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This weekend, the biggest comic show in Canada (and apparently 3rd biggest North
American show after San Diego and Chicago), the National Expo hits Toronto. This is a big media show with such guests as Clive Barker and Elijah Wood, but
what I wanted to throw a focus on was one of our local treasures - Kagan McLeod.
Kagan is a very talented and prolific Toronto-based illustrator, and it was actually
the Expo show that he attended a number of years ago that inspired him to create and
produce his own comic - Infinite Kung fu (of
which there have been 7 issues to date). Kagan is also part of the Toronto studio the
"Royal Academy of Illustration & Design", and three other of its members -
Cameron Stewart, Ben Shannon and Ray Fawkes will be appearing with him at the
I interviewed him for Comic Book Galaxy about his work and what it's like working in a
Kagan, can you tell me a little bit about your art background? Were you one of these
kids who was always drawing?
Of course I was always drawing! I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, and luckily there was an
expanded arts program available at my high school. Someone then put a bug in my ear about
becoming an animator, but after meeting a really cool illustrator (Marc Gabana, who does
concept design for movies), I chose my path. It was Sheridan College where I studied
illustration under some great instructors.
How did you like Sheridan? Were there any courses or professors in particular that
really made an impression on you?
At Sheridan, I learned a lot from Loraine Tuson, Joe Morse, Paul Dallas and Harvey Chan,
all practicing illustrators who I still try and keep in contact with. In general, my time
there was great though I think I could have got a lot more out of it if I was a bit
more mature at the time. A lot of people seem to use illustration as a bridge to get into
an animation program, but I was ready to get going after my 3 years.
You do a lot of illustration work, particularly for the National Post (one of Canada's
national daily newspapers). Can you explain your relationship with the paper? Are you a
full-time staffer there?
From College I had a work placement at National Post in the Graphics department, which
ended up as a full-time job. Currently I work 2 days a week in the office, and do
freelance the rest of the time. Being in a place like that is great, because you can
afford to pitch your ideas and work on what youre interested in, instead of sitting
back and waiting for something to do. So many times Ive thought about leaving the
Post to see what else is out there, but it really is an ideal situation for me, getting
work out to a national audience 2 or 3 times a week. Keeps me on my toes.
How did you get into comics and which are your favourites?
I got into comics after collecting Marvel trading cards as a kid. I went through about a
year of hard core collecting, but since then Ive been more the type to just pick up
a few books here and there if they look interesting. Im still pretty ignorant when
it comes to knowing whats out there, but I love stuff like, Lone Wolf and Cub, Dan
Clowes, Sam Hiti, David Choe, Paul Pope. I just love telling stories as well as drawing so
comics are the best medium for me.
Whats the history behind Infinite Kung fu and what made you decide to
self-publish your own comic?
I never even considered shopping it around to a publisher, I just thought I would do it,
and see what people thought! It goes back to the Hobby Star show about 5 years ago, I went
and saw Artists Alley for the first time I just wished it was me behind the
table the whole time. The next year I came with Infinite Kung fu. I had seen Kung fu comic
books, but nothing with the flavour of the movies I loved, the crazy, sometimes corny kung
fu films from the 70s. I just tried to translate that onto paper.
I heard that Infinite Kung fu is the best-selling indie comic theyve ever had at
the Silver Snail -thats pretty impressive. Can you describe some of your marketing
and distribution efforts for the book? Its gotten good press from such different
press as Wizard and Penthouse Magazine?!
I managed to get a copy of the book to someone at Wizard when I had done my first small
run of 300 books. They liked it and decided to run 2 pages on it in the magazine!
Thats when I started to panic, I had to make sure the book was available before the
issue came out. Getting set up with Diamond, the distributor was pretty easy, and they
were pretty good to me. I bought an ad in their catalog for my first issue (prices have
almost doubled since then, I dont know if Ill ever be able to afford that
again!) and luckily the two came out around the same time. From then, I mailed out press
kits to a lot of non-comic magazines, hoping my work would be interesting to people
outside the comic world too. I got a few good articles based on that, and from there, word
of mouth I think is the best tool you can hope for! But I did put a lot of money into it
Youre very prolific with your illustration work. How do you balance this with
your comic work?
