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James Kochalka, the first Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont and an Ignatz and Harvey award winner, has had quite a varied career, ranging from fronting his own band (James Kochalka Rockstar), to creating comics, to collaborating on video games. His long running online comic strip American Elf continues to have a strong fan base, and his SuperF*ckers comic book has become a popular animated series on YouTube’s Cartoon Hangover channel. His newest work, the Glorkian Warrior series, sees the release of both a video game based on its characters and the second book in the series, TheGlorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie. We got a chance to chat with Kochalka regarding his career as well as his lovably bumbling hero, the Glorkian Warrior.
How did you get started as a cartoonist?
Professionally? Well, that road began when I bought an early issue of Eightballby Dan Clowes. Then, a couple months later I saw there was an interview with him in The Comics Journal, so I bought that. I had never encountered that magazine before. In The Comics Journal I think I saw something about some mini comic, and decided to order it through the mail. Before very long I trading my own mini comics with other cartoonists through the mail, and soon after that I was a full time professional cartoonist. It all happened within a period of about two years or so… from discovering Eightball to becoming a professional cartoonist and quitting my job as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant.
Did you read a lot of comics as a kid, or was it something you got into later as an artist?
Excerpt from The Blue Drip (1976)
I read them constantly as a kid, and drew them constantly too. I have over 2000 pages of comics saved that I drew when I was a kid. There was only a very brief period of not drawing comics… the first couple years of college I didn’t draw any comics, but the rest of my life I was always working on something. Long before I knew that mini comics were a “thing” I was making them and selling them to my friends at school. I drew my first graphic novel when I was a kid in the 1970’s… which probably marks it as one of the first graphic novels ever drawn, although noone has seen it beyond one of my childhood friends.
The Glorkian Warrior has been a resilient idea, starting with a short comic for Pop Gun, going into a Kickstarter-funded video game with Pixeljam (Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork), before your current three-book deal. What is it that keeps bringing you back to Glork?
I just love to draw him. As soon as I did the first little doodle of the guy, he just felt so real to me, so alive. Basically that’s how I create my characters, I just doodle until one of the doodles has an undeniable spark of life.
Now, with Glorkian Warrior… I was working on this at the same time I was working on my autobiographic comic, the American Elf diary strip. And then when I quit American Elf, and my elf-avator stand-in was gone, I suddenly started to think of Glork as my stand-in. The spark of life that Glorkian Warrior has is my spark of life. What makes me a living being is the same thing that imbues Glorkian Warrior with life.
I hope that doesn’t sound too weird. I just like to draw him. He’s elastic and springy, and he does silly things.
What made you go with First Second as a publisher for theGlorkian Warriorseries?
Excerpt from The Blue Drip (1976)
I thought the book would fit in well with their line, and I wanted to see what a new publisher could do for me. I asked Top Shelf’s advice before bringing it to another publisher, and they were all for it. I don’t need permission to do books with other publishers, but I always talk it over with Chris Staros before I do.
Your work has had lots of multimedia crossover…withSuperF*ckersyou had the animated series (which you did a voice on too), and withGlorkian Warrioryou’ve got the video game. Were these things you thought of initially when formulating the characters, or just natural extensions of the kinds of stories you wanted to tell?
I just love making art, music, anything. I just like making stuff, anything, all the time. I like writing songs, I like making sand castles, I like inventing new recipes, I like to draw, I like to design board games, I like to invent drawing games. I also like to move my body and dance, or swim, or hike in the woods. I just feel like a creative, active life is more fun.
Regarding, Glorkian Warrior I came up with the basic idea for the video game before I started drawing the comics, but then I started drawing the comics before I started actually making the game.
You’ve obviously got a pretty wide range of work…what was it like going from something likeSuperF*ckersto Glorkian Warrior?
Easy. The transition is easy. Whether I’m working on books for adults or books for kids I feel like I’m still exploring the fundamentals of human nature.
What inspired you to write books aimed at a younger audience?
