Sunday, June 1, 2014

Matthew Kelly Interview Part Two

Almost three months ago I ran the first part of an interview with Matt Kelly, New Zealand cartoonist behind Kiwiman. Things have slowed down a little around the Pikitia Citadel so I can now present you the concluding Matt Kelly interview part two.

Read Matt Kelly Interview Part One.

Did you make comics before Kiwiman? I think I recall you being active on the BRD at least several years ago.
Two very different things there: being active on the brd; and making comics. And two very different experiences. I made two minicomics before embarking on Kiwiman. They were each made in order to attend Armageddon comic expos, back when they were transitioning from a fairly healthy boutique show (with a NZ comics 'alley') to the monstrous and successful comic-con impersonator that it is nowadays. 

The first comic I made was the most successful in all senses: it was made on time, it was a large 24 page story, it was funny (says me) but not really about something, and it looked okay as a finished piece. It is called Not the New Losers: Mr Trigger goes on Holiday, and is based on James James's mini comic The New Losers, itself loosely based on Jack Kirby's The Losers.

The production process was ridiculous, I drew each panel on separate rectangles of scrap paper with bic pens of differing colours. I pasted these down to an a3 page. I felt that I had to do this in order not to take it seriously and therefore to get it done at all. It worked but it meant that the reproduction was a challenge. In having it printed I was lucky enough to get a really great woman do the job (I never got her name). her first effort was not good enough though, and although she had printed the entire run of 50 or however many it was (probably not that many) I had to get her to redo it as it was reproduced too light to read. Considering the crap state of the originals she really made the second run incredibly good. 

The receptionist at the photocopier's was a bit odd, a pudgy white late forties type with tightly curled permed hair. She said she liked comics and would read my book, I found her bedside manner a bit weird but tried to be nice and left it at that. Anyway, a few days later I got a call early one morning on my way to work and this weird lady tried to tell me that the management didn't want me to come back to them for more photocopying because she found the book offensive. I barely realized who she was at the time of her call and it lent a surreal feeling to the day. 

The second minicomic I produced was called “Welcome to Planet Pollywood” and is a curious, shorter piece that I don't really understand. I guess it has a vague story structure but it is not very satisfying. I may have been using brush and ink on that book a little, but I thing it mostly would have been pigment pens. The reception these comics got was purely negligible. In an apparent state of temporary insanity I gave away most of the first ('not the new losers')comics to other nz comickers at the convention without even getting much swapsies back. I think I was just excited to be there. I did make a few sales and A few people have told me it is funny and that is gratifying.

Whereas the BRD (Black River Digital message group) was actually a bit more like that phone call from the photocopy receptionist. At first I probably broke a lot of protocols, this was the first online community I'd ever joined. There was a poster who seemed to try to undermine things I said quite a lot at the beginning which I found confusing and not all that nice. After a while though things seemed to settle into a kind of pattern where there would occasionally arise some topic of heat, most typically either a conversation about starting yet another anthology comic and how it should be done and all that, or else a flame war of bitter childish hurtful rivalry. This is actually not a totally fair representation of the BRD, there were some very vital and riveting conversations not always about but usually about comics, and there were a lot of interesting people. 

The best posts were newbies informing us all (time and time again) of their great original plan to make a comic themselves and then approach their local dairy to stock it, thereby creating, single handed, a new zealand comics industry. It was hard to respond to these people without being cynical, but somehow it was much harder not to respond. Just telling them that it was a good idea and to go on and do it never seemed to get them very far. In the end I developed a kind of form letter response explaining that there were local anthologies they could submit to, that making comics is hard graft but worth it, and that their enthusiasm was commendable (at least that's what I think I said now).

When the BRD was good it was very good, but it was a bit of a nonstarter in other ways. I think it would have been (and perhaps still could be) better for the members to have founded a webcomic anthology so that the comments thread had something productive to bud from. A platform for all the newbies to jump in straight away, and the same platform for the jam-like comic ideas to have been instantly started off without any further organisation than starting a new comic thread. Hindsight's 20/20.

To be fair the brd is quite old and probably predated most user friendly comics blog interfaces. In fact I can remember the red letter day when LarsCawley announced that we could post images (a definite plus for a comics community).

Actually Simon adams, Nic Sando, David Bradbury and I did set off doing a comic-jam as a result of our membership at BRD. We emailed each other the pages (off BRD) and it went on for a fair while, it was quite a cool way to make a comic. It may have been brought to an end a bit too abruptly though, and that might be why it has never seen print or posting (to my knowledge) anywhere.

Kiwiman is one of the few indigenous New Zealand superhero characters, New Zealand cartoonists typically pursue other genres, can you talk about the genesis of Kiwiman and what interests you about the superhero genre?
KIWIMAN GENESIS: ORIGIN ISSUE - Simon Adams and I were working at the same call centre for a while and so we had a bit of time to talk about comics. Simon, I think, broached the subject of a New Zealand comics Universe and what that would look like. Also we discussed the fact that no one had really produced a large New Zealand super hero continuity, that we knew of.
After making a few enthusiastic but probably deeply incomplete lists of NZ characters (including Ches and Dale the cheese cockies who are not strictly speaking comic characters) we gravitated towards a New Zealand Super Hero Universe. We made lists and sketches of characters, and this occupied us for a bit. Kiwiman came from this period of research.

I drew up a ridiculous super hero that was a national self-deprecation. However the concept seemed to have some innate worth, partly in terms of a kitsch value, but mostly in terms of addressing important ecological concerns. The super hero genre per se leaves me pretty un-entertained. Some of the art in S.H. books is good, but rarely am I impressed or distracted enough by the story to keep reading. For example I tried to read 'Hush' (a Batman “story arc” with art by Jim Lee and story by someone I found too boring to even remember their name) and I just couldn't sustain a complete read. I find the concept of North American superhero comics as a playbox of toylike characters that a writer is allowed to borrow and play with does not encourage interesting or believable characterisation.

Super heroes may be an adventure genre but if there's no real people with real emotions and lives to be risked it all plays like a carbon copy of itself over and over again with ill defined motives for everyone concerned. Also a lot of the dialogue is empty of human contact or reads wooden like bad actors. That puts me off too.

I'd like to mention 'the Mawpawk' by Laurence Clark and Kevin Jenkinson here, which I think was a very well made comic. I was aware of this character before making Kiwiman, but I wasn't thinking of the Mawpawk at the time and it was not a direct inspiration. However, they share a lot of genre's; Super Hero, comedy, political satire and caricatures.
Anyway with Kiwiman and the other characters from that “universe” it's not a direct result of wanting to make superhero comics. The only reason that there are any Kiwiman comics is because I have a lot of comics I want to make and I felt I had to choose one project to get on with and dedicate some time to instead of bouncing round several ideas whenever the inspiration hit and never achieving any final results.

Kiwiman won out because I had just discovered the Maui's Dolphin and wanted to do something to help them. Maui's Dolphin are a subspecies of the Hector's Dolphin that live off the West Coast of New Zealand. There are estimated to be only fifty left. At the time I wrote and drew the first Kiwiman story the estimate was about one hundred Maui's Dolphins. I wanted to raise awareness of the problems the Maui's Dolphin's are having.

Using my concern as motivation helped me to overcome a lot of problems, mainly my lack of confidence and skill, and motivated me in getting out a really sustained effort.
The original comics were serialised in Auckland anthology comic New Ground published by Jeremy Bishop, owner of Arkham City Comics. From that effort I started the webcomic which has kept me working on comics through tough times.

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