interviews with comics types part 1 james kochalka

i recently came across some old files from my undergrad days when i was still a fiction writing major at columbia college.

way back in 1999 i conducted brief email interviews with a few different comic book artists/writers about their creative processes. it was for an essay in one of my fiction writing classes. in the essay i was going to compare/contrast the writing processes of writers of fiction/prose and that of comics creators.

the writing process info of the fiction/prose types came from anthologies of interviews conducted back in the day with stuffy old writers like hemingway, gertrude stein, etc. i did the interviews and selected relevant bits from the dead author interviews. but i never got around to synthesizing the whole thing. cuz i was a slacker and i lost interest in the project. i find that i’m more interested in what the people have to say themselves than in synthesizing and coming up with something else to say about it. oh well.

the comics people that i interviewed were james kochalka, megan kelso and ed brubaker. they were all super nice and generous with their time and i thank them for that. i also apologize to them for never finishing the project. but i thought that even after all these years, the interviews might still be of interest to people. so without further ado here’s the first of the interviews. this one, with james kochalka, is from may of 1999.

Continue reading “interviews with comics types part 1 james kochalka”

self aware blog writingness

i’m still trying to get a handle on what this blog thing is about. what should i put in here. i feel hesitant to put too much in here cuz i don’t want to overlap too much with the zine. i’m okay with putting up outtakes, deleted sections, fragments, alternate versions, etc, of published things. but i’m worried about putting stuff up here that i might want to put in a future issue of flotation device. although maybe i shouldn’t worry about that so much. cuz regardless i’d rewrite/rework whatever i put up on the blog. but still i feel a little weird about double dipping like that.

right now i guess i’m feeling like this will be good for my little more like journaly things that i write but never publish anymore. shit that i used to throw into zines when i made little shorty zines. shit about pirates and stuff. shit that for whatever reason i don’t feel like putting in published flotation device. published. unpublished.

also. i just need to be writing again. just a little bit. i’ve taken the past few months off cuz i was starting to feel massive anxiety. like apprehension nervous tension in my stomach and part of it seemed to be coming from pressure i was putting on myself about writing and the zine and all. so i stopped. stopped writing in the morning before work. stopped writing on the weekends. stopped trying to squeeze an hour in after work.

i haven’t quit. but i’ve taken a break. and i need to just kind of write to write for a bit. a little at a time. then i can attack the next zine. the next issue.

i haven’t been feeling so intensely anxious these days. i don’t know if it’s the not writing. the backing off from band responsibilities. learning to relax or what. it still arises occasionally but not so frequently. less sick lately.

i’ll work on the next issue of the zine when it feels right. when i’m up for it. when it doesn’t seem so massive. so daunting. in the meantime there’s these little shits to write. little by little.


i wrote this right before i got off my ass and finished writing flotation device 12. i guess it helped motivate.


I need to demystify my writing process. I used to treat it like this divine sort of act. Invoking the writing spirits the mystic rulers of word rhythm the secret gods of sentence structure. I would reverentially play amazing music – depending on the phase of my life I was in. Different types of music were more spiritual at different times. For a while it was punk rock and for a while it was electronic and for a while it was experimental and for a while now it has been jazz. Punk generally meant dead kennedys. Electronic generally meant aphex twin. Experimental meant sonic youth and jazz meant fucking jazz. Of course I still listen to all of these things – especially jazz and in particular free jazz.

But I need to take my process off of the pedestal I put it on when I was 20. When I was writing my stories for fiction writing at Columbia. When I was writing late into the night into the early morning listening to amazing music in the glow of my little lamp. Warm and magic. That was when it was easy and words flowed and text fell out onto the paper of notebooks I didn’t have to much think about it.

That’s when I turned my writing into this lofty exercise this magical event that I could only perform under certain and ideal conditions. It worked for a while but then life happens and living situations change and you grow up a bit. But my thoughts about my writing stayed the same. I waited for mood to hit me for certain times of day for certain lighting for certain social arrangements for certain everything. And I stopped writing. It was too much. The circumstances were never right. I rarely wrote for three years – a long time when you consider yrself a writer. Painful and depressing and always in the back of yr head. In the back of my head.

