Archive for james kochalka

an ode to an elf

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 13, 2012 by Christopher Pearce

It’s not hyperbolic to say that James Kochalka’s American Elf has been the most influential piece of art I’ve encountered in my own life. I’ve been reading Kochalka’s journal comic since 2002, when on a visit to Boston, my then-future roommate Daniel and Liz Prince took me on a visit to Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square. Liz and Daniel prodded me toward Kochalka’s diary comics with an insistence I couldn’t deny. I picked up the book and was pretty much transfixed by the work’s honesty and gentle humor.

At the time I first encountered American Elf, I was drawing traditional newspaper comic strips for my college’s weekly but with the end of my undergraduate years fast approaching I knew I would not have that particular outlet for my comics much longer. One of the things that instantly appealed to me about Kochalka’s work was the clear ties it shares with at least the format newspaper comic strips. I’m including AE’s ironclad “one a day, everyday” schedule in this appraisal, as well as Kochalka’s economy of line. James was using the format of the newspaper strip to say something strikingly personal about his own experiences and I immediately related. Thousands of other readers did the same.

…that was back in 2003. We’re about a decade removed from my own discovery of American Elf and it’s been a wonderful experience for me, both as a reader and dare I say, a comic creator. Last week, James announced he’s ending American Elf at the close of 2012. Although he’s made noise about bringing the strip to a close before, this time I believe the guy to be serious about his intent.

I guess I just wanted to say “Thank you” in a public way to James for creating American Elf and sharing his life in an artistic way. You can still read the entire archive of American Elf over on his website or pick them up in brand-new digital collections. I more highly recommend buying the books from Top Shelf. I splurged on the hardcover treatment of the first four years of AE; it’s one of the most-read books I own.

From my own experience being inspired by the comic format Kochalka pioneered, I can say nothing but good things. Drawing a daily journal comic has helped in scores of ways with dealing with my life, from the first six years, where I focused on my personal life… to the last four, wherein I lent a sequential eye toward my job, teaching high school English Language Arts. Creating comics about my life helped me to become a better person and I KNOW that sounds like pop psychobabble but it’s true.

I look back on the comics I created in my twenties and… well, I cringe at some of them. A LOT OF THEM, if I’m being honest. However, they now exist as guideposts for the person I’d become… every lousy date, every self-indulgent tic I felt compelled to capture are on the pages of those notebooks. They’re embarrassing, they’re egotistical, and they’re a document of my twenties. There they sit, on the shelf as a reminder of the horrible person I was and, every once and awhile – there’d be some growth. Through the comics, I’d get outside of my head and get some perspective I wouldn’t have normally had. Not everyone can say they have something like to remember what their life was like as they were moving into the adult world… but I can, and I thank James Kochalka for that.

Again, even writing the above sentiment, I know I’m being indulgent. Everyone grows and changes in their twenties… but I genuinely feel drawing comics has made me a better person. I know for a fact one of the reasons my beautiful wife Ellen was initially interested in me was because she knew I drew comics. I have a comic I drew from the first night she and I hung out, months before we were a romantic item.


It’s a living document of the beginning of our relationship. How cool is that?!?

Drawing journal comics about my work has likewise broadened my understanding of what it is to be an educator. As my former principal loved to remind me, he hired me because he saw my comics and knew I’d bring something unique to his teaching staff.

Consciously, I know I did all those things myself… but I also know I never would have achieved them if I hadn’t been so wonderfully inspired by James Kolchaka. I’m going to miss American Elf but I’m excited to see what projects Kochalka’s going to focus on next. American Elf will remain a substantial contribution from a cartoonist whose best work is still to come. Enjoy the next three weeks of American Elf and look forward to the future!

elliot’s favorite comics

Posted in commentary, sketchbook with tags , , , , , , on January 6, 2011 by Christopher Pearce

I love comics and although I am perfectly fine with Elliot and Henry having no interest in the medium whatsoever, I’ve been trying to build a healthy interest in them. Well, more with Elliot than Henry at this point, I suppose, but the fact remains: I would love for them to also love the things I love.

To that end, in the past few months, Elliot and I have been reading lots of comics together. Although I’m never sure exactly how much he’s following the panels and pictures, he enjoys the stories and it’s been fun introducing him to some of my favorites, both new and old. I’ve been well pleased with the sheer amount of children’s comics that we have to choose from at our library- when I was a young’un, comics were all but absent from libraries. Now they’re some of the biggest sections of the children’s areas.

We read some standards: Elliot really seems to enjoy Archie comics. He’s interested in Batman. Of late, his main interest lie in two comics, and I’ve drew them for him in my sketchbook the other day:

From L to R: Sasspants, Johnny Boo, Squiggle.

Full disclosure: The first character comes from the children’s comic Guinea Pig: Private Eye, which is written by my friend Colleen Venable. Colleen and I went to high school together and she was super-nice to me when I moved to Brooklyn in 2006. If you know Colleen, you will not be surprised to see her name appear in the same sentence as the adjective “super-nice”. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good pleasure to meet in my life… which makes it all the easier to say that Guinea Pig: PI is awesome and Elliot loves it. It has a really clever premise, (Sasspants is a “P.I.” because the “g” fell off her cage’s sign), a lot of good humor, and some wonderfully cute art from Stephanie Yue, who also colored the heck out of my favorite graphic novel from 2010, Smile.

Also awesome: Colleen was doing a signing back home in New York a few weeks ago and I sent my mom to pick up both Guinea Pig: PI books (Hamster and Cheese and And Then There Were Gnomes, with others to soon follow for those playing at home) and she was nice enough to sign the books. This in and of itself would be awesome, but I have to publicly thank Colleen for signing one of the books “To Elliot and Henry” and the other “To Henry and Elliot.” That kind of attention to possible future sibling rivalry is most appreciated, Colleen!

Johnny Boo is the main character in a series of children’s comic books by cartoonist James Kochalka. I’m a tremendous fan of his and it’s impossible to argue that he’s the epicenter for “one a day, everyday” journal comics. We picked up Johnny Boo and the Happy Apples, the third book in the series, at our library. Elliot’s very into monsters and ghosts and Happy features both- besides Johnny and his pet ghost Squiggle, there’s an Ice Cream Monster. Elliot digs reading these and repeating many of the “catchphrases” that the characters use like when Squggle yells “Squiggle power, ACTIVATE!” That’s become a resounding cry in our house as of late.

Anyhow, I highly recommend both of these books. Tomorrow I’ll give a second recommendation to a great children’s/comic book with some cool art.