Gearfuse Interviews: Evan Dorkin

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Whether you’re into comics or an avid Adult Swim fan, you’re bound to run into Evan Dorkin’s work. Creator of the absurd, yet hilarious Milk and Cheese and Dork! series along with the television show Welcome to Eltingville, his artwork is both unique and twisted with humor, violence and tasteless jokes. Needless to say, we’re fans.

We asked Evan to talk to us a bit about his personal life, comic creation in a digital age and his favorite gadgets. Read on to find out if Evan uses an iPod and to see if he’s a fan of Marvel or DC…

Question: How did you first get into comic books and illustration?

Answer: Like most folks in the field, I grew up on newspaper comic strips, and cartoons on television, and Iíd trace and copy images from strips and from comic books. Back in the 70ís you could still get comic books easily enough, at grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands, luncheonettes and the like. I was a Marvel Comics fan growing up, and Iíd also read my sisterís comics, Archie and Harvey humor books. I was always attracted to cartoon imagery, comics, animation and cartooning in general, I

liked looking through magazines at the barber shop or doctorís office for gag panels, I paid attention to the credits when watching old Warner Brothers and MGM and Lantz cartoons, I just always liked that style of art and storytelling. I made my own comics, like most kids, but unlike most kids I stuck with it until it became something resembling a career. I was a cartoon nerd from way back.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from for creating your comics and stories?

A: As I get older, I find Iím drawing more from my own life and my friends and the world around me for ideas and stories. When I was younger, I was inspired by all the pop culture I was devouring. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics, Marvel comics in general, the EC/Mad artists (particularly Will Elder, who just passed away) monster movies, horror movies, science-fiction books and movies, Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, pro-wrestling, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, old silent movie comedians, too many bad sitcoms, all the show-biz variety garbage from the 70ís, eventually punk rock, ska and new wave got tossed in the mix, and on and on and on.

A lot of cartoonists, old guard strip guys, comic artists, alternative comics and indie creators, really, everything has an effect, either positive or negative. Itís all one big melting pot of crap from forty some odd years of having the TV on too much. The funny thing is, I dumped my cable a few months back after I realized I stopped watching anything other than movies on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), so these days I have no idea whatís going on in pop culture. Which is why I canít get any writing work at Mad, all my jokes are about 80ís crap.

Q: Personally, what’s your favorite comic that you’ve drawn? Your favorite comic ever?

A: I donít have a favorite comic Iíve drawn. I have problems with them all. Iím happy with some of the writing, but even there I have trouble looking at my completed work, itís never what I want it to be. There are a few panels and images Iíve done which Iím fond of, but entire stories, I canít think of one that satisfies me, art-wise. Dork #7ís second strip, ďCluttered Like My HeadĒ might be my strongest strip, overall. I think some of the recent Milk and Cheese stuff looks okay. Itís too cluttered, though, for the most part.

My favorite comics of all time? Love and Rockets by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Stan Lee and Jack Kirbyís Fantastic Four and Thor runs. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and John Romitaís Spider-Man run. Kirbyís Fourth World series. Jim Woodringís Frank comics. Dan Clowesí Eightball. The EC comics featuring the work of Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Johnny Craig, Wally Wood, Jack Davis et al. The work of Osamu Tezuka, Herge, Yves Chaland, and scores more. I could be here all day naming books and creators I love.

Comic strip-wise, Iím partial to Frank Kingís Gasoline Alley, Roy Craneís Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy, Elsie Segarís Popeye, Winsor McCayís Little Nemo and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, and on and on and on. Itís hard to have clear-cut favorites. Iím terrible at narrowing anything down to a short list, and youíre always forgetting some titles or creators. I like a lot of comics. Iíd hate to have to boil it down to a desert island selection for real.

Q: How about comics on the Internet? Big on any of those in particular?

A: I donít follow any comics online. I donít enjoy reading much of anything for any extended period of time on a monitor, I donít find it relaxing and my eyes start to hurt after a while. I like books. Iím not anti-webcomics or anti-computer, I just happen to have a brain built better to handle books. I have the Perry Bible Fellowship collection that Dark Horse published, thereís some great stuff in there, and Iím pretty sure thatís a web strip, or at least started as a web strip. I mostly saw those in a college paper that was running it along with some of my strips. I donít really see any web comics unless theyíre linked to from a comics site like The Comics Reporter or Journalista. Then I read it if itís been re-posted. I rarely click to check out anything, I donít have the time, and if I start clicking on things I probably wonít stop and then itís an hour later and my eyes hurt. Iíve seen PVP, Achewood, Diesel Sweeties and a strip which has dinosaurs in them, those are the strips I can recall reading some examples of. Thereís so much stuff out there, in print, on the web, I canít keep up with whatís coming out anymore no matter what format itís in.

Q: What’s your opinion on digital copies of comics? Do you feel it betrays the classic medium of print?

A: Who cares? If something is well produced and is done according to the way the creators intended the work to be presented, I could care less if itís in print or on a screen. Except that the screen hurts my damned eyes and gives me a headache. I prefer print, myself, but I also prefer having the material available and open to as many people as possible. It isnít feasible to have everything in print, the web is a great resource to keep old cartooning and comics, and books, for that matter, alive and in front of people. Print isnít dead, Iím not worrying too much, hell, they still canít kill the vinyl record off entirely, I see no reason for this to be an issue, really. Different delivery mechanisms, thatís all.

