INTERVIEW BY CHRIS FARAONE
You may have appeared in a comic by Karl Stevens.
Perhaps you were the clerk or barista who rubbed him the wrong way, or the pretentious dumbshit who said something idiotic at a party and wound up sketched into or at least referenced inside a talk bubble in one of Karl’s elaborate sardonic strips.
Flattering or not, it would be nothing short of a win to find yourself drawn into one of his scenes. From book projects to popular recurring features for the Village Voice and the Boston Phoenix before that, Karl has proven himself as a veritable double threat, with wit and edge as razor sharp as his artistic stroke.
We’re sweet on any opportunity to run Karl’s stuff in the Dig, whether as a contributor, as was recently the case when we published his “Kill the Rich” strip, or as an excerpted artist and author. So with news that he is reading from and signing copies of his latest project, The Winner, later this month at HUB Comics in Somerville, we threw some questions at him and asked for samples we could print.
A significant amount of your work that I’ve seen and admired through the years is autobiographical—Karl day-to-day—but something about The Winner seems even more personal. Is that an accurate description?
It is an accurate description, this is a very personal work, but at the same time it’s a very experimental work. I went deeper into the sci-fi/fantasy and horror genres than before, and looked to find ways to bridge everything together.
How do you assemble something like this? How much was done before, and how much is done chronologically, if at all? I see some dates in there are 2015, etc. In a simple question, what’s the process? To those of us who only dream of having your talent, this seems like an extraordinary amount of work in all the detail. Is that how you see it? Is it ever a drag to have to work?
It was a assembled in a scattershot, but very organic way. I had gone through some major life changes these past few years: I married Alex, got sober, started exercising, and doing transcendental meditation. I figured that journey would make a good story; Karl grows up from a chubby, boozy hipster and into an angry, pre-middle aged butterfly. At the same time I was getting into these French cartoonists from the ’70s and ’80s: Moebius, Philippe Druillet, Caza, and the urge to make experimental sci-fi fantasy comics was rearing its cybernetic head. It proved to be a nice break in the day-to-day art making sense. Draw Alex and me sitting on a couch talking one day, and the weird aliens and Pope Cat the next.
Speaking of work, The Winner’s real-life tie in with your museum gig is amazing. Not having gone to art school, but being an artist, how much of an art aficionado were you before becoming a guard, and to what extent have you become one since?
I did go to art school, briefly. I did one semester at Montserrat College of Art, and then one semester at Lesley. I had to drop out because my family was lower-middle class and unable to help me out financially.
Luckily, I found day jobs in the city that were connected to the art world, and thus able to meet fellow travelers—which is key for an artist’s growth. You gotta avoid the norms, man. Also, my painting teacher at Lesley, Anthony Apesos was instrumental in those early years. After I left, he would come over for studio visits, and invite me to dinner parties at his place with other artists and teachers. He and his wife Natasha Seaman, a gifted writer and art historian, really turned me on to old masters and got me excited about art history which continues to this day.
I really dig the surreal intermissions. Is that a direction that you see yourself moving in? How tethered to your own reality do you see your work being moving forward? Any completely out of character projects in the works for you?
Absolutely. The next book is mostly the surreal, abstract stuff. I was, like most people, blown away by the recent Twin Peaks series last year. The way Lynch plays with reality through his own surreal language and narrative style is incredibly inspiring. That mixed with looking at those old Heavy Metal magazines and Correggio is definitely taking my work away from the Karl sitting on the couch and complaining strips. I’ll probably still do some of those though.
Karl will read from The Winner at HUB Comics in Union Square in Somerville on July 14 from noon to 2pm. Original drawings from the book are showing from July 6 through August 16 at the Carroll and Sons Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave #404, Boston.