Saturday, June 23, 2007

Joe Lambert: The CCS/MoCCA Interview (A Talk for the Heart of Saturday Night...)

I could go on and on about Joe Lambert, who just finished up his first year at CCS and is about to launch into his senior year.

But I won't.

I'll let Joe do that, via this lengthy interview. Stick with it, it's worth the read -- as is reading anything Joe has had a hand in. Trust me on this one.

  • Joe's I Will Bite You minicomic is available right now at One Percent Press
  • and at the I Know Joe Kimpel site; after MoCCA, all four of the solo minicomics Joe is selling this weekend at MoCCA will be available at One Percent Press and I Know Joe Kimpel.

  • But enough intro -- let's open it up to Joe, who has plenty to share. Enjoy.

    Joe Lambert:
    Turtle Keep It Steady

    Joe Lambert's Turtle Keep It Steady (2006), now on sale at MoCCA

    SB: You arrived at CCS with pretty amazing comics chops, Joe, and you’ve only gotten better. What's your background?

    JOE LAMBERT: I grew up in Newton , Kansas. After high school I flew to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA) where I completed the first year and ran out of money. I moved back home for a few months before fleeing to Denver, Colorado where my girlfriend (Becca, now my wife) was living at the time. I eventually got my own place and started attending the Art Institute of Colorado (AIC). After attending the school for six months and living in Denver for over a year I moved back to Kansas with my girlfriend where we got married and lived together for a year before moving to Vermont.

    SB: What got you into reading comics?

    JOE: I remember my dad trying to teach me to read when I was in Preschool/Kindergarten and he brought home these books from the library that I read but wasn’t too interested in. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like to look at newspaper strips or superhero comic books, but it was at this age, around 4 or 5 that I started to actually read comics. My dad offered to buy me a comic at the supermarket if I learned to read it. So we sat down and he read the whole thing to me, and challenged me to read the back page by myself:



    HOW YOU SURVIVED ISN’T IMPORTANT! THAT YOU SURVIVED IS! FOR AGAIN, WE ARE ONE! THE ONE CALLED – VENOM – AND VENOM WANTS TO PLAY!The Amazing Spiderman # 345 by David Micheline and guest penciler Mark Bagley (that wasn’t from memory. I have the actual issue with me)

    I remember sounding-out every word on that page and running to my old man to read it in front of him. When I was done he said, “Alright. Now read the whole thing.

    So I guess that was when I got into comics as a reader.

    Page from The Kathleeno Beeno Follies (2006)

    SB: What prompted your creating your own comics, and what were they?

    JOE: The first comics I can remember making were the strips for a school news paper my class put together in fourth grade. That would have been 1993-94. By then I was already the artsy-fartsy kid in class so I was assigned to draw the whole section, doing four or five strips of fourth grade humor that probably weren’t funny to anyone else but me. There was Superdork who looked like superman but had tighty-whiteys instead of red trunks on the outside of his pants. I think he was cross-eyed too. I think I thought that was hilarious at the time. And there was a strip with some of the X-Men hanging out. I remember vividly the anxiety I felt sitting down and trying to come up with funny things to draw. It was always easy to make my friends laugh with drawings of people farting or punching each other in the groin, but none of these things could have gone in the paper, so I was just wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do.

    Joe silkscreening for Sundays (June 2007; photo: Joe Lambert)

    This is probably one of those profound times in my life when I started looking at comics in a whole new light because I was trying to do them; trying to deconstruct the magical process of making something that looked cool, was clear and easy to read, and was hilarious at the same time. I was really bummed out that this stuff didn’t come naturally to me, that I couldn’t just sit down with a pen and hammer out the magic. I remember feeling like such a hack when I turned it in to my friend who was putting the paper together with his mom. I had painstakingly constructed these delicate strips with humility and shame in my lack of talent and when my friend’s mom saw them she made me redraw them. I had drawn them on notebook paper and they couldn’t photocopy them because of the lines. So I had to redraw all of them right there in the library; reliving every damn mark and stupid punch line.

    I stole one of the jokes from Wayne’s World 2 – in my strip the X-Men were hanging out and Rogue says to Gambit, “Do you want to have dinner some night?” and Gambit says, “Oh, I like to have dinner every night.

