24 September, 2005

Exploring "We Hunger"

Note: Click on images to see a larger version.

"We Hunger" by Jason Cooley and James Kochalka has always been one of my favourite Kochalka stories. Despite its brevity -- it's eleven panels spread across a mere two pages -- it captures and codifies many of the charms of Kochalka's "Magic Boy" style, taking genuine, real-life events and filtering them through the magical realism of Kochalka's creative impulse to give greater depth and meaning to both the real-life events and the depiction of them in the body of the story.

The anthology book it appeared in, Bogus Dead, was compiled, edited and published by Jerome Gaynor, who also contributed a story to the collection. When I asked Cooley about the creation of the story, he told me "In fall, 2001 Jerome Gaynor sent us all these neat invitations to partake in this zombie-themed anthology, much like the Flying Saucer Attack one he put out in '95, which both me and James were in. We drew separate comics then. By 2001, I had long since given up drawing while James had -- obviously -- improved phenomenally."

Bogus Dead required its contributors to watch a number of zombie movies, and then tell a story in comics form while hewing closely to the requirements of the zombie sub-genre. The dead must return to life, they must hunger for human flesh, and they can only be defeated by destroying their brains.

James Kochalka's Magic Boy avatar appears prominently on the cover, just left of center and quite easy to spot. Undoubtedly this was a deliberate nod to Kochalka's stature within the artcomix community. Other well-respected cartoonists are featured in the book, such as Graham Annable and Ariel Bordeaux, but it's likely that Gaynor thought Kochalka's inclusion (and pointing out same to the potential buyer) would help move a few copies. Certainly, it was why I bought mine.

Jason Cooley, AKA Jason X-12, The Dog with the Robot Brain, appears as a human on the back cover, a drawing he appears to have done himself. If it is less iconic, or even recognizable, than Kochalka's cover portrait, well, Cooley's drawing skill is a key point in the story they choose to tell.

I asked Cooley how he and Kochalka came up with the tale, and he told me "We met up for some beers and tried to plot out the zombie strip, and we made some sketches. James was kinda being a dick about the idea I had -- a '50s-type story where a young teenage girl zombie takes her new non-zombie boyfriend to a zombie diner and some zombie street gang wants to kill him but the old man zombie saves them both, then the girl eats her boyfriend's brain. We made some sketches and went home. Then I thought we should just do the comic about trying to come up with ideas for it. He agreed, we wrote and he drew it. I really was going through some shit with a girl [at the time] -- check Sketchbook Diaries for more details. I was a total sadsack wreck when we were writing it." It's clear when you read the story that Cooley's idea of the meta-story is not only followed, but when combined with Kochalka's art, creates a brief but nuanced fantasy that stands out in both the Bogus Dead collection and Kochalka's body of work.

In panel one, it appears as if Cooley and Kochalka will adhere to the editorial structure laid down by Gaynor:

The group of shambling, undead things that lurch toward a McDonald's-like fast food joint in this first panel are impressive for the threat they seem to pose as they emerge from the oppressive darkness. All the more impressive is the fact that they are drawn firmly in Kochalka's signature style, which one could be forgiven for presuming would not convincingly convey elements such as horror, terror or dread. But, simply depicted as they are, those are some fearsome brain-gobblers.

Panels two and three are where Cooley and Kochalka, not surprisingly, take the book's premise and turn it inside out:

In the space of three panels now, we've learned this is a story about zombies (panel one), and that it's really a story about telling a story about zombies. The mind-warping properties of Kochalka's best Magic Boy work is fully evoked as the reader ponders the slight bit of information so far conveyed: Kochalka and Jason X-12 are inside the restaurant that is surrounded by zombies, trying to come up with a story to tell about the undead monsters. The reader's senses are fully engaged in questions about what is to follow: Will the zombies invade the restaurant? Will Kochalka and X-12 make it out alive?

