What are you working on in comics for 2008? Things for the web and/or print?
Both. Right now I'm trying really hard to stick to a schedule on the website with a new storyline called "Year of the Rat". I've been planning on working on this for a while now. I was born in a "rat" year according to the Chinese zodiac so I felt like this year was my year to either put up or shut up. The story is about Dingbat the Cat waking up one morning as a rat. I've been wanting to do a riff on the Kafka Metamorphosis theme for a while. The comic will (hopefully) be running MWF. I'm going to try really hard to stick to the schedule. We'll see how that goes. If nothing else, I'm planning on getting more comics done and posted on the web this year than I have in a long time.
As for print I'm putting together an anthology for this year's MoCCA festival called Secrets and Lies. It's shaping up to be a very huge book both in size and amount of talent. I have a Rick Geary story that originally ran in Heavy Metal in the early 90's that I'll be reprinting as well as new work from Steve Bissette and a heavy dose of talent from the current crop of Center for Cartoon Studies alum/students. I'll also have a few copies of a trade paperback collection of all the original Magic Inkwell print strips. I'll be doing a fairly substantial story for Secrets and Lies as well as stories for a couple other anthologies that will be debuting at the MoCCA festival this year, including a story for a new SUNDAYS anthology. Last year's SUNDAYS anthology, which was put out by a few of this years graduating seniors from CCS, was what finally got me drawing again after almost a year of no real substantial activity on my part. I just couldn't draw anything for a long time before and after we moved to Vermont.
Are you doing any conventions this year?
Right now the only con in my future is the MoCCA festival in June. I wish I could attend some others like SDCC, SPX (which *may* be do-able, but I don't want to get ahead of myself) or Stumptown but it may be a long time before I can afford to do that, unfortunately. I'm hoping that I'll be able to land a place to crash during MoCCA, we'll see. Isnore awfully loud…
Cat, I don't think I've ever asked you, what's your background creatively? When did you get started in comics and what attracted you to it?
All I've ever wanted to do with my life from the age of six was become an artist/cartoonist. Every life decision from that point forward (to my detriment academically more often than not) had to do with what I needed to do to get to that point (drawing constantly). From starting a "comic book company" with my friends in the third grade to yearbook cover my graduating year, art shows, a water tower in Edinburg, Texas…wait, that's more "design". Well, I guess art and later design kinda flowed in and out of the overall dream/ambition, but you get what I mean. I've got a BFA in Studio Art/Painting. I did a ton of comics during college (some of which are in my webcomicsnation sketchbook).
What got me started is a bit more tricky. My first "published" work was in the first Ninja High School Swimsuit Special shock! gasp! that's a furry!! but… i didn't know what a "furry" was at the time, I just wanted to get something "published" in the "comics industry" and had a soft spot in my heart for Antarctic Press because they were in San Antonio which was about four hours north of my home. It's a gawd awful piece of trash and I can't believe they took mercy on me and published it anyway, much less the fact that I got paid for it. My first "paid cartoonist" experience, too. All $16. I still have a photocopy of that first check. 😉
That all happened during my last semester in college getting my "art degree". At the time I felt like I was still miles away from being "published" outside of locally self-published mini comics, the college paper (which had a humongous circulation and was nothing to turn my nose up at, let me tell you) and the odd newspaper piece as well as renegade zines I was doing with best friend at the time. My major break came later that summer from a cartoonist and later good friend Harold Buchholz who let me do colors/design on his fourth issue of Apathy Kat (shot of the cover here) which lead to some anthology stuff and lots of scattered coloring jobs and cover design work in "indy comics" circles. That's were it all really started, I guess. Webcomics was sorta happening concurrently from '96 on.
I don't know if you know it, but it's the fifth anniversary of this site (ComixTalk/Comixpedia). I was just looking back at the cover you drew for our very first issue. How'd we talk you into doing that?
I only know because you'd mentioned it when you asked me to do this interview. And I may have read it on the site at some point recently.