    I did two issues of the paper with crap like that, and when the third issue came around I wanted to do something different so I handed in a six page comic with panel after panel of this stick-figure stretching his tongue out and eventually suffocating in a pile of his own tongue. I think they stopped doing the paper because they didn’t want to tell me that they couldn’t print my comic.

    SB: You must have baffled them. That’s pretty extensive creative experience for an elementary school student -- and then?

    JOE: The next time I drew comics was in middle school. I did a four page comic about this superhero who saves the city by stopping a missile from hitting a building. I never did comics as a kid, I guess because I really wanted to be interested in the characters, and I never felt like I could write anything that I was interested in reading. Eventually I became interested in the mechanics of comics; it was the storytelling through a visual sequence aspect that made me really go for it. So I started doing comics about my friends (and people I wanted to be my friends) in these crazy adventures. I would draw these page-by-page, and a few of them I drew on the front and back, and then I would just show my friends. I was writing to a specific audience and was getting immediate feedback, they laughed at the inside jokes and the exaggerated drawings of themselves. And I also think that no one wanted to say anything bad about them because I was, still, the artsy-fartsy kid and no one wanted to make me feel bad, because really, it was the only thing I had going for me. Or more likely they did insult me and the comics, but I was too naïve to realize it.

    In high school I did a few comics as assignments, and tried to start a narrative that I would continue for a few months before giving up. It was about a lumberjack who was raised by polar bears and who kept falling in love, only to be rejected over and over. One of my closest friends thought it was bland and saccharine so I quit.

    Joe's strip "Terry & Jensen" (2006)

    Given your School of Visual Arts participation, you obviously got back into the saddle --

    JOE: In my first year of college, in SVA, I did three or four comics, but they were very pretentious and over the top. I was trying really hard to be Dave McKean or David Mack because I was getting all of this fine art training and I loved to paint and draw and I didn’t want to give any of that up, but I was also starting to read all of these great comics in the New York libraries that I had never been previously exposed to. Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Jason Little I remember specifically. I was conflicted, but it was easy to set comics down and focus on the fine art because I wasn’t really liking the process of creating comics yet and I certainly wasn’t creating anything I was interested in.

    It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that I started drawing comics that I actually liked. I started working at The Tattered Cover, an independent, locally owned book store in Denver, and I, for the first time, was living on my own, without a roommate. When I lived in New York I had three roommates but I was the loneliest I had ever been. When I was living by myself in Denver I really wasn’t lonely at all. I was working fulltime so I had the regular faces at work that I liked seeing, and Becca (my girlfriend at the time, now my wife) was living a few blocks away, so I saw her every weekend at least. When I wasn’t working (or going to school, it was at this time that I was going part-time to AIC) I would walk around the city to the comic shops and libraries. So I had major exposure to all kinds of great books and comics at this time in my life, with plenty of time to read and really study them. And the bookstore let us employees check books out of the store, so I would often order books through the store just so I could read them, and when I was done I would put them on the store’s shelves and not have to buy them.

    SB: What comics and graphic novels did you gravitate to then, with this kind of hands-on access?

    JOE: Through the library system (Denver has one of the best, or had anyway), and book store I read more Chris Ware, more Daniel Clowes, James Kochalka, Craig Thompson, Warren Ellis, Art Spiegelman, Adrian Tomine, David B, the Hernandez Bros, Paul Pope, Paul Hornschemeier, Jason Lutes, Scott McCloud, Dave McKean, Paul Chadwick, Jim Woodring, Seth and I was finally able to read all of the Sandman and Bone collections. And because Diamond is basically the only comics distributor and it was so hard to return comics that don’t sell to them I was able to buy tons of trade paperbacks at a huge discount.

    Pre-CCS Joe Lambert in warmer climes
  • Photo: Becca Lambert, from her blog Crambert

  • Probably because of James Kochalka’s Sketchbook Diaries, the autobio work of David B and Craig Thompson and the tidal wave of journal web-comics I was exposed to once I was able to afford the internet I began my own online journal comic. This solved all of my comic creating problems: it was easy for me to care about the characters because it was autobiographical, and it was quick so I would retain interest. And when I started coloring them it became this wonderfully fruitful exercise in the craft and I very much enjoyed playing with the elements that make comics fun to make and read: panel layouts and timing, composition and flow, color and mood, and dialogue combined with gesture to create character. I don’t like a whole lot of them, but I cherish that time as my creative growth spurt. It was daily for a long time, and then became more sporadic once I started other projects, like my application to CCS.

