Kim Deitch addressed a packed crowd of students from all disciplines yesterday at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. After the talk, he culled the comics students, bringing them to the front of the auditorium to discuss in detail his process and his artwork.
Deitch is a really fun public speaker. He has a unique grasp of language that allows him to say something like “gosh wow enthusiasm” without sounding intentionally funny or ironic. His talk mostly addressed the process of writing comics, but also touched on his incredible life and experiences.
Deitch often cites Ivan Brunetti for having first said something like, “If you can’t write interesting comics, you need to become a more interesting person.” With a resume full of weird jobs (Norwegian Merchant Marines, clipping newspaper comics, insane asylum, drug dealing, daycare center, cartoonist), Deitch has more than his fair share of interesting stories to tell.
I sat in the crowd transcribing quotes of interest for our Dear Readers here at the Cross Hatch. I write pretty furiously but I’m no substitute for sound recording. (Note to self: get tape recorder.) Reading on should give you a good idea about what advice Deitch has to offer budding cartoonists, albeit not from perfect quotations. Even with quotes, the delivery would be lost. Deitch was funny and direct about his subject matter in a way you really need to see to experience. Man, you should’ve been there. It was a real treat, but I guess you’ll have to settle for the sloppy seconds.
When I first started out, I was probably least likely to succeed. More interested in girls, boozing and getting high. And I was lazy as sin.
When I was a kid I was running around in cartoon studios [where my dad worked] before I knew what an animated cartoon was. Since Dad wanted to keep up with comics…I had access to every syndicated comic strip out at the time. My first paid job was to clip the comics from the newspapers he ordered in and paste them into books so he could read them at his leisure.
After high school I was telling my mom maybe I could be in the ARMY, see the world. Or maybe I could be a hobo. I ended up at Pratt College. Me and the art school [Pratt] weren’t really made for each other.
My sophomore year…I ran into some Scandinavian seamen at a bar…I took a leave of absence from school and joined the Norwegian Merchant Marines on a Norwegian tramp steamer. One of my defects was “you’re lazy” so one of the things I tried to get from sailing was to learn how to work.
I became an attendant in a nut house. Boy, I could tell you some yarns…I keep calling them nuts, the patients. I should stop that.
I was reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while I worked there…It’s true what they say about the full moon. More weird stuff happened then and more people died.
I kept asking myself “What are you gonna do with your life?” At the time I was reading a lot of poetry and I saw a Little Nemo comic in a Redbook magazine someone was reading at work, which got me into comics again. Marvel comics was also pretty fresh at the time.
I’d been picking up a little extra money by doing paintings, but I’d begun getting into comic books and suddenly my paintings morphed into comics. The fact that I couldn’t finesse the human figure anymore became glaringly apparent.
I showed the comics I’d been making to a coworker at the daycare center who gave me some praise to the tune of “I don’t know, it’s as good as Captain High,” which was a psychadellic comic. When I saw one, I said “Yah, I guess I could follow up on that.”
I moved to the lower east side with $500 I’d saved up at the daycare. My first apartment rented for $38.50 a month. There are a lot of horror stories connected with that.
I started making comics for the East Village Other but I wasn’t getting paid. The art director happen to be the creator of Captain High but he was also a dealer. He turned me into a marijuana dealer, so I was getting by on that.
Basically, what we want to address is: how do we run interference on this action? Don’t let it happen in the first place!
The best way to get ideas is to learn how to use your brain better. Use your subconscious mind better.
When you end up at a bookstore, think ‘What would I like to see?’ And start forming stories around those ideas. If you pose a question to your mind, then your mind’s going to be working on it.
About every good idea starts as a half-baked idea…It needs time to simmer.
Think of it as a conveyor belt in the back of your mind constantly rolling to the front. You’re revisiting these ideas in your everyday life while your subconscious works on it. Pretty soon you’ll have a new idea at any time ready for action.
Write in the morning. Take your work to bed with you and let your mind work on it while you sleep. If you’re frustrated that an idea isn’t coming together and it’s getting late, just go to bed. Get that good depression sleep and see how it turns out in the morning. When you wake up, don’t check your email or read the headlines–just grab your cup of coffee and get to writing.
Write the words and drawings in tandem with each other. They’ll feed off each other and work better that way. Start writing on the side while you’re drawing.
It’s good to write what you know, but some autobio can be quite frankly dull. My Dad used to say half of everything is lousy and you’re looking for the gold in the quartz. And if your life really is boring, tell me a good lie at least!
When I met R. Crumb in 1968, this idea of a sketchbook finally came to me because while we were all talking bullshit, Crumb would have drawn some picture of the waitress.
Actual sketchbooks are terribly intimidating to me, so I don’t use a traditional one.
Preparation makes a better story. Especially with a longer story, I like to see it so I can read it before I get to work on it.
Fight your drawing battles here [in the sketchbook]. This is where you do all your drawing. This is where the spontaneity should happen.
I like to have lag time. The bad drawing is more likely to jump at you after 10 days.
Comics are great. Comics are a good, dynamic delivery of words and pictures…but it’s not the be-all end-all. Not every idea you have is going to be perfect for a comic.
It doesn’t hurt to emulate and have some role models. I’ll tell you mine is R. Crumb. He came to town and I stopped drawing comics. He kind of legitimized what we were doing as an art form…He showed a possibility and a way to it all.
When I started, I didn’t really like to draw…Later, I’d gotten better habits, better systems to make it happen. It got to the point where I was thinking, ‘God, I love to draw!’
It can happen to me, it can happen to you. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The community of students awaiting the sage words of Kim Deitch. Later, they applauded.