19 August, 2005

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.


Blogger Stefan said...

Really good interview. Since he didn't say it, Kochalka also has Conversations 2 coming out the same month as Super-F*ckers #2.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Eliot said...

Nice interview!

I usually don't have the patience to read every word of comics interviews, but I had no problem with this one. Good stuff.

I really want to hear EVIL WINGS now, though...

10:43 AM  
Blogger ADD said...

Thanks for the reminder about CONVERSATIONS, Stefan!

Eliot, I've heard enough of EVIL WINGS to know that James is right that it is a breakthrough album that deserves to be heard ASAP. Some great, great tracks on there.

And thanks to both of you for reading and enjoying the interview!

10:50 AM  

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