Webcomic Spotlight: Cocotte

Welcome one and all to an especially delicious edition of Webcomic Spotlight. Here at All-Comic we get a request to cover a comic once in a while, or I reach out to a comic I’ve been following for quite some time and hope for a reply. This week’s webcomic was arrived at in quite a round about way. I’ve been reading Kieron Gillen’s work since early Phonogram and give all his titles the old college try. When he was promoting THREE he encouraged all his followers on twitter to check out Ryan Kelly’s work in order to prepare ourselves for the brutally awesome collaboration they were about to deliver. In short Kieron led me to Ryan and I found Cocotte.

Cocotte is a slice of life drama created by Kat Vapid and Ryan Kelly. Read on for a conversation on comics, food and self publishing!

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All-Comic: Kat, Ryan thanks for joining us. Lets start at the beginning. How did you get into comics and when did you decide you wanted to make comics?

Ryan Kelly: I was about 5 years old, I suppose. I was always interested in cartoons and comics, and I started drawing Disney and Star Wars characters at a very young age. The first comic was an issue of Action Comics I got at a convenience store, at the age of 8 or so. I started collecting comics shortly after that. I made my first, original comic book when I was about 10 years old. I made copies and sold it to people for $.50.

Kat Vapid: Via my partner/collaborator, Ryan. There are always comics lying around our house, and occasionally I’ll read them. This may be an unseemly thing for a writer of comics to say, but I don’t read a ton of comics. I read more pictureless fiction. [Making comics] came at Ryan’s behest. Our first collaboration came when we were both in college and he needed a story to illustrate for an assignment. I adapted a short story I’d written for a class. I found I enjoyed working with a different cadence than I was used to. It’s nice to mix things up.

AC: Ryan, did you study illustration or are you self taught?

RK: I would say I’m predominantly self-taught, because I learned to draw and paint by doing it every day. Although, after high school, I studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I majored in Illustration, but I wanted to be a fine artist after school. By 1992 I wasn’t much interested in comics anymore, not in mainstream comics, but I started visiting comic shops again and discovered Vertigo, Fantagraphics and a lot of artier independent books.

AC:  Kat, how long have you been writing?

KV: Since I learned to read, more or less. I suppose the Little House series was what inspired me to write. I was kind of obsessed with those books as a kid. My first book, written around age 4 or 5, was called The Hand Book; it was an illustrated rundown of all the things hands are capable of (clapping, fighting, and, in a rather brilliant denouement, waving good-bye). And I’ve written every since. I try to write daily, but that doesn’t always happen. At the very least I get a few tweets in each day.

AC: Have you had anything published before?

KV: I’ve written a couple of very brief food articles, and had a couple of little things (essays attempting humor, one short story) published online. They’re best forgotten.

AC: Kelly any career in animation or illustration is cutthroat, did you get a lot of support from parents and art teachers?

RK: Sure, a little. My parents were fine with just letting me do my thing and they were happy I was keeping myself busy with something and doing well with it. I always disliked my art teachers. They were usually unhelpful. But, I had a great art teacher in high school and in college, so that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was a student at MCAD when Peter Gross was an instructor, so he helped me get my skills up to speed. I always had a lot of raw skill and creativity, but my work looked really odd and unprofessional out of college. It took me a long time to get good. I watched a lot of peers go from nothing to super status in a year or two. It was taking me a lot longer to get good.

AC: What was the first comic you remember working on?

RK: Funrama. It was called something else at the time, but it was all the same characters and stories I’m doing now. That was my first comic book. I think it was 1986.

KV: The above-mentioned comic that I wrote for Ryan’s class assignment. Shortly after that Ryan and I wrote and self-published a tiny, low-budget comic called Sotto Voce, a dark tale about a 10-year-old misfit. We also contributed a 6-page story to an anthology of music-related comics called Side B, and that’s the extent of my comics career.

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AC: Kat, How would you describe Cocotte to those just starting to read it?

