If you’re new to the work of cartoonist David Chelsea, then you’ve got to watch, or read, “Are You Being Watched?” and you’ll become an instant fan. Watch, view, and read it here. It all becomes more clear to you now, I would imagine. The lighter than air, seemingly effortless, style and the ever so quirky humor all coming together in a comic that was created in the span of 24 hours. It’s a surreal tale about a guy with a coffee mug for a head who is in love with a rather fickle woman who is obsessed with reality TV. How can poor Mugg attract Mandy? By becoming a reality TV sensation! And that’s a taste of what you’ll find from one of America’s leading cartoonists and illustrators, Mr. David Chelsea.
But not so fast, why 24 hours? That’s a good question. Well, that’s how it’s done in certain cartoonist circles. It goes back to cartoonist Scott McCloud’s challenge to all cartoonists to create a work in the span of 24 hours. And this has led to an official international observance on the first weekend in October known as 24-Hour Comics Day. Of course, you can put on a 24 Hour Comic at any time of the year and some diehard fans do just that. And you’d be hard pressed to find a more diehard fan of this unique activity than David Chelsea.
“Are You Being Watched” was David Chelsea’s 15th 24 Hour Comic, drawn March 2-3, 2013, at Theater For The New City, in New York City. And he’s embarking on his 16th this weekend, May 18-19, at Things From Another World, in Portland, Oregon. This is a man who loves to draw comics and is a professional in every way, well regarded and respected in the industry.
Having a chance to pose some questions to him, I am pleased to report back to all of you that Mr. Chelsea and I arrived at a successful interview via e-mail on Friday, May 17, 2013. The following is our exchange. It should prove most enjoyable and informative. Not only does it get published on the weekend of his latest 24-Hour comics adventure but it also anticipates a wonderful upcoming book published by Dark Horse Comics, “Everybody Gets It Wrong! And Other Stories,” a 152-page hard cover that collects Mr. Chelsea’s first six 24-Hour Comics, available June 5, 2013. Find more details by visiting our friends at Dark Horse Comics here.
Enjoy the interview!
Henry Chamberlain: David, thank you for taking part in this interview. I have been a big fan for many years. Your book on perspective is one work that my partner, Jennifer Daydreamer, and I have enjoyed and valued.
I was really taken with your graphic novel, “David Chelsea in Love.” Maybe we could start with what sparked your interest in cartooning. I’m sure it was a love for art and writing but what kept it going?
David Chelsea: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. In a box somewhere, I have crayon drawings of Woody Woodpecker and Fred Flintstone done when I was five. The first time I really got serious about comics was in about eighth grade when a couple of friends and I would spend hours collaborating on comics in the art room. Our main character was Piggola, who was kind of a Wonder Warthog without superpowers. I was also reading a lot of the classic strip collections that came out in the 60s and 70s, strips like Little Orphan Annie, Buck Rogers, Krazy Kat and especially Little Nemo. After I moved to New York for college I made a real effort to concentrate on illustration, but eventually “”David Chelsea in Love” got me started on comics again.
HC: Do you foresee any other works of the scope of your first graphic novel? Suffice it to say, “David Chelsea in Love” was a landmark in autobiographical work and not something you just sit down one day and say you’re going to do.
DC: My love life post-David Chelsea In Love is kind of off-limits. Every woman I’ve been involved with after Minnie, including my wife Eve, has made me promise not to do a number like that on her. I once began work on a prequel, about a woman I was involved with before Minnie, but she was much more into me than I was into her, and I wound up treating her very badly indeed. In the end, I found it hard to feel much sympathy for my character. Candor is a lot easier when you feel yourself to be the injured party.
At some point I’d like to do a fictional graphic novel of some size. I actually think my last 24 Hour Comic, ARE YOU BEING WATCHED?, which is about reality TV, has possiblities.
HC: There are so many young people today, countless many, who want to break into cartooning, write and publish that first graphic novel, get discovered, even make a living somehow from that skill set, what would you tell them?
DC: I am no model for how to manage a career in cartooning. My path has been made up of equal parts blown opportunities and dumb luck. The best I can do is pass along advice from a writer whose name I wish I could remember : “Start anywhere and work your way from there”.
HC: You have the distinction of participating in more 24 Hour Comics events than any other established cartoonist. What led you to this challenge? Do you recall what you found attractive about such an endeavor and what has sustained that interest? You’ve, so far, participated in 15 events–with another coming up this weekend at Things From Another World in Portland.
DC: I drew my first 24-Hour Comic mostly as a vacation from artist’s block. I had been wrestling for some time with an ambitious graphic novel about Portland in the 1970s, basically getting nowhere. I had never been happy enough with the script to work up a finished version, or even send a proposal to a publisher. Eventually I decided it was time to do something drastic to prove to myself that I could actually complete something, so I invited some cartoonist friends over for a “24 Hour Comics” session in May 2004.
