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Milk, Cheese, and Everything in Between: An Interview with Evan Dorkin

Evan Dorkins’ creations have made a significant dent in the world of comic books. His famed dairy duo of Milk and Cheese, have been entertaining people with their crazy brand of lactose humor and hijinks.

Dorkin has also published several other independent titles including Dork, Hectic Planet, and has even written a comic book adaptation of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Dorkins’ writing has also been featured on Cartoon Network in the form of cult cartoon “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” and “Welcome to Eltingville”.

Dorkin has been keeping busy and is working on the latest issues of his Beasts of Burden series for Dark Horse. In this exclusive Indie Reader interview Dorkin explains his process and his journey in comics.

IR: Tell us about your independent project/s and the process behind it?

ED: I’ve done a number of creator-owned solo projects over the years like Milk and Cheese, Dork, and Hectic Planet which were originally published by SLG Publishing. Milk and Cheese is about a carton of milk and a wedge of cheese who are two anti-social, violent drunks addicted to pop culture. Dork was an anthology featuring a variety of characters, stories and gag strips. Hectic Planet was about a bunch of screw-ups getting through life in a satirical future universe. These days I write a comic called beast of Burden, which is published by Dark Horse and co-owned by myself and Jill Thompson, the artist on the series. It’s about a group of dogs and cats who protect their suburban neighborhood from the supernatural. I’ve also started doing new humor comics under the title House of Fun, also published by Dark Horse.

IR: How have you been able to fund your project/s?

ED: I’ve always supported my personal work by doing work-for-hire jobs in comics, animation, illustration, etc. Sometimes we have some television work that helps out, if we’re lucky. The perfect situation is when a personal project is something you’re actually being paid to produce, but that doesn’t always happen. There used to be more paying anthologies and opportunities to do oddball work for a page rate back in the 90’s. I was publishing most of my own stuff through SLG, there was no page rate up front but my books did well enough to earn royalties on the back end. I left SLG several years ago because that system was no longer sustainable, I couldn’t get my own work done without something up front. When you’re young or you don’t have a family it’s easier to take chances and hope for the best and try to get by. On Beasts of Burden and House of Fun I’m publishing through Dark Horse Comics, so there is a budget there and I’m getting a page rate for my writing and art. And there are royalties down the line if the project sells enough copies. There are also foreign reprint payments if your work is translated overseas. I also sell my original art and occasionally do commissioned drawings. And when cash flow gets tight we sell art and items on eBay. It’s a juggling act on a treadmill, all freelancers deal with it.

IR: What have been your influences in creating comics and what made you want to do so in the first place?

ED: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby showed me that anything you can imagine can be put in your comic. Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez showed me that your own life and personal interests can be used as material for your comics. Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder showed me that humor can be a weapon. Together they all showed me that every page is important and one panel can accomplish a lot. There’s a lot of other creators in and out of comics that have influenced me Charles Schulz, EC artists, 60’s and 70’s Marvel bullpen folks, gag cartoonists, 80’s alternative artists, manga artists, animators, authors, musicians, filmmakers, comedians, painters, designers, etc. It’s all in there, even if it isn’t recognizable. I couldn’t say exactly why I wanted to do comics in the first place, I have always had a lot of interests, but comics were always at the top of the list and eventually won out, comics are what got their hooks into me the deepest. It’s an attractive medium, if not so much an attractive career. “

IR: What would you like people to take in when reading your comic?

ED: I wouldn’t put any demands on the reader, I’d just hope they come to the work honestly and without preconceptions and take it for what it is. What I do wish is that people better understood that humor work involves writing and craft just like other kinds of comics. Most folks read a humor comic and decide it’s worth on whether or not they found it funny. They don’t often consider the thought, decisions and craft that went into making the comic funny or effective. Humor’s also hard because people tend to disagree on what’s funny; you’re going to automatically fail with much of the audience because your sense of humor doesn’t match theirs.

IR: What other projects have you been working on and what kind of stuff would you like to do in comics?

ED: I’m not sure what my next project is comics-wise. After I finish up a Beasts of Burden script I’m going to be pitching some ideas and see what happens next. There are a lot of things I’d like to do in comics, more of my own stuff, more scripts in various genres for other artists to illustrate. The dream would be to just make your own comics without having to look for outside work to support it, but I really don’t see that ever happening.

IR: What are you reading right now, any comics right now you are really into?

ED: Newspaper strip reprints like King Aroo, Captain Easy, Skippy, Prince Valiant, Mickey Mouse, any Osama Tezuka or Shigeru Mizuki manga translations, The Nao of Brown by Gynn Dillon, practically anything by Jack Kirby, I’m always going back to Kirby. Comics are hard to keep up on now that so much good stuff is coming out in fancy, higher-priced editions, so we borrow a lot of books from the public library. I’ve been following manga series such as Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Twin Spica and Saturn Apartments. Unfortunately they don’t always have every book in a series, so I’m stuck in the middle of 20th Century Boys. But I recommend the library for comic readers on a budget, or anyone who wants to try stuff for free. It’s a great resource, not just for comics.

IR: What are your plans for the future?

ED: Hopefully see Beasts of Burden get finished, finish up The Eltingville Club stories and collect them, collect all the non-Eltingville material from Dork and House of Fun, do some more humor comics for Dark Horse Presents, hopefully get some of my long-simmering comic book ideas onto paper. Make as many comics as possible, spend as much time with my family as possible, and then retire. Meaning, die.

IR: When will your project be released?

ED: I wish I knew. The latest Beasts of Burden series has been coming together very slowly. I was hoping it would at least start coming out this year but the way things are going it looks like it won’t be published until 2014. 

 

IR:  What is your method of writing/creating how do you come up with your content?

ED: Like pretty much every creative person I know, I’m always thinking about work, about stories, business, dialogue. I take a ton of notes and keep files and eventually things sort themselves into shape. Sometimes ideas hit me when things are relatively calm, when I’m in the shower, washing dishes, driving, trying to fall alseep. Sometimes you’re reading something, something comes on the news, someone says something, and your brain turns that into something useful to kick off a story or fill a gap in a story. I don’t tend to do a lot of sketching when I’m working, I’m a writer who draws, as opposed to an artist who writes, concepts tend to drive the images for me. So I write everything down and sometimes sketch a little to fill out characters or ideas for scenes or settings. Eventually an idea gets to the point where it wants to come out, and so I let it. I outline, fold my notes in (there’s always too many) and start playing with the script, break it into panels until I’m satisfied with it and then take the dummy place holding dialogue and bang it into shape as actual dialogue. If I’m drawing my script I don’t write as much, in my head  I know the scenery and what people are wearing so all that it left out of the script, it’s usually basic action and dialogue. And when I’m drawing I change things, you edit, come up with better material or background details, you break a panel into two or consolidate two into one. There’s always room for improvising on the page. At some point the entire mess is late and has to get turned in and you tie off the ends and patch the holes and hope for the best because what you’ve got is what you’re stuck with.

IR:  Anything else you would like to add?

ED: If you’re not having fun, then something is wrong. Comics are hard work, but there should be some element of fun to it or you’re in a bad place or cartooning might not be for you after all. I’ve had my bouts and my doubts but by and large I’m still doing this because I want to, not because I feel I have to.

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