In panels four and five, the longtime friends differ already on key story points:

This is typical of the creative push and pull of the Kochalka/Cooley relationship. The two, obviously deeply committed friends and colleagues in the band James Kochalka Superstar, often disagree about many things. At the heart of it, Cooley's bitter cynicism (which often seems a defense mechanism) seems to rub up against Kochalka's starry-eyed optimism, and sparks inevitably fly. Were one to compare the dynamic to that of another pair of dissimilar musicians, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, one would not, I think, be far off the mark. Great art comes out of conflict when the opposing sides share a common goal, whether it's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or a two page zombie story, or a rock opera about a carrot turned into a boy by a mad scientist.

In panels six and seven, we learn of another conflict -- X-12 is frustrated and doesn't believe that his drawing skills are up to the task. Kochalka disagrees:

The furrowed brow on Jason's face, especially in panel six, is a wonder of economy of line. Kochalka's art is often devalued by his critics for being overly simplistic, but I defy anyone to deny the expressive nature of the depiction of the characters in this story -- X-12's anger and frustration are palpable in just a few, key strokes of Kochalka's brush. Such mastery of economy in drawing is common among the most well-regarded artists throughout comics history, such as Alex Toth and Jaime Hernandez. That Kochalka's style is so obviously sui generis and not strongly indebted to any one obvious inspiration is even more impressive. The final panel of the story also depends on Kochalka's ability to depict complex emotional states with a minimum of clutter, as we shall see.

With four panels remaining to the story now, Kochalka and Cooley turn to the heart of the matter: Jason X-12's true frustration, and the reason why the story they are trying to create isn't coming together:

Jason X-12 -- and obviously, Cooley in real life -- is a romantic at heart. If his guitar-god posturings and cynical asides are thinly veiled defenses against getting his heart broken, the veil is thin, thin stuff indeed. In my recent interview with Cooley, I mentioned how pensive and thoughtful I thought his solo instrumental music (recorded under the name "Schoolbus") was. He replied that "That stuff comes from liking girls. Songs about girls with no words. I'll have a crush on or be involved with somebody and then I'm trying to make them cry with these pretty little instrumentals. When will I learn they just want to rock?"

Of course, girls want it both ways -- they want to be wooed and rocked, often in that order, but it is the nature of the male of the species to seek a single solution to any problem, and perhaps X-12 enjoys the rocking more than the wooing. Again, the nature of the male asserts itself. But Cooley's Schoolbus music is undeniably thoughtful and provocative stuff, well worth setting aside some time to ponder.

In the final panel, any conceit to zombies or the threat they may pose directly outside the setting of this two-man stage piece has been abandoned. Not in favour so much of the easy punchline, but rather for an affirmation of the strong friendship X-12 and Magic Boy share:

X-12 is convinced that he loves the unidentified girl mentioned in the penultimate panel, and in the final statement of the story, Magic Boy bluntly asseses the situation as he sees it and prescribes the remedy: X-12 should finish drawing the comic about zombies. Note the relaxed, faraway, and quite definitive look on Magic Boy's face as he makes his statement: That's that economy of line that makes this story work so well. Every line serves a purpose, every purpose serves the story. Kochalka has the last word, and there's no doubt that the story is done, and that the lesson (do the work, Cooley) is right.

The story has clearly transformed from the expectations created in that first, eye-catching panel. No zombies from panel one seem to have intruded on the metatextual discussion between the two friends, because we see in the closing panels that everyone else in the place is normal. Not a zombie in sight. And while X-12 likely knows that Kochalka is right (despite the flop-sweat of exasperation in panel ten -- exasperation is a default setting for X-12, at least in the comics), and that he should finish the comic, we the readers know that probably didn't happen, because the entirety of "We Hunger" has obviously been drawn by James Kochalka. The story only gains in nuance the more one ponders its implications outside the panel borders.

The marvelous, economic nature of this story makes it a key piece of Kochalka comics work, and a great example of his gifts. It encompasses artistic exploration, in the one-panel cameo by some creepy, undead ghouls; it features Kochalka's trademark rejection of tradition and expectation in its failure to adhere to the prescribed formula; and best of all, it features cartoon versions of Kochalka and Cooley carrying out actions very likely parallel to events in our real world, but that when reinterpreted through Kochalka's storytelling stylizations, become a nearly magical depiction of the real made myth.