    SB: What brought you to CCS?

    JOE: A good friend of mine, Jarrad Maiers, sent me the link to CCS’s website before the school had opened and thought I would be interested. After looking at the names involved I was very interested. I began my submission comic for the school immediately – this was for the school’s first year, 2005 – and I almost finished it before I sat down to reconsider my life: I was working full-time at the book store, going to school part-time, doing this almost-daily journal comic, and was engaged to be married. So I figured going back to school full-time on the other side of the country to a school that didn’t yet accept federal financial aid wasn’t a good plan.

    So I packed away that submission comic (It’s never seen the light of day since) and moved back to my hometown in Kansas and got married. After a few months, for some reason, I decided to look back into CCS and to my delight it was still there, and the first year was well underway and they were accepting submissions for the second year. So I spent three or four months on a twenty page comic and applied – and the whole time I was thinking to myself, You did a twenty page comic in three months! If you don’t get in to this school you’ll be alright on your own. Which was a ridiculous thought because this comic took so much out of me, on top of the time; I was so depressed and deflated during most of the process, and I was still doing my online journal comics occasionally.

    Becca, with banner (Photo: Joe Lambert)

    SB: If I may be so bold, where and when did you and Becca meet?

    JOE: Becca and I met in our hometown, in Newton, Kansas. There are a lot of negative connotations that come with a small town in the Midwest, and most of them are probably true, but I’ve never been too attached to anything about Kansas, and so I don’t feel the need to defend it or justify anything. The only attachments I have to home are the people, and that’s the case for every other place I’ve ever lived. This is probably a big social disadvantage I should pay more attention to, but I’m rarely aware of my place in a community so it’s difficult for me to picture what this whole WRJ/CCS thing actually is to me. I feel like maybe we’re a part of something big, or important, but I think that just comes with the amount of focus we’re putting on ourselves and our work, which is good. We need that focus to keep ourselves sharp.

    Joe & Becca, Red House party, 2007

    SB: Well, here’s why I ask. A number of CCSers have relocated with their partners and/or wives to White River Junction since the first year. What has it been like for you two, locating to this area? This has been a major life change for you folks...

    JOE: It has been a major life change but since high school neither of us has lived in one place longer than a year, so we’re used to keeping on our toes. And it seems like ever few months we have a major life change waiting for us. And as far as our experience with relocating: I don’t think it was so much of a culture shock for us as it was for some of the other kids. Again, Becca and I grew up in a small town, so we’re used to the people sitting outside with nothing to do, and everything closing at 8pm. We’re happy to stay at home and read together. Sometimes she’ll read to me while I draw, or we’ll listen to books on tape. I couldn’t have made it here to CCS without her; she’s the best thing to ever happen to me. I can’t really do much of anything without her – she’s at work right now (making a living so that I can sit on my ass and draw all day) as I type this, and I want to take a nap but I can’t bring myself to go to bed without her to tell me that we don’t have any errands to run this afternoon.

    Would you buy a used car from this man? (Joe, Halloween at CCS, October 2006; photo: Becca Lambert)

    SB: OK, let’s get back into comics. What moves you in comics -- past, present and among the work of your peers?

    JOE: Lately I’ve been looking closely at guys like David B. and Lewis Trondheim. Both create pages that are visually appealing, often with consideration to the way a page reads – the flow, I guess. But they’re both great at symbolizing ideas and doing so in a way that doesn’t interrupt the reading. The easiest example of this would be in David B’s Epileptic, in expressing his brother’s illness as a monster/dragon thing he can express its traits as something that affects their lives. To me that is amazing. I’m really excited about that kind of storytelling, but I realize a lot of storytellers do this, and I think it’s one of those things I’ve been taking for granted or overlooking. So now I’m going back through all of my favorite comics, and some that I didn’t like too well and am finding storytelling elements that I never picked up on before. This is exciting to me.

