K.Garrison interview

I’ve been a fan of Jenner’s Doc Rat strip for several years, and for a while I was active in his comments forums over at The Cross Time Cafe. That’s where I first met K.Garrison, creator of Carry On, the best comic on the net starring hyenas. K –

BC: Who are you?
KG: Wow, going straight for the existential philosophical stuff, huh? Well, let’s see…I’m a farmer, an artist, an arm-chair philosopher, an admirer of animation, a country girl, a gardener, a journalist, an animal-lover, a photographer, a writer… but mostly, I’m a teller of jokes and stories. That’s what I am, a storyteller.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
KG: I’m a West Virginian who had the bad luck to have been born in New Jersey. That’s not entirely fair, though, because I had an idyllic childhood on the Jersey Shore, but I “grew up” in West Virginia. On one side of my family, we go back to the American Revolution; on the other side, we’re immigrants from Poland and Austria.

KG: I’ve always loved animals; when I was three, I remember being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, and my reply was “have a menagerie.” That became a desire to become a veterinarian. I couldn’t get into vet school, so I became a farmer instead. So in a way, I’ve realized that childhood ambition, because I certainly have a menagerie now.

KG: My other love was art. I had an early gift for it that manifested itself as three-dimensional finger-painting in kindergarten. I was the prodigy all my teachers loved to show off. It’s not bragging, it’s just the truth. I have to say that my seven-year-old niece has even more talent at her age than I had, so I’m hoping for great things from her. My paternal uncle is a fine-artist who has made a name for himself with his paintings. My mother and her paternal aunt were also talented artists. I have a great-grand-aunt who I’ve been told was a poet laureate of Poland. So I’ve got art in the blood, and as Sherlock Holmes said, it’s liable to take some strange forms.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
KG: I’d say I’m an artist, because I’m not restricted to any one form of expression. I’m primarily a cartoonist, but I also do illustrations, sculptures, sewn projects like dolls and doll clothes, miniature furniture, paintings, and sketches.

BC: How did you get your start as an artist? How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
KG: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was a big fan of cartoons and comics when I was little, and created my first comic strip when I was in the third grade. It was based on the adventures of some of my stuffed animals–today it would be called a “Peanuts” fan fic, I suppose, because the main character was a beagle named Henry who was Snoopy’s cousin. I can remember saying that my ambition was to one day take Charles Schulz’ place as a cartoonist.

KG: Cartoons are an ideal medium for me, because they combine illustration with storytelling, and a joke. I have a skewed way of looking at the world, and I almost can’t help cracking a joke, wanting to make people laugh–I got that from my dad–so creating comic strips just comes naturally. I’d have to say that my biggest break was learning that I could self-publish my work on the Internet. Up until around 2004, my audience was myself and a few select friends to whom I’d show my cartoons. But being put in touch with hundreds of people from around the world…well, it’d hard to describe the feeling of knowing I HAVE FANS!! And I really appreciate my fans. It amazes me to know that people in places as diverse as Indonesia, Finland, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Israel, Australia, and all points in between, read my comic strip. It’s humbling.

BC: What led up to your starting Carry On, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
KG: Before we started dating, my husband, Scott Kellogg, was drawing a comic strip called 21st Century Fox. In his main story line, his character Cecil, a giraffe, was getting ready to marry two lady giraffes and start a herd. I started sending Scott “fan art” and making suggestions for gags, most of which he politely declined to use because they didn’t fit into his concept of the storyline. He did, however, include a cameo of me in the strip–envisioned as a hyena, at my request. That was the first appearance of Kathy Grrsn in print. I then asked him if he would mind if I did a spin-off series using the gags I’d sent him, and he gave me permission to use his characters. That became the original series of Carry On, although at the time it was fan art.

KG: The idea of using a hyena stemmed from the dearth of “unattractive” animal characters being used in the comics of that time. There were plenty of foxes, tigers, lions, wolves, and even skunks, but no scavengers. So I decided that I was going to create a comic strip about a group of scavengers, and make them work at a big-city newspaper. As the comic progressed, Kathy got a sister who worked on a rescue squad, and a dad who was an undertaker. Kathy’s favorite cartoon character, Pepe The Fire Ant, was created because “nobody makes plushies of fire ants.”

