Friday, November 14, 2008

Jesse Reklaw

Jesse Reklaw was one of the first cartoonsits I ever met, and I often think of him as one of the most underrated cartoonsits working today (although, with a recent Ignatz win and appearences in Best American Comics, this will hopefully soon change). His work is amazingly consistent in its exection...but, more importantly, Reklaw is a first rate storyteller. He's probably best known for his online dream comic strip Slow Wave: A collection of the strip, entitled The Night of Your Life, was recently published by Dark Horse.

Above is a work in progress page by Jesse.

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour
per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

I wish I could draw every day--it does make me feel better. But too
often office work (email, publicity, accounting, mailing, and various
business arrangements) prevent that. I also spend a lot of time fussing
over the writing portion of my comics, sometimes doing a lot of
research and outlining before I actually do the thumbnailing/drawing.
But once I have the material written/thumbnailed, I can put myself on a
drawing schedule and work 8-12 hours a day for weeks. I just started a
daily diary comic that I've been posting on Flickr, so that's made me
draw for at least an hour every day, which is cool.

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

I think I'm in the mid-high range. I don't have as much of a process
as Charles Burns or Peter Bagge, with all the transparencies and
stages. But I do flip my drawings and rotate them to "see with fresh
eyes." I'm jealous of people like Jaime Hernandez and Hellen Jo who
seem to have a natural harmony and integrity to their forms. I guess
I should allow myself to draw looser and sloppier, but I haven't
found the right style yet that works for me. As for the writing, it's
mostly the same...

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as
you go?

I've been trying to write in thumbnails lately, so that I can start
thinking about panel transitions and layouts from the beginning.
Because of that, it forces me to hit the page with immediate text
that often survives the final edit. But I do sometimes switch to
longhand and work some stuff out. I'm no T. Edward Bak though--I've
seen him generate reams of text that end up in the recycle bin.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual
panel composition?

I think I'm more interested in 2- and 3-panel transitions lately, and
I focus mostly on the rhythm of rows (or tiers). Sometimes I get an
idea that's just a couple panels in length and later I need to fit
them into overall pages. I try to stick to a three tier structure in
my pages, so I can add in a row if necessary. I do like to use overall
page designs, but I often sacrifice design for rhythm/timing. Full-page
timing is importlant too!

5. what tools do you use (please list all)?

Canson sketchbook for thumbnails, sketches, and ideas;
Mechanical pencil (0.5mm 2H) on typing paper for layouts;
Speedball 5A (lettering) nib for inking, in Higgins Black Magic;
Strathmore drawing paper and a light table (that I stole from my
dad in 1989 when I moved out) for inking;
Various erasers (pink pearl, Sakura & Staedtler white plastic);
Corrections with a Sakura white gel pen and a pigment pen.
I try out different materials sometimes... spray paint, acrylic,
collage, rubber stamps, watercolor, printing out pencils in
blueline on Bristol with Andrice's inkjet printer, brushes,
sharpened sticks... but mostly I stick to what I'm comfortable

6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?

Besides what's above, I sometimes use hot press watercolor paper
for my color comics. I don't know the brand... I buy big sheets
at an art store and cut them down myself.

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then
gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not
linked to any particular love for other comics?

I went through a phase in my early twenties where I didn't read
many comics, and I definitely regret it. The older I get the more
I'm able to dedicate my life to reading comics, watching movies,
and reading books; this has been great for me as an artist. I guess
sometimes I get excited when I'm reading a comic, but this tells me
I should put the comic down and start making my own, otherwise I'll
ruin the experience of reading.

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and
how does this relate to your comics making process?

You call this a living?! I had a day job 2001-2002, and since then
I've done a fair amount of illustration and painting to supplement
my income, but mostly it's been comics. I'm also $30k in debt

9/ do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?

When I was 22 I felt the need to focus, and I decided I could juggle
three things: comics, acrylic painting, and bass guitar. It's been
mostly the same ever since, though I kind of switched to watercolor,
and I like singing and playing guitar now too. Comics is the main deal

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

I felt a deep connection with the Dadaists when I was a young man,
but a lot of that surrealistic stuff seems like a cop out to me
now, partly since absurdism is acceptable and doesn't inspire
audiences to hurl chairs at you anymore. I like a little surrealism
(and humor) in comics, movies, books, painting, and music though.
Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring, Julie Doucet, and Gilbert Hernandez have
been some of my biggest influences, but as far as kinship I feel a
great affinity for David Lasky and Dylan Williams -- two people who
spent some time in the SF Bay Area comics scene in the early 90s
and for whatever reasons have yet to really "hit it big." No offense
to them of course... maybe they're both on the cusp, what with
David's new book deal and Sparkplug growing by leaps and bounds.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

Very important. I have this embarrassing list in my sketchbook from
1996 where I wrote down names of all the cartoonists roughly my age
and where they lived, trying to get an idea of cartoonist communities,
trying to see where I fit in...? I think I wanted to start some
multi-state jam comic project as a way of connecting myself to everyone.
When I moved back to Berkeley/San Francisco in 2000, I finally found
the community I had been craving (after living in Connecticut for five

12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?

My hippie parents have always been supportive, though my mom
definitely doesn't get my work. Dad usually has some compliment
about the formal aspect of the design/layout, but rarely the
story/meaning. Unless it's a story about him being a jerk when
I was a kid, in which case he's got some wounded monologue about
how he suffered, had no choice, etc.

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

The very existence of this question makes me suspicious of my own
convictions. I want to immediately answer "idea," but maybe you
know something I don't know about style... is the style actually
the relevant attribute, since "all stories have already been told"?
I don't know. It seems to me comics are, fundamentally, a narrative
art form. And what is narrative but ideas in the fourth dimension?

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

I love drawing! It can be trying sometimes though, when things don't
look on paper as they do in my imagination. I think at that point
though it's just the result of creative laziness and excessive ego.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away?
do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

I guess I admit to being a cartoonist but it still feels awkward
most of the time. I don't bring it up and usually try to change
the subject.

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or
jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

I often feel like I shouldn't be a cartoonist because I don't love
all the artists other people love, whether it's Silver Age champions
like Kirby and Ditko, or early 20th century masters like McCay and
Herriman. I can look at that stuff and glean some technical tricks,
but I don't feel a connection like I do with underground comics in
the late 60s and 70s, like those by Crumb and Spiegelman. Comics
from that era onward have a mature sensibility and elevated
consciousness that I can relate to.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

Sadly, no. Comics will be the death of me.

18. do you draw from life?

If I'm having trouble with something or I feel my drawings from
memory are getting stale, I'll do some sketching from life. But
then I try to regularize things and adapt them to comics.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

Rarely I've tried not forgo penciling (and planning), and I've
always been frustrated with the result. I think I'm a better
penciler than an inker.

20. what does your drawing space look like?


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