    I like the way Craig Thompson effortlessly guides my eyes across pages. I like the way Chester Brown’s thin, delicate line makes me uncomfortable; or the way Chris Ware evokes the passage of time and establishes rhythm using any number of panels; the way Lilli Carre packs so much into her characters’ expressions; I’m excited by Jordan Crane’s audacity to leap from moment to moment without holding the reader’s hand too tightly. Kevin Huizenga takes his comics very seriously, but still is still playful too. There are too many.

    Page from I Will Bit You (2006)

    I love so many things about comics, but at the same time I get really tired of reading something that I don’t like and getting this nagging feeling in the back of my head telling me that I should like it because it is done well. I think this is part of the complacency we sometimes fall into when creating things: thinking that it’s okay to be passive about what we’re doing or what we’re reading. I don’t want to get into value judgments, because everything is great all of the time, right? But I get tired of liking things just because they’re not bad. I really want to hate everything that isn’t amazing. I don’t think too many comics are doing everything that comics can be doing. I don’t want to talk about film versus comics and the budget restraints versus reaching wider audiences or whatever– I’m talking about the story of Peter Parker: is it better told in comics, or in film? Should it matter? Sometimes I think that the things we do in comics should only be doable in comics. Other times I think that if someone has a story they want to tell they should tell it any way they can. I’m losing focus here – I’m having a hard time raging up to get into a rant because I’m in love with storytelling, and so many people are doing so many great things. Like my classmates.

    SB: Ya, you’re in a pretty heady group at CCS --

    JOE: I was talking to my brother about art schools the other day and I caught myself blabbing on and on about my fellow students at CCS. There are things that each student does that moves me. I can’t talk about all of them though. Maybe someday I’ll interview each one and post them on my blog. Oh, wait.

    I will say this though; on assignment day we’ll get a stack of comics from everyone and take some time to pour through each book. And with each one is a completely new world and language we have to adjust to. With a lot of the students that adjustment is immediate because their storytelling has grown to be so sharp and conscious that they have the reader hooked. And with some of the others, that challenge to adjust is intriguing and provocative.

    SB: OK, enough about other people. Tell me about your new comic --

    JOE: Right now I’m putting together my pages for the Sundays Anthology I’m helping to put together with some friends. The work I’ve done at CCS has been mostly pantomime, so I think I’m collecting them into a book with a few new stories and that will be published by Secret Acres.

    I wrote a lengthy short story for Sarah [Stewart Taylor] that has become something that I want to do as comics. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, but I’m very interested in what is happening with the characters, and I think the only way I’d ever flesh them out is through comics.

    SB: You've produced a lot of work in your first year at CCS.

    JOE: I have produced a lot this year. Like I mentioned before, I was never prolific. My application comic took three months to do, and I thought that was pretty good at the time.

    SB: It seems you all produce one a week now --

    JOE: Before classes started a few of us got together and did a bunch of jam comics. That was great because I wasn't sure what the students were going to be like, and when we were hanging out someone mentioned playing a game, or doing a jam comic, and everyone got really excited about drawing together. It was the first time I'd ever been around so many other cartoonists and it was easy to see that we were all coming from the same place. But at the same time it was a lot of fun to see how varied we were; the jam comic, as most jam comics do, devolved into sophomoric jokes, but it was immediately apparent the wide range of styles everyone was bringing to the school. And at that point I realized I didn't have anything to prove. I didn't have to validate myself or my choice to be a cartoonist; I didn't have to explain why comics are great and why I read and write and draw them.

    Photo: Cartoonist & CCS instructor James Kochalka

    So then the first class of our year was a seminar taught by James Kochalka. He talked to us about character design and our first assignment of the year was to draw one hundred characters, each character similar, but different than the last. I had so much fun doing that. That one assignment changed the way I draw, the way I doodle and the way I look at characters. I was so relieved too, to know that this school was already giving me so much to feed on creatively, and it had only been one day!

    My classmates came from a pretty broad range of places physically and aesthetically and it really feels like everyone truly wants to learn and grow as artists while they're here. My previous college experiences have been with classmates who are kind of wandering around waiting for the school to give them whatever it is that they want, but here, it felt like most of us were ready to put ourselves into the work and the education processes as much as we were ready to take.