Anyway, I think I might've begged you to let me do it once I heard there was going to be a new webcomics-centric news site starting up. Of course, I'm so embarrassed at how ugly it is after all this time. I've been secretly wanting to beg you to give me a "do-over" shot for a loooong time now. To this day I'm really proud of having been a part of the inaugural issue, though, regardless of how sub-par my attempt at a cover was.
It's been awhile and I was poking around the Internet trying to see what you've been up to. What's the scoop on the move to Vermont? (and how long have you been there?) How are you doing after years in Texas?
It's been a COLD winter in Vermont this year. This is my second winter here. We moved in May of 2006. Originally I had dreams of teaching a webcomics course at the Center for Cartoon Studies. My wife happens to be from the area and her folks were up here, so it seemed almost like it was meant to be.
Although a webcomics class hasn't really materialized at the cartooning school, I've made a lot of great friends there and helped out at the school a bunch. I've been working with people like Steve Bissette and Robyn Chapman on their websites. Hung out with amazing visiting cartoonists (Lynda Barry stopped in not too long ago and I got to see McCloud when he passed through during his 50 state tour).
I'll admit, I miss Texas so much. I miss it pretty much everyday. But Vermont has been really good to me. I've found somewhere where I can hone my skills among like-minded, talented and amazing people. I even love my current day job!
It's just so COLD right now.
For some reason I'm now picturing a bunch of cartoonists trying to ski. It's not a pretty sight.
What is the day job these days and are you still finding enough time to work on comics? A Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule for the new storyline "Year of the Rat" is a pretty big investment of time.
I'm working in a cool little print shop just outside scenic Woodstock, Vermont called Anything Printed. I love design work but I'm also learning about cutting vinyl for signs and all kinds of other stuff. It's a really great job. We're also printing comics for people and have done a few runs for people recently including the printing for the DEAD MAN'S HAND anthology (which you can read about here) as well as the books I'll be putting out at MoCCA this year.
As for the schedule for Year of the Rat, I may have spoken out of turn with the whole MWF goal. It's more of a hope than a reality at this point, I'm afraid. I've got one installment up and one that is in the middle of assembly. I've missed two "installment days" (a Wednesday and a Friday). I've had no time to make a buffer and no foreseeable time when I'll be able to cultivate one since I'm working full time and have an amazing two year old and a wonderful wife to spend my free time with. The thing is, I'm completely aware (maybe too aware) of how my inconsistency has hurt my comics "career" over the last few years. And even during those brief periods when I could sustain a schedule not much really happened to put me in a place where I could sustain it and keep working on comics (and pay rent).
In all honesty, I'd just about given up on comics by the time we'd gotten to Vermont. Part of my hope when we moved here, though, was that I'd regain some of that passion for the art form that I used to have. And I have. But now I have to be realistic and admit that there's just no way in hell I'll be able to post comics three times a week and support myself and a family. So, yeah, maybe you're right, Year of the Rat will be a big investment of time. My goal should be that Year of the Rat will update at least once a week or with some regularity. ultimately I'd be happy if it updated three times a week. Plus I have a couple anthology pieces to finish.
Can you tell I'm the kind of cartoonist that will always and forever paint himself into a corner? Now I just feel ashamed…
What's it like living in Comics Town USA? Do you feel like you run into an artist every other corner?
Yeah, definitely. It's kinda like being at an alternative comix convention like SPX every single day. We have a movie night at the cartooning school every Tuesday night (run by Bissette!) and sometimes a really famous cartoonist will stop in to teach at the school and there will be a get together of some sort or a dinner or a party. The students at the school are pretty talented and a lot of them are coming here with a couple degrees already under their belt or a Xeric grant before they even start classes. The level of pure talent and skill right out the starting gate is staggering.
It's an amazing place to be and it's helped my work and how I think about comics in ways that I'll never be able to express properly. It's definitely a cartoon town. No doubt about that. The community that has built up around the school is so welcoming and supportive, though, and being able to see people like Patrick MacDonald or Allison Bechdel when they're in town is a bonus. Plus you can't beat the bagels we got downtown, let me tell you. And every once in a while James Kochalka appears. Just, you know, *poof* appears. All magic elf style.
