Thursday, September 18, 2008

Interview: Alex Kim

Alex Kim is a Xeric award-winning cartoonist and an all around good guy. He submitted to my email questions with grace and fleet typing fingers.

C: How old are you?
A: 29

C: Where are you from?
A: I grew up around New York and New Jersey. Right now I'm living in Brooklyn, NY.

C: What's your first memory of comics? How did the form strike you?
A: The first time I can really remember being totally comics was when I was in the 7th or 8th grade (I think). My friend and I discovered Jim Lee's new X-Men at the local bodega (which had a comics rack). I thought it was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. Alternate covers! Cyclops! Wolverine! Omega Red! Rogue! Though my investment in that run was relatively short lived. I think my mom couldn't give me a ride to my friends house for a couple of weeks and I missed an issue. I guess I gave up after that.

C: Did you draw comics when you were a kid?
A: I didn't. I drew a lot, but not comics. I may or may not have drawn some super heroes but there was never any story involved.

C: You tackle a superhero story of sorts in The Bird and the Bear. What about the genre did you think worked well for a story of a worn-out relationship?
A: I thought it would be interesting to contrast the closeness, communication, dependence, intensity (and all that other good stuff) needed in a superhero duo with how much of that can be lost in a worn-out, dying relationship. I find it interesting how people can be on completely differently ends of the emotional scale with each other depending on what they're doing, especially when they're in a relationship. It was all about the immensity of emotion people can feel when together and I thought somehow that being in a life/death situation would be a good match. That and the whole 'team' idea in fighting crime seemed similar to being a 'team' in living life together. I also wanted to draw some fight scenes.

C: Wall City also features a freezer-burnt hull of a romance. What about that state of affairs attracts you?
A: I'm not sure so much that I'm attracted to it (though I guess I am... in fact, you're right, I am). I think it might be more that I feel like it's a very painful experience to go through and that there's a lot of emotional... I don't know... emotional 'ore' that can be 'mined'. There's just a lot there and a lot of stories to tell about it. It also interests me to see what characters will do when they're pushed to their emotional / psychological limits - some people freak out, some cave in, some shut off and I bet almost everyone has done all of those things.

C: The first thing I ever read by you was a split mini with Chuck McBuck called Hey, Guy. It was a great way to be introduced to each of your writing skills and art, since, as I remember, you swapped duties. I imagine that kind of experiment and interest in your peers' work is encouraged at the school you just graduated from. Am I right? What was the best and worst thing about going to CCS?
A: Totally encouraged. One of our assignments the first year in James Sturm's class was to do that almost that exact thing. The only thing difference being the person who received your script wasn't the person who gave you their's. It was a classwide swap and a lot of fun. Some really fantastic comics came out of it. Really fantastic stuff. Also, an interest in classmates' work was encouraged and came very easily. It was a rare opportunity to be in an environment where comics could be talked about seriously and critiqued/deconstucted. I mean, seriously, it's not something you can find just anywhere. There's such an extraordinary sense of community at the school. I think that might be the best thing about CCS - the people, the community - from the students to the faculty to the staff. It really was an amazing place and an amazing two years and I can't say enough about it. I made some life long friends with some of the most inspiring people whose work I admire a lot and who I admire great deal as people in general. The worst thing about it would be the lack of sunlight. It's great to be able to draw all day (really - so great), but it's hard to step outside into the bitter, bitter cold at 4PM and see the sun going down.

C: Hey, Guy is also where I first saw the rumply-sweatshirt style that you use in Wall City. How did you develop that? Was it a conscious effort to visually separate yourself from your classmates?
A: Well, one of the critiques I received (and took to heart) for The Bird and The Bear was that the human characters weren't interesting enough to look at (this was after it was done and I agree - I have grand plans to redraw and maybe expand the whole damn thing). The thing I worked on right after was album art for a friend's band, which I think I still like but was never printed, where I tried to make the people look more interesting by making their clothes textured... and they were underwater so I thought it made sense. From there it just sort of took off and I found myself drawing characters like that in Medusa, a poetry comic with poet (and CCS office whiz and all around lovely person) Jess Abston and with Mr. Mcbuck (classmate and studio mate (who, along with our other classmate Sean Ford, had to listen to me talk more than any person should ever have to our last year - they have the patience of a saints, I swear... or maybe they just got really good at tuning me out)) in Hey Guy.

Once I started drawing Wall City, I sort of couldn't help myself. I also thought it made sense as a sign of all the characters', like, inner struggle. I'm not sure it'll continue, and even though I have my own personal issues with it, I still like it in Wall City. So, errr, no, it wasn't really a conscious effort to visually separate myself from others, but a mostly misguided effort to make my characters more interesting to look at that I ended up liking maybe more than I should have - but hey, what the heck, you only live once. I got into it and went with it and didn't look back until after it was finished.

