Tell us about your latest work. Where did the inspiration come from?
Well, The Kurdles came about less from inspiration than from necessity. About eight years ago, I was asked to pitch an all ages comic idea to Disney Adventures, a strip that I would own. I came up with The Kurdles to be a series of short stories that would occasionally run in that magazine. The pitch didn’t really go anywhere and about a year after I sent it, the magazine folded.
By this time I had invested a lot into these characters and wasn’t ready to give up on them. There really wasn’t any other publications that I could think of that would run creator owned short stories, so I had to rethink my format. The graphic novel was the obvious choice and so I came up with a longer story for these characters and the world I had created.
What makes CALA different from other conventions?
This is the first one I’ve attended so I can’t tell you too much as far as how it compares to other indie comic shows around North America. I can tell you that Los Angeles has been overdue for one for a long time. We are in a bit of a golden age for cartoonists living in L.A. at the moment. We may very well have more good cartoonists living here than any other city in America, including New York. Many of them will be exhibiting at CALA.
What will you be selling at CALA?
I’ll have The Kurdles there as well as some related wood postcards. I will also have a mini-comic that I just printed up called, The Spiritual Crisis of Carl Jung. There’s also a good chance I’ll have a portfolio of original art under the table, so if anyone wants to check it out, just ask.
Who are some of your biggest influences, creatively?
The list is so, so long. I could list a million people from different mediums, but I think I’ll stick to drawing. Fellow cartoonists that I love are David Mazzucchelli, Alex Toth, Jacques Tardi, John Byrne (when I was younger), Jesse Marsh, Jack Kirby, Pat Boyette, Martin Tom Dieck, to name a few. I’d also throw in the drawings of Rembrandt, Ingres, Degas, Toulouse – Latrec, Millet, Käthe Kollwitz, Egon Schiele and George Grosz. Picasso is my all time favorite fine artist and another big influence on me was an instructor I had in college, the illustrator Dick Oden. The one thing all of these people have in common are strong storytelling abilities, good figure drawing, and an ink line that I respond to for some reason.
All of your stories have a fairy-tale feel, but also is steeped in human emotion. The established rules of the world will often be shaken up very suddenly. For example, in The Spiritual Crisis of Carl Jung, Carl has all these passive visions of Jesus and other gods, and then one of his visions is so powerful it has a physical effect on the real world. From where does this fairy-tale style come?
I’m not entirely sure where that emerged from. My first guess would be that the Bible has had a big influence on me for better or for worse. I’ve read that through a few times and it’s just part of my DNA at this point. I am fascinated by not only what the Bible, but other myths both ancient and current tell us about the people that believed them. I’ve also drawn some fables from India in comic form and read through many of them to find the ones I wanted to draw. I also read many Norse fables when I was considering adapting some of those. What’s fascinating is that the lessons many of those stores were communicating are horrifying now. They are often very tribal at their core where the Other is just assumed to be evil and should be eliminated. It wasn’t easy to find stories that I felt comfortable adapting. I think humans changed for the better, but I guess I still like that method of telling a story.
What would you like fans to know about you as an artist?
That’s a tough one to answer. I think I’d rather have them check it out for themselves and make their own decision.
Talk about your journey to becoming a comic creator.
My journey has been ass backwards for the last twenty years. I started by self publishing a high end, rather expensive anthology called Oden. It tanked and I lost a lot of money. Then I printed some high end mini-comics that also tanked. At that point I had lost too much money and began doing what I probably should have done from the beginning and print cheap mini-comics and do stories for anthologies. I did this for a number of years until finally doing The Kurdles for Fantagraphics.
Did you have a formal education or were you self-taught? Is one better than another?
I majored in Illustration at Cal State University Long Beach. After that, I began what I consider my secondary education by getting a job in animation. Animation taught me a ton about storytelling and filled in a lot of gaps I had in my abilities after school. It also paid my rent. It still does, but now it’s a mortgage.