Contradiction is at the very heart of Kochalka's art, and the contradiction between the zombies in panel one and the relaxed, ironically more real interior, is a wondrous quantum bubble of reality/fiction that envelops the tale and elevates it high above average compared to most of the other stories in the collection. indeed, compared with many other Kochalka short stories, even.

I can't help but reflect, as I read each panel of the story, that there are zombies outside the windows, waiting in the dark. I know also that if we could see the satellite hanging in the night sky, that it would be the Earth, not the Moon -- because that's what hangs in the night sky on Magic Boy's world. His Burlington is a place of magic and wonder, set apart from -- and other than -- events on "our" Earth. One of the great joys of this story, and indeed of much of Kochalka's work, is the holistic way in which the reader comes to know that these tales are all happening in one place, in one world. It's not ours, it's Kochalka's, but he is profoundly generous in allowing us all to peek in and see what goes on. "We Hunger," which I believe is the best story in Bogus Dead, achieves its noteworthiness because it plays with expectations, and yet fully conforms to the world and worldview depicted by Kochalka in all his Magic Boy stories.

Cooley perhaps disputes Kochalka's view a bit. When I asked him his impressions of the story today, he told me "Reading it now, I'm appalled at how cool James tried to make himself look in this comic. I mean, look at how he's sitting with his beer, arm
around his chair acting all casual, his dialogue laden with superiority. Total bullshit. He's not that cool. And if he knew anything about zombies, he'd know that they only like to eat humans, not fucking McDonald's."

It's hard to know how serious Cooley is about his feelings for the story, but being as close to its creation as he is, he is entitled to his own interpretation. For me, as a reader and student of Kochalka's storytelling, I see it not as a tale of zombies, but of affection. A love and understanding shared by these two men driven by their art, and ironically, in the end, it is the cynical one derailed by romanticism while the presumptive romantic -- Magic Boy -- bluntly but not without respect and affection puts the final stamp on the discussion with his curt assessment of X-12's situation and the command to "Draw your damn comic."

As always, Kochalka is the teacher. We are all, in our own ways, his students. And there's still so very much to learn, even just in the two pages of this terrific little story.

Bogus Dead is available for purchase from Mars Import.

23 September, 2005

Friday Morning Notes from a KOCHALKAHOLIC!

Don't forget that tomorrow is the Burlington, Vermont Literacy Festival, which will include James Kochalka and other Vermont cartoonists in its impressive, day-long slate of events.

Looking through the archives, it just hit me that I've been writing this site for over a month now, having kicked it off in mid-August, and now we're in a different season, the leaves are changing, and September is nearly over. The time has gone by very quickly, it seems to me. I truly did not realize I failed to note the one-month anniversary, even!

But in the short time I've been doing this, we've had what I think are four fun and informative interviews, with Brett Warnock, Colin Clary, Jason Cooley and James Kochalka himself, and there's more to come in the very near future. I've managed to review Kochalka comics both new and old, and really, found that there actually is enough going on surrounding his careers as a cartoonist and rock star to support the idea of a blog that is updated very nearly every day.

So even though I missed the one-month anniversary, I do want to take a second to thank everyone who's stopped by and checked out this blog, and thanks especially to those of you with columns, websites and blogs who have linked here to let your readers know about KOCHALKAHOLIC!

It's very much appreciated, and I for one am having a blast doing it.

22 September, 2005

Interviews Added to Links

Check the sidebar on the right side of the page and in addition to the James Kochalka interviews I have personally conducted, and the recent interviews for this blog that I have done with Kochalka's colleagues, you will now find a list of other Kochalka interviews at other sites.

If you have the URL of an interview that I haven't tracked down yet, please e-mail me and I will add it to to the links.

Liar Society Reviews The Cute Manifesto

"A worthwhile contribution to the understanding and appreciation of the everyman in an increasingly harsh and confusing world." Full review at liarsociety.com.

21 September, 2005

The Jason Cooley Interview

Jason Cooley is best known to Kochalkaholics for two things: He's a dog with a robot brain (Cooley's cartoon avatar in Kochalka's comics, elevated to mythic status in the James Kochalka Superstar song "Saving My Strength," from Don't Trust Whitey), and he is a key collaborator in the creation of Kochalka's music.

