Talking Comics with Tim | Kevin Huizenga

This month marks the re-release of Kevin Huizenga's Gloriana (originally self-published in 2001, then first collected by Drawn & Quarterly in 2004). The writer/artist recently accepted my invite for an email interview about the new 96-page hardback edition, which includes four stories (The Groceries, The Sunset, The Moon Rose and Basketball). I was particularly pleased to talk to Huizenga about Basketball, given how he notes in the interview working on that story proved "surprisingly emotional for me at the time". My thanks to Huizenga for taking my questions (and correcting me when I was misinformed with some aspects of my queries).

Tim O'Shea: Back in 2004 Tom Spurgeon interviewed you. At that time you were increasingly using computers with your work, also you discussed with Tom experimenting with the size of your original art (trying to work on larger pages). How large are the pages now that you work with and have you incorporated computers more into your work?

Kevin Huizenga: Readers of your website will be fascinated to hear that I draw at about 150%. As far as computers, doesn’t everyone use them for everything now? I fix and edit in Photoshop and have done so for many years now. I’m pretty sure everyone else does too, but I don’t use tablets or anything like that—it’s still pen and paper. I’ve been using the same scanner since 2000! An Epson. Now that I’ve said that I’m sure it will break tomorrow.

O'Shea: Given that Gloriana was first self-published in 2001, then published by D+Q in 2004, what interested you in seeing it re-released in 2012?

Huizenga: That seemed better than the alternative. It has been sold out and out of print for some time. In general, authors like to have their books available and in print, if possible.

O'Shea: You make a great use of white space (particularly as a juxtaposition for the evening scenes)--did you get a few pages into the story before realizing the effectiveness of that contrast with your panels, or was that always your plan in the first place?

Huizenga: Well, I didn't think of it that way. I'm glad that worked out. All I remember was that I was reading Popeye at the time and thought of trying to show characters plainly talking to each other. If I had been reading Crumb I probably would have put more hatching at the top of the panels.

O'Shea: When did you first realize you like exploring the small moments of life in your storytelling?

Huizenga: Discovering the comics of John Porcellino in high school (the late 90’s) had a big effect on me. Of course many other cartoonists, going back to, I don’t know, Frank King, Clare Briggs and those guys, went for the little things, the little chuckle of recognition from the reader. But I don’t know if it’s right to put me in that line as far as subject matter, since I usually spin off from the everyday into more elaborate formal directions. The everyday in John P’s comics can be autobiographical or lyrical. In the newspaper guys there was usually a gentle punchline. There’s a tradition of quiet realism that comes out of that, with Ware the master. Ware’s work with comics forms was a huge influence, though he’s more interested in an anecdotal realism, where the forms are in service of communicating the experience of characters. I think I put the characters more in service of what I want to try as far as effects and forms and structures. That’s just a way of saying I don’t write good characters. But I try to keep it real and readable.

O'Shea: New Construction is your work process blog and it is really interesting. While it is clearly helpful and educational for other artists, how do you benefit from doing it?

Huizenga: It scratches some kind of itch, I guess. It can help clear up my thinking to try to put it into words. I hope it’s helpful to people. In my experience, cartoonists love to see behind the scenes of other working cartoonists, see their tips and doodles and sketches — it clears one’s head and also you know you’re not crazy…or you see that others share your illness. There are other people doing this too. It’s good to know other people are working and it helps move the energy around. Unlike cartoonists who have gone to schools or been mentored or had artists for parents or whatever, I’ve had to figure out a lot of things on my own, and so what might be no big deal or obvious for someone else seems amazing to me. A lot of my mental energy goes into trying to come up with some kind of system for doing this or that, or some kind of practical wisdom or “hack.” I know that can be a treacherous procrastination technique, so I try to stick to making pages. That always comes first.

O'Shea: When you said "Unlike cartoonists who have gone to schools or been mentored or had artists for parents or whatever, I’ve had to figure out a lot of things on my own". Has there ever been a point where you considered being mentored or going back to school, or would such pursuits merely hamper your established art style?

Huizenga: There was a brief window after I graduated from college when I thought I'd go to graduate school, but not for comics -- there weren't many programs in 1999 -- and then I got a job and got on with it. I was too shy to approach older cartoonists for help or anything like that, but thinking back, that would have been a good move. I was very aware of how clumsy and amateurish my work was. There definitely wasn't any fear of "hampering my style," or anything like that.

O'Shea: I love that Gloriana has an index, what prompted that quirky element?

Huizenga: It’s a requirement now in Canada — by law all books published there have to have one.

O'Shea: Does your family ever have an opinion or some reaction when you create stories involving them, such as Basketball?

Huizenga: Not really. That story meant a lot to me, though, because I never met my grandfather, and to draw him and me and my dad all in the same way in the story, as far as the composition of the panel, was surprisingly emotional for me at the time. I don’t think I’ve said that to anyone before. Also, I played basketball in high school out of a sense of, like, jock obligation, and I didn’t really like it at all, and I resented having to go to practice when I could have been working on comics, and so drawing a story about that all in comics form felt weirdly cathartic.

O'Shea: In terms of Basketball, that moment where you were surprised how emotional the scene was at the time. Have there been other moments in creating stories that you have surprised yourself with a stronger emotional impact than you may have initially expected?

Huizenga: Well, sure. Seems to me like you're doing something wrong as a writer if you're not affected or surprised by your own work. But it's not something to talk about. You're not supposed to laugh at your own jokes. The author at his desk, deeply moved by his own work is a pretty funny image.

O'Shea: A question I like to ask periodically, do you listen to music or have podcasts/TV on in the background while you work?

Huizenga: Mostly music, but (like probably a lot of cartoonists) I listen to podcasts when I ink to force me to sit and work. It reminds me of doodling in class, one of my best memories. There are so many good podcasts, it’s work to try to keep up with everything. Tough problems to have. It’s the same with music, too. I buy a few albums a month, but after a while there’s so much music to listen to and check out piling up… I don’t know what it is in my brain that turns everything into a race where I’m always falling behind.

O'Shea: What's on the creative horizon for you in the next year or so?

Huizenga: Finishing the Ganges series and collecting that into a book. Then complete creative freedom and mastery of comics and spiritual enlightenment.

O'Shea: Is there anything you'd like to talk about that I did not ask you?

Huizenga: I also have another new book out, it’s called Alla Prima and it’s about painters and Italy.

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