    SB: There’s a competitive communal element to your class, too, that reminds me of my Kubert School class experience --

    JOE: It's kind of hard not to be producing work while at the school. You feel like a jerk if everyone else is throwing out page after page; inking all night; making hundreds of copies at the copy machines in the basement; hammering out gorgeous screen-printed covers and really putting their hearts into it, and you're sitting around complaining about how there's nothing to do in White River and not drawing.

    I guess I'm not answering your question, but I am happy with the amount of work I produced this year.

    "Bait and Switch," page one, written by Dane Martin, art by Joe Lambert (2006)

    SB: Well, let me ask a real question. You’ve mentioned the jams and collaborative comics; let’s discuss process a bit. For instance, how did you and Dane Martin approach that collaborative comic you two worked on
  • ("Bait and Switch," which Dane wrote and you drew [note: you can read all 14 pages from this link]),
  • and how different an experience was the reciprocal comic (the one you wrote and another person drew)?

    JOE: With the Dane script - it was all very vague at first we weren't sure what we were supposed to be doing. [CCS writing instructor] Sarah [Stewart Taylor] told us to write a script, I don't think she gave us a length, but she said that it had to have a 'bait & switch' in it. I actually had never heard that term before then, so I was pretty unsure about what I was doing. We were to use them later on in James [Sturm]'s class, but he didn't tell us what they were for until a week or so later. So I didn't actually do it until then, until James told us what they were for: we were to write a script -- a script that had a "Bait & Switch" in it -- and then we were to trade them with other students and draw each other's scripts.

    I remember as James was pairing us up randomly, and I was teamed with Dane he stopped and said, "ha, that should be interesting" or something like that.

  • Page by Dane Martin, Wise Old Bird; click this link and scroll down to order some of Dane's amazing mini-comics!

  • Dane's work was already very individualistic and unique and I was really excited to jump at the chance to draw something he wrote. Dane has an amazing, intuitive sense of pacing and story structure, and his characters are always solid. His drawing style, for those who don't know, is very very unique, and I can honestly say that I've never seen anything like it. I think, at first, when I got his script I was daunted by the task of trying to draw in Dane's world. His world is populated by his stories and his own drawings, and I felt like whatever I did would have to fit in that world. But this wasn't the case. I'm sure if I tried to draw as surreal or abstract
    or however you want to describe Dane's style, if I tried to draw in that vein it would have been a disappointment to everyone, Dane especially.

    SB: A unique challenge -- and one that cuts to the core of the collaborative process! What was Dane's script like?

    JOE: His script, I think, was written before he knew he would be giving it to someone else to draw. The script was pretty straightforward in terms of how it was laid out; it was mostly descriptions of the scenes and then the dialogue. He broke down the pages too, but not the panels or anything that specific. He had a good idea of what he wanted the mood to be like too. He sent me some image files and links to websites that had old children's book illustrations. Those really old creepy ones. But he was also very adamant that he didn't care what I did with it, that I should go my own route. So I did. I loved the old illustrations he sent me, and I looked up a bunch of my own. I also started looking at Winsor McKay, because you, Steve, had just done a little bit about him in your history class and the Schulz Library has that great book of his, and I was aching to do something tall and illustrative and fun. Also, in James's class, he was talking about allowing yourself to be influenced, and owning that influence. At the time I was looking at Chris Ware's big Acme Novelty Library collection (#15 I think, the big red one) and some Charles Burns, so all of these things influenced The Bait & Switch (the title of Dane's script).

    Into the Woods: "Bait and Switch" by Martin and Lambert, page 7

    At first, I was checking in with Dane constantly; showing him character designs and page layouts, but after awhile I stopped checking in and started on the pages after two or three thumbnail drafts. I was having a really hard time with the inking process when I first started, I was looking at all these great cartoonists with gorgeous line work (Burns, Ware, McKay), and I was so frustrated that my work didn't look like the wonderful amalgam I was imagining I was going to get after digesting all of their work. So I gave up for awhile. I tossed three or four inked pages and started over. I was way late with the assignment, turning it in a week late, and the cover is hideous. I'll be redesigning covers and inside covers, and redrawing a couple panels, and adding a couple new pages, and if I have time, I'd like to re-letter the whole thing before we take it to MoCCA.