He spoke to me this week about his life, his music, and his longtime association with Kochalka.

Let's start with some background, where are you originally from?

I was born and raised all over New Hampshire until I was 14, when my family was forced to move to Burlington, Vermont.


I came home from school one day to find we'd been locked out of our apartment and evicted. We were very poor and moved around a lot, usually because of a falling out with whatever landlord we had.

Why did your family pick Burlington, and how did you end up staying there? Was something different?

By that time my parents were pretty used to having these problems and having to move suddenly, so with this one my dad had already started working at a low-rent housing complex in Burlington as a maintenance man. So we had to leave our things behind and drive to Burlington that night. We moved into the complex.

How hard was it fitting in in your new community? Did you make friends quickly?

No. I was pretty mentally fried at that point from moving so much, I'd given up bothering to make friends because I knew we'd just move soon anyway. I pretty much stayed in my room the first year I was there. It sounds a lot worse than it was!

What did you do to keep yourself occupied? Music? Comics?

Yeah, totally. Especially music, all the time. I had a lot of comics too, but they were mainly terrible stuff from the late '80s, like that new Silver Surfer series, or G.I. Joe, crap like that. Most of the music I listened to back then was pretty terrible as well. I was a metalhead. Also, I was obsessed with Saturday Night Live.

When did you meet James Kochalka? During this era?

No, way later. Somehow I got of my metal phase and into punk rock, accepted my fate in Burlington, made friends, escaped high school, got a job, et cetera. It was around this time that I first saw Kochalka, but I didn't talk to him. This was in late '92. I was in a comic shop in Burlington, Earth Prime Comics.

I've been in that shop. There was a cat, and a lot of bent comics, and dust.

Yeah. Idiots. They used to stick all of the "dirty" comics in a box under this table next to cash register. I saw this blonde guy in a long green trenchcoat look under the table and I thought "Whoa, sketchball." But he pulled out this comic called "Hate", which I'd read about but figured I'd never see and when I saw that I waited until he left and I went right for the box and couldn't believe the comics I'd been reading about were considered dirty and hidden under that table the whole time!

I bought a bunch of Eightball, Hate, etc. and then got on the bus to Winooski, where my family lived at the time, and the trenchcoat guy was on the bus as well. Years later I realized that it was James, and the reason he was on my bus was because he was on his way to work at The Peking Duck House.

I just found a quote from James today where he said that Eightball was a formative discovery for him.

Oh, me too. It changed my life.

In what way?

It was crass and weird, but intelligent and well-drawn all at once. It was like a punk rock comic. Stuff like "Art School Confidential" and "Velvet Glove", or even "Shamrock Squid" were incredibly inspiring. And like when you first discover punk rock, you instantly wanna do it, too. And it's what led me to meeting Kochalka.

You did your own comic for a while, right? Skoolbus? Or was that more of a 'zine?

I guess it was a zine, but when I started it I didn't even know what zines were. I thought I'd come up with this brilliant new artform. I don't even know why I did it, I was just plain fucking driven. I worked on this horrible rag for months, thinking it would be this awesomely successful thing. It had badly-drawn comics, record reviews, and whatever I could find to fill up the pages. Then when I was almost done, I was at work reading Details magazine, and there was an article about the whole zine explosion, with R. Seth Friedman, The Goads, etc. I couldn't believe how dumb I'd been. But putting it out led me to meeting everyone that would shape my life in the past 12 years.

How did Eightball lead you to meeting James?

I met James at the movie theatre I worked at. He knew this guy there that I worked with named Eric Tronsen -- who unfortunately passed away -- and so he came in to see a movie once and Trons introduced us thinking we'd be friends because we both drew comics. But it didn't work out. James said he didn't like Skoolbus and that was that. Then I just thought he was a pompous dick for awhile.

A not-uncommon misperception, no?

Ha, I guess not. Another time I went to a party at Trons' place, and James was there passed out in a chair. I asked what was wrong with him and Trons told me "Ahhh, that's Kochalka. he's a fucking junkie." So then I thought he was a heroin addict for the next year.

