Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sammy Harkham

Sammy Harkham's work as a cartoonist and editor in the early 2000's remains one of the reasons that I care for comics in the way that i do. And i think a lot of cartoonists my age feel this way too. The skill and achievement of Harkhams early work was clear and easy to comprehend---it was good, thoughtful drawing---but his approach seemed pretty radical in comparison to the major figures of art cartooning at the time. It incorporated, to my eyes at least, what I admired as an artist in John Porcellino and what i admired as a reader in Roy crane. Linking those two styles of drawing was, and continues to be, a pretty powerful idea to me: new ways of drawing with an old school idea of craft.

Harkham's work as an editor is strong enough that it almost rivals his influence as a cartoonist (I think he's enough of a virtuoso in both areas that neither project is obscured). Harkham embraces clear storytellers and powerful image makers. As simple as that sounds, it's something that many people in the cartooning world remain unable to do. Often the argument in comics circles revolves around basic-cartoony-Little Lulu style work as being the only worthwhile approach vs. the notion that imaginative image making is clearly more important.

Cartoonists, I think, just by our very nature care about both things: we like images and we like stories. But the way we like both of these things isn't simple...there's a lot of degrees of mixing the two. Kramers Ergot is the articulate statement we were all waiting for.

Harkham writes and draws the series Crickets, from Drawn and Quarterly (although I think there will be a self published issue soon?).

Find out more about Kramers Ergot here:

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 go into work around nine in the morning and stay till five. I spend anywhere from 1 to 6 hours a day drawing comics. right now my schedule is kind of nuts because of my family. In the past, I would get going later in the afternoon and work solid for about 8 hours in to the night. I have two small kids now, so for the time being, I have to make it happen during set times.

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

I guess a lot. I will often redraw panels, or completely change things. right now, on the big strip I am working, each page takes awhile. so looking at a page for so long, you often get new ideas/better ideas as you work. usually I get to a better pace as I work on something, like two pages a week, and the revisions and editing, lessens somewhat. I think it has to do with getting comfortable with the world your creating and can trust your instincts better as you progress in a story.

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

larger strip ideas sit around in my brain gathering material over a year or two. and when it feels like I have enough to go on, I will start. I don't usually thumbnail scenes before hand. I might work out a rough page count and figure out a set template for the strip, or a specific scene -three tiers or four tiers or whatever. again its just to set limits so as to wrap my head around how I will get the thing done.
for the strip I am working on now, I have a handful of scattered scene ideas, a setting, a basic plot, particular lines of dialogue and a handful of images (made up and found) and as I work on a scene, the idea usually changes and shifts from the initial idea, and usually leads to new ideas and new scenes. if I finish a scene, and don't know what comes next, I'll jump ahead to a part later in the story and then work backward. working like this makes the process much more fun since its discovery as I go as opposed to just executing something already worked out before hand.
but there are also comics where I will thumbnail the whole thing first. usually if its an idea that only warrants a page or 2. content will guide how long something should be-some things feel like they should only be so many pages. so it depends on what it is. I dont have a set way.

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

More the latter, a bit of the former.

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

4b pencil, dr. martins black star hicarb ink, tachikawa school pen nib no. 5, any eraser, 1.40 rapidograph pen, artist tape(which is bullshit stuff-all my pages have tears from removing tape), pen-o-pake, a handful of assorted sized brushes, t-square ruler.

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

3 or 4 ply bristol board cut to 11x15.

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

I read a lot of comics. but am mostly inspired by reading older strips like gasoline alley, little orphan annie and wash tubbs because of the seemingly laid back approach of those strips and how bound up they are with the fundamentals of the craft for me. also, I still find inspiration from the books that made me want to be a cartoonist when I was fifteen. probably because it puts my consciousness in the same place it was at when I was younger: eightball, I never liked you, rubber blanket, the early jim and frank stories, tank girl, little orphan annie, thimble theatre, the jew of new york, black hole, and that big smithsonian book of newspaper comics.
the most recent comics I found inspiring on that level would be C.F.'s Lowtide #6, anders nilsen's Big Questions #3, super monster #14, Gay Nerd, Alias the Cat, and the ron rege collection Against Pain. Rege's one of the most inspiring, forward thinking cartoonists working-so much of what he has introduced to comics or expanded on, is taken for granted as a given today. I think he has shaped modern alternative cartooning as much as anyone. he has brought so much to comics, to the point that his influence is felt even in cartoonists who have never read him.

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?

I make a bit of money from comics, but I do a lot of other stuff -help run a bookstore, and revival theatre, sell original art, do illustrations, do the odd freelance editing/curating thing, and do weird hollywood gigs that pop up for artists who live in los angeles-designing/storyboarding/writing. lots of fingers in lots of pies. they all influence my comics because I am coming into contact with so many people and work that I may not ever see if not for these assorted jobs.

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

sure! there is only so long you can toil at something and continually fail at, and still have the energy to keep trying. but so far, I am committed.

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

Charles Willeford, Leonard Cohen, Will Oldham, Knut Hamsun, Shary Boyle, Emir Kustarica. Obviously I am nowhere near those people as an artist, but I feel a kinship to how they portray the world in their work. Visually, I am obsessed with Richard Scarry, Kathe Kallwitz, Tibor Gergely, Gustaf Tenggren, William Eggleston.

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

Well, its nice to talk to people about drawing problems and comic things. I have two people I bother regularly, one shares a studio with me, the other is in another state. That's about it as far as regular art talk communications. Like probably everyone else who makes stuff, I know assorted cartoonists and artists who I consider friends who I speak with or see once in awhile, and most of them I find inspiring in some way, but they are scattered all over the place and I don't see them regularly. Is that a community? I don't know. I would guess a community is one of locals sharing a desk, but now with the internet, maybe the definition has changed.

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

I don't really know.

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

The style something is rendered in totally informs and effects how an idea is expressed. so both.

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

Drawing is totally fun. Drawing comics though is mostly problem solving, which cam be fun.

15. Is there a particular line quality you enjoy in other peoples art or try to bring to your own art?

I like drawing that looks casual and somewhat dashed off. Basically any drawing of Pig Pen.

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 feel connected in that they worked hard making comics and honing their crafts, just like we do today. Of older mainstream comics, I love Jesse Marsh's work very much.

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

Too much. But you're bound by your ideas, and if your ideas are comics, there you go. You don't really have a choice in what you do.

18. do you draw from life?

I am always making these resolutions to draw from life every day and never keep to them. I could draw plants and chairs all day. I probably do a couple life drawings a week.

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

there is always some penciling first, but how much shifts around depending on the panel. I tend to go back and forth-pencil a bit, ink some, pencil more, ink more, etc till its done, then I do more and ruin it. then on to the next panel.

20. what does your drawing space look like?


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