28 October, 2005

Conversation #2 Ships Wed., Nov 2nd

Confirmed by the Earthworld shipping invoice from Diamond, accurate a good 95 percent of the time.

And remember, Super-F*ckers shipped this week and is in stores now. The first issue was a sell-out as I recall, so don't miss the boat this time around.

James Kochalka also noted on his message board that he is working on Super-F*ckers #3 right now.

26 October, 2005

Saluting Seven Years of The Sketchbook Diaries

They say it's a medical fact that over the course of every seven years, every cell in the human body (except brain cells, I believe) replaces itself at least once. The net effect of this is that at the end of any given seven year period, physically, you are no longer the person you used to be.

You've been totally replaced, by a new you. And I know this is a medical fact because it's mentioned in the editor's notes of the new issue of Men's Health Magazine.

But that's not why I mention it. I've been thinking a lot about the seven-year-new-you thing recently, in the run-up to today's date -- October 26th, 2005. Today is the seventh anniversary of the very first daily diary strip drawn by James Kochalka.

Click for larger image.

I didn't really discover James Kochalka's work until Monkey vs. Robot came out in 2000, so I can't say I've been on-board for the entire seven years of the daily diary strip, but I will say that from the moment I discovered the strips until now, I have been entirely riveted by this life's work of Kochalka's. I'm proud to say many, though not all of my cells have replaced themselves, and that experiencing Kochalka's life and times through his strip has, indeed, made me feel like a new man.

I don't think any single comic book, graphic novel, or any other comic-related artifact or publication has changed how I see comics as much as Kochalka's daily strips. Although excellent, paradigm-shifting work by such folks as Art Spiegelman, Dan Clowes and Robert Crumb has certainly taught me over the 34 years I have been reading comics that the artform can be a window to the soul of the artist, I don't think any other cartoonist in human history has, daily, opened himself so wide, laid bare his life to such scrutiny, or offered with such delightful skill an invitation to share in his perception of himself and his reality. Only Charles Schulz comes immediately to mind as a true peer, but even there the veneer of fiction, however thin, separates the two.

There's been a price for this gift Kochalka has given us. Readers and fellow creators unable to process Kochalka's unique presenation of his life experience have dismissed him as trite, facile, a waste of time. Sour grapes, one senses, from people who wish they had the ability to present themselves so boldly and full of wonder, and more importantly, from people who wish they had the courage to do so.

More than anything, I admire Kochalka's courage, although he might not even see it as such. It takes guts to put it all out there, whether through a daily interpretation of your interaction with the universe, or dropping your drawers at a rock concert. In every way that counts, Kochalka has lived his life as an artist to the absolute limit, pushing farther and harder than just about anybody I can think of. To be sure, he has not always succeeded, but he has always tried.

The daily diary strips -- the Sketchbook Diaries, American Elf, whatever you wanna call 'em -- represent seven years of truly sublime achievement by one of our very best, most forward-looking cartoonists. James Kochalka has reason to be proud today. He may not be the man he was when he began this thing seven years ago, but his readers are all the better for the tireless effort he's made, not only in creating the strips but in fighting for a place for his unique work in a marketplace made for comics so much less profound, so much less interesting, and so much less enduring.

I look forward to being someone else seven years from today, but I know I'll still start the day looking forward to another installment in the life of James Kochalka. I wonder who he will be by then? Much the same, no doubt -- and yet, at levels both small and large, entirely new and different.

As always. As it should be.


More Comments on Seven Years of The Sketchbook Diaries

I asked a number of folks to weigh in on today's milestone anniversary. Here's what some of them had to say.

From Cole Odell

James's creative joy shines through every single panel of American Elf, inspiring a protective affection in the reader not unlike that for a cute, sometimes exasperatingly naughty puppy. That this response is probably deliberate on James's part doesn't take away from it at all.

American Elf single-handedly restored my waning enthusasm for comics, after I'd burned out on caped wonders and morose lit-comix. More than that, American Elf made me a happier person, and certainly a more reflective one. You see, I simply can't read James's autobiographical comics the way I read almost everything else. Literature usually allows the reader to experience at least some degree of the exotic -— perceptions, places, people, and reactions outside one's regular frame of reference. I look at American Elf and see the trappings of my own life -- an emotional, occasionally childish male Vermonter in my thirties with liberal politics, a mortgage, young sons and a wife who deserves to have multiple books written about how awesome she is. Here's where the mirror warps, though, because I haven't written those books, and James has. What can I say? The guy's a superstar.

But his work makes me feel like I could be one too. And that response is certainly deliberate on his part. The "James Kochalka's Dianetics" joke from the Cute Manifesto ad is only funny because it's true.