KG: The title of the strip is a play on the word “carrion.” I knew very little about spotted hyenas when I first started the strip. I chose that animal because it scavenges stuff and has a raucous laugh–much like myself. Over time I’ve learned a lot about the animal, and despite the fact that they’re weird and kind of gross in their personal habits, I’ve come to love and admire spotted hyenas.

KG: As for other projects…I’ve done several other comic strips, I’ve written novels, and I’ve done some illustrations for other people’s works, but at the present moment, working on Carry On and running my farm takes most of my time. I submit stuff to my DeviantArt account on a regular basis. Coming up with the story for my comic strip, now that it’s changed from a gag-a-day into a serial, consumes most of my creativity. I’ve even stopped reading books in order to keep my mind focused on my own story.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with?
KG: Probably Carry On. I’m pleased to have the audience I’ve accumulated, and to have placed third in the 2015 Ursa Major Awards, which is a fan-based recognition among the “furry” art community. I have some as-yet unpublished novels, which I’m very pleased with, but I don’t know whether they’ll ever see distribution, because one is based on The Phantom of the Opera and the other is a series using the Russian folklore demon Koschei the Deathless as its inspiration. I’ll probably end up self-publishing them.

KG: I’ve developed an aversion to “fan fiction.” I used to write loads of it, until I found out that it’s better to be original rather than squander one’s creativity by using somebody else’s works. While I include plenty of shout-outs or cameos or homages in my comic strip, the story, the characters, and the general concept are totally original. And it’s letting me do some world-building.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
KG: I do not yet have any collections available, but I hope to have something put together soon. A dear friend of mine in Germany assembled the first ten years of my comic strip and had them printed and bound as an anniversary gift; he also did the same thing for my husband’s comic strip. The books are beautiful, and as he’s given me the file, I hope to be able to find an American custom printer to publish them on demand.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip?
KG: Usually the ideas come first. I get ideas all the time–it’s like part of my mind is in some sort of continuous stream-of-consciousness state, and suddenly a joke will pop into my head, or a funny turn of phrase, or maybe I’ll walk into a tree or something while working around the yard (that happens surprisingly often to me) and I’ll go in and jot the idea down. Often, one idea begets others, and pretty soon I have a whole series of gags waiting to be drawn. The hard part is reading my own handwriting…or digging the appropriate notes out of the stacks of paper on the desk and kitchen table!

KG: Prior to starting the “Road To Rackenroon” arc, Carry On was a gag-a-day strip based on the daily life of the main character, Kathy Grrsn. She’s only loosely based on me. She lives in New Yak City, and her parents live about an hour away by train in Hyenasport. She has several co-workers with varying personalities, like Helen, the OCD office manager who is a raccoon; Calvin, the loathsome swine sportswriter; Walter, the editor, who is a vulture, gruff but nurturing of talent; and Scooter, her best friend, who was the staff artist and cartoonist for Pepe The Fire Ant. I added a few characters based on some real-life friends of mine. People are either tickled pink to have a cartoon cameo, or never speak to me again.

KG: Coming up with a gag a day got increasingly difficult. There were times when I had nothing at 9 PM the night before an update, so I’d either vamp with any old thing that came to mind, or put up some filler art, like cute pictures of my baby lambs. It was getting to the point where creating the strip wasn’t much fun anymore–it was feeling like work, and I was tempted to close it down. Then I got the inspiration to do a “Road Picture”-type storyline, where Kathy finds out she’s an heiress, travels to a distant country, and…heh, no spoilers. That initial concept was supposed to last only a couple of months.

KG: I had started the set-up, and then my husband had a stroke…which I incorporated into the storyline. I told you, I get jokes from everywhere. Anyway, as it went along, I got more involved in the backstory of this distant land, and of the Lieutenant who was to be Kathy’s unwillingly-betrothed husband. I started to like this new character to the point where he began to take over the direction of the strip, and finally I just handed him the reins and let him go with it. I know some people miss the old format and would like to see the New Yak City cast again, but I feel the strip has become much richer and more interesting.