First it was accidental. I wrote Monkey Vs. Robot and Peanutbutter & Jeremy and Pinky & Stinky thinking I was making them for an adult audience. Kids just happened to like them. Then once I had my own kids I started drawing books with them in mind as my target audience. So the Johnny Boo, Dragon Puncher, and Glorkian Warrior books were all written as bedtime stories for my own kids.
You were Vermont’s first Cartoonist Laureate. What was that experience like?
It was like being named the State Flower. I’ve always been proud of being a Vermonter, but it was an amazing feeling to think Vermont is proud of ME. Honestly, it just felt so good I think the good feeling might last the rest of my lifetime if I’m lucky. And every time a new Cartoonist Laureate is named, I feel like I’m being honored all over again. Ed Koren, the amazing New Yorker cartoonist, is the current Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He’s also a volunteer fireman in the town where he lives. Anyhow, he called me up for advice a few times leading up to his inauguration. It was rather amazing to be in the position of offering advice to such a seasoned master of cartooning. Oh, and we did a drawing together about it. That was really fun.
One of the most charming things about theGlorkian Warriorstories is the fantastic hand lettering. Do you feel lettering plays a strong role in the way you tell stories?
Yes! Oh thank you so much. I’ve been waiting for the last twenty years for someone to notice that there is something special about my lettering. Secretly I’ve always coveted a “best lettering” Eisner award, I don’t know why. Partly because it’s probably the worst Eisner award, the most laughable. But also because lettering is actually incredibly important in comics. Meaning is conveyed through the artistry of the lettering, or at least it can be if you do it well. I try to use my lettering to convey emotion, it’s one more tool to that effect in addition to the words themselves and of course the drawings.
I also letter with a brush and ink, which I think very few people do. Most letter with a pen. And I know why, it’s because lettering with a brush is outrageously difficult. For several years I’ve inked my taxes with a brush and ink… but that’s probably a colossal waste of my time.
What is your technique when it comes to illustrating theGlorkian Warriorbooks? Have you found your style changing dramatically with new technology?
I draw with a brush and india ink, but I do all the coloring on the computer. I use a Cintiq, so I can draw the color right on the screen. So, all the swirling colors in the backgrounds of the Glorkian Warrior books were drawn on the Cintiq screen, in photoshop. Yeah, that’s a big change. I wouldn’t be able to do that without the Cintiq or something like it.
The Glorkian Warriorstories tend to have an interesting shaggy dog structure. How do you go about plotting these stories? And how hungry are you when you’re writing them?
I write them fairly stream-of-consciousness style, and then I go back and edit to give them some kind of narrative structure. There’s just enough, I think, so you feel like maybe something actually happened.
I’m hungry all the time, except when I’m drawing or when I’m full.
What were your inspirations for the original charactersGlorkian WarriorandSuper Backpack? Are you drawing from any other bumbling hero analogs?
It comes from me carrying my sons on my back or shoulders when they were little. I sometimes still like to lift my 11 year-old up on my shoulders and carry him around. I plan to continue to carry them both until I’m just not physically able. Anyhow, I’m the bumbling hero. The bumbling hero is me.
By the end of the third book it should be clear that the Glorkian Warrior graphic novels are a sprawling metaphor about fatherhood and raising children.
I know you’re passionate about video games, and Baby Alien seems like the cutest homage toSuper MetroidI’ve ever seen. Do you have any plans or hopes to work on another video game anytime soon?
Yeah, I love the baby Metroid from Metroid 2. I was definitely inspired by that for Baby Alien. I also took inspiration from Space Invaders and also my cats. My Baby Alien is like a space invader with a cute kitten face who sucks on your head like a baby Metroid.
Gosh I hope I make another video game. I’ve been designing some games, but I need to find a developer who’s willing to take them on and work with me. But if Glorkian Warrior is the only commercial video game I ever make, at least I had fun and it’s a good one. I’ll never stop designing new games in my mind, though.
