Professional cartoonist Dave Kelly may have a twisted sense of humor and a wacky animation style. He may be weird or even a genius. But maybe he's just a shy, private guy with a great sense of creativity. Any opinion may just suffice, depending on the particular side this 22-year-old decides to show.
"I like that people have a solid opinion of me, if it's good or bad or weird," Kelly says. "I don't want to be plain, normal and boring."
Plain, normal and boring may never describe this comic mastermind from West Philadelphia. Kelly is the author and artist of many Web comics, including the completed work (and probably his most renowned) Living In Greytown, a bizarre comic about a town with no exits and the many living beings that are stuck there.
"Living In Greytown was my first awkward stumble into online and professional cartooning," he says. "It is still the only online comic to have been colored by hand every day."
After finishing Living In Greytown, posting its last comic on November 1, 2001, Kelly came up with the idea of taking certain characters from Living In Greytown and tossing them into a comic all their own. Four months or so later, his new comic was posted, he named it Lizard after the short, green, and googly-eyed main character.
"I always wanted to do just a comic with Lizard and his friends and family," Kelly says. "I was doing Lizard comics before I did Living In Greytown. Originally Lizard lived in an apartment with a weird guy who looked Chinese but wasn't really Chinese at all. It took a while before I decided I wanted to make him an everyman who never cussed or drank or hurt anyone. I thought the idea of making a short, green man into a gentleman, with a wife and a house in the suburbs, was a pretty silly idea. I guess he's what the American dream is – if the dream was really weird and surreal and had talking animals."
Weird? Maybe, but that's what many cartoons are based on — talking animals that live normal human lives. Kelly explains that he tries not to even mention his characters are part animal.
"It's just there and we accept it," he says. "I drew comics with anthropomorphic animals in them all the time. I always saw silly cartoons where the animals acted like humans, but hardly ever a serious drama. That in itself is a funny concept to me. You take something from your childhood (cartoon animals) and give them real problems and make them act even more human. I stress the word human because that's what these characters all have: humanity."
Kelly says all the characters kind of already exist in his head.
"I just flesh them out on paper and, as the comic goes, the characters start to flesh out and seem more real to readers."
Although there's not much difficulty in coming up with a new character, naming them, he says, is the hard part.
"I try to think of names I have never heard before, but end up using them anyway. The most commonly used names are Joe, Carrie (or Kari), and Steve."
When asked what character he could compare himself most to, Kelly admitted a very tiny part of him is in each character, but that he wants to adopt more qualities from his favorite character, Lizard. "I'm like Lizard, but not as much as I want to be," he says. "He's got the patience of a saint and he doesn't let the world get him down."
Lizard is by far Kelly's favorite created character; it's his baby. He loves designing it, and, as he says, he draws Lizard in a simplistic style just so he can keep making a new one each day. "Sometimes I'll give the reader a treat and put extra work into the art." It takes him 15 to 30 minutes to draw Lizard and possibly longer to write.
Full of creative energy, Kelly says he's been drawing since he was little. "When I was eight, I learned I could draw realistic stuff, like horses, ducks, trees and such. It took me a while to learn how to do cartooning and I started to develop my own style that I think looks neat."
When Kelly started Web cartooning he posted most of his comics on Keenspace. Kelly admits he wasn't much of a writer when he started creating for the Web.
"The early comics were scanned poorly, so the majority [of people] just sort of looked down upon me as this doofus who knew nothing about professional Web cartooning. They were right! But I quickly learned."
Now he has 13 finished Web comics and 12 Web animations on Dave Kelly Central. On top of doing four to five comics at the same time, Kelly picks up commissions and other odd jobs. He says his best job is with The Gabriel Institute, a Philadelphia-based company which provides leadership in learning through innovative training for profit, non-profit & public organizations. Kelly does illustrations for their books and flash cards.
Even with all these jobs and commitments, Kelly still keeps a fairly good track record by somehow always getting things done on time. "I may be late updating my site but I hardly ever miss a day."
He says the hardest part, though, is the writing.
"I can whip out artwork in mere minutes, but writing is the toughest part. I think people can tell when I'm getting stuck once the comic gets weird. My best stuff comes out in Lizard and I try to keep it that way."
So far, so good. No reviews out there are bashing the little green guy, his friends or his author. Some call Lizard tame with loveable characters, and some say Kelly writes completely awesome comics.
However, Kelly is amazed people read Lizard at all because it's such a tame comic for the Internet. His other comics have made him more money than Lizard but, he says, that's because he hasn't started to merchandise or sell anything from it yet.
"I want to try and keep Lizard just a comic without any special bells and whistles on the site," he says. "Maybe I'll make T-shirts one day. Maybe."
I think a percentage of people who think anything bad about Dave Kelly are reacting to his parody of Sinfest, Otaku Feh. I, myself, adore Sinfest because it can build itself up as both something as noble and powerful as a revolutionary commentary for the underground, and simply a comic strip. It can sometimes make itself look like it has a big head, but then go and laugh at itself for being so inflated, which is something a good strip should do.
When reading the parody strips, I also considered them more insulting than funny. Specific gags would be taken, and the reader was expected to laugh at how stupid the joke was rather than the joke itself. Dissing Sinfest in a webcomic is a lot like dissing Metallica in a metal band in the 90’s. “Them’s fightin’ words!” However, I do think Lizard and other such strips are well done and deserving of their audiences. Considering Mr. Kelly apologized all over the place for the strips, little harm done, I say.
One of the things that actually got me to pay attention to Kelly was how LiG changed from what I thought initially was a poor semi-gag strip into something that had real characters and scope and a story arc and a satisfying conclusion. I think the art to LiG towards the end was interesting but it was the writing that got me.
Kelly is a strange combination – his strips range from infantile smut to charmingly innocent stories with primitive art. It’s been interesting to see what he’s put out post-LiG to see if he’ll top it.
It is always a good thing when an artist devellops their work from a silly little doodle to something with depth of character, continuity, and an involving plot.
LiG was one of those comics I followed regularly (once I found it), and I had a very strong desire to see how things played out strip to strip.
I am following Lizard the same way now. Shame that Darktown (Slipshine.com) is a pay site…
Ah, the “joy” of being broke.
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