Am I rambling? Are these answers too long? I sometimes tend to ramble.

C: Ha, ha. Don't worry! The thing about a book blog is that my readers have surprisingly long attention spans.
A: Thank GOD for book blogs. Seriously.

C: All the folks in your work look white. Are they?
A: Ha! Um, well, no. They're not. I really try and draw people as simply as possible (their clothes being another story) and try to stay away from drawing a particular ethnicity. I'd like to think people are more easily able to engage the characters if they can decide things like that for themselves.

It's funny, for a while I thought I would color all of Wall City. I only got half way before I decided not too - but while coloring I would make all the characters a different shade of blue. Their face, hands, clothes, all the same color. I like to do this, I like to color characters with a non-skin tone. And if I were really pushed I would say that, since I like to (and since it's unavoidable) put a little of myself in all my characters, that, if anything, they're all a little of me... and I'm not white. But, again, I want people to decide that for themselves.

C: In an earlier email, you told me that you are having a hard time finding time to draw. What's your day job? How are you trying to work drawing in?
A: I work at an architecture firm... I'm not registered or anything, so I can't legally call myself an architect. I think I'm called an architectural designer. But the short answer is I'm an architect. That's what I studied in undergrad and what I worked in for several years before heading off to CCS. I love architecture and think it's a very meaningful and important profession and endeavor... but working and trying to draw on my free time is something I have a very difficult time with... I haven't found a balance yet. I try and draw after work and on the weekends, but that hasn't been going all to well. I believe, though, that, with the end of summer, I'll be able to draw much more. Also, there was that period after school where I was just trying to deal with moving back to New York and working full time again. It was a tremendous shock to go from CCS, where I was able to draw everyday, to being a working stiff. It's getting better and I've been much more motivated to get back to comics. I'm surprisingly optimistic about this. Or maybe I'm in denial. But I'm okay with that.

C: Do you think your work in architecture affects your comics at all?
A: I think it does. I guess the most visible way is how I'm comfortable perceiving (and so drawing) space. A lot of the angled overhead shots I like to draw are from architecture. Also, less visibly, the way I think of a comics page comes from it. It's sort of hard to explain, but the space / depth / composition of how I like to draw (and maybe I should say how I would like to draw) has to do with architecture. It's a hard thing to get away from, not that I would really want to... I think I'll always, in one way or another, think of myself as an architect over anything else. Going to school for it and working in it has just ingrained certain things in my mind that will always be there. I know that's pretty vague - you should know that it's not entirely clear for me either. It's something that I'm still trying to figure out and understand.

C: What are you working on now? What would you like to be working on?
A: Well, I was awarded the Xeric grant (THANK YOU XERIC FOUNDATION!) for Wall City this past summer so have been working on getting that together for printing. Or I just finished getting it together this week and sent it off to the printer. The next big thing I want to work on is a story about addiction... not so much being addicted to substances... but about being addicted to people and having to realize what we want from certain people isn't what we're going to get... and about giving that up. I know that's not very clear and I know it sounds like it can be really bad, but I'm excited about it. It's also not very clear cause I'm still writing it and it's changing as I go. I don't know how long it'll be - I had wanted to work on something smaller, like 8 pages, after Wall City, but this story keeps growing. I have to stop adding things and just really get to the important stuff. And I think the main characters are going to be wearing ponchos. I like ponchos.

I also have the opportunity to work on a poster for a craft fair in Brooklyn this winter. I love silk screening posters but haven't had a chance to do one in a while so am totally excited about this. If it goes well, I'd like to try and see if I can find more poster work. Who knows what will happen, though. Not with the poster, but with after that.

C: What would be your perfect project?
A: Oh man, that's a tough one. I don't know. I'm excited about that next story I want to work on... and being excited counts for a lot, but I don't know if that's the perfect project. I don't know if I could choose just one, Carrie! How do I choose?

Okay, well I don't know if this would be perfect, but there is something I've been wanting to do for a while now. I'd love to work on an entire comic and work with big (and I don't mean to say unsubtle... subtle is big) visual aspects of poster design and with the narrative time aspects of comics and silkscreen the entire damn thing. I mean, I would LOVE that. Not being able to print anything is really getting to me. I need to find a way to work on it. Anyhow, I keep toying with this idea, but I don't know if I've come up with the right story yet. Hopefully it'll happen someday. One day.

C: And, finally, is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
A: I owe a lot to a lot of people. I tend to run my mouth sometimes about nothing and, to my surprise, there are friends out there who are totally willing to listen. I appreciate that a lot. So: THANKS Y'ALL. You know who you are. Also, I need to give a huge thank you to mama (MAMA!) for not getting me the oven mitts. I would have been disappointed come Christmas time.

1 comment:

looka said...