Its getting increasingly difficult, proof of which is my lack of product over the
last year! Its hard doing freelance work because youre always worried the next
client might be the last for a while. Im always saying yes to everything that comes
my way and putting my personal work, the work that's the most fulfilling to me, on
the back burner. Ive been a part of some great projects because of the comics, which
are mini-portfolios in themselves, but I need to sit down and lock the door, and get down
to business more often!
You share a studio with Cameron Stewart, Chip Zdarsky, Steve Murray, Roberta Carraro
and Ben Shannon (The Royal Academy of Illustration and Design), when did you guys get
together to form a studio and how has it affected your work?
Chip and Ben worked with me at the National Post (2 of the first guys to buy Infinite Kung
fu when I first printed it!) and we linked up with Cameron a few years ago since we all
lived in the same neighbourhood and did the same type of work. Check our studio blog! It's great to hang out
with these guys and work together although we rarely collaborate on anything,
surprisingly. Everyones always pretty busy with 5 things they have to do, and 5
things they want to do.
How did Rumble Royale the graphic novel by the studio come about?
For our first studio road trip (by air) we were going to San Diego as a group, and thought
it would be great to have something that represents all of us to sell when we were there.
A calling card for each of us.
What is a typical workday like for you?
I get to work around 10, read some emails that Ill need to answer later, but rarely
do, then probably do an assignment thats due in the afternoon. Even though my house
is right down the street, we usually grab some lunch on College street and then I walk my
dog, go back to work until 7 or so, have dinner at home and pretty much always go back to
the studio for another 3 or 4 hours. I like to work at night when no one will be calling
or emailing, and when its more acceptable in our commercial building to blast
gangsta rap. I try to work on some comic stuff at this time too, but I usually fill guilty
because Ive got real work to do.
Youve got a really distinctive fluid style. Can you briefly describe how you
approach a comic page from start to finish?
With my comics I always have a script first, which I break down into pages, and do a
really small thumbnail that only I can decode. I hate doing things twice, so doing
detailed mock ups or roughs takes too much fun out of things for me. The next step is
pencils, usually all on one page, but sometimes theyre all over different pieces of
paper. I scan in these drawings and position them in photoshop how I want, so I dont
have to waste time on paper drawing panel borders with rulers. This is the hardest part, I
guess, when theres nothing on your page. After that, its zoning out and
finishing up. I print out the pencils on paper, and lightbox that onto watercolor paper in
ink. My pencils are quite loose, so I can have some fun while inking later.
Music seems to play a pretty important part in your life. What do you listen to when
I just realized that Im stuck in a musical time warp; not really into anything
coming out recently, so Im catching up on all the stuff I missed from high school
and from before I was born. 90s rap, 70s soul and 60s rock!
Youve done a Star Wars tales issue for Dark Horse. What was that experience like
compared to doing your own stuff? Can you see yourself doing more work like this in the
These kind of jobs are great, but you have to work for them. Id love to do more, but
I guess not really that badly or I would have done it again by now. I did a job for Mad
Magazine which was my dream job for a while. I should be sending them new stuff all the
time, but I can already say Ive worked for them so I guess I can move on to other
At conventions, youve had some limited edition posters for sale that have been
really amazing. Will you have anything special at your table at the National Expo this
Definitely! Ive got some new gems to break out this summer, I wish I could say I had
a comic, but I dont.
What projects are coming up for you this year?
Working on getting Infinite Kung fu finished, a Pirate comic started, and most recently,
Im hooked on South American historical stuff, so you may see some of that come out
soon. Ive also got a book coming out in Fall 06, a collection of stuff from a column
Ive done for the National Post. The Kung Faux hip hop TV series drops this year,
which I worked on a lot as well.
Cool! Thanks Kagan!
-- Diana Tamblyn
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