Monday, 7 March 2011

An Interview with T.J. Kirsch (Part One)

A sneek-peek of Kirsch's art in the upcoming third volume of Oni's Amy Devlin Mysteries, written by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir

T.J. Kirsch is a blood-thirsty mercenary of an artist. Born with blood in his eyes and a pencil gripped tightly in his hand, he’s a firm believer in the benefit of working in collaboration with a wide variety of writers. Although he’s best-known for his work with Oni Press (Uncle Slam Fights Back!, Jam!), T.J.’s spent the  past five or six years honing his craft with a diverse list of cohorts, including Agreeable Comics’ Kevin Church and So... Buttons' Jonathan Baylis.

Fresh off of completing online detective story She Died in Terrebonne with Church, Kirsch has swiftly found himself drawing another sleuth, this time for Oni Press via their Amy Devlin Mystery series. In the first part of this two-part interview, we caught up with T.J. to discuss his latest work, his thoughts on working with writers, his latest comic for Top Shelf 2.0, and his dream projects.

You’re currently working on the third installment of the Amy Devlin Mysteries series, Lost & Found, with writers Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir . How did you get involved with the team behind the book?

I’m working with Nunzio and Christina, along with Editor Jill Beaton. All three have been great to work with - very receptive and complimentary to the work I've done so far.

Well, I'd been bothering Oni quite a bit trying to find another project after I did Uncle Slam Fights Back!, and I ended up doing some shorter pieces for them last year. First I illustrated a story for the Jam! anthology, and then a backup for the Resurrection series. After doing those, I tried out for another project that went to another artist, but they needed someone for this Amy Devlin book—it's exactly the stuff I like to draw. I had drawn another detective [Sam Kimimura, of She Died in Terrebonne] for a while, so they saw I could do something in that same vein. I read the first book and loved it, which had some great art by Christopher Mitten. The second one hadn't come out yet, but it has since, and it's just as good. It's a great series, and the books are also really nice-looking hardcovers, thanks to the design and production work of Eric Skillman and Oni's Keith Wood.

Since we last spoke, you had another short solo story, Beefed, appear on the Top Shelf 2.0 website. Do you consider comics like Beefed and Slim Johnson’s Fever Dream as anti-structural sandboxes to experiment in? 

I don't think they're anti-structural really. They've got a loose structure in the same way that some slice-of-life comics have, in that something happens but there aren't really any great stakes in the small events, if that makes sense. I didn't have any real aim in creating them other than to experiment, really. I have fun doing them. After working on someone else's script for awhile, it's kind of a creative exhale, an outlet.

The opening page of T.J.'s short comic Beefed, currently appearing on the Top Shelf 2.0 website.

There seems to be a contrast between the cinematic-style work that you do with writers, and the more visually experimental work you do in your solo work. How do you see your own work in comparison to your collaborations?

When I write, there tends to be more of a visual influence overall, yeah. Usually when I get an itch to do a short story, the ideas come to me as an image, or a collection of strong images. I can't get them out of my head until they're a fully formed finished comic. Sometimes I get an image in my head, and I use that as a jumping-off point for a potential strip.

I haven't yet tackled a long-form comic from the writing end, and I envy those who can do that well, like some of my collaborators. I've learned so much from every one of the writers I've worked with, and I think it keeps my work fresh going back and forth between writing my own stories and drawing someone else's script. I think I've said this before, but it's giving the artist something to draw outside their comfort zone, and the expanding repertoire that comes out of that which is the benefit. Working by yourself, you can get into a rut, and just keep operating inside your own little bubble.

Is there a writer out there you’d love to (or would have loved to) collaborate with? 

Oh, that's a good question! Well I'd definitely want to work with Kevin again, for sure. I think we've got a great working relationship going, and I'd hate to not take advantage of that. There are some other writers that I've worked with that I'd love to collaborate with again at some point as well - Elton Pruitt, Jonathan Baylis, Jason Pell... It'd be fun to draw a script from Jeffrey Brown or James Kochalka, because again, they're both such pure cartooning talents. It would be interesting to see how much they can let go of their vision to another artist. Evan Dorkin would be another one.

This is difficult because most of the writers I'm a fan of are also cartoonists themselves, and it's rare that they'd even collaborate at all! I'm talking about guys like Dan Clowes and Chester Brown, guys like that. I would've loved to have drawn a story for Harvey Pekar. That was one of the major things on my list of career aspirations. I'm a big fan of his work and what he represented.

Kirsch's collaborations with autobiographical writer Johnathan Baylis represent some of both creators' best work. Representing just how important and indivisible the comic artist is as an author of a piece, T.J.'s art and layout brings tangible depth and importance to Baylis' childhood memory and affection for Famous Monsters of Filmland.

You’ve mentioned to us in the past that you came to ‘alternative’ comics quite late, and have been a voracious reader of them ever since. Flipping to a more mainstream focus, I really enjoyed your Secret Defenders Covered submission last year - have you ever been interested in superhero work?

I haven't been really interested in superhero stuff since I was about 13 or so. The reason I got back into comics was discovering there was material on the other end of the spectrum, like autobio and 'alternative.' After I did Uncle Slam, I said that was the last superhero comic I'll ever draw. I did it because the script was really funny, and damn good. I'm not ruling out anything entirely, but that's not the genre I want to focus on at all.

You’ve worked on detectives, superheroes, horror characters, derby girls, and everyday Joes. Do you have a dream project?

I did have this horror pitch that I want to do, but it's going to take some tweaking before it's ready. I'd like to explore that one more at some point. As far as a dream project, I'd love to write and draw a graphic novel in the drama side of things. Leaning toward slice-of-life... Maybe a romance thing? I read Blankets when it came out years ago and was blown away. A coming-of-age graphic novel! Every cartoonist has one of those in them right? I should do that.

One of my goals is to draw for Mad Magazine, and has been for a long time. Their entire stable of artists have inspired my own goofy drawings a whole lot. I'd also love to maybe draw a story for Bongo Comics. I've been a Simpsons fan since the beginning and I remember drawing Bart Simpson in the margins of every school notebook when I was supposed to be paying attention.

What are you enjoying at the moment?

Recently I've had my face buried in the first two Amy Devlin books every day for reference, with nothing much else! Other than those two, I've been reading Fogtown, one of the Vertigo Crime books. I love the Brad Rader art! I've gotta find more of his stuff.

Whenever I'm feeling a little burned out I pick up a Jeffrey Brown book or something by Kochalka, as a refresher to remember why I enjoy comics. I also read the first volume of Tezuka's Black Jack and I loved that. Asterios Polyp was another one recently that knocked me out... and I've gotta mention Toby Cypress' new book Rodd Racer as well, being a former student of his. Plus, Whenever I venture out to the comic store I can't help but pick up any Jonah Hex issue with Jordi Bernet art. They're all pretty inspiring to me.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion of our conversation with T.J, where we turn the focus onto the upcoming collection of She Died in Terrebonne, the origins of Slim Johnson, his journey as a student from SCAD to the Kubert School, and more.


1 comment:

  1. Really great interview! This is the first I've heard of T.J., but I'm really digging his work, influences, and dream projects.

    Just hopped over to Top Shelf 2.0 to read Beefed and loved it!