Dave Kellett interview

I saw advertising for Dave Kellett’s and Frederick Schroeder’s documentary film about the cartooning industry, Stripped on the GoComics’ blog leading up to its release in 2014. I was in Japan at the time, so I wasn’t able to watch it. Then, on June 8, 2015, Dave began running Drive on GoComics. Because the site only updated on Mondays, I got impatient and went to the official Drive site and caught up on the full archive in a couple days. That was fun, but then I learned about Dave’s earlier strip, Sheldon and that took a lot longer to read through because it’s been around since 1998. It wasn’t until I was part of the way through Sheldon that I realized this Dave Kellett was the same Dave Kellett from Stripped. Dave’s got a very clean, very recognizable art style, and his sense of humor and comic timing is razor sharp. In Drive, his aliens are a lot of fun to study, and the ships look cool. Occasionally he’ll put in large blocks of text that some readers complain about, but I think they add a lot to the background and feel of his universe. I’ve been a fan of both Sheldon and Drive since 2015, and Basket Case is proud to have helped, in a small way, the Drive hardback kickstarter reach it’s final stretch goal of $100,000 (from an initial goal of $35,000) in September. Congrats, Dave!

(Nosh, from Drive.)

BC: Who are you?
DK: I’m Dave Kellett: A Los Angeles-based cartoonist whose work is found primarily on the web. I create the humor strip SHELDON (18 years), DRIVE (7 years), and co-directed the comic strip documentary STRIPPED with Fred Schroeder.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
DK: I loved cartooning from Grade 3 onward, and basically geared my life toward figuring out how to be a cartoonist. Both my Masters degrees are cartooning focused, in fact.

(from Sheldon.)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
DK: A cartoonist. I love that job title.

BC: How did you get your start then?
DK: The San Diego Union-Tribune let me do two editorial cartoons a week, while I was in grad school – and that was a tremendous boost toward my goal. It was an emotional lift to get that chance in a major newspaper at 21.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
DK: I’ve been drawing in some form of publication or online since 1992. My college paper was my first regular strip, and that solidified that this is what I want to do with my life.

(from Sheldon.)

BC: What led up to your starting Sheldon (and, after that, Drive), and do you have anything else going on right now?
DK: Sheldon originally appeared in that college paper strip, and was the only character to carry over, post-graduation. He seemed interesting enough to focus an entire strip on, so I did. Drive came from a long desire to tell a long-form story…and the complete arc of it popped into my head one day, in 2008. After about a year of futzing around with it, I started it as a “Saturday Scifi” feature on Sheldon. A year or so after that, I spun it out into its own site.

BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
DK: I love all my children equally. But! Because it’s so different from what I do on a daily basis, I’m really proud that I was able to make a solid documentary film, in STRIPPED. I think it did the cartooning art form justice, which was my biggest goal. I wanted that love of comics to really shine through.

(The first Drive strip.)

BC: Do you have any stories about the making of Stripped that you haven’t bored yourself silly retelling already? Anything you’d like to relate to your fans?
DK: Stripped was the joy of my adult professional life. To meet and talk to all of my heroes was amazing, and inspiring, and grounding, and humbling. I’ll never have anything else quite like it: I’m so, so happy I did it. There was one significant portion of Stripped that we cut, as it was too “Inside Baseball”. It was a lovely section about artists talking about their tools: What they use to make what they make. There was a particularly lovely portion with Meredith Gran (of Octopus Pie) talking about brushes, pens and inks that I was very sad to lose – but for the larger scope of the movie it just made sense.

DK: There were a few cartoonists who could warrant an entire documentary, they were so interesting to talk to. Stephan Pastis of PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, Dan Piraro of BIZARRO, (the late) Richard Thompson of CUL DE SAC, Mort Walker of BEETLE BAILEY – all fascinating cartoonists and histories that it would’ve been fun to delve into more.

BC: Where can readers find your books?
DK: On my site, SheldonComics.com – and in the bathroom book-reading bin next to the john in many fine houses.

BC: How do you start your next strip or panel?
DK: There are absolutely days where nothing comes…and you have to stir the pot by either getting out into the world and listening to voices, trying a new activity, or even reading your own past work to “re-find” your voice.

