In this final part of our conversation with the Pekar Project/Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid artist, we talk deadlines, teaching children vs. teaching adults, and sweet side effects of success.
Was there something inherent in the last book that necessitated so much work, or are you just investing more now in your work than you used to?
Well, the editor told me that he needed it back in five weeks. And I though, ’50 pages in five weeks, and it’s Harry Potter, with all of those characters.’ And I’m used to lettering and coloring my own work now. Coloring alone, for 50 pages, is 150 hours of work. For most people, that would be three weeks. And I had five weeks to pencil and ink it, letter it and color it. I managed to get it done, but I pushed myself beyond the point—after you sit there, you body says ‘stop.’ But you can’t stop. You gotta keep rowing, you’re out in the middle of the ocean.
But it was a learning experience for me. I’ve never worked on anything like that before. And I don’t particularly want to do anything like that again. It was a wonderful thing, because I didn’t really know if I could do it. in the beginning, it was like, ‘can I really do this in five weeks?’ There’s a fear factor, and you don’t know if you’re going to win, or if it’s going to beat you.
A couple of weeks into it, you think, ‘I might actually be able to do this.’ And then it’s clear that you’re actually going to be able to do it. And you’re going to live! You’re not going to die! That was nice, when it hit me that I was actually going to be able to finish the project. That was a great feeling.
Somebody tells you, “here it is, just do it.” Twenty-two pages a month on a monthly book for Marvel—Beavis and Butthead, that was a walk in the park, compared to working on this thing. I worked on it very hard, but I actually had two assistants when I first started. Those people really made it possible. They did a lot of the more tedious parts of the book. They were great artists.
Are the days of monthly books behind you?
Yeah. I don’t think—the funny thing about life is that you never really know what’s going to happen. Just when you think it’s darkest, it’s right before the dawn. If you do happen to work on something that’s successful, and I can’t see how this Harry Potter parody would fail to be successful, because Harry Potter is such a successful franchise—and I think the writer did such a great job and I did my best.
And based on the reception that’s I’ve seen at Book Expo of America, with the librarians. If you can get the librarians to like it, that’s half the battle right there, because they’re like the ambassadors between you and the people who read it. It’s going to be successful and it’s going to make money. If something makes money—I saw this after Beavis and Butthead—people want you. They want to hire you and they want you to work on their projects.
And I have no doubt that I will be offered some kind of opportunity to do something. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I’d like to continue to work at the people at Papercutz and the writer, Stefan Petrucha. I have no doubt we’ll work on another parody, because parodies seem to be successful.
Papercutz is a company that purchases things that already exist—they’ve got the Hardy Boys, they’ve got Nancy Drew, they’ve got Classics Illustrated, they’ve got Tales from the Crypt, Bionicals. And they make—they don’t like to call them ‘comics,’ they’re ‘graphic novels.’ But if you take a property that already exists, people already know about it, they see it, they pick it up and look at it, and if they want to, they can buy it. You bypass the “I’ve never heard of this” factor.
But parodies are good because people already know if. I’m sure that Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid, being a parody of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, helped people pick that book up. Not everyone loved it, but it was a winner. It’s in its sixth printing and it sold 60,000 copies, and that’s a lot of comics in this day and age. But I’m hoping Harry Potty sells a million copies. I’m hoping.
You’re doing a lot of teaching for kids these days and have started writing books for that age group, as well. Is that a coincidence? Has having had kids of your own affected your interest on that front?
No. Really, I think the reason I’m teaching children is, people want their children to have a good education. When times get tough, people do seem to cut back on some things, but at least out here where I am, they don’t seem to be cutting back on their children’s education. People are still spending money on voice lessons and music lessons—whatever they need—art lessons. That seems to be where the demand is.
I would be really happy teaching anybody who really wanted to learn. I enjoyed the teaching of the adults. When I talk to the children, it’s almost like I would be saying the same thing to someone who was 17 or 18 years old. Kids are pretty sophisticated, these days—not all of them can handle it.
But they’re the audience who comes to me, wanting to learn about cartooning. If I had a bunch of adults coming to me, asking me teach them everything I know about cartooning, I’d be happy to do it, because it’s a whole lot easier to teach to them. They’re so well behaved. Kids will interrupt you—you’ll think things are going great and that you’re making a really good point, and they’ll say, “I had a kitty cat once” or, “I went to the beach.”
You try to interact with them, because they don’t just want to hear somebody talk, and they’ll come back with some answer that just sort of pulls the wheels out from under you. Adults would never do that. They’re too nice.