Q: How about DRM (Digital Rights Management)? I know on your site, HouseOfFun.com, you have a pretty long, explicit copyright and fair use page. Do you feel copy-protection is needed for comics on computers and the Internet?

A: Iím a fair use fan, I always allow people to use images from my work for books or web pages when they ask and when they properly credit the work. If weíre uptight in any way itís because weíve been ripped off by publishers, a toy manufacturer, and a record company, and when that happens, it threatens the ownership of my characters and creations. I donít care if some kid uses Milk and Cheese or the Devil Puppet on a punk flyer, or in a zine, or someone puts an image on a site about comics. Itís not about money, itís about the possibility of losing my characters. I worry about anything that threatens that, I donít worry about fans so much, or pirating, to be honest.

And I donít like copy-protection. I realize the internet is different from the old days of bootleg albums, mixed tapes and grainy fan-sub VHS tapes, and I understand major corporations are paranoid and there are crooks out there and all, but Iím not someone who personally would copy-protect my stuff. Someone bought it, let them copy it. Let them hand it out. If itís any good enough people will buy it to make me a living. If I donít like copy-protection as a consumer, I canít be a hypocrite and say I like it as a creator. Easy to say, I know, when youíre small-time, but thatís how I feel about it. When my Adult Swim pilot was posted to the web digitally, I was thrilled anyone cared enough to go through the trouble, and equally thrilled people wanted to download it and watch it. When I see someone scan some of my work and people comment on it, it makes me happy to know itís getting passed around like a copy of the comic in a dorm room. I guess Iím stupid, and naÔve, but I like the work getting out there, and the comic industry has a retarded distribution system, so whatever happens, happens. Just credit the work properly, stay within fair or common sense use, donít profit off of it, donít hurt my copyright or do any damage to the property, if that makes sense, thatís all I can hope for as far as fan stuff goes. The genieís out of the bottle, really.

Q: How about animation and comic book art being transformed digitally? Obviously comics are known for being hand drawn then printed up, thus giving them that special feel. Do you feel that artists using programs like Adobe Illustrator and a couple of a Wacom tablets are evil?

A: No. Thatís crazy talk. Good work is good work, however itís created. I personally use plain old paper, pencil and ink, but whatever people want to use, thatís none of my business. Sarah scans my work in and she does corrections on the computer, and she does all our color work digitally. But I could care less about how the pages are made. I could see myself getting a tablet someday to see what there is to see about it. I have problems with my hand from drawing and a tablet and computer might help out there. But Iím pretty old-fashioned when it comes to producing comics, so who knows.

Everythingís a tool. A lot of folks use modern technology to compensate for a lack of talent, whether itís the production studio for a teen singer with no pipes or Photoshop for a cartoonist with no skills. But good work is good work, and again, the computer is just another tool that can be used for good or ill. It all depends on the user.

That being said, I do despise most computer lettering. Most computer lettering is dead, static, and devoid of personality. Lettering is part of cartooning. It kills me to see a cartoonist spend time on a comic, time developing an idiosyncratic style, and then toss in a flat, lifeless generic lettering font that half the other creators are using. As well as geometrically perfect, lifeless word balloons that slice up the panels too cleanly. Why would you want someone elses lettering on your work? I donít get it.

Q: Let’s change direction for a second. Do you own an iPod or MP3 player? If so, what are you listening to as of lately?

A: We have both. I think what I have is an MP3 player, for the gym, but I havenít started using it yet. The iPod is my wifeís, itís loaded with a lot of new wave, j-pop, punk, big band, lounge, soundtrack, electronic, old country, standards, etc. Old radio ads and drive-in intermission spots. We listen to all sorts of stuff. Sarah loaded some old time radio shows in there for me as well. I havenít been listening to particular bands as much as I used to, between the iPod and listening to WFMU I tend to listen to mixed playlists and deejay selections. The few bands Iíve been paying attention to lately are The Electric 6, Ladytron, Jay Reatard, LCD Soundsystem, I hauled out the Pixies CDs recently, and, god help me, Iím on a nostalgic E.L.O. kick.

Q: Own any “must-have” gadgets or tech toys that you use all the time?

A: Not really. We have a Nintendo DS and some game systems, but I never have time to play anything. We only use the cell phone for practical purposes, and I donít use the iPod so much that I couldnít live without it.

Q: Lastly, is the pen mightier than the sword? A pen can’t slice your balls off you know.

A: Sure it can. You have to do it right, just pull and start hacking away. A crowquill pen can do a lot of damage, especially. You can saw away with that, although it would be slow and messy. Iíd rather be de-balled by a sword than a pen, thatís goddamned torture. But generally, I get what youíre saying. I donít think Pizarro could have conquered the Incans with pens.

We’d really like to thank Evan Dorkin for taking the time to do this interview for us. Be sure to check out his official site at HouseofFun.com.

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Gearfuse Interviews is a new series of posts we’ll be doing here at Gearfuse.com. We’ll be speaking with a vast, diverse cast of characters, asking them how they incorporate technology with their medium. We’ll also ask them personal questions that really let you get to know the person. If you have any questions for Evan, please feel free to comment and we’ll pass them along. Thanks!

Images are used courtesy of Evan Dorkin (c)

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