(Skitter and Captain Taneel, from Drive.)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be/sound like?
DK: DRIVE would be a mix of Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” and/or “Daft Punk’s “Tron”…and Sheldon would be something bouncy like Django Reinhardt.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
DK: I’ve been lucky enough to interact with most of my cartooning heroes: Bill Watterson, Jim Davis, Berke Breathed, Mort Walker, Cathy Guisewite, Bill Amend, Dan Piraro, Sergio Aragones, Mel Brooks….the list goes on and on. I’ve been very lucky to meet and thank so many cool creators. The one that got away, though, was Charles Schulz. Would’ve liked to have met him before he passed.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DK: Not really, actually! I’m a bit too busy for casual reading.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
DK: Usually: A clear line style, and an ability to make me laugh. Those two rank paramount.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
DK: Joy. If the artist enjoyed doing it, and transmitted that joy well, it comes through. If they hate the title they’re working on, you can absolutely read that, too.

(Torvak, Vulcan party planner, from Sheldon.)

BC: Can you talk about Sheldon a bit more? How has the strip changed over the years, and will Sheldon ever return to his corporate offices again? Has the fate of his parents already been revealed within the strip, or the circumstances leading to Gramps adopting him?
DK: Sheldon has changed dramatically since it’s start, in 1998. For the first 5-7 years, it was mainly focused on Sheldon, as a 10-year billionaire in charge of a software company. But there are only so many times you can have Lucy pull away the football before the same storylines become….stale…so I’ve largely moved away from that. Now it’s focused mostly on Sheldon, Gramp, and Arthur, and the menagerie they share around the house.

DK: The fate of Sheldon’s parents has never been revealed, no, and I don’t have any plans to do so. Although, some of my favorite storylines have dealt with Sheldon and Gramp talking over bits and pieces of it: Such as when Gramp finds the camera with the unexposed family pictures from years ago.

(from Sheldon.)

DK: Sheldon’s incredibly fun to write, as it now has expanded to include one-off jokes, ridiculous storylines, and impossible appearances by pop culture figures and fictional characters. It’s a delightful platform, as a cartoonist – and I was really moved that it was honored as a 2016 Silver Reuben honoree from the National Cartoonist Society. That meant a lot to me.

(Anatomy of a Platypus, from Sheldon.)

BC: What’s the status of the Sheldon “animal anatomy” drawings?
DK: When there’s enough to be collected in a book, I’ll bring it to Kickstarter for a fun, short-run, full-color book.

BC: How about Drive? What can readers expect in the story line in the future? Did you think you’d clear the initial $35K goal for the hardcover Kickstarter?
DK: We’ve just wrapped up Act One of a three-act story, so DRIVE has about 5-10 more years in it. The second act will largely be the build-up of the tripartite war that will come to be known as “The Pilot’s War,” and will feature humanity versus The Continuum of Makers versus The Vinn. We’ve met (most) of the characters we’re bound to meet for the main cast, so now it’s a matter of where they go, and what they do, as chess pieces in this much larger war.

(from Drive.)

DK: As for the Kickstarter, I’m profoundly grateful and moved by the support that folks have shown the story. When you spend most of the year in your studio, alone, creating stories, it’s so wonderful to hear from a mass of people that they’re enjoying what you’re doing. It’s incredibly inspiring, and I’m so thankful.

BC: How do you think Patreon and Kickstarter are changing the face of webcartooning?
DK: They’re really empowering, to an artist! In a world where comic book shops and newspapers fall further and further from their previous perches, it’s so nice to have this direct line to readers, sans middlemen! I find it encouraging and delightful.

BC: Do you have any other projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DK: I think in the coming year I’ll be appearing at Seattle’s ECCC and San Diego’s SDCC – both of which I love. I should have the new DRIVE hardcover book out by then, and will perhaps have my first SHELDON book for many years. It should be a nice year, looking ahead!

(Sheldon and Drive © Dave Kellett. Reproduced with permission.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Poll: What would you do if you had $1 billion?


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