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Friday, January 30, 2004


James Kochalka -- James Kochalka is one of the most unique and entertaining cartoonists I've encountered in three decades of comics reading. He's also a hell of a singer, in his frequently-hilarious rock band James Kochalka Superstar. He consented to be subjected to Five Questions.

You've been doing your daily diary strips for a few years now, what have you learned from doing it?

"A few years..." Five years and 3 months to be precise.

I've learned that the patterns of events in life are connected in very complicated ways. Even things that don't seem connected at all, often are. Life is kind of like a complicated African poly-rhythm that coheres into a unified whole.

I've also learned that drawing is just as natural as breathing, or walking or talking. It's just a part of life for me. It's just as easy (and as difficult!) as making your way through the days and years of your life.

You're about to release a large collection of your Sketchbook Diaries and there's talk of a major label record deal for your band James Kochalka Superstar. My kids have grown up with your stuff on our stereo (some of it, anyway!) and believe you're one of the biggest stars alive, but it looks like you're about to hit even bigger. How do you feel about the possibility of this increased exposure?

Scared? Really, my life is perfect the way it is right now. My wife and I make enough money to pay our bills, we have a cute little house with a beautiful view, and an amazing and dynamic little baby. More money might be nice, but I don't need it. What I am excited about is the possibility of more people discovering my comics and my music. I really can't imagine that the world at large could ever appreciate my work. I just can't imagine that my comics and music will ever actually be popular... but there's probably a few people in every town that could really love it. I'm just trying to reach those people.

The Sketchbook Diaries might be my work with the most universal appeal, even though it's also my most idiosyncratic work. The big book collecting the first five years of the diary strip will come out this summer. I don't think I'll ever draw a better book, so if this one doesn't put me on the map as a cartoonist, then nothing will.

On the musical front, yes it looks like I'm going to sign a record deal. We've been working out the details of the contract for almost a year now, I think! It's not actually signed yet though, and I don't like to count my chickens before they're hatched. I've never gone looking for a record deal. I've been pretty satisfied with self-releasing my CDs. But Jeff Rougvie from Ryko records has been a big fan of my music for a long time, and he talked me into it.

Your wife Amy and baby Eli figure prominently in your strips, as do many of your friends and acquaintences. Tell me a funny story about someone unhappy with their depiction in your strips.

Well, I don't think there's necessarily anything that funny about the people who are unhappy with their depiction in my strips. I have one friend who's really, really against being in the comic. He made me drop one strip that would've gone in Volume 3 because I drew him in it. So, the world will never see that one. You'll have to come over one day and I'll show it to you in the original sketchbook.

A lot of people beg to be drawn into the strip. I'll tell you right now, begging doesn't help you get in.

What inspired your song "Wash Your Ass?"

I have no idea! I can't remember anything about writing that one. I think that was one of the easy ones that just popped out of my mouth fully formed. Since then I've learned that there was a Redd Fox comedy album titled Wash Your Ass, but I didn't know about that before I wrote it. There's also a heavy metal influence. It's like an instructional love song, I guess. You know, if you want to get the girl, you've got to wash your ass.

You, Dan Clowes and Jeffrey Brown are all planning superhero-oriented works...What do you think is the most compelling reason people will enjoy your upcoming superhero project?

Mine is dense, colorful, wild, crazy and funny. That's why people will enjoy mine. I imagine Dan's will be very erudite and deep. I imagine Jeffrey Brown's will be loose and free flowing. I think they're all going to be great.

Visit James Kochalka's American Elf website, and while you're there be sure to order his new mini-comics Reinventing Everything (which I review here) and The Cute Manifesto.


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