19 August, 2005

Craft: Still The Enemy

James Kochalka got a group of illustrators up in arms recently when he once again explained how "Craft is the enemy," a philosophy he details in his new graphic novel THE CUTE MANIFESTO, as well. Speaking in San Francisco, Kochalka said "There is no art in illustration."

The reaction of the assembled illustrators won't be unfamiliar to anyone who has tried to explain that work-for-hire and enduring art are often mutually exclusive, especially when explaining this fact to someone whose income or sense of self-worth largely derives from the work-for-hire system or its mostly-shoddy products.

Much more on the San Francisco Illustration Conference and Kochalka's comments at art.blogging.la.

Interview with James Kochalka

Conducted by Alan David Doane

James, when I told you I was launching this blog, you said you were flattered but asked if I thought anyone would be interested. While I will say that I do think the blog will find an audience, I have to admit, I mainly started this as a way for ME to keep track of the news in your careers as a cartoonist and musician. It just seems like you've got so much going on at any one time, especially this summer with the release of THE CUTE MANIFESTO, SUPER-F*CKERS and the OUR MOST BELOVED CD/DVD of your band James Kochalka Superstar. Honestly, James, how do you pace yourself from day to day and month to month to get it all done?

I don't know how I do it. I just do. I suppose I spend a lot of time working... drawing and making music, every day. It's just somehow so well integrated into my daily life, that I barely even notice that I'm always working. It's not all peaches & cream...the artistic struggle is a REAL struggle. When I'm happy and things are going well I almost completely forget how hard things might have been before that point.

And when the going is difficult... well, there's joy in that too. Creating art and music brings me so much joy, that even when it is extremely difficult I never despair.

As far as productivity, the secret is work every day, off and on throughout the day. Never really stop working, but never really stop playing and hanging out either. Draw for a while, go for a walk, write a song while you walk, go to the park or to the beach, have lunch, take a nap or read or play videogames, draw some more, play outside a little more or go for a bike ride, eat dinner at home or at a friend's house or a restaurant, draw some more.

James Kochalka at home, August, 2000. Click for larger version.

Speaking of OUR MOST BELOVED, any word from Rykodisc on how your first major-label release is doing? Any word on when we might see [the completed follow-up album] SPREAD YOUR EVIL WINGS AND FLY released?

Oh, I don't think it's selling all that well, but I haven't heard any sales totals recently. Unfortunately, the label still thinks that the OUR MOST BELOVED record has a chance to "take off" and become a hit, and for that reason they're delaying the release of SPREAD YOUR EIL WINGS AND FLY. However, the band feels that EVIL WINGS is infinitely superior. If any record will establish us a band to be reckoned with, it's EVIL WINGS. We're simply dying waiting for its release. It's been TWO YEARS since we finished it. I think it's going to be a long wait. Maybe if fans start bugging Rykodisc, they'll sit up and take notice. Someone should start an online petition or something.

It seems like SUPER-F*CKERS has done brisk business; I believe I saw you post somewhere that it sold more copies than any of your other works. Are you pleased with the reaction?

It had the highest initial orders through Diamond of any of my books. More importantly, the stores that ordered it sold out quickly and the readers tended to love it.

Why do you think reaction to the book was so positive? It can't be just because it had superheroes in it...

People do respond to the swearing, but I don't think that can be all of it. The book has a certain energy. It's got the same type of energy that a bunch of 19-year-olds living in a co-ed dorm would have.

However, despite its brash, manic, macho front...there is real depth to the book. It came out my meditations on the nature of the universe. Two years of thinking deeply about the nature of existence led me to the creation of this crazy superhero animal-house book...I'm not kidding. The relationships between the characters, their internal struggles and their struggles against each other, all that kind of thing in the book came out of my meditations on the nature of the universe.

Now, when I say "meditations" I did not literally meditate. I'm not new-agey. I was just using the word meditate as a fancy word for "think."

Is there any sort of different mindset in creating fictional characters for a book like SUPER-F*CKERS and depicting the lives of you, your family and friends in your diary strips? How do you approach work so different from your everyday American Elf strips?

