James Kochalka is a man of many talents; writer, artist, musician, and the First Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. His style is instantly recognizable, and his brand of humor has entertained readers both young and old for several years with such titles as American Elf, Johnny Boo, Dragon Puncher, SuperF*ckers, and The Glorkian Warrior. The recipient of four Ignatz Awards, one Harvey and one Eisner, it's obvious that Kochalka has cracked the code of what works in comics. What works? Entertaining the reader, and not taking yourself too seriously. His latest book, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie from First Second Books debuts March 17th, and Kochalka was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer a few of my questions via email.
Cameron Hatheway: It seems only the best and brightest minds are recruited to patrol the different Glorkian Nebula sectors as Glorkian Warriors. So how in the heck did Glork ever get accepted in the first place?!
James Kochalka: Our dear Glorkian Warrior may appear to be far below normal intelligence…but his lack of brain power causes him to make decisions that no ordinary hero would ever make. It just so happens that sometimes that the choice that no normal sane person would ever make is exactly the choice that's needed to save the day. He doesn't have the inhibitions that would prevent a normal person from doing something absolutely crazy. Also, he does have a better than average Super Backpack helping to guide him along.
And the Glorkian Supergrandma probably thought he couldn't possibly cause much trouble in his remote Glork sector.
CH: This latest adventure seems to tackle a very important and controversial topic: pie. What kind of pie guy are you? Can you bake a pie? What makes for a good pie?
JK: Pie in incredible. Some people like cake, and I do think cake is fine for birthdays. But pie is better. It's delicious but it is also funny. Why pie is funny, I can't exactly say. There's just something funny about the word. The letter "P" is a punchy and silly sounding consonant. It's probably the funniest of the hard consonant sounds.
I'm all about homemade pie. My favorite is probably rhubarb pie, but most people try to tame the rhubarb flavor by adding strawberry. In my opinion strawberry kinda ruins it by making it less rhubarby. I don't actually know how to make a good pie myself, but my wife is great at it. I should probably learn. My personal dessert specialty is making orange peel candy.
CH: The humor in the Glorkian Warrior books is simple, yet incredibly effective on both kids and adults. What's the process like of deciding what jokes go into a storyline and which don't? Do you test them out on your own kids?
JK: I absolutely do test them on my kids! I draw a few chapters at a time in rough draft form and then read those my kids as bedtime stories. Then based on their reaction I make adjustments as necessary. It usually doesn't involve cutting any jokes out, but it sometimes involves adding extra jokes in.
But…joke is the wrong word, really. The characters say and do silly things but I don't really write what most people would call jokes. I think what makes these books great is the sense of surprise…the characters say or do something that profoundly surprises you and knocks your guard down and that makes you laugh. I don't have the normal inhibitions that prevent the average writer from writing something that's too stupid. Maybe I take crazy chances in my stories, but I've been lucky that my choices actually pay off.
Wow, now that I think about it it's like the Glorkian Warrior himself is writing these books. I am the Glorkian Warrior and this is my manifesto of stupid.
CH: Buster Glark is the only other Glorkian Warrior we've seen so far. Are the rest of the warriors just as mean, or is Buster a special case?
JK: Buster Glark is definitely a bully. I think he's just trying to compensate for his own insecurities. Our Glorkian Warrior has been undeniably successful in his adventures, despite his apparent stupidity and unorthodox style. So, Buster Glark may be a bit jealous of his success, and the bullying is an attempt to knock down his rival from the neighboring Glork sector.
Everyone wants to impress the Glorkian Supergrandma, so the competition between Glorkian Warriors for her attention can get intense.
CH: There's a lot of threatening to tattle to the Glorkian Supergrandma this book. Who is the Glorkian Supergrandma, and why is everyone afraid of her? I thought grandmothers are sweet, little old ladies who always have milk and cookies handy?
JK: The Glorkian Supergrandma is sweet! But she's also strict, and she can give out a withering scolding. Also she has a lot, lot, LOT of Glorkian Warriors under her watch, so it's not easy to even get her attention at all. They want to be sure they catch her notice for doing something wonderful, not for making a terrible mistake.
Personally, I had the strict kind of grandma that wanted me to memorize bible passages in German. I don't even know German!
CH: What kinds of voices do you recommend to parents who are reading these books to their kids? I always imagined the Glork's voice as being a little high-pitched and dopey, and Backpack's a little more sophisticated, like Stephen Fry.
JK: Oh, that's good. I think it's best to do whatever you're comfortable with actually. When reading stories to my kids I usually do the main character in my normal speaking voice, and then variation for the supporting characters. I usually read Super Backpack as a bit nasally and robotic.
JK: Glorkian Warrior would make an absolutely amazing motion picture series. No one has approached me yet about that, but I can picture the movies in my head. I'm also thinking of writing a Glorkian Warrior rock opera or something. I've written at least five songs about him, so I should at least record an EP or something.
CH: What's in store for the Glorkian Warrior and Backpack's next adventure?
JK: In the third Glorkian Warrior book (which comes out one year from now, in March 2016) I introduce the Junior Junior Glorkian Warriors…a group of alien kids who idolize the Glorkian Warrior and want him to train them to be real Glorkian Warriors too. Also, there's a new bad guy, the Space God Quackaboodle. And the Glorkian Supergrandma finally makes an appearance. It's amazing, really. And it actually has a very moving ending for such a silly book…it's based on my own experience as a father watching my children grow up and begin to make their own path in the world.
CH: Besides the Glorkian Warrior, what other projects are you currently working on?
JK: I'm working on a new animated cartoon for kids, a brand new character I've created. I don't think I'm supposed to say anything about it yet, so I'll just tease you with that. Sorry! And later this year Top Shelf will publish Johnny Boo Meets Dragon Puncher.
The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie will be available to purchase March 17th. Special thanks to Kochalka for taking time out of his busy schedule and Gina Gagliano for helping put this together.