KG: As for the actual mechanics of drawing the strip…I use regular 8.5 x 11 copy paper. I lay out the border with a .08 Micron archival ink pen and a triangle. Sometimes I make preliminary sketches if I have to work out a pose or an action sequence, but usually I start sketching the strip with a #2 pencil, after I’ve blocked it out in my head, breaking down the dialog into one to four panels. Recently I’ve been experimenting with longer sets of panels if I have too much for one strip with three frames, but not enough for two full strips.

KG: Usually I write out the dialog in script form, then do some editing to get it to fit. Creating a comic strip is like making a haiku–you need to be able to distill an idea to its essence, to pare it down into one to three frames, and still have it be funny. Funny, or thought-provoking. An ironic punch line is just as good as a funny one. Once the strip is blocked and sketched, I ink it with a #03 Micron pen. Then I scan it into Photoshop, clean it up, use bucket fills for the colors, shade and highlight it, add backgrounds, dialog balloons, and the text, and then flatten it, size it for the Web, and upload it to my comic site, Magpie House Design at Hirezfox.com. I’ve got very nice guys who take care of the nuts and bolts of the site for me–James, Carl, and Mako. I couldn’t do this without their help. And of course, my husband has always been there for support and to bounce ideas off of. If a joke makes him laugh, then I know I’ve got a winner.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
KG: Funny you should ask–I actually have a Carry On playlist. It ranges from classical music to contemporary pop. The song that changed things with the “Road To Rackenroon” storyline was “Makin’ Love Out Of Nothing At All” by Air Supply. Until I settled on that as the “love theme” for Kathy and Fred, the story as originally planned wasn’t working for me.

(Note: In case you’re interested, here’s the playlist–some of these I use for inspiration, or setting a mood, while others will be part of the storyline:
Just Good Friends, Fish
Storms in Africa, Enya
Raiders Theme, John Williams
The Music of the Night, Andrew Lloyd Webber
I’m In The Mood For Love, Nat King Cole
Makin’ Love Out Of Nothing At All, Air Supply
Duet version with Bonnie Tyler
Footloose, Kenny Loggins
Africa, Toto
The World Turned Upside Down, Coldplay
Incommunicado, Marillion
Fighter, Christina Aguilera
She’s Always A Woman, Billy Joel
The Heat Is On, Glenn Frey
The Glory of Love, Peter Cetera
Pachelbel’s Canon in D, for classical guitar
Two Less Lonely People, Air Supply
What About Love, Heart
Leave A Tender Moment Alone, Billy Joel
Call Me Al, Paul Simon
There Ain’t Nothin’ Bout you That Don’t Do Something For Me, Brooks & Dunn
Hooked On A Feeling, Blue Swede
I Will Always Love You, Dolly Parton
Leaving Port,” “Take Her To Sea, Mr. Murdoch,” and “The Sinking,” from James Horner’s “Titanic” soundtrack)

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
KG: I have a long list of “favorite writers” whose works have inspired me. This is only a partial recollection of the people who have inspired me: There’s Marguerite Henry, who wrote the “Misty of Chincoteague” stories, and started me wanting to be a storyteller like her; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; J.R.R. Tolkein; J.K. Rowlings has my life; James Herriot; George Lucas, who was a brilliant director, until he turned to evil and betrayed and murdered his story; Alex Hirsch, who created “Gravity Falls” and who was born the year I graduated high school, I hate that guy; Derek Dick, who goes by the stage name Fish, whose work with the alt-rock band Marillion improved my writing skills; Steve Smith, aka Red Green; Anne McCaffrey; Bill Watterson, whose brilliant “Calvin & Hobbes” will live forever; Garrison Keillor; Norman Rockwell, who knew how to paint a good story; the guys who wrote “Back To The Future,” which I think is the most perfectly-written movie ever made; Nick Park and Aardman; Walt Disney and Chuck Jones, for inspiring my artistic style; Charles Addams, Dik Browne, Charles Schulz, Frank Cho, Gary Larson, Gary Trudeau, and Phil Foglio, for inspiring my cartooning style. The only one of these I’ve met is Phil Foglio, and I think he thinks I’m stalking him or something, because we kept bumping into each other at Dragon*Con a couple of years ago.