Ha ha! So, how did the friendship between you develop?

Well, a few months into the Skoolbus thing some guy complained to Pure Pop (the awesome record store in Burlington that was selling them) about a dirty poster I'd put up. The clerk he complained to was Pistol who told me about it. I'll never forget those words: "Hey, are you the Skoolbus guy?" So, I became friendly with him. And he knew Kochalka and would be like "No, man. He's not a junkie. He used to draw 'Deadbear'!" which I knew and loved all through high school.

So one day I was in the supermarket and there were James and Amy. They said hi. They were buying catfood for their a cat they'd just gotten that day, I believe.

That was Spandy?

Yeah. James mentioned that he didn't have anyone to talk about comics with, and asked if I'd want to come over some time and talk about comics with him. I said okay. Then the next day my apartment building burned down.

Jesus, so, that was an historic week, from you meeting James and Amy, to them getting Spandy, to the fire. You lost pretty much everything. correct?

Yeah. The summer I started hanging out with James was the most fucked up, sad, crazy, and somehow most strangely beautiful summer I've ever had.

Seems kind of fitting, somehow. It sounds like there was a genuine confluence of events in that time. So how long was it that you went from talking about comics with James to becoming a character in his work?

Jesus, a while, actually. I don't think he thought I was interesting enough. At least three years or so.

Jason Cooley

So what went on in those three years, was there any music yet, any hint of those interests?

Yeah, well again, with the Eightball spurring me to do do Skoolbus, meeting Pistol and James, through them meeting Eugene Hutz and he asking me to join his band at the time called The Fags, teaching me how to play, meeting other musicians in town...up until then I'd always loved music, but anytime I'd start to pick up a friend's guitar they'd just yell at me to put it the fuck down, y'know? So, suddenly meeting all of these artists who were all just so fucking encouraging, it was an amazing time for me.

So did your first musical efforts include James, or did that come later?

It's scattered. The first time I ever appeared on stage was with James. I bumrushed some metal show at Club Toast and tried to play some Beck-type shit while James stood on stage silently with a "SECURITY" shirt on. We wrote a few dumb songs together for a tape once.

Did any of those songs survive into the JKS era?

Hell, no. But I'm sure he still has the tape. It's called "The Skoolbus F.U.C.K. Machine Tape", I believe. One song was called "You Are The Man" and the other was "I'm Gonna Kill You". The were actually duets. He got me a job at the Peking Duck House working with him.

As you once explained to me in an e-mail, you're not a dog with a robot brain, you don't come from the north of Spain, you don't drink cherry wine, or any of the other things James says about you in the song "Saving My Strength." Where does Jason X-12 meet Jason Cooley?

Well, I definitely have my bouts with depression. But I think James overdoes it a bit, but it's okay. It's caricature. In general I don't mind the way he portrays me. It's cute and gets me pretty good. I would say I'm not as mean or ornery as he makes me out to be. I'm actually very shy, nice and polite. But I am lovelorn and sad and that shit, too. Ugh, am I letting you down?

No, no, not at all! James has included some pretty personal information about you in his strips...your seizures and related memory loss, for instance. Does he ask your permission before doing strips about those moments? How do you feel about them?

He doesn't ask permission, but he knows he doesn't need it. I guess it's personal information, but I don't care as long as it's truthful. My only problem with the seizure stuff was having people worry about me, which is nice, but I feel bad having complete strangers worried that I'm going to die or something. I'm just glad he isn't around to document the recent shit. It ain't funny.

No, I don't imagine it is. You've written a bit about it on your online journal, and it sounds scary as hell. And I admit I do worry about you.

See? I do it to myself!

I have to tell you something, I was really intimidated when you agreed to the interview. You've kind of been built up in my imagination as a near-mythic character.

That's funny. Unfortunately I'm very mortal. James is the near-mythic one. He'll never die. Or at least, he'll grow to be a very old and goofy curmudgeon.

James's depiction of you, as a reader, makes me feel very protective of you. I think this is a function of his affection for you that really comes through in the work.

