seeing the light of day because of the subject matter. ComiXology lets you self-rate and I decided to make it for mature audiences, even though I actually believe it would be appropriate for teens. After all, nothing sexual happens that every teen hasn’t already experienced (or won’t soon experience). But based on the guidelines ComiXology sets, I could easily imagine someone contesting its appropriateness for that age-level. I hope the tone of the book is very sex-positive, and would love for teens to be exposed to that kind of outlook, but I also understand that I live in a culture that is incredibly sex-negative… even when it’s a highly sexualized culture. So yeah, I was worried, and that’s why I decided to call it “mature” even though I don’t really believe that it’s only appropriate for adults. Then again, nothing kept me from reading or watching “inappropriate” material at that age, so what am I worrying about? It probably just makes it more appealing!
The first issue feels very much like a parable about unwanted teen pregnancy but from the father’s perspective rather than the mothers, would that be fair to say? 
 
RI: The topic of teen pregnancy gets brought up in the dinner table scene, so it was definitely on my mind. Of course I’m bringing it up to point out the absurdity of abstinence-only education which is founded on the basic idea that sex is sinful and shameful. I feel the whole piece is really about getting over that sense of shame we can have about our own sexuality.
Sockford teen

“If Part One is the family film, Part 2 will be the teen movie (perhaps shades of John Hughes films or DePalma’s Carrie)”

Based on what happens at the end of this first part I’m assuming part two will be more of a traditional high school story… can you let us know any of what you have planned and how many issues of Sockford will there be?

RI: Definitely. If Part One is the family film, Part 2 will be the teen movie (perhaps shades of John Hughes films or DePalma’s Carrie). It’s planned to be only three issues, and I don’t want to give away too much about part 3 until part 2 is out… and partially because I know the least about that part and it could still change a lot.
Sockford is being released via ComiXology Submit, what made you decide to go down that route, is it available elsewhere and what are the benefits in your mind for releasing Sockford digitally? Are you a fan of digital comics for example? 
RI: I do enjoy digital comics and I was excited when I first heard about ComiXology Submit because I was already using ComiXology and had hoped that something like this could exist for Indie creators. Sockford is also available in print and can be ordered through my website or found in a few stores across the US, but the time and energy it takes for me to hand mail comics across the country can be a bit exhausting.
Coming up with a digital distribution plan for myself on my own website is also way more complicated (and costly) than people would probably assume, so this is a really great way for me to get my work out there. I can point people to a link where they can easily download it, and I’m happy to not sweat the details. I still love actual printed comics, but I also loved looking at Sockford on my iPad because the images were all created digitally. So in some ways it feels closer to the source than the printed page.
With books like Sex Criminals and Saga filling the mainstream charts do you think comic readers are becoming more open minded to slightly more adult stories? 
RI: I hope so, but I honestly have no idea what comic readers want or think, and try not to worry about it too much. In my mind Sockford is super mainstream, but I’m not in the mainstream, so what do I know? The luxury of being an indie creator is that nobody cares what you do, so you might as well do what you want. The downside is: nobody cares what you do…
But then every once in a while somebody does care, and that makes it worth it.
You can purchase Sockford part 1 from ComiXology Submit for £0.69/$0.99. For more information on Russell’s other work then visit his website www.russellihrig.com

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.