In general, I think it’s always preferable to know as many things as you can know in life, then to not know. It gives you more tools and more understanding not just as an artist, but in all aspects of life. However, self-taught people can come up with surprising and exciting ways of solving problems that people who were educated would never have thought of and, on the flip side, some artists that have an education can become rather academic and boring because they stick to the rules way more than they should. I guess the sweet spot for me is someone like Picasso who was trained and understood all the rules, but then broke them constantly and knew when to break them.
What other kinds of art do you create? Does that factor into your comics work at all?
Between my day job on Amercian Dad! and comics, I rarely have time for much else. I fantasize all the time about doing more drawing for drawing sake, but am seldom able to maintain it for very long.
You tend to work solo, would you ever consider working with another artist or writer? Explain.
I think I would, yeah. Writing is still very difficult for me and the thought of just working on telling the story visually and not having to worry about the writing could be fun. It would depend on the story, obviously, but if it was good, I think I would really welcome it.
In terms of working with another artist, I think I could also be game for that too. If there was a scenario where The Kurdles became some kind of hit, I could see writing some stories for someone else to draw because I can be very slow at the drawing board.
I love your layouts. The single page scroll is very easy to read digitally. How much pre-planning goes into your layouts? What tools do you use to create your comic and why?
There’s quite a bit. I go through four phases as I do a comic. The first one is I thumbnail/write on letter size paper. I’ll quickly draw out panels and figure out how much story I want on that particular page. I think about the pacing, I work out some basic sketch of what’s going on, and then try to move on. I want it quick, but clear enough so that I have some idea as to what I was thinking when I go back to rough it out. When I rough it, I move to 11” x 17” paper and really work the drawing out. Are the actions clear? Is the story flowing? How’s the composition of the panels and how are those harmonizing with the entire page? I’ll work out the perspective. This is where the heavy lifting is done. After that, I move to an even larger sheet of 300 lb. Arches water color paper and begin to ink it with the help of a light box. At this point, I’m really concentrating on the quality of my line and the placement of blacks. After that, I color the same sheet using watercolors. It’s a lot of work.
I think Kurdles is an incredibly important book for children. I like that Kurdles is trying to discover for herself what makes a good friend, I like that the story is abstract at times and gives the mind time to ponder, and I love that it looks like an old school children’s book. What was important about to you about telling Kurdles?
Thanks! Part of my goal was that it would feel familiar like a classic children’s book, but also a bit weird and fresh. I love the coziness that’s in older children’s books and I wanted that in The Kurdles.
I’m also glad that it made your mind ponder a bit. I want the reader to bring a lot of themselves to both this and future Kurdles stories. I like to get readers about 90% there and leave some left for them to figure out.
If you could write in any fantasy world (Harry Potter, Avatar, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, ext), which would you, work in and why? [This is a personal favorite question. I realize many independent artists aren’t interested in bigger properties, so feel free to skip if you’d like.]
I have to say I haven’t considered this too much. My feeling is that the best way to pay homage to those kinds of stories is to show that kind of quality and creativity in one’s own work. I do have to admit that I occasionally think about what kind of Spider-man story I would do if given the chance since I’ve probably read 500 Spider-man comics over the years.
When you’re having a difficult time creating what do you do to help you push through?
The best thing for me to do is set a deadline and create a schedule of what needs to be done every week. Panic cuts away a lot of the bullshit.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon? What should fans be looking out for? Where can they find you online?
I’m working hard on a second Kurdles book. My goal is to have it thumbnailed by the end of the year. Then it will take me a few years to get it finished. I’m hoping to serialize it online a little sooner than that. I would recommend Instagram (nidoog) for my up to the minute activity. I tend to post in spurts. I also have a website for my book: www.kurdles.com
Joelle’s heart belongs to Chicago but she’s living in Los Angeles attempting to make a life as a freelance writer. She’s the co-creator of web comic Harsh Mellow on Tumblr. She’s an avid fan of period dramas over three hours long and full glasses of wine. She can usually be found in between the pages of a comic-book or under a coffee spigot.