21 August, 2005

My Declaration of Principles

If the title of the post doesn't do it, maybe this image will. Does anyone even read alt text anymore?A 2002 interview with James Kochalka touches on an issue that seems revelant to me as I continue to develop the idea for this blog.

"I've found that the more well-known I've become, and the more fans I have, the harder it is to think of my fans as real human beings. And I imagine that it must be even worse for someone who's actually famous (laughs). It seems a lot of them...I kinda like 'em, and it's endearing. I'm glad that they like the work, but sometimes they want more from me than I could ever give them, and that's disconcerting. They get mad (laughs)."

Given how much of himself and his life Kochalka shares in his work, this is hardly surprising, but it does prompt me to explore my own relationship to the man, his comics, and his music.

I generally eschew the term "fan," whenever possible in all my writing, because I see it as a perjorative term. I realize not everyone will see it that way, but when I think of words that usually come to mind before "fan," it's often words like "Nascar," "superhero," "pro wrestling," or "N-Synch" that precede the dreaded F-Word (which I dread more than the actual F-Word, just as a point of comparison), and generally these are things I don't enjoy, are bored by, or actively despise, often because of the apologetic, sycophantic manner in which "fans" of these entertainments comport themselves. So, I don't like to call people "fans," I certainly don't like to be called or considered a "fan," and if I am calling someone or a group of someones "fans," well, draw your own conclusions as to what that might imply to the canny observer.

As a journalist, on the radio and online, I have followed and covered the career of James Kochalka since 2000, around the time Carrot Boy The Beautiful and Monkey vs. Robot were released on CD and Monkey vs. Robot was released as a graphic novel. Although Kochalka had worked as a musician and cartoonist for years before 2000, clearly he has only gotten more popular and well-known since then, if only in the small ponds of comics and indy music. But I did enjoy his work from the first time I was exposed to it, and I believe his personal vision of comics is so compelling and exciting that I can't ever imagine a time when I won't want to follow his work. But am I a fan? I'd guess any interested observer looking at this blog would assume so. I don't personally feel like a fan, and I don't think I am fanatical in my devotion to Kochalka's work -- one small piece of original art is plenty for me, and I only made the four-hour drive to see him perform one year ago because extraordinary circumstances in my personal life gave me both the time and cash to easily go see him sing, and have him sign my copy of American Elf. My family and I had a wonderful time that night, and will never forget it, but the drive to Burlington, Vermont from where we live in upstate New York is long and not terribly interesting, and so I don't go over and see the band perform as often as I could. So am I a fan? It doesn't seem so to me. But I can see how you might think so.

The primary -- I think, only -- purpose of this website is journalistic. I am not here to impress James with my devotion, woo him with my wit, or make him love me through sheer, awesome will and determination. James Kochalka is not my Aquaman, in other words. Although I love the totality of his work, I do not love everything the man has created, and I am not obsessed with every detail -- or any detail, come to think of it -- of his personal life. I get all the info I need -- sometimes more than I want to know -- through his daily diary strip.

Occasionally, someone will mention my "friendship," with James, and although the coverage I have given his career over the years makes this an understandable assumption, it's not true: James and I have met precisely twice, in 2000 and again in 2004, and both times I was on a journalistic mission, covering his career. We've talked on the phone a bit more often, but as far as I can remember, every time was either so I could interview him, or so I could set up an interview with him for other radio colleagues.

I don't call him up to shoot the breeze, and neither does he do so with me. Certainly I feel friendly toward James -- his work reveals a deeply thoughful, even spiritual man about my age who is raising a small child and seems interested in many of the same political and social ideas I am interested in. He does not rankle me, annoy me, aggravate me, or exasperate me through his work.

So I am inclined to think positive thoughts about the man and wish him well. But I don't think I do our relationship any disservice or insult him at all when I say we are not friends. He has friends, I have friends, and we both know what friendship is and what it feels like and encompasses. This is not friendship. But again, I can see how an interested observer might make the mistake: My wife once referred to James and I as friends. That seemed like a compliment, in a way, to the congeniality of my, as I say, journalistic and professional relationship with the man. If we lived in the same town, maybe we'd be friends, I don't know. What my friend Marshall calls my "confrontational style" might inhibit all but the occasional get-togethers in that scenario, it's hard to say. But a girl can dream, can't she?

So, I'm not really a fan, and I'm not really his friend. So what am I, what is he, and why this blog?

I have, since 1986, been employed almost continuously as a journalist. Because I enjoy Kochalka's work, I have chosen oftentimes in the course of my work to create critical reviews, broadcast and online interviews and other features related to Kochalka. This summer, just winding down, has been filled with a pretty extraordinary output of creative material from the man and from his band, and I have found that I am as excited as ever about his comics and his music. But I have been somewhat stymied in trying to find a central source of news about his music and cartooning careers. One must follow numerous message boards, blogs and websites to compile information about what is new and next in the creative career of James Kochalka. And since I am doing this research anyway for my own personal edification, and since I am a journalist, and since I know how to create a blog that could easily become a central repository for the information I want to remind myself to gather on a regular basis, here we are with KOCHALKAHOLIC!

I want to cover Kochalka's comics and music to the best of my ability. As a non-profit weblog run part-time by a guy working full-time and raising two children, I appreciate any news tidbits, tips and links you can throw my way to make this a better blog. I might be the guy "utlimately responsible" for this blog, but I need help from all the Kochalkaholics I can find, if it's going to work in the long run. But this journalistic intent is why the sidebar is filled with listings of his museum exhibitions and links to where you can buy his work, and it's why the sidebar does not contain a list of James's favourite TV shows or what he had for breakfast this morning.