All in all, my first experience worked out far better than I would have expected. The end result was goofy and insubstantial but not more so than a lot of other things I spent more time on. It probably helps that the story I chose to tell had nothing to do with the project I was blocked on, and in the end my newfound momentum didn’t carry over to further work on that. Still, I had found a way to rack up the pages without thinking too hard about it and in the years since I have tried to meet a self-imposed quota of one or two a year.
HC: With only a couple of exceptions, all your 24 Hour Comics challenges have been in Portland. You lived in New York City for a while and then returned to Portland. Is it safe to say that there’s something about Portland that is conducive to creativity. I’m in Seattle and I chalk it up to a nice mix of enlightened people and an attractive environment.
DC: Portlanders- and Seattleites- shouldn’t kid themselves. There is a lot more creativity going on in New York, and crucially, a lot more money to fund it. A major task of any artist working in New York is simply shutting out awareness of most of what everyone else is doing. I suppose that for a city of our size there are a lot more aspiring artists in Portland than elsewhere. Chuck Palahniuk thinks that’s because the cost of living is lower here than in other West Coast Cities. I wouldn’t think the proportion of artists actually making a living from their art is very high, though.
HC: You recently had a 24 Hour Comics gathering in New York City, of all places. That must have been a lot of fun. Arlen Schumer was among those attending. I recently interviewed him. How did that experience compare with what you might consider your typical 24 Hour Comics event?
DC: That one was definitely unique. Usually these events are in a comics shop, and there’s a steady stream of customers coming through. This was in an empty theater, and there were only five other participants. I hadn’t been in New York in nine years, so it wound up being a reunion of sorts with a lot of visitors I hadn’t seen in decades.
HC: The great thing, I have come to appreciate, is all the amazing work that can result from a 24 Hour Comics event. I have put on three so far. I like to have a good idea of where I’m going and leave a good bit to chance (allow myself to get caught up in what lurks in my mind at 3 am). How would you describe how you go about preparing for a 24 Hour Comics event? I understand that you have pre-ruled manga board on hand. And it seems like you leave most to chance. What can you tell us? Any prior scripting? I’m just trying to imagine how something like “The Girl With The Keyhole Eyes” evolved, for example.
DC: A friend who is a product rep for Copic gave me a supply of their manga paper a while ago, but I’ve worked through it all, so this time I’m bringing plain bristol sheets. The rules as laid down by Scott McCloud forbid any scripting beforehand (also character sketches), so if I have a definite story planned, I have to carry it around in my head. Sometimes I will only have a very basic situation, and once I establish that l will direct the story by pulling random pictures out of a sack. “The Girl With The Keyhole Eyes” was simple to write on the fly because it was all true stories (with a bit of invention), so all I had to do was decide what order to put them in.
HC: Recently, Dark Horse Comics released a delightful one-shot “David Chelsea’s Snow Angel” which collected all your Snow Angel comics that appeared in “Dark Horse Presents” and came about from 24 Hour Comics. And, in June, Dark Horse Comics takes it to another level with the release in June of the hardcover, “Everybody Gets It Wrong! And Other Stories” which collects your first six 24 Hour Comics. I reviewed Snow Angel and look forward to reviewing Everybody Gets It Wrong! Please share with us any thoughts about that book.
DC: I’m thrilled that Dark Horse is bringing the 24 Hour Comics into print. I know that a certain air of amateurishness clings to the whole enterprise, but I bring my A game to it, and from the beginning I believed the results were publishable.
HC: In closing, I observed that at last year’s 24 Hour Comics Day at the University of Oregon, after a person registered, they got a 24HCD survival kit. I wonder what was inside that? What might you recommend to someone considering taking part in a 24 Hour Comics challenge? I also noted that the Univ. of Oregon event ran from 9:30 am to 9:30 am. Do you have any preferences on the time frame? Some people are of the mind that it’s nice to sleep in and then tackle the event perhaps right after lunch, do a 1pm to 1pm?
DC: I don’t remember what was in the kit at the Eugene event. I always bring a laptop and some CDs, and I make sure to pack chocolate-covered espresso beans.. I make a ritual of going off caffeine for a week beforehand, and take my first sip of coffee often completing my eighth page (I figure I have built up a head of steam by then). After that, I’m chewing chocolate-covered espresso beans all night. Also, I have a lucky black sweater that I usually wear.
I’m sorry, starting a 24 Hour Comic session at 1 pm is wack. You want to get as early a start as possible. I suppose it COULD work, provided you don’t get up till noon…. I actually had a couple of cartoonists troop in at noon once at a session I had called for 9 am. They simply couldn’t comprehend that a cartooning event could happen in the morning.
HC: I just ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to print a comics collection, in part, made up of 24-HCD comics. However, in each case, I took what I started at the 24-HCD and used that as the basis for further refinement over as long a span of time as I needed, months, whatever. Are you cool with that? Or are you a firm believer in completing a 24 Hour Comic all in one go, at the event?
DC: A 24 Hour Comic can be an end in itself, or it can be regarded as the first draft for something more developed, but even if it’s a first draft, you want to produce something that’s complete and can be read straight through.
Hope you enjoyed this interview. And don’t forget to stop by and visit David Chelsea’s site here.