A few years ago I invented a new version of chess that I’d like to turn into an iPad app, and I may have just found some guys who want to make it. We’ll see if they can handle it. Last year I invented a really cool new way for three people to play tic-tac-toe. I amaze myself with this stuff, probably more than I amaze anyone else.
What can readers look forward to in the third volume ofGlorkian Warrior?
Gonk joins the Junior Junior Glorkian Warriors, we finally meet the Glorkian Super Grandma, and there’s a new villain introduced: Quackaboodle the Space God.
Any other upcoming projects you’re excited for readers to get their hands on?
Yes! I’m making another animated cartoon, a short pilot episode, for a major kids network. I think I’m not supposed to talk about it, and it’s killing me to keep quiet.
TheGlorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Piewill arrive in stores near you from First Second on March 17th.
Alternative Comics has announced a seven book spring 2015 season, with collections by some intriguing talents. Stephen Cerio hasn’t been seen in a while, and a round-up of Malachi Ward’s quirky comics is long overdue. Plus Rich Tommaso, Sam Henderson and a process guide from Tom Hart’s Sequential Arts Workshop—some good stuff here.
Alternative publisher Marc Arsenualt has also announced that Erik Aucoin will join Alternative as Associate Publisher. Aucoin’s background includes HR, law, being a record label co-owner and of course liking comics. a massive fan of comics familiar to many of today’s top creators. In the past Aucoin has worked for the US Congress, a lobbying firm and as a radio DJ so comics should be a snap for him. His duties will includes editing the anthology title Alternative Comics.
This will be the first alternative season distributed by Consortium to the book trade, a move that has been very helpful for other small presses.
And here’s the spring line-up and catalog copy:
Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso
Abigail is an aspiring hitwoman out to prove her value to the family. She braves the wilds of Newark, overpriced parking, traffic jams, and bad hair days to track down Trevor, her former mentor, who is on the lam with a big briefcase of mob dough. A heavily revised, redrawn, and expanded twentieth anniversary edition of Rich Tommaso’s debut graphic novel.
Rich Tommaso has been writing and illustrating original comics and graphic novels since 1994. His graphic novel with writer James Sturm, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, won an Eisner award for Best Reality-Based Work in 2008. 136-page paperback
Diamond Code: FEB150911 ISBN: 978-1-934460-86-3
Sunbeam on the Astronaut by Steven Cerio
A long-awaited collection of comics, art, and stories by artist Steven Cerio that explores silly, psychedelic, and strange worlds. Smiling cartoon critters carouse with threatening cutout whales against a shifting comic landscape in these unique illustrated stories. The psychedelic meetsSaturday morning cartoons in stories with such intriguing titles as “A Private History of Sunbeams and Head Colds,” “The Add Witch in The Berry Patch,” and “Ninny Noonday Ninny.”Steven Cerio is a prominent rock poster and magazine illustrator. His work is best known from his ongoing collaboration with San Francisco-based performance art and music group The Residents.48 pages/black and white guts/full color cover
From Now On by Malachi Ward
Short Comic Tales of The FantasticA collection of hauntingly beautiful Science Fiction and Horror short stories by Prophet (Image Comics) and Ritual artist Malachi Ward. Collects stories from Mome, Study Group Magazine, Sundays, Best American Comics 2013, and more. 144 page paperback.
June 9, 2015
Smilin’ Ed Comics
by Raoul Vezina & Tom Skulan
Crisply and energetically drawn, snappily written, filled with pop culture references, and always funny; Raoul Vezina’s Smilin’ Ed Smiley comics were a breath of fresh air when they first appeared thirty-five years ago. All the original comics are collected here for the first time. Includes sixteen pages in color.
Raoul Vezina (1948-1983) was a brilliant cartoonist who came out of the underground tradition and put his own mark on the indie comics of the early 1980s in a handful of titles. He is best remembered for the four issue of Smilin’ Ed Comics published by Albany, New York’s FantaCo.
