Interview: Gideon Kendall, Animator And IllustratorDavid 04.26.2013
Gideon Kendall is one multi-talented artist/illustrator/cartoonist, and the designer behind many IdeaRocket videos. I recently interviewed him about his new comic WHATZIT. It’s a wild ride… imaginative, dark, and richly detailed.
David Queen: Tell me a little about yourself… how did you first get into drawing, and storytelling?
Gideon Kendall: Drawing pictures of one kind or another is what I’ve always done. The story my mom always tells is that she put a ballpoint pen in my crib when I was two and I covered my sheets with roads and cars. I then discovered comics at about ten. I was a Marvel fan, but never got into DC. I loved Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Klaus Janson, and John Buscema. Though it was when Frank Miller and Bill Sinkewiwicz came along that I really got inspired. I payed a lot of attention to the inking too. The Gene Colan/Klaus Janson Howard The Duck comics remain a high water mark in my mind. I still look at them regularly.
When I went to college I studied fine art and felt obliged to “grow up” and move away from comics. The school looked down on commercial art. They considered illustration a lower life form, so you can imagine what they thought of comics. After art school I got a job in an art gallery and tried to schmooze and play the game and be a “gallery artist” and make art for art’s sake. I failed miserably. I was alienated, and depressed. Then I remembered that I loved making pictures and that I also like to eat and have a place to live! I thought, hey, what if I combined those interests? Eventually I fell into the world of animation and eventually illustration. I worked on some pretty successful TV shows (Pepper Ann, Codename: Kids Next Door) and published a few children’s books. Over the years, as the world of indie comics and graphic novels grew, my interest in comics returned, but I never really had a worthwhile idea for a story…until now.
DQ: I really enjoyed the visual style of WHATZIT, which is rather grotesque at certain points. How would you describe your visual approach?
GK: I’m trying to give each of the three “worlds” in the story a different look and at the same time give WHATZIT an overall cohesiveness. The alien world is reminiscent of some of the stories I remember from Heavy Metal magazine, while I hope to give the fantasy sequences a look that combines Mort Drucker with Bill Watterson’s sunday pages. The “real” scenes based are hopefully something a little more uniquely “me”. I don’t know if this is working, but that’s what I’m shooting for.
DQ: From where did you draw inspiration on this one?
GK: I went back and read all the stuff I loved in my teens: EC horror comics, the MAD work of Jack Davis and Mort Drucker, Gene Colan’s work (particularly on Howard The Duck), HEAVY METAL magazine, and Crumb of course. Also, looking back now, I think that Joe Matt’s early run of Peepshow was very influential. Not the art so much, but the unflinching honesty and depiction of pornography.
DQ: Do you have any examples of previous work of yours that might serve as a precursor to WHATZIT?
GK: I don’t know if there’s a direct connection, but one of the other things I do is illustrate chapter books. I’ve worked on two series that I’ve been particularly fond of. One is The Seems Trilogy (Bloomsbury) and the other is The Underworld Chronicles (Sourcebooks). I was telling my wife how much fun I had doing those books and also how I was starting to think about getting back into comics. She suggested that I combine the two interests, and it was just a couple weeks after that that I woke up with the idea for WHATZIT throbbing in my brain.
DQ: What are some of the pros-and-cons of releasing a comic online as opposed to print?
GK: Putting WHATZIT out there online via Act-i-Vate has been great for me. I’ve been a “professional” for 20 years, but I’m a rookie when it comes to comics. Therefore, to instantly be a part of a community and have my work seen by lots of people is very exciting. So far people have only posted encouraging comments, so that’s been good for morale too. If people start posting YouTube-style insults that would really suck. The con is, of course, that there’s no money. But I’m bitter and cynical enough at this point that I don’t expect it to be otherwise.
DQ: What’s one tidbit of advice/encouragement you wish you had when you were just starting out?
GK: Depends on which “starting out” you mean. If you mean upon graduating from art school it would have been “don’t believe that pretentious bullshit about how being a gallery artist is the only true way to be an artist”. It’s great for some people, not for others. Actually I think its only great for a very very small number of people. If you mean as an illustrator I’d say: “Don’t expect too much. The end of print and traditional income sources is coming soon so lower your expectations and diversify”. If you mean as a creator of comics, I’ll have to get back to you on that since this is my first real go at it. My guess would be something like “Don’t try to do a huge epic story! You’ll never finish it!!!”
DQ: Without revealing any spoilers, can you offer any hints about the future chapters of WHATZIT?
GK: I’ll say this: it’s going to get grosser and darker, and hopefully funny and engaging at the same time. We’ll see…