There's nothing quite like a James Kochalka comic. Take, for instance, his latest project: "The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza." As the title suggests, it's about a colorful little alien delivering a pizza. But there's super-backs, too, a big floating robot head and a pink giant and a pizza you'd have to be insane to eat. Bright colors, silly characters and it's all terribly wonderful, just as you'd expect from the mind which created "Dragon Puncher" and "American Elf."
It's the simplicity of it all that strikes you; Kochalka is a laureate, a multi-Eisner Award winner, and has even created his own video game with PixelJam, funded through Kickstarter. But the whimsical simplicity of his work cuts through all the recognition, all the awards, and stays with you. Even when it's about a Glorkian warrior delivering a pizza.
Kochalka spoke with CBR News about working with First Second to publish his latest book, his favorite type of pizza (he makes his own) and, of course, all things Glorkian.
CBR News: James, the title says it all -- the book is seriously about the Glorkian Warrior delivering a pizza. Do you find that the most straightforward stories are the best?
James Kochalka: I like clarity. I think I like clarity because I find the world pretty confusing, so when I make my art, I try to focus in like a laser beam. That said, there are plenty of twists and turns in the simple story about the Glorkian Warrior delivering a pizza, and things are often not as they initially seem.
A talking super backpack, a head-hugging alien and a floating robot head -- the narrative is pretty darn free-wheelin' and carefree. In my mind's eye, I picture you waking up and saying, "You know what would be awesome for this one scene..." and just going for it. Is that the case, or is your process much more labor-intensive, detailed?
Oh, I always just go for it -- then fix stuff, later. The first draft is always pretty off-the-cuff. I have a general plan when I start, but I leave plenty of room to surprise myself. I think it's important to surprise myself, because then, hopefully, it will surprise the reader as well. But after the first rough draft, I go back and adjust to tighten the story up and make sure everything ties together so it feels more like a real story than just a giant "BLAAAAARG" of wild cartooning. I do prefer to err on the side of wildness, however, so when I tighten up the story, I make sure not to squeeze the life out of it.
This is a book that I can read, that my two year old can read and that my sixty-something parents can read. And everybody would love it. What's your secret?
I do write really, really silly stuff, but I don't condescend to my young readers. I'm still trying to make real art, dealing with real emotions in what I hope is a profound way. I think that resonates with all readers, young or old.
Also, I've managed to hold onto my sense of wonder. I think that's important, and I learned it from my father, who somehow made it through World War II with his own sense of childlike wonder intact. Even his war stories were always filled with wonder and beauty. The man had the heart of a poet, that's for sure, but he could be really, really goofy. I learned from the example of his life.
You've presented "The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza" in such a way that you could have volumes set in the Glorkian's world and barely scratch the surface. Are there any plans for future Glorkian stories?
Oh, yes! I actually just finished drawing book two and I'm about to start work on book three! So readers can look forward to a new Glorkian Warrior graphic novel every year. Book two introduces another Glorkian Warrior named Buster Glark, who's our own beloved Glorkian Warrior's bitter rival.
Also we just finished work on the Glorkian Warrior video game, and it should be out on March 19 for iOS. That's one week before the book comes out. In the game, you run around shooting Galaga-like aliens with your Super Backpack. The fearsome Magic Robot from the book is also in the game, and he's absolutely amazing. I do his voice myself, run through some pretty wild computer effects. And there are some new characters too -- two little girls in battle suits named Zoe and Chloe that tease the Glorkian Warrior and make make him do quests and stuff.
It's super hard, but really fun in that gotta-play-one-more-game kind of way. We do have an "easy" mode, for those that prefer it.
I drew all the artwork and animation in the game, worked on the basic game design and wrote all the dialog. The game company PixelJam worked with me. It truly was a dream come true. I'm finally going to have my own video game! I've been waiting for this since I was a small boy.
You do everything -- line-work, writing, colors, lettering. Can you picture ever having someone else fill one of those roles?
The way I do it now, the stories are a pure expression of my art and vision. Letting someone else take over some of the chores would lessen the power my comics have as works of art. On the other hand, I have so many ideas that I don't have time to draw them all, and I sometimes fantasize about collaborating with someone else to help get more of this stuff out of my head and into the world.
You've had several books come out from Top Shelf in the past. Why did First Second end up home to "The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza"?
Top Shelf is great! They're putting out a new Johnny Boo book of mine this year called "Johnny Boo Zooms to the Moon." But they're a fairly small publisher and can't quite keep up with my output. I can easily create books faster than they can publish them, so I need to find other outlets for my work as well. I asked Top Shelf for their blessing to take this book to First Second, and they said to go for it! They're happy to have another publisher working publicity on my behalf. That helps them, too!
I'm very excited about First Second, they've been great to work with on Glorkian Warrior. They've got different strengths than Top Shelf, and they come at the book market from a different angle. They're ready to work hard with me to try and connect Glorkian Warrior with the audience. And I think kids are going to love it, if the kids I've shown it to so far are any indication.
And now, a serious question: What's your favorite pizza? I ask this because, let's be honest, you can tell a lot about someone from what they put on a pizza.
Pizza is amazing. We usually make our own pizza from scratch. I like to use really fancy stuff -- unusual cheeses and expensive mushrooms -- and make it super-gourmet. But sometimes we go crazy. I've made Peanut Butter & Jelly pizza before. I once made a pizza with cheese and asparagus and Nerds candies. I'm absolutely fearless!
We make a special Christmas Pizza with my wife's family each year when we get together for the holidays. We dye the pizza dough green! So it's green crust, red sauce, white cheese. It looks very festive.
But my favorite pizza in the entire world is the barbecue chicken pizza made at The Novelty cafe on Monhegan Island in Maine. Probably the thing I like most about it is the location -- it's our family's favorite vacation spot -- but the pizza itself is stunning. We try the barbecue chicken pizza everywhere we go, and it's always good but it can never quite compare to the one from Monhegan Island.