Oh, yeah. We've got each other's backs. We've been friends a very long time. I feel the same way towards him, especially because he's so child-like. I've embarrassed myself a few times over at The Comics Journal message board trying to defend him from those spirit-crushing assholes over there, but fuck it. I'll stick up for him forever. I wish I could draw comics that would make people care about him in the same way. But people care anyway. I suppose the band kind of does that in a way.

Well, I think the contribution you've made to the band has served kind of the same function -- without you, the music wouldn't endear as many people as strongly to James.

I think when you listen to recordings of James' songs, with us playing the music, we're right there with him, playing this song he wrote as best we can. Because we love him.

Yeah, it's very vital.


Why do you think so many people feel moved to write songs about you?

I don't know. Are there many? I can only think of 2 or 3.

Colin Clary told me about at least three. Would you say you and James are more Lennon and McCartney, Ike and Tina, or Peaches and Herb?

None, we're like Barnes and Barnes. Um...I'm trying to think of one...I guess we're like Richard Hell and The Voidoids. He's Richard and I'm the Voidoids...at least when it comes to writing the songs. Onstage we're fucking Jagger and Richards, man. Fuck yeah.

Tell me about the band's recording style, how does a song come together?

James will write a song in the shower or wherever and then proceed to call people up and sing it, sing it to friends on the street, on the bus, in restaurants, wherever. He wrote a lot of his stuff while working at the Peking Duck house. He'd sing me all these new songs, like "Bad Astronaut," and "Keg Party." I never thought I'd ever be playing them someday. But anyway, after torturing anyone within earshot we'll sit down and he'll sing it to me, I'll figure out the notes/chords and we'll record a little demo on a tape or something. It can be easy and hard sometimes doing this. People think that James can't sing, but he's a stickler for what notes he wants, even if he doesn't know what they're called, and he usually won't budge.

Then we'll play it live a few times and then hopefully get to record it for real somehow, preferably with Peter Katis. But I'm not the only one who writes songs with James. Katis, Creston, Pistol, now Eric Olsen is getting into it...

What's your favourite song that you and James collaborated on?

I guess it's "Monkey vs. Robot." He actually made up the words at a party at Steve Tremblay's house while jamming with the Japanese band Ultra-Bide, but then he realized what a good song/concept it was and so we wrote it. The riff was obvious and I came up with the "Gloria" coda at the end. Recording it was absolutely amazing. The Katis brothers learned it in one minute and we did it in one take. During the feedback part before "M-O-N-K-E-Y" James was gesticulating frantically at me to keep playing the song. He thought I was forgetting how to play it or something.

Living in New York City, now, what effect has that had on your work with and relationship to the other members of the band?

Um, I guess it sucks. I miss them and regret moving away a lot. James is always begging me to move back. I mean, I was Band Captain. How could I leave that? I don't know what I was thinking, I miss them all more than they know. But luckily they still seem to consider me a member of the band, so we still play together, but I'll bet there's a lot of songs I should be writing with James that I'm missing out on. I'm really proud of the stuff we've done together. Most times I can't even believe it.

What drew you to New York?

Boredom and depressing Vermont winters, I guess. I lived here before in '97 and moved back to Vermont but always wondered what would have happened to me if I'd stayed. So I had a chance and took it. Duh.

What do you do in New York, what's your day job?

I'm a freelancer working in the textile department of the production and design offices of West Elm, which is kind of like IKEA. I stare at textiles and swatches and curtains and pillows all day long. But I'm also playing bass in a great disco punk band called Heloise and The Savoir-Faire.

Does the band work make up for the tedium of working in textiles?

Yeah. Music will always make up for whatever is bothering me. Some people eat or whatever. I buy records and play bass as hard as I can.

Let's talk about [the Jason Cooley-written mini-comic] Sunturd [a parody of Kochalka's comics]. Where the hell did that come from?