KG: And of course, there’s my husband, who is my co-conspirator, my sounding board, and my best friend. Without his patience, hard work, and understanding, I could never have created this comic strip. He not only tolerates me, he aids and abets me.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
KG: I have a handful of comics I read regularly, because I admire them, or because I know the artists personally–sometimes, both. I don’t have much time to read a lot of comics these days, and I’m paranoid about lifting ideas from other people–I’m a pretty bad intellectual kleptomaniac. “Great comics steal” and all that. I regularly follow “Freefall” by Mark Stanley, “Doc Rat,” by Jenner, “Girl Genius” by Phil and Kaja Foglio, “The Whiteboard” by Doc Nickel, “NEOCTC” by Sleepy John Reynolds, and “21st Century Fox” by my husband, Scott Kellogg. I contribute ideas and advice to “NEOCTC” and to “The Cross-Time Cafe,” and for the past few months I’ve been helping out my husband by drawing “21st Century Fox” for him due to his schedule at work making it difficult for him to devote the necessary time to it himself.

KG: I’m personal friends with Mark Stanley, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I greatly admire Jenner’s artwork. Phil Foglio was an artistic inspiration to me back in high school after I saw his work in an anthology book titled “Startoons,” and I’ve been following Girl Genius since the black-and-white line art days. I’ve only recently started following The Whiteboard, after Doc included a cameo of one of my characters, and I thanked him by doing a little filler art for him. As far as syndicated strips go, I’ve been reading “Hagar,” “Peanuts,” “B.C.” “The Wizard of Id,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Hi & Lois,” “Blondie,” and a number of others, for ages. I’ve also recently started collecting the works of Sergio Arragones and Don Martin.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
KG: Storytelling, humor, and artwork, in that order. Very few comic strips have all three. A badly-drawn comic can make it on a good gag, but a beautifully-drawn comic strip with a poorly-told story will quickly lose my interest. There are several gorgeous strips whose storylines are so convoluted, or so dull, that I just can’t follow them. And I totally don’t get the dark and/or violent comic strips. That’s just not my taste.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
KG: Characters that come to life. A good, solid ability to tell a story, and to make it engrossing enough that I want to come back the next day to see what happens. The ability to tell a joke. A dedication on the part of the artist, not only to his readership, but to the characters he’s created. A cartoonist or a novelist is sort of like a god, calling people into being, breathing life into creatures of paper and ink, and he owes it to them to give them well-written personalities and great stories to tell. Other people won’t love your characters if you don’t love them first. My friend Sleepy John uses stick figures for his comic strip, but he has such a mastery over body language and comic timing that he produces one of the best comic strips around, as minimalist as the art is. His strip’s kind of like xkcd meets Zootopia, only that’s not an accurate description, as his strip is more original than that. Originality also draws my attention. I don’t understand the manga fad–why spend so much time learning how to draw in somebody else’s style, so that your artwork looks exactly like everyone else’s?

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? Do you want to plug your site?
KG: I do not currently use either of those, although I’ve considered getting an account with Patreon. To be brutally honest, I’d love to be able to get paid for what I’m doing. I got into comics just about the time when the newspapers and publishing houses were being killed off. Self-publishing allows anyone to get their work in front of an audience, but the Internet has in effect given typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys, and no one has yet come up with anything close to Shakespeare. I’m grateful to my fans for the gifts they’ve given me over the years. Perhaps their greatest gift has been their dedication and friendship. But dropping a buck in the jar once a week would help a lot, too! 😉

KG: I’m a lazy cartoonist–I could be doing a lot more to promote my site. Currently I’m on a small server. I’ve looked at trying to get onto an aggregator like GoComics, without much progress so far, mostly due to a lack of follow-up. I’ve gotten a Deviant Art account (kdnightstar) and have used it to post drawings, writing, and photographs. You can find my comic at www.hirezfox.com/km/co/index.html.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
KG: No. I’ve attended a few conventions, but I find the thought of attending as a behind-the-table personality to be daunting to the point of terrifying. I’m not ruling it out, but the logistics (I have a farm, remember) and the expense has put me off. Some projects I need to get to are, creating a searchable archive for my comic, and making up some new art to use as “thank you” gifts for donations, as well as finding out how to get some paper copies of my comic made available via print-on-demand.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Kathryn Garrison Kellogg (c) 2004-2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

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