James occasionaly reminds me of Calvin Johnson, strangely charismatic leader of the cuddlecore band Beat Happening, founder of K Records and central figure in a scene that celebrated a deliberate childlike enthusiasm for life. For both artists, their choice of expression seems to be a personal philosophy put into practice—and a provocation. Their art, even at its cutest, implicitly asks, "are you brave enough to live according to your ideals?"

From Brett Warnock

James Kochalka's sketchbook diaries are a singular phenomenon in comics; a pure and unique tour de force, and a fine example of what the medium has to offer. James set the bar for diary comics, and to this day he is unequaled in his quest to record the minutia and small moments that inform his life, and by extension, all of our lives.

From Colin Clary

I love James's diary strips! It's a fun way to keep tabs on a friend across town and it's really hard to believe it's been seven years. I guess it makes sense, though. At this point it's like a part of my life and I don't know what I'd feel if there wasn't a new strip always on the way. It makes you kind of look forward to each day and also enjoy looking back.

It's inspiring to know that you can do a little bit of work each day and have it add up to something totally awesome years down the road. It reminds me that you don't have to do everything all at once, but that each day you have an opportunity to contribute to your world in some way that can make a difference, or make you smile or laugh, or feel weird, or make no sense at all. At all adds up! Plus it helps me remember how long I've had my striped sweater. Three years and five days!


Happy seven year anniversary James! I'll meet you at that bar that you aren't allowed to leave!

From Jason Marcy

Seven years. Has it been so long? There are few words to describe the how the daily journal of James Kochalka took ahold of me. I came across my first taste of the strips in The Comics Journal. There was an immediacy and dare I say magical quality to them. One moment from James's day captured in a few panels, saying so little but really then, so much. It was like I'd discovered Peep Show, the book that inspired me to do autobio comics, all over again. They meant that much to me.

Seven years? It simply can't be. But here I am, closing in on my own daily journal comic's fifth year, and yes, that was inspired by James Kochalka's now almost defintive masterpiece of daily journal work. Without Peep Show I wouldn't be doing autobio comics, and without Sketchbook Diaries, American Elf, I wouldn't be doing dailies. Two very important and pivotal moments in my comic career both resulting in the same: me doing comics.

James still possesses that inscrutable "something" though, the spark of "something" that wants you to see his daily as more than life moments. Or maybe not. I've always called that effect "the magic at work," because I'm sure even Kochalka himself isn't fully aware of the powers he wields through his daily musings on life. I've seen many daily comics, and none of them have that "it" quite the way American Elf does.

And really, that is how it should be.

Seven years? Impossible. It seems like yesterday. "The magic at work." Thanks James!

Feel free to e-mail KOCHALKAHOLIC! your comments on today's anniversary.

24 October, 2005

Inside The Center for Cartoon Studies

Josie Whitmore is a student at The Center for Cartoon Studies, and I thought there'd be no better insight into the school -- and specifically James Kochalka's class there -- than to talk to her about her experiences at the new school in White River Junction, Vermont.

Where are you originally from?

Freeland, Maryland. It’s a bit of farmland about an hour away from Baltimore. My parents have a llama farm there now.

Did you have to travel to attend CCS?

Yeah, I was living in Baltimore and working as a barista when I left. I had a zine going called "Baristador!" Even though it has an exclamation mark nothing very exciting ever happened to me as a barista. Except for this one time when that guy from Madonna’s "like a dream" video came in and ordered a Chai. I didn’t think he was too special except he did have very Jesus-like eyes.

How long have you been interested in cartooning?

I drew some growing up but my brother was better -- he’s a painter now -- so I was intimidated. When I did draw, it was rarely just that. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories with pictures and captions. I think my first comic with real panels was "Cap’n Carrot and his Crunch-A-Carrot Crew." It was a fuzzy super hero thing. Up until college a lot of my school projects had a comics component to them. I used to do one called "Spanish Stickman" for extra credit. Reading and writing comics in another language is a great way to learn.

Did you read comics as a child?

Yeah. The Cockysville public library had a big anthology of Krazy Kat and it blew my mind. I also got a bunch of Peanuts there ( I liked the earlier "Li'l Folks" best). As a teenager I got really into Tin Tin. My brother was very tolerant of me playing video games in his room so sometimes I would get into his collection of New Yorker gags and Life is Hell, Doonesbury, and Bloom County.

Tell us about your background, what your life was like growing up?

