Learning that illustrator/animator Matt Wiley is launching a new project is always cause for celebration. He brings his mad skills, deep knowledge of pop culture, and unique blend of humor and wisdom to everything he does. My now worn copy of My Cat is Depressed  has become a guidebook for the emotional cost of pandemic life. When Wiley offered me a sneak peek at Fuzzy is the Night, his new Choose Your Own Adventure-style webcomic game, I jumped at the chance. Spending time inside this highly saturated universe is a feast for the eyes, and a helluva lot of fun. When the world feels so out of control, what better balm is there than the Choose Your Own Adventure genre? 


Wiley took the time to get into the weeds with me about how this project came about and how it was created. We also dove into the unique benefits of his signature illustration style, and the decision to actively challenge cartoon gender stereotypes. The experience of interviewing Wiley is one part kid in a candy store, one part master class, and always inspiring.

Smile Politely: A "choose your own adventure" webcomic seems like the perfect marriage of function and form. Tell me what inspired you?

Matt Wiley: There have been a bunch of other evolutions of the Choose Your Own Adventure format on the web, so it's in no way an original approach, but works really really well with the non-linear nature of links. My favorite so far is an interactive adventure song that Neil Cicierega put out in 2010.

Smile Politely: How did you approach it? What was your process like?

Wiley: My energy got zapped from COVID-19 lockdown and so did my chances of taking on longer-form projects. So I started reading comics again and making quick illustrations of various animals going through existential crises. 

Test illustrations of screaming animals. Image by Matt Wiley. Image by Matt Wiley.

I really liked the energy and spontaneity of the characters in Noelle Stevenson's Lumberjanes, so I did an experiment to see how fast I could write something with that energy while also not judging myself. That plus the screaming animal characters quickly meshed into a Choose Your Own Adventure format. My friend and fellow Colab coworker Niky Reynolds showed me a program called Twine, that lets you visually arrange and connect non-linear stories and publish them to the web.

Flow chart for
Image by Matt Wiley.

It was great for organizing the story content but I ultimately did something simpler that would work without having to upgrade squarespace. As for the visuals, there's a long history of webcomics using a "cut-and-paste" style involving drawing a single angle of a character and making minor alterations to it for each frame. This often helps a creator overcome deficiencies in ability or drastically increase efficiency. This project is a bit of both.

SP: Were there any references, either digital or analog, that informed you?

Wiley: I think I was going for something visually along the lines of Paw Patrol mixed with Adventure Time.

SP: The main characters are so engaging. Funny, smart, a bit competitive. Rabbits could become prey to raccoons, but they're usually too fast. They have a great rapport which creates a richer dynamic than a single protagonist. How did the characters first appear to you? What was their evolution like?

Wiley: I literally just now googled "do raccoons eat rabbits?" and that was not something I thought I'd learn today. I pretty much knew what I wanted them to look like from the start.

Rough sketches for
Image by Matt Wiley.

SP: You start off with this rich twilight palette that changes as the characters take more dangerous paths. What were some of the biggest challenges creating a sense of increased danger without sound or animation?

Wiley: One of the benefits of a simple illustration style is how significantly facial expressions and framing can have on the feeling of a scene. I had to consciously keep the designs simple so they had the capacity to get creepier later on.

Dumpster scene from
Image by Matt Wiley

SP: With all of the choices and combinations of choices, you've built a significant shelf-life for this work. How many potentional outcomes are there?

Wiley: There's actually only 12 possible endings, the stories proceed linearly towards their conclusion once they diverge from the first page. There's no other crossover.

SP:  Although the characters introduce their names, they are presented in a very gender neutral way.  It's a refreshing change and makes the adventure more appealing and accessible to everyone. 

Wiley: Yeah, that was conscious. A lot of the gendered animal characters we see today are exaggerated towards stereotypes, like the male moose with the square jaw or the female rabbit with wide hips and exposed midriff. So it was fun to go a different direction for this.

Kidnapping scene from
Image by Matt Wiley.

Smile Politely: How long did the project take from start to finish?

Wiley: About three months at an extremely slow place while learning how to make an ice cream hallucination and cheeseburger in 3D.

SP: This seems like it must have a perfect solo pandemic project. What are the pros and cons of working this way?

Wiley: [The} pros are it's a standalone project that keeps me sane for a season. [The] cons are I'm basically making 150 of something by myself.

SP: When will the comic launch and how will we be able to access it?

Wiley: It's available now for $10 on my site.

SP: Will we be seeing a follow up "Choose Your Own Adventure" web comic? What's up next?

Wiley: I don't have any immediate plans, but I want to experiment with pixel art and use the format to do a low-tech 90s-style point-and-click game.

SP: How can readers find out more about "Fuzzy is the Night?" and your other work?

Wiley: You can find me on Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram.

Top image by Matt Wiley.