Drawing the diary strips, I'm trying to accurately portray my experience of life. So I have to consciously examine what I've done and what I've said that day and how that all fits into the grander scheme of my life as a whole. Drawing a fictional book like SUPER-F*CKERS I just sort let my own thoughts and feelings melt away and just follow the characters wherever they want to go. I have an idea where everything might end up, but the characters always surprise me.

How is fatherhood treating you? What have you learned from raising Eli that maybe you didn't know or didn't understand before he arrived?

One thing no one ever tells you about fatherhood is...it's so EASY! There's a lot of stuff you have to do, sure, but it's all so fun and interesting and absolutely necessary that it doesn't really feel difficult. I spent so many years being absolutely terrified of the prospect of becoming a father, I had no idea how far off-base my fears were. There's something fundamentally wrong with society...Almost every man I know who is not yet a father feels exactly the way I did. How could the truth be so completely hidden from us? How could I have had no inkling of how wonderful it could be?

I recently recommended FANTASTIC BUTTERFLIES in part because its visual approach and storyline struck me as being closest to a sort of longform American Elf strip. Longform autobio is something we've seen less and less of from you, unless you count the daily diary strip as one ongoing narrative (which of course it is, but, humour me here). Any more longform autobio or semi-autobio graphic novels in your near
future, do you think?

No, I really don't think so. I don't think I will very likely do another long form comic of that kind. I've done a whole mess of them in the past though. There's Tiny Bubbles, Kissers, Fantastic Butterflies, Magic Boy & Girlfriend, Magic Boy and the Robot Elf, The Perfect Planet & Other Stories, Quit Your Job, and Paradise Sucks. That's plenty, don't you think?

As I noted in the first question, there's been a lot of Kochalka out there the past few months...other than the next issue of SUPER-F*CKERS, can you tell us what else you're working on and roughly when we can expect to see any upcoming projects?

It's hard to know for sure what I will do next. Before I get to the "next" book, I have to finish issue #3 of SUPER-F*CKERS. I will probably follow that up with an all-ages book about a little yellow bear. Then I want to do something sort of like SUPER-F*CKERS, but with monsters. Or maybe that will be all-ages too.

This past spring I drew a 32-page children's story titled When the World was Gray, but I don't have a publisher for it.

Well, I hope you find one soon. Perhaps someone reading this will take up the challenge. Thanks so much, James, for taking the time to do this interview during
this debut week for KOCHALKAHOLIC!

Interview conducted over a worldwide computer internet August 18th, 2005. Special thanks to Christopher Allen.

18 August, 2005

Columbus Alive on The Cute Manifesto

Eagle-eyed Jeff Mason points the way to a Columbus Alive article on The Cute Manifesto over at The Comics Journal Message Board.

Notes from a Kochalkaholic

Thanks to the Bugpowder blog for noting and linking to KOCHALKAHOLIC! Even nicer than the link was the comments accompanying the link:

Kochalkaholic! is a blog devoted to the works of one James Kochalka. Not as niche as it sounds - we could have done with this years ago.

If I have one regret about KOCHALKAHOLIC, it is just that -- I should have started this years ago. I've been hooked on James Kochalka's comics and music since my very first exposure, and it took this Summer of Kochalka, with its bounty of books, comics and CD/DVDs for me to make the leap.

I did make an effort at another Kochalka-related site a few years ago, a planned discography for James Kochalka Superstar. After doing some early prep work and a preliminary interview to get some comments on some of the songs from guitarist Jason Cooley, the site got put on the back burner, and then apparently the cat knocked it behind the stove, where it unfortunately remains to this day. I should check my old computer and see if any of the files for that still even exist, it might be fun to post some of the stuff I was working on, or maybe even kickstart the project back to life somehow...

Speaking of Jason Cooley, a very happy 32nd birthday today to Mr. Cooley, AKA Jason X-12. [Click here for a great Kochalka portrait of Jason X-12.]

17 August, 2005

Kochalka in Art Exhibit

Reader Cole Odell writes in to say:

You should do a post about the art exhibit here in Brattleboro, Vermont at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center featuring James's work from Monkey vs. Robot and the Crystal of Power and the Sketchbook Diaries alongside pages from Frank Miller, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch and James Sturm.

