KATIE COOK: A NEW HOPE
I have to admit to a longtime guilty pleasure here: I like to buy packs of trading cards. Actually, I love it. It's a bad vice when you have my brand of luck because 99.99% of the time I never get anything sunshiny or valuable. But around this time last year my luck appeared to have finally changed as I picked up a few packs of Topps' "Star Wars 30th Anniversary" set and landed an original sketchcard that charmed the hell out of me. It's the best thing I ever got out of one of these things since the days of those unwrapped powdered sticks of gum. The sketch, by artist Katie Cook, was elegant, expressive and seemingly simple, but it also had a subtle degree of humor and charm that just really appealed to me. As I looked online to find more of her attractive work, I was swept off my feet in discovering that there was a ton more of this goodness to behold. Despite being young in years, Cook is a veteran artist of a ton of top notch official sketch cards for Topps and Rittenhouse that have served her well in creating an entire legion of devoted fans. Infused with her wit, pop culture savvy, and awesome brand of art, she's already made her way into comics with the high profile "Star Wars: Clone Wars" online comics at starwars.com for Lucasfilm and the recently collected short "Tricks of the Trade," part of MySpace/Dark Horse Presents. She also has upcoming work for DC Comics and an "Oddly Normal" graphic novel for Viper Comics. She's the first new artist in recent years who does work that I can honestly say I look forward to seeing. And if she's great now, it's scary to think that she is just getting started.
Pop!: Do you ever get confused with the other Katie Cook that's out there?
Katie Cook: The Nashville country music television person?
Yeah, that's her. [Confession: Pop! likes to watch a little CMT.]
I remember when I saw your name the first time, I said to myself, "Isn't there a Katie Cook that does VJ-ing on the Nashville Network?"
Yeah, it's kind of annoying. She has katiecook.com, so it's been a struggle.
Did you always aspire to be a comic book artist?
Actually, I have. My parents like to make fun of me, but when I was in kindergarten, whenever people would get up in front of the class and say what they wanted to do for a living, I always got up and said, "I want to be a cartoonist." It's just kind of funny, because my parents always tease me about it, and even in the sixth grade I gave a presentation about (it), because we were supposed to do an oral presentation about our chosen field, and I talked about cartoonists for twenty minutes. That's what I want to do, and I never changed my mind.
And the other kids thought of that notion as weird? It's the age you're supposed to be getting into comics.
Well, it is, but it's also the fact that I was a girl. So that made me a little weird. And I had big glasses, and my mom dressed me funny, so I was really popular. [laughs]
What sort of comic books were you reading?
Well, being a girl, I always had "Archie" on my pull list, but I was also reading "Batman" and "Spider-Man" because of my brother, and that's when I started getting into some of the more "boy" comics. I just really fell in love with the artwork. "Wonder Woman" has always been my favorite book. I mean, she's always a character that, I've always aspired to be Wonder Woman in my life, so she's always been really influential on me.
What era was this? Who were some of these artists that made you gravitate towards these books?
This would have been probably early Nineties. I'm really blanking on a lot of the names right now.
So Mike Deodato or something?
Did you always intend for your art to be so high-spirited? Those are the vibes that I get when I see your art.
A lot of people say that it really reflects who I am as a person, because I have a tendency to be pretty upbeat and pretty happy, and I think that that's really reflected in my artwork and my style. When I'm in a really crappy mood, I have a really hard time drawing, because I'm not putting myself into it at that point. I think a lot of the little extras that I throw into pieces of artwork, like the expressions on the character or things that they say, are a lot of how I'm feeling at the time, and I can't do something that's fun or cute or funny if I don't feel that way.
So what happens when you're grumpy? You just draw really pissed-off drawings?
Yeah. [laughter] That's when I sit on the couch with the cat and pout and watch TV.
From reading and hearing your interviews, I've noticed you're into a lot of pop culture type things.
Oh, it's pathetic.
It's not that pathetic, because you use those influences. Some people, they just keep buying into it and never really question what they're purchasing. At least you take it in and do your own thing with it, and I like that. A lot of people can't do that. Do you see that sometimes in your work, do you use that sort of influence, and try to give it back?
Oh, yeah. I mean, my love of all things pop culture is a huge influence, and I really like putting my own spin on things. I love putting my cats into my artwork, trying to make my cat a canon character in "Star Wars" is a major accomplishment.
There aren't any cats in "Star Wars," right?
