Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Though the convention circuit affords and often demands extensive travel of contemporary comic creators, “Action Comics” artist Aaron Kuder acted on his wanderlust well before embarking on his current career. Before settling down in Arkansas, he enjoyed crisscrossing the continent by car. Upon graduating from high school, he spent a month in Poland visiting a friend. There he discovered the work of “Thorgal” artist Grzegorz RosiÅ„ski. Kuder cites RosiÅ„ski and other European visionaries like Jean “Moebius” Giraud as key influences.
CBR News spoke to Kuder about his adventures, his near-death experiences, and finding contentment on the homestead.
CBR News: What’s happening right now?
Aaron Kuder: Right now I’m entirely focused on getting back on track after C2E2. Every time you get back from the shows your deadlines are still looming. Spring breaking here. I’m down in Arkansas, so coming back from Chicago, everything’s so green and nice. Looking forward to getting out on the kayak and heading down the river.
You’re an outdoorsman?
At times. When I have the time. I wouldn’t say an outdoorsman, per se, but I enjoy the outdoors.
That’s good. We’re largely an industry of inside kids. Anything in addition to kayaking?
Camping. Hiking. Dog-walking.
Was it always that way, something that started from childhood?
No, I think I picked it up around my mid 20s. Since I was legally able to become a bartender, I started tending bar, and did that until my early 30s. Doing that, you tend to work three days and then have four days off. After a while you begin to realize it’s not the healthiest thing to do for a living. So I was always trying to make a healthier choice, getting out and adventuring.
I imagine tending bar would be valuable experience to a storyteller, just listening and observing, soaking in that atmosphere as potential fodder for both writing and drawing.
You were doing that for over a decade. What kinds of bars did you work?
I bar-tended at various places. Wine bars. Martini bars. Beer bars.
That’s a wide range.
Yeah, it was kind of the whole economic spectrum, as it were. It was great. It was really fun. You get to meet some of the zaniest people in some of the craziest places. I once met the guy who basically invented the modern day ATM.
Or so he said. Though I suppose that’s an odd story to fabricate. Or counterfeit, I guess.
There were a number of script writers for Hollywood. Stuff like that. You never know where the stories are going to take you. And you never know what they’re going to get from your stories too.
Any that stand out in particular?
Lots. [Laughs] Nothing too glorious. It all sort of devolves into adult rated humor.
The martini bar would’ve involved a bit of mixing, a bit of mad science.
Yeah, it’s fun to play chemist.
Create your own cocktails?
Oh, yeah. There was one bar that, even after I stopped working there, half their drink menu is stuff that I designed ten years before. It was a college bar, so mostly fruity things.
[Laughs] Yeah. One of them was called a Smurf. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about this. The most popular was probably Bacardi Limon, triple sec and sour mix. It just tasted like lemonade. But that’s also pretty dangerous.
I was gonna say. Yeah. This is the part of the conversation where we remind the readers to drink responsibly.
Ever have to break up any fights?
Yeah, actually. For a minute there I was actually a bouncer. It was a music hall. A really, really great music hall with a good local community that came out to dance. I actually wasn’t working that night. I was just there having a good time. There’s these two seven foot tall Texans right in front of me, dancing away. All of a sudden I see one of them just take the other and throw him into a wall. I don’t know why exactly, but I decided to body check the guy from behind. I leaned down and picked the other guy up and ran with him backwards through the bar and threw him out. Then I went right back to the other guy and went, “You need to leave too?” He begged off and explained that the other guy was touching his girlfriend. I turn around and, of course, everyone else in the bar is standing by, waiting to help escort this second guy out if need be.
Sounds like good instincts, getting the two separated pretty quickly. Now, if it had escalated, do you consider yourself a formidable pugilist?
I can’t recall a fight I couldn’t have talked my way out of. I don’t believe in fighting for no reason, stuff in bars like that.
When did drawing happen?
I’ve always drawn. It’s just something you do or you don’t.
When did you figure out that it was your calling then? Your vocation. Or is it? Is it just part of the overall story? A chapter.
It’s always been my calling. But there’s a real practical side to me. If I didn’t feel like I could make my bills drawing, I wouldn’t try to do it for a living. It’s really tough getting in the industry. I had a couple early potential breaks. When those didn’t pan out, instead of taking it like a champ, I decided I’d do it on the side while doing other illustration jobs. For friends’ businesses. Designed a couple of wine bottle labels. Band posters. Things like that.
So was the incident with the enormous Texans the scariest thing to happen to you?
The scariest? Hm. My brother was diagnosed with lymphoma. That’s since been in complete regression for quite some time now. That was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever — wow. There are so many ways to look at that question. Do you take it in the sense of personal endangerment? Scariest feelings?
I’d just say snakes, honestly.
[Laughs] Well, in terms of personal endangerment, I was on a plane that almost crashed. But that was all of maybe three seconds of my life. Ultimately I think of that as being more about luck. I could see the shadow of the plane under the wing. But immediately the pilot corrected it and put it down.
So, no announcement over the P.A. saying, “Listen, folks. It’s over. Don’t even bother with the masks. Thank you for flying Sandpiper Air.”
No, nothing like that. Just a very monotone warning that the landing might be choppy.
Let’s end on some happier travel memories. You’ve covered a lot of ground, seen many things. What’s one of the more unexpected surprises you’ve come across in those travels. Of course the redwoods are tremendous and the food in Chicago is amazing, but what were the big revelations?
I was recently asked what I love about northwest Arkansas. Or what my favorite thing is about northwest Arkansas. I kept coming back to this answer: You can pretty much find whatever you need to be happy, anywhere. That was surprising to me, because I spent a lot of time in my misbegotten youth looking for new places, moving every couple years. It was more of an internal surprise, I guess. Friends. Family. Entertainment of some sort, whether that’s the great outdoors or museums or a great live music scene. Entertainment that makes the country mouse or city mouse happy. It’s human nature to adapt, and I think I’ve moved around so much. to be happy in life, I think one of the keys is to be able to find contentment and peace with whatever your surroundings. As long as you have that, you can live anywhere.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Aaron Kuder’s upcoming projects and follow him on Twitter at @AaronKuder.
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