    You can read the entire thing on my website. The title is The Bait & Switch. There are 14 pages and a cover. [See and use the link, provided in my question, above - SB]

    Backing up a bit, after James told us what the scripts were for, I started writing it. I wrote my script over a weekend and sent it to Jeff Lok. This process was similar to the one with Dane because Jeff's style is also extremely unique and vividly individualistic. For a long time I thought I needed to write something that fit right in with what I thought Jeff would want to draw. I started three times before finally deciding to do something that I thought would be fun to write, because otherwise I wouldn't have finished the script for Jeff by the deadline. So I sent him the script and he got back to me pretty quickly with ideas, page breakdowns, and soon after that thumbnails. He spent a long time on the thumbnails, working and reworking elements. Jeff has a really cool process of thumb nailing that involves glue and an exacto-knife and white out.

    I can't describe how excited I was when I saw the first page drawn. I had never ever written anything for someone else to draw, this was my first time, and the excitement I felt when I saw that page was big and powerful. The way Jeff works -- when I look at his panels I feel like he has such a familiarity with every line; each hatch mark or contour line holds his characters tightly. To see my characters drawn this way was amazing.
    Jeff gave birth to my baby, and it was a beautiful baby. I'm not sure if it's going to be at MoCCA or not. I guess he has custody of the baby, so it's up to him.

    SB: Out of your initial year at CCS, what works are you happiest with?

    JOE: I don't know if I can say. I Will Bite You and Turtle Keep It Steady have gotten the best feedback I think. I had a lot of fun with Turtle because the process was clean and fast and spontaneous. And I'm really happy with the Bowler Hat, Bear, and Cigarette Fun Fun anthology my group put together for the first semester's final project, and the time we spent putting it together was a lot of fun.

    SB: What was your final project, year one, and what was the wellspring?

    JOE: The assignment was to do something bound. It was to have at least ten (I think) new pages of comics, and we were encouraged to collect our previous works. And the binding could be anything from saddle stitch stapling to a perfect bound hardcover. This was easy for most of us because we were already doing mini-comics, but the entire class did something beyond that, every single book that was turned in on that last day of class was the best book that student had ever produced: not necessarily the content, the stories were strong all year, but the quality of the book making. I think we're going to have a huge presence at the conventions this year and I'm so proud to be a part of this wave of cartoonists.

    My final project was a short story about being grumpy. It will be in the Indie Spinner Rack anthology called Awesome!

    Cover to Joe's recent Grumpus (2007), "about being grumpy"

    SB: Cool. There's something quite unique about your work, Joe, and everyone here recognizes that. It's hard to articulate, though, so bear with me. I want to find a way to address that here, if possible. First, you have a distinctive way of drawing: your characters and forms have this tactile, fleshy quality, and a great sense of movement, even when they are still. How did this evolve for you?

    JOE: When I was younger I would strive for that representational drawing-from-life stuff that every growing artist needs. But as I edged my way into comics I came to understand the reason most comics are simple. For a long time I was conflicted by my desire to paint and draw in a representational way versus my desire to tell stories, and I know the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but I think they might be for me. Or at least they were for me back then. I think I needed to understand why Charlie Brown was so easy to read, and why it meant so much more to me than if someone put photographs of children in sequence and gave them word balloons. I needed to know why my stories were so hard to write and draw when I was trying to draw from life. And I couldn’t have had someone tell me this; I needed to get over it myself. I think this is something a lot of cartoonists take for granted. They see that Garfield is drawn cartoony, so they jump into that style and go from there. And I was the same way, but I didn’t know why it was that way.

    Joe's cover for the May 2007 Graduation edition of Sam Gaskin'sFacebook

    SB: This is a tough question, I know --

    JOE: I’m rambling. I’ve never talked about my work much before. I think what I’m getting at is my style or aesthetic or whatever you want to call it comes from my need to draw and to have it be clear and an enjoyable process. I never kept a sketchbook until I started college, and that was more of a journal than anything, which is fine, and therapeutic, but creatively it was an outlet for whining rather than artistic growth. After my first year I started really doodling: trying things out with different mediums or different styles. Experimenting unhindered with no one to check my progress, and exhausted with bitching about being lonely and poor.

