James Kochalka is one of those artists whose work you've almost certainly seen. Whether it's Johnny Boo or American Elf, Monkey vs. Robot or Starf*ckers, his work has been a consistent presence both in the comics direct market and in the growing bookstore market for decades now. Some of that legacy is going to be on full display in the coming weeks, as Johnny Boo gets an eleventh volume -- Johnny Boo Gets a Clue -- and the complete Monkey vs. Robot epic is being released in full color to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Then you get Glorkian Warrior, which is getting a new release called Glork Patrol: On the Bad Planet -- out tomorrow.
That's a lot of work hitting the stores in a fairly short period of time, and it's an exciting time for fans of the artist, who generally doesn't crowd the release schedule that way. You can check out some samples of art from the upcoming pieces below.
Kochalka joined ComicBook.com to talk about what's coming up.
One of the things that I find really interesting when I look at your work is that it all looks easy on the page. I could see a lot of people looking at it and going, "Oh, I could do this." And then trying to actually approximate it and realizing it's virtually impossible.
It's funny, I take my sketchbook to the cons and I get all the cartoons that I like to draw, I like to get them to draw my own characters and it's funny to me that nobody can do it. The ones that try and draw Johnny Boo the way Johnny Boo really looks, fail. Or Glorkian Warrior, but if they really put their own spin on it and make it their own thing, then it looks fine. But if they try and draw it like I draw it, boy, it always comes out awful.
And I think this is part of, because it's so simple, it's like my handwriting, so no one else is going to do it the same way. And sometimes I go to a school and kids will say... Or I'll draw a Johnny Boo on the chalkboard or whiteboard, or whatever. And they'll be like, "Oh my God, how can you draw Johnny Boo so good?" Well, I'm the creator of Johnny Boo and I've drawn him thousands and thousands of times.
People always look at The Simpsons and they're like, "Oh, there's like six lines, I could do this." But then they realize, no, there's six lines. If you put one out of place, the whole thing's trash.
Yeah, that's true. And really, although my panels look simple too, if you really examine them closely, everything's in exactly the perfect spot and it wasn't necessarily easy to get it there.
You do kids books where there's not a moral of the story a lot of the time, but I do think there's a very clear worldview that comes out through your work.
I'm not sure if I could tell you what it is. I'm definitely writing to entertain and not to give the kids a moral, but time and time again, reviewers, or parents, or librarians, or whoever will be like, "Oh, the moral in this story was just so powerful." And I'm like, "Oh, okay, thanks." But I'm really pretty conscious of not wanting to talk down to kids or to preach at them, or anything like that. But I think the emotional concerns of children aren't little, they're huge. They're just as big as any adults concerns, or maybe in their world even bigger. So I try and if there is a worldview it's an emotional worldview of cause and effect and consequence, and I don't know.
That's what comes through to me is more than anything else is there's a certain almost energy to a lot of your work, that you can trace a through line more than any really specific philosophy or anything.
I'm down with that. That's the thing that I probably concentrate most on, a physical energy of the character's movement through space and that kind of thing, but also emotional energy. I really feel like life is a roller coaster and I'm just trying to express that in the work. Or make sense of it or just live it in the work.
One of the things you've got coming up real soon is this gigantic collection of the Monkey Vs. Robot stuff.
Yeah, I'm so happy. 2020 is the 20th anniversary of the first Monkey Vs. Robot graphic novel. So it seems like the perfect time to re-release it, but we actually, Top Shelf and I, we went back for years before we realized, "Oh my God, 20th anniversary is almost here. We better decide what to do." We went back for years about, should I do a third book? Should I not do a third book? Should I color the individual books? Should we release individual books one at a time or should we release everything in one book? We just couldn't decide, it seemed an impossible choice.
And then finally I just decided, I have to draw third book, I have to color them all, I have to put it all in one volume. And I think it's the right choice. The coloring came out awesome. Thinking back, drawing it, although I tried to make it really work well for black and white, and definitely the first Monkey Vs. Robot was really an iconic black and white comic. But the second one really suffered by not having color. I had to call certain characters by their color, like yellow commander. I had to say it in the text because I couldn't make him yellow.
Because for one thing, printing in color was just too expensive then. It worked fine in black and white, it's just a few lines and you just imagine the scene more than you actually see it. And I kept the color really simple, too. I could have, it's possible to really do the color bad, but I tried to keep the color simple in the same way that the original line work was simple. And to use simple color in an evocative way, in the same way that I used simple line work in an evocative way. And I think it came out really great, I can't wait to see it actually printed.
Now, do you think you're going to have the Jeff Smith thing where there's going to be a vocal minority of people complaining about the color, and you'll just have to do the same book again in five years in black and white?