KV: A moody Midwestern soap opera about food, love, and the dual indignities/passions of work.

AC: When I first read Cocotte I noticed how much cooking and ingredients were a part of the visual narrative. As a professional in that field how important was it to get those scenes to translate into an illustrated format?

KV: Since it’s a small story, about human interaction and longing rather than an action-oriented comic, the food visuals are important. They offer something interesting to look at. I gave Ryan some general descriptions of how I wanted the panels and layout to look, but I left a lot of the details up to him. He’s more familiar with the visual vocabulary of comics than I am.

AC: Ryan, as you mention on the site Kat Vapid is the writer of Cocotte, how did she approach you for a team up on this series?

RK: We’ve worked on small comics before, but I wanted to do something that was a bit more impressive and grand, in scale and in scope. I went to Kat, and told her to give me a story to draw: Anything, just give me anything. I didn’t go to her and say, “Let’s do a comic about food!” I asked her to just give me one of the stories she was working on, and it ended up being Cocotte.

AC: You’ve had various works in printed comics, what inspired you to create and start putting up this comic online for free?

RK: I wanted a project that would get our names out there in the “comic world” and show us off as a creative team. I decided that a free webcomic was the best way to do that. At the time, I didn’t have it in me to do the “Pitching to publishers thing”. I find that process really difficult. I’m good at making comics, not pitching them.

AC: Kat, what drove/inspired you to create and post Cocotte online?

KV: Ryan and I had been talking about collaborating on a comic for some time. A food-related comic was an obvious choice, since that’s what I know. I started out writing a completely different food comic; it was more of a send-up of the superhero genre. I would still like to do that one someday, but it was more epic in scale so I decided to start with something smaller. Cocotte started as a short story, but I thought it might be suitable for a webcomic. I wanted to focus on a character who was more in the middle of their career and had experienced thwarted ambitions. I set out to create somebody wholly unlikeable, yet compelling on some level.

AC: What has been the most surprising aspect of running this webcomic?

RK: For me, it’s just how much time I spend on a page now, as opposed to how much time I spent on a page when we first started. When we started Cocotte, I pledged to myself that I would only spend 3 hours per page, and I stuck to that at first. As time went on, It occurred to me that I should make the pages as good as they can be, so now I spend 3 full days on a page.

KV: That people are interested. I didn’t think anyone would pay much attention, and the response has been a lot greater than I anticipated. Perhaps the people in my life sense my emotional fragility and are therefore just being kind, but many people seem to genuinely like it. That’s all I seek in life, is to elicit admiration-bordering-on-resentment from a large section of the public.

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AC: How do you get this drawn out? Physically or digitally?

RK: I work from Kat’s script and I draw a quick doodle of the panel breakdown. That takes 5 minutes.
Then I pencil right on the paper. I don’t do that in my other comics, But I figured I can get away with it on Cocotte. Normally, I produce a workable sketch. I lightly set the lettering on the page in pencil. Kat inks over the lettering, by hand. After that, I ink it. Next, I color it. I figured that I would never have time to do full color, so I use just the blue tone. At the digital stage, I lay down a color wash over the art for mood and texture. After that, I add some flat tones, shading and highlights for depth and contrast.

AC: What are your preferred tools of the trade?

RK: I prefer drawing on paper with pen and brush. I can’t draw lines on the computer, although I use Adobe Photoshop for coloring and file prep. I hope to learn how to use MangaStudio some day.

AC: What is the most time consuming step for you? Drawing? Coloring? A third thing?

RK: It used to be the coloring. I always dreaded it, until I found a quick solution by laying in painted color wash over the panels and giving it some fullness.

AC: Are you (or Kat) considering publishing this comic in a physical form?

RK:  Yeah, definitely. I want a physical book for Cocotte real bad. We’re currently working on a pitch, including a proper ending to the story, and we hope a publisher will pick it up and we get it to a larger audience.

AC: Did you set up your own website or pay some one to design it for you?