Hm. Well, even though I've got James's back and all that shit, I'll also usually tell him when I don't like his newest books, and I just thought Sunburn was, um, pretentious. Not to knock anybody who likes that book, and since my first read I've grown to like it more, but the time it came out I was like "What the fuck is he talking about?" I was looking at the pictures [in Sunburn] and realizing how the pictures didn't exactly need the text, and the text didn't exactly need the pictures. Well, we were drinking and I told him my idea, and he was way into it. Then I wrote it, but we never got around to finishing it. Years went by before it finally came out.

I think Sunturd is a wonderful corrective to any perceived or real flaws in Sunburn. I now see them as essential to each other. I laughed harder at Sunturd than at any comic I think I ever read, I just laughed and laughed until tears were streaming down my face. And given how much affection and respect I have for James's work I think you really accomplished something there.

Oh, good. Wow, thanks. I'm surprised it wasn't successful, sales-wise.

Well, I've only ever seen it for sale in one place, The Beguiling. I didn't ever get the feeling there was a big sales push for it or anything. I think it should have been included in The Cute Manifesto.

Yeah, he says I told him not to put it in [The Cute Manifesto], but I don't see how I would ever say that. The thing is, I think he really does think that way sometimes.

I'm sure you're right, I think we all do. I just loved that book so much. It was the one comic I read on my Toronto trip. I couldn't wait to get home, I had to read it right there in Jason Marcy's basement.

Wow. Thanks, man. I wrote that shit in the time it took to drink one can of beer. And yeah, we all do [think that way sometimes].

You also have your own record company and record your own solo music. What are your goals, for the company and for your own music?

The company was something that Eric Olsen and I had talked about doing a lot and then one day we finally did it. We were trying to start something in Burlington outside of everything else, not to be elitist, but you know...my goal was to put out some weird, great little records that would just crush the whole hippie-jamband garbage that seems to rule Burlington because of all the Phish fans going to UVM. But you know, it's hard to crush music with other music, and frankly wrong, as well. But we're happy with everything we've done so far. We're moving a little slowly due to Eric's busy schedule and my laziness, but we're getting there.

I don't know where I'm going with my music, though. I have too many ideas. It's actually a problem.

The instrumental stuff you've done, what I've heard of it, I really like. Pensive and thoughtful stuff.

Yeah, I guess that's where it's going. That stuff comes from liking girls. Songs about girls with no words. I have a crush on or be involved with somebody and then I'm trying to make them cry with these pretty little instrumentals. When will I learn they just want to rock?

Well, you have to woo them first, then rock their world.

Easier said than done, my friend. Though I'm better at it than I used to be. I'm not as afraid of getting dissed for a kiss.

Keep up with the latest in Jason Cooley's life by reading his online journal at Icebox Records.

20 September, 2005

"Evil Wings" Petition Update

The online petition asking Rykodisc to release "Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly" has topped 200 signatures. That's great news, but more are surely needed if the record company is going to budge. If you haven't signed on yet and would like to hear this new, unreleased but long-finished CD by James Kochalka Superstar, please click over to the petition and add your name, and tell your friends. Thanks.

19 September, 2005

Dream a Little Dream of James

While I was searching my online archives for any Kochalka reviews I might have missed (and I did add a couple to the reviews section of the sidebar at right), I stumbled over a gem: my dream of introducing James Kochalla to The Shield star Michael Chiklis:

As I was reading James Kochalka's daily comic strip this morning, I remembered a dream I had last night that involved a meeting I arranged between James Kochalka and The Shield's Michael Chiklis. In the dream, I was trying to convince Chiklis to use a Kochalka song in an episode of The Shield. Yes, it's weird, but look at the lengths my unconscious went to to justify this: Kochalka's catchy, kid-appealing songs like Monkey vs. Robot and Hockey Monkey were used in my argument, the idea being that Chiklis's character's austic children would somehow be reached in new ways by Kochalka's unusual, dynamic songs. I don't know how long this dream went on for, but it was quite a while, until Kochalka and Chiklis wandered off together and I was left stranded in one of Farmington's crime-ridden alleys, wondering where it had all gone wrong.

"Where it had all gone wrong," indeed. To date, this is my only dream that featured James Kochalka. Or Michael Chiklis, either, come to think of it.