No, the only actual animal in the "Star Wars" universe that is an actual animal that's real is a duck, because you see him on Dagobah. [laughs]
I never even noticed that. [laughs]
I don't know. Bonnie Burton mentioned it last year. She's a person I know at Lucasfilm, and I was like, "Really? That's the only animal?"
You're also a collector of a lot of merchandise and toys? Does it help you to have it around you when you work?
It's actually pretty fantastic. I'm working on the web comic for the "Star Wars: Clone Wars" right now, and I really needed a good clone trooper reference. I went over into my living room, grabbed a toy, brought it back to my drawing desk, and just started posing it and drawing it from there. So it comes in handy, and I think that should make it all tax deductible, but I don't think my accountant sees it that way.
You can't draw in a room with just four walls and no stuff? It makes you more comfortable to have these things around you?
Well, it's actually really funny because my studio has the least amount of toys in it, and the rest of it is spread throughout the house. In my office I have a WALL-E poster, a Hulk parody poster of 'Where the Wild Things Are," and a little corkboard where I pin up a couple of little inspiration things, and that's it. I don't keep anything else in there except my computer and my art supplies, because I get so distracted. I have shining moments, and it's like, "Well, I'm supposed to be drawing, but I could go over here and wind up this little robot and make him go across my table a whole bunch." So it's kind of sad. I don't keep a lot in there. My living room is pathetic.
Did you grow up a hardcore "Star Wars" fan?
I did, and it was really hard, because my brother's a "Star Trek" fan, so we grew up with an inner battle in the house.
You're pretty young. I'm sure "Star Wars" was already kind of old-fashioned by the time you grew up.
It was, because I was born in 1981.
Your generation was raised on "Ninja Turtles" and "Trolls."
Yeah. And "Rainbow Brite" and "Strawberry Shortcake."
Another one of your passions is "The Muppet Show" - that's another property from the Seventies.
Well, it was when they used to show "The Muppet Show" on TVLand. My parents worked a lot - my mom was a principal and my dad was an executive at General Motors - so my brother really raised me, and so I really watched what he was watching. And I fell in love with the Muppets and that's what he was watching all the time. And Muppets are one of my number one obsessions, and I really blame him for how much I like comics, and Muppets, and "Star Wars." He introduced me to "Star Wars." And being obsessed with "Monty Python" as an 11-year-old girl just does not make you popular. It makes you very strange. Making spam jokes to your sixth grade class - they just don't get it.
Did you have tormentors or something? Back then, once you're into comics, all of a sudden you're labeled as a social outcast.
Oh, yeah. Well, I was into comics, and I was the art geek. I went to a really small school in Michigan, and I was not popular. I saw the inside of my locker a lot. I was on the science Olympiad team, and the Quiz Bowl team. [laughs] I was not on any of the sports teams.
From your perspective, why is it that girls just aren't into comics? It seems like today it's more common, but when we were growing up, you didn't see that a lot. It was not encouraged.
Well, I think that, back in my heyday of being a kid, there still weren't a lot of girl-oriented comics. I love the fact that you see so many more girl geeks now, and I think a lot of that is because there are more comics directed toward girls than "Archie," which was pretty much your only choice, and I know everyone is getting into manga and all the girl-oriented manga, and that's getting them into reading comics. It's not necessarily my thing. I really enjoy a lot of the ones that I've read, but all their eyes are kind of creepy. But I love the fact that there are so many girls out there that like comics now, because there's a big part of my fanbase that are the girl geeks.
Yet most women have never had any problems watching "Armageddon" and "Bad Boys" and other macho stuff, but comics are too masculine, I guess.
I like the fact they're losing a lot of their stigma, and you see a lot more girls wearing Batman shirts that they didn't just buy because it's geek chic, that they actually know who Batman is. And I think good movies are kind of adding to that, because they don't mind going to see "The Dark Knight," and that makes them interested in the character, going, "Oh, I want to read more about Batman." And then their boyfriend can say, "Here's Frank Miller's 'Year One.'"
Was it difficult at the beginning to get editors to take your work seriously?
Oh, God, yeah. [laughter] I think I'm still at a point where people don't take me too seriously. I'm lucky right now that DC is letting me do ten pages in an upcoming anthology, and I'm pretty excited about that.
Well, part of that is they don't know what they're looking for either, right? Your brand of art is foreign to them. This doesn't fit in with the Jim Lee school.