RK: I’m really bad with website stuff. I don’t know how to do it. A friend, Zachary Garrett, stepped up and set it up for us. He was working for Etsy and doing websites, and he know how to set up a site. He set it up for me on WordPress, using the Comicpress version, and made it easy for me to upload and post blogs. I just wanted a simple and elegant site that put the focus on the comic, so I keep it really simple. I just want the comic and a little bit of news and info.

AC: Coccotte is not the only comic you work on, Currently you have THREE out with Image Comics. Can you tell us a little bit about this and why you decided to work on two comics at once?

RK: I’m always working on multiple projects at a time. I feel like I have no choice in that situation. There’s so much I want to do and I only have one drawing hand and 24 hours in a day.

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AC: If you have time, what comics, manga or web comics are you reading?

RK: I have no time, and I’m not trying to be flippant with that response. I BUY comics. I fail at finding the time to read them. It often comes down to this: Do I want to read this comic, or do I want to allocate that extra 20 extra minutes to work on my comic page? Every day is like a battle to get as many comics drawn as possible, and that’s just my life. That said, I read a lot of books, purely for research for my own comics and stories. Fiction, reference, poetry; whatever I can get my hands on. I read comics, when I can, and I read a healthy dose of everything.

For comics? Right at this moment, I’m reading The Fifth Beatle and Batgirl: Year One. I like Noah Van Sciver and Cory Lewis’s comics a lot. I like Harvey Pekar, Optic Nerve, 2oth Century Boys, Vertigo’s Coffin Hill, and strangely, I enjoy the Masters Of The Universe comics, probably because they’re written by Keith Giffen. I don’t read much Marvel and DC. But, there’s a ton of writers working on those books that I really like. I love a lot of Image Comics and independent, small press books. I don’t read enough webcomics, But I’m trying to catch up in that department!

KV: Most recently I’ve read Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, David Small’s Stitches, and Derf Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer. I endorse them all. I’m currently reading A Chinese Life by Philippe Otie and Li Kunwu. Non-comics-wise, I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Boy in the Twilight by Yu Hua, an anthology of African poetry edited by Langston Hughes, and one of John Mortimer’s Rumpole novels. I’m always reading multiple books. I have problems focussing on one thing at a time.

AC: Do you have an all time favorite creator? Be it music, comics or movies. 

RK: Hmm…I love Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, Walt Kelly, Steve Ditko and Milton Caniff. Today, Becky Cloonan is a huge influence and her comics are always a source of inspiration.

KV: Hmm, I have too many music/movie favorites to mention here. As for comics, my knowledge of the field is a bit limited, but I do like Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, and Bill Watterson.

On to chefs: I haven’t eaten the food of any big-name national chefs, so I can’t personally vouch for them. I enjoyed Gabrielle Hamilton’s wonderful cooking memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter, but I haven’t eaten at her restaurant, Prune. Next time I’m in NYC I’ll make it a priority. I guess my role model chef is Kenny Shopsin. I love his cookbook, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, and his restaurant, Shopsin’s General Store, is exactly the type of restaurant I’d want to have: nothing frilly, just great, idiosyncratic food. I’ve been to his restaurant twice. The first time I had the egg enchiladas in peanut mole, which were among the best things I’ve ever eaten. The second time, he kicked me out for entering with an improper child-adult ratio.

AC: What’s next for you?

RK: I’m going to keep drawing Cocotte and my side project, Funrama. And, hopefully, whatever else comes my way.

AC: How can readers best support you and your work?

RK:  The best thing to do is read Cocotte at www.cocottecomic.com and tell your friends. Retweet it, reblog it, and get the word out!

KV: Keep reading Cocotte! And buy it, if we ever manage to get it into print. I know it’s slow-going at this point, but Ryan and I both have demanding jobs and a bunch of kids. We work on this in our spare time, which is minimal. So I thank everyone for their patience.

AC: Thanks for your time Kat and Kelly! We’ll do our part to help spread the word.

 

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