160 page 8″ x 10″ black and white paperback with 16 pages in color and color covers
Alternative Comics, June, 2015 ISBN: 978-1-934460-85-6 Price: 19.95
The SAW Guide to Making Professional Comic Strips by Tom Hart
The SAW Guide to Making Professional Comic Strips is a complete how-to manual for making the best comic strips you can, from conception to idea generation to layout, lettering, finishing, coloring and even selling. From an experienced professional comic strip artist (Hutch Owen, Ali’s House), the book is loaded with examples and instruction as well as personal stories within the industry.
96 page 8 1/2″ x 11″ color paperback. June, 2015 ISBN: 9781934460894 Price: $12.95
Quit Your Job and Other Stories by James Kochalka
On his way to work, Magic Boy discovers an enchanted ring and starts an expedition to the North Pole.
Eisner Award winner James Kochalka has been called “one of the brightest lights of independent comics” and Quit Your Job is a shining example of his genius. On his way to work at the Chinese restaurant, Magic Boy discovers an enchanted ring and determines to make an expedition to the North Pole. He only gets as far as the coffee shop on the next block, but his world is forever changed in the short journey. The predecessor to the author’s popular American Elf diary comics. Includes the entirety of Kochalka’s 1997 book Paradise Sucksand an additional story featuring characters from that world. Double the size of the first edition. Introduction by Jeff Smith (Bone, RASL).
192 page 6.75″ x 675″ black and white paperback with color covers Alternative Comics, 2015
ISBN: 9781934460931 Price: $15.95
Oh, That Monroe by Sam Henderson
Monroe Simmons, cartoon everyman, faces twenty-something life and is squashed like a bug at every turn in this series of harrowing and humorous tales from Magic Whistle and Scene But Not Heard creator Sam Henderson. This new edition features nearly 30 pages of never before collected comics and a new introduction by the author.
128 page black and white paperback with color covers
Tomorrow is the day human history changes direction and sets sail for the future, as SUPERF***CKERS, the cartoon based on the James Kochalka superhero epic, debuts on the Cartoon Hangover video channel.
Cartoon Hangover already debuted THE BRAVEST WARRIOR, and SUPERF***CKERS will appear every Friday until February.
In case you missed the comic, the SuperFs—and their leader, Jack Crack—are the randiest, raunchiest, rowdiest, revoltingest teen superhero team ever. In the above EXCLUSIVE AND UNCENSORED clip you begin to see why. Here’s the official trailer with requisite puking jokes:
James Kochalka has always had a penchant for the outright silly. If nothing else his Johnny Boo series of books have said as much. He’s not afraid to go for the obvious gag, but at the same time his sheer willingness to get ridiculous sort of becomes his strength. I picked up The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza uncertain if it would be honestly funny or just trying too hard, and you know what? There was more than one time I thought this book was actually, honestly really funny. It’s the kind of funny best appreciated by younger kids too. Your Captain Underpants / Junie B. Jones crowd. Humor is, admittedly, so completely subjective that adults have a hard time remembering what it’s like to be a kid and to find just the most ridiculous thing in a story freakin’ hilarious. But reading about The Glorkian Warrior I couldn’t help but feel like this was one book where Kochalka really put his finger down firmly on the pulse of kid-humor. Nothing against Johnny Boo or any of his other funny books over the years but with The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza I feel like the man has finally hit his stride. His funniest and most ambitious bit of space-based lunacy to date.
It’s a slow day for The Glorkian Warrior. No amazing adventures on the horizon. Nothing much going on. And though his Super Backpack is bugging him to go out and do something heroic, until the Emergency Space Phone rings our hero is out of ideas. Turns out the phone call is from someone ordering a pepperoni pizza and, not one to back down from a challenge, our Warrior sets off to complete this mission. Granted, the only pizza he has in his possession is the partially eaten peanut butter and clam concoction in his fridge. And granted, nothing seems to go according to plan. But between busting up his Supercar, blowing up a little bully (don’t worry, he’s not hurt), acquiring a baby space cat head sucker thing, and encountering a Magic Robot capable of mucking up time itself, it’s all in a day’s work for The Glorkian Warrior and his newfound pals.