Well, I was talking to an editor once, and he was looking through my portfolio and he said, "I love what you're doing; it's just that I've never seen anything like it before, so I don't know where to put it." It's what I suffer from is trying to find something where my artwork fits, and it's been fun trying to find a place where it fits, and it's fun doing the "Star Wars" stuff because I love "Star Wars" so much, and they're letting me do everything in my own style. And a lot of people think that it's a really fun fit, while other people are like, "Well, I want someone who is a Jim Lee knockoff drawing 'Star Wars,' not this girl. That's not fun!"
I see you bringing a lot of personality into your work. A lot of today's artists can't get a lot of emotion in their pages. There's nothing to react to.
Well, that, and I think that it's really fun, because I hear so many people at shows, that have never heard of me, that come and flip through my work, that say, "Normally, when I look at an artist I can tell who they are, who they're like, who their influences are, and I have a really hard time telling that from you." And I get a lot of questions of, "Who are your artistic influences" and things like that, and it's really funny because I think my biggest artistic influence is Dr. Seuss, and I think a lot of my linework and how I draw just a couple little things are very reminiscent of him. And it's just so funny to see people going, "Oh, but it does not look anything like that... What?"
When you were attending art school, what sort of comics did you envision yourself doing?
For a while in art school I had a lot of teachers that really said, "Oh, you shouldn't go into comics. No one ever makes it in comics, so you should try to do something else." So I actually did some medical illustration, and I did a lot of children's book stuff, and did some technical illustration, which you cannot tell from any of my work. And basically my senior year I said, "You know what? I want to draw comics." And I started drawing some "kid friendly" comics for my senior project and having a lot more fun going back to what I really liked doing. I mean, I do like just doing plain illustration work and doing stuff that is really kid's bookish. I want to draw comics, I want to draw cartoons, and it was really disappointing to be at a place where they're like, "Well, out of the fifty or so kids right now in this school that want to draw comics, one of you might do a story for a big name, and the rest of you might not do anything, and you'll end up working at Kinko's for the rest of your life." That's not very encouraging.
What made you persevere? Did you get a break that gave you some hope?
Well, I kept doing my little comics and eventually got noticed by a couple of friends, and they said, "Oh, I'm going to show your work over here," and then I got some work for starwars.com, and that all of a sudden put a little bit more oomph behind my name, and then you can say, "Well, I've done stuff for 'Star Wars,'" and then an editor will actually listen to you. And then it's really funny because I think the people that have been most helpful to me are the other artists in the comic book industry, seeing them at shows, or even online, all of a sudden saying, "I really like your work. I think that this editor's really going to like you. I'm going to give them your information." And then all of a sudden now you get contacted to do something. Dark Horse Editor Scott Allie contacted me to do an eight-page story for "MySpace/Dark Horse Presents," and that's something I never expected that Dark Horse would actually hire me to do anything, ever.
Did you enjoy doing that story for MySpace Dark Horse Presents, "Tricks of the Trade?" It's a little different from the rest of the things that you've done.
Well, it was really fun because I presented them a whole bunch of ideas that I was going to write, and one of the ideas that I had was this twisted magician that kills his assistants, and that's the one that they really liked, and when I started to sit down and write it I just said, "I can't do this as well as I want to because it's a twisted story, and if I end up writing it, it's going to end in bunnies and kitties and hugs." So I called in my friend, Brodie Brockie, to write it for me, and he just did such a fun job, and it's just such a weird contrast between the story and the artwork.
I think that's what helps it, though. You don't expect such a macabre story with your artwork.
Yeah. And it's really funny, that's the story that I realized - because it went up on Dark Horse's MySpace site, and I got eighty e-mails in one day going, "Oh my God, I love it, I love it!" And that's when I actually realized that I have a couple of fans, because all of a sudden I was getting e-mails from people saying that they've been watching my work for a couple years, or since I started posting my artwork back when I was in college. And it's like, "Oh, yeah, I've been watching your work for the past four years, and I just saw your story up on MySpace, and I think that's great that you're finally doing stuff." And it was like, "Oh my God. I don't know if this is good or stalker-ish."
Could you tell that you were getting all those hits on your site?
Yeah. It's one of those things, it's like, "I hope they notice it." I know that I've been keeping up with some of the blogs that mention the trade that just came out, and there's a lot of really positive things being said about my story, so it's really fun. It's the only one in the book that's done in traditional medium. Everything else is colored digitally, and I did mine in wash and colored pencils. And it's one of those things that I think that separates it a little bit.
