KEVIN COLDEN ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Kevin Colden is a graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, a Xeric Grant recipient (which he later declined) and an Eisner Award nominee. Kevin began his career circa 2003. But it wasn’t until 2008, when Kevin’s I Rule the Night began publication through DC Comics’ experimental (and free to the public) online label Zuda Comics, that I first became aware of this very talented artist’s work.
I Rule the Night was intentionally drawn in a crude style reminiscent of some of the early Golden Age superhero comics. Yet once Kevin lulled you into a false sense of security and nostalgia, he grabbed you by the throat and dragged you into one of the most perversely enjoyable hero-sidekick storylines comics’ has ever seen. When Zuda ceased publishing free material, DC launched I Rule the Night as a digital app. You can buy it from Comixology by clicking here.
A gallery of Kevin’s atmospheric art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Kevin Colden: My earliest memories involve a brown shopping bag full of my older brother’s comic books sitting in our shared bedroom closet, and of him reading me Spider-Man’s origin story from a torn up copy of Origins of Marvel Comics. I drew my first series of comics when I was six years old (they were Voltron comics). Comics are just part of my DNA.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
KC: I took a lot of private drawing lessons as a kid, and was even a landscape painter for a bit in junior high. But I’m a 2001 graduate of the Joe Kubert School, and just living life is the best education of all.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
KC: Cavemen. Using pictures to tell stories is the most basic, most universal form of communication. In an airplane, they don’t hand you a prose novel with emergency instructions, they hand you a comic strip. We all innately know how to read pictures from a very young age.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
KC: I think sequential art needs to have some kind of context – Scott McCloud put it best as being the juxtaposition of words and pictures in a sequence – but words aren’t necessary. So I guess I’d say sequential art is a series of images juxtaposed in the context of a story.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
KC: Sequential art – comics – are a far more limited form than most people realize. We lack the sound and movement of film, and need to be less static than illustration to a degree. The best comics understand and push the limitations of the medium, or just accept them and tell a good story. We can, however, use the medium to create realistic worlds from nothing if we’re so inclined. That’s one of the reasons superhero comics became the dominant genre in America – because up until the 2000s, superheroes were the one thing comics could do better than film. To this day, all superhero movies mine comic storylines for source material, so it is arguable that comics still do [superheroes better than film].
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
KC: Knowing your personal limitations is important. Also, knowing your voice and how to adjust it for each story that you want to tell.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
KC: I change it up from time to time, but I always work in stages; and I have a crazy half-technical, half-chaotic process to get things done. Right now I’m doing most everything by hand, but with a healthy bit of digital work for corrections.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
KC: I work in my sleep! On a normal day, I’m in my studio for about six hours and working at home for about six hours, and I take most of the weekend off to have a life. But if I’m on a deadline, it’s wake until sleep, seven days a week. I’m usually really good at scheduling myself, and I work harder some days to stay on target. When working on my personal material I let it come as it comes and I don’t force it, so the productivity is more up and down. But having a place outside of home to sit and have nothing to do but work helps to get things done.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
KC: I had various jobs in film post-production for the first eleven years of my career, even up until my Eisner nomination. Then, one day, I started making more money in comics than at my job. So I never had a problem early on, and I’ve been very lucky to find work in various places when I need it – probably because I make deadlines.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
KC: I don’t know if there’s just one. The most important thing to me now, was internalizing that I can’t please everybody. I thought that was just a useless cliché but the reality is even more extreme – to your eyes, most people will dislike your work. Or it will seem that way at least. So do what makes you happy and – to use another cliché – the money will follow. It’s true.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
KC: I love film – mid 20th-century foreign films in particular. And music of all types. Oddly, though I do read a lot of comics, I try to pull influence and ideas from elsewhere. It’s too easy to just look at your own medium and regurgitate ideas from there. It’s lazy. The whole point of art is to look at the world, process it somehow, and create something that represents as unique a vision as possible. Otherwise there’s no point.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
KC: I’d say – and my career choices will bear this out – that I am emphatically pro-digital comics. We’re still working out the kinks of the creative applications of purely digital comics, but the delivery method alone is wonderful and inevitable.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
KC: Most days it feels like the major industry players are doing everything in their power to discourage new readership. I would love to see any attempt at all to cultivate a wider readership. To that end, I’d love it if more readers in general would be willing to try something further out of their comfort zone than they seem to at the moment. But people will read what they want and, with few exceptions, “comics” equals “superheroes” – in the U.S., at least.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
KC: The guy who made Stonehenge, because it’s still there. Talk about solid construction!
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
KC: Just to keep doing what I’m doing and build a large body of work. I’d love it if people are still reading my books a hundred years after I’m dead.
Photograph by Luigi Novi.