I had grown and life had changed but my conception of writing and my process hadn’t. It was still back there where I left it. It was still in my room in my apartment at 2216 w Wilson. It was still there with me at 20 listening to xx play video games and cats meowing and xx slurring and xx fucking and amazing music in a warm glow at my desk at 2 in the morning feeling alive and magical. Magic. Magic. Spirit. Spirit. Invoke. Invoke. And the pedestal kept growing year after year. It got taller and taller rose higher and higher in the sky and it disappeared in the clouds and I thought that only on certain occasions at certain times of day in the right light with the right music could I touch it again, that magic glow on the pedestal in the clouds. And then I felt like I couldn’t do it at all.

How powerful the mind is. How amazing it is. How wonderful it is at convincing us that things are impossible and that an easier way should be sought after and found. What a son of a bitch the mind is. Telling us it’s easier to not do anything rather than work at something we enjoy so much. What a motherfucker.

I lived with my process existing on that fucking pedestal for 8 years the first half of which worked great, the last 4 didn’t work at all. And it’s only been in the past few months that I even saw the fucking pedestal at all. I kept blaming circumstances and far from ideal or sometimes just slightly unideal conditions.

But writing is writing and it’s not a spiritual act or magical. It just is what it is. Sometimes it comes easily sometimes it’s hard as shit but I have to just do it. I’m not a great writer. I’ll never be remembered as being amazing. Fuck, I’ll never be remembered. Everyone I read humbles me. Their words and grammar and sentence construction and narrative structure. They are amazing and I’m okay. I’m alright. And that’s fine. I’ll keep writing what I write, documenting what I can how I can. But my shit doesn’t have to be magical and it doesn’t come from some fucking magical place that I invented when I was young. It just comes from me and my voice and my brain. It is what it is. And I can fucking do that whenever or wherever I want. If it’s something I need to work on fine. If it’s difficult I just need to do it. I need to work through the difficult times. It’s a discipline. It’s work and I should treat it as such. It’s a mundane action and I just need to keep practicing.


Here’s some more stuff from the old notebook. No date on this one, but prolly from 2005.

Afraid of rewrites. That’s why I haven’t written about the Ornette dream that I had. What does this say about me. Sloth? Spiritualist? Afraid of rewrites either means I’m lazy and loath to make a second attempt a second version of what I wanted to say. Like I don’t have time to do that. That’s part of the discipline I lack. Discipline remember that? Editing? What the fuck? I don’t do that. I write or I don’t write. Digital. Pure. My editing is inaction. Rewrites? Never heard of it. If I didn’t get it right the first time it wasn’t supposed to happen. If I fucked up it’s done. Done. Does this make me a spiritualist. Looking for meaning in my laziness… words are sacred and what I write is special. Not to be fucked with. I have to wait for the right time and place to write something or else it comes out all wrong and it fails. Maybe. Is it all, all my words. Are they predetermined, preordained. Am I fatalism. Am I a fatalistic writer? What the fuck kind of unenlightened bullshit is that. It makes no sense. Spiritual fatalist? Lazy? I think I’m fucking lazy.

Ornette. I’ll get to that amazing dream someday. Such a beautiful dream. Free jazz and me. I can’t fuck that up.

I still do have trouble rewriting my stuff. Although, I do spend more time on it now than I did a few years ago. Rearranging things, tightening up, etc. Maybe there’s hope for me yet. I’ve also begun to change the way that I work. I decided to stop fighting my schedule and work with it. So instead of waiting for some magical writing time that never comes – especially not after work – I started to get up early and write for an hour or so before I go off to work. It seems to be working. Also that Ornette dream was pretty awesome. One of my all time favorite dreams. I still haven’t written it down.

spring, writing, jazz



Cloudy out now. It was sunny. A few fluffy spring Chicago clouds warm sun filling the porch sitting on the stoop wearing sandals feeling good in the early evening sun setting sun. Rain clouds now wind in trees people heading home hurrying before the water breaks. Cars headlights squealing brakes as they hit the speed bump in front of my apartment their sensitive metal underparts scraping along the top of the hump as they inevitably bottom out. A skater with a backpack slowly cruising by with his skateboard overstuffed huge backpack strapped to his back. Street lights on.


