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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 show.

I interviewed him for Comic Book Galaxy about his work and what it's like working in a studio setting.

Kagan McLeod's Infinite Kung-Fu

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 you’re interested in, instead of sitting back and waiting for something to do. So many times I’ve 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 I’ve been more the type to just pick up a few books here and there if they look interesting. I’m still pretty ignorant when it comes to knowing what’s 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.

Kung Fu!

What’s 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 Artist’s 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 they’ve ever had at the Silver Snail -that’s pretty impressive. Can you describe some of your marketing and distribution efforts for the book? It’s 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! That’s 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 don’t know if I’ll 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 starting out.

You’re very prolific with your illustration work. How do you balance this with your comic work? 

It’s getting increasingly difficult, proof of which is my lack of product over the last year! It’s hard doing freelance work because you’re always worried the next client might be the last for a while. I’m 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. I’ve 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. Everyone’s 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.

RAID studio

What is a typical workday like for you? 

I get to work around 10, read some emails that I’ll need to answer later, but rarely do, then probably do an assignment that’s 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 it’s 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 I’ve got “real work” to do.

You’ve 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 they’re all over different pieces of paper. I scan in these drawings and position them in photoshop how I want, so I don’t have to waste time on paper drawing panel borders with rulers. This is the hardest part, I guess, when there’s nothing on your page. After that, it’s 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 you’re drawing?

I just realized that I’m stuck in a musical time warp; not really into anything coming out recently, so I’m catching up on all the stuff I missed from high school and from before I was born. 90s rap, 70s soul and 60s rock!

You’ve 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 future?

These kind of jobs are great, but you have to work for them. I’d 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 I’ve worked for them so I guess I can move on to other things. 

At conventions, you’ve 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 year? 

Definitely! I’ve got some new gems to break out this summer, I wish I could say I had a comic, but I don’t.

What projects are coming up for you this year?

Working on getting Infinite Kung fu finished, a Pirate comic started, and most recently, I’m hooked on South American historical stuff, so you may see some of that come out soon. I’ve also got a book coming out in Fall 06, a collection of stuff from a column I’ve 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!

Further Reading

-- Diana Tamblyn

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The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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