One important note: I really need to give credit where credit is due. Cartoonist Jason Marcy, is, so far as I know, the person who first coined the term "Kochalkaholic." I heard it first from him, and he deserves full credit if you think it's a clever name for this blog. If you think it's a stupid name for a blog, or worse yet, a stupid blog in general, you'll have to blame me. I really love James Kochalka's stuff. You could say I'm his biggest fan.


Blogger dfgdfgasg said...

You are the fanniest fan-fan I ever fanned.

11:12 AM  
Blogger ADD said...

Fank you.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Cole Moore Odell said...

I see the distinction you're making here, Alan, but doth you protest too much? If you enjoy the guy's work enough to drive four hours to see him and you set up a web site expressly to cover him/boost his cartoons and music, (none of which seem unreasonable to me) I think the word fan fairly applies, as most people would define it. Of course there's a continuum, from those who, I don't know, make love as furries in Jason X-12 costumes to people who simply like James' stuff. I'd place you solidly with the latter. But this site doesn't seem like typical journalism: there's no pretense toward objectivity.

As the recent Seven Days letter demonstrates, Kochalka seems to take a healthy delight in negative comments about him. As you build this site, it would be interesting (and I think a neccesary tonic) to see the most cogent of the negative reviews and critiques along with the positive comments. I know Don Simpson has little use for him; he's disdainfully called him an "extrovert" (like that's a bad thing?) and dismissed his comics as a "waste of paper" on his blog, The Less Said the Better.

2:12 PM  
Blogger ADD said...

Cole, I appreciate your comments, but primarily this piece was written for me, as an opportunity to explore the various factors surrouonding undertaking this project.

I certainly haven't given James's stuff 100 percent positive reviews -- Google my Pinky and Stinky or Monkey vs. Robot and the Crystal of Power reviews, for example.

As to Don Simpson, while he occasionally has interesting things to say, usually about the mechanics of creating comics, his vision of the industry is extraordinarily blinkered and embittered, and I don't place any value on the majority of the critical value judgments I've seen him make.

2:21 PM  
Blogger ADD said...

James's work being a waste of paper is such a stupid argument it's not even worth addressing.

More people visited this blog on its first day than would buy a new comic by Don Simpson. His sour grapes are particularly pungent.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Cole Moore Odell said...

Oh, I don't disagree, and I hope you don't take my comments as an attack (or as any kind of validation of Simpson's rants). I sometimes think similarly about my own relationship to Kochalka's work. The web makes it really easy--I sometimes think too easy--to have contact with artists, if they choose to extend themselves. James, for his stated ambivalence about his fans, makes himself more available than many figures in comics--through the diaries and his regular presence on his message board. Living relatively nearby in VT, I've also seen him at a number of events--most recently at the art opening in my town. The first time, at a Bennington College conference, I got him to draw a picture for my oldest son's PB&J book. It was there that I committed the most (and pretty much only) fannish act of my life: I saw a familiar woman and baby in the dining hall, and asked, "Pardon me, is this Eli?" It was, but I instantly regretted intruding on their lunch. I had gone against my New England programming that assumes everyone should be, and wants to be left alone.

My reaction to Kochalka's comics is heavily informed by the way the diaries echo my own life: I'm a white, liberal Vermonter in my 30s with a wife (former teacher) and young kids I adore, I grew up in southern VT about 15 miles from Kochalka, and I even just found out that my beloved grade-school art teacher is a close family friend of his. (Vermont is a really, really small state.) So when I read his diaries, the surface coincidences of our circumstances allows me to think about my own choices in a way no other art, let alone comics, has approached. Invariably, when I try to get a friend into Kochalka's comics, they say "Well, I can certainly see why you like him, Cole."

And yeah, Don Simpson *really* doesn't know what he's talking about on the macro level. He claims to have ignored comics for the past 10 years, (just as comics seems to have happily ignored him) but he feels perfectly comfortable throwing bombs about its sorry state. How would he know? Still, given Simpson's disdain, it would be interesting to compare his insistence that "comics ain't art" with Kochalka's craft essays and recent declaration that illustration ain't art either. Now *that* would be a must-buy issue of "Conversation".

3:21 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

I think that "fan" only has those negative connotations when you consider its etymology - but in the same way that comics aren't always funny, fans aren't always fanatical. I call myself a fan of someone's work if their name is incentive to check something out, or if I keep tabs on their projects, etc.

And, yeah, often times Kochalka (or others) will put something out that I don't enjoy, or even outright can't stand. But that doesn't mean that I'm no longer a fan. Instead, I put that work in the context of his career, and hope for something better down the line. For example, I found Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers ultimately pointless, but I understand what message he was trying to bring to the film and why he made it at this point in time, and I still call myself a fan of his work.

In this same way, I really, really didn't like Kochalka's Sunburn as a stand alone piece; however, it made a lot of sense in the context of Craft if the Enemy, that we ought to be out there, making comics for ourselves, unabashedly. And so, The Cute Manifesto, as a whole, feels like a success, if only as a very personal success for the author.

8:53 PM  
Blogger ADD said...

Jake, thanks for taking the time to comment. I just wanted to note that, although I like Sunburn myself, even if you don't, Sunturd (the Jason Cooley-rewritten parody) more than justifies the original's existence. It's one of the funniest comics ever (re-)written.

10:17 PM  

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