Are you still working on an "Oddly Normal" graphic novel?
I'll be working on the fourth book. I'm waiting on the script right now, but I'm really looking forward to working on that one.
And that's 120 pages, right?
It's going to be a long one, yeah.
That'll be your longest sequential work?
Oh, yeah. The DC thing is only ten pages, and hopefully they'll give me more of a chance after that, and keep my fingers crossed.
How did you get into doing sketch cards?
It's one of those things that I'm starting to try and get out of doing sketch cards unless it's a license that I really want to work on now, because I really just want to focus on comics. Sketch cards are a really fun way to work on all the licenses that you really love and get the attention of a couple of editors, and now that I think I'm at a point where I can pass on the torch to someone else who's just starting out in the industry while I focus on trying to get more comic work. I really liked doing sketch cards, and there's a big market for them, but I also think that the market's getting really saturated.
Yeah. They even have baseball sketch cards within Topps packs now.
Mm-hm. But they just did the third "Indiana Jones" set in about a year-and-a-half, and there's not enough people that want to collect all those cards.
How many of those sketch cards can you do in one day?
If I'm paying attention, I can do about twenty really nice full-color ones in a day. If I'm not paying attention or it's a really good TV night, maybe five.
But you do things to keep them interesting. I noticed you try to tell little stories, or you put some dialogue on it or something.
Mm-hm. Well, it was so sad, because the first couple sets I did, I really didn't understand what they were. Because a company says, "Hey, we'll pay you to draw a little picture on these cards." I was doing stuff that was little repeated sketches, and then I finally realized what I was doing, and I started to have a lot more fun with it. Then all of a sudden it's, "Oh, I'm going to draw this scene," or, "I'm just going to have fun with them, I'm going to put a little joke in there." Enough of a joke that the editor won't say, "I have to reject it."
These cards brought a lot of attention to your art, right?
I mean, people start googling your name to see what more you've done? [laughter] That's what I did. I wanted to see more.
Well, it's really fun because, since I've moved my site over to Typepad, I can go in to people who have links to my site, and when it's links from Google I can see what they put in the search engine, and a lot of the time it is "Katie Cook sketch card," "Katie Cook Star Wars," "Who is Katie Can Draw?"
Did these cards help a little bit to get the "Star Wars" comic? Or does that come from Dark Horse? Because this is not Dark Horse, right?
No, it's actually through "Star Wars," it's through Lucasfilm. And it was actually because of some work I had done for Starwars.com.
How much more is there left? Is there just one story, or there's more?
There's going to be more. I'm actually working on another five-page story right now that's due on Monday.
Is that a Queen Amidala story?
Actually, no. It's got her in it, but this one is more Ahsoka.
Do you enjoy the new movies as much as you enjoyed the classic trilogy?
I actually really am enjoying the series. I'm a sucker for a new "Star Wars" anyway, whatever Lucas decides to spoon-feed me, I'm going to swallow it. A lot of purists, they don't understand that the new movies and stuff like this series are breeding a new generation of "Star Wars" fans. And that's what I love about it, because I just did this big commission for a guy whose little girl is obsessed with "Star Wars." And, I mean, it's a seven-year-old girl obsessed with "Star Wars," and she went out for Halloween as Ahsoka Tano because it's her favorite character now, and she loves the new movies. Which, you know, that's okay. It's all right for little kids to love the prequels. That's all right. Those characters are bringing in a new set of fans and keeping our fandom alive, so we're always going to have new stuff, and it's not a dying industry.
This is for a new generation of fans, not for the Generation X-ers.
What do you get when you see people getting so much fun out of your work? Does it motivate you to keep going forward?
Oh, it just gives me such a thrill, and, I mean, I glow at a convention when a kid or someone stops by and is like, "Oh, I love your work!" Because I'm always so surprised, and it just makes me so happy. And I've told people before that I do what I do not only for my own personal satisfaction, because it's what I love to do, but also because of the reaction that I get from people, and the encouragement that I get from people. If I've had a really bad day, but I all of a sudden get a comment on my blog or an e-mail saying, "I love this thing that you did," I'm all of a sudden in a completely better mood, and I'm ready to draw again because I want to put something new out there for people to see.
Yeah, people don't realize how much one comment can help when you're totally down and you don't exactly feel inspired.
Comic artists are bitter, angry, horrible people, and we need compliments every once in a while. [laughs]