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Interview: James Kochalka on the Glorkian Warrior—and more

James Kochalka’s latest graphic novel, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, is deceptively simple and ridiculously funny. The story of a goofy spaceman on a crazy mission (accompanied by his talking backpack), it is longer than Kochalka’s Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher graphic novels, which just allows more craziness to pile up as the story goes along. I talked to Kochalka at last weekend’s MoCCA Fest about his new book, working with First Second, and life as a cartoonist in general. We also have a preview of Glorkian Warrior after the interview, and check out Caleb’s review as well!

Where does the Glorkian Warrior come from? How did you come up with the design for him?

The Glorkian warrior will be a series of graphic novels, but it began as an idea that I had for a video game. I wanted a guy who could run, jump on things, and shoot things above him—that’s where the idea for the backpack came from. I pretty much can’t do anything without turning it into comics, so as soon as I started doing the video game, I started thinking about turning it into a graphic novel. That’s when I gave the backpack eyes and a mouth and a personality. So it wasn’t just a weapon, it was a character.

How did you come up with the design for the Glorkian Warrior? Why did you give him three eyes?

I guess I thought three eyes was more alien. It was more fun to draw. The eyes are right on top of his head, so to express emotion, I have to draw him in a different way. I made his head really elastic so I can express emotion by radically distorting his whole head.

Can you tell me a bit about your technique? Do you draw digitally?

I draw on paper with brush and India ink, but then I color it on the computer. So all the black lines on the brush I turn into that dark blue color. I color everything in Photoshop. I think that’s pretty standard. I think a lot of the younger cartoonists coming up don’t draw on paper at all. I have been doing a little of that, drawing comics for fun on my iPad, but I still feel more comfortable drawing on paper.

Why is that?

The styluses that work on the iPad are not quite up to snuff. You don’t have full control. As soon as I draw something on the iPad, I feel like I have immediately lost at least half my drawing skill, if not more. But it’s fun to play with, and I have done real stuff on it. It’s not just a toy. But it changes the way I draw.

What’s your day like? Do you spend all day drawing the Glorkian Warrior?

I always work on multiple things at once. I’m getting ready to draw a third Glorkian Warrior book—the first one is just out, the second I finished last fall, and I’m about to start on a third one. I have a series called Johnny Boo and one called Dragon Puncher, and I am about to start work on Johnny Boo Meets Dragon Puncher. And I spent a lot of time working on the Glorkian Warrior game. I also do a weekly strip for my local newspaper, called Elf Cat.

This is the longest children’s book you have written so far, and the plot is more complicated. I’m wondering if that’s because your children are getting older? Did they help you write this book?

I think that’s true. But also, the way I worked on Glorkian Warrior and my other books, Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher, I draw a chapter or a few chapters during the day when they are at school, rough draft style, and read them as a bedtime story when they get home and the next day I do a few more chapters. If I didn’t get the reaction I was expecting out of them, I will go back and rewrite them to make them funnier. If I read them to them and they don’t laugh, I know I haven’t done my job.

How old are your sons?

Eli is 10 and Oliver is 6.

So do the stories get more complex as your kids get older?

I don’t know. I try to make it suitable for both. They both like it. I try to make it suitable for me so I like it. I really think the book is good for people of any age. The publisher says it’s for ages 5-9, but they have to pick some age, I guess.

How did you end up doing a book for First Second, and how is it different from doing a book for Top Shelf?

I wanted to see what it would be like to work with First Second. Top Shelf really can’t keep up with my full output. I draw too many books for them. So they were totally fine with me working with First Second. First Second has a pretty well oiled machine, their own reach into the world and their own publicity crew, and that benefits Top Shelf as well, to have First Second working to help promote my name.

The main way it was different was they were just really excited about me. Top Shelf loves me and I love Top Shelf, but it’s hard to keep that same level of excitement over a 20-year period. I was in the very first thing Top Shelf ever published, when it was just Brett Warnock.

I know you do SpongeBob comics as well. What’s that like?

I started drawing SpongeBob comics for Nickelodeon Magazine back in the 90s, and now that there is a SpongeBob comic book I write and draw SpongeBob comics for every issue. Some I write and draw, some I just write and someone else draws.

Are there guidelines you have to follow?

I can’t do whatever I want. There are certain rules about SpongeBob. There aren’t a lot. They don’t like fart jokes. It’s one of the things I’m supposed to shy away from. The character doesn’t look standard. They wanted James Kochalka’s SpongeBob. The first one I tried looked just like the real SpongeBob, and the creator said “Can he just draw it in his own style?” and I said “That would be a lot easier!” I drew it in the style of another strip I drew for Nick Magazine, called Impy and Wormer, which I drew for about a decade.

I have gotten reviews for Glorkian Warrior where the reviewers thought the book would be dangerous for children because the warrior is so stupid, so I am glorifying stupidity, but not every book has to be a lesson. There are other lessons to teach besides how to be a hero. I think all my books are about in some way how to deal with your own volatile personality, which is the thing I’m trying to work through, so that’s what all my characters are trying to work through too. Some people take umbrage with the fact that the characters are not always nice, but who’s always nice?

Are you working on an adult book right now?

In 2013 I serialized a book called Fungus. I have one small Fungus book out now on Retrofit, but I serialized it in my [local] newspaper. They will publish it in the fall. Fungus is strange—it’s a book for adults that I wrote to be not inappropriate for children if they happened to read it. It’s a collection of short stories about a bunch of different mushrooms and the mushrooms are all interested in things like e-mail and Bitcoin and tech stuff. Tech stuff, philosophy, and religion are the things they are concerned about.

What’s the name of your local paper?

Seven Days. I am serializing Elf Cat there this year, and last year I did Fungus. American Elf ran there, and before American Elf I serialized Peanutbutter & Jeremy and Fancy Froglin, which is an adults only comic. Elf Cat is for kids.

I’m still working on more Glorkian Warrior video game stuff to expand the game we already have.

What platform is it on?

It’s for iPad and iPhone. I hand drew everything in the game, and there’s a story in the game too. I wrote all the dialogue. It’s a good game.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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