    So once I began sketching and doodling regularly my ability to fill panels took off. And it was a clumsy creative adolescence. I would see things other cartoonists were doing, and I would say I want to do that. But then, of course, I would fail and be frustrated as hell. But I just kept doing it. For a long time all of my sketches were penciled and then inked. I think that frustration more than anything was what forced me to grow: the frustration of liking a penciled drawing, but having the inked version turn out differently. I guess this is something a lot of cartoonists struggle with.

    SB: Yep, that's for sure --

    JOE: Like I mentioned before, I was doing a daily, online journal-comic for awhile. Every single day I had to write and draw a strip, and no one can say that this is easy until they do it for at least a couple of months. It’s hard and time consuming and also a little boring. I had to keep coming up with ways to keep it interesting for myself. I would change the shape of the comic, the amount of panels, the style, the characters, everything. And this helped me grow as a storyteller too because I was getting immediate, with it being online.

    After I got married and had a couple of honest day jobs and was out of the whole art school scene I had to come to terms with my career as a cartoonist, and with my work process. It was nice. And I was still doing the journal comics and working on a couple of short stories.

    Page from Grumpus (2007)

    When I came to CCS I had tried so many different things, some of it successful, most of it failure, that I felt like I had nothing to prove. I didn’t feel the need to compete with anyone and I was ready to learn. From the faculty and students. I was ready to kill all of my babies. And I kind of did. I gave up trying to do pretentious dramatic stories about loss and passion and failure, and instead started doing fun, silly stories about loss and passion and failure.

    Cover, Turtle Keep It Steady (2006)

    SB: Ya, that was somehow evident from the start. You were centered in a way that was quite unusual.

    JOE: I started doodling straight in ink, without bothering to pencil, and I was going through sketchbooks like I go through soda (which is very fast). For some reason I really wanted the entirety of making comics to be as intuitive and spontaneous as possible. I talked to Tom Devlin very briefly about this, he asked how I wrote comics: if I typed everything out or if I just start drawing. I told him that I want to be able to just start drawing. He said, I think, that Chris Ware just starts in the corner of the page and starts going to town. I don’t know if that is true or not, but shit, that’s crazy. It’s kind of like when you see a stand-up comedian and know that he’s gone over that joke with a magnifying glass to make sure every word and pause and intonation is perfect to get maximum laughs, but you secretly wish that he’s just this guy standing up there telling jokes, making them up as he goes along. I don’t think I’ve answered your question. I thought I was getting to it but I lost focus.

    SB: No, this is fine, Joe. Given what you've accomplished this first year, where do you hope to go with your senior year at CCS?

    JOE: I’m putting together a collection of my mini comics for Secret Acres. I’m thinking that it’s going to be my senior thesis. It’s going to be nice because it felt like a bunch of last year’s senior class had a hard time at the beginning because they needed to lay the foundation and find some solid ground before they could take off. But if I do this collection I already have a foundation. But it won’t just be me throwing all the pages together and doodling up a cover, I plan on taking into consideration the flow and weight of each story and the book as a whole and maybe doing a couple new stories to even the book out.

    There’s another project too. I’m not sure how much I can or should say about it, but it’s going to be pretty big and all consuming if it works out. I’m very excited about it though. If everything works out I will be writing (or co-writing) and drawing something that will push the limits of my abilities. That is what I want to get out of my senior year at CCS, to try things that might expand my cartooning. This story is going to require tons and tons of research, which is what I’m most excited about right now. I’m really looking forward to spending some days with my nose in books rather than with my hand cramped over my drawing desk. And then when I’m sick of reading and taking notes I will be aching to draw again. And I’ll look forward to that too.

    "Architects are Assholes," page 1 (2007)

    SB: What’s your own ‘dream project’, if there were no obstacles in terms of time and money?

    JOE: I would love to do a sprawling story. I like books that breathe and that take their time with things. That’s hard to do because comics take so damn long to make. I think the most I could wish for would be time.

    Also, I would like the time to do collaborations with other cartoonists I like. I’ve written two stories that other CCS’ers have drawn, and I drew a story that someone else wrote, and all of those experiences have been a blast for me. And each one was completely different too. Comics making is an insular process, but working with other creators is a nice way to feed that process in a way that it doesn’t normally allow.

    SB: Thanks for your time, Joe, amid an incredibly busy couple of weeks. Good luck at MoCCA, hope it’s a great show and great trip!

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