Center for Cartoon Studies Photos

Courtesy of Tom Spurgeon, here are some terrific photos of the new Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. The new school boasts James Kochalka and other gifted cartoonists on its faculty, and is one of the most exciting developments in comics this decade.

Kochalka in Literary Festival

Jason X-12 might not be able to believe James Kochalka can write books, but the Burlington Literary Festival is including Kochalka and other Vermont cartoonists in its impressive slate of events, planned for this coming Saturday, September 24th in Burlington, Vermont.

Here's a rundown of the comics-related events, from the Festival's website:

James Sturm, Graphic Novelist
Fletcher Free Library

James Sturm is the director of the newly opened Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. Sturm's comics and graphic novels have been translated into several languages and have won numerous awards including "Best Graphic Novel of 2001" by Time Magazine.

Comics Panel with Tom Devlin, Gregory Giordano, James Kochalka, Steve Bissette
Fletcher Free Library

James Kochalka, Tom Devlin and Gregory Giordano discuss the world where art and literature meet.

Moderator Steve Bissette is best known for his multiple award-winning collaborations with Alan Moore on Saga of the Swamp Thing (DC). He was awarded the comics industry Inkpot Award for Superior Career Achievement in 1998.

James Kochalka's comics have been published internationally by almost every alternative comics publisher; he's recorded several music CDs under the name James Kochalka Superstar (making him a favorite at college radio stations across the country); and he's developed animated cartoons for Nickelodeon. Best known for his graphic novel, Monkey vs Robot, and his critically acclaimed Sketchbook Diaries, Kochalka currently lives in Burlington, Vermont.

Tom Devlin is the publisher and visionary behind the art-comics publishing house Highwater Books. In the past, Devlin has guest-edited The Comics Journal, designed covers and content for nearly all the other independent comics publishers as well Harvard University Press, sat on the Steering Commitee of the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, lectured at Universities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Montreal, had artwork displayed in galleries in Boston and Portugal, and managed a comic store.

Gregory Giordano is a Burlington artist. He has published the comics Inside Out, Surface and Tentacle among others. His website is www.flameape.com

Cartoonists Panel with Alison Bechdel, Harry Bliss, and L.J. Kopf
Fletcher Free Library
Alison Bechdel, Harry Bliss, and L. J. Kopf discuss their work as cartoonists.
Bechdel's comic strip "Dykes To Watch Out For" reproduces the texture of 21st century life, queer and otherwise, in exactingly high resolution. From foreign policy to domestic routine, breastfeeding to chemotherapy, postmodern theory to parenting practice, the finely-drawn characters of Dykes To Watch Out For fuse high and low culture in a serial graphic narrative suitable for humanists of all persuasions. The Comics Journal says, "Bechdel's art distills the pleasures of Friends and The Nation; we recognize our world in it, with its sorrows and ironies." Her most recent volume, Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-Based Life-Forms to Watch Out For, was released by Alyson Books in the fall of 2003. Her bi-weekly strip is syndicated in over 50 periodicals.

Harry Bliss was born in upstate New York and studied painting at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Illustration at The University of the Arts (BFA) and Syracuse University (MA). Bliss was illustrating for Gentleman's Quarterly, McCall's, Business Week and other national magazines in his final year at The University of the Arts. In 1997 he was asked by the art editor of The New Yorker to submit cover sketches. His first cover for The New Yorker appeared on January 5, 1998. Shortly thereafter, his black and white cartoons began appearing in The New Yorker.

L. J. Kopf had his brief bid for local fame when his EDGE cartoon appeared in every issue of the twelve year (1978-1990) run of the Vanguard Press, a Burlington news and arts weekly that laid the groundwork for Seven Days. A collection of the best of those EDGE cartoons, entitled Into Every Life A Little Edge Must Fall, was published by Fantagraphics Books and is still available. Mr. Kopf continues to draw cartoons. His day job is Children's Librarian at the Richmond Free Library.

For more information, visit The Burlington Literary Festival website; thanks to Steve Bissette for the heads up!

James and Eli Dance for Charity

James and Eli Kochalka image from the Burlington Free Press, September 17th, 2005

From the Burlington Free Press, September 17th, 2005; scan courtesy of James Kochalka