I don't think so? I really don't think so because I've put out pages here and there on Twitter or Tumblr, or whatever, and everyone's liked it. And no one said, "This isn't as good." I think people are going to love it.
Bone got that weird thing where people got very upset about the existence of the color version, where it's like the black and white is still there.
That's true. Well, I'm not quite as big as Jeff Smith, so it's a lot harder to keep multiple versions of a book in print for me. That's not really on the table.
I did want to talk a little bit about Glork Warrior too, because this is not exactly a new idea for you. Because there's a song in a game.
Oh yeah. It's pretty odd, right? I started work on a Glorkian Warrior video game. At first, it was in the planning stages and stuff, and I posted images online. And then I made a tee shirt of the Glorkian Warrior video game that didn't exist. I don't remember who it was, but somebody was making t-shirts of fabled video games that didn't exist, and they take the Glorkian Warrior to be one of them. So I made the tee shirt for the game, then I decided to start drawing the graphic novel. And I was working on the first Glorkian Warrior graphic novel when I met this music... I was playing a chiptunes festival in New York city and I met Mark DeNardo, who's a chiptunes musician who worked with this company called Pixeljam. Who did a great game called, Dyno Run.
And I was talking to him and I was like, "Oh, I love Pixeljam. I love Dyno Run." He's like, "Oh, well they're big fans of yours." And I'm like, "Oh, well we should make a game together." And within two days we were making the game together, and then it took a few years to do the graphic novel. And to find a publisher, and it took us a few years to get the game done. Both ended up, the first graphic novel and the game, came out the same month, which was amazing timing. And then I made an album too, of all songs about Glorkian Warrior.
So the first three Glorkian Warrior graphic novels were published with First Second. But now this new series called Glork Patrol, which is like a spinoff, it maybe takes place between the other three Glorkian Warrior books. I don't know, maybe it's an alternate universe version. I don't know, but Glork Patrol is a new series based on my previous graphic novel series, Glorkian Warrior. But you can totally jump in right here, you don't have to know the other books.
I have always felt the beginnings of series aren't that good, and I always want to jump in to the part where it's already good. I hate the way they keep rebooting Spider-Man and have to tell the story about how he got bitten by the spider every time. And they have to tell the story of how Batman's parents died every time. That's not the most interesting part of either of those. The interesting part is several hundred issues in, something weird happens. That's the part that I like.
Well, you've touched on Marvel and DC a couple of times. One of the things I did want to ask is more than most, I want to say creators that are recognizable within the direct market. You are a guy who I feel like could, and probably do sell a lot more outside of the direct market and be a mainstream hit.
Yeah, I think that's probably true.
It's always interesting to me that people, because there's a lot of folks who are in that position and who make books like you make, who just opt out of the direct market. And they're like, "This is a gigantic hassle." Is it really just a question of, you're happy with your publisher? Or is it a question of you love the comic store market? What is it that attracts you to this place where so many other folks in your situation would be like, "No, I just don't need the aggravation."
Well, I love comic book stores. I love being able to browse them and find new stuff. I like being able to buy a single issue of something and just check it out, and not necessarily commit to a fit graphic novel. Even now that comic books are expensive, like $3.99 or whatever, sometimes even more, my gosh. It's still less than dropping like $15 or $20 on a graphic novel. It's a little less risky, and you can just try something out. I have the added benefit of being able to write these purchases off on my taxes because it's research that I got to be up on the trends. But I still don't want to just throw money away for nothing. I want to get something good out of it. I don't know. I am working also with a publisher that's pretty outside of the hole. So IDW is big in comic book stores, right?
And IDW bought Top Shelf, so I'm all in on the direct market through IDW. But I do have a new series coming out with Scholastic next year called Banana Fox, and so that's a totally different market. And for one thing they're just a juggernaut, not only in the bookstore market. But they've got something to no other publisher does, which they sell directly in schools, which just really makes them a unstoppable force.0comments
Once again, looking at the Jeff Smith of it all and the idea that if you add it up, I assume he probably sold about three times as much as any Batman comic in the last 10 years.
Right, right. I'm fiercely loyal to Top Shelf because they've been with me from the very... I've been with them from the very beginning of my career, and the very first thing they ever published was one of my things. In the first Top Shelf anthology, they published a short, three or four page comic of mine. And so, yeah, I'm sticking with Top Shelf, but I'm branching out with Scholastic as well. I got to say I'm pretty proud to be published alongside of Jeff Smith's Bone and Raina Telgemeier, and Dav Pilkey. I mean, that's a good lineup. Oh, Amulet. They got a really good line up and I'm super psyched to be part of it.