Mexico. That’s a big one. But it lacks emotional depth. It’s not like Costa Rica at all. Selected high lights only please review tape. Highlight reel. Playing shows with the rories. Shit job extravaganza paper source. Unemployment. Depression. Therapy. Not getting a job at borders. Library school? Current events. All the new people I know. How underwhelming and alone it was to come back to Chicago. How much I love Chicago. Interview people? Put jrnlsm to use? About what? Research? Exciting possibilities. Jazz zines? How sexy is yrs? Does it get anybetter than don cherry? No. it doesn’t.


All these possibilities. Of course none of them call me. Maybe I’ll just go with the unstated and most seductive one. Just write for a while. Seemingly unrelated bits and pieces and construct them later into something greater. Just write and through structure create the new – create meaning bring a sleight order to the chaos. Not chaos but random. Find the thematic link later. Be jazz.


Be jazz.

But not like Kerouac mythology. Be free now. Be free for now and reign it in – form formless later.

Jazz editing to follow jazz writing.


Jazz editing.


Free jazz is energy. Falling in love every time a new record comes on. Falling in love with every song. Energy. Energy. Action. Change politics freedom protest liberation. It’s all there w/in the energy w/in the skronk the smooth the beat the rhythm the bass the piano.


Collections of invocations.

Notebook collection

Am I allowed to do that

Something so raw and dumb

Just me talking w/out reason

w/out a point


I suppose it’s the attempt. This discipline thing. To just write and write everyday regardless of whether or not it’s good or usable. Just write. Keep in the habit. Flex that muscle. Keep that shit toned.


So here I am writing just to write to make myself write. Sun ra on the stereo before that, art ensemble. I love this shit so much. Jazz my new rock. Something new to obsess about. Nerd.



I’m spending so much time playing guitar. Hours and hours just standing in front of my amp electric guitar hanging from my shoulder. Red and white. Sometimes I watch my hands move in the reflection of the tv screen. Sometimes in the mirror. I watch my hands move from fret to fret. Fingers picking out a melody. My brain gets confused watching myself play in the mirror – it’s all backwards I inevitably fuck it up while watching myself play. Like a taboo. Something not to do – watch yrself play an instrument.

It’s too much tho. I play all the time. I think cuz I’ve gotten to the point where it’s easier than it was before. To the point that it’s like a new vocabulary. And what’s a new vocabulary other than anew obsession. New words new means of expression. That detracts from my first obsession – writing. I should be spending hours and hours scribbling in notebooks reacquainting myself with words. With structure. W/sentences. w/my shorthand.

My shorthand. These scribbles that look kind of strange now. Unfamiliar. A novelty. I actually notice my handwriting. It’s been so long – it’s so foreign that I notice it.

It’s because music is easier right now. I don’t have to think with music. I just fuck around until something works. There’s less fucking with writing. At least for me. If I’m fucking around with writing – I feel like I’m wasting time, ink, paper, energy…

Wasting. Because writing random sentence fragments is not practice. I don’t have the same luxury as people who draw. Who can doodle and attempt to draw something. Just do it and have it be practical. Have it be practice. I suppose technically I could look at an object and waste a page describing it but it would just be waste. Because my joy in writing comes from structure and sequencing – the construction of the narrative. This requires output – meaningful output. Pieces that come together and make a whole. Output. Empty descriptions do not work for me.

I write all this totally overlooking the issue. Why is it easier to play guitar than it is to write. Why do I spend all my time playing guitar thinking about writing. My mind always on writing. My heart wants to be there…

It’s because of what I mentioned before about structure and construction. I feel safest when I have a plan for the overall story – the heart – the guts – the idea. A purpose a reason a goal. I don’t have this right now. Haven’t had it for a while. I’ve been too busy reordering my life telling myself I have nothing to say. Listening to sad music. I’m at the point where I just feel like if I don’t have a purpose a tangible goal a series of pieces a story to tell – then why bother.

When I made zines before – when I first started making zines – I would publish whatever random notes – scraps, bits, torn words, it didn’t matter – there wasn’t a story there. They were purely independent from each other. I was happy with that.

But that was ten years ago.
Now I need that crucial thematic link.

Those links used to come easy. I just wrote about my adolescence. Growing up. High school mostly. Easy. Who doesn’t have shit to say about their high school experience. Yay. I felt ostracized and alienated. Who didn’t. it served its purpose though. But I’ve kissed it goodbye – got it all out of my system. I have nothing left to say about high school. It was over ten years ago.

So I just have to wait for some experiences to accrue. No problem no sweat.