I think the last thing you did for ComixTalk was a piece in 2006 called MC Sancho Swift and the Ultimate. That was looking at music and comics — are you still experimenting with music mixed in with comics or do you keep them separate these days?
It's funny you should ask that. I had been planning on doing a small one page strip before I got into "Year of the Rat" with music in it. I downloaded a MIDI performance of Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and I remixed/reinterpolated it with Reason. I basically took the melodic lines and put them into seperate synths with different sounds and settings. Then I created some chamber effects and mixed it down into my "own version" of the song. Mind you, this took a lot of work and know how and I spent hours doing this. You can hear it here: http://www.magicinkwell.com/mp3/sugarplumfairy.mp3
The plan was to do a strip with Dingbat asleep at a drawing table while little inkwell imps come out of an inkwell and start working on comics for him while he's dreaming. I even figured out how to post mp3's to my strip posts. But then I thought the whole thing was a bit cheesy and I'd already started working on Year of the Rat so I kinda gave up on it.
What do you enjoy more: making comics or making music? And speaking of James Kochalka, have you guys ever played music together?
Comics has so much emotional baggage and disappointment attached to it but when I've done something I'm proud of that took time and came out alright the feeling is like nothing else I've ever felt in my life. It's a kind of euphoria my simian brain is totally addicted to. With music, especially live performance, that euphoria is instant. It's like spiritual fast-food for the soul. And the interaction with the "audience" or those that are paying attention is more immediate and that's another kind of elation that is also really nice as well. I can't choose between them that's why I'm mediocre at both! whoo!
James and I have a very strange acquaintance. I've known of him and his work since the mid '90's. I used to harbor a resentment toward his work and him but secretly also loved it and kept wanting to see more and more of it. We've gotten to know each other through hanging out at conventions a bit over the years. We're from the same generation of cartoonists and have been active for about the same amount of time and I'm proud that I got to see him blow up like he did through the years.
We're not best buds but we're not strangers either. I've extended the invite to jam at some point. Nothings materialized but I'm still totally down if he ever finds the time. He's a pretty busy guy! It'd be a blast, though. I used to hate his work before we ever knew each other. I was totally against hyper-extroverts at the time, too, even though I'm definitely a breed of hyper-extrovert myself. Then I got over it (and my secret jealousy, which I think a lot of cartoonists still feel toward him for his audacity and success) and fell in love with his stuff in all it's kochalka brand superstar glory. He's a super talented mofo. He's been nice to me. He's blown me off. Whatever. I wanna jam sometime. Definitely.
I think it's amazing that he's one of the most successful and early adapter print-to-web guys of all time. I don't think he gets enough credit for that.
You were a big part of the earliest days of Modern Tales — do you keep up with Joey Manley? What do you think of his decision to merge his sites with Josh Roberts (Comicspace) and get outside investors involved?
Joey and I talk over email pretty regularly. He's so busy all the time, though, so it's usually just, "HELP! MY WEBSITE'S BROKE!! oh, by the way, how's it going?", but he's someone I consider a good friend and the lines of communication are pretty much open. The last time I was able to get some real face time with him was when we made our move up here to Vermont from Texas. He was one of my comics friends that put my family up at their place while we were making our way up back in May 06 (the other gracious comics pal host was Steve Harrison of Fabricari fame in Ohio).
Steering a 26 foot trailer full of all our worldly possessions through the tiny streets of inner city Louisville, Kentucky in the rain trying to get to Joey and Joe's place was an adventure, let me tell you. He's a prince and if it weren't for his help over the past seven years I would have faded out of the webcomics scene a long time ago. For that I will always owe him a debt of gratitude.
I'm really excited about what's going on with the Modern Tales/Comicspace merger, especially from what I've seen going on behind the scenes. Definitely one of the reasons I've started working again. I'm excited to see how it will all play out and what the new site is going to look like.