A "Conversation" With Kochalka About Life & "SuperF*ckers"

Mon, August 29th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

Panel from "SuperF*ckers #2"

Who is the most controversial superhero group ever created? Many comic book fans would say the Authority, while a few might say the Great Lakes Avengers with a wink. However, one group exists that could win this distinction on the basis of their name alone - The SuperF*ckers.

Published by Top Shelf, "SuperF*ckers" is the brainchild of creator James Kochalka ("Magic Boy and Robot Elf," "The Cute Manifesto"). The second issue of this series will be available in October, which just happens to be the same month "Conversation" #2 (another unique Kochalka series) also arrives in stores. CBR News contacted the writer-artist to talk about both of these intriguing books.

Fans of Kochalka know that his previous works have included robots, spaceships, and elves, but this is the creator's first foray into the superhero genre. When asked if he was always a fan of the spandex-set, Kochalka responded, "As a kid, I really preferred 'Casper the Friendly Ghost' and that sort of thing. I had some Hulk comics, but one day I realized that he was a very scary monster. Terrified, I gave them all away to another kid on my block. Later, in junior high, I got back into them after my dad found a comic book store with a wide selection of back issues. At that point, I was buying a lot of the zany 60's DC stuff - like really goofy Batman stories, like with Bat-Mite and that kind of thing."

As far as his current superhero reading goes, the creator said, "Lately, I've been rereading Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on 'The Fantastic Four,' and rereading the old 'Legion of Superheroes' comics from the DC archive collections. I've also started reading some brand new superhero series, like 'Invincible' and 'Hero Camp.'"

Compared to all these aforementioned series though, "SuperF*ckers" is in a league of its own. Bold, crass, and crazy, this book doesn't fit into any conventional superhero mold. However, if any of you are thinking this comic is just Kochalka's way of making fun of superheroes, he made it abundantly clear that this is not the case.

"Oh, it's not a parody. It's a real superhero book. It's just filtered through me, which makes it all Kochalka-y. Basically, I began by meditating for several years on the nature of the universe, and how every creature exists in conflict with every other creature. Humans can't exist without killing (even vegetarians kill countless thousands of bacteria and viruses every day, unconsciously). These meditations eventually formed what I call my 'Evil Universe Theory.' However, when I sat down and started writing and drawing the book, it turned into this superpowered animal house-type thing.

"I guess it's a silly book about a bunch of nineteen-year-old kids living in a clubhouse, or like a co-ed dorm, doing drugs and playing video games, and being obnoxious to each other. But I think there is a hidden depth underneath it all, which refers back to two years of contemplation on the evil nature of the universe."

As to the question most people are curious about - why the name "SuperF*ckers"? - Kochalka has a simple response: "It just had to be SuperF*ckers. They're super, they're f*ckers. It's just the right name for the book."

Well, with a name like SuperF*ckers, you can imagine these heroes won't necessarily be doing "typical" superhero activities. Even the setting of the story confirms this. The creator said, "Superhero books are usually set in the big city, but mine is set in the field down in back of my house, here in Vermont."

Simply put, the book is "about hanging out with your friends and doing drugs and playing videogames, and slapping down your foes, and trying to figure out who's gay and who isn't. Ah, that's something that never gets old. It's always fun to try to figure out which of your friends might be secretly gay, but too timid to come out of the closet.

"Despite all the swearing and the macho posturing, it's very much a book about relationships, and - dare I say it? - love."

If you have seen Kochalka's art, you know he possesses a distinctive style. This book, which is in color, contains that style with a twist. He explained, "I made the pages more dense, with more panels, because I'm trying to convey the complex nature of the universe and the interconnectedness of all things. There's only a few small parts that use photographic backgrounds. I'm not sure exactly what their purpose is, except maybe they add a bit of context and realism that helps to ground the book."

While on the topic of realism, Kochalka also talked about "Conversation," (from Top Shelf as well) which features real conversations with real comic book creators. More specifically, it is a joint production where Kochalka's cartoon alter ego (as drawn by Kochalka) has a chat with another creator's cartoon alter ego (as drawn by that creator) within the confines of a comic book. Issue #1 featured Kochalka and Craig Thompson ("Blankets") in a discussion about art and life, yet also had an appearance by a giant killer octopus. Coming this October, issue #2 includes Kochalka rapping with Jeffrey Brown ("Be A Man").

"Conversation" is executed in a captivating and fun way, and the comic stands out on retailer's shelves like no other currently on the market. As to its origins and the process of making the book, Kochalka said, "Yeah, I came up with the idea. I approached the artists and talked them into collaborating with me. Basically, the comic books will be series of conversations about art and life between me and other cartoonists.

"The way it's supposed to work is: I draw half a panel, scan it, email it to my collaborator who finishing the drawing - adding their own two cents - and then draws their half of the next drawing and sends it back to me. The half-pages are assembled in Photoshop, so we can draw together without actually having to be physically present together in the same room. It took Craig Thompson a few pages before he actually understood that we were both supposed to draw on the same page together…but once we did, it really got good."

"Coversation #2," Page 15

Although his "guest stars" have all been Top Shelf creators, Kochalka told CBR News that this fact wasn't the main consideration in choosing collaborators. "I chose artists to collaborate with who I think have made some kind of significant contribution to comics, who I assume will have something interesting to say about being an artist, and who I think it would be fun to draw with.

"I don't know who will be in #3, but Frank Miller promised to do one with me at some point. I'm not sure if I'll really be able to hold him to that promise, but it would be great, great fun."

In addition to being an artist and writer, Kochalka is also an accomplished musician. His band - James Kochalka Superstar - has several CD's in circulation. When asked how he balances time between writing comics and writing music, he responded, "I write songs every single day, and I draw comics every single day. Most of the songs never reach the public, most of the comics do. Most of the songs I write each day probably aren't good enough to be recorded. I only have time to record the really good ones. If I knew how to play any instrument I'd do more recording at home on my own, but as it stands I have to rely on collaborators to make music. It's fun though - most of my friends are my friends because of our mutual love of music.

"We play locally with some sporadic regularity, here in Burlington, VT. We probably average twelve to fifteen rock shows a year. I don't really keep count, but I don't think it could be a whole lot more than that.

"I have an album finished that my record label is just sitting on. It's titled 'Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly,' and it's the best album I've ever recorded. It rocks so hard, and it's just damn perfect - an amazing glistening power-gem of a killer record. It's killing us that the record label isn't moving faster to put it out. Someone should start a petition or something to try and force Ryko to release it. We finished recording it TWO YEARS AGO."

Regarding his current plans and workload, Kochalka added, "I'm about to start work again on issue #3 of 'SuperF*ckers'. I drew two pages and then decided to stop and take the summer off to think about it, and to go biking and swimming and stuff with my wife Amy and our son Eli. Anyhow, summer vacation is almost over, so I'm about to get back to work on it.

"Of course, I work on 'American Elf' each and every day. That's my daily diary comic. There's no vacation from that.

"Right now, I plan to do at least three issues (of 'SuperF*ckers'), but then I might take a break to do a book about a cute little bear."

Coming from Kochalka, I have a suspicion his idea of a "cute little bear" won't even come close to resembling a Care Bear. Whatever it is though, I can't wait to see it.

 
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