I took my wife and kids to the opening on Aug. 5th (which was attended by James and his family), and it was excellent -- they've done a great job of presenting the work, with lots of reading copies of the various comics available for patrons to get an idea of the context.

The show runs through Feb 5, 2006.

Learn more at The Brattleboro Museum website.

Thanks, Cole!

Kochalka's Toolkit

On The Comics Journal message board, Alternative Comics publisher Jeff Mason plugs a Kochalka appearance in Resonance Magazine, and goes so far as to post the actual magazine piece, as well. Jeff always goes the extra mile to push comix forward. Thanks, Jeff!

[And thanks to reader Christopher Jones for the tip.]

Win Sketchbook Diaries Vol. 3

Blogger David Carter points to this contest to win James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries Vol. 3.

Normally, you wouldn't want to start a series at the third volume, but since the individual sketchbook diaries are compiled year-by-year, if you win this you get a full year of Kochalka's daily diary strips, so even though it's Volume Three, it's a good place to get a large sample of his work, and besides, if you win the contest, it's free!

Thanks to David Carter, and also to Mike Sterling for being among the first to link to this blog.

American Elf Booksigning One-Year Anniversary

I just realized this, but it was exactly one year ago today that I took my wife and kids to Crow Books in Burlington, Vermont for James Kochalka's hometown booksigning in honour of the release of his mammoth American Elf collection, which compiled the first five years of his American Elf daily diary comic strips.

It seems somehow fitting to publicly launch this blog on this anniversary (yes, I was blogging and setting it up yesterday, but today is the first day the world at large will hear about it), since the booksigning and accompanying musical performance were so exciting and enjoyable for my family. Looking back to that trip to Burlington one year ago today, it was one of the biggest events of the year for my family, and something I know none of us will ever forget.

I wrote up a report on the Crow Books signing and concert for Comic Book Galaxy, and over there you can also see pictures from the Crow Books event.

While you're at Comic Book Galaxy, you might also check out my review of American Elf, my review of the new James Kochalka Superstar CD/DVD set Our Most Beloved, Christopher Allen's reviews of Our Most Beloved and Super-F*ckers #1, Jef Harmatz's review of The Cute Manifesto, Logan Polk's review of Super-F*ckers #1, and a batch of interviews with James, including December, 2004, January, 2004, October, 2001 (also available as an MP3 download) and the very first interview I ever conducted with James, back in August, 2000, which ended up being the first interview we ran on Comic Book Galaxy. Also, check out my March, 2005 Five Questions for James Kochalka at Newsarama.com, which concentrated on Super-F*ckers, as did Tom Spurgeon's James Kochalka interview last month at The Comics Reporter.

16 August, 2005


For some time, subscriptions to James Kochalka's full-colour daily diary strip were unavailable due to computer problems. That time has passed, and really, for two bucks a month for dozens of wonderfully entertaining brand-new comic strips, there is no better bargain in comics. Go here and subscribe to American Elf via Paypal right now. You'll be supporting one of the most gifted and vital autobiographical cartoonists alive, and ensuring that his work continues to enlighten, entertain and delight audiences around the world.

SPIN On Kochalka

The new issue of SPIN Magazine -- which I used to enjoy in the Guccione Jr. days but have not read in years -- features an article on James Kochalka and SUPER-F*CKERS. Alternative Comics publisher Jeff Mason has posted it here.

Computer Art Tips from James Kochalka

I enjoy drawing on my computer, so I was excited to see James Kochalka share some tips for getting the computerized pixel look he sometimes uses. Read his comments in this thread.

Kochalka Wear

Head over to the Moby-driven Little Idiot Collective to see and buy James Kochalka-designed clothing.

JKS Concert Schedule

James Kochalka Superstar will perform August 25th at Metronome in Burlington, Vermont; according to James, this will be a rock show for people 18 and over, or perhaps even "all ages." The lineup is James Kochalka Superstar (first, at 9:00) followed by The Physics Club, Pony Up, and The Smittens.

They will also perform the Champlain Valley Expo on Sept. 1, from 8:00 to 10:00 PM in an all-ages performance.