Interview: James Kochalka Pt. 2 (of 3)

Categories:  Interviews

James Kochalka Part two, in which the Monkey vs. Robot creator monopolizes even more of our precious time, for which we are eternally grateful, even as we think up more ways in which to awkwardly shift the conversation to the subject of clowns, of which it turns out that Mr. Kochalka is not a fan.

This and a whole slew of other incredibly helpful information, which will surely go a long way toward insuring that you get into the university of your choice, and as a result lead a fulfilled life of privilege, are actual contained in Part Three—the best part. In fact, I might go so far as to say that Part Three stands up there as one of the greatest works in the English language, alongside Chaucer and Milton.

Part Two is okay, but unless you read it, Part Three will be little more than jibberish, so play it safe and dive right in, after the jump. You life may very well depend on it.

It’s interesting that you’re teaching courses at The Center for Cartoon Studies, because they key thesis in your book of essays, The Cute Manifesto, was very much anti-craft. How do you teach an art class without craft?

Let’s see…what do I do? When I teach, I’m pretty much invisible to most of the students. Most of them were learning what I wanted them to learn, without knowing that I was teaching them. What I was teaching them was to loosen up, and to not have any fear of the blank page. Really, just not too think too much about it. I also broke everything apart into pieces. I started off by having everyone draw a hundred different cartoon characters, with slight variations on them. And then I took them all outside, and I had them draw scenes out there. Then we put the characters in scenes. I just sort of broke everything into pieces, and then put it back together again. They all knew how to draw comics to begin with, so I took it all apart. I never told them to ‘forget everything you know,’ because if you tell someone that, it doesn’t work. It’s an impossible thing to ask someone to do.

Do you think that you would have taken a course in comics, had your school offered one?

I think I would have taken it, but I can’t imagine being very happy with it. I never liked any art class that I took, because I always wanted to do my own thing. I never liked assignments. Assignments were so tedious for me.

I’m sure that even in a subject like that, some people just need that level of guidance.

Yeah. For other people, assignments are great, and I was able to coax some good work out of people. But I’m able to coax good work out of little two- and three-year-old kids, around here. I’m able to get my son, Eli, to draw comics. Today I had to babysit a little girl, across the street, who’s three, and I got her to draw a comic. I can get anyone to draw a good comic [laughs].

It sounds like you’re starting an American Elf sweatshop, over there. I have these visions of you not being not too far away from those old Family Circus comics, with ‘Little Billy’ doing the strip, so you can take the day off.

I was had Eli draw one of my diary strips twice now. One time, we were playing tic-tac-toe, and we kind of had an argument about it. He got mad at me, so I said, “weeeeell, do you want to draw a comic about playing tic-tac-toe?” And he said, “alright.” So we went upstairs, and I had him draw the first three panels, and tell me what words went with it—it was a comic about playing tic-tac-toe, and the argument that we had, and in the last panel, I drew myself, saying, ‘do you want to go upstairs, and draw a comic about playing tic-tac-toe?’ And, although in real-life, Eli had said, “yes,” in the comic, he wrote, ‘no,’ which is pretty funny, since it was a comic about drawing the comic, and in the comic, Eli says, ‘no,’ he’s not going to do it [laughs].

So that’s one of the few examples in American Elf where it really deviates from real-life?

Well, certain people will tell you that they’re all deviations. [James Kochalka Superstar guitarist and little white cartoon dog, Jason Cooley] will tell you that I don’t get anything right.

Have you ever lied, or changed something from life, so that you could write about it?

Um…no, but there have been occasions where I’ve said things to people, just to get reactions from them, so I could draw a strip about it. I’ve done that to my wife before. It’s kind of a mean trick.

So, it’s 8:00 at night, and nothing has happened all day, so you see if you can get a rise out of her?

Yeah. I say something argumentative, and then we’ll argue and I’ll write a strip about it [laughs]. That’s pretty rare, though. It’s not really a common occurrence [laughs]. Jason will complain that he’ll hang out with me, we’ll have a lot of great conversations, do a lot of fun stuff, and then I’ll write a comic about staring at the wall. A lot of times he’ll try to manipulate me, to get into a strip. He’s pretty good at it, but a lot of the times I can see what he’s doing. I don’t want to play into his traps [laughs].

Did that become pretty common, once the strip took off, people trying to do wacky things to get into it?

No…well, Jason’s the only one who’ll try and do something to get into the strip. Most people just beg, which is really annoying. I could draw dozens off strips about people begging to get into the strips.

That might make a good book.

Yeah [laughs]. I’ll put together a mini collection.

You could do a book of bloopers or outtakes.

I was thinking about doing a cloud diary, in addition to my regular diary. Just drawing what the sky looked like that day.

Hm. I thought you said, ‘clown diary.’ As in, regular people, dressed up like clowns. Because I think either one of those might be a good idea.

I’m not doing a clown diary. I hate clowns. I don’t get it…I’m sure there are plenty of people who find being a clown fulfilling and wonderful, but, I’m not into it.

–Brian Heater

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