What is your all time favorite comic strip?
Calvin & Hobbes, easy. First comic strip I ever read. I read it faithfully from 2nd grade (1988) on. It taught me all sorts of big words to misuse in daily conversation (earning me the lovely nickname “Encyclopedia Boy” from the girl I liked in 3rd grade); it taught me how funny good facial expressions are; it inspired me to draw and create my own cartoon characters and strips; it showed me how inventive and wonderful creating could be. I go back to it every year and learn new things. The first time I drew a picture with brush and ink that looked Watterson-ish I was ecstatic. I could go on for a while, but I’ll leave it there. Huge influence. I’m heartbroken Bill hasn’t come back to do anything else for us yet.
You seem to like to draw monkeys, what can you tell us about that?
I don’t know exactly when that started, I think it was in high school. Monkeys are fun because they’re like hairy naked people with weird proportions. From a technical standpoint, I’ve just never been that good at drawing people, so when I want to draw something with basically the same features, I draw monkeys so I can goof the anatomy without people complaining.
What inspires you and your art?
Other peoples’ art (good ink-work, funny cartooning, inventive creatures, strange ideas). Movies. Odd ideas that pop in.
You have a great sense of humor in your drawings, what do you attribute that to?
That’s awfully nice of you to say. I like making other people laugh, but usually it starts out more selfish than that; I like making myself laugh. Showing my sketchbook to family at holidays, I usually get a lot of, “Hahaha, what on earth, you are so weird” all at once.
Frequently I’ll start a drawing with no idea of where it’s going to go. I’ll just add details until a narrative pops into existence and I’m as surprised as everyone else. For example: I drew these cute little hovering creatures one time. I decided they could levitate, and that they have the power to control people’s minds. But they only ever use this power to force people to make them sandwiches. But they can be greedy and the people will collapse after making a thousand sandwiches in a row. So the final drawing has a monkey collapsed over a pile of sandwiches with a butter knife in his hand, eyes closing from exhaustion, while this little thing hovers behind him with mind rays beaming out. And I really couldn’t tell you why I made that up, except I like the idea of cute things with great power who are innocent and yet dangerous at the same time. I guess.
What is your favorite video game?
I play a lot of games, but I’ll go with two classics: Sam & Max Hit the Road, and The Neverhood. The art style and humor in both are fantastic, and I know I sound like an old man, but they don’t make them like that anymore (in the literal sense — hand-drawn or sculpted).
What mediums do you prefer to work with?
Brush and ink. I sketch with ballpoint pen. But every finished piece is brush and ink. When Doug TenNapel loaned me my first Winsor Newton Series 7 #3, I never looked back. I still use Microns and Japanese brush pens for little stuff or detail work, but nothing beats the line given by a brush holding ink. I don’t color much, but when I do I just use a computer. I’d love to get good at watercolor like Scott C.
Any influences or anyone you look up to when it comes to art?
Besides Watterson, Doug TenNapel has been a huge one. Since discovering The Neverhood, then the Five Iron Frenzy album covers, then Gear, then finding out it was all the same guy, I’ve been a devoted fan. He’s done such a range of styles, from clay sculpting and animating, to giant messy-but-beautiful Japanese brushwork on Gear, to the fine lines of Solomon Fix (Flight Vol. 2), to his current brush-work on the millions of graphic novels he’s created since then. His design sense, for creatures, vehicles, worlds, characters (especially non-human characters) is just my favorite thing.
Other favorites: Steve Purcell, Chuck Jones, Guy Davis, Jamie Hewlett, Jeff Smith, John Kricfalusi, Mike Mignola, Rob Schrab, Scott C., Stan Sakai. Lots more, but that’ll do.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I watch a lot of movies and TV shows. I play a lot of video-games. I read a lot. From time to time I’ll pick up a skateboard and visit one of the million parks around LA (it’s been almost a year since I’ve been out, though). During the summer I like to visit the family in Carlsbad and flail around on one of my brothers’ new surfboards they’ve shaped. (Fun fact: the first art I ever did for a surfboard was Hobbes in a sombrero, drawn with a Sharpie, when I was in junior high.) I get together with a bunch of dudes on Sundays and we read Chesterton and smoke pipes and drink beer. Pretty nerdy. I like spending time with my sweet wife.
Does music play a role in your creative process, and whom are you listening to?
It does, though not a big role. When I’m writing (new skill I’m trying to pick up), I have to listen to instrumental movie scores and I try to find something that fits the tone of the work. Morricone is good for both writing and drawing. When drawing, I listen to anything. Currently I’m into Clutch, Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Them Crooked Vultures (pattern there), Cake, Jonathan Coulton, and most rock bands from the 70s.
What would you do for a Klondike bar?
I would attend night-school.
Anything you would like to say that I wasn’t smart enough to ask about?
I’ve already been awfully talky and you’ll likely have to cut my answers down and eliminate the appendix and bibliography, so I should just knock off.
Sandwich or Burrito?
I could probably eat Mexican food every day of my life with no complaints (except intestinal ones). In Spanish, a sandwich is called a “torta.”
Interview by Adam