I’m not one of those children’s librarians that claims to have the sense of humor of a 9-year-old kid. There are folks out there that can say this in perfect seriousness and though I do understand where they’re coming from, it’s not really my thing. After all, there are some works of children’s literature that just baffle me with their popularity. That said, I found myself grudgingly really liking what Kochalka was doing here. It’s no mean feat to create an honest-to-goodness quest novel that fills itself from tip to toe full of silliness. The tone in this book is also consistent throughout. It has a clear vision, even if the reader does not, and even manages at the last minute to pull a little surprise coup on the reader. So while it will not be to every adult’s taste, I have absolutely zippo problem with the kiddos picking it up. Heck, I’ll be recommending it to them myself. This is for the kid who wants something along the lines of Adventure Time but without the existential philosophy.
Not that there wasn’t at least one element that struck me as particularly fascinating. Put a little time travel into a book and you’ll find folks like myself examining it from every angle, no matter how silly it is, for inconsistencies. I’ll repeat that. I, a 35-year-old woman, read a children’s graphic novel called The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza and when I hit on the time travel aspect I looked for mistakes. Just put that in your pipe and smoke it for a while. For me, the only possible problem I could come up with was the fact that if The Glorkian Warrior called himself to order the pizza, why did he call his own number thinking it was a pizza delivery place? So, yeah. Continuity-wise it’s a bit shaky, but honestly if that’s what you take away from the book you’re probably looking at it from the wrong angle anyway. Besides, I love the philosophical quandary of how The Glorkian Warrior learned about the existence of pepperoni pizza from himself rather than some outside source.
You can’t help but love a book where the Don Quixote of space is accompanied by a Sancho Panza-like talking backpack. And yes, it’ll get its own fair share of objections from various quarters. Not every parent will get it, but it’s awfully hard to find anything to object to here. It hasn’t the scatological warning signs of a Captain Underpants or the “bad” language / “bad” attitude of a Junie B. Jones. Instead it’s just a good-natured tale of a dumbo making a date with destiny. It’s not going to blow you away with its insights into the nature of humanity itself, nor would it want to. It’s just here to make kids laugh. And honestly, we could do with a couple more books along those lines these days.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga – Not to give anything away, but Shiga does some pretty similar things with time travel in his book with similarly goofy results. The tone of the two books is also quite similar.
Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex – I’m sort of seeking out the silliest/goofiest of graphic novels, all operating under their own internal logic, to pair with Kochalka’s latest. Fangbone is a much smarter character, but that doesn’t prevent him from running headlong into danger ala our pizza delivery boy here.
Move over Casper! There's a new ghost in town and his name is Johnny Boo. The "best little ghost in the whole world" is featured in four graphic early readers by James Kochalka. The latest in the series is Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy.
In this book about friendship, Johnny has a play date with his new friend Rocky the Rock, excluding his old pal Squiggle, a comma-shaped ghost. So Squiggle squiggles off to find a friend of his own, landing in a butterfly net wielded by Mean Little Boy. The little ghost believes he's found a new friend, even after the boy plops Squiggle in a jar. Luckily Johnny shows up, and the two ghosts figure out Mean Little Boy's true colors.
Perfect for the kindergarten-through-third-grade crowd, this book will leave young readers laughing, especially at the potty humor. (Mean Little Boy has an unfortunate accident.) They will also take away an important message about what it means to be a friend. Kochalka's action-packed illustrations are zany and fun, while the speech balloons are large enough to assist beginning readers.
Johnny Boo: The Mean Little Boy by James Kochalka Top Shelf Productions, 40 pages Published: April 2010
By Jen Vaughn What do you do with a man with a wild mind of his own and a pair of drawing hands that just won’t quit?
You make him KING.
