11 June, 2006

Five Questions for James Kochalka

I last interviewed James Kochalka in January of this year, and while updating some stuff on my Kochalkaholic! blog, I noticed just how much has happened in Kochalka's career in the short few months that have passed since then. So I decided to once again ask him a few -- five to be precise -- questions about what's happened and what's about to happen in his life and career as a cartoonist and musician.

1. It's been announced that the long-awaited James Kochalka Superstar CD Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly will be released this August 29th. You and the band are planning a tour to coincide with the release of the CD; give me your best and worst-case scenarios for how the tour might go.

We're really planning a couple long-weekend length mini-tours. The first one, we'll do four days in a row nearby here... maybe Boston, Providence, New York City, and somewhere else close? It's amazing that we've never done anything like this before, and simple and pedestrian as it is.

For the second mini-tour we're looking for some insane fan or comic book store or college to front us the money to fly wherever they are, and then we'll build a tour around it. Similar things have happened before. A fan in Norman, Oklahoma flew us down there for his birthday one year, and last year a comic book store in Houston, Texas and the college radio station at Rice University teamed up to fly us down for
some show.

Best case scenario? This is all I'm really looking for: we all have a great time, band and audience. I'm hoping just to break even, but we expect to actually lose money.

I guess... worst case scenario... I can't take the strain of playing four shows in a row and I lose my voice, the shows are poorly attended and we lose money on the trip, and then while we're sleeping on the floor of some insane fan's apartment and they kill us in our sleep.

2. The song "Hockey Monkey" by yourself and The Zambonis was the theme song of a Fox TV series called "The Loop" that debuted this year, and the song has gone on to gain significant radio airplay. How this experience has affected your life and your work?

It has not really affected my life and work in any way whatsoever, that I've yet noticed. We got $25,000 for the song, but we split that five ways. Certainly the song was heard by millions and millions of people, but it hasn't led to huge sales. It did give us inroads to commercial radio. Up until now, my stuff has only been played on college radio, but after the show premiered we took a chance and sent the Hockey Monkey single out to 400 commercial and modern rock radio stations. Of those, I think about 20 or 25 started playing it. Most significantly, the SIRIUS satellite network started playing it on their most popular music channel, Alt Nation. It quickly climbed the charts there, eventually becoming the #1 most requested song. It's still way up there, it's been high on their charts for a couple months now. They've played the song HUNDREDS of times, it's unreal.

Now, I will get money from BMI for all this airplay and television play eventually, but I don't know how much. BMI's payment schedule has like a one-year delay. So this time next year I should know what it all adds up to.

3. This week sees the release in comic shops of the third issue of your teen superhero team comic Super-Fuckers. What can followers of your comics work look forward to in the next few months?

Oh, other than the third SuperF*ckers (#277)? Nothing, I guess. I'm working on the fourth issue right now, I'm halfway done with page 12. It's too early to tell with issue 4, but issue 3 is absolutely gruesome! Gruesome is my new cool word I'm going to start using to replace "awesome."

I forgot, there's a great comic in the booklet for Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly. That comes out August 29 in the USA, and a day earlier in the UK. Anyhow, the comic is titled Genius in the Basement, and it's about a monster living in my basement. But it's really about me.

In the fall, Book Two of American Elf will come out, unless Top Shelf goes out of business before that. It will collect all my diary strips from 2004 and 2005, in full color no less.

I'm also just finishing up my first children's book for Random House. It won't come out until August 2007, and we're not sure what the title will be. It juxtaposes alternating pages of verse and comics. The editing process is really intense, but we've hammered my usual loosey-goosey storying-telling style into something as solid as the great classic childrens books, I think. Here's a few of the titles we're looking at: Squirrelly Gray and the Magic Nut, Squirrelly Gray's Rainy Forest, or When the World Was Gray. Actually we've got a list of dozens of titles, so many it's impossible to choose. I think we'll go with the most simple... just plain: Squirrelly Gray.

4. For the past year or so you've been an instructor at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Tell
me what you've learned about cartooning and cartoonists as a result of your work there?

Here's what it really takes to be a great cartoonist: You've got to have the fire and the will-power and at least a little spark of genius. I knew that before, though. It's exciting to be a part of the school, though. It's just fun to teach. It's fun to help them become better cartoonists. I'm not down there a lot, but I love it when I am. It's inspiring.

5. A few years back you quit your job at a Chinese restaurant (and even did a comic about it, coincidentally enough called "Quit Your Job") to devote yourself full-time to your comics and your music. If you could go back in time to your last day at that job and tell your younger self what the next few years would be like and maybe give him some advice, what would you say to that younger James Kochalka?

That would be weird and scary, to meet the younger me. Meeting an even younger me than that, maybe college age would be the scariest of all. But I suppose the younger me would be scared too, so it would all even out.

Anyhow, I had no idea making a living as a cartoonist would be so goddamn easy. I didn't need any advice, all I needed to do was work hard and hustle, and I did that. Now... if I could go back and meet the much-younger me instead, maybe I could teach the much-younger me how to knuckle down and how to hustle and I could've jump-started my career a decade earlier.

Visit James Kochalka's americanelf.com.


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