I lived on a little hobby farm growing up. There were always lots of lively animals eating and fighting and living and dying around us. I think you can see that influence in my brother's work too. For high school I commuted to a magnet school where I studied writing. It was closer to the city so I got to go through my Holden Caulfield stage in a much more appropriate setting. In college -- Bryn Mawr -- I majored in East Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese and lived in an eco-feminist vegan co-op. I did a lot of child rights advocacy work. The summer of my sophomore year I went to Middlebury’s Chinese Language school and fell in love with Vermont. Then I spent my Junior year at Donghai University in Taiwan. Comics are everywhere in Taiwan. I spent a lot of rainy days reading children’s stuff from Hong Kong and Chinese translations of Japanese, Korean, European, and American comics. After college I started the career I had planned to devote my life to but I had a big existential crisis. Thanks to my boyfriend at the time I decided to kind of start over again. I started working at Borders, reading comics, and living life. It is important to have balance in your life. You have to go to pumpkin festivals with friends occasionally. You have to stop everything and play with your cat sometimes. If you want to make careless, happy music with your friends get a five-dollar microphone and do it. Your career or climbing some nebulous latter towards it should never consume who you are. It is my Josie-Appleseed goal to remind everyone of this so why not do it here too.

How did you find out about CCS?

I read about CCS on Scott McCloud's blog. Actually, I felt a tremendous sense of loss when I first saw the CCS website. It was like someone had designed a school specifically for me at a time I needed it most but I didn’t feel like I had what it took drawing-wise At the time I had been doing a pretty regular online comic...journal and had sunken into the process of creating comics. I was also writing a ton of mundane haiku. I’ve never been afraid to give it a go so I made a website with the comics and the poems and applied. In my heart of hearts I felt that I was one of the "types" the school was looking for -- someone with a lot of spirit and an expressive storyteller despite my lacking an art background. James Sturm called me a few weeks after I sent in my application. Initially I was kind of star-struck but James is really laid-back and talkative so the interview was actually a lot of fun. It was great to be able to talk to someone about comics like that and now I get to do it ad nauseam!

Is there a set course program for everyone, or can you pick your classes?

There is a set course program. On Monday we have "Drawing Workshop" -- this is what James Kochalka taught -- followed by an open life drawing session. "Super" Tuesday is "Reading and Writing Workshop" with poet Peter Money, "Introduction to Graphic Narratives" with James Sturm, and "Survey of the Drawn Story" with Steve Bissette. Wednesday is "Publication Workshop" with Tom Devlin. Thursday is the continuation of Peter and James Sturm's classes. There are also lab and library hours.

What's the talent like among your fellow classmates?

We are a very talented group. Good writers, good thinkers, good drawers. All in various ways. It’s exciting.

Is there more rivalry or comradery between the students?

I think James was right when he sang in the CCS fight song that we "study with our buddies." We all have such different interests, values, and objectives concerning our own comics that I don’t think there can be honest rivalries. Given the course load, there’s not much room for anything other then mutual support. There are some personality clashes here and there but we genuinely enjoy each other and have occasional parties, play basketball between classes, and get together on Friday nights for beer and Karaoke. Classy!

How has CCS and its students and faculty been welcomed in White River Junction?

A lot of community members came to the grand opening and seemed pretty pleased with at least the novelty of the school. Peter Money asked us the other day if we ever walk around WRJ and feel giddy. I do! It’s a really funny, quirky place. Its got this weird arty undercurrent bubbling up like lava from out of these old railroad buildings. A lot of our folks live and work at the old hotel across the street. Its still run via a series of cards and skeleton keys. Elizabeth Chasalow was working there the other day and a horse and buggy went by. She didn’t bat an eye. Living in an old town is splendid that way. You become aware that you’re just one part so many layers of time.

Kochalkaholic readers would love to know what it's like to be in a class taught by James Kochalka, tell us about that experience.What would you say is the most important lesson you learned in James's class?

James’s class was a really good way to start out the week. He spent a lot of time with us one on one as we drew and pointed out problems we were making both conceptually and technically. I think one of his main objectives was to get us out of our drawing ruts by experimenting with different ways to draw a single object or character. James is also an excellent portrait artist so learning his thought process regarding rendering -- say -- the Governor was also valuable to me.

Has anything surprised you about your CCS experience?

CCS is an all-day and often all night occupation. You make progress fast this way. Don’t catch a cold though.

What would you like to do with your CSS education once you graduate?

I will make good comics.

I will also draw your dog, cat, or rat for 10+ bucks. Seriously.

Want Josie to draw your pet? E-mail her. Thanks to Josie for participating in this interview.

23 October, 2005

Super-F*ckers #2 Shipping This Wednesday

I've just received confirmation that Diamond is shipping James Kochalka's Super-F*ckers #2 this Wednesday, October 26th. The book appears on my retailer's Diamond Shipping list, which is accurate 99 percent of the time barring disaster, incompetence or Acts of Bob. So, keep your eyes peeled and make sure you tell your retailer you want a copy. The first issue proved extremely popular, having more initial pre-orders than any other Kochalka comic, so make sure you don't miss out on this new issue.