Welcome to Independent Comics In Focus, a new feature here at Word of the Nerd where we talk to independent comics creators about their work, their process, and independent publishing. Today’s guest is Joseph Karg, co-creator and writer of the science fiction graphic novel El Grande. Joseph Karg has worked as an animator on shows like Archer, and he currently works as a stand-up comedian.
Can you start by telling us about yourself as a comics creator? Have you always wanted to make comics?
I’ve wanted to make comics ever since my uncle gave me my first comic book at age nine. It was X-Factor #1 from Bob Layton and Jackson Guice. I was so hooked. I’m pretty new to calling myself a comic creator, but not to being creative. I have a BFA in animation from The Art Institute of Atlanta and an MFA in Painting from SCAD, so I’ve been creating for the better half of a decade. I want to make comics that my favorite creators wish they’d made.
Your first graphic novel, El Grande, is a very bold book. What can you tell us about it, and how did you come up with the idea?
El Grande is a sort of psychedelic twist on the classic hero’s journey. You could say it’s like Wizard of Oz meets William S. Burroughs meets Moebius. (laughs) My partner on the book (Elio Guevara) approached me with the idea right after I’d graduated from from undergrad. “Want to make a comic about a futuristic rock climber turned chimney sweep?” Absofuckinglutely!
You previously had a career in animation. How does that influence, if at all, the way you approach making comics?
Ever since college, I had dreams of touching every career I’d ever been interested in, but working on Archer let me know that some careers are more demanding than others. If I was ever going to be a comics creator, I’d have to focus on that. El Grande took Elio and I nearly eight years to complete from the time that we started. That’s because we were always working on other things to pay the bills. Never again. I now teach part time and work as a freelance illustrator and perform comedy at night. Soon, I will only create comics and perform standup comedy.
You also do stand up comedy. Do you think there is any part of that process that influences your comics?
Yes, standup is storytelling. It teaches you how to edit you ideas in real time. I have a huge interest in writing more humorous comic books in the future and doing standup is like going to the gym and working out that muscle. No only by writing and performing my own jokes, but also by looking at what my peers and headliners are doing. It all original idea generation. I can’t even begin to tell you all the wonderful ideas that have come out of a 3 A.M. smoking and drinking session after a show. Comedians are some of the greatest thinkers on the planet even though most of them are also idiots. (laughs)
What advice do you have for new creators? Is self-publishing the way to go?
Self-publishing has become, to some degree, maybe not the way to go, but definitely a way to create a product and prove that you’re capable of doing you’re desiring. So if you want to work for Dark Horse or Marvel or DC, because of things like Kickstarter and crowdfunding, it’s possible for you to create a book that’s like the book you’d like to draw for them. You can put it out, and put it in their hands, and say “Look, I already did this thing.” For a lot of jobs, the difficult part about getting hired is that they don’t trust you – they don’t know you, or that you’re going to be able to do the job or do it consistently. So putting out a proof of concept is a good thing. And you know I think any company wants to hedge their bets as far as what – or who – they can sell. If you put out your own book, and you build even a small audience, that’s better than nothing, you know?
El Grande is unlike a lot of other comic books, so in a way, I don’t think it’s a good way to get hired by bigger companies to put out something that’s so different from what they do. A friend of mine told me that it’s better to do something really bold, and then have to conform afterwards, because people will respect you and trust you more, as opposed to starting off and doing something very commercial, and then trying to do something very artistic. It’s harder to get people to follow you in that direction.
So I guess I would say if you’re a creator who is interested in doing something very different, then it’s probably good to start different than to think you’re going to do it later. Once you’re making good money or people like a certain thing that you’re doing, it’s hard to turn away from that or risk that.
To find out more about El Grande, visit www.elgrandecomic.com. El Grande was co-created and illustrated by Elio Guevara.
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