James Kochalka is the one of forerunners of autobiographical diary comics with his syndicated comic, American Elf
, which is also available online and began way back in October, 1998. He is also the creator of other excellent comics like irreverent SuperF*ckers and children’s books like the Johnny Boo series and most recently, Dragon Puncher. His comics are published by Portland-based comics publisher, Top Shelf. Brett Warnock of Top Shelf had this to say about his new Laureate: “James Kochalka mines the depths of the comics medium in ways that most aspiring cartoonists can only hope to achieve. Simply put, he “gets” comics… the narrative flow, panel and page compositions, line quality and color palette. Of course, all would be for naught without his charming, funny, and engaging content. And he makes it all seem so damn effortless. The world is a much better place for Kochalka’s impressive body of work.”
All over the state of Vermont, Kochalka has spread his love of comics and drawing. He is a regular visiting artist/faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies
, a renowned cartooning school also based in Vermont. The Center for Cartoon Studies appointed Kochalka after a selection process. CCS Director James Sturm believes, “Whether they are funny, philosophical, or naughty, James Kochalka brings a childlike intensity to all of his work. With his diary comic he has influenced countless cartoonists and has forever altered the landscape of cartooning.”
Kochalka is also known for giving back to his own Vermont town, Burlington. Once a year, Kochalka and a rag-tag group of fledgling cartoonists (usually from CCS) take over the 4th and 5th grade classes to teach youngsters the joy of comics, sequential art and panel play.
When not inspiring the minds of children and cartoonists world-wide, Kochalka occasionally sings in his band, James Kochalka Superstar or creates 8-bit digi-tunes (my favorite track from Digital Elf was The Golden Eagle). The coronation of James Kochalka , the first EVER Cartoonist Laureate, will take place all over Vermont in a day long-celebratio
of James Kochalka being appointed “country’s first ever” Cartoonist Laureate in Vermont, it appears that one other state has previously named a cartoonist laureate, Chad Carpenter. And what state would that be? Alaska. That’s right, the 50th state in terms of population density per square mile named a Cartoonist Laureate before states like Oregon, Washington, California, New York and the ever-burgeoning Vermont. These states are pregnant with cartoonists, illustrators, animators and graphic novelists. When asked about the erroneous credit The Center For Cartoon Studies co-founder, James Sturm, stated, “I should have known. Alaska is the only state in the country that has a longer cartooning season than Vermont.” For those down south, cartooning season lasts as long as there is snow on the ground and whiskey in your mug.
So, calling all states (aside from Vermont and Alaska) to step up to the plate. Creators and publishers, rustle up some enthusiasm not just for books sales but the love of the medium! Fans, get into it! Create a committee (possibly with the backing of a trusted cartooning institution in your state) and don’t just wait for a bill to pass through your local government. Select a cartoonist who not only creates influential or a large volume work but gives back to the community. Then publicly celebrate that cartoonist to the best of your abilities.
once you have a cartoonist in your state selected as Cartoonist Laureate (or if you need help choosing one) and definitely send the details of the celebration so that all may revel in our shared love of comics. And remember, you’ll have a lot of cartoonists worthy of the title but you can always name another laureate.
Okay we’re not going to spend weeks and weeks rounding up San Diego memories, but we are going to share a few good ones. James Kochalka has started his sketchbook diaries account, and this is the comics equivalent of the MODERN FAMILY recap.
Over at the Cartoon Hangover blog, this image of James Kochalka’s Superf***ckers has appeared with the headline “Too Wild For T.V.” If you’ve read the debauched adventures of Kochalka’s NSFW teen superheroes—imagine Beavis and Butthead without the intelligence and restraint—you know that any such cartoon WOULD be too wild for T.V. Frederator Studios, which runs the blog and produced such cartoon classics as Adventure Time and The Fairly Odd Parents has had Superf***ers in development for a while now—and now it’s going to be seen as part of the massive new influx of programming on YouTube. Kochalka has already written 8 of the 12 episodes.
Superf***ers the comic s published by Top Shelf. Kchalka produced four “issues” in the square picture book format which was then collected into a trade.
Two thoughts: #1 as streaming TV become the norm, having a series on YouTube isn’t going to mean anything much different than appearing on TV
#2 